Monday, 22 August 2011

Attack of the anti-science movement

One of the last resorts left to the anti-science crowd is bullying more saner individuals into submission. Since they cannot win the debate on its merits they regularly use the legal system to stifle critique: i.e. those exposing their nonsense. However, it is not the only tactic available, death threats are always a very effective way too to show you are not pleased with science. The similarities in modus operandi with that other group of ideologues, Scientology, is striking. For this post I limit myself to the litigation-crowd. Behaviour that in the past made me remark:
This is because the intrepid ideologue will start by simply denying anything that contradicts his/her erroneous opinion since the Galileo-gambit proves he/she is right. This method is not without risks. More and more people realise they are the victim of propaganda. Another avenue for maintaining your discreditied position is legal bullying. As we have seen, in the case of Simon Singh, litigation -using the U.K.'s libel laws in particular- is a preferred method, employed by cranks, of removing science-based criticism from public discourse.
That post was a response to how this tactic:
resulted in cancelling the publication of Paul Offit's latest book Deadly Choices: How The Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All.
Based on the past weeks it appears this method of silencing reality-based criticism is on the rise. First, the recently unleashed Google Plus requires users to disclose their true identity. That is, even a well established pseudonym will lead to suspension of your account. Eventhough numerous legitimate reasons exist for people to keep their personal details hidden. Nevertheless, Google is not always in favour of disclosing that type of information:
Yet, it’s precisely for defending three bloggers’ right to anonymity that its Brazilian subsidiary was fined this Thursday by a local judge.
Following that kerfuffle the Overlords at Scienceblogs have also chosen to prohibit anonymous/pseudonymous blogging. Strangely enough both organisations were able to miss the fact that a blogger, named Samuele Riva, was threatened to stop writing about the factually correct observation that there was no scientific support for the claims (pun intended) being made by a producer of homeopathic remedies. In the words of Steven Novella:
this time the international homeopathy producer, Boiron, is threatening a lone Italian blogger because he dared to criticize their product, Oscillococcinum. The blogger, Samuele Riva, wrote two articles on his blog,, criticizing what our own Mark Crislip has called “oh-so-silly-coccinum.”  The blog is entirely in Italian, but he is maintaining a page in English with updates on the Boiron vs Blogzero affair.
As a result of this legal thuggery the Center for Inquiry (CFI) and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) are begging to be sued too:
We are inviting Boron [sic] to litigate not because we think their suit might have merit; quite to the contrary, such a suit would have absolutely no merit. If sued in any American court, we are confident we will prevail. Homeopathy has no scientific basis. Instead, we are inviting litigation because we do not believe Boron should be able to silence critics by picking on isolated bloggers.
Working on a post documenting this schoolyard approach to science I noticed the most recent incident involving EpiRen, who is a great force for reason. Liz Ditz wrote that his employer, because of legal threats, forced him to stop writing his science-based articles debunking the plethora of claims by the ideology-trumps-science-crowd:
Last weekend, Mr. Najera had a heated exchange with a pharmaceuticals "entrepreneur", Mr. X-- I put that in quotes as Mr. X. made some claims that don't stand up.  Mr. X also made a series of ad hominem attacks on Jen Gunter MD, to which Mr. Najera responded.
Rather than responding to Mr. Najera, Mr. X escalated in a particularly virulent way. Mr. X sent a series of emails--complaining about Mr. Najera's opinions, complaining about Mr. Najera's defense of vaccination,  and threatening legal action--to a great many people senior to Mr. Najera in his department -- starting with Mr. Najera's immediate superior.  Mr. X was able to do so because Mr. Najera was blogging under his own name, named the state in which he worked, and because the name RenĂ© Najera is rather uncommon -- especially in a small, East Coast state.
Commenting on this incident Orac adds:
René was ordered by his superiors to cease all blogging, Twittering, and other social network activity related to public health.
You will find his blog is no longer available, a truly disgusting result. This tendency to prevent pertinent information from being shared with the general public -i.e. censorship- is the hallmark of ideologues. Why am I not allowed to hear facts that are incompatable with your preferred/perceived version of reality?

In the absence of media that adequately report on pseudoscience -you must know this is a particular peeve of mine- it is frightning to witness the blatant use of threats, instead of reasoned discourse, to get rid of opposing voices. Especially, when it has been repeatedly shown that there is absolutely zero evidence to support those anti-science claims. The fact the anti-science crowd will stop at nothing to hide criticism is one of the main reasons I keep my personal details hidden, though luckily I am hardly important enough for them to bother me.

In light of the above, an article by Glenn Greenwald detailing the war on whistleblowers, combined with an expanding Surveillance State, add a somewhat sinister argument as to why ones identity should be allowed to remain seperated from real world interactions.

Update: The internet has reacted with strong emotions over this incident, since the underlying debate is about the ability to adopt an anonymous/pseudonymous alter ego, for whatever purpose. From Liz Ditz we learn that @epiApril has suggested Epigate for this circus. She also keeps a list of posts by others detailing this thuggery. An excellent observation of these events is written by Dr Judy Stone. The effect the internet has on the age old exchange of ideas amongst the medical profession is reviewed by PalMD. To remind us of the law of uintended consequences Scepticemia discusses the Streisand effect while listing the numerous responses.

Update II: Regarding nymity Chad Orzel adds some points, while Tara C. Smith stresses its importance and asks National Geographic to reconsider the ill-advised Scienceblogs-thingy. Thinking on the methods used by the let's-reinstate-the-Dark-Ages-brigade I am reminded of another type of strongarming. It is defined as:
acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes (took part of the definition to offer my view on what it is)
Which, after my selective quoting, sounds like the definition offered by Lord Lloyd of Berwick:
The use of serious violence against persons or property, or threat to use such violence, to intimidate or coerce a government, the public or any section of the public, in order to promote political, social or ideological objectives.
Obviously, the similarity is a misunderstanding on my part. We all know that only brown people with islamic sounding names embrace such tactics.


  1. Just today I saw the attack on nanotech research. This was actual bombs:

    And there was the legal-threat shutdown of the stem cell information clearing house:

    It's going to become impossible to get quality information out there.

  2. Thank you for those links, hadn't seen them.

  3. It’s a great pleasure to read your blog. I find your post very informative. Thank you for sharing your insights.
    As a reader, I consider your writing to be a great example of a quality and globally competitive output. It would be a great thrill and honor if you could share your genuine ideas and knowledge to our community, Physician Nexus. With this you can gain 1000 physician readers from over 62 countries on Nexus.
    We would love for you to visit our community. It's free, takes seconds, and is designed for physicians only - completely free of industry bias and commercial interests.
    Janmar Delicana
    On behalf of the Physician Nexus Team