It’s been a long time since I’ve paid much attention to—or any attention at all—Paul Thacker. Indeed, the only time I ever thought about Mr. Thacker enough to write about him was over five years ago, when he had been openly bragging about using abusive Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for the emails of scientists involved with research into genetically modified organisms (GMOs), working for public universities in states with laws that allowed for such requests, all in order to look for dirt with which to embarrass them. That dirt was usually in the form of any sort of conflict of interest (COI), either real or hyped up, with industry, especially Monsanto, then the Voldemort, Sauron, and Darth Vader of GMOs all rolled up into one. Indeed, he harassed one such scientist, Kevin Folta, until he found a relatively minor undisclosed COI in the form of an unrestricted educational grant from Monsanto. While it was a mistake of Dr. Folta not to have disclosed it (and it wasn’t a huge sum of money), it was clear that Mr. Thacker’s purpose wasn’t “transparency,” as he claimed, but rather to slime scientists involved in GMO research in the name of “transparency” in much the same way climate science denialists routinely try to slime climate scientists as hopelessly corrupt. That’s his M.O., to attack the science he views as “dangerous” by attacking scientists involved in that science, particularly those who are outspoken defenders of that science. Basically, Mr. Thacker is so blatant in doing this that, even when he is making a reasonable point about industry influence, he frequently comes off as a crackpot. That’s because he is a crackpot.
Unsurprisingly, he’s at it again.
This time, Mr. Thacker is not using abusive FOIA requests, though. Rather, this time he thinks that the recent pause by the FDA in using the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine (covered yesterday in depth by Steve Novella, Skeptical Raptor, and myself) was a great excuse to attack skeptics and science communicators, including, well, Steve Novella, Skeptical Raptor, David Grimes, Dorit Reiss, and myself in the form of an article he posted at his most Orwellian-named Substack site, Rare AstraZeneca Side Effect Exposes Vaccine Cheerleaders.
First, a bit of background…
Before I apply a bit of well-deserved Insolence to Mr. Thacker, let’s recap, so that if you’re not familiar with the story you don’t have to go and read multiple articles before understanding the background. Think of this as the CliffsNotes version. (The longer version is here and here.)
Basically, last month there were reports out of Europe of a rare form of clotting disorder associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine, specifically cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST), a clot that forms in the major veins that drain blood from the brain. It’s a serious condition, and can be fatal. More unusual, these clots were associated with thrombocytopenia (a low platelet count, platelets being the blood cell that starts the clotting cascade), implying a potential immune mechanism activating platelets, causing clots, and in the process chewing them up, hence the low platelet counts. These clots were rare but concerning. Gavi The Vaccine Alliance, summarized the findings of the European Medicines Agency and other regulators thusly a week ago:
The EMA’s safety committee carried out an in-depth review of 62 cases of CVST and 24 cases of SVT reported in the EU drug safety database (EudraVigilance) as of 22 March 2021. Eighteen patients died. The cases were mostly identified through spontaneous reporting systems within the European Economic Area and the UK, where around 25 million people have received the vaccine.
However, WHO’s GACVS stated that more information from regions outside of Europe and the UK was needed to fully understand any potential relationship between vaccination and possible risk factors. Based on its analysis of more than 190 million doses of the vaccine being administered, 182 cases of thromboembolic events with thrombocytopenia had been reported. “If there is a causal link, the events are very rare and the risk is extremely low,” it said.
According to the EMA’s findings most of the clots reported occurred in women under the age of 60 within two weeks of vaccination. No increased risk was observed among older individuals who received the vaccine. Because of this, some countries have decided to restrict use of the vaccine in younger individuals.
The EMA says it has not yet identified any specific risk factors, such as age, gender or a previous medical history of clotting disorders, for these very rare events. Although most cases appear to be in women, it is hard to disentangle the association with sex-related differences in the immune response, or the role of hormonal contraceptives or other hormone therapies which are also risk factors for clots.
In brief, most of the cases were in women under 55, and, even though it was not entirely clear to regulators whether this frequency of clotting disorders and acute clotting events, recommendations were made that younger women not receive the AstraZeneca vaccine, at least until these issues could be sorted out and it can be determined if there is a causative link. Meanwhile, a provocative paper published last week suggested, although did not quite prove, an immune-mediated mechanism in which the AstraZeneca vaccine might cause platelet activation and a condition similar to heparin-induced thrombocytopenia, which led to the recommendation not to treat these clots with heparin and the proposal of a name for the condition, vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT).
Then, of course, on Tuesday the FDA announced its pause in using the J&J vaccine because of reports of 6 cases of CVST associated with thrombocytopenia within two weeks of vaccination, as I discussed on Wednesday. What made a link to rare clots more plausible were certain commonalities. For example, the AstraZeneca and J&J vaccines are both adenovirus-based vaccines and no such clots have been observed after 180 million doses of the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines, both of which are mRNA vaccines. In addition, the clots occurred largely in the same group after both vaccines (premenopausal women), with the same association with thrombocytopenia. After a meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) on Wednesday, the pause was extended, to allow for more data to be gathered. This is where we stood yesterday, as I wrote this. I also can’t help but again note that the ability of regulators to identify adverse events that are literally one-in-a-million after only a month and a half of use of the J&J vaccine and their clearly taking reports of even very rare adverse events very seriously indeed tell me that the vaccine safety monitoring system is working very well indeed.
Enter Paul Thacker, who seems rather proud of himself:
And seems to want to get a certain someone’s attention:
Oddly enough, I didn’t write the post to which Mr. Thacker, who clearly runs the Disinformation Chronicles Twitter feed, responded. Amusingly, this is not the first time he tried to get my attention:
In any event, after a lot of trying Mr. Thacker finally got my attention. He really should have been careful what he wished for, though, as you will see.
Paul Thacker grossly misrepresents what skeptics said about the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine
So let’s get back to Mr. Thacker’s attack on skeptics and science communicators. After a rather biased recounting of the events that I just recounted, Mr. Thacker makes his intent known:
This latest flurry followed a month-long drumbeat of concern after Denmark, Norway and Iceland temporarily suspended the vaccine and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) promised to look into blood clot reports.
But as soon as the EMA began investigating, vaccine cheerleaders hastened to protect AstraZeneca, downplaying safety reports and charging critics with antiscience.It was all rather predictable from this odd, cult-like collective who Scientific American’s John Horgan dismissed some years back for navel-gazing tribalism and a need to regularly pat themselves on the back as smarter than everyone else:I’m a science journalist. I don’t celebrate science, I criticize it, because science needs critics more than cheerleaders. I point out gaps between scientific hype and reality. That keeps me busy, because, as you know, most peer-reviewed scientific claims are wrong.
It’s funny that Mr. Thacker would cite that particular article by Mr. Horgan. I had a lot to say about that article at the time, not to mention a lot of fun (just look at the image I chose for the post!) deconstructing the so very many, many ways Mr. Horgan mischaracterized skepticism and made incoherent arguments—as did Steve Novella, for that matter. It thus should be no surprise that Mr. Thacker is apparently so enamored of Mr. Horgan’s “thinking” about skepticism, such as it is. His “thinking” on this matter is so much less clear that Mr. Horgan’s bloviation must have seemed like genius to the poor, benighted Mr. Thacker.
Interestingly, Mr. Thacker’s first target is not Steve Novella, or even me. It’s Skeptical Raptor. Of course, I know who Skeptical Raptor really is behind the pseudonym, but I get the feeling that Mr. Thacker really hates pseudonyms given the way he detests Orac, whose true identity is the worst kept secret in the skeptical blogosphere. Be that as it may, Mr. Thacker didn’t even bother to link to the Raptor’s post that he didn’t like, even as he mischaracterized it; so I will link to it.
First, here’s Mr. Thacker:
Skeptical Raptor lived up to Horgan’s critique for unflinching science absolutism by alleging that AstraZeneca’s vaccine was on a “hit list.” (Who created this scary “hit list” is unknown.) According to the blogger, Nordic country medical experts’ alarming reports of blood clots were just “post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, which states that because one event precedes another event, they must be linked.”
After questioning whether blood clots were linked to the vaccine, Skeptical Raptor then provided the answer in skeptic catechism: “Spoiler alert – the answer is no.” This post generated 3.6 thousand Facebook shares among the faithful, and was promoted by Dorit Reiss on Twitter.
That bit about the Raptor saying that the AstraZeneca’s vaccine was on a hit list is particularly disingenuous. The Raptor’s post starts out:
Next up on the COVID-19 vaccine hit list is that the AstraZeneca (Oxford University) vaccine causing blood clots (thrombus). Spoiler alert – no it probably doesn’t.
Does anyone interpret that opening paragraph as meaning that the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is on a “hit list” of some sort? I didn’t, but leave it to Mr. Thacker to make a mountain out of an anthill. In the meantime, he leaves out the fact that the Raptor did leave open the possibility of causation. (Heck, the word “probably” should tell you that much!)
Then there was this later in the Raptor’s post:
At this point in time, there just doesn’t seem to be overwhelming clinical or scientific evidence that there is a causal link between the vaccine and blood clots. But as more data is gathered, maybe it becomes more of a concern. But right now, the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh any risks, real or imagined.
Which is an entirely reasonable thing to have said after the first reports from Europe. Sure, at the time he wrote that post, the Raptor obviously thought it unlikely that there was real association, but it was definitely true at the time that the evidence for a link between the vaccine and these clots was not particularly strong, and it was certainly true that the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the risks. (They still do.)
Again, disingenuously, Mr. Thacker ignores later posts by the Raptor, going for a post a couple of days later:
Skeptical Raptor doubled down on the March 17 claims, with another post 11 days later arguing that AstraZeneca’s vaccine is probably not linked to blood clots, terminating any need for further investigation.
Oddly enough, Mr. Thacker completely ignores this post, in which Skeptical Raptor stated:
Admittedly, I am deeply troubled by the data out of Germany that shows a strong correlation with sinus vein thrombosis with the vaccine, especially in some women.
If this link is supported by more data in more countries (observations in one country can be affected by all kinds of bias), then AstraZeneca must be transparent in what is being observed and give warnings to healthcare workers to prepare for it.
Do I distrust AstraZeneca? I am getting really close to that. With their massive issues with their clinical trial design (which would not have any impact on safety just effectiveness), the issues with clotting, and their lack of an application to the Food and Drug Administration for an Emergency Use Authorization, I’m moving from a lukewarm supporter of this vaccine to stating that a lot more research needs to be done and fast.
Would I get the vaccine? No, unless there were no choices. The risk of these thrombosis events after receiving the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is just high enough that I’d rather get the other COVID-19 vaccines. But if there is no choice, I would be fine with the AstraZeneca version. But, I’m still troubled by AstraZeneca’s actions throughout this process.
Basically, Mr. Thacker, as is his wont, obviously cherry picked statements from Skeptical Raptor and used them to paint him as an uncritical cheerleader for the AstraZeneca vaccine. It’s an intellectually dishonest gambit, but “intellectually dishonest” is an excellent description of Mr. Thacker. To him, apparently, if you don’t view this incident as proof positive of the depredations of big pharma trying to cover up horrific harm by a vaccine, then you must be a “vaccine cheerleader” (and probably a pharma shill as well). Never mind that you started to change your mind as more data came in, as Skeptical Raptor did.
Next up, Mr. Thacker attacks Dorit Reiss for having Tweeted a link to Skeptical Raptor’s first post and later mentioning that vaccines generally don’t have long-term latent effects, which is, contrary to Mr. Thacker’s characterization, correct. He cited a Tweet from last year:
While ignoring a later Tweet:
Basically, the issue is that most known harms from vaccines happen soon after vaccination. Antivaxxers love to blame autism, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, and more on vaccines administered years or even decades before. Basically, they try to blame damned near every malady on the planet on vaccines, and that was what Dorit was responding to.
Mr. Thacker really stretched to find the example of inclusion body encephalitis due to measles vaccine. It’s a very special case. Of course, one can’t help but note that measles itself can cause inclusion body encephalitis, but this complication happens almost exclusively in immunosuppressed patients, such as this woman with AIDS or this child with leukemia. It also generally does not occur more than 6-12 months or so after the measles, which is not exactly very long term. According to the CDC, there have only been three published reports of this complication happening to vaccinated people, with only one of them from the measles vaccine strain of virus, and attenuated live virus vaccines like the MMR are not recommended for patients with severe immunodeficiency. In fact, this example basically supports Dorit more than him. Ditto Mr. Thacker’s invocation of of reactivation of the vaccine strain of varicella (chickenpox) virus. The CDC notes three case reports of this phenomenon of the vaccine strain of virus setting up a latent infection and then reactivating. (In other words, it’s very rare.)
Mr. Thacker also cites the reports of narcolepsy after H1N1 vaccination as if it were slam dunk evidence of longterm effects from the vaccine. Interestingly, one of his targets, Steve Novella, wrote about the issue of narcolepsy after Pandemrix, the specific H1N1 vaccine whose use in Scandinavian countries was fond to be associated with narcolepsy. (The is, after all, a neurologist.) He did not dismiss it. Mr. Thacker also fails to note that there is still considerable scientific uncertainty over this link, the legal issues and the discontinuation of the vaccine notwithstanding. A critical appraisal from 2016 noted a number of serious problems with the epidemiological studies that found an association between Pandemrix and narcolepsy, including ascertainment bias, confounding, information bias, recall bias, and selection bias, with all of the major studies suffering from one to several of these problems:
In summary, there are limitations to the observational studies of the association between Pandemrix™ and narcolepsy, putting into question whether the relative risks observed in them reflect the true risk associated with Pandemrix™ vaccination. No systematic assessment was done of the potential impact of all potential biases or confounders. The consistency of the findings, as well as the strength of the association have been repeatedly mentioned as arguments toward a true association.23 But consistency in bias and confounding may also lead to consistently false positive results. While we acknowledge that a single confounder or bias may not explain the risk estimates observed, the combined effect of several confounding factors should not be underestimated. We advocate that researchers engage in a collaborative effort involving all stakeholders (vaccine manufacturers, academia, public health and regulators) to examine the possibility of reanalysing the data using designs that may be less prone to bias, and perform more systematic sensitivity analyses to assess the potential role of these biases. Whether the observed strength of the association will still stand after the use of more appropriate designs and adjustment is an open question. As a minimum, better estimates of the attributable risk will allow for a more informed assessment of benefit-risk.
No doubt Mr. Thacker will dismiss this review out of hand because of ties of several of the authors to GlaxoSmithKline, but I found their analysis compelling, and I really don’t have a dog in this particular hunt, contrary to what Mr. Thacker seems to think. In fact, I’m even willing to concede that there probably is an actual association, given reported genetic associations while noting that the average time to onset of symptoms was within seven weeks after vaccination with Pandemrix, which is not what I’d call a “long term side effect.” What impresses me more about Mr. Thacker’s examples is how far he had to stretch to find them. I’m betting that they were very best he could find, too, which makes his response even more pathetic.
Then Mr. Thacker makes the mistake of going after Steve Novella:
Another favored venue for skeptics is the ironically named Science Based Medicine, a group blog and Skeptic Bible run by David Gorski and Steve Novella, professors of medicine at Wayne State and Yale university, respectively. Neither Gorski nor Novella publish much of anything on vaccines in peer-reviewed academic journals, choosing instead to harangue actual experts from the safety of their skeptic website. Novella’s piece on AstraZeneca made this point rather clear.
“The countries who have suspended use of the vaccine have been highly criticized for their decision, given that it is not supported by the science,” wrote Novella, on March 17, only a few short days after the EMA began investigating. “This is the background noise that experts monitoring the safety of the vaccines, or any medical intervention, have to deal with.”
Amusingly, all Mr. Thacker can criticize me for is a single Tweet that promoted Dr. Novella’s March 17 post. The reason, of course, is that I never wrote about the association of clotting disorders with the AstraZeneca vaccine until after the same problem had been reported with the J&J vaccine. Don’t ask me why I never covered the issue. I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I’m too US-centric. Maybe it was other things. The time when that story was active also just so happened to coincide with a grant deadline and a particularly fallow time on this blog. Mea culpa. I probably should have addressed it at the time and tried to make up for it with Wednesday’s post.
My failure to jump on the AstraZeneca story in a timely fashion aside, I still find it very funny how Mr. Thacker completely ignores Dr. Novella’s followup post from April 7 on the topic. In this post, Dr. Novella notes:
Amidst this uncertainty, however, the EMA has signaled it will officially report today or tomorrow that they are now ready to conclude that there is a link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and an increased risk of CVST in people under 55. However, they also stress that the benefits of getting the vaccine (the risk of not getting it) is greater than this risk of rare blood clots. That is turning out to be a hard sell, and many people are forgoing the vaccine because of this possible risk.
There are a few points worth emphasizing here. First, we do not know what the ultimate answer is, in terms of if there a genuine increased risk, in which populations, and due to what specific mechanism? Each step of the way scientists are giving the best answer possible based on the currently available evidence, which includes a wide range of uncertainty.
In normal times, the precautionary principle would prevail in such cases. However, during a pandemic the risk of delaying the vaccine will definitely lead to otherwise preventable deaths. If you are dead, it doesn’t matter if you were killed by COVID or a rare vaccine side effect. So we should take whichever course leads to the fewest deaths, which is clearly on the side of getting the vaccine, even in the worst-case scenario in terms of risk of CVST.
Again, as is usual coming from Dr. Novella, this is an entirely reasonable take, which Dr. Novella later amplified in his post about the J&J vaccine and CVST on Wednesday. I’ll let Mr. Thacker’s failure to include that post slide, as Mr. Thacker’s post was written on Tuesday. However, there’s no excuse other than deception, laziness, or sloppiness for him not to have noticed Dr. Novella’s other followup on the AstraZeneca vaccine. I call intellectual dishonesty. Again.
Mr. Thacker reserves the bulk of his bile for David Grimes, an Irish science writer with training in physics and cancer biology who’s written an excellent book on critical thinking, The Irrational Ape: Why Flawed Logic Puts us all at Risk and How Critical Thinking Can Save the World. (In the interest of full disclosure in case Mr. Thacker finds photos of us somewhere on Twitter or Facebook, I’ll state right now that I hoisted several pints with David in Manchester in 2017 when we were both speakers at QEDCon. It was a fine time.)
Mr. Thacker really didn’t like this from Mr. Grimes:
Not content with merely dismissing safety concerns, another skeptic, physicist David Grimes wrote for the Irish Times that reports of blood clots were—get this—a public health danger because “anti-vaccine activists will weaponize AstraZeneca’s suspension.” Much like Gorski and Novella, Grimes eschews peer reviewed medical journals when making his vaccine arguments, writing for the newspaper that safety precautions are “no substitute for evidence-based decision-making.” (Note to Grimes: op-eds don’t substitute for peer-reviewed research.)
Again, the this op-ed was written at the time of the first reports out of Europe and well before the EMA report in early April. Again, a month ago it was even less clear than it is now whether the clotting disorders reported were due to the vaccine or not, and Mr. Grimes correctly noted that stopping vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine, particularly in Europe, where it is a major component of the EU’s vaccination strategy, is not a “zero-risk option.” He was correct, too. the fewer people vaccinated, the more who will die of COVID-19, and that has to be weighed against a rare clotting complication. He was also correct that the antivaccine movement would weaponize the decision, which it most certainly did.
Unfortunately, in attacking Mr. Grimes, Mr. Thacker actually helped the antivaccine movement in amplifying its message.
Paul Thacker: A useful idiot amplifying antivaccine messages?
Dr. Novella responded to Mr. Thacker yesterday, suggesting that he was trolling skeptics over AstraZeneca, and I do think there was certainly an element of that in Mr. Thacker’s “bloviations.” (Yes, I couldn’t resist.) Dr. Novella was, as usual, spot when he zeroed right in on the false dichotomy at the heart of Mr. Thacker’s attacks on skeptics:
He also, apparently, doesn’t like “skeptics” because he sees us as science cheerleaders, while he is trying to expose the corruption within the institutions of science. Ultimately this is a simplistic false dichotomy, which is evident in his writing now about the AstraZeneca vaccine. All nuance is gone, and rather he simply engages in a hit piece against skeptics. His piece is full of emotional and absolute terms, and devoid of anything resembling fairness or balance. For example, he writes:Neither Gorski nor Novella publish much of anything on vaccines in peer-reviewed academic journals, choosing instead to harangue actual experts from the safety of their skeptic website.What does any of this actually mean? The regular contributors to SBM all have medical or legal backgrounds, but we are science journalists. It is odd, to say the least, to criticize a journalist for not publishing in the peer-reviewed literature on the topics about which they report. This is the type of gratuitous character assassination that Thacker is now infamous for. Instead of engaging meaningfully with our actual arguments, he just attacks our character and motives. I would be happy to engage with his arguments, if he actually put any forward, but I can’t find them.
In the end Thacker is falling for a false dichotomy – he thinks the world is divided between science cheerleaders (which he decries) and science exposers. This is not true – you can do both. There is much to celebrate in science, and simultaneously much to criticize. I guess this confuses Thacker, who seems to need a simplistic narrative to guide him.
It is most definitely a false dichotomy that Mr. Thacker is promoting. To him, if you aren’t anti-GMO and so anti-corporation that you view GMO manufacturers and big pharma as evil incarnate, you must be either a pharma shill or else so ideologically blinded that you have become a propagandist incapable of even considering criticism of your views. This sort of take is particularly rich coming from Mr. Thacker, who on the topic of GMOs is so biased as to be beyond reaching. It’s all projection at its finest, given that Mr. Thacker is one of the most rigidly ideological propagandists I’ve ever seen. I’ve encountered antivaxxers more willing to listen to reason than he is.
I also laughed out loud—literally—at Mr. Thacker’s bit about our supposedly “haranguing actual experts from the safety of their skeptic website.” Remember, this is coming from a guy who is most definitely not an expert in GMO science (or any other science, for that matter) and whose entire MO for years has been to use abusive FOIA requests to harass actual experts in GMO science in order to find dirt on them and/or to make their lives so miserable that they stop publicly defending their science. Then, these days, he writes it up on his Substack.
Pot, kettle, black, Mr. Thacker. Pot. Kettle. Black.
Unfortunately, this is all of a pattern with Mr. Thacker. I’ve already discussed his use of abusive FOIA requests, but there’s one incident that really stands out:
For the past 7 years I ran We Love GMOs and Vaccines on Facebook. I am a middle school technology teacher with no connection to industry. My small team of volunteers helped reach millions of people with a blend of science articles and funny memes.
Due to “independent journalist” Paul Thacker tracking down a middle school student of mine to tweet about me, I have decided to unpublish the page. The safety of my students come first. Especially because he accused her of “agreeing with me” because she had no clue what he was talking about. This comes after he also tried tweeting at my local police department and possibly used an anonymous name to email my staff about me.
Part of his tactic involves making profiles of his target on Sourcewatch, so that he can then cite his own writing in his harassment.
He has a history of abusing people, and will probably never stop. But I never dreamed he would go after a 12 year old.
This is who Paul Thacker is.
Worse, in attacking those of us who defend vaccines from antivaccine pseudoscience, Mr. Thacker is amplifying antivaccine messages. His article attacking us basically mirrors antivaccine messaging portraying science advocates as denying horrific vaccine side effects, when it is obvious to anyone with a modicum of reason that we are trying to put the story of a rare and as yet unproven (but definitely concerning) association between specific clotting events and adenovirus-based COVID-19 vaccines developed by AstraZeneca and J&J into context in the middle of a pandemic. In other words, we are trying to be nuanced, as antivaxxers take the absolutist view that these clots must definitely be caused by the vaccine and that a rare type of adverse event must mean that these vaccines are unacceptably dangerous—very much like Mr. Thacker, in fact. Indeed, Mr. Thacker even mirrors the conspiratorial thinking that our refusal to immediately infer causation from the reported correlation between the AstraZeneca vaccine and blood clots must mean that we are in the pockets of industry, basically a variant of the pharma shill gambit.
In fairness, Mr. Thacker didn’t explicitly invoke this gambit in his article. However, showing that his accusation against Mr. Grimes of being more radical on social media than in his other writings is also projection, Mr. Thacker did, in fact, “go there” on Twitter:
I laughed out loud. The American Council on Science and Health? If Mr. Thacker sees this post (which I will make sure that he does after it goes live), I urge him to search “ACSH” or “American Council on Science and Health” on this blog. He won’t find what he thinks he might find. He’ll find that the ACSH definitely does not like me and I do not like it. Let’s just say that I’ve repeatedly referred to the group as industry astroturf (as has fellow skeptic Mark Hoofnagle). Let’s just say that I laughed at its incompetent attempt to “take down” Dr. Mehmet Oz while bemoaning how it would likely empower the man I like to refer to as “America’s quack.” I not infrequently post or Tweet a hilarious takedown of ACSH by Samantha Bee from back in her Daily Show days entitled Little Crop of Horrors, in which a hapless ACSH member was shown basically cheerleading for the pesticide industry and attacking Michelle Obama’s organic garden, and whenever someone defends ACSH I link to an article it published in January 2017 heartily approving of all of Donald Trump’s science and health picks. This is not a new development, either. I first wrote about how ACSH is unreliable and too tight with industry nearly 11 years ago.
I’ll even let Mr. Thacker in on a little secret. ACSH dislikes me so much that Alex Berezow and Josh Bloom long ago blocked me on Twitter.
Later, he started insulting me:
I think I’ve made my point about ACSH and me. No doubt that won’t stop Mr. Thacker from trying to tie me to the group the way he tried to tie Dorit Reiss to it.
I’ll conclude by asking the question: Is Mr. Thacker antivaccine? I don’t know, but he sure does seem to talk the talk on Twitter, at least:
Mr. Thacker doesn’t quite reach the level of what I would unequivocally call “antivaccine.” That being said, it wouldn’t surprise me if he were, in fact, antivaccine. He is, after all, remarkably resistant to disconfirming facts. For example, someone posted a link to Dr. Novella’s rebuttal in the comments after Mr. Thacker’s article, and he deleted the comment, saying:
Marcus, I’ve had to delete your comment linking back to Steve Novella because that piece has factual inaccuracies and multiple bits of nonsense, like linking to the American Council on Science and Health. I don’t mind the meandering and Novella’s inability to address a critique, but we’re not allowing anonymous accounts to link back to disinformation. Please do better in the future. Thanks.
Notice how, as is usually the case, Mr. Thacker cannot or will not identify a single factual inaccuracy in Dr. Novella’s post.
The principle of crank magnetism says, in essence, that if you believe in one form of pseudoscience, quackery, conspiracy theories, or crankery you are likely to believe in multiple forms of pseudoscience, quackery, conspiracy theories, or crankery and that cranks tend to accumulate more crank beliefs with time. Given that Mr. Thacker is rabidly anti-GMO far beyond what even a reasonable suspicion of corporations would warrant, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he were antivaccine too. On the other hand, he could just be so anti-corporation and anti-pharma that he distrusts even vaccines, all without actually being antivaccine, in which case he’s a useful idiot for the antivaccine movement.
In the end, I don’t really much care what Mr. Thacker is, be he antivaccine or a useful idiot for the antivaccine movement. By attacking skeptics discussing COVID-19 vaccine safety issues without actually being able to refute them factually other than at the margins, he is, either intentionally or inadvertently, amplifying antivaccine misinformation.