Thinker. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

After yesterday’s detailed analysis of a study that’s being touted far and wide as “evidence” that vitamin C cures cancer, I thought I deserved a bit of a break. No, that doesn’t mean I’m going to take the day off from blogging. (Obviously, as you’re reading this now.) It does mean that I plan on doing a bit of slumming, though, and what better place to slum than on some of the antivaccine crank blogs? Besides, it’s almost as though they want me to apply a heapin’ helpin’ of not-so-Respectful Insolence to their material, given that they’ve put up posts that provide such ready insight into how they think, if you can call it thinking.

Speaking of “thinking” (if that’s what it is when done by antivaccine activists), perhaps the most amusing of the recent bunch (which I might, if I’m in a particularly Insolent mood, discuss in a separate post later in the week) is a post by one Shannon Strayhorn, one of the self-proclaimed “Thinkers” (with a capital T) or “THINKERS” (yes, all caps) on the Not-So-Thinking Moms’ Revolution (TMR), one of the crankiest of the antivaccine crank blogs. What makes TMR so deliciously cranky is the utterly insufferable arrogance that every one of the bloggers there exhibits, as embodied in the very name of the blog. You see, they’re the “Thinkers,” and you, my vaccine-supporting friends, you are the poor deluded sheeple who wouldn’t support vaccines if you would only take the time to pull your head out of its pharma-induced fog and Educate Yourself and THINK like the Thinking Moms. This insufferably self-important and self-righteous attitude oozes copiously from every single post on TMR, like mayonnaise gone bad oozing out of a hole in one of those little packets at a fast food joint. Every article is framed with the concept that, unlike the “sheeple” who support vaccines, the TMR moms are the only ones who have thrown off the shackles of sheepleness and become enlightened, making them so much more awesome than anyone else as a result of their Google University educations and their ability to cherry pick and distort evidence. They are important. They are warriors fighting against all odds to bring The Truth About Vaccines to the unwashed masses. Meanwhile, apparently “thinking” means massive projection, as TMR loves to accuse scientists and pro-science bloggers of cherry picking and distorting evidence.

Hilariously, Shannon thinks herself a veritable modern day antivaccine Sun Tzu, as she tries—and fails miserably—to embody Tzu’s famous quote, “If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles” in a post entitled, appropriately enough, If You Know Your Enemy and Know Yourself… Too bad she forgot the second part of that famous quote by Sun Tzu, “…if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.” Guess which category Shannon falls into? (Hint: It’s not the category she thinks she’s in.) Despite declaring herself proudly to be a “THINKER,” Shannon then immediately proceeds to demonstrate that she clearly has no idea how to think scientifically or critically and therefore, given her self-image as a “THINKER,” clearly does not know herself. (Heck, TMR has even in the past gushed about homeopathy!) She also clearly does not know her enemies, either, even after having decided to take Paul Offit’s free online course on vaccines at CHOP. Part of the reason is that she didn’t take it to learn about vaccines. Oh, no. Rather, this was her reason:

Recently I shared a picture of my Statement of Accomplishment from Paul Offit’s vaccine course. To catch everyone up, I have been taking courses in a number of different subjects with the intention of learning every possible aspect of autism. However, this one was different. I didn’t sign up to learn something about vaccines, as I have been studying that for years; I signed up to learn about the opposition.

So right off the bat, we know that she entered Dr. Offit’s course with an agenda, and that agenda was not to learn about vaccines, mainly because, in her Dunning-Kruger state, Strayhorn labors under the delusion that she already knows everything she needs to know about vaccines. Rather, it was to scope out what she viewed as the “opposition.” After proclaiming how she and her antivaccine sisters have stood together and are “THINKING” (yes, she really did capitalize the word “thinking”) Shannon goes on to elaborate:

We need to think through, not just our next step, but their next step. We need to infiltrate the ranks, counter their plan of attack. And, in order to do this, we need to KNOW who we were up against: not just who they work for or what they stand to lose should the truth come out, but what kind of people they are, how they think, the words they use, the tactics they use to sway opinion, the way they twist the data to fit their agenda. We need to understand exactly what it is that we face.

So what did our brave non-sheeple “Thinker” do? First, she grabbed another antivaccinationist, and then she joined the course. She also joined the student discussion boards, where she clearly tried to start peddling her antivaccine nonsense, beginning with what she describes as the “story of my daughter and how she was diagnosed with encephalopathy following her vaccinations and how years later we ended up with those words of vaccine injury conveniently being changed to autism.” So, basically, what Strayhorn did, apparently, was to subject the class to her self-absorption by presenting her N=1 anecdote in a course on vaccines and then exhibit surprise that her message was not well received. What did she expect? Indeed, another antivaccine activist, Ginger Taylor, reported on one of Strayhorn’s previous adventures in taking a course, this time a course on vaccine clinical trials offered by Johns Hopkins University. There, apparently Strayhorn bombarded the class with the same sorts of dubious studies purporting to demonstrate a link between vaccines and autism. When rebuffed, this was her attitude:

So of course I shut up…NOT!

I kindly said while I am soooooo impressed with their degrees and careers that I find it scary that someone so educated could in fact get to that point considering they couldn’t even be bothered to read the science, and couldn’t counter one little mom like myself. I asked if it was necessary to post my resume too? I was told we are just parents who are so clueless and don’t understand what the difference is between causation and correlation, that the discussion was going to be stopped because it was off topic, and that it wasn’t necessary to counter what I shared because the science was in and definite. Definitely in.

Bahahaha….oh it is in….but it is clearly not showing what they want!

Such “Thinking”! I’m so impressed. In actuality, I feel sympathy for the instructors for that course who had to put up with Strayhorn’s antics, which were clearly meant to disrupt the class, not to educate. (One wonders if she pulled similar antics on the discussion boards of Dr. Offit’s course.) My guess is that they’ve probably encountered antivaccine “Thinkers” full of Dunning-Kruger effect-inspired arrogance of ignorance who thought that looking up some crappy studies on the University of Google and cherry picking the ones that purport to show vaccines to be harmful, usually by the usual suspects who are well known here, such as Andrew Wakefield, Christopher Shaw, Lucija Tomljenovic or Mark Geier, impresses anyone who actually knows something about science and vaccines. It’s the sort of behavior that impresses similarly science-challenged people who, thanks to Dunning-Kruger, don’t realize that they’re science challenged, and similarly like to trumpet lists of cherry picked papers that ignore the preponderance of evidence favoring the safety and efficacy of vaccines or to misinterpret papers that don’t show what they think they show as being “evidence” for a vaccine-autism link.

Now, in all fairness, it does sound as though there were a handful of students who delighted perhaps more than they should have in posting screenshots of Strayhorn’s online antivaccine activities. On the other hand, if you don’t want it brought up, you shouldn’t post stuff on public forums. When people throw my words back in my face, say, from one of my blogs or from my Twitter account, I don’t whine about it or refer to it as “stalking” (even if it arguably is). I just make sure that what I post can’t easily be used against me. I don’t always succeed, but when I don’t I usually don’t whine about it. Strayhorn could learn a thing or two from that.

Of course, learning isn’t her objective. She thinks she already knows everything she needs to know to be an antivaccine warrior:

We don’t need to combat the same old nonsense. We have the information. We moved the goal posts. We won’t be dragged into ridiculous debates from ten years ago. There is no debate. We are not going to allow the same old tactics. This never was an anti-vaccine or pro-vaccine issue like they claim. This is a conversation about science, health, and the facts. This isn’t about any one person, group, or any celebrity, and it never has been. And we are making that clear. This is about an army of people who did the unthinkable and changed this conversation to be about what it always was really about: the truth. We are done allowing them to attach “just parents,” as a way to discount our stories. We have NEVER been “just” parents.

We don’t walk away from their classes, their groups, their blogs, or anything else. We are here and holding them accountable now. These people can no longer hide among those who are afraid to question. We are beyond hoping that they will just do the right things, we are on to holding them responsible for doing the wrong things. This is a revolution and we are armed and ready.

The only thing I agree with here is that Strayhorn and her “Thinking” bunch of antivaccine warriors did move the goalposts. Moving the goalposts is a classic crank technique and they certainly do that.

Ms. Strayhorn is perfectly welcome to venture into the comment section here at Respectful Insolence. She is welcome to hit me with her best shot and show me her best evidence to support her position. She can even post that list of peer-reviewed papers that the Johns Hopkins people rejected, if she likes (although a post with a lot of links will go into moderation and might take a while to appear). I only ask that she briefly explain how each one supports her argument. Even though I was pretty snarky—downright Insolent, if you will—I even promise not to be nasty. At least I won’t be the one to fire the first shot although I do reserve the right to respond in kind if attacked first. If she does, I will even ask my readers to tone down the usual—shall we say?—freewheeling nature of the discourse going on in this comment thread. She claims she knows her enemy. She claims she knows herself. If that’s true and Sun Tzu was right all those many hundreds of years ago, then she has nothing to fear from us.

Ms. Strayhorn, THINKER, concludes her post by challenging those of us who defend the science of vaccines from antivaccine loons like herself:

This battle just changed.


Consider it brought.