It’s a strange world, after all: Orac vs. The Shat and fake news over…Autism Speaks?

It’s a strange world after all, and I’ll show you why.

Last night, as I deposited myself on my couch with my laptop sitting on my lap, there to churn out yet another installment of the insolence most of you love and a few of you love to hate read, I had a Dug the Dog moment. The squirrel in this case was Twitter. Normally, although I do have a Twitter feed, my enthusiasm for it very much waxes and wanes. Although I do regularly post stuff, I can sometimes go days without contributing an original Tweet, leaving my feed fallow, with only automatic Tweets based on RSS feeds of my blogs as the only content. Occasionally, a mood will overtake me, and I’ll go wild, with a hundred Tweets in a single day. Granted, this latter situation is far less common than my leaving Twitter alone, but yesterday was an example of my going a bit wild on Twitter. In fact, I spent so much time on Twitter last night that I actually didn’t finish the original post that I was working on, hence this quickie this morning before I leave for work. I think you’ll understand why in a moment.

I like to call myself a “micro-celebrity” or a “nano-celebrity,” because I’ve attained a certain level of notoriety, but I don’t kid myself that it’s much of anything. At most a few thousand read this blog regularly, and several times that number read the not-so-super-secret other blog with which I’m involved. So when a real celebrity interacts with me on Twitter, I take notice. Unfortunately, this particular interaction was a perfect example of why you should never meet your childhood heroes. You’ll almost always be disappointed. In this case, the disappointment went far beyond the usual. I’m referring, of course, to a run-in I had with William Shatner last night.

First, a little background is in order. I didn’t delve into the hundreds of Tweets that led up to this, other than superficially, but what appears to have happened is that Shatner, as part of Autism Awareness Month, posted a plea to support Autism Speaks. Regular readers here who are aware of the history of Autism Speaks probably know why such a plea wouldn’t go over very well among many autistic people, but I’m sure Shatner had no idea about that when he posted his Tweet. Why should he? Not surprisingly, a lot of autistic people tried to explain to him why Autism Speaks isn’t the greatest charity to support. Most were respectful—deferential, even—but, Twitter being Twitter not all the responses remained civil. To show you just how far down the rabbit hole the whole conversation went, I note that a certain young autistic antivaxer, rabid alt right supporter, and misogynist who is well known to this blog and generally now referred to as The Gnat posted his glee when Shatner actually posted a link to one of his blog posts:

Clearly, he had no idea of the background and probably didn’t care. So unhappy was he at being criticized by the very people he thought he was helping that he was digging in and provoking more criticism. In any case, foolishly, I tried politely to explain to Shatner why a lot of autistic people and advocates for autism take a dim view of Autism Speaks. Because autistic people themselves pointed out how Autism Speaks has a history of not having actual autistic people on its board, I decided to try to explain to him why people view Autism Speaks with suspicion with respect to its stance on vaccines. I referenced posts by others (none by me) to show that Autism Speaks’ history is rooted in being antivaccine and that it still hasn’t unequivocally rejected antivaccine views. (I refrained from pointing out that Autism Speaks was probably Donald Trump’s “gateway” into being antivaccine himself ten years ago.) Basically, I concluded that Autism Speaks is better than it was on vaccines but that it still hasn’t completed the journey to being fully science-based.

Here’s what I got in return:

Yes, you saw that correctly. William Shatner actually Tweeted a link to Mike Adams’ TruthWiki about me. It got worse from there. I tried to reason with him, as did several of his other followers. (It turns out that a significant percentage of my Twitter followers also follow William Shatner. Who could have predicted that, other than everyone?) People pointed out who I am and how TruthWiki is a conspiracy mongering fake news site, but Shatner doubled down and posted links to NewsTarget and NaturalNews, and, as bad, Age of Autism:

People explained to him that TruthWiki, NewsTarget, and NaturalNews are all conspiracy sites run by the same person, Mike Adams, and that AoA is an antivaccine crank site (which it is) Shatner kept saying that these were links that came up first on a Google search. Then he got really disingenuous:

During it all, Shatner started Tweeting screenshots of his searches showing TruthWiki, NaturalNews, and other crank websites attacking me:

Several people tried to explain to him how unreliable these sites were. Indeed, it got so bad that Alex Berezow of ACSH even entered the fray, and he has no love for me:

Shatner’s response was a bit bizarre:

I do not recall during any of this exchange ever calling him “honey.” Maybe he wasn’t referring to me.

Meanwhile Matt Carey tried to educate Shatner on why I use a pseudonym:

Through it all, Shatner kept doing his “Hey, it’s what came up on Google searches” shoulder shrug.

So why did I bother to post about this, other than that it’s not every day that a celebrity as big as William Shatner trashes me on Twitter? I think Alan Levinovitz summed it up quite well:

Unfortunately, several people tried to do just that—and failed miserably. Shatner wasn’t listening. Indeed, he doubled down. However, if you want to know why people like Mike Adams write dozens of lie-filled articles attacking me and adding attacks on my cancer institute for good measure, this is about the best example I’ve ever seen. It’s to poison my Google reputation forever, and it’s largely succeeded, my Wikipedia page and other entries on me that show up on the first page notwithstanding. Last night’s experience reminded me of this in a manner that I never would have predicted in a million years. There’s no way I could ever have predicted that, one day in 2017 (or any other time), a celebrity as big as William Shatner would Google me and use Mike Adams’ attacks on me against me, even though all I did was to try to explain, quite respectfully and uncharacteristically not insolently, a bit about why he was being criticized. One wonders how he would have reacted if he hadn’t found all that misinformation on me. True, I have since learned that Shatner has a history of behavior like this on Twitter and that it’s likely that he would have found some other reason to attack me, but maybe, just maybe, he might have listened a little.

Epistemic chaos indeed. I predict that, as a result of Shatner’s sharing of links to TruthWiki and other crank conspiracy sites about me, Adams’ attacks on me, which have been quiescent for a couple of months, will resume. Thanks, Mr. Shatner.

ADDENDUM: Mr. Shatner has basically admitted that he posted the TruthWiki link to intimidate me to silence:

In response to a number of people pointing out that by linking to fake news sites like NaturalNews and TruthWiki, he is boosting their Google juice and contributing to character assassination (mine), Shatner’s response was breathtakingly clueless and tone deaf:

Note how he managed to smear me one last time by linking to a phony Healthgrades review.

So, there you have it. William Shatner didn’t care whether those sites were fake news or not. He just used the TruthWiki link to let me know that he could make my online life miserable if I persisted. When I persisted, he posted multiple more links dragged my name through the mud while playing the victim. Then, when people called him out for what he was doing, he shrugged his shoulders and suggested that I could just “get a service” to get rid of all those attacks ranking high in Google searches. Would that it were that easy! And, even if it were, does Mr. Shatner really think I could afford to compete with someone like Mike Adams on this field, a man who runs a multimillion dollar a year business, has studied black hat SEO since the early 2000s, and has SEO experts working for him? Yes, as a surgeon I’m fairly well off, but I have nowhere near the resources that someone like Mike Adams does. The wealth differential between us is at least an order of magnitude and could well be as high as two orders of magnitude.

I am well and truly done with Mr. Shatner. I unfollowed and blocked him, to lessen the chances that I might be tempted to re-engage with him.