Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tactics and Tropes of the Anti-Science False Skeptics

It never fails to amuse me when a false skeptic reveals himself for what they truly are. It’s even more amusing when they admire and praise someone for pointing out flaws in the logic of those they claim are “anti-vaccine” when the false skeptic is guilty of the same flaws in logic.

One of the defining tropes of the Pseudo-Science false skeptics is their extraordinary hypocrisy. Seriously, it knows no bounds.

Take, for example, David Gorski’s latest shart-fest “Tactics and Tropes of the Anti-Vaccine Movement." In it, David praises the author of a recent article, “Anti-vaccine activists, Web 2.0, and the postmodern paradigm – An overview of tactics and tropes used online by the anti-vaccination movement,” for calling out the common “tropes” of the anti-vaccination movement. The abstract of the article essentially says that the false-skeptics and pseudoscientists should work harder to ban together to prevent those with stories of vaccine injury from having a say. Oh, I know, it doesn’t actually say that, but it is easy to see that this is the direction they are going, as shown by recent attempts to prevent the NVIC from having an advertisement in Times Square. Or, the recent Slate article that references this report that calls for internet search engines to flag sites that discuss vaccine injury. Or even the recent removals of Jake Crosby at public events.

Which is also a false skeptic tactic. They claim they are against censorship, but actively encourage censorship of parents who have stories of vaccine injury, all while claiming they “refudiate” anti-vaccine messages (there’s a subtle jab at them in there somewhere…see if you can find it). More on this in a moment.

David begins his rant discussing how long he’s been dealing with that mean old anti-vaccine movement.

I've been an observer and student of the antivaccine movement for nearly a decade now, although my intensive education began almost seven years ago, in early 2005, not long after I started blogging. It was then that I first encountered several "luminaries" of the antivaccine movement, such as J.B. Handley, who is the founder of Generation Rescue and was its leader and main spokesperson; that is, until he managed to recruit spokesmodel Jenny McCarthy to be its public face, and Dr. Jay Gordon, who, although he swears to high heaven he is not antivaccine, sure could have fooled me. At the very minimum, he is a credulous apologist for the antivaccine movement. Then there were many more through the years: Barbara Loe Fisher, Sallie Bernard, various bloggers from the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism, and even the new generation of antivaccine activists, such as Jake Crosby, who is, if anything, even more annoying than the old generation.

Why am I mentioning this? The reason is simple. Over the years, I think I've come to learn just about every antivaccine trope, canard, strategy, and argument there is. At least, I know all the major ones, many of the minor ones, and even quite a few of the obscure ones. I'm rarely surprised anymore, even when of late antivaccinationists have taken to referring to supporters of science-based medicine as "vaccine injury denialists," a term antivaccine activist Ginger Taylor notably used in "The Role of Government and Media," a chapter in the anti-vaccine book Vaccine Epidemic: How Corporate Greed, Biased Science, and Coercive Government Threaten Our Human Rights, Our Health, and Our Children, which was edited by Louise Kuo Habakus and Mary Holland, and now uses frequently on her blog. (That actually might be a topic for another post entirely.) So when I see people writing about the tropes and tactics favored by the antivaccine movement, I know I'm quite qualified to judge whether they know what they're talking about or not, as I've spent nearly a decade in the trenches on Usenet and in the blogosphere.”

Wow…this man is so completely and utterly clueless to his egotism and hypocrisy that a psychoanalyst would go into apoplectic fits trying to diagnose him.

I want to take a moment to comment on something Dave wrote here. He mentions that “antivaccinationists” have taken to referring to supporters of science-based medicine as vaccine injury denialists. This is an interesting comment, isn’t it? First of all, they don’t actually do this to those who actually follow science-based medicine; they do this to false skeptics and pseudoscientists like David. People like David adamantly declare that they believe that vaccine injury is real, but when a parent says their child suffered from a vaccine injury, the first thing out of Dave’s mouth is a flat out denial, saying that their child didn’t have a vaccine injury…without even seeing the child or their records. Yes, he is that confident in his faith. In other words, he “believes” in vaccine-injury, but it just didn’t happen to your child. If that isn’t a vaccine-injury denialist, I don’t know what is.

Which leads me to my next false-skeptic tactic. Whenever a parent mentions that their child was injured by a vaccine, they are met with a small selection of responses:

  1. “Correlation does not equal causation” – This is the standard response they will fall back on. However, they are never able to come up with a logical explanation for why so many parents observed things like encephalopathy and loss of milestones so soon after a vaccination. They also fail to mention that such correlations should be further studied. When a parent of a vaccine injured child says this, the response is usually “It has been ask and answered.” What they fail to mention is that there have never been any studies that actually LOOKED at these children so that a possible determination of what actually caused the injury could be done.
  2. “Vaccines are safe and effective; there’s no way your child was injured by a vaccine” – A logical fallacy that precludes any argument. This falls back to the faith argument; it has been asked and answered, and God…I mean Science…says it is so. They will try to inundate the conversation with link after link to numerous studies that show how vaccines are safe and effective. But they fail to mention that there are studies and actual records of children being seriously injured by vaccines. In many cases, these injuries just happen to be remarkably similar to autism.
  3. “You are a disease promoter; you want diseases like smallpox to return” – This is a common response when anyone questions vaccinations. Not only is it a non-sequitur, but it is also an ad hominem. But, of course, we all know that those who are truly science-based do their best to refrain from using such logical fallacies. Given that Dave and his sycophants use this argument on a regular basis further adds to the evidence that David is not actually a proponent of science-based medicine.

He then discusses the paper, lamenting on the fact that so much information is now readily available to the public when, before, it should only be in the hands of people like him. He gives the impression that everyone else who is not a doctor or scientist is too stupid to understand what science is, so therefore should not have access to it.

He then starts discussing the author’s description of tactics of “anti-vaccinationists.” I will respond to each in turn.

1.Skewing the science. This involves cherry picking studies, denigrating science that doesn't support an antivaccine viewpoint, and endorsing bad science that supports antivaccine agendas.”

This is a good one. Of course, David could never be accused of cherry picking studies, denigrating science that doesn’t support a pro-vaccine viewpoint, and endorsing bad science that supports pro-vaccine agendas, could he? How often does he refer to the Madsen study? How often does he claim that the Fombonne Canadian study is actually good science? If it supports his bias, then it must be good science. Hypocrisy, my friends. So, according to Anna Kata, David also uses this tactic.

2.Shifting hypotheses. Otherwise known as moving the goalposts, this involves continually changing the standards of evidence deemed necessary to convince antivaccinationists of vaccine safety so that they can't be met and constantly coming up with new causation hypotheses that share only one thing in common: it's always about the vaccines.”

This one actually happens to be my favorite. Whenever they are presented with evidence that vaccines have caused injuries that are very similar to autism, they shift the goalposts, saying that “it’s only one case,” or they say, “That’s not actually Autism, so vaccines are safe and effective.” Or, they claim that autism is caused by old parents, or cold moms, or genes that they can’t find, or too much TV, or being too close to a highway, or low birth weight, etc. All of these share only one thing in common: it’s never the vaccines. More hypocrisy, and once again, David uses the same tactic.

3.Censorship. This is an extreme characteristic of the antivaccine movement. For instance, Age of Autism does not allow dissenting comments. The Autism One yearly quackfest routinely kicks out those its organizers perceive as enemies, even though they follow the rules and don't disrupt anything. In the meantime, they go absolutely--if you'll excuse the term--apeshit when one of their own is asked to leave a scientific function. We're seeing this in action right now, as AoA and its hanger-on Ginger Taylor are both going nuts over Paul Offit's and Seth Mnookin's having asked AoA's one trick pony irritant to leave and Offit's accurately characterizing him as a "stalker." I'd take their complaints slightly more seriously if the antivaccine movement didn't so ruthlessly censor its perceived enemies and refuse to let them anywhere near their crank venues.”

This one made me laugh out loud. I happen to know for a fact that both Mr Gorski and Mr Reibel both selectively change and remove comments from their blogs if they don’t like the message. David only allows comments that he thinks his sycophants will enjoy. Then, he turns them loose like a pack of rabid dogs. But those that actually are meaningful responses, well documented and referenced articles included, and that refute his bias are mysteriously not allowed through the “filter.” Now, the comment about the Autism One conference is missing a few pieces of evidence, like how Mr Reibel was breaking rules (this was discussed in the comments here), stalking and harassing Dr Poling and his wife and recording their conversations without their permission. I’m certain if he wasn’t such a little twit, he would have been allowed to stay and participate. Also note that Aut-One was a sponsored event done by independent parties that had the right to throw whoever the hell they wanted to out, including that little douche-bag. And, if I recall, I remember a certain false-skeptic going absolutely—if you’ll excuse the term—apeshit when one of their own was asked to leave a conference for breaking rules. Contrast this to Jake Crosby’s being kicked out of not one, not two, but three PUBLICALLY SPONSORED EVENTS! For just asking questions. For this, he is labeled a stalker (which I fail to see how; all three events were relatively close to his home, and he was interested in getting answers to his questions), but one of their own, who endlessly hounded, harassed, and forced a father of a vaccine-injured child to go into hiding, is somehow not considered a stalker.

Yes, the hypocrisy is strong with this one. And, another tactic that Dave and his bum-lickers all use.

4.Attacking the opposition. The antivaccine movement is particularly incessant in this tactic, in my experience. I've lost track of how many times I've been attacked or had antivaccine cranks try to cause me annoyance at my job by e-mailing my bosses. A year and a half ago, a bunch of antivacicne cranks, "inspired" by a false accusation of an undisclosed conflict of interest from Jake Crosby, tried to get me fired from my job through a campaign of e-mails, phone calls, and letters to the board of governors at my university. And what I've experienced is minor indeed compared to what someone like Paul Offit has experienced.”

I already partially covered this earlier, but David and his lickspittles all do this, too. They’ve attacked Dr Poling and his wife, called cps on parents for not vaccinating, said they wish parents of vaccine injured children would all die of preventable diseases, called a parent’s medical insurance to try to get the insurance company to drop coverage, and have wanted all of us to be thrown in jail or put on a remote island. They attack anyone and everyone who does not conform to their view, and my friend Craig can certainly attest to that (apparently, threatening phone calls and messages sent to his site don’t count). And that thing about Dr Offit and those death threats? Yeah, still waiting to see proof of that.

And here’s further proof of my previous statement:

One tactic I think Kata left out is one that I've noted before. It's not a tactic unique to the antivaccine movement, but antivaccinationists certainly use it. I'm referring to crank conferences gussied up to look like legitimate scientific conferences. For example, we have the yearly quackfest known as Autism One every year in Chicago around Memorial Day. Recently, Autism One has joined forces with the health freedom movement, combining an Autism One conference with the Health Freedom Expo from March 2-4, 2012 in Long Beach, CA. In this, we might be seeing an even more obvious sign of the scientific bankruptcy of antivaccinationists in that Patrick "Tim" Bolen will be featured on a "Vaccine Panel." I thought that having Dan Olmsted chair a panel called Malfeasance in the Media that includes Tim Bolen, David Lewis, and Andy Wakefield was bad enough. After all, that's a group that could give the masters' how-to-do-it course on media malfeasance.”

Attacking the opposition. Need I say more?

Whew…a whole world of hypocrisy right there. So, since Dave and his arse-kissers are guilty of every single one of the tactics mentioned above, that must mean they are anti-vaccine!

Note: When dealing with false skeptics, hold them to the same standards that they hold everyone else.

Now, let’s take a brief moment to discuss the “tropes” that Dave mentioned.

1."I'm not antivaccine; I'm pro-safe vaccines." Yes, indeed. This one is the biggest, baddest, most irritating trope of all, repeated by everyone from Jenny McCarthy to J.B. Handley to Barbara Loe Fisher. A variant of this is to liken vaccines to cars and say that "I'm not 'anti-car,' I just want safer cars." Not a good analogy. A better equivalent would be if they demanded absolute safety of cars and refused to use them unless GM, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda, et al swear that they'll never be injured in a car crash.”

David and his fart-sniffers are horribly guilty of misusing the “anti-vaccine” label. Anyone, to them, who questions or has reservations about the safety of vaccines is a heretic (sorry, “anti-vaccine”). One of the things I teach in school is etymology, or the study of words. The prefix “anti” means opposed or against. So, someone who is truly anti-vaccine is completely opposed to vaccination. Many people they label as such are not opposed to vaccination; in fact, many of them actively encourage vaccination, but have concerns about the safety of so many vaccines given in such a short time. So, label this as a false skeptic trope.

2.Vaccines are toxic. A.k.a. "the toxin gambit."

This falls back to the thiomersal argument. And, we all know how many of the safety studies on thiomersal are circumspect. If you don’t know the minimum safe dose of a highly toxic substance, then how can you definitively say that it is not toxic in doses that are well above the EPA safety limit? I call this trope “Dosage makes the poison.” Since there are no safety data on how a six pound child will react to a toxic substance, then they have no way to determine what the proper dose is.

3.A demand for absolute safety.

4.A demand for absolute "proof" that vaccines are safe.

This is a misrepresentation of what is actually being called for, in my opinion. All many of these parents want is for vaccines to be SAFER! That is a huge difference between safer and absolute safety. And, if you believe the cup-cake lady, then safer vaccines are bad, Mkay?

5."Vaccines didn't save us," one of the more intellectually dishonest of many intellectually dishonest tropes used by these cranks.”

I slightly agree with him here. Vaccines are useful, but claiming that vaccines are as effective as they say they are is also dishonest. I think that the core of this argument is that vaccinating for so many diseases is having unforeseen consequences; like the recent evidence that the increase in varicella vaccinations during childhood is causing cases of shingles in young adults and adults after their immunity wanes.

6.Vaccines are "unnantural(sic)."

This is a disingenuous argument from Dave. The issue is that they are trying to enforce a one-size-fits-all approach to a complex and highly diverse bodily function, the immune system. Everyone’s immune system acts in different ways, and trying to claim that all vaccines will illicit the same type of immune response in everyone IS unnatural.

“7.Choosing between "vaccine injury" and disease. Jenny did this famously when she said vaccination are a choice between autism and infectious disease and that she'd take the measles.”

This is an example of blowing things out of proportion and misrepresentation (hey, another trope!). The problem here is that measles in the United States is rarely, if ever, a serious condition. And, again, we see a clear implication that Dave is denying that vaccine injuries are real. The choice becomes clearer to those who have had children injured by vaccinations; they were injured because the parent did the right thing.

He then makes the following statement:

“Such a statement is a reminder that finding common ground with those who question, fear, or crusade against vaccines is no easy task. Their arguments are constantly shifting and evolving - this has been furthered by the fluidity of the Internet and social media. While acknowledging and correcting flawed arguments is important, an approach that moves beyond providing "the facts" is likely needed. With the anti-vaccination movement embracing the postmodern paradigm, which inherently questions an authoritative, science-based approach, "facts" may be reinterpreted as just another "opinion". This issue is as much about the cultural context surrounding healthcare, perceptions of risk, and trust in expertise, as it is about vaccines themselves. For these reasons it is possible the minds of deeply invested anti-vaccine activists may never be changed; therefore it is for both the laypersons with genuine questions or worries about vaccines and the healthcare professionals who work to ease their fears that keeping abreast of the methods of persuasion discussed here is essential. Recognizing anti-vaccine tactics and tropes is imperative, for an awareness of the disingenuous arguments used to cajole and convert audiences gives individuals the tools to think critically about the information they encounter online. It is through such recognition that truly informed choices can then be made.”

Dave will never be able to find common ground because he doesn’t try to talk to a person, discovering what their questions and fears are. Instead, he bullies, attacks, and ridicules their legitimate concerns. And the reason why David’s “facts” are construed as opinions is because David is not an expert; his bias makes his interpretation of the “facts” an opinion. Furthermore, it’s difficult to determine what the actual facts are when the organisations creating those facts are the same organisations that are creating the products, the same organisations that have been caught lying and faking the results of their studies.

In conclusion, I will reiterate that the biggest tactic/trope of the vaccine injury deniers is that they are hypocrites; they criticise others for the very behaviours they pride themselves in.

ADDENDUM: I just read an extraordinarily humourous comment from someone named Kruuth on David’s Den of Misinformation, Lies, and Sycophants:

“I've never gone to Ginger's blog before. After reading the front page I thought that I was reading something written by a ten-year-old. Once I saw that she's an adult, and one with a child as well, I just sighed. If she needs a reason why anyone in the real medical field doesn't take her seriously she needs to look no further than her own blog. “

Oh my word; I actually spit out my coffee laughing at that one. One wonders if he has ever read Dave’s blog; irony meters, brain chomping Hitler zombies, talking about himself in the third person, pretending to be a computer from a defunct and downright awful Sci-Fi television show.

Yes, hypocrisy.


  1. Well done!! I think you've outdone yourself on this one, man.

  2. One of the goalpost moves which was really quite clever:
    Right about the time that it became clear the flu vaccine was doing diddlysquat to reduce the death rate in the elderly (various studies had demonstrated that it wasn't working), the CDC and friends moved the goalposts and decided to vaccinate everyone to protect the elderly.

    Isn't that clever?

  3. I know this is the blogesphere, and we are supposed to care about what other bloggers write about our topics, and us specifically, but I JUST DON'T CARE WHAT HE SAYS ANYMORE. Truly. I could not care any less. If he declared himself the Queen of Spain I don't think I could drum up the interest to link to it.

    So kudos to you for still taking the time to point out the craziness, but I spent like six years trying to have good faith, straight forward, normal conversations with Gorski, and it just can't be done. We are all beneath him, he can't bother to condescend to the level of proles like us who note that the safety claims they make are not backed up by science, and moms like me, who earnestly report that our children fit the criteria for “vaccine encephalopathy”, are to be mocked, not be respectfully shown where we are off base. Of course we are also the customers of the vaccine program, so you see how he is helping vaccine rates plummet... truly a brilliant strategy that guy has undertaken.

    What he does is just bombastic and silly. He is a product developer for the company whose product gave my child brain damage, yet claims independence in these matters. There is no humility or wisdom in his actions. What he writes has zero impact on vaccine uptake rates, as they continue to drop, and more and more become convinced that vaccines play a role in ASD and other problems.

    I say let him and his pack continue to fiddle while Rome burns. It is not like they are lifting a finger to put out the blaze anyway. They don't give a shit what happens to our kids or any other kids. In six years, in both public exchanges and private emails, he has never actually asked me anything about my son that could be remotely construed as concern for him or a genuine interest in understanding his case and helping him... NOT THE SIGN OF A REAL DOCTOR. By contrast, as is completely commonplace when in the company of the doctors in the biomedical community, in November I was in a small group of people talking at the NAA conference, and Dr. Wakefield was there, and started asking me questions about my son and his regression. NAA was the first time I had ever had an actual conversation with him (once before I shook his hand and said, “nice to meet you.”) I purposely don’t bring up my son’s case with docs at conferences, because I know they get bombarded, and yet they still take the initiative to ask me about him. I had one doc ask me three times about my son (and I waved him off as not to take advantage of his time) and when he finally insisted, gave me like three hours of free confab, and ended up with giving us ideas that ultimate made huge gains for Chandler. That is what real doctors do. Gorski and his crew don’t even know how to feign concern for our kids, and they don’t even understand how dramatically different they are from real healers in the way they behave.

    They found a group where they can be "cool" and play "mean girls" and I say let them play their stupid games in the sand box as they become more and more detached from what is going on in the outside world.

    This is not the crew that real people go to for medical advice for their children when they have difficult questions to be answered.

    And every year Autism One grows, because when people go there, they get solutions for their children. The free market is an amazing thing. Note that Gorski, Offit and Mnookin don’t offer help to kids like ours. And if they did, no one would go to them. They are not healers. Their job is to bully those already in the vaccine injury denialism community to stay there. They are the guard dogs at the door, barking at those already inside to stay there.

    So let them stay there. We don’t need them.

    1. My goodness, that is the most insightful and eloquent thing I have ever read from a ten year old! ;) God bless, never stop fighting the good fight.

  4. Ginger, thank you so much for the time you have taken to read my humble blog and make such a wonderful and impassioned response.

    I agree with much of what you say. I also respect your decision and thoughts on why you no longer let the silly douche bother you.

    The reason that Craig started this site (and I continued it) is because there are many others out there who are new to this debate. They are looking around for information and want answers to their questions. Inevitably, they will discover Dorkski and his ragged band of hysterical hypocrites and read his articles concerning a discipline that he has no training in and very little actual knowledge of, and they will think that he is an expert on the subject simply due to volume alone. So, Craig made this site to show everyone just what type of person Gorski is; just what type of people his arse-kissers are. This is an important endeavor, and ultimately, I felt it was important enough to continue.

    But, you are right...we don't need them. But we DO need to speak against them, pointing out their hypocrisies and unscientific behaviours.

  5. Then again... God bless you guys for being the outpost that sounds the alarm against them. Because they have exhausted my patience.

    Let me know if you need anything from me, because unless someone calls my attention to his blather, I have no idea what the guy is writing any more.

  6. Ginger, I admire your work and energy so much! I'm glad you are finding help for Chandler. He looks like such a sweet kid.

  7. TL;DR but anything that splatts the ubersmug Gorski, gets my vote.