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Christopher Shaw uses the results of an abusive FOIA request to intimidate a scientist

Scientist turned antivaccine activist Christopher Shaw tried to intimidate an Alzheimer’s disease expert named Catherine Roe for having withdrawn from an antivaccine crankfest called One Conversation using the results of an abusive FOIA request. Sadly, this is now a common tactic.

It’s been a week since I last laid down a helping of Orac’s trademark Insolence, be it Respectful or not-so-Respectful. Before I delve into today’s topic, I feel that you, my loyal audience, deserve a brief explanation in three words: Grant application deadline. The grant now submitted, I’m ready to get back into the swing of things, and the other day I got an email from a scientist named Catherine Roe, an Alzheimer’s researcher at the Knight Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center in the Department of Neurology at Washington University, in which she forwarded an email from Christopher Shaw, a scientist turned antivaccine activist. It’s the perfect topic to get the blog rolling again.

You might remember Dr. Roe as one of the legitimate scientists who had originally agreed to appear at the antivaccine quackfest of a “discussion panel” known as One Conversation. As you might recall, One Conversation was organized by antivaccine activists Shannon Kroner and Britney Valas, and Kroner initially contacted me to ask me if I would appear on the panel as part of the “other side.” Regular readers know my longstanding policy that I do not appear on the same stage as antivaccine cranks for a “debate” because, no matter what happens, it elevates the crank and there’s the risk that the cranks will be so good at Gish galloping that it might even be counterproductive. Even considering that, I recognized a trap when I saw one, particularly when Kroner would not reveal who the other panelists were going to be. Then I noted that ZDoggMD had posted a video in which he had learned that, at least at that time, Kroner had confirmed the involvement of antivaccine activists Del Bigtree and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., as well as antivaccine quack Dr. Toni Bark. I later learned that Dr. Christopher Shaw had been invited. I politely declined.

Before I describe what I did next, first let’s look, with Dr. Roe’s permission, at the text of the email that Dr. Roe sent to me on Wednesday, which included a forwarded email from Christopher Shaw:

Hi David,

Is this legal?




From: Shaw, Christopher

Sent: Wednesday, June 24, 2020 1:25 PM

To: Roe, Catherine

Subject: Your correspondence with Dr. Gorski

Dear Dr. Roe:

As you may be aware, a colleague of mine obtained through a FOIA request your email correspondence with Dr. David Gorski prior to the One Conversation event in Atlanta.

I intend to use these emails in a future publication to demonstrate how attempts at civil discussion on controversial topics are often suppressed. As you may know, this happens frequently concerning vaccines safety issues, but may also occur in other fields as well.

As a courtesy, I would like to offer you the opportunity to comment on these emails. If you do choose to do so, I will use your comments verbatim without any modifications. If you decline to do so, or choose not to respond to this request, I will note this instead.

Finally, I think that had you attended One Conversation you would not have found it to be as daunting an experience as Dr. Gorski suggested. Rather, I think you might have been pleasantly surprised. I rather doubt that anyone present would have subjected you to the “Gish gallop” (to use one of Dr. Gorski’s favorite terms).

As Dr. Exley was not present, I also doubt that anyone would have even mentioned aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease.

We might all have learned from your expertise and I am sorry we did not have the opportunity to have that conversation.

Sincerely yours,

Christopher A. Shaw, Ph.D


The first thing I did was to reassure Dr. Roe that Shaw was going after me, not her. He would likely portray her as the victim of a grand conspiracy to keep her from appearing with the likes of Del Bigtree, Dr. Toni Bark, and him, with me being the “bully” trying to frighten her out of appearing at One Conversation. I reassured her that I can take it.

Getting a hold of emails of one’s enemies (by whatever method) has become a favored technique used by antiscience cranks like Shaw to for propaganda purposes. This technique was first “pioneered” (if you can call it that) by climate science deniers, who hacked the server of the Climate Research Unit at the University East Anglia to obtain emails between climate scientists, from which they cherry picked and misrepresented quotes to try to embarrass the scientists and portray them as conspiring to promote a “bogus” human-caused global warming conspiracy and had “tampered” with temperature data. The whole kerfuffle came to be known as “Climategate.” Not long after, anti-GMO activists at US Right To Know (USRTK) found a legal method to accomplish the same thing, abusing various states’ Freedom of Information Acts (FOIA) to get ahold of researcher Kevin Folta’s emails and those of a number of other researchers and use them to paint him as a tool of Monsanto. In both cases, the technique was the same: Cherry pick passages that can be spun to sound embarrassing and promote the message the antiscience activist wants to promote. Moreover, the very act of filing a FOIA request is designed to harass the targeted scientist, who often ends up wasting many hours going through emails with her university counsel to determine what legally can and cannot be held back.

Now antivaxxers have started to do the same thing, and a number of science communicators countering antivaccine misinformation who work at public universities have been on the receiving end of similar abusive FOIA requests, myself included. That being said, my advice to Dr. Roe was either not to reply at all to Shaw or to reply with a very brief response. (Not replying at all is almost certainly the better option.)

Regular readers will be familiar with Christopher Shaw. He’s an scientist turned antivaccine activist who’s best known for publishing truly awful studies (one of which was probably fraudulent and ultimately retracted) designed to “prove” that aluminum in vaccines causes brain inflammation leading to autism. He’s also been featured for trying to demonstrate that Gardasil, an HPV vaccine, has been killing young women. His work has been funded by a wealthy antivaxxers. But how did he get Dr. Roe’s emails? Washington University is a private university and thus not subject to FOIA requests.

As for why Dr. Roe was invited to One Conversation in the first place, Dr. Shaw’s denial gives the game away. Because to antivaxxers aluminum is the new mercury (i.e., the vaccine ingredient that antivaxxers most frequently blame for autism) and there has been postulated a suspected link between aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease, whether Dr. Exley (another aluminum-focused antivaccine scientist) were at One Conversation or not, it would have been an near-certainty that someone would have started trying to draw an analogy between aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease and aluminum in vaccines and autism. After all, it’s the sort of thing that antivaxxers have been doing for a very long time. Indeed, it was nearly 15 years ago when I first wrote about Bill Maher claiming that flu vaccines increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

As I contemplated just how Shaw might have gotten his hands on my email exchange with Dr. Roe, at first I thought that maybe he got them from a FOIA request to my university. You might remember that Gary Null sent a FOIA request to my university looking for communications with people such as Steve Novella, Dorit Reiss, Stephen Barrett, Jon Entine, Paul Offit, Kevin Folta, the Guerilla Skeptics on Wikipedia, Susan Gerbic, Tim Farley, and Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia. (I laughed heartily at that last one; Null must have thought I was a really big deal that Jimmy Wales and I would communicate.) I’ve had no other FOIA requests since then, and I was sure that my email exchange with Dr. Roe wasn’t in the emails that my University ultimately provided to Null’s lawyer. I’m also amused that, apparently, as I predicted, the emails that were given up were so boring and utterly unincriminating (even with cherry-picked and misrepresented quotes) that Null has never, to my knowledge, published or used them to attack me. It’s a safe bet that, had Null found anything in those emails that he could weaponize, he wouldn’t have hesitated to publish them in articles attacking me. (I’m also very happy that my university managed to force Null to pay for the expense of gathering the emails.) In any event, when the university receives a FOIA request for emails, it always contacts the faculty member for guidance, in order to redact sensitive or personal information and other things not subject to FOIA.

So what emails are we talking about? When I learned that Dr. Roe had agreed to appear at One Conversation, I contacted the legitimate scientists whose email addresses I could find, in order to warn them what they had gotten themselves into. Given that I also believe that a strong offense is the best defense in cases like this, I’m going to publish some of my email exchange with Dr. Roe right here right now (with her permission, of course), so that Shaw can’t cherry pick or misrepresent without there being a link to the full text, which can easily be checked.

You can see from Shaw’s email what his game is. He wants to write something to portray me (and, by extension, other science communicators who routinely refute antivaccine misinformation) as working to “silence dissent.” It’s a common trope used by antivaxxers, equating criticism with “bullying” or “silencing.” In reality, I wanted to warn scientists who might not be clear about just what One Conversation was about and had almost certainly been enticed to agree to attend under false (or, at the very least, distorted) pretenses.

So here’s the full text of my original email, dated September 13, 2018:

Dear Dr. Roe,

I’m writing to you because your name came up as a participant in One Conversation, which is billed on its website as seeking to “break down and clear the barriers of confusion with scientific data, critical thought and engaging conversation” regarding vaccines. This concerns me because you are a legitimate scientific researcher and academic and I want to make sure that you know what you are likely to be in for on this panel.

How do I know? Shannon Kroner and Britney Valas reached out to me a month ago to be on the panel. The reason was that my main “extracurricular activities” involve refuting medical misinformation and combatting quackery on social media. To that end, I edit the Science-Based Medicine Blog (, write my own blog under a pseudonym (, although my true identity is a poorly kept secret given that it’s on the blog), and engage on Twitter (@gorskon, over 19K followers). I have nearly 20 years of experience combatting antivaccine misinformation, nearly 14 of them running my own blog. After a prolonged back-and-forth email exchange between Ms. Kroner, Ms. Valas, and myself, I politely declined their invitation. The reason was that it quickly became very clear to me in my interactions with the organizers that they are antivaccine activists and that the purpose of One Conversation was not education but propaganda. (For instance, Ms. Kroner has spoken at at least one antivaccine rally, a rally that Ms. Valas helped organize.)

I described my experience being asked to be part of this panel here:

Upon learning who is going to be on the panel, I wrote a followup post last night:

I’ll give you the short version, though, in case you understandably don’t want to be bothered reading a few thousand words about this (although, of course, I’d be happy and honored if you would). I’m also including additional links just in case you are interested in more information. Basically, there eight panelists, of whom five can definitely be described as antivaccine. Of the antivaxers, Del Bigtree is probably the most vocal and famous. He is the producer of the antivaccine propaganda “documentary” VAXXED, a film by the guru of the antivaccine movement, Andrew Wakefield. It’s a film that I once described as so over-the-top and unsubtle that even Leni Reifenstahl, were she still alive to see it, would say it was too much. Mr. Bigtree is a master propagandist prone to flights of hyperbole. For instance, in a video at the end of the this post, he speaks to a Michigan antivaccine group about how he’s willing to fight and die for “vaccine freedom”:

In any event, VAXXED was so full of antivaccine misinformation and conspiracies (particularly the “CDC whistleblower” conspiracy) as to have caused me pain to watch it and try to count and deconstruct all the lies and bits of misinformation:

Also, I note that there is no mention of Andrew Wakefield in One Conversation’s bio for Mr. Bigtree, and, although I could be wrong, I’d be willing to bet that Kroner and Valas probably didn’t mention Wakefield when trying to persuade you to be on the panel and that you probably have no idea just how closely Bigtree and Wakefield work together.

Moving on, two of the physicians on the panel, Drs. Tenpenny and Bark, are “holistic” doctors practicing alternative medicine. They are very antivaccine. Bark practices naturopathy and homeopathy, while Dr. Tenpenny is a fairly big name in the antivaccine movement. Both of them were featured speakers with Andrew Wakefield on the “Conspira-Sea Cruise,” which featured all manner of cranks, from antivaccine cranks, to quacks, to 9/11 Truthers to sovereign citizens:

If you want a flavor of the sort of nonsense that Dr. Tenpenny believes in, consider that she thinks that vaccines contaminate our DNA in the name of transhumanism:

Next, Christopher Shaw is a scientist in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the University of British Columbia, However, over the last few years he’s become antivaccine and has become known for doing very bad studies funded by the Dwoskin Foundation, which funds antivaccine studies and activities. His “hypothesis” (if you can call it that) is that aluminum in vaccines causes brain damage through immune activation. He’s tried to convince New Zealand authorities that Gardasil killed a young woman and has had at least one paper I know of retracted for image manipulation. I’ve written about hims so many times that he has his own tag:

Finally, there is Mahin Khatami. I must admit that when I first perused the list of participants I didn’t recognize the name and didn’t suspect that Dr. Khatami was antivaccine, given her background at the NCI. However, it didn’t take me long to find that she’s very hostile to conventional medicine, refers to cancer treatment as a scam designed to make money for big pharma, and is very, very anti-HPV vaccine. To give you an idea, one of the books she’s written/edited is Cancer Research and Therapy: Scam of Century-Promote Immunity.

I don’t know what Dr. Kroner and Ms. Valas told you about the panel, although I can probably make a reasonable guess based on my interactions with her. I also don’t know how familiar you are with antivaccine pseudoscience, misinformation, and lies. I, unfortunately, am all too familiar with them. Because I’m so familiar with the tactics and tropes of the antivaccine movement, I hope you will strongly consider what I say when I urge you to back out of this event.The odds are stacked against you and your fellow provaccine advocates Drs. Brown and Stringer, and just by appearing on the same stage with them you will elevate them so that they win, no matter how the panel discussion goes.

Please believe that I am not disparaging you in any way. It has nothing to do with how knowledgeable you are about vaccines, how smart you are, or how good a speaker you are. You might be great on all three scores for all I know. However, it’s what you’re knowledgeable about that matters. If you aren’t familiar with the deceptive tactics of antivaccine activists, they will be able to do what we like to refer to as the Gish gallop, in which they bury you in dubious studies, bogus “criticisms” of studies showing vaccines to be safe and effective, and various other distortions, misinformation, and distractions. If you are not intimately familiar with these tropes, you will almost certainly be overwhelmed and unable to answer. Then your discomfiture will be prominently featured in selectively-edited videos made by antivaxers. I know that Dr. Kroner promised to provide you with unedited video, but ask yourself this: Are you really going to want to have to use that video to show what really happened? Even those of us who are familiar with antivaccine tactics and misinformation can have difficulty defending against a full-on Gish gallop.

If you decide not to back out and decide to go ahead with this, then let me urge you to do a few things to prepare. Above all, you need to know your opponents:

1. Peruse the websites of your fellow panelists who have websites.

2. Watch at least one video (preferably more than one video) from each of your fellow panelists and have simple refutations ready to the points they make. Del Bigtree, Toni Bark, and Sherri Tenpenny are very prolific video makers and if you Google their names + YouTube you will find a lot.

3. Watch VAXXED. (It’s on Amazon Prime—unfortunately. If you don’t have Amazon Prime, I bet Dr. Kroner would get Del Bigtree to get you access to a screener if you asked.) Then read my review of it:

4. Be prepared for the attempt for the argument that “vaccine choice” = “freedom” and school vaccine mandates = tyranny. You will hear it, because Del Bigtree is on the panel and it’s one of his favorites.

5. Keep your messages very simple, very declarative, and avoid our usual scientist’s tendency towards nuance. This isn’t a scientific conference. It’s propaganda battle. Don’t let any of them sidetrack you into the weeds.

Thanks for reading, particularly given how long this email is. I hope you will consider what I have said and withdraw from the panel. If you decide to go ahead, I will help in any way I can; that is, if you decide that you want my help. I can also put you in contact with others who have a lot of experience combatting antivaccine misinformation who could help prepare you, like Prof. Dorit Reiss, whom I’ve taken the liberty of cc:’ing. Best of luck.


Cc: Dorit Rubenstein Reiss, PhD

As I told Dr. Roe when she emailed me asking about the emails that Shaw got from this FOIA request, there is absolutely nothing that I am ashamed of in what I wrote above, which is all accurate and was written in the hope of sparing her discomfiture and embarrassment, and, yes, of depriving Kroner and Valas of a propaganda victory. I wrote similar emails to the other legitimate scientists who had agreed to appear, and it worked! All of them withdrew, and One Conversation devolved into what it was going to be all along, an antivaccine crankfest, with more antivaccine cranks, including “Dr. Bob” Sears, added. Indeed, Kroner and Valas published this announcement:

As of September 24, 2018, some of our confirmed panelists have changed. As you may be aware, topics pertaining to vaccinations are often controversial and have a tendency to light emotional responses in some people. The motive behind One Conversation has always been to remove the barriers which divide, address YOUR questions and explore scientific responses with various perspectives represented. Due to heavy outside influences and coercion from respected national medical organizations (whose main concern is maintaining only one message of vaccine importance and safety to ensure public compliance), several panelists have since withdrawn their participation from the event.

One Conversation is more committed than ever to present to you scientific information and clarification to the questions which are asked the most. Block 2 of the event will be the “Scientific Block” and Block 3 will be the “Conversation Block” in which clarifications will take place.

I like the bit about “heavy outside influences and coercion.” I have no idea who else might have written or contacted the real scientists who had been enticed into agreeing to appear at One Conversation or even if anyone at all did. Indeed, it is quite possible that I was the only “heavy outside influence” and, as you can see from the text of my email, there was no “coercion” involved. I’m sure that’s the message that Shaw will promote. Of course, my response is that Dr. Roe was actually grateful, as she responded:

OK, I really feel stupid. I thank you for taking the time to inform me. I was all excited because someone was inviting me to a conference to talk about AD and would pay for it! I certainly don’t want to be associated with anti-vaccine people. I emailed them to decline, but haven’t heard anything back yet. One of the readers of your blog also altered me to your blog of yesterday. You are right, those people would eat me for lunch. Again, thanks for your warning and for saving me from a really unenjoyable few days.


Cathy Roe

I responded:

I almost feel kind of bad now, because I hate to make you disappointed. However, I really did think that you should have “informed consent” about what you were getting into.

Don’t feel bad. There’s nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of, and there’s no reason to feel stupid. Shannon Kroner and Britney Valas oozed sincerity, and I do believe they are sincere, just incredibly misguided. They really do think that putting several antivaccine cranks on stage with real scientists is “balance.” (Of course, they don’t view the antivaxers as cranks.) Let’s put it this way. I’m naturally suspicious of this sort of thing, and they almost had me convinced that attending might not have been as horrible an idea as I usually think it is.)

The problem, of course, is that discussing vaccines with people like Del Bigtree, Sherri Tenpenny, and Toni Bark is a highly specialized skill; even people who make their living researching vaccines aren’t necessarily good at it. The reason, of course, is that they really believe their misinformation and they are convinced vaccines are harmful. To convince the audience of that they’ll distort, cherry pick, and misrepresent without even realizing they’re doing it. If you’re not intimately familiar with the sorts of bogus arguments they make, you don’t stand a chance. Even I hesitate to go into a situation like that. Of course, the kicker is that Bigtree and I are pretty much enemies, and there was no way they could get me on a stage with him no matter who else was there.

I’m curious, though. How did they pitch this to you? How did they get you interested? Alzheimer’s disease, while fascinating, isn’t a natural area to be discussing on a panel about vaccines, although there is an antivaccine myth out there that the flu vaccine and “heavy metals” from vaccines cause Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Roe confirmed my suspicions:

Oh please don’t feel bad. Feel happy that you saved me! Once I watched a couple of the videos you sent, I was out. Appalled. They did not make it clear to me that this was an anti-vaccine forum. I kept telling them that I didn’t know much about immunology, and what I could talk about – which was the development of preclinical and symptomatic AD. They kept saying that was fine. They did bring up the issue of aluminum, but I told them that honestly, I didn’t really know the literature regarding that (probably because there is hardly any literature!) and wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about it. They seemed perfectly cool about me talking just about AD.

In fact, toward the end of the call I actually asked, “Is this a friendly panel?”, and they both rushed to assure me that it was, and that everyone would behave very nice and politely. After seeing that Bigtree guy, I was like – NO WAY is that guy going to behave. I also suck at debating (as my high school teachers will attest to). Plus, I get really irritated at Facebook friends and family who send that anti-vaccine garbage around.

I think that you are right that they are probably sincere in their beliefs, but I will tell you that I felt duped after the information you sent. They were not straightforward with the purpose of the event.

I’ll give Dr. Roe credit. She quickly figured Del Bigtree out after just a little exposure to him. He’s a grandstanding blowhard and demagogue. She’s right. No way would he have “behaved,” no matter how much the organizers urged him to. As predicted, when One Conversation actually occurred, it was a total antivaccine crankfest. There were a couple of more emails, but the above gives the gist. As I tried to reassure Dr. Roe the other day by email, Shaw wasn’t after her. He was after me. Dr. Roe did absolutely nothing to be ashamed of, nor was there anything embarrassing in her emails, unless you count the realization that she had been persuaded under what now look to me like false pretenses to be a participant. She felt deceived and used, with good reason in my not-so-humble opinion. Worse, as she informed me recently, she’s gotten some fairly abusive, threatening emails from antivaxxers outraged that she had dropped out of One Conversation.

That still leaves the question of how Shaw even got the emails. I realized it a little later. I had cc’d Dorit Reiss, and it was my mistake that I had done so using her university email address. It is a mistake I now regret, because it caused Dr. Roe consternation. In any event, it turns out that earlier this year antivaccine activist Del Bigtree’s Informed Consent Action Network (ICAN) filed a broad FOIA request for Prof. Reiss’ emails. Here is the actual request. I wasn’t sure at first how this might have nabbed the emails between Dr. Roe and myself, though, as the request only mentions “Orac.” Then I saw that it included the search terms “Del” or “Michigan,” among others. That probably explains how our email exchange was flagged.

The bottom line is simple. Antivaccine cranks like Christopher Shaw and Del Bigtree don’t have science on their side (quite the opposite, in fact), and their antivaccine beliefs are rooted in conspiracy theories. That leaves only the techniques of denialism, including distorting and cherry picking existing science, trying to elevate their pseudoscience by finding ways to appear with real scientists and thus paint a false picture that their assertions and conclusions are on par with actual science (or at least credible enough to be taken seriously, even though they are not), and to attack and try to intimidate opponents. As I said, Bigtree and Shaw’s use of emails obtained from abusive FOIA requests were directed at me and other vaccine advocates in order to build a narrative of a vast conspiracy meant to silence antivaccine advocates and prevent real scientists from associating with them in conferences. They were after me, not Dr. Roe, and I can handle it, given that I’ve been handling it for nearly 16 years now. So can Prof. Reiss.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

74 replies on “Christopher Shaw uses the results of an abusive FOIA request to intimidate a scientist”

Thank you for alerting us. Two thoughts:
A. ICAN has filed at least seven FOIA or PRA requests that I know of, using Aaron Siri’s New York firm. It’s clearly a tactic they hold high hopes for, and I think Shaw is showing us that intimidation is part of it, though not all, as we know from other ways they misrepresented it. It’s also an expensive tactic (and lucrative for the law firm), highlighting the fact that ICAN is very well funded.

B. The denial of discussing aluminum because Exley won’t be there when Shaw, too, wrote (badly) about aluminum adjuvants appears especially disingenuous.

Yes. The sad thing is that this sort of FOIA will stifle scientific discourse and likely lead scientists in disciplines targeted by cranks for FOIA harassment to switch to secure encrypted communications platforms like Signal.

We need a Christopher Hitchens smart ass to take them on a ride.

I do believe discussions like these should happen, but very obviously not in these conditions.

And, yes, scientists should not go there. It’s a question of activism, not of science.

I’d be willing to appear on stage with Exley, Shaw, and friends—just as soon as they approve my Freedom To Smack Them In The Head With An Aluminum Saucepan Request. Because, really.

I’d call them all dumb as dirt, but they’d only throw another shit-fit because that’s full of aluminum as well.

And once again, antivaxxers make it clear is the only way they can succeed is lying.

I also think there is a room for discussing silencing and intimidation attempts in science.

But I suspect in a serious discussion of that, Shaw wouldn’t end up in the role he’s imagining for himself.

So, antivax folks who complain about “heavy outside influences”, “coercion” and “bullying” are just fine with abusive, harassing FOIA requests.*

*I wonder if Gary Null in making his FOIA request to Orac’s university, actually thought Orac was in league with Jon Entine and Kevin Folta (who are known for their activism supporting genetic modification technology) to engineer vaccines to accomplish a transhumanist agenda?

Nobody’s DNA is safe with those scalawags on the loose. 🙁

There is no question that vaccines do a lot of good; and if they do harm, they do much more good. The scourges of childhood that would devastate families and populations are long distant memories. The triumph of vaccination allows the position of anti-vaccination. I am a strong believer in vaccinations. My oldest child has autism. The symptoms temporally coincided with the vaccination schedule. But if we are to be scientific the question is whether vaccinations are causally linked to autism like disorders; and, if they are, can we identify the population at risk so that these individuals do not have to be vaccinated or perhaps vaccinated on a different schedule. Recently studies suggest autism is the result of neuro-inflammation (at least in some children). Do vaccines induces neuro-inflammation? and is the mechanism? I don’t know but I do know that a person who is afraid to ask a question is not a scientist; but rather a prationer of scientism.

The question of whether vaccines cause autism has been extensively studied. From many directions.

If someone wants to raise a new theory after so much data exists, they actually need to start by providing credible evidence of a link. A new theory of how vaccines cause something data shows they don’t cause isn’t actually raising a question that’s worth testing, just as a new theory on how that teapot ended up in space isn’t a counter to evidence showing there’s no teapot floating in space. (That’s a reference to Russel’s Teapot, which, if unfamiliar, you can easily look up).

One of these days, someone is going to launch a teapot into space, just to be a contrarian. 🙂

Exactly. The question has been studied to death, and the answer to the question of whether vaccines are even associated with an increased risk of autism and ASDs is always the same: No, they are not.

Recently studies suggest autism is the result of neuro-inflammation (at least in some children).


Do vaccines induces neuro-inflammation? and is the mechanism? I don’t know but I do know that a person who is afraid to ask a question is not a scientist; but rather a prationer of scientism.

I do know that someone trafficking in vagueness is not a scientist, but rather a practitioner of horseshit.

Oo, scientism!

Science-types are always prattling on about “facts” and “evidence”, so tiresome! As a brave Amazon book-reviewer put it recently, the fact-checkers are getting out of hand.

We need more fearless people who think outside of the box of facts and logic and are unafraid of Just Asking Questions.

Some studies (to be exact, virtually all of them except ones that mean bullies point out are deeply flawed and/or retracted) find no connection between vaccines and autism, but we know that studies are mostly wrong, ’cause other studies say so.

Look what they did to Galileo, Semmelweis and Judy Mikovits!!!

@ Pathcoin

“There is no question that vaccines do a lot of good; and if they do harm, they do much more good.”


“The scourges of childhood that would devastate families and populations are long distant memories.”

Sounds a bit triumphalist to my taste, but m’kay.

“The triumph of vaccination allows the position of anti-vaccination.”

Did I say “triumphalist”?

“I am a strong believer in vaccinations.”

Suit yourself.

“My oldest child has autism.”


“The symptoms temporally coincided with the vaccination schedule.”


“But if we are to be scientific the question is whether vaccinations are causally linked to autism like disorders”

That indeed is a factual claim. Something we could be right or wrong about. This indeed falls within the purview of science.

“and, if they are, can we identify the population at risk so that these individuals do not have to be vaccinated or perhaps vaccinated on a different schedule.”

Why not? Depending on available resources and various priorities authorities and scientists have to juggle with, why not?

“Recently studies suggest autism is the result of neuro-inflammation (at least in some children).”

There you lost me. The rest of your comment is FUD.

@ Joel @ Terrie

Are antivaxxers always so dishonest?

Sorry, but I’d rather deal with Christine Kincaid any day rather than with this kind of hypocritical double-speak. And, yes the “brain damage” tropes and the way she talks of her kids did not escape me. Very far from it. I’m factoring this in, but also know that people are far from being perfect. So I’m not including that in my assessment of CK’s conundrum in itself, which can be thought of independently.

Pathcoin is a much more sleazy schmuck to my taste.

@F, Yes, dishonest or enamoured of thinking they’re somehow smarter than everyone else in the room. It’s not shocking. In order to make a claim that has been disproven (many times), you’re going to have to accept lying or be convinced that millions of people around the world are either too cluess to really understand the issue or are lying to you. I’m always reminded of Stewart Lee’s bit on the Loch Ness monster.

“I don’t know anything about zoology, biology, geology, geography, marine biology, cryptozoology,evolutionary theory, evolutionary biology, meteorology, limnology, history, herpetology, palaeontology or archaeology but I think; what if a dinosaur had got in the lake”

hey PC, what is a person practicing when they keep asking a well-answered question when they don’t like the answer? hint – it isn’t science…

Hey Pathcoin, Regarding the anecdotal evidence of your eldest: my eldest is also autistic, he’s 15 now and increasingly unable to interact with the world – it is a terrible thing that we really don’t know how to deal with – but I’d just like to counter your anecdote with my own, neither myself, my better half, any medical/health staff that saw him, or any member of extended family and friends noticed anything unusual in his development until some time after the vaccine schedule was finished. I know that my anecdotal evidence is as worthless as yours, but I’m quite happy to conclude that his autism is not caused by vaccines, especially in the light of overwhelming scientific evidence.

@ Pathcoin

Vaccines and neurological-inflammation? The question HAS BEEN ASKED and if you bothered to learn how to search PubMed and Google Scholar you wouldn’t be asking such questions. Searching means knowing how to formulate search terms. I won’t go into what has been found as a number of the studies were poorly done; but the point is that the question has been and is being asked. So, you claim on one hand to believe vaccines confer more benefit than risk; but then, as you have in previous comments, question whether this is based on inadequate research. Who do you think you are fooling?

In the meantimes, though I’m sure you probably won’t, I suggest you purchase Lauren Sompayrac’s “How the Immune System Works (6th Edition)” and read it carefully.

Pathcoin: “But if we are to be scientific the question is whether vaccinations are causally linked to autism like disorders; and, if they are, can we identify the population at risk so that these individuals do not have to be vaccinated or perhaps vaccinated on a different schedule.”

Then join a study that is doing precisely that:

Well, you see, this must all be a false flag operation to use legally coerced email to hide the true pro-vax conspiracy. The real conspirators don’t use the vulnerable intertubez and computers with human written software. Oh no, that would never do. They have a private mesh network of neutrino communicators, built from exotic matter and powered by leakage current from the fifth space dimension. They are hidden in subterranean vaults deep beneath universities and other conspiring institutions. The zillion bit encryption keys are kept on a secure server on a certain alien spacecraft hovering around one of the Earth-Sun Lagrange points. Try to hack into those and eldritch horrors will ooze out of your keyboard to…well, best not to be too graphic.

William P. Barr would like a word with you.


blockquote>Barr also said that foreign fentanyl traffickers have been using end-to-end encrypted apps to coordinate opioid smuggling into the U.S. and warned that, because of new encryption apps, “the prospect of successfully prosecuting the drug war by traditional law enforcement means are dim.”

He talks of the “going dark problem”. Feds have been doing that for a long time {Clipper Chip} but the problem all along is that they have been staring into the sun.

He laments ‘traditional law enforcement’s demise. But they have not been doing that! What he wants is a continuation of guys dressing up in suits and listening to people talk on the phone.

I really hate that man.

@ rs:

we have no need for exogenous neutrino-driven networks because all of us are made of stars already and can transmit on our own, thank you!

( it’s a song reference in case you think I’m making up stuff)

For the benefit of the uninitiated in our cabal..
the actual title is We are all made of stars

( see how LT memory works- you remember the deeper meaning rather than superficial characteristics like syntactical structure)

re Null:

AFAIK, there is no mention of continuing FOIA for or suing Dr DG although he still writes/ rants about sceptics and SBM in general being in league with Wikipedia ( see PRN for recent diatribes) HOWEVER there is talk about suing Wikipedia/ Wikimedia and calling specific editors/ admins ( he has their real names!) to task: they who guard “false information” about him/ his ( so-called) education** on his page; I noticed that Wikip– eliminated a bogus reference they had to his “faculty position” which I doubted all along.
Actually, he and Gale don’t seem to refer to Dr DG by name at all. I wonder why that is?

re Shaw:
is there any word about Lucija T? I read somewhere that she was not actively pursuing research; also a Christian post about her beliefs.

** actually, the “degrees” he pursued as discussed by Dr Barrett are no longer available at the “schools” he “attended”. I wonder why that is?

Perhaps Dr Shaw could set a positive example for everyone by making his own email correspondence available.

Oh, Smut, I always love your ripostes, but you send me to the heavenly realms of Sarcasm with this one.

@ Smut Clyde.

“Perhaps Dr Shaw could set a positive example for everyone by making his own email correspondence available.”

Very good idea. A nice little addition to the FOIA that would allow people that are smeared to request documents from people that are smearing them. Would be really cute.

As you may be aware, a colleague of mine obtained through a FOIA request your email correspondence with Dr. David Gorski prior to the One Conversation event in Atlanta.

RFK Jr is a “colleague” of Shaw’s? That is not how most of us doing scientific research use the word colleague.

I want to applaud Dr Roe for having the courage to expose Shaw’s bullying tactics as illustrated in the email. Her inbox is going to be filled with emails starting “Dear Professor, you are wrong…” from all the crank followers of Bigtree et al.

Yes, wrong crank anti-vaccine outfit. How could I get them confused?

It is a even bigger lie for Shaw to suggest he was a scientific colleague.

So good to see you back at the Insolence! I was worried. RI is one of a few things that keep me going in my continued Covid-19 isolation. ; ))

“Perhaps Dr Shaw could set a positive example for everyone by making his own email correspondence available.”

Or a concerned Canadian citizen with $5 could request all e-mails from Dr. Shaw’s UBC account to Del Bigtree and other prominent antivaxers, under the Access to Information Act. UBC is a public university and surely Dr. Shaw has nothing to hide.*

*no idea if such requests are as feasible in Canada as in the U.S.

In my old age, I’ve become less…anal…about having a new post every day. I find it liberating in that if there’s nothing going on that really gets me fired up on any given day I don’t feel obligated to post something anyway.

Well, you need to get god damned fired up over this mask issue.

I note that President Dumbp wasn’t there today — the first coronavirus task force televisation since his disastrous inject lysol apperance. Pence is just sycophanting Dumbp’s astounding disregard for human life — His ‘gay conversion clinics’ being a suicide hotspot, I doubt praying the virus away is much more effective.

They mandated seat belts. They mandated air bags (shitty ones which I call ‘car bombs’) — 6 feet. mask. seatbelt +airbag. They mandated not spitting on the sidewalk and now the ‘spitting’ is entirely airborn.

Dumpf does not give a fuck if 2.4 – Five million die. All he cares about is that a higher ratio of people that do not vote for him or may vote against him die; Black and brown people.

You got to stop the spread before it goes from like throwning bowling balls and tennis balls at a chain link fence (cloth masks) before it escapes (droplets evaporate in turbulent puffs) and is like shooting bb pelletes at a chain link fence.

If everyone would wear the damned things in inclosed spaces, I would then not bother to look like I’m cosplaying fucking Stalker.

@ Tim

“I doubt praying the virus away is much more effective.”

I find your lack of faith disturbing.

They mandated not spitting on the sidewalk

Is this something you were in the habit of doing? How about holding one nostril shut and blowing out the contents of the other on the street. That’s pretty popular in this ratbag neighborhood.

It’s certainly difficult to stoke the fire with old age. I’ve noticed you have a special identification next to the reply button (i.e., BY POST AUTHOR.) In fairness, those unfortunate to be in RI auto-moderation warrant the phrase “By Moderated Commenter” next to their reply button.

@ Orac,

It’s time to acknowledge the auto-moderation culture here at RI.

Why should any sceptic be afraid of the Gish Gallop ? Or of Del?
When we know and can predict what they will do and say?
The question instead is: Why should we bother?

Debates like these are closer to performance art than to scientific inquiry meant to elucidate research: they gather an audience of like minded followers and assemble in order to show how they rule over SBM or scepticism. because they have “the facts”- which they don’t.. I think that Orac has shown how to prepare for this type of show when he discussed Dr Novella debating a crank in Las Vegas.

Actually, Orac’s minions do this all of the time right here by opposing vaccine mis-information on the spot as it occurs, pointing out bad studies, lies and evasions.
For example, anti-vaxxers rely upon the same material over and over that can be countered by factual references: they say that vaccines were never tested against saline, there weren’t tests on premature infants, there are no studies of unvaccinated children, no studies of the entire schedule and many more tropes. We describe what they do in detail. A Gish Gallop would merely string together an assortment of said lies and mis-information which could be easily attacked because sceptics already know research so well. Written debates would be less unwieldy for us because we could link to particular illustrative research.

Live debates enable cranks to histrionically affect their audience by listing vaccine atrocities ( Consider the children! Dead babies! Criminal doctors! Pharma!) and comparing them to Auschwitz. the Gulag Archipelago or Slavery. When Del or RFK jr arrive,, the audience applauds, already on their side. Del is more an actor than a reporter. RFK jr is crank who studied law. Other woo-meisters who like to debate are usually vitamin salesmen. not scientists or sceptics who know the basic material..

A smart sceptic knows that they are being set up as an object of ridicule through prevarication and trickery. So why bother?

“anti-vaxxers rely upon the same material over and over that can be countered by factual references”

Only in non-standard analysis can you get something from the sum of an infinite number of nothings. They haven’t yet reached infinite repetitions and they won’t stop until they do, in the hope they’ll eventually reach a non-zero sum.

@F68.10 Thanks for the link. It’s been a while since I heard a high level math lecture like that. I’m not sure that I agree about the beauty of nilpotent elements in local rings, but they are an interesting concept. Are they useful for anything yet or is it just abstract mathematics still?

Sadly (by which I mean happily), no. For a time while pursuing my science degrees I got sidetracked into far too many mathematics fields. It’s a slippery slope. Dabble in number theory, jump into combinatorics, various algebras with their eigen-this-and thats, groups and rings and…well, soon enough I ran, screaming, back to the comfort of more “useful” subjects.

With the beneficence of time I’ve forgotten most of it. Mind you, some of the related computational techniques stuck with me. As you can see that despite my dabbling and general interest I am no mathematician.

@ Beth

“Are they useful for anything yet or is it just abstract mathematics still?”

I’m personally not fascinated by the video I linked in. But other references I have may feel way whackier.

But to put it simply, in a geometric setting, if you take a real manifold and a point on it, you may consider the indefinitely continuously differentiable functions defined on a neighbourhood of that point. These are called “germs” of functions around that point, when you identify two such functions when there exists a neighbourhood where they coïncide. These germs of functions form a ring, with a maximal ideal that is the functions whose value is 0 at that point. If that point is non singular in any conceivable way, you may quotient that ring by declaring that any function is such that its square is null. Hence a nilpotent. That ring has a vector space structure that you can identify with 1-differential forms at that point (think (co)-vectors at that point if 1-differential form is too abstract).

So yes, they are a way to reconstruct differential geometry in a more formal setting where all you have is the ring structure (or rather the sheaf of rings structure on the manifold). Differentiable geometry then becomes a rather intrinsic notion directly tied to the algebra rather than to the concrete structure. So you gain some abstraction and some generalisation. You may also iterate that construct to recover the notion of differentials of higher degree. And that has its use.

Now, it also depends what one may mean by nilpotent. That notion may have different meanings in various situations (nilpotent matrices are a somewhat different notion of nilpotency, with respect to a notion of “commutator bracket”, and they have concrete uses in linear algebra, such as Jordan normal forms). But the template for nilpotency is when talking of semi-groups and perhaps more interestingly of actions of semi-groups of differential operators. You do see that kind of stuff in dynamical systems, which does have real world applications. The caveat is that not everyone sees a unifying phenomenon of nilpotency in all these incarnations of the concept. But as I am standing somewhat eight miles high (I’m quite deep into both arcane model theory and arcane category theory these days and I’m still trying to find something too abstract for me…) when looking down on these issues, I would claim that they are the same notion.

But if you think abstract maths is abstract, I’d suggest that you look at the history of Sophus Lie, from his first intuitions originating from Plücker’s work, to his attempt at replicating Galois’ work in the field of differential equations, leading then to Picard-Vessiot theory (which does have applications for instance in inverse problems such as how to control initial conditions such that a differential equations leads a mechanical system to a desired outcome — problems you encounter in space, typically). All that abstractness is somewhat mildly forgotten: Lie groups went ubiquitous in mathematical physics. Their origins as attempts to replicate Galois theory were overshadowed by their conceptual ubiquity in mathematical physics. Much less abstract stuff. Only apparently…

And keep in mind that every time you fire up mathematica to do whatever you feel like doing, as soon as mathematica swallows a polynomial you feed it, which is arguably quite often, the formal methods it applies all are “abstract” maths. One of my favourite examples of this are Sturm sequences.

It’s not ”fear” of debating antivax loons.

It’s a matter of time-wasting, giving the impression there are two viable “sides” and awarding antivaxers an opportunity for propaganda by (for example) selectively editing videos.

More to the point, why do antivaxers continually try to evade honest discussion through Gish Galloping, dodging factual responses, mischaracterizing what immunization advocates say* and calling opponents trolls and shills? Or by disingenuously proclaiming they are not antivaccine, but refusing to list any vaccines they support?

*if I had a dime for every time I’ve seen an antivaxer claim that Paul Offit M.D. thinks babies should get 10,000 vaccines, I could easily buy everyone posting in this discussion a Happy Meal.

@ Nathalie White

“Quivering cowards…”

You know, you shouldn’t just spew shit like that just around anyone. There are people you should never “dare” them to do something.

Because some people will “dare” just to prove you wrong.

A bit more seriously: the people they should “debate” with are skeptics in general. People like Shermer, or whoever the loudest mouth is at the James Randi Foundation. People like that. Indeed, inviting scientists is done to capitalise on the credentials of their opponents and for PR bullshit purposes by selectively editing the footage.

You want a debate? The first step is to accept that it should be done on neutral grounds to among others avoid selective editing of footages. With an expert moderator that will make a shame out of the first to engage in a shouting match. And debating rules. And not with a scientist. With a skeptic activist.

But that’s not what Del Bigtree and Co. want. They indeed want to be seen as valuable interlocutors with something valuable to say. That’s why they want a scientist. And that’s why they should not be given one. Because it’s not science. It’s PR. And it should be handled as PR.

@ F68.10

Awhile back Del Bigtree did a cut and paste/photoshopped interview with Peter Hotez. Bigtree supposedly asking question, then Hotez replying. Well, I found the original interview with Peter Hotez, the questionnaire wasn’t Bigtree and watched both. I thought of writing an article because when Hotez, for instance, paused before elaborating or qualifying his answer, Bigtree didn’t include. In other words, an extremely dishonest video. If interested I can give you links to both Bigtree’s youtube and Hotez. I’ll just have to take some time to find them. YouTube allows one to get a transcript, which I did, and saved both.

As for Natalie White, incapable of entering into a rational dialogue, just links to one or two article or YouTubes and viciously attacks people. Apparently, incapable of scientifically, logically, rationally, developing anything. I have an old poster that has someone where it says: “Cheer Up, You Can Always Serve As A Bad Example.” Too bad i can’t take her photo, photoshop it together with above. Maybe you can.

re debates

via Search
Battling anti- vaccinationists at FreedomFest, Parts 1 and 2
July 16, & 19 ,2012
Orac reports on Dr Novella debating cranks

@ Natalie

afraid of the Gish gallop

Given that the Gish gallop is a dishonest debating technique, why would we want to debate with dishonest people?

@ Athaic

“Why would we want to debate with dishonest people?”

To showcase their dishonesty.

“To showcase their dishonesty.”

But that requires a rather different person to participate than a plain scientist, it needs someone who is wise to their tricks and is able to counter them. And if you’re foolish enough to try to debate them on a platform like One Conversation which they can control, they can still make you look foolish by selectively editing the footage after the fact. The only way to properly debate them is to use a fair and neutral venue, and they are certainly not foolish enough to accept terms like that. You would certainly be foolish indeed to try to debate them on terms entirely of their choosing.

Quivering cowards…afraid of the Gish gallop…afraid of Del Bigtree! LOL!

The Snivelling Shits. I have never really done a ‘survey’ but I think that your link is the earliest example I’ve seen of the whole grunge/industrial type stuff.

Here, Natalie; choke on it.

@Narad – Oh my, Cheeky! You nailed it this time. Freakin’ LOVE this! Got me dancing in my PJs. Just added these guys to my playlist. Have a great day darlin’.

@Natalie White

Personally I WOULD be afraid to debate the likes of Del B and co. A scientist (which I am not) can only debate the science. They are used to looking at studies, working through the maths, checking the methodology, conferring with team mates. All of which takes time. So a scientist who turns up for a two hour debate and gets a random study shoved in his face by a conspiracy theorist who claims it proves oxygen causes autism. Naturally, the scientist says that there’s no evidence that he/she has ever seen to that effect and that it is incredibly unlikely. Conspiracy theorist then says ‘Well you would say that wouldnt you?’. Turns to the audience ‘Am I right? Freedom! Big Pharma lizard aliens are paying scientists to kill your children!’.

It’s one reason that I have no respect for the anti-vax position. If your arguments rely on persuasion rather than evidence then you shouldn’t be arguing the science.

If you’ve ever seen the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, there’s a scene where Michelle Yeoh fights Zhang Ziyi. Having the Green Destiny means the Zhang has a material advantage (science) but loses anyway as Michelle smashes away with every weapon she can find before finally outwitting Zhang with a broken sword. The scientist is defeated with a worthless argument that would have been an easy win, if you saw it coming.

@ Narad

“How about holding one nostril shut and blowing out the contents of the other on the street.”

It’s called the “russian handkerchief” in my corner of the world. Arguably because of the description on that behaviour in classics of the russian literature.

I do enjoy the russian handkerchief. Depends on your social constraints, though. But in psych wards, “socially acceptable” behaviour tends to differ from the rest of civil society.

And it annoys nurses. That’s a bonus for me.

@ Tim


Yes. Precisely. That’s the point. But I’m capable of much much more odious behaviour… I’m now limitless when it comes to being odious.

I do enjoy the russian handkerchief. Depends on your social constraints, though.

I have to resort to this repeatedly in the morning, but with a paper towel. I swear, if you could run a car on mucus, I’d be very wealthy indeed — I was on the South Side yesterday, and my host insisted that I bring my own roll.

Before lining up at the start before a 1500M or 800M race , Steve Ovett ( UK Olympic athlete and sometime world record holder ) used to snot out ( Russian handerchief) of alternate nostrils obviously to have a clearer airway for the heavy breathing to come. This was in front of an athletic crowd and many TV viewers of the races. It was probably effective but looked disgusting.

It’s called the “russian handkerchief” in my corner of the world. Arguably because of the description on that behaviour in classics of the russian literature.

“Farmer blow” as I’ve heard. It’s disgusting as is spitting.

So it’s no surprise that many scientists privately wish that certain reviewers would end up engaged in activities that aren’t mentionable in a largely family-friendly publication like Ars.

What was a surprise was to see a peer-reviewed publication make this wish public. Very public. As in entitling the paper “Dear Reviewer 2: Go F’ Yourself” levels of public.

Naturally, we read the paper and got in touch with its author, Iowa State’s David Peterson, to find out the details of the study. The key detail is that the title’s somewhat misleading: it’s actually the person who’s somewhat randomly assigned to the Reviewer 3 slot who’s the heartless bastard that keeps trying to torpedo the careers of other academics.
What stood out to Peterson was the fact that, at least among political scientists, Reviewer 3 is the problem, yet the community has managed to shift the blame to someone else. “Not only is Reviewer 3 the bad actor, but Reviewer 3’s crafty enough that they get Reviewer 2 blamed,” he told Ars. “Which kind of tickled me to no end, frankly.”

It’s unfortunate that Vamplew didn’t pay the $150 to the International Journal of Advanced Computer Science to run Mazières & Kohler’s “Get Me off Your Fucking Mailing List.”

Christopher Shaw definitely has a grudge against Orac. I would suspect the unflattering (and honest) posts about him as well as the eventual death of his money tree are the sources of his grudge against Orac.

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