Requiem for a friend I’ve never met

I didn’t feel much like blogging last night, but I felt as though I had to, even if it’s brief.

Yesterday was one of those crappy days where there were a lot of problems that didn’t relent, so much so that I was completely occupied and didn’t check my e-mail until the evening. It was at that point that I wish I hadn’t. What I found in my in box was a whole slew of e-mails informing me that a friend had died.

Mark was a friend I had never met.

One of the odd things about the Internet is that it is indeed quite possible to become virtual friends with someone, forging a friendship that lasts for years, and never actually meet him physically. When such a friend dies unexpectedly, you can be almost as sad as when a “real” friend dies. The loss can actually feel almost as profound. In this case, my friend’s death also presented a strange situation. Mark was intensely private, at least on the blogs. This insistence on privacy was almost certainly because he had many enemies (one in particular was particularly vicious), enemies who came to detest him. That’s because he was an even more tenacious fighter of quackery, particularly anti-vaccine and autism quackery, than even I could ever claim to be–and he had been at it for a much a longer time than I have. For instance, when I first encountered Mark, it was on the Usenet newsgroup alternative (m.h.a.). He had been an active participant, a skeptic and supporter of science- and evidence-based medicine long before I had ever even realized that there was an anti-vaccine movement, and it was back around 1999 or 2000 when I first discovered m.h.a. He even taught me, newbie that I was then, a thing or two about how to deal with the quacks who infested that newsgroup, some of whom continue to infest that newsgroup to this day. When I abandoned m.h.a. in 2004-2005 to become a blogger, eventually, he followed me and has commented on this and other blogs under various pseudonyms since since at least 2005.

He was also a relentless advocate for special needs children and a devoted father of two such a special needs child, one with cerebral palsy who was confined to a wheelchair and another with ADHD. I remember one e-mail exchange, when he described to me the first vacation he had had in at least a decade because there was no one else to take care of his child. He never complained, and when Mark wrote about that child, the love shone through clear as a summer sky as he would describe his child’s progress and accomplishments. He didn’t attack just anti-vaccine quackery, either. Rather, in a truly wholistic approach, he viewed the anti-vaccine movement as but one of the many threats to the health and well-being of special needs children and advocated for measures to improve the care and education of these children, so that they reach whatever potential they are capable of. It greatly saddens me to think about what his children will do now that he is gone, particularly the one with cerebral palsy.

Learning of Mark’s death by e-mail and on Facebook, and having seen that it was verified by several fellow bloggers who contacted his son who had announced his passing on his Facebook page, I now have a bit of a dilemma about how to pay tribute to him. I don’t think that, even in death, Mark would want me to “out” him by linking his real name to the pseudonyms under which he posted here and on other blogs, as much as I would really like to. Yet, he did post under his real name on m.h.a. back in the day–continuing even until just before his death–and I daresay that most of my readers who knew him knew his pseudonyms as well. They knew when it was him posting comments on this and other skeptical blogs. So, given his influence on my early skeptical development a decade ago back in the cesspool that was that wretched hive of scum and quackery on Usenet known as m.h.a, I think I’ll go back to the source and refer to Peter Bowditch’s announcement of his passing.

Farewell, Mark. I never got to meet you in person, even though for eight and a half years I lived within about 80 or 90 miles of where you lived. Now I will never have that opportunity. Yet, I feel as though I really did know you for 10 years, and you will be missed.


  1. #1 Kev
    November 10, 2010

    Great sentiments that I share. People say you can’t make true friends on the internet. Thats just not true and I was proud to count Mark as a friend too.

  2. #2 Triskelethecat Midwife of Death
    November 10, 2010

    @Orac: I saw you had something about this on FB this morning but I didn’t have time to comment. My condolences to you, as a friend, and to his family. I might know Mark by his pseudonyms, but, as you well know, I don’t research to whom a pseudonym belongs so can’t place him as a commenter.

    But, again, my condolences.

  3. #3 Todd W.
    November 10, 2010

    I cannot say that I knew Mark well, even via internet, but I did read some of his stuff. When I got the news last night, I was at a bit of a loss as to what to say, other than that he will be missed. I regret that I did not have the opportunity (or, rather, take the opportunity) to get to know him.

    To Mark’s family, please know that he made a difference, and that he will be in the thoughts of many of us, throughout the world.

  4. #4 Denice Walter
    November 10, 2010

    So sorry, Orac. Unfortunately, I’m unfamiliar with his work, but it sounds as if he’s influenced many people.

  5. #5 Catherina
    November 10, 2010

    My sympathy goes out to Mark and his family, and to you Orac.

    I had the same experience last Friday when my internet friend of 10 years suddenly died. I wish I had lived 80 miles from her, I would be at her funeral today. I know how you feel.

  6. #6 Todd W.
    November 10, 2010

    I read some of the comments on the link to Peter Bowditch’s announcement. That Jan Drew is something else.

  7. #7 Anthro
    November 10, 2010

    Orac, this is why I made the trek to Chicago to meet you in person at the Skeptic’s Meeting, although my friends do wonder why I take so much pride in a photo of me with a box of blinking lights!

    I haven’t been around here long enough to know who Mark was when he posted here, but I share your sadness at his passing nonetheless. All voices of reason are greatly missed when they leave us.

  8. #8 Scottynuke
    November 10, 2010

    My condolences, Orac. The loss of a true Internet friend hurts no matter the length of the friendship. I hope you can take some comfort in knowing you’re successfully carrying on the battle in his name.

  9. #9 Bob Officer
    November 10, 2010

    I knew Mark from MHA, and you are correct it is a cesspool but it you want to know the enemy, you must study them in their natural element.

    Mark did that and found they live and feed on hear-say, lies and will even resort to stalking and attacking a person in real life.

    He will be missed.

  10. #10 KWombles
    November 10, 2010

    My condolences, Orac. I didn’t know Mark for as long as you did, nor as well, but I appreciated his posts and his comments tremendously.

  11. #11 Orac
    November 10, 2010

    I knew Mark from MHA, and you are correct it is a cesspool but it you want to know the enemy, you must study them in their natural element.

    True that. But after around four years of doing that, I thought I had learned enough to begin this blog. It turns out that I had, not in small part to watching Mark in action.

  12. #12 novalox
    November 10, 2010

    Condolences to you, Orac, and for Mark’s family. I may have not known him that well, either online or in person, but it is always sad to see somebody you know pass away.

    And yes, some of those comments on MHA are truly insensitive.

  13. #13 Orac
    November 10, 2010

    It figures. Patrick “Tim” Bolen has now entered the building. If you think Jan Drew is a vicious loon, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

  14. #14 novalox
    November 10, 2010


    Normally, I’d laugh at Bolen the idiot. But his comments, as well as his sheer lunacy and insensitivity, especially seeing his comments at MHA, really makes me mad.

  15. #15 Science Mom
    November 10, 2010

    I’m so sorry for this loss. I wasn’t terribly familiar with him but I can empathise with those that did know him and certainly, his family. My condolences to them and all that knew him.

    It is also sad that his detractors would feel the need to spit on him now rather than to exercise even a modicum of human decency and restraint during this time. I doubt they have the neuronal capacity to understand how hurtful that is to his family and friends. But then, maybe that’s their objective.

  16. #16 Phoenix Woman
    November 10, 2010

    I’m so sorry, Orac. (((hug)))

    Any word on how his kids will fare?

  17. #17 René Najera
    November 10, 2010

    Jesus Christ, that Bolen guy is off the hook in a very, very bad way! Too bad there’s one less in this life to fight Bolen et al. and their bullshit.

    On the other end of the spectrum, sounds like Mark was a great guy.

  18. #18 Todd W.
    November 10, 2010

    Orac, keep us up to date on whether the family would like donations to any particular charity in his memory.

  19. #19 Chris
    November 10, 2010

    Phoenix Woman, his youngest is 22 years old.

    I also met him on Usenet, and enjoyed his posts on his sons. His youngest is the same age as my oldest. I used to follow him on, and some other disability groups.

  20. #20 Chris
    November 10, 2010

    Phoenix Woman, his kids are now adults. I also met him on Usenet. He will be missed.

  21. #21 Chris
    November 10, 2010

    Oh, great. Sorry about the double post. I don’t know why, but I actually checked twice and my comment did not show. I even clicked on it from the sidebar. Some technical glitch.

  22. #22 Mike Stanton
    November 10, 2010

    Mark will be deeply missed by all who knew him, whether in the flesh or via the internet. He will also be missed by those who never knew him but who have now lost a tireless advocate for decent services for the disabled. Mark did not just campaign against the quacks and abusers of science who leech on the lives of people with disabilities. He lobbied and influenced law makers to improve their quality of life as well.

  23. #23 AnthonyK
    November 10, 2010

    So sorry to hear that a great man I never knew (but who influenced my thinking through you, and other blogs) has died. But why not mention his real name? Why should he be anonymous in death – having lived?
    It’s not up to me to say anything.
    Fucking will, though, when you go mate.

  24. #24 AnthonyK
    November 10, 2010

    So sorry to hear that a great man I never knew (but who influenced my thinking through you, and other blogs) has died. But why not mention his real name? Why should he be anonymous in death – having lived?
    It’s not up to me to say anything.
    Fucking will when you go mate.

  25. #25 AnthonyK
    November 10, 2010

    Sorry – way too aggressive. Apologies. (I lost a dear friend recently too).

  26. #26 D. C. Sessions
    November 10, 2010

    I knew Mark through us both having ADHD kids, and the MKH, ASAD, and MHA. We almost ended up having a meatspace get-together that just didn’t quite. All in all, we go back almost 20 years.


    Ah, well, here’s a glass of the Jameson Distillery Reserve to his memory. We’re the poorer for his loss but the richer for having known him.


  27. #27 DaveD
    November 10, 2010

    This is very sad news. I was a frequent ally of Mark on m.h.a and always enjoyed his postings. God bless him and his memory. It’s been several years since I’ve been on m.h.a, since my ISP dropped their Usenet server, but I sometimes miss it.

  28. #28 D. C. Sessions
    November 10, 2010

    It’s been several years since I’ve been on m.h.a, since my ISP dropped their Usenet server, but I sometimes miss it.

    If you find Google Groups a pain (as I do) then NewsGuy is pretty good and cheap. I have my own local NNTP server so it stays current and I don’t have to wait for a remote NNTP fetch.

  29. #29 Craig Willoughby
    November 10, 2010

    I’m sorry to hear about his passing, though I’ve only had passing contact with him. My condolences to his family.

  30. #30 ChrisKid
    November 11, 2010

    Orac, you say you are at a bit of a loss about how to pay tribute to your friend. I’d say you just did, and eloquently. I’m sorry you lost him, but I’m glad you found him in the first place.

  31. #31 wmdkitty#83021
    November 11, 2010

    *hugs Orac*

  32. #32 DLC
    November 11, 2010

    My condolences to his family and friends.

  33. #33 Kristen
    November 11, 2010

    So sorry to hear about the loss of a friend. I did not know him (although I remember his comments) but it seems he was a great guy.

    You have payed tribute by your words. Unfortunately in these situations that is all the comfort we can give but I know it means so much to his family.

    My sincerest condolences go out to you, all his friends and his family.

    Orac, keep us up to date on whether the family would like donations to any particular charity in his memory.

    I am right there with Todd, please let us know.

  34. #34 Liz Ditz
    November 13, 2010

    Josh left a message on my Facebook wall:

    Please plant a tree in my dads honor in Israel. He would want that to show a sign of growth. Thank you

    My blog-pal David Bogner in Israel recommends The Jewish Fund’s Forestry program (link takes you to donation page)

    What JNF says:

    JNF has planted more than 240 million trees since 1901 to protect the land, green the landscape and preserve vital ecosystems. Through the generosity of donors like you, JNF continues this effort, planting seedlings, maintaining forest health, combating desertification, protecting watersheds and managing water flow.

  35. #35 Laurentius Rex
    November 15, 2010

    Mark is not only a person I did not know, I can honestly say that until I came across this post he is a person I did not even know of.

    I suppose it is unfortunate to come across such a person only when they have gone, and then to mourn that one will only ever be able to encounter there presence in the past tense, rather than there continuity.

    That is to say we are more than our physical presence, for as long as the things that are important to us go on being debated. Is it wrong to speculate that is the continuity Mark would wish for. (And a tree is also a very good way of preserving another kind of continuity for the benefit of the planet)

  36. *sad frown on face*

  37. #37 Andrew
    November 21, 2010

    Regarding the oh so nice JNF:

    “Bulldozers returned to the village of al-Araqib in the northern Negev on Wednesday, 4 August, and demolished approximately ten new structures residents and supporters had built a week after Israeli forces completely destroyed the village on 27 July.”

    “The Jewish National Fund (JNF) plans to build a forest on the land of al-Araqib. The majority of villagers still live in tents on their land, and the Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported that locals said they will keep rebuilding their homes. The JNF, a para-state institution, has worked since before the establishment of the State of Israel to erase and appropriate Palestinian land.”


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