Trolling the antivaccine trolls

There are many ways to combat antivaccine pseudoscience. Personally, I’ve chosen my favored methods, namely blogging, giving talks, and generally combatting pseudoscience on social media wherever I find it. That’s not all I do (for example, I do have a couple of papers in the peer-reviewed medical literature designed to combat the infiltration of pseudoscience into academia), but it is where I put most of my effort. For one thing, I’m good at it. For another thing, it’s fun. Also, it’s something I can work into my busy schedule more easily. It even brings me a bit of notoriety now and then, such as when I had a strange interaction with William Shatner or when various news organizations, for some reason, want to interview and quote me for various stories.

None of this is to say that what I do is the only way to combat pseudoscience. Heck, it’s probably not even the most effective, but it does play to my strengths. Indeed, I very much admire people who can go a more conventional route, forming organizations, lobbying, and doing outreach. I also can’t help but have some respect for people who use more—shall we say?—in your face tactics, people like those who go out and protest showings of antivaccine documentaries like VAXXED. The movie was released well over a year ago, and, unfortunately, the film’s producers and director, Andrew Wakefield, Polly Tommey, and Del Bigtree, are still promoting it for all it’s worth. They’ve even bought an old buss, painted it up with the film’s logo, and went on tour to promote the movie, rally the antivaccine faithful, and try to influence legislators, both at the federal and state level—even in my state of Michigan. Throughout it all, they’ve tried to make it a memorial to the “vaccine-injured,” with parents writing the names of the “victims” on the bus. It’s all rather ghoulish, actually.

Indeed, the VAXXED crew is so blatant that just last week they were in Minneapolis, the epicenter of a massive measles outbreak among the Somali immigrant community in Hennepin County that Andrew Wakefield himself, with the help of his acolytes, directly caused through their fear mongering about vaccines and autism. Even worse, even after having drawn national attention to their role in endangering the children of Minnesota through promoting antivaccine misinformation, antivaxers aren’t ashamed. They’re proud. They’re doubling down and still promoting their pseudoscience among the vulnerable population they harmed in the first place. The VAXXED bus visit is just part of that. Basically, Wakefield is making another movie, and his crew is filming interviews wherever the VAXXED bus goes.

That’s why I’m glad there’s someone like Craig Egan, who started a GoFundMe page in order to raise money so that he could travel across the country, report on where the VAXXED bus is going and what the VAXXED crew is doing, protest, and raise money for Voices For Vaccines:

The Vaxxed bus is on tour, spreading fear and disinformation about vaccines. I will be following their route, refuting them with facts and evidence and sometimes lulz at every stop. I will also be using this adventure as a fundraiser for a great organization, Voices for Vaccines. One third of all donations will be budgeted to go directly to V4V . Each goal will get me to another stop on the tour and a larger V4V donation.

He’s even made the news as the “Internet’s most prolific troll of anti-vaxxers“:

Online, his approach is textbook trolling, which is defined by the Urban Dictionary as posting a “deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.”

That’s exactly what he does, needling staunch, conspiratorial anti-vaccine types to an uncomfortable point of hilarity or harassment, depending on your point of view.

He has a certain skill set, and he’s not shy about using it, employing take-down-style arguments based in science and medicine in a bizarre digital realm that largely seeks to discredit both.

Online, his many foes know him well. He’s routinely referred to as a bully, or worse.

Egan targets those who believe immunizations are responsible for a host of medical conditions, ailments and disabilities, and that there’s a widespread cover-up orchestrated by the government and large pharmaceutical companies to keep the truth hidden.

Specifically, Egan specializes in making online life miserable for the handful of doctors and authors who deal in this junk science.

Yes, there’s Insolence I can approve of. He also follows an approach I try to follow in my blogging, namely ruthless mockery of the hard core antivaxers but a much softer approach with those on the fence. Antivaxers hate him, of course, probably more than they hate me. They portray him (and Karen Ernst of V4V) as “stalkers and “mockers,” which is not entirely inaccurate but doesn’t really truly catch the flavor of what he’s doing. In any case, Egan is very effective, because he’s basically driven the VAXXED bus underground:

Basically, because of Egan, the locations of where the VAXXED bus will be have been kept as secret as possible, and some appearances have been moved to private homes, where Egan can’t go. In particular, I like how Egan turned the tables on the VAXXED crew in Minneapolis by calling the police on them for not having a permit to film a movie in a public park. The same sort of thing happened in Bettendorf, IA and St. Louis: No bus, or the event was moved to a private house:

Here he noted that Suzanne Humphries stopped showing up, as did Polly Tommey. I really have to wonder how fragile the message of VAXXED is if one person (or, sometimes, a handful of people) respectfully protesting, drives the whole crew and bus underground. I can’t help but think of similar behavior that I’ve noticed elsewhere…

Trolling is not all that Egan does, though. As he’s done his tour, he’s interviewed various physicians and vaccine researchers about the importance of vaccines, thus providing a positive message as well.

So how do antivaxers view him? The Age of Autism crew, specifically Nancy Hokkanen, was not happy:

Organizers of the Minneapolis VaxXed stop withheld its Mississippi River stop location publicly because of troublemakers. One was Craig Egan, a miscreant with suspect funding who boasts online about his national stalking of the bus and its grieving visitors. Nonetheless he and a handful of protesters appeared brandishing a few signs (such as the inapplicable “Mutant and Proud”), but left after some sprinkles of rain. Someone even attempted to shut down the VaxXed event by calling park police, though event organizers had a permit.

“I wonder why Craig Egan and the rest of his trolls are trying to intimidate families who have vaccine injured children?” asked Wayne Rohde of the Vaccine Safety Council of Minnesota. “He has no heart or conscience for understanding others who are living and struggling with disabilities.”

Another empathy-challenged intruder was Karen Ernst of the faux consumer group Voices for Vaccines, who showed up to lurk and smirk. Though the VaxXed bus is a travelling monument recognizing health damage and deaths caused by vaccines, photos taken that day indicate she found the gathering amusing. Her disturbingly inappropriate affect is profoundly disrespectful at an event commemorating the sick and dead, their caregivers, and their mourners.

I don’t presume to speak for Craig, but I do have empathy for parents who have to deal with a special needs child. I really do. Back when I was in college, I worked part time at a group home with children with severe mental retardation, two of which had classic severe autism. I can partially (but never completely) imagine what it would be like to take care of such children 24/7/365. However, having a special needs child does not give you a pass if you spread antivaccine misinformation of the sort that resulted in the recent measles outbreak in Minnesota, nor does it give you a pass if you have, in essence, made a career of spreading such misinformation, as Polly Tommey and several of the leaders of the antivaccine movement have done.

That being said, it is a fine line to tread. Antivaxers use their belief that their children were horribly injured by vaccines as a shield against any criticism of their antivaccine beliefs. Basically, if you criticize their antivaccine beliefs, you are risking falling into the trap of being portrayed as “attacking mothers.” The flip side of their use of their pain as their shield is that, at the same time, as they take self-righteous umbrage at any criticism pro-vaccine advocates might level at their antivaccine pseudoscience, they feel they have every right to use all manner of personal attacks, doxxing, trying to get their critics fired (or at least harassing them at work), and even using violent imagery aimed at their perceived enemies.

Fortunately, Craig treads that line well.

Comments

  1. #1 Narad
    September 6, 2017

    Macrophage, Monocyte. They mean the same thing in VP’s world. For biologists and medical people, maybe not.

    I guess the monocytes, upon recruitment, are presumed to be given orders for basic training in Fort Granuloma before being deployed. Or something.

  2. #2 Dangerous Bacon
    September 6, 2017

    “Macrophage, Monocyte. They mean the same thing in VP’s world. For biologists and medical people, maybe not.”

    I’ve seen others use the terms interchangeably, which is at best sloppy. Monocytes are blood cells which under some conditions can be recruited across the blood-brain barrier to enter brain tissue (where they differentiate into macrophages). One would have to connect a lot more dots than Mr. Papers has so far attempted, in order to conclude that aluminum adjuvant particles take this route after vaccination and set up shop in the brain causing inflammation and then autism and various other maladies.

    It is wondrous indeed that Mr. Papers is happy to ignore and/or dismiss hundreds of thousands of cases annually of documented brain inflammation and death from vaccine-preventable diseases, because of his unproven theory that vaccines cause non-fatal brain inflammation resulting in autism.

  3. #3 Elliott
    an allegedly developed part of the world
    September 6, 2017

    This just in–results of a study of the benefits of vaccination published by the WHO–maybe Craig can shout this out at the Vaxxed people.

    The short version is that the nonprofit organization Gavi has been working to increase access to vaccines in lower-income countries. Study estimates that by 2020, they will have saved 20 million lives and $350 billion in healthcare costs.

    Full version here:
    http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/95/9/16-178475/en/

  4. #4 Jay
    September 6, 2017

    @VP
    “Reactions can occur immediately as well, though this is probably less common”

    Rubbish, I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist making something up and here we have it, four weeks to a month your macrophages take to move any where near the brain, according to you, that’s why the effects can’t be picked up in studies, according to you.
    Now conveniently its immediately as well. These are some hyperspeed macrophages lol.

    See people, pure evidence that he’s just making bits up as he goes along.

    “Aluminum also induces MCP-1, so it may stimulate its own transport into the brain. ”

    Wut lol, which comes first lol? Why doesn’t it just stop where it is, being attracted to itself lol. What about the macrophages without aluminium, why don’t they fix the problem lol?

    Why should we be worried about aluminium encapsulated in a Macrophage in the first place, it’s where its supposed to be lol? Especially the tiny amount in each individual marcophage lol. How does this tiny amount inside an agent that deals with inflammation, cause inflammation? You are too funny. This is your total fantasy.

    Like it’s been said, Autism starts in the womb, if your version of reality was true, people be dropping like flies from burning nuggets of Aluminium and any other substances like it.

  5. #5 brian
    September 6, 2017

    I suppose that Vaccine Papers might also trumpet the news that two NIH researchers received the Lasker Prize this week for work that facilitated the development of (aluminum-adjuvanted) HPV vaccines, only nine years after Harald zur Hausen was awarded the Nobel Prize for discoveries that pointed the way to that life-saving work.

  6. #6 Johnny
    127.0.0.1
    September 6, 2017

    Jake has a post up about Craig Egan. It’s mostly content free (suprise), and it’s mostly Jake saying that people should ‘troll the troll’ (where have I heard that?).

    The most interesting thing is in the comments (which, as is standard for that site, are completely off topic from the post). It’s from Jake himself (which is also fairly standard at that site, I’d guess he makes 35% to 40% of the comments) – “I’m really against denying being “anti-vaccine,” because being pro-vaccine should no longer be seen as a positive.”

    http://www.autisminvestigated.com/give-vaxxed-troll-craig-egan/#comment-286767

  7. #7 shay simmons
    September 6, 2017

    Also I am amused at the targeted ads I get from my Googles

    I seem to get a lot for saris, senior dating sites, and timeshares in the Middle East. I can only speculate what it is about my online history that leads Google to assume I’m a Indian lady d’un certain age looking for a hot weekend in Abu Dhabi.

  8. #8 Chris
    September 6, 2017

    Shay, that is so amusing.

    But, seriously, it is better than funeral services!

  9. #9 Vaccine Papers
    September 7, 2017

    “Mr. Papers is happy to ignore and/or dismiss hundreds of thousands of cases annually of documented brain inflammation and death from vaccine-preventable diseases,”

    Infectious diseases are dangerous and can cause brain injury. But like I said before, if the diseases were truly more dangerous than the vaccines, we would have seen a decline in neurodevelopmental disorders as vaccine use increased. But the opposite has happened. More vaccines is associated increased neuro disorders.

    You are happy to ignore and dismiss the accumulating evidence that vaccination causes brain injury. You could have cited some science showing that vaccines do not do this. Instead, you resort to an “appeal to consequences” type argument. thats a logical fallacy and not persuasive.

    “I suppose that Vaccine Papers might also trumpet the news that two NIH researchers received the Lasker Prize this week for work that facilitated the development of (aluminum-adjuvanted) HPV vaccines, only nine years after Harald zur Hausen was awarded the Nobel Prize for discoveries that pointed the way to that life-saving work.”

    I expect HPV vaccine will eventually be recognized as a public health disaster, causing more harm than it prevents. There is risk it may INCREASE cervical cancer and HPV cancers.

    The adjuvant in the HPV vaccine appears to be particularly high risk for causing autoimmune and neurological disorders. Damage from these adverse effects will likely exceed the benefit provided by the vaccine (if any).

    A significant problem with the HPV vaccine is that there are over 100 strains of HPV, and the vaccine targets only a few (latest targets 9). Hence, there is a risk of original antigenic sin (or deficits in heterosubtypic immunity, as seen with the flu vaccine) leading to increased susceptibility to non-target strains. In other words, vaccinated people may suffer more severe HPV infection from strains not included in the vaccine. Hence, the vaccine may INCREASE risk of cancers from HPV. The dangers of the non-target strains are not well understood. Widespread vaccine use will cause strain substitution. Will the new circulating strains be any less dangerous?

    Efficacy studies to date look only at resistance to the target strains, not cancer outcomes or broader measures of HPV infection (i.e. infections with non-target strains).

  10. #10 Chris
    September 7, 2017

    Danny Boy” “There is risk it may INCREASE cervical cancer and HPV cancers.”

    Sure thing… another blatant assertion.

    “A significant problem with the HPV vaccine is that there are over 100 strains of HPV, and the vaccine targets only a few (latest targets 9).”

    Classic Nirvana Fallacy.

  11. #11 Jay
    September 7, 2017

    @ Chris

    Indeed. I think he get’s off by lying in public…

    “The adjuvant in the HPV vaccine appears to be particularly high risk for causing autoimmune and neurological disorders.”

    Har no:

    Results of a LONG TERM Safety study of a HPV vaccine:
    “Neurological events
    The rate ratios were not significantly increased for any of the five analysed neurological outcomes. For two of these outcomes, epilepsy and paralysis, the rate ratios were significantly decreased.”

  12. #12 brian
    Outside Crosby's labyrinth
    September 7, 2017

    Efficacy studies to date look only at resistance to the target strains, not cancer outcomes or broader measures of HPV infection (i.e. infections with non-target strains).

    Well, no.

    http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/7/8/e015867.long

    http://www.gynecologiconcology-online.net/article/S0090-8258(17)30774-6/fulltext#s0065

  13. #13 Narad
    September 8, 2017

    A significant problem with the HPV vaccine is that there are over 100 strains of HPV, and the vaccine targets only a few (latest targets 9).

    The main oncogenic ones and some others? Bummer.

  14. #14 Julian Frost
    September 8, 2017

    @Vaccine Papers:

    You are happy to ignore and dismiss the accumulating evidence that vaccination causes brain injury.

    What you’ve posted in support of this claim is not evidence, although it is certainly “accumulating”.

    A significant problem with the HPV vaccine is that there are over 100 strains of HPV, and the vaccine targets only a few (latest targets 9).

    Those 9 strains are responsible for over 90% of HPV caused cervical cancers. You really are clueless, aren’t you?

  15. #15 Chris
    September 8, 2017

    Julian. Frost: “Those 9 strains are responsible for over 90% of HPV caused cervical cancers. You really are clueless, aren’t you?”

    Which is why it is a classic Nirvana Fallacy. If it does work 100% of the time, it is not worthwhile. All the more reason to ignores the whining of Danny Boy.

  16. #16 Chris
    September 8, 2017

    Stupid typo, leaving out a certain word:

    Which is why it is a classic Nirvana Fallacy. If it does not work 100% of the time, it is not worthwhile. All the more reason to ignores the whining of Danny Boy.

    Sorry about that.

  17. #17 Narad
    September 8, 2017

    Those 9 strains are responsible for over 90% of HPV caused cervical cancers. You really are clueless, aren’t you?

    I think you misspelled “have been backed into a corner.” The “only x strains” routine is pathetically volk material for someone who estimates himself so highly as Mr. Vaper Papers.

  18. #18 Chris Preston
    September 8, 2017

    Jake has a post up about Craig Egan. It’s mostly content free (suprise), and it’s mostly Jake saying that people should ‘troll the troll’ (where have I heard that?).

    I am sooo tempted to troll, but discretion wins out.

    A significant problem with the HPV vaccine is that there are over 100 strains of HPV, and the vaccine targets only a few (latest targets 9).

    I am really hoping Dan doesn’t take that attitude with everything else he does. There could be carnage out there.

  19. #19 doug
    September 8, 2017

    For some diversion:
    from Alex Jones, quoted at Salon:

    “What they’re already doing for about 20 years is, they have an anti-stress vaccine they give the troops that’s really a nanotech virus that goes in and eats certain parts of the brain.”

    All we want to do is eat your brains
    We’re not unreasonable, I mean, no one’s gonna eat your eyes

  20. #20 Johnny
    127.0.0.1
    September 10, 2017

    All good things come to an end.

    https://youtu.be/KoDxeS3mOFA

  21. #21 shay simmons
    September 10, 2017

    A significant problem with the HPV vaccine Kevlar vestis that there are over 100 strains of HPV targets on the human body, and the vaccine targets vest protects only a few

    Let’s strip every cop and combat soldier of their vests, shall we? Clearly they don’t work.

  22. #22 Narad
    September 10, 2017

    Hence, the vaccine may INCREASE risk of cancers from HPV.

    Sure thing, Dan. How’s that LENR patent working out?