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.