Anyone who’s read this blog knows my opinion of Mike Adams, the proprietor of the quack website known as NaturalNews.com. It is not favorable, to put it mildly. All you have to do to realize that is to type his name into the search box of this blog and see what comes up: Anger at his attacks on celebrities who have died of cancer; mockery of his pretending to be a scientist and attacking Jimmy Kimmel for “hate speech” about vaccines; alarm at his threats delivered with somewhat plausible deniability against scientists; further alarm at his “natural biopreparedness” and homeopathy for Ebola; and, of course amusement at his New World Order conspiracy mongering. In terms of blog fodder, Adams is the gift that keeps on giving. Unfortunately, in terms of his influence against science and medicine and for pseudoscience and quackery, his influence is not insubstantial, so much so that when the opportunity presents itself I feel obligated to discuss him.
The opportunity has presented itself in the form of an excellent summation of the empire of pseudoscience and quackery that is Mike Adams by Sacha Feinman entitled Meet The Internet Entrepreneur Profiting Off The Anti-Vaxxer Movement. Of course, I have one quibble about this title. Adams profits off of way more than the antivaccine movement. Quackery, fear mongering about food, Scientology-like hatred of psychiatry to the point where after the Sandy Hook school massacre, he immediately blamed psychiatric medications for the rampage of Adam Lanza, the perpetrator of the massacre. But that’s just a quibble. The article itself tells the tale quite well. It also confirms something I’ve been writing for quite a while now, namely how Adams got his quacky start selling Y2K scams:
Towards the turn of the millennium, the Y2K bug was much on the mind of the media, representing perhaps the first great conspiracy of the digital age. True believers held that the seemingly simple switchover from 12/31/99 to 1/1/00 would cause computers and electronic systems the world over to crash, triggering international crises of every conceivable sort. Adams saw the opportunity in the situation, and began to sell supposed “information products” that would insulate his paying audience from the oncoming chaos, which, of course, never came.
In a since-deleted excerpt on Adams’ site published by ZDNet, Adams boasted that in 1999, “in an effort to fine-tune his web marketing techniques, Michael [Adams] launched a six-month experiment to determine what kind of revenues are possible when combining his proprietary techniques and technologies with a high-awareness topic. The result? With the help of only one employee, he created a subscriber base of over 50,000 people and sold over $400,000 worth of information products while offering an open-ended, 100% moneyback [sic] guarantee.”
This subscriber base was largely won over by Adams’ then infamous “39 Unanswered Questions about Y2K.” In a foreshadowing of the sorts of the “listicles” that would drive traffic to both Natural News and the site’s advertisers (not to mention BuzzFeed), Adams demonstrated a remarkable ability to frame a controversial issue in a manner perfectly suited for digital consumption. The widely shared email consisted of a series of fear-mongering questions such as, “Why is there not a single Fortune 1000 firm that has said, in its 10-Q SEC statement, that it is fully, unequivocally Y2K-compliant?” Critics panned the listicle as, “a national spamming campaign against the press and politicians to stir up enough anxiety to clear the shelves of Y2K supplies” and, “the best publicity stunt I’ve seen.”
So from the beginning, Adams was talented. He saw the possibilities in web marketing to drive traffic to his sites and use that to monetize them very early on, and to monetize them selling scams. In this, we can see him honing his early techniques. Indeed, he took it far beyond just that, mastering the dark arts of using “black hat” search engine optimization, running link farms, and using those skills to drive traffic back to his site. It turns out that the skill set that made Adams so talented at crafting mass e-mail marketing campaigns that actually persuaded the marks to give up their money is the same skill set that he later honed to become an expert at SEO.
But how successful has he been? According to Feinman:
According to the service comScore, Natural News hosted over 2 million unique visitors in the month of December 2014. The website’s Google PageRank is a respectable six, the same number enjoyed by other, more mainstream preachers of the “natural” space. The CEO of Whole Foods John Mackey’s blog also receives a six, as do the landing pages for Andrew Weil and Deepak Chopra.
Adams claims that he has, “personally authored over 2,000 articles, including investigative articles, satire and op-ed,” and that “his writings have been collectively read by over 100 million people over the past decade.” Every time Adams publishes a story with a headline such as, “Medical mafia calling for gunpoint quarantines of citizens who refuse vaccinations”, it’s pushed out to the newsfeeds of the nearly 1.5 million Facebook accounts who “like” Natural News. This number far surpasses that of The Atlantic, and falls just short of the Los Angeles Times.
Ha! Well, I’ve personally authored over 4,000 blog posts. So there! Unfortunately, even with the boost in my traffic over the last two weeks due to the Jess Ainscough post, my traffic is nowhere near what Adams’ is regularly. Neither is that of pretty much any skeptical blog or website that I am aware of. Naturally, Adams’ numbers are probably inflated due to all his SEO manipulation and link farming, but, even so, that’s still impressive, impressive enough to be depressing. It’s particularly pressing to note that last year Adams was even featured on an episode of The Dr. Oz Show, where his not-so-mad skillz doing mass spectrometry to measure heavy metals in food were on display for real chemists to ridicule, as mentioned in the article:
Opaqueness is common throughout Adams’ world, even as he consistently lobbies for greater transparency in the variety of causes he writes about.
The Consumer Wellness Center, a tax-exempt organization based in Wyoming, operates the labs which conducted Adams’ research on purportedly toxic levels of heavy metals in organic foods. While a recent press release from the center originates from Tucson, Arizona, the organization’s website, like many in Adams’ empire, is registered to a P.O. box in Taichung City, Taiwan.
As for the lab itself and the instrumentation it utilizes, the website simply reads that, “our instrumentation is certified by our manufacturers, our external standards are traceable to NIST, and our methodologies are based on EPA-published laboratory protocols.” The letter from Adams’ lawyers states that the lab has “applied for and anticipates receipt of ISO 17025 accreditation,” a typical standard for demonstrating the technical competency of labs.
“With this sort of testing, you have to be able to replicate exactly what you are doing,” stresses Chris Vulpe, an associate professor at the UC Berkeley Center for Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology. “It has to be laid out in excruciating details.”
Yep. Just as I’ve explained.
I’m glad to see a mainstream website paying attention to the Mike Adams phenomenon. Adams has been laying down his misinformation about science and medicine for so long and his history so shrouded in the mists of time—Internet time, that is, where traces disappear a lot faster—that it’s high time that someone has looked into his background and activities. Basically, this article doesn’t really tell me what I didn’t already know about Adams from having followed him over the years. That doesn’t mean it isn’t useful to have the information in a convenient one-stop-shop to use whenever a clueless Facebook friend posts it on your wall. I recommend using it liberally.