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In which I am called an astroturfer and generously offered a chance at unconditional surrender by antivaccine cranks

conspiracy-theories-everywhere

Ever since the Disneyland measles outbreak hit high gear last month and permeated the national consciousness, the antivaccine movement has, justifiably, been on the defensive. We’ve been treated to the spectacle of a truly despicable cardiologist spewing antivaccine nonsense with an added dollop of contempt for parents of children with cancer who are worried about the degradation of herd immunity by non-vaccinating parents driving vaccine rates down, leading to pockets of low vaccine uptake. We’ve had antivaccinationists likening vaccine mandates to human trafficking and rape. Then, of course, after five years of mostly laying low with his antivaccine views, Bill Maher let his antivaccine freak flag fly again over the last two weeks.

Strange times, indeed.

However, it’s not so unexpected that antivaccinationists would be going nuts. It’s what happens when they’re on the defensive. The measles outbreak has provided unequivocal evidence of what can happen when vaccination rates fall low enough in various areas to compromise herd immunity. So antivaccinationists have to ramp up the crazy in order to defend themselves or even go on the offensive. For example, there’s Sharyl Attkisson. You remember Sharyl Attkisson, don’t you? She’s was formerly CBS News’ antivaccine reporter who could really bring the antivaccine crazy when she wanted to and was in tight with denizens of the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism. More recently, she abused the case of a murdered autistic teen to her own ends. More recently, she resurrected her antivaccine propaganda, but it was no more convincing last year than it was several years before. Since leaving CBS, in fact, she’s become an all-purpose conspiracy crank.

In fact, she’s honored me. Seriously. She has bestowed upon me a great honor, when others pointed out to me this Tweet:

The link is entitled Top 10 Astroturfers. Guess who’s in there? Yes, indeed:

TOP 10 ASTROTURFERS

  1. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Everytown
  2. Media Matters for America
  3. University of California Hastings Professor Dorit Rubenstein Reiss and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Dr. Paul Offit
  4. “Science” Blogs such as: Skeptic.com, Skepchick.org, Scienceblogs.com (Respectful Insolence), Popsci.com and SkepticalRaptors.com
  5. Mother Jones
  6. Salon.com and Vox.com
  7. White House press briefings and press secretary Josh Earnest
  8. Daily Kos and The Huffington Post
  9. CNN, NBC, New York Times, Politico and Talking Points Memo (TPM)
  10. MSNBC, Slate.com, Los Angeles Times and Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times, MSNBC and Jon Stewart.

As I said again, yes indeedy do. Look who’s at number 4: Me, along with other bloggers and skeptics who are worthy companions to be found amongst. According to Attkisson, I’m:

Astroturfers often disguise themselves and publish blogs, write letters to the editor, produce ads, start non-profits, establish Facebook and Twitter accounts, edit Wikipedia pages or simply post comments online to try to fool you into thinking an independent or grassroots movement is speaking. They use their partners in blogs and in the news media in an attempt to lend an air of legitimacy or impartiality to their efforts.

And:

A close third is an array of blogs that use words such as “science” and “skeptic” in their titles or propaganda in an attempt to portray an image of neutrality and logic when they are often fighting established science and serving pro-pharmaceutical industry agendas. These include: ScienceBlogs.com (using the pseudonym “Orac”); vaccine inventor Dr. Paul Offit of The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who earned an undisclosed fortune from Merck pharmaceuticals; and his apparent replacement in trolling blogs Dorit Rubenstein Reiss. She is a law professor at the University of California Hastings and a frequent contributor to SkepticalRaptors.com.

Yes! She likes me! She really, really likes me!

Seriously, though. Attkisson really lets her crank flag fly here! Everybody who promotes views that she doesn’t like online must be astroturf, be it gun control groups, liberal magazines or groups, anyone advocating for vaccines or science-based medicine, and, well, pretty much anyone whose politics or beliefs she opposes. Surely she must realize that, to someone like me, being named in such a list is a badge of honor. After all, if anyone resembles an astroturf outfit, it’s certain antivaccinationists. Besides, antivaccinationists certainly aren’t above a bit of astroturfing themselves. Perhaps the best example is Anne Dachel, the “media editor” of Age of Autism, who sends up the signal whenever she finds a pro-vaccine article in order to send in her squadrons of flying monkeys to drop antivaccine poo in the comments. If that’s not astroturfing, I don’t know what is. I guess the pressure due to the Disneyland measles outbreak coming down on antivaccine conspiracy theorists is starting to get to Attkisson.

Rather like Kent Heckenlively.

We’ve met Kent many times before. He’s the antivaccine warrior at the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism, or, as I like to call it, that wretched hive of scum and antivaccine quackery. He’s a guy who hit his autistic daughter’s grandparents up for $15,000 to take her to a dubious stem cell clinic in Costa Rica for stem cell injections directly into her cerebrospinal fluid. Not surprisingly, it didn’t work. He also has a penchant for apocalyptic imagery.

With antivaccine pseudoscience under attack by the mainstream media (as it should be), he’s also developed a penchant for delusion. Don’t believe me? Check out his recent post hilariously entitled I Will Accept Your Surrender. This has to be one of the most deludedly hilarious things I’ve read in a very long time. Its derp is epic:

I’ve made this offer several times in the past. I’m making it again. I am willing to accept the surrender of those who have perverted science, harmed a generation of children, and even as of this late date are willing to harm more children so as to not to upset the balance of their lives.

Wow. The arrogance of this statement is incredibly deluded in its arrogance. Or is that arrogant in its delusion? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter anyway. In Heckenlively’s world, not unlike Attkisson’s world, there is a vast conspiracy to force-vaccinate every child with evil toxic vaccines that cause autism, complete with machinations to make sure that the sheeple never find out the conspiracy’s nefarious plans for world domination. Yet, in Heckenlively’s mind, in the arrogance of his delusions, this conspiracy is losing, to the point where Heckenlively has the chutzpah to tell its members that he’ll accept their unconditional surrender. How does he do this? He bases his claim on the conflation of two things that are not the same thing:

It must be truly troubling for those who continue to fuel the epidemic of autism and other chronic diseases that even though you still maintain the trust of those in the media, the scientific community, and most of the people in politics, an amazing 39% of the population in a recent Fox News poll believe parents need to have the right to decide how and whether their children can be vaccinated.

You see, I’ve interviewed enough scientists that I understand the world in which you operate. Although you tremble in fear when you confront the dark questions at the heart of why so many children and adults suffer with chronic diseases, you feel quite comfortable making others cower as has been done to you. It must really annoy you when you fulminate against us as if we were some extremist group, that somehow you can’t get the rest of the population to fully buy it.

See what I mean. Heckenlively is conflating his antivaccine views with the view that parents should have the “right’ to decided how and when to vaccinated their children. It is a prime example of what I’ve described before, how antivaccinationists cloak their pseudoscientific views in the rhetoric of “health freedom,” just as Rand Paul did not too long ago. It’s why, although antivaccine views are the quackery that transcends simple left-right boundaries. On the other hand, there is definitely a strain of antivaccinationism that very comfortably fits in right-wing circles, to which Heckenlively, with his activity in the Canary Party, appears to ascribe.

But what about the poll? Here are its results. First of all, it’s a poll about way more than vaccines. The vaccine questions are #27-30 out of 49 questions. Its results are not exactly as kind to Heckenlively’s view as he thinks. For example, in response to the question, “In general, how safe to you think vaccines are,” the results were that 65% thought they were safe (extremely 29%, very 36%), while 31% questioned safety (somewhat unsafe 26%, not at all 5%) with 3% reporting not knowing. Meanwhile, 89% said vaccines were important (57% extremely important; 32% very important) while only 10% said they weren’t important (9% somewhat unimportant; 1% not at all important), with 2% stating that they don’t know. So here’s the question that Heckenlively thinks supports his view that he’s “winning”: “How do you feel about vaccinating children against deadly diseases — should it be mandatory or should it be left up to the parents to decide whether or not to vaccinate their children?” The responses to this were that 58% thought they should be mandatory, 39% left up to parents.

Now here’s the problem. What does “mandatory” mean? Most respondents, I’d bet, don’t really know. When they think “mandatory,” they think forced vaccination, which is not what we have in this country or are ever likely to have, barring some sort of horrific outbreak. On the other hand, the responses to the question “Do you think a child who has not been vaccinated should — or should not — be allowed to go to public school?” produced a very similar result: 35% should and 60% should not. Does this mean Heckenlively is “winning”? Of course not. What it means is that Americans tend to distrust government. For a mandate, 60% support is pretty high. What will be interesting is to see what will happen to these numbers if the outbreak continues to get worse. In any case, this was only the most superficial of surveys and not very informative. A more detailed survey would go deeper.

With breathtaking self-absorption, Heckenlively thinks that two things will balloon all these numbers: First, the CDC whistleblower “scandal”:

Maybe you’ve been able to push CDC whistleblower, Dr. William Thompson, out of your mind for a while and not think about the THOUSANDS of documents he has turned over to Congressman Bill Posey. Maybe you haven’t really thought much about what it means that Dr. Thompson has been granted CONGRESSIONAL IMMUNITY. Maybe you think they give those out like White House tours. And you don’t consider the implications of Dr. Thompson having one of the country’s best whistleblower attorneys.

Of course, the whole “CDC whistleblower” thing has been nothing more than a manifestation of the central conspiracy theory of the antivaccine movement, namely that that pharmaceutical companies and the government are hiding The Truth that vaccines cause autism from the clueless sheeple other than people like Kent Heckenlively. In reality, it’s a tempest in a teapot, a manufactroversy that fizzled.

Yet, based on that manufactroversy, Heckenlively boasts:

And so I’m offering you a way out. A complete and unconditional surrender. You can’t ask what we’re going to do to you. You’re just going to have to trust in our good graces. Maybe sometime in the distant future your children and family might believe you had a shred of courage if you act at this very moment. But the time for choosing is drawing near. Choose wisely.

That number for Congressman Bill Posey is (202) 225-3671. I hear they’re making their way through the Thompson documents, so if you could help them wrap up a couple loose ends, I’m sure they’d appreciate it. The clock is ticking!

Sorry, Mr. Heckenlively. Your generous offer is declined. If mild opposition to vaccine mandates and a fantastical conspiracy theory about the “CDC whistleblower” William Thompson are all you have, my retort is that I’ll take my chances. Besides, when what you are saying is indistinguishable from what The One Quack To Rule Them All, Mike Adams, says in a post published yesterday entitled BACKFIRE: How the vaccine industry lost the propaganda war, alienated the public and stirred up suspicion of the entire medical profession, that’s not exactly—shall we say?—a winning hand. You really ought to rethink what you’re doing with your life.

So, yes, I think I’ll pass on this kind offer. Perhaps Mr. Heckenlively might wish to consider unconditionally surrendering himself. At the very least, he should prepare himself for some serious disappointment.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

139 replies on “In which I am called an astroturfer and generously offered a chance at unconditional surrender by antivaccine cranks”

I am struggling to understand the meaning of “astroturfer”, according to Attkisson.
Her list has lobbying groups (if I read #1 right), bloggers (both individuals and collectives), news sites, and official government spokepeople.
I’m not even sure if she means the people publishing the articles on the net or the commenters “trolling” them (yeah, because if you voice your opinion on a public place, you are “trolling”)

Part of the issue may be English is second language for me.

However, her definition seems to boil down to “whoever has a different opinion from her”.

Dorit Rubenstein Reiss… is a law professor at the University of California Hastings and a frequent contributor to SkepticalRaptors.com
How does she contribute frequently to a website which doesn’t exist?

She also created that list from a whopping 169 responses to her question on Twitter….not exactly a resounding endorsement – and at least she makes sure to clarify that it wasn’t a “scientific” poll, just an excuse to let her crazy flag fly.

Mein Herr Doktor, she added an ‘s’. It’s The Skeptical Raptor (skepticalraptor.com).

Now I see* where D’Ohlmsted got the idea for this:

Vaccines 2.0 is now the No. 2 book in Immunology on Amazon and climbing quickly.

* “Virology”; “Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #47,769 in Books.”
** “Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #26,955 in Books,” now #8 in its quick-climb pseudoniche. I should have tracked the day-over-day decline to ballpark the number of copies (it’s dropped by about 17,000 places in a week). I’d love 10 minutes with Nielsen BookScan; Skyhorse’s The Healthy Green Drink Diet stands at #740 in books.

This is good:

MSNBC, Slate.com, Los Angeles Times and Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times, MSNBC and Jon Stewart.

Parallelism, Sharyl, par-uh-lism.

Maybe you haven’t really thought much about what it means that Dr. Thompson has been granted CONGRESSIONAL IMMUNITY.

Ah, the other prong of Marcella Piper-Terry’s word salad, to bookend Kennedy. No, Thompson hasn’t been granted any such thing, even in 72-point type. He would have to be subpoened first.

Even Kennedy clued in on this (emphasis added):

Posey hopes to subpoena Dr. Thompson, who is still employed by CDC; Thompson has promised that he intends to come clean about CDC. “If forced to testify, I’m not going to lie. I basically have stopped lying.”

It’s almost as though Kennedy and Heckenlively, both lawyers who damn well ought to know better than to spout such nonsense, were in cahoots.

Mein Herr Doktor, she added an ‘s’. It’s The Skeptical Raptor (skepticalraptor.com).

We both know that, but misspelling a website (multiple times!) does not shed the aura of veracity and credibility to which a journalist might aspire. Indeed, it leaves a lingering suspicion that she has not even visited the site she is aspersing.

Orac is in with distinguished company there!

Attkisson acolytes, reprinting her list, explicitly describe its members as part of a left-wing information war.

I’ve made this offer several times in the past. I’m making it again.

After the first time one offers terms of “Unconditional surrender or face immediate annihilation”, the second, third, fourth and fifth threats of immediate annihilation begin to lose some of their impact.

Or the Saturday Night live skirt where the aliens landed & threatened us with their “muskets.”

And we showed them what an Uzi can do……

I was reminded of “Comical Ali” when the US invasion of Iraq took place. He went on TV saying that the US had been repelled. As he was talking, an M1 Abrams tank drove into view.

ScienceBlogs.com (using the pseudonym “Orac”)

Attkisson’s blithe conviction that RI is the only blog at Scienceblogs.com does not foster a sense that she knows her way around the Intertubes.

@good Herr Doktor: but you know, all those other listed SB blogs are just a front for RI. ONLY Orac counts. Remember this!

How does one get so convinced of one’s own brilliance that it is impossible for anyone to disagree unless the vast conspiracy?

Helianthus there certainly is a legitimate use for astroturfers “fake grass”-roots.

For whatever reasons we like when the little people each on their own start rebelling against the man and then eventually come together as a movement.

So much so that the rich and powerful will spend a lot of money to create one. I have a general distrust of any grass-roots movement as often if you look behind the curtain you find a special interest group using it as part of their lobbying strategy.

I do think one of the things that should be in place to label something as “astroturf” is that movement should be at least promoting itself as a “grass roots” movement, and not much on her list does that.

I have to say that I’ve read and collated the work of countless journalists who thought they could make something out of spinning vaccine damage anecdotes with Wakefield into a whole cloth of an “investigation”. Most of it has been in the UK, where some extremely third rate talent joined the fray. And we naturally assume that the US, for its size, would have greater abilities to bring to the party.

But even including Dan “Donald Duck” Olmsted, there’s hardly anyone I’ve seen who have performed so poorly as Attkisson. All she’s done is cobble together (mostly by Googling) scraps of old anti-vax canards. Or she offers herself to Wakefield: “Oh, but Dr Wakefield, you didn’t even say that the vaccine causes autism, did you?” (not literal quote) It’s really pitiful stuff.

When you compare the MMR fraud with a previous controversy over the old whole-cell DTP vaccine, it’s impossible not to be struck by the difference in the calibre of the players. With DTP (which turned out to be a false scare also, after a big British piece of epidemiology collapsed) there were at least people of ability and integrity voicing the criticisms. And there was very little personal abuse.

Stripped of producers, and having shown her willingness to smear her former professional colleagues, Attkisson is likely going nowhere now. People around her will be saying: the reason we didn’t run her stuff was because it was crap, and she was unreliable. Not because she was some challenge to the administration.

I particularly thought this the other day when my shiny new laptop started deleting text from my screen. When it happened to her, she claimed it was the government – doubtless because she had nothing in her book of much plausibility – and she really believes she’s someone who matters.

Back in Britain, it was significant for her calibre of journalist that, when there was a big break in the Wakefield story, the BBC was unable to find a single journalist willing to come on national radio with me, and defend their journalism.

Vaccines are, in short, the crank magnet above all others.

Heaping scorn on Heckenlively is exactly the right thing to do. He is ridiculous. Nevertheless, I think a pro-vaccine mother has a good point.

http://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/shouting-wont-win-over-vaccination-skeptics-says-mother-of-heart-transplant-baby

“She says people with anti-vax views should not be shouted down, but should be able to state their views.

“Giving them a soapbox provides us the opportunity to question them and get their answers. So the new mom and dad who tune in hear our argument and hear theirs. Based on legitimate facts and not yelling, screaming and blaming, they will make their decision.”

If she was a new mother undecided about vaccines, Olsheski said, “a debate in which one side, with clear, substantiated information, and one side with only folklore, hokum and whatever else,” she would choose the “clear, concise, calm side.””

Let’s keep on trying to present the clear, concise, calm side.

“Astroturfers often disguise themselves and publish blogs, write letters to the editor, produce ads, start non-profits, establish Facebook and Twitter accounts, edit Wikipedia pages or simply post comments online to try to fool you into thinking an independent or grassroots movement is speaking. ”

Dear. Ms. Attkisson: pot, meet kettle. I think you need to take a good, deep look in the mirror, dear.

@Orac: look at it this way. You beat out Jon Stewart, who has a much higher national profile and doesn’t even do real news.

Well, I can see how Sharyl Attkisson might be confused about shills and “astroturf”. After all, RI is just loaded with pharmaceutical ads, while antivax websites have no connection whatsoever with commercial sponsors selling glop to repair “vaccine damage” (sarcasm).

Olmsted’s surrender-now-or-pay-the-consequences threat speaks to desperation (the heat over antivaxers’ contribution to the current measles outbreak must be getting to him) rather than reality.

Since I was not required elsewhere for a while, I had the sublime pleasure** of rifling through Heckenlively’s writing over the past year – which is preserved intact for posterity at AoA- and find it intriguing that he often casts himself and his cronies in a fantasy-based heroic light.

Travelling back through the mists of recent time, I discover that he refers to fellow and sister Skyhorse authors as ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ ( Nov), Knights Templar
( Aug), “supernatural detectives’ and ‘Free People of Middle Earth’ ( both, July, with himself apparently as Aragorn, no less), he imposes Superman imagery upon the words of Luther ( June) or hints at being Edward Snowden whilst noting that his opponents envision his cohorts and their thought leaders as being ” like H-tler” and of course, he calls for surrender at least 3 times.

I would venture that trying on different identities as one slips on new clothes in a store’s changing room is rather juvenile for a person of his age and many of his choices appear overly influenced by pop culture more suited to an adolescent.

Relying upon tropes like these illustrates desperation, immaturity and a surprising lack of general verbal ability for a person who has at least two university degrees.

** yeah, right.

Heckenlively has boosted his own sense of grandeur by co-authoring a book with a (once upon a time) real scientist, whose qualifications in the AoA world were greatly enhanced by her work being subject to the super gamma ray blast of Orac’s co-Science Blogger Erv http://scienceblogs.com/erv/2011/09/30/xmrv-and-chronic-fatigue-syndr-29/ . The book is called Plague, which is little more than an extended apologia for the co-author’s career crash though its primary message seems concerned to appropriate Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fybromyalgia and any other difficult to treat/understand medical condition as mere colonies of a Grand Autism de Fe of health conspiracy.

@Helianthus

I agree that her definition of “astroturfing” seems to be different than what everyone else thinks it means. I also got the impression that by that term she means “anyone who doesn’t agree with me or dares to criticize my writing”. Of course, the real definition implies people who are paid by some interest group or company to pretend to be a grass roots movement, usually involving multiple fake personas per person. It’s a potentially libelous accusation, but Attkisson has an out: “It’s not me calling them this. It’s my Twitter followers.” She doesn’t even have the conviction to stand behind her libel.

His choice of words, if used at the places I’ve worked, would be investigated as threats. I can’t even imagine putting my name to something that unhinged. How embarrassing would it be to be related to Heckenlively?

Truth is that the conspiracy nutters and other right wing nut jobs *routinely* use sock-puppets, astroturfing and other dirty tricks, so they assume everyone else does as well. Paranoia has no bounds.

Hell, even the fact that the majority of pro-science, pro-reality commentators use their real names (like you would for a devious secret campaign) isn’t good enough for them. Must be in the pay of the Big Farmer, etc…

These people are just ignorant religious rednecks who think the Sun goes around the Earth and dinosaurs are a conspiracy too. There is no reasoning with them, all you can do is fight to keep their lunatic views away from your own children.

Travelling back through the mists of recent time, I discover that he refers to fellow and sister Skyhorse authors as ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ ( Nov), Knights Templar
( Aug), “supernatural detectives’ and ‘Free People of Middle Earth’ ( both, July, with himself apparently as Aragorn, no less), he imposes Superman imagery upon the words of Luther ( June) or hints at being Edward Snowden whilst noting that his opponents envision his cohorts and their thought leaders as being ” like H-tler” and of course, he calls for surrender at least 3 times.

Good L-rd. The man should really join a LARP group or something; there are better outlets for such impulses.

I’m inclined to say that Attkisson is just complete insane (with all apologies to those suffering mental illness, I just don’t know how else to categorize such apparently delusional thinking) and that she doesn’t actually understand the use of the term “astroturfing”. Paul Offit can’t be astroturf, because he doesn’t claim to be a grass roots organization, or anything other than what he is. This goes for Orac as well, and most of the others. Jon Stewart? Since when is Jon Stewart the name of an organization built and funded entirely by industry that puts on a charade of being a grass roots group? It’s utterly incoherent. But she’s just reporting the results of an “informal, non-scientific survey….The results represent 169 Twitter respondents who answered a public query either directly or through direct message.” So a delusional women asked her unhinged Twitter followers who the top astroturfers were and got back an absurd list of basically everyone they don’t like. Quality work.

@Helianthus: Your difficulties in understanding Atkisson are due to her poor understanding of English, not yours. As Inigo Montoya would say of Atkisson’s definition of “astroturf”: “You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.” The first item on her list is in fact the very opposite of astroturf, and none of the others come anywhere close. Now, if Atkisson and Bill Maher were to form a group called “Citizens for Sane Vaccine Policy”, funded almost entirely by their money, that would be astroturf (usually, it’s corporations who want to give the impression that their position has far more popular support than it actually has, but I’m having a hard time envisioning a major corporation taking an anti-vax position). The term refers to fake grass roots, an analogy to the kind of astroturf that was designed to be an artificial grass surface for athletic events.

I’m inclined to say that Attkisson is just complete insane (with all apologies to those suffering mental illness, I just don’t know how else to categorize such apparently delusional thinking)

“Delusional” is a place to start. “Sloppy” is even better.

As has been noted above and elsewhere – the Canary Party, TMR & the other spin-off groups fit her definition of “astroturffing” perfectly….

@#1 – Helianthus
It’s not your English, I’m a native English speaker and had to look it up. I’m in the UK so it may be a more common expression in the US or just an expression I’ve not come across. Anyway the Urban dictionary gives the definition as:

“astroturf

Creating the impression of public support by paying people in the public to pretend to be supportive.

The false support can take the form of letters to the editor, postings on message boards in response to criticism, and writing to politicians in support of the cause.

Astroturfing is the opposite of “grassroots”, genuine public support of an issue. ”

http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=astroturf

The clear insinuation is that all of those on her list are doing what they do for profit from some unnamed corporate benefactor.

@Eric – I only have five fingers on both hands.

Heckenlively would be pitiable if he hadn’t spent so much (of someone else’s) money subjecting his daughter to quackery, and advocating for the return of dangerous diseases (by way of advocating against the most effective means of defeating them).

re Gus and JP:

I too don’t know what terms we should use to refer to her state of being because we wouldn’t want to insult people who truly have mental illness;

it’s difficult- but here goes ( and I did study this- meaning both language and psychology)

-I suppose that it’s REALLY wrong to call a person ‘schizophrenic’ or ‘bipolar’ because those are actual clinical diagnoses-
– ‘insane’ is generally legal terminology therefore alright ( ?)
-‘crazy’ is used more vernacularly but possibly refers to SMI
-‘ idiot’, ‘imbecile’ and ‘moron’ formerly were diagnostic terms for ID but have come to mean ‘stupidity writ large’ so I wouldn’t mind them ( altho’ Matt Carey does)

– ‘delusional’ can be aptly descriptive although delusions are a symptom of SMI
-‘ wacky’,’ loony’ and ‘not playing with a full deck’ may be used without fear
– ‘barking’ is acceptable
– ‘misguided’. ‘mal-educated’, ‘dis-informed’, ‘unaware’, ‘deluded’ and ‘ridiculous’ are fine.

@Kaymarie/Todd/Eric Lund

Thanks. I had a strong feeling she was using the word in a very liberal way, but I would have had trouble defining “astroturf” on my own. Now this part is much clearer.

@ MI Dawn

but you know, all those other listed SB blogs are just a front for RI.

And all the commenters are just Orac answering to himself. And anyway, Orac is Bonnie Offiit 🙂

@ JP

The man should really join a LARP group or something

I never tried LARP, but my experience at the dice-and-paper version lead me to suspect that Heckenlively wouldn’t be much appreciated by his unfortunate fellow players. Large hams and chaotic stupid characters may be fun to watch at first, but that doesn’t last long…

DM: ‘OK, your small party of newbies stumble across an invading army of 1000 orcs’

Heckenlively/Aragorn: ‘I walk to the orc leader with the huge choppa and tell him “I’m offering you a way out. A complete and unconditional surrender. You’re just going to have to trust in our good graces. What say you?” ‘

Couldn’t resist tweeting back to Atkinson:

“Who else?” “Count me in!” *evil grin*

Welp, I study language too, am something of an amateur psychologist (as many literature types are, especially those who enjoy a game of poker) and I’ve seen a fair few mental health professionals in my life myself, so I’ll reply:

-I suppose that it’s REALLY wrong to call a person ‘schizophrenic’ or ‘bipolar’ because those are actual clinical diagnoses-

Yeah, this is the usage that bothers me the most. “Ugh, she’s so bipolar,” etc. Offensive and, as importantly, incorrect.

– ‘insane’ is generally legal terminology therefore alright ( ?)

It’s definitely proximate to actual diagnosed mental illness, though; unless you’re in Cypress Hill or something, I wouldn’t go around using it to refer to people.

-‘crazy’ is used more vernacularly but possibly refers to SMI

I know people who don’t like this one, but I find myself using it, though never to refer to people, I suppose – more like ideas or things, usually. So not “he’s crazy,” but “Oh man, that new Pho place on Division is crazy good,” etc.

-‘ idiot’, ‘imbecile’ and ‘moron’ formerly were diagnostic terms for ID but have come to mean ‘stupidity writ large’ so I wouldn’t mind them ( altho’ Matt Carey does)

Yeah, I admit to using these as well. I guess I like to insult people sometimes.

‘delusional’ can be aptly descriptive although delusions are a symptom of SMI

Yeah, which is why I try not to use it lightly; I suppose “deluded” may be a better alternative. In general, I’m not a big fan of using words associated with mental illness as insults.

The rest I agree with. The interesting thing about trying not to use words like “crazy,” “insane,” etc, is that it actually forces you to pay more attention to the words you use, possibly resulting in more descriptive, accurate, and interesting language.

Ah, the sign of an imploding crank: the growing belief that the *entire world* is in on the conspiracy against you.

It’s logically absurd, since it makes no sense for a conspiracy to consist of the majority rather than the minority (if you have the majority, you have no need to conspire becuase you have already won), but if one has invested enough of oneself personally in an idea, perhaps it is more appealing than accepting the possibility of having been wrong.

Antivaccinationism over the past couple of centuries has gone in cycles. It starts off as a conspiracy theory, then grows in popularity until the majority start to hear about it, wonder about it, realize that it’s nuts, and laugh at it. It dies down again, until the last echos of laughter have faded, before it starts to reemerge. I think the Disneyland outbreak prompted the current backlash against antivaccinationism. The torchbearers of the movement of course feel wounded; they’ve had great fun being lauded for their bravery and cleverness, but now it’s gone beyond their little echo chambers and they’re starting to see that people do not think so highly of them after all.

Painful, I’m sure. But they built themselves into this box, and now these supposed champions of truth and free speech get to really hear the responses to their claims. Of course they don’t like it. They never will. And I doubt they’ll come to their senses. But they’re laughingstocks now.

@ JP:

And I am frequently personally unsettled by a suspicion that more than a few of the people regularly eviscerated at RI *may* have a diagnosable condition AND may be in need of help.

I know for sure that one of our targets from TMR suffers from depression and went off meds.

HOWEVER I suspect that calling out their public misinformation campaigns and harmful ideas outweighs being excessively cautious with their feelings because of their psychological issues.
I feel better about insulting alt med entrepreneurs even if they are not running on all cylinders.

Dr. Paul Offit of The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who earned an undisclosed fortune from Merck pharmaceuticals,

Dr. Offit should use some of his “undisclosed fortune” to sue Heckenlively/Attkisson for libel.

Interesting to note errors at SkepticalRaptor.com indicating a possible hack/attack. Classy.

HOWEVER I suspect that calling out their public misinformation campaigns and harmful ideas outweighs being excessively cautious with their feelings because of their psychological issues.
I feel better about insulting alt med entrepreneurs even if they are not running on all cylinders.

Oh, I’ve nothing against insulting people, really – I just don’t think mental illness should be used as an insult in general. It’s not for the benefit of the alties, etc., etc.

Not to mention that some of the best people have mental health issues and some of the worst do not. (The reverse applies as well, of course.) And I don’t want to be lumped in with people like Dr. Jack Wolfson, for example.

Interesting to note errors at SkepticalRaptor.com indicating a possible hack/attack. Classy.

Nope. The hosting platform for SR isn’t robust enough to support the popularity of the site, according to its owner. He is kind of at his wit’s end as how to fix the situation.

Why does Sharyl Atkinson remind me of Brain from “Pinkey and the Brain?” Hmmmm.

Brain: The 24-hour deadline has passed, yet there has been no message from Earth [orac]! It is most curious. Perhaps I was too lenient.

Pinky: Either that or everyone’s gone back to reading books [Respectful Insolence].

Dr. Paul Offit of The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who earned an undisclosed fortune from Merck pharmaceuticals

Jeeze, another shopworn myth that just will not die. August 18, 2009:

“CHOP sold its patent for $182 million. This information was made publicly available and was published in the Philadelphia Inquirer at the time. The inventors, Fred Clark, Stan Plotkin, and me split 10 percent of that three ways. This means that we each received about $6 million.”

http://leftbrainrightbrain.co.uk/2009/12/22/paul-offits-mythical-millions-v-2/

I hate to labour the point, but if you were to show Ms Attkisson’s list and arguments to ANY investigative journalist who has revealed more than the attendance list at the local school board, they would say that she was certainly not one of their kind.

Investigative journalists bring new facts to public discourse. Facts, with evidence. Allegations against individuals – for example that Andrew Wakefield is a research cheat – require proof. Documents, parental statements, records, transcripts.

An investigative journalist would not put up lists of names, with invective and smears, or what people said in Tweets. They would feel lucky to put up one name. And to PROVE it.

If Ms Attkisson took just one of these names – say Mother Jones, who she identifies as purportedly corrupt – and placed it in front of an editor, they would say: “Great story, Sharyl. Now, what’s your evidence?” I think this is at the heart of why they let her go.

What she has done is simply post disgusting abuse that she can’t substantiate, any more than she can substantiate that there is one person on planet earth who has autism, who wouldn’t have autism if they were not vaccinated.

Assertion journalism is not investigative journalism. If she did what she did with that list in the UK, she would be bankrupted with libel actions. Unfortunatey (in my view) the first amendment allows people to fabricate ad hominem.

As with the incident with her laptop – and doubtless her book – it’s full of insult and insinuation. Does she think that there is any media organisation in the world who wouldn’t want to take down President Obama, or any senior politician, if the evidence was there and they thought they could prove it? The commercial and critical payback would be so overwhelming – as the Post found when Watergate transformed a sleepy provincial newspaper into a world-class nameplate – that any organisation would be up for it. Succesfully following the money usually produces a huge return for the pursuers. Any serious journalist knows that.

Nope. I’m afraid the anti-vaxxers have drawn another blank. Full of puffing herself, I think she’s merely a fearless peddler of smear and abuse. I think the anti-vaxxers deserve better.

@SelenaWolf

You take that back! How dare you besmirch the lovable and adorable Brain by comparing Attkisson to him. Brain may be a megalomaniac who regularly gets things wrong, but at least he’s entertaining.

According to her TedX talk, “Hallmarks of astroturf and propaganda include use of inflammatory language such as quack, crank, nutty, pseudo, paranoid and conspiracy.”

I wonder if Ted will annotate the talk that Sharyl Attkisson gave with a disclaimer that she is a crank.

What Attkisson purveys is not journalism at all but fits in perfectly amongst the varied assemblage we refer to as anti-vax, woo-topia, alt media and internet medical gossip.
No wonder Dan & Co adore her.

I just got a chuckle on Twitter. I went to see if Attkisson had said anything about any of the criticism she’s gotten for this post and find that I have been blocked. So much for open, honest dialogue. This from someone who titled her book “Stonewalled”.

I just got a chuckle on Twitter. I went to see if Attkisson had said anything about any of the criticism she’s gotten for this post and find that I have been blocked. So much for open, honest dialogue. This from someone who titled her book “Stonewalled”.

She deleted all the comments on her blog too. She used to have a facebook based comment system. She ditched that and went to a comment system that she can moderate. And moderate heavily she does.

She left out National Geographic, whose cover this month includes the vaccines-cause-autism groups with those who deny the moon landing and evolution.

And you can be sure that in the next couple of months every ” Big Pharma shill” medical practitioner will have a copy of this in their waiting room.

The conspiracy continues to grow … oh, the horror.

@Matt Carey

Such courage! If only we could have more people like Sharyl Attkisson, Investigative Gossip Columnist.

If there are any pharma shills out there who can see their way to paying me money to plant false stories in The Sunday Times, I promise not to have a hidden camera just to claim my third press award.

Honest. I really won’t.

I can’t believe she did a TedX talk. I do like that the site Mike linked to calls it a Ted talk, rather than TedX. But I though Ted had issued guidance to TedX organizers to avoid pseudoscience? I guess her talk didn’t get flagged because everybody knows there are actual astroturf groups and they maybe didn’t realize she’d be slipping in the old vaccine/autism link. Either way, the University of Nevada ought to be ashamed that that video is out there with their name and logo at the start of it.

That number for Congressman Bill Posey is (202) 225-3671. I hear they’re making their way through the Thompson documents, so if you could help them wrap up a couple loose ends, I’m sure they’d appreciate it. The clock is ticking!

Picking up on subtext isn’t usually my strong suit, but it sounds to me like they’re beginning to realize there’s nothing incriminating in these documents they pinned their hopes on and now they’re hoping to bluff someone into revealing the Big Pharma/CDC conspiracy they just know has to exist.

there’s nothing incriminating in these documents they pinned their hopes on

IIRC, someone from Posey’s office confirmed that they had been given some documents… possibly by Thompson, possibly directly from the CDC. The “hundreds of thousands of documents” component of the fantasy rests on one report from a hyperventilating Alex Jones wannabee who claimed to have heard it from an anonymous source.
http://benswann.com/update-congressmans-office-in-possession-of-100000-cdc-whistleblower-documents/

Gus Snarp: Ted has tried to enforce guidelines for the TedX talks but they are independently organized, so occasionally pseudoscience gets through.

For example, Ted added a disclaimer to the talk of nutrition-cures-MS quack Terry Wahls “Note from TED: This talk, which features health advice based on a personal narrative, has been flagged as potentially outside TED’s curatorial guidelines. Viewer discretion advised.”

I do hope that Ted adds a disclaimer so Attkisson can accuse Ted of being part of the alleged astroturfing campaign.

Back in WWII, during the Battle of the Bulge, surrounded US troops received from General Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz. the commander of the German forces –

To the U.S.A. Commander of the encircled town of Bastogne.

The fortune of war is changing. This time the U.S.A. forces in and near Bastogne have been encircled by strong German armored units. More German armored units have crossed the river Our near Ortheuville, have taken Marche and reached St. Hubert by passing through Hompre-Sibret-Tillet. Libramont is in German hands.

There is only one possibility to save the encircled U.S.A. troops from total annihilation: that is the honorable surrender of the encircled town. In order to think it over a term of two hours will be granted beginning with the presentation of this note.

If this proposal should be rejected one German Artillery Corps and six heavy A. A. Battalions are ready to annihilate the U.S.A. troops in and near Bastogne. The order for firing will be given immediately after this two hours term.

All the serious civilian losses caused by this artillery fire would not correspond with the well-known American humanity.

The German Commander

General Anthony Clement McAuliffe sent the following reply

To the German Commander.

NUTS!

The American Commander

I rather suspect that Heckenlively’s offer will universally be likewise answered.

Per the usual, the cranks of woo do the VERY THING they accuse others of. I loved her air quotes around “Science”, as if she would know the difference. You couldn’t make up this kind of entertainment if you tried!

Kudos, Orac!

On a somewhat related topic, Narad might find this interesting, though it’s somewhat old news (from January). Attkisson has filed suit against the United States government. Included in her complaint is the U.S. Postal Service.

Wow, we actually spent time talking about this airhead! I’m visualizing the Mount Rushmore of Stupidity and including Attkisson, Bachmann, Palin and for a fourth, I’d like to nominate Rush Limbaugh. Just sayin’.

Brian @47: Consider that Ms. Atkisson managed to get fired from a major US news organization. Which, if you are familiar with the “Opinions Differ Regarding Shape of Earth” mentality which pervades these organizations, is truly amazing. When you espouse views favorable to the US political right (as Ms. Atkisson does; the reflexive opposition to gun regulation indicated by the first entry on her astroturf list is a right-wing view), you have to go pretty far off the deep end to achieve that dubious distinction, which Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Don Lemon, etc., have avoided thus far.

[email protected]: Yes, “chaotic stupid” is an apt description of our Mr. Heckenlively. He reminds me of some of the loudmouth AI opponents I have encountered in Civilization type games. My archer/chariot/horseman unit has just found his capital city. “We will refrain from crushing you if you give us the secret of [insert tech here].” I decline. “You reject our generous offer? Prepare for WAR!” Said capital city turns out to be inadequately defended, and I capture it within a turn or two.

And all the commenters are just Orac answering to himself.

“The rabid, hate filled, pro pharma vaccine mob are online reputation sock puppets & astroturfers in my experience.

“Each operative can manage 20+ online personas using software which creates & runs online presences using FaceBook & Twitter etc….

“Posted by: humanati | <a href="http://www.ageofautism.com/2014/03/debating-vaccines-online.html?cid=6a00d8357f3f2969e201a5118b685b970c#comment-6a00d8357f3f2969e201a5118b685b970c"March 21, 2014 at 05:36 PM”

“The media blitz is not ending because it’s paid-for PR. I would like to know if it’s our own tax dollars paying for this – I assume it is. All the online polls are skewed by paid PR people who bash ‘anti-vaxxers’. All the online articles too. They also have robo-posters, software that allows people like Dorit Reiss to post faster than humanly possible. So don’t assume the masses really are against us (the pro-safety, pro-choice group). PR just spins it to look that way.

“Posted by: AnneS | February 16, 2015 at 11:19 AM

@Eric Lund:

Slight correction. Glenn Beck actually managed to get himself fired from FOX News. He has his own little media “empire” now called “The Blaze.” I went through a phase a couple years ago where I used to watch it online at times, in the manner at which one cannot stop gawking at a train wreck.

More disturbing were the times were he said something I sort of agreed with. Those usually fell under the “five minute rule,” though: the first few minutes of a segment might actually seem kind of logical or reality based, and then all of a sudden, Beck takes a hard turn and careens clear out to left field. You get this with Alex Jones sometimes, too.

When you espouse views favorable to the US political right (as Ms. Atkisson does; the reflexive opposition to gun regulation indicated by the first entry on her astroturf list is a right-wing view

So the first two entries on her list of 27 “Top 10” astroturfers are there for their opposition to gun violence. She explains on her blogpost that MediaMatters gets an entry of its own (while DailyKos shares an entry with HuffPost) because it opposes FOX News and is left-leaning (and is linked to fund-raising “to help elect liberal Democrats to Congress”).

Is she angling for a new career in Fox? Or simply hoping to board the rightwing grifting gravy-train?

After Reiss and Offitt as a who-headed entity at entry #3, and the five science blogs or blog networks who are collectively Astroturfer #4, she seemed to run out of steam. There are 17 more names, comprising the remaining 6 Top Astroturfers, but she can’t be arsed explaining why she grouped them that way, as they’re all “A final category”.

@Narad – Wow, that means I don’t actually exist! I’m just one of a myriad of personas simulated by a bot. Weird. I don’t feel like a bot. 😉

Attkisson has filed suit against the United States government.

She removed it (D.C. Superior 2014-CA-8321) to federal court yesterday.

@herr doktor bimler #61

Oh, I’m not doubting the existence of the documents, though I always suspected the “hundreds of thousands” was an exaggeration. It’s just idle speculation, but I’m sure you remember how obscenely triumphant their tone was when the “whistleblower” story first broke: “now we have PROOF of the CDC coverup and you will all be sorry!” Then relative silence for awhile, and now, suddenly, Heckenlively brings it back up, but beneath the bravado he’s almost wheedling, “C’mon you guys, we know you did it, fess up!” I just have a hunch that someone in Posey’s office finished going through those documents and sent some of the leaders of the antivax community the memo that they’ve got no case.

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