Case in point:
A few days ago, I sang the praises of last week’s article in Wired magazine by Amy Wallace on pediatric infectious disease and immunology specialist, Dr Paul Offit, and the anti-vaccination movement in the US.
Wallace’s article has been widely heralded by the scientific community but has evoked the wrath of several anti-vaccination groups and individual followers.
When the target is a man, their motives are questioned and their intellect maligned. But when the target is a woman, guess what happens? Here is a compiled thread from a series of tweets yesterday from Amy Wallace (@msamywallace)
I’ve been called stupid, greedy, a whore, a prostitute, and a “fking lib.” I’ve been called the author of “heinous tripe.”
J.B. Handley, the founder of Generation Rescue, the anti-vaccine group that actress Jenny McCarthy helps promote, sent an essay title” “Paul Offit Rapes (intellectually) Amy Wallace and Wired Magazine.” In it, he implied that Offit had slipped me a date rape drug. “The roofie cocktails at Paul Offit’s house must be damn good,” he wrote. Later, he sent a revised version that omitted rape and replaced it with the image of me drinking Offit’s Kool-aid. That one was later posted at the anti-vaccine blog Age of Autism. You can read that blog here
I’ve been told I’ll think differently “if you live to grow up.” I’ve been warned that “this article will haunt you for a long time.” Just now, I got an email so sexually explicit that I can’t paraphrase it here. Except to say it contained the c-word and a reference to dead fish.
Amy Wallace is a seasoned journalist with over 25 years of experience writing professionally for such publications as The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and Condé Nast. She has covered the highly-contentious and often backstabbing culture of the entertainment industry, topics as polarizing as the death penalty, and charged profiles such as that of an emotionally-terrorized woman who murdered her husband. Yet, she notes that she has never before “experienced such an avalanche of letters and emails.”
Well, Ms. Wallace, you have committed the sin of 1) being a female professional and 2) questioning a vocal and vitriolic pseudoscience demographic.
And like every other woman science blogger I know, without exception, you are now the target of the type of electronic criticism of the lowest common denominator.
Fortunately, Wallace is garnering support as well – an Australian blogger has pieced together Amy’s original tweets exactly as written into continuous text:
But here’s the thing: of the 251 people who have written me from Spain, the U.K., France, Slovenia, the Netherlands and all over the U.S. 190 of them said they were grateful to Wired. Those people included numerous parents of autistic spectrum children and autistic adults. And scores of pediatricians. In all, only 55 of the people who wrote said they disagreed with the piece. (Six others asked questions, but didn’t indicate their feelings).
Why is this important to note? Because one of the reasons people don’t speak out about this issue, as we note in the story, is fear of retribution. In his book, Autism’s False Prophets, Dr. Offit writes about scientists who have been intimidated into staying silent about autism/vaccines. If scientists – who are armed with facts and trained to interpret them – are afraid, can it be any surprise that a lot of parents are, too?
Tomorrow, I’ll begin quoting from some of the most eloquent letters I’ve received, both pro and con.
Have something to add? Email me at email@example.com. Or join in the conversation at #vaccine
I’m really looking forward to hearing more from Amy Wallace. I also think it’s brilliant of her to break her quotes into 140 character tweets rather than put up a single blogpost as was compiled above. I hypothesize that in using Twitter rather than a conventional blog, her message will reach a far wider audience through retweets of the most inflammatory communications across individual networks. In fact, her number of personal followers has almost doubled overnight, literally.
So, I’d recommend following her on Twitter @msamywallace. If you don’t yet use Twitter, this is a very good reason to start.
I was also just made aware that physicist Sean Carroll who writes Cosmic Variance at Discover gave us a shoutout in a nice post entitled, “Defending Science Isn’t Always Pretty.”