A young antivaccine propagandist plans to teach his mad skillz to other antivaccinationists

As hard as it might be to believe, one time over 20 years ago I actually took the Dale Carnegie course and, as part of that course, read his famous book How To Win Friends and Influence People. I know, I know. It’s probably not obvious from my style of writing on this particular blog, but I did, and i tried to take the lessons to heart. The main reason I took the course, however, was because back then my public speaking truly sucked. I was nervous, hesitant, and tended to mumble a lot. That course was the first time I realized that I could be a halfway decent public speaker. Now, over 20 years later, I’m no longer nervous and hesitant when speaking, but I suppose I do still mumble a bit. Oh, well. Some flaws never quite go away, no matter how much we work on them. Since then, I’ve actually had speaking engagements in front of hundreds of people, and they haven’t come after me with pitchforks and torches yet, but then I haven’t tried to speak at an event like the quackfest known as Autism One, where such a result might not be unexpected.

Speaking of Autism One, last week I wrote about just what a quackfest that yearly gathering of antivaccinationists and autism quacks. Although it was a throwaway line, I mentioned that our old “friend” Jake Crosby was slated to give a talk entitled Challenging the Consensus Through Effective Advocacy. I hadn’t planned on mentioning it again, but then last night I got one of those blogging gifts that bloggers dream about every day, a target topic so big, fat, juicy, and full of comedy gold that it makes you want to drop everything else and make it the topic du jour. Now, you might ask why I didn’t take advantage of the topic of Jake’s upcoming talk last week when I first mentioned it. A fair question. The answer is easy. Last week I didn’t have the handout containing the slides for his talk in my hot little hands. Thank you my readers for pointing out that in the interim since last week Jake had given me this most excellent gift. Upon reading the slides, I couldn’t help but think of Dale Carnegie, because Jake’s talk looks like a warped version of Now Not To Win Friends and Influence People, antivaccine version.

The hilarity begins right at the very beginning of the talk, in which Jake promises to show us six things, beginning with “why engaging the other side is so important.” If Jake’s past behavior is any indication, engaging the other side is propaganda. The problem, of course, is that Jake’s just not very good at it. His version of “engaging” the other side basically involves stalking scientists like Dr. Paul Offit (or myself) at talks, waiting for the Q&A, and then basically making an obnoxious ass of himself. Jake also claims he will demonstrate how to “effectively frame the debate.” Of course, there is no real “debate.” It’s a manufactroversy, in which antivaccine cranks like Jake try very, very hard to convince you that there really is a scientific “debate” when there is not. The evidence is so overwhelming that vaccines are not correlated with autism or all the neurodevelopmental disorders and autoimmune diseases that antivaccinationists try to pin on them. Neither is the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal, which used to be in childhood vaccine until around 2001-2002.

The next two objectives are to “follow the money” and “track down connections.” When Jake “follows the money” and “tracks down connections,” you know hilarity will ensue. You might remember a few years ago, which was the first time I had a little fun at Jake’s expense over his “tracking down connections” between Adam Bly and Seed Media and, of course, big pharma. Of course, back then I was more favorably inclined towards Jake than I am now. He was, after all, still barely out of high school then and had clearly fallen in with the wrong crowd, at least in terms of critical thinking, science, and ethics. Also, back then, I thought he was still potentially salvageable. Four years and and a ridiculous number of screeds against scientists and journalists later, Jake is fully an adult now and doesn’t rate such consideration considering how low he’s chosen to sink. These days, he’s accusing me of having undisclosed conflicts of interest that are neither undisclosed nor conflicts of interest and using the tired old “pharma shill” gambit. He’s even gone so far as to insinuate conflicts of interest and nefarious behavior by a judge. Not a great idea if you don’t have really strong evidence supporting your accusation.

Oh, well, there are fits and starts in developing as an antivaccine propagandist. I do find a false dichotomy that Jake lays down highly amusing:

  • Is the problem that the government is not doing enough?
  • Or is it that the government is doing an awful lot, but to cover up that vaccines are causing the autism epidemic?

I’ll take “None of the above” for $2,000, Alex.

Jake’s characterization of scientific consensus is rather amusing, too. He laments that the Institute of Medicine (IOM) defines “consensus” using a “small group of panelists” and “closed meetings.” One is tempted to respond: “Scientific consensus”? You keep using that term. I do not think it means what you think it means. A scientific consensus is developed by far more than just committees associated with the IOM. It’s developed by the community of scientists at large studying a problem, and the overwhelming consensus is that vaccines do not cause autism. The IOM reports, such as the most recent one a few months ago, are merely a reflection of that existing consensus, not a mandate. Yet it serves the purpose of antivaccinationists to represent the IOM as some sort of shadowy cabal in the thrall of big pharma dictating the “scientific consensus” from on high. It’s utter piffle, of course, but that’s never stopped Jake before. Nearly everything he says is utter piffle.

Jake saves the best for last, though. If you thought the first half of his talk was pure comedy gold (and it was), then you might want to take a deep breath before diving into the last half, in which he “defines the problem” and tells the tale of his advocacy. Of course, his advocacy seems to involve smearing anyone and everyone who doesn’t toe the line on the now discredited myth that mercury in vaccines causes autism. Most amusing, that seems to include a lot of people ostensibly on “his side.” He attacks what any reasonable person would consider rabid antivaccinationists, such as SafeMinds, the Canary Party and Mark Blaxill. I’m guessing that he’ll rehash his overheated conspiracy theories that he dreamt up when he decided that SafeMinds was far too squishy on vaccines and “stole” the antivaccine Congressional autism hearing away from Jake’s new best bud forever, Brian Hooker. I don’t really want to rehash all that old territory again; so I’ll refer you to a bit of the back and forth bickering between Jake and his former allies. One really wonders how well Jake’s broadsides against some of the leaders of the antivaccine movement who have been at Autism One in the past will go over with this year’s attendees. (Actually, one wonders how well attended Jaek’s talk will even be.) The list of “culprits” on Jake’s part includes Mark Blaxill, Sallie Bernard, Lyn Redwood, Ginger Taylor (oh, goody!), and Gary Kompothecras, the last of which came to me as a huge surprise. He’s a guy we’ve met before, a prominent antivaccine chiropractor in Florida who was affiliated with the father-son antivaccine tag team of Mark and David Geier. Apparently, in Jake’s fevered imagination, Kompothecras told Brian Hooker about the Congressional hearing that got Brian Hooker, and through him, Jake Crosby all hot and bothered. Is it true? Who knows? Who cares? I just like seeing Jake fire napalm-grade burning stupid at his former allies.

All of this brings us to the grand finale, in which Jake explains his methods, in which you—yes, you!—can be just like Jake. He explains how to look for conflicts of interest in obituaries (nice touch!), wedding announcements, Twitter accounts, Facebook profiles, news articles, and the like. The hilarious thing is that his handout says that not all publicity is good publicity, particularly if you’re “trying to convince people of a scientific truth.” Of course, Jake’s definition of “truth” is more akin to “truthiness,” not truth, and, besides, there is no such thing as “scientific truth.” There are scientific findings, which are always provisional and always changeable in the face of new evidence. The problem, however, is that there just hasn’t been any convincing evidence that vaccines are in any way correlated with autism. Instead of actually producing evidence, Jake finds it easier to stalk scientists and harass them. He purports to tell his audience how to deal with how speakers might respond, and this is the part of the talk that had me stifling a full-on laugh, particularly when he says that speakers might respond by bluffing, lying, changing the subject, ad hominem attacks, or “ordering you to leave.” Of course, I did none of these things when Jake tried his “technique” on me.

I lost it when I read the slides telling the audience to try to engage with the speaker after the talk and what to do “if you get attacked.” First, Jake says “don’t attack back.” Of course, in my encounter with Jake, he rather forgot his own rule. When I told him that he didn’t know what he was talking about, he called me a liar. Bad boy, Jake. That’s not taking your own advice.

In the end, I guess that Jake wants to create an army of mini-Jakes to harass pro-science advocates and skeptics speaking out against the antivaccine movement, the better to harass them. I can hardly wait the next time I give a talk.