Terra Sigillata


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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 ecallawyma@gmail.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.

Her original article that stoked the flames is here and her personal webpage with her biography and links to her extensive writing portfolio is here.

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.”

Comments

  1. #1 History Punk
    October 27, 2009

    Maybe if more people stood and started labeling the morons, idiots, subnormals, and morans properly, rather than coddling them with praise about being creative, thinking for themselves, and being smart, these kinds of outbursts would be come less common?

  2. #2 Coturnix
    October 27, 2009

    Her numbers suggest that a hunch of mine may be correct – that this minority, though, vocal, is actually small. It is perceived as being bigger because it is vocal and because the media allows them to use their bandwidth to scream so we can see/hear them, often given equal time on air as the majority that is sane.

  3. #3 isles
    October 27, 2009

    Coturnix, so true about the imprudence of giving “equal time” to nutjobs. But it’s media red meat – can’t realistically expect those who cater to the LCD to restrain themselves.

  4. #4 The Olive Ridley Crawl
    October 27, 2009

    I have been forwarding, and tweeting about this article, and on vaccines in general these last few weeks. I have also been pontificating to anyone who will listen that they must get vaccinated against H1N1. There’s quite a bit of “scepticism” here in west coast Canada, a lot of it related to mistrust of the pharmaceutical industry and a belief in many “new age” truisms about self-healing.

    But the additional gender dynamics of this criticism is appalling, and unfortunately all too common, and that is another fight for some of us men to fight in our communities. Do not let gender stereotyping go unquestioned, even if it is an awkward subject at times.

  5. #5 Erin
    October 27, 2009

    Why does it always come down to the quality of our vaginas? Since when does any woman think with their crotch?

  6. #6 isles
    October 28, 2009

    Check it out, TIME links to this post: http://wellness.blogs.time.com/2009/10/27/vaccine-war-autism-flu-and-science/

    Pharmboy, you’ve got horsepower!

  7. #7 Anthropologist Underground
    October 28, 2009

    Misogyny is a convenient platform when empirical reality fails to support fantasy. Vaccine rejection has been a thorn in my side since my first child was born six years ago. I suspect that deniers’ identities and personalities are so defined by the anti-vaccine culture that scientific evidence is a frightening and serious threat to their identities. I don’t know how else to explain reacting to science with violence. Thank you Amy Wallace!

  8. #8 Katharine
    October 28, 2009

    When I hear misogynist comments from people, it makes me wonder if their tiny brains are capable of thinking about anything other than sex.

  9. #9 Dr. Brain
    October 28, 2009

    Congrats on the Time mention, Pharmboy! This is great coverage!

  10. #10 provaxmom
    October 29, 2009

    I keep hearing the statistic that 1% of the population is autistic; 2.5% do not vax. I wonder what the overlap is. There was the story last week about the boy whose sight was restored by gene therapy. Add that to a recent study determining that 65% of all autistic individuals have the same, irregular gene pattern. Another 5-10% have the same chromosomal abnormality that my son has. That means we can account for almost 75% of autistic individuals with genetic abnormalities. Our focus needs to be on gene therapy, not vaccinations. It makes me furious as a special needs parent that they draw resources and attention away from that.

    We need to speak up, to not be afraid. We need to band together and form little armies like they have. We need to make the real data more accessible online; the fiction about vax is much easier to find than the facts.

  11. #11 BB
    November 3, 2009

    @History Punk, I’m ready, as always, to call the @$$hats what they are (not grammatical, but accuate anyway).
    Thank you Abel Pharmboy.

  12. #12 Bensmyson
    November 3, 2009

    As a charter member of the vocal and vitriolic pseudoscience demographic you speak so highly of, I would just like to say neenier-neenier-neeeeenier you are a weenier!

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    January 14, 2010

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