If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the antivaccine movement, it’s that its members dislike being criticized. Oh, hell, let’s be honest. The really, really hate criticism and react very, very badly to it. Whereas you or I or other skeptics might react to criticism by trying to address it using facts, science, and reason, the first reaction of many antivaccine loons is to attack, attack, attack.
They use a variety of methods to attack. One of their very favorite methods of attack when faced with a pseudonymous blogger is to do everything they can to “out” him or her, revealing name and place of employment, so that they can harass him or her at work. I’ve been subject to this sort of treatment multiple times over the last 11 years, most recently by one of the quackiest of all Internet quacks, who has intentionally dragged my cancer center into his attacks on me, trying to link me to a criminal oncologist who was convicted of Medicare fraud for making tens of millions of dollars administering chemotherapy to patients who didn’t need it, many of whom didn’t even have cancer. Back in 2010, I was subjected to a letter-writing campaign to the dean and board of governors of my university to try to get me fired. Fortunately, in both cases, my university and cancer center stood by me. Another favored method is to abuse Facebook reporting algorithms to get Facebook to issue temporary bans to pro-science vaccine advocates. They even brag about how they do it. Cyberstalking and harassment are their modus operandi. Don’t believe me? Ask Renee.
I had always thought, though, that there were limits. I started to learn I was wrong a couple of years ago when antivaccine activists harassed a group of high school students in Carlsbad, CA who had made a pro-vaccine documentary as part of their broadcast class. I thought that was as low as antivaccinationists would go. I was wrong. In fact, just this week I realized just how wrong I had been when I learned about the case of a 12-year-old Mexican boy named Marco Arturo. Arturo, as you might have heard, made this viral video:
This video now has over 7 million views. I love this kid.
As I said when I saw this video, I think I see a future contributor to my not-so-super-secret other blog. In fact, the only criticism I got for saying that was that I said I saw him potentially contributing in five or ten years, and people thought he could potentially be contributing now.
Now, you might think that antivaccinationists might at least try to be nicer while addressing Arturo’s wonderfully sarcastic characterization of vaccine-autism pseudoscience. He is, after all, a 12-year-old kid. In the world of adults, it is (or should be) considered unseemly to “beat up” on a 12-year-old kid. It’s too much “punching down,” and punching down is generally an indication of weakness.
Indeed, before I discuss the reactions of the antivaccine movement to Arturo further, I can’t help but remember my interactions with one “boy wonder” of the antivaccine movement, Jake Crosby. When I first encountered him online, he was in high school. By the time he was in college, I felt the need to rebut some misinformation he started spreading about the ScienceBlogs blog network, but I was very conscious of the fact that he was at the time (I believe) a freshman in college and “on the spectrum” as well. So if you go back and read my original two deconstructions of his conspiracy-laden posts, you’ll notice that I treated Crosby with kid gloves. It wasn’t until much later, when Crosby was the one to publish a libel-filled post about me accusing me of an undisclosed conflict of interest, which was what precipitated the letter-writing campaign against me in 2010, that I felt comfortable taking the gloves off dealing with him. When I actually met him in person after a talk in 2013, after which he called me a liar during the “meet and greet” that I did afterward, I simply said, “We’re done,” and walked away. I might not have acquitted myself as well as I would have liked to, but by this time he was finishing college. He was a young man. I felt comfortable treating him like a man, and when a fully grown man or woman launches unjustified criticisms at me, I will respond.
Thinking of Arturo, I wondered how I would have described if Jake had been 12 years old when I first encountered him and had, for example, made an antivaccine version of a video like Arturo’s. Certainly, I wouldn’t have treated him the way antivaccine loons have been treating Arturo. In fact, antivaccine loons have been absolutely losing their mind over Arturo’s video. For example, this meme collects some of the attacks:
As a commenter put it, antivaccine beliefs must be incredibly fragile if a 12-year-old posting a snarky video to YouTube can threaten them so much. Most twelve year old kids would likely be intimidated by such a barrage of criticism and hatred, but Arturo handled it well:
You've seen 12-yo Marco Arturo's vaccine video. Now see him completely own a condescending antivaxxer. pic.twitter.com/VXYxW2HOJL
— Doc Bastard (@DocBastard) June 3, 2016
Marco Arturo. Killing it. pic.twitter.com/X9yVAKgw0Z
— Doc Bastard (@DocBastard) June 6, 2016
When I was twelve, I was reading The Lord of the Rings and other science fiction/fantasy novels, doing my schoolwork, building model airplanes and rockets, and trying—and, truth be told, failing miserably—to be halfway decent at playing baseball and soccer. Of course, the Internet didn’t really exist then (at least, it was only available to a few academics at universities); so it’s impossible to tell what I would have been doing if I were 12 today, but you get the point.
Of all the antivaccinationists who made a run at Marco Arturo, the craziest of the crazy, the one who lost her mind way more than any other, the one who isn’t the least bit embarrassed about punching down and harassing a kid was the pseudonymous antivaccine blogger who goes by the ‘nym Levi Quackenboss. We’ve met her before. She has a history of going ballistic over pro-vaccine advocacy, such as when she lost it over an uncontroversial and rather bland CDC social media campaign promoting vaccination. More recently, she was blaming the Zika virus outbreak on—wait for it!—vaccines.
Quackenboss couldn’t just let Arturo’s video go. Oh, no. She couldn’t stand it. In fact, she couldn’t stand it so much that she tried to dox him. (Doxxing, in case you’re not familiar with it, is the same thing as “outing” a pseudonymous or anonymous commenter or blogger.) Yes, Quackenboss tried to dox a child. First, however, she couldn’t resist lecturing Arturo, in the process laying down a whole heaping helping of antivaccine misinformation first of the sort that I’ve deconstructed many, many times here, including the “toxins” gambit, the “too many too soon” gambit, false claims that the inactivated polio vaccine doesn’t prevent polio, the myth that polio vaccine contaminated with SV40 has caused an epidemic of cancer, the “CDC whistleblower” conspiracy theory, and even the conspiracy theory promulgated by Kenyan bishops that those evil tetanus vaccine campaigns are rendering Kenyan girls infertile. She concludes:
Look, clearly you’re a smart kid in your knockoff Polo shirt and your eyeglasses that look like wraparound safety goggles. I trust that one day you’re going to figure out that you’ve been lied to, not only by your parents but by your government and the leaders of this world, and you’re going to look back on this insulting video and say, “God, what a little prick I was.”
And that’s OK, Marco. We’ll be here for you when you do.
I do love how the people who are outraged that anyone would “attack a 12 year old child” are the same people who lobby for 12 year old children to legally consent to multiple vaccines for sexually transmitted diseases and hormonal birth control so that they can enjoy their sex lives without their parents knowing. Which is it?
Calling a 12-year-old boy a “prick” while making snide comments about him being a nerd? Stay classy, Quackenboss. Stay classy. As for the last analogy, it just shows you where Quackenboss is coming from, and it’s not a good place. She’s perfectly happy to compare apples to oranges to justify her attacking a 12-year-old, of punching down, and she does so cowering behind a pseudonym. (And, before anyone mentions my pseudonym, I’ll point out that my real identity is one of the worst-kept secrets of the skeptical blogosphere and that Quackenboss can find my name on this very blog very easily, should she so desire.) Hypocrisy, thy name is Quackenboss, particularly given that she never blogs under her real name and even does interviews anonymously with friendly quack outlets like Health Nut News. It’s hard not to conclude that she is, as she called Arturo, a prick, particularly when she writes:
So who is Marco? I’m not going to post his full name out of respect for him and his parents as well as their safety, but they’ve been a little sloppy about making trails to it so they should clean that up. The last names his parents use are not the name that he uses on social media. Marco has been giving oratory performances like movie monologues since he was an adorable small child, as seen on his mom’s Youtube page, and which, as a commenter said on my last post, is common in the culture. He has a self-published book on Astronomy that came out last year. He was invited to give a speech on Science and Technology in his town.
As Karen Ernst notes, yes, Marco Arturo didn’t use his full name, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t known. It’s just rather long.
Next up, Quackenboss was particularly angered by a meme going around showing Marco Arturo “dropping the mic”:
This led the ever-vile Quackenboss to accuse Arturo of being manipulated by his parents, of being nothing more than a puppet:
Apparently it is not obvious to 50,000 people on this planet that 12-year old Marco in Mexico is pretending to be the Wizard of Autism while his parents are behind the keyboard, catfishing every idiot who wants to believe he’s a boy genius.
He’s a smart kid, no doubt, especially for his ability to talk a mile a minute in a second language, and the apparent talent he has for a good rant, although only after it’s heavily edited to take out any downtime. I’m sure he’s even smarter than that, but you have to be a new kind of gullible to believe for one moment that this child is firing off the retorts attributed to his name on his Facebook page.
Think for a second about what you were doing when you were 12. I was catching crawdads in the creek, riding my bike, and maybe once or twice that summer I looked at tadpole eggs under my microscope.
So people, you’re not interacting with Marco. You’re not reading Marco. Even in the video, you’re not truly listening to Marco. His parents have made him into a pawn. They tell him what to believe and what to say, then edited it to make him look like a debate genius. Marco, as you think you know him, does not exist. The only true Marco on Facebook is the one talking about his love of little green lizards.
She also asks, “You know what I wasn’t doing?” after which she expresses extreme incredulity that it is a 12-year-old kid writing the responses to the antivaccine loons attacking him. She can’t imagine that he can use words that big or write as well as he does (or troll antivaccine twits like her as expertly as he does). Well, I’m sorry Levi Quackenboss wasn’t as intelligent and well-educated when she was 12 as Arturo is, but I can say that I could write almost as well as Arturo when I was 12 or 13, and had social media and the Internet existed back then, allowing me to type and instantly edit what I write, I might have been as good as he is. There’s no way of knowing. (Or I probably wouldn’t have been; apparently Arturo has already written a book on evolution.) What I do know is that there are exceptional 12 year olds like Marco Arturo. Why does Quackenboss have trouble believing it? Could it be…racism? After all, she does spend a lot of her incredulity in her posts about Arturo not believing a kid from Mexico could be so smart and implying (hell, outright saying) that he must be being manipulated or serving as nothing more than an actor reading lines written by adults.
Be that as it may, Quackenboss’ next move is, predictably, to insinuate conspiracy—and to go further in trying to dox Marco Arturo in a post asking Is Marco Arturo the prodigy a hoax? First, she brags about “hundreds of parents of vaccine-injured children” complaining to Walgreens about an article featuring Arturo. Then she dives into the conspiracy mongering:
In case you missed it, on May 30th Ashton Kutcher shared Marco’s video as a story on Kutcher’s media site A Plus. By then it was starting to go viral, so it’s no surprise that Kutcher’s Buzzfeed-like website picked it up, right?
Maybe. Maybe they came across it on their own. Maybe on May 30th it was just good fortune that this previously unknown 12-year old in Mexico had someone notify him about Ashton Kutcher’s Facebook status when he was standing by with his smartphone, because that kid shared Kutcher’s post within 21 minutes of it going up. A pretty impressive social media sprint for an unknown kid, but whatever.
What set her off was this post:
Which she characterized as ““Ho hum, here we go again with an American celebrity sharing my homemade backyard video to his 17 million followers.” Oddly enough, I didn’t see it that way. It seemed like a happy post. Quackenboss makes much of the fact that this post had been live since May 27 and Arturo’s Facebook post was dated May 30, leading her to ask, “How did Ashton Kutcher’s company already know about Marco on May 27th? Hardly anyone had even seen the two videos on Marco’s page because the page didn’t exist until May 24th.”
Well, if you look at the A Plus post, it tells you. It says, “H/T: A Science Enthusiast,” who had shared Arturo’s video on his Facebook page on May 25.
Arturo’s video had been posted his own video to his own page a mere 24 hours before, on May 24. Quackenboss makes much of how Arturo’s video had only started to “go viral,” but A Science Enthusiast (ASE) has a very popular Facebook page, with nearly 140,000 likes. Did it ever occur to her that it was ASE’s sharing Arturo’s video that was a major factor in making it go viral? Of course not. That wouldn’t feed her conspiracy theory. It’s profoundly dumb to wonder how Ashton Kutcher’s website could possibly have discovered Arturo’s video after it had been up for three days, particularly given that it shared it a mere two days after a large pro-science Facebook page had shared it. It’s the Internet, for cryin’ out loud! Three days—even two days—is a time period that might as well be a lifetime! That’s how fast things move.
Be that as it may, Quackenboss is convinced that Ashton Kutcher’s website, Arturo’s family, and Walgreens were all in cahoots to deliver pro-vaccine propaganda to the masses. (Gee, she says that as though it were a bad thing.) She repeats that claim in a post from yesterday, complete with a video.
I note that Quackenboss has no sense of shame. Ernst notes:
The doxing included in the Quackenboss post included the names of his stepfather and his mother and some employment information regarding his stepfather. A screenshot of the stepfather’s Facebook page included the name of their hometown. This information not only makes it easy to harass Marco and his family, but collating together could incite that harassment.
Correct. Quackenboss’ post includes Marco Arturo’s stepfather’s name, some employment information, noting:
Update: for everyone crying that gathering information from public records and social media is “doxing” and illegal, you’re better off filing a class action against Radaris, US Search, ZoomInfo and Intelius– and they would provide the private Facebook page, address and phone number that I didn’t. Educate yourselves or take your tears elsewhere.
Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s illegal. That doesn’t mean that it’s right or honorable. It isn’t. It also doesn’t mean that I can’t justifiably say that Quackenboss is a cowardly, despicable, vile and hypocritical human being, worthy of nothing more than my utter contempt (which is all she gets) for posting this information with the obvious intent to incite harassment of Marco Arturo and his family. Then she drops a conspiracy theory, without any evidence or justification, that Dr. Gerardo Ochoa Vargas is really behind Arturo’s posts. Meanwhile, the merry band of antivaccine activists at that wretched hive of scum and quackery, Age of Autism, are loving this.
I’ll tell you what, Ms. Quackenboss. Post your attacks under your own name—your real name—and maybe I’ll find you somewhat less odious. On second thought, I probably won’t. But at least I probably wouldn’t find you to be quite as massive a hypocrite as I do now. I would be laughing at your idiocy now, but you’re just to nasty a piece of work for that in this case.
ADDENDUM: Apparently Levi Quackenboss knows no lower bound as far as disgusting behavior goes. She’s still at it—doubling down, even.