Get out the popcorn! This internecine war among antivaccinationists is getting interesting (part 4)

I’m running out of popcorn again.

I know I’ve been writing a lot about the latest internecine war among cranks. It’s a battle royale whose first shot occurred when everybody’s favorite Boy Wonder “reporter” betrayed his mentors with a missive published on a hive of scum and quackery even more wretched that the hive of scum and quackery at the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism, namely The Bolen Report. He even went so far as to publish private e-mails of prominent members of the antivaccine group SafeMinds. It didn’t take long for SafeMinds to unleash a counterattack, joined by Dan Olmsted at AoA, and it was on, as last week Jake Crosby posted a followup screed, in which he castigated Mark Blaxill, SafeMinds, and a lot of his former friends, all the while providing the lamest justification I’ve ever heard for betraying the confidences of friends.

To be honest, after that last broadside by Jake, I didn’t expect to hear anything for a while. From my point of view, it seemed as though Jake had only been allowed to post that final shot because of some sort of leverage over Dan Olmsted, whose introduction to Jake’s post sounded quite peeved and unenthusiastic. It was also obvious that Jake was being manipulated, used as a tool by forces he clearly doesn’t understand. Apparently enamored of an antivaccine former scientist named Brian Hooker, who really, really believes in the scientifically discredited idea that mercury in vaccines causes autism, Jake has been clearly serving as the mouthpiece for Hooker’s agenda, a clear case of old age and treachery overcoming youth and skill. Well, overcoming youth, anyway. You see, Hooker apparently believes that SafeMinds used lobbyist Beth Clay to push him out from getting to testify at the recent Congressional mummer’s farce of a committee hearing about autism. Yes, it’s a war between the True Believers, who want to speak antivaccine Truth to power no matter what, and the pragmatist wing of the antivaccine quackery movement, as embodied by SafeMinds.

Boy, was I wrong in my expectations!

Just yesterday, what to my amused eyes should appear but a post from Hulda Clark’s pit bull, the man whose sole talent is to slime anyone who brings science-based criticism to quackery and in the process making the denizens of AoA appear rational by comparison. I’m referring to Patrick “Tim” Bolen, also known as Tim O’Ranter, who has announced that he is going to take over the antivaccine movement in a post entitled Why Autism is Going to Be Here Much, Much Longer…Unless Major Change Happens… Seriously, it’s so awesome that I’ll cut to the punchline first:

There are a lot of Autism small groups reaching out and solving, or at least mitigating, small problems. But, in the Autism community there is no General Plan, and no effort to put one together. More, the top leadership groups, for the most part, are exclusive, not inclusive.

So, in my opinion, without a change in Autism leadership, strategy and tactics, Autism is very much here to stay.

So, what should we, in the Health Freedom Movement do about this?

Frankly, I think we should take this project over, and run it ourselves. We are much better organized, treat each other with respect, and we like challenges. Most of all we know how to win.

And, yes, I have a list of people, and groups, in the Autism world we could work with.

I’m not one for praying, as regular readers know. I am, after all, more or less a godless heathen. But Bolen’s success in this endeavor is something that might get me praying again. Can you imagine? If Bolen were to succeed in taking over the “project” of promoting the idea that vaccines cause autism and the various quackery known as the “autism biomed” movement, usurping the current groups that promote this quackery, he’d do for antivaccine quackery what he did for Hulda Clark: Complete the process of marginalizing it. Besides, Bolen would provide endless entertainment value while completely destroying any effectiveness of the antivaccine movement in promoting its message, because that’s just the kind of guy that he is. Imagine, further, the entertainment value to be had if Bolen, through his pet attack Chihuahua Jake Crosby, managed to succeed in becoming the big machers of the antivaccine movement.

My fantasies of being able to sit back and watch Bolen and Crosby destroy the antivaccine movement by taking it over aside, Bolen was originally going to speak at the yearly quackfest in Chicago known as AutismOne, but his having unleashed Crosby on his former buddies managed to piss them off so much that, well:

While I was at the private meeting in Washington DC I received a message from Teri Arranga (AutismOne) that Mark and Jennifer were going to pull the Canary Party’s $9,000 sponsorship of AutismOne if I, Tim Bolen, remained on the AutismOne Speaker Schedule. They were reacting to me having made Jake’s article available to Autism leadership. They said I was “destructive.” Teri and Ed refused to remove me, so they lost that sponsorship.

I have since removed myself from those speaking engagements. I need to stay neutral.

I love the way Bolen keeps referring to himself as “I, Tim Bolen.” It’s so self-absorbed and self-importantly pretentious that it never ceases to bring a chuckle to my lips whenever I see it. Particularly amusing is how Bolen refers to something he calls the “Autism Leadership Council” (a misnomer if ever there was one!) to which he sent a hidden link to Jake Crosby’s original “expose” that started this little internecine war. Of course, Jake rather ruined any sort of secrecy by Tweeting the secret link, which led to some bloggers (including me), who couldn’t resist doing what we do best and blogging about it. If Jake hadn’t Tweeted that link, it’s doubtful that anyone would have noticed it any time soon. But he did Tweet it; so we did notice it. No doubt Bolen knew Jake couldn’t resist publicizing his own work.

The interesting thing about this post is that Bolen lays it on the line. Obviously, because it’s Bolen, one has to take everything he says with more than a grain of salt. However, we do nonetheless learn some interesting things about how the schism between Bolen (and now Crosby) and the SafeMinds/AoA contingent occurred. It appears to have begun with the proposed global treaty being developed by the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) designed to reduce health hazards by reducing products and processes that release mercury into the environment. The original version of the treaty would have apparently banned thimerosal containing vaccines, but the world public health community strongly objected because doing so would devastate efforts to bring vaccine-preventable diseases under control in Third World countries.

Now here’s where it gets interesting. Apparently SafeMinds advocated a “phasedown” of the use of mercury in its press release on the issue. Anyone reasonable reading this press release could not interpret it as anything other than demanding the removal of mercury from all vaccines and pharmaceutical products. But this is Patrick “Tim” Bolen we’re talking about here. He saw the word “phasedown,” and completely lost his mind, ranting about how a “phasedown” is the industry term for “We’ll never do anything voluntarily. What kind of idiot would think we would?” So Bolen wrote an obnoxious letter to the SafeMinds board, an obnoxious and insulting letter being the only kind of letter Bolen is capable of writing. Apparently Sallie Bernard replied but didn’t satisfy Bolen with her answers, which then led Bolen to threaten SafeMinds thusly:

Your organization reminds me of the Detroit Lions football team story where Michiganders are waiting for an even colder winter – when the temperature drops to 500 below zero, and Hell freezes over, and the Lions will win the Super Bowl.

You should be careful how you answer my questions, for, frankly, your future as an organization depends on your answers. You, and yours, are under a microscope – and you certainly deserve to be. If there is an explanation for your abysmal success rate NOW would be a good time to explain yourselves.

Should you, foolishly, NOT answer my questions, or attempt to obfuscate again, I will take that as an answer, and proceed accordingly.

Alright, I know more than most that the Lions have been a national laughingstock for the last several years, but come on!

Apparently “proceeding accordingly” means in Bolen-speak unleashing someone like Crosby, who seems eager to descend into the same depths that Bolen routinely inhabits. typically, Bolen seems to be laboring under the delusion that I was defending SafeMinds when I made it clear that I have no dog in this fight and that I find Jake Crosby and SafeMinds equally objectionable. They are, as Gunnery Sargent Hartman would say, all equally worthless when it comes to science, medicine, and the threat to public health they represent. Yet somehow Bolen, true to form, misrepresents me as vigorously defending SafeMinds, while claiming that I have a $39 million grant from Sanofi-Aventis. Would that were true! If that were true I wouldn’t have to go groveling to the NIH every four months, hoping against hope to get another grant for a paltry few hundred thousand dollars (which won’t go very far in this environment), in spite of pay lines hovering around the 7th percentile range before my current funding is spent and I have to shut my lab down. Such is the life of a translational researcher these days. The claim that I have $39 million in super secret pharma money that only Jake Crosby and Patrick “Tim” Bolen can discover is so outrageously and verifiably wrong that it’s a claim that could only come from one or both of that particular not-so-dynamic duo. Funny, too, how Bolen somehow missed the part in the comments where, in response to a suggestion by a reader that people write to Crosby’s professors and the chair of his department, I strongly rejected any suggestion that skeptics try to counter people like Jake by harassing them at work or school. We are not, after all, Jake Crosby or Patrick “Tim” Bolen. I will not be a party to sinking to that level.

I will emphasize to Bolen, however, that I do not consider SafeMinds my “friend and ally in this argument,” as Bolen claims. As far as I’m concerned, SafeMinds is basically indistinguishable from AoA (they do share many members), and that I lump them in with the same group as Jake Crosby, Brian Hooker, and Tim Bolen. The only difference between SafeMinds and Bolen is that SafeMinds is a bit more dangerous. It has the potential to have a bit more success because it can hide the crazy briefly when it is strategically advantageous to do so. Bolen simply cannot hide or disguise his crankitude even temporarily, and these days, apparently, neither can Crosby anymore. Why else would I be praying that Bolen succeeds in his quest to take over the antivaccine movement? They’d be constantly flying its crank flag high.

Nor do we skeptics sink to the level to which Bolen sinks next. It’s a tactic so despicable and shocking that it surprised even me that even someone as vile as Bolen would sink this low in order to attack someone ostensibly on the same “side.” Basically, Bolen accuses Mark Blaxill of marital infidelity:

Throughout the discussions with Autism people about what I call the “Autism leadership problem” one other situation kept coming up – the relationship between Mark Blaxill and Jennifer VanDerHorst-Larson. Both Blaxill and Larson have children with Autism – and both seem to be married to someone else – that someone else who takes care of the autistic children while Mark and Jennifer (Ken and Barbie) travel together, endlessly, running, and/or influencing, various organizations (SafeMinds, Facing Autism, the Canary Party, Age of Autism), all of which claim to speak for the Autism community.

I’m told that the night before the infamous Congressional Committee on Oversight and Government Reform committee hearing on November 29th, 2012, the one Jake Crosby talks about in his article, that Elyse Blaxill, Mark’s wife, confronted Mark and Jennifer about their “relationship.” Mark was quoted as saying “that was the worst night of my life.” I’m told that Capitol Police were notified to be on alert that Mark’s wife might try to disrupt the televised hearing.

Notice the insinuation. “I’m told,” Bolen says. No sources. No evidence. Insinuation without explicitly accusing Blaxill and Larson of having an affair. In other words, it’s a classic Bolen smear job. In fact, it’s such a vile smear job that I can’t believe I actually am feeling a little sympathy for Mark Blaxill, a guy whom I routinely refer to as Mark “Not A Doctor, Not a Scientist” Blaxill.

The rest of Bolen’s post is about a group called Facing Autism, which, I must admit, I had never heard of. But wow. This group had a board of directors with a lot of familiar faces, such as Mark Blaxill, Mary Holland, Lou Conte, Dan Olmsted, and other “luminaries” of the antivaccine movement and, if Bolen is to be believed, received $200,000 from a “philanthropic organization” in its first year and was to receive $100,000 a year for at least a year or two after that, but for some reason was defunded. Whether or not this is true, the odd thing is that Bolen says that the “philanthropist” pulled the funding because the organization “simply didn’t do what they said they were going to do with the money.” Nothing is said about what Facing Autism had promised to do with the money or how it had “failed.” However, with that board of rabid antivaccine activists, I must say that I’m glad Facing Autism failed, if fail it did. Sadly, there remains big money funding many of these antivaccine organizations; so great harm to public health by them is still possible.

Whenever I think that antivaccinationists and quacks can’t go any lower, they somehow manage to go lower. Usually, when that happens, Bolen is somehow involved. Now he wants to unify the autism-vaccine movement under the banner of his “health freedom” movement whose power and influence only exist in his mind. At this point, I don’t know whom I’m rooting for. Actually, I do. I’m rooting for all sides in this little internecine war to destroy each other, which would end the threat to children represented by antivaccine activists such as those in SafeMinds, Patrick “Tim” Bolen, Mark Blaxill, AoA, NVIC, and the whole rotten bunch. Finally, I don’t feel the least bit sorry for SafeMinds or AoA. Over the last couple of years, they decided to get close to Bolen, apparently thinking that they could work together, but Bolen can’t work with anyone. The internecine war they now find themselves in is entirely their own fault, and they now richly deserve the fallout.

You know, at this point, popcorn alone isn’t going to be enough. Can I have some more schadenfreude on that popcorn?