What constitutes a blogger “bully”?

10 Jul

There are events around the autism blog-o-sphere that are troubling as of late. Events which bring up the question of bullying in a very real way.

First some background:

Andrew Wakefield is on a book tour. He has spoken at a park in Chicago and to small groups in New York, Phoenix and London. Events surrounding these engagements have very strange, if you ask me. And it is getting stranger.

The Chicago event was, well, a bit of damp squib, to quote Kev. Not a big event, even though it was timed to coincide with a large autism parent convention. Many of the attendees were actually skeptics who showed up as a bit of a silent protest.

The event in London was originally billed as “Dr. Andrew Wakefield is at a secret location in London with a select group of ticket holders for a book signing and Q&A session.” At one point it was going to simultaneously shown as a pay-per-view on the internet (something like $70, if I recall correctly), but ended up being free. The event location was kept secret at first and is reported to have been moved with vague comments of “threats”.

Frankly, I take any possibility of threats seriously and I worried that this might be serious. While I disagree with much of what Mr. Wakefield has to say, I would strongly condemn any threats to his talks.

When I heard that there was controversy about Mr. Wakefield’s Phoenix appearance, I took it seriously and wanted details.

The Phoenix event was held at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Prior to the event, one skeptical blogger emailed the Ritz-Carlton. She states that she emailed the Ritz-Carlton twice. Below is her communication:

Andrew Wakefield June 26 at The Ritz in Phoenix

Dear Sir / Madam,

I’m writing to express my extreme disappointment that such a well thought of hotel as the Ritz is playing host to this event on Saturday.

Disappointingly, The Autism Society of Greater Phoenix has chosen your venue to promote unsupported quack therapies and to support Andrew Wakefield, a man whose scaremongering has led to disastrous falls in vaccination levels among children. Levels have fallen so far that measles – a potentially fatal or crippling disease, even in countries with good levels of health care such as the UK – is now reported as once again being endemic here. Vaccination is arguably the greatest medical invention or discovery of our age, and has without doubt saved more lives worldwide than any other medical procedure. Hosting a book signing by Mr Wakefield would only indicate support for his unethical methods (including taking blood from children at a birthday party, and carrying out colonoscopies on vunerable autistic children for non-medically indicated reasons)

Many anti-vaccine activists want to return us to an age of deaths from preventable illnesses, claiming, against all evidence that vaccines are harmful, simply in order to promote their own agenda.

Andrew Wakefield is not a brave, maverick doctor, fighting the establishment, as The Autism Society of Greater Phoenix would have it; rather he has recently been struck off the medical register for horrific breaches of ethics involving non-indicated clinical procedures on children and undisclosed conflicts of interest.

Should you allow this event to go ahead, I fear your company’s reputation will be seriously tarnished, and respectfully ask you to reconsider your decision.

Best regards,

Rebecca Fisher

Andrew Wakefield – GMC ruling: http://www.gmc-uk.org/Wakefield_SPM_and_SANCTION.pdf_32595267.pdf
Vaccine preventable diseases – American Academy Of Paediatrics: http://www.aap.org/pressroom/aappr-photos.htm

The AutismOne newsletter portrayed the blogger’s actions as:

Rebecca Fisher: Pharma Blowhard or Concerned Citizen?

You can’t be a parent in this community without bumping into them. Every article, TV program, blog or radio show brings them out in force. The mention of “autism” or “Dr. Wakefield” brings them scurrying out from under their rocks snapping and snarling and spitting about the wonders of vaccines and their self-anointed roles as concerned citizens in protecting the pubic health.

It’s a scam and we all know it. Most of the bloggers, poseurs, and self-ordained autism experts have ties either directly or indirectly to pharma or mainstream medicine (which is really one and the same thing). Age of Autism has done a remarkable job outing Orac and shedding light on the soft underbelly of the vaccine apologists.

Rebecca Fisher of the UK has been very busy lately. Blogging here under the title “JABS Loonies – Justice, Awareness, Basic Support and Mind Blowing Stupidity,” Rebecca recently left the Internet safety of anonymity to engage in more concrete acts of aggression against our community.

Rebecca’s current mission is attempting to frighten, bully or pressure venues Dr. Wakefield is scheduled to speak at on his current book tour into canceling the event. Hotels are under siege by email, fax, and phone demanding they cancel Dr. Wakefield’s appearance.

For a week before this past Saturday, Rebecca attempted to intimidate the Phoenix Ritz-Carlton site of Dr. Wakefield’s latest talk into capitulation. To their credit the Ritz told her, in essence, to take a hike.

Rebecca, who also blogs as Becky Fisseux, will continue to act in a dangerous and reckless fashion until she is outed and her connections to pharma publically revealed.

Still the attacks will continue until we take legal and other appropriate actions necessary to incur real costs on those who spread lies and misinformation.

Unfortunately, the Ritz-Carlton Phoenix will not comment on the event. Ms. Fisher make a reasonable list of alleged facts that are unsupported within the complaint raised in the AutismOne newsletter. She requests proof that:

[She has] sent any more than two emails to the Ritz Carlton Group

She has] have ever telephoned the Ritz Carlton Group

I have ever sent a fax to the Ritz Carlton Group

I contacted the Ritz Carlton Group on more than one day

I used language that could be construed as “bullying”, “intimidating” or “harrassing” in my two emails (actually just one email, sent to two addresses)

The Ritz Carlton told me to “take a hike” – or in fact contacted me in any way

The AutismOne newsletter references recent events involving the blogger Orac at Respectful Insolence. It doesn’t speak well of AutismOne that they believed the Age of Autism blog piece about Orac. That piece claimed that the surgeon behind Orac had undisclosed financial ties to a pharmaceutical company, leading to a campaign to get him fired from his job. Seriously, people were encouraged in the comments on AoA to contact his employer. It is a pretty low moment for the Age of Autism. (if you are curious, Steven Novella takes apart the claimed conflict in his piece Age of Autism Witch Hunt.)

It would be all too easy to claim that the threats (and real) intimidation level is rising. I don’t know if that is the case. In recent years a blogger was expelled from an AutismOne conference for asking a tough but pertinent question of Terri Poling (mother of Hannah Poling, whose case before the vaccine court was very important–and will be again once the final settlement is reached and announced.) AutismOne is reported to have ejected journalists as well.

It is worth noting that blogger Kathleen Seidel was subpoenaed by vaccine injury lawyer Clifford Shoemaker.

I take threats seriously, as I stated above. I take bullying seriously too. It is worth questioning whether this statement “Rebecca’s current mission is attempting to frighten, bully or pressure venues Dr. Wakefield is scheduled to speak at on his current book tour into canceling the event” is really upheld by the facts. Since the Ritz-Carlton will not comment, I will await some sort of substantiation that what Ms. Fisher has done constitutes “frightening” or “bullying” or “pressure”.

I’ll leave you with the final line from the AutismOne newsletter piece on this:

“Still the attacks will continue until we take legal and other appropriate actions necessary to incur real costs on those who spread lies and misinformation.”

22 Responses to “What constitutes a blogger “bully”?”

  1. Sullivan July 10, 2010 at 01:15 #

    Recently an autistic blogger was the target of very serious bullying. It was bullying of a different sort, but bullying all the same. That was a case which I should have known about and should have tried to help.

  2. James July 10, 2010 at 01:54 #

    “Most of the bloggers, poseurs, and self-ordained autism experts have ties either directly or indirectly to pharma or mainstream medicine (which is really one and the same thing).”

    What does this even mean? I’m a skeptic, and a parent of an autistic child. I also go to a mainstream doctor, and my late father was a physician. I suppose that to AofA types, these constitute “indirect ties” to Big Pharma.

    Being part of a vast conspiracy is easy — and fun!

  3. UnemployablyAutistic-CambridgeGrad July 10, 2010 at 12:12 #

    I have seen little of the “Great Debate” over the last few years that couldn’t by these standards be called bullying.

    I don’t think the Truth-Seekers of Neurodiversity are any better than the Lunatics of the Age of Autism.

    Was the spectacularly ‘no-holds-barred’ International(“Monster Dan”) protest against a small and well-respected British childrens’ charity, a campaign led by many of the people posting here, bullying?

    Was the 43 Group taking to the streets of the East End bullying the Fascists? Was the thousands of predominately young Black men rioting in the streets of London in the 80’s, bullying the State?

    Is hard-bitten QC worrying the throat of a defendant in the dock for hours on end, bullying?

    Bullying when it’s in One’s own interest is simply robust Political action – otherwise it’s a convenient stick with which to beat one’s opponents.

    By your standards, any discourse outside of that which would be acceptable in a Cambridge Supervision (tutorial) would be bullying.

    And I will take this opportunity to remind you that a former Trustee of the UK’s National Autistic Society reported recently on the consequences of getting on the wrong side of the enlightened campaigners populating this blog.

    It is no-wonder the overwhelming majority of people with an interest in Autism will not break their silence to enter the debate.

    “first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

  4. Dedj July 10, 2010 at 13:30 #

    “By your standards, any discourse outside of that which would be acceptable in a Cambridge Supervision (tutorial) would be bullying.”

    Whose standard are you refering to? Where was it indicated?

    You appear to be responding to Sullivan by holding him/her as having the standard of ‘bullying’ that he/she indicated was held by a non-allied third party.

  5. NightStorm July 10, 2010 at 20:41 #

    The blogger’s definition of a bully is the same as a troll “Anyone that bothers to disagree with what they are saying.”

  6. Science Mom July 10, 2010 at 22:45 #

    Sullivan, I seem to remember that there was much more to the London nonsense than appears. I am trying to find the source but I believe there was absolutely no intimidation or bullying involved and the location was changed by the organisers.

  7. Chris July 10, 2010 at 23:07 #

    Science Mom, it was all explained in a very long Wakefield thread on the Badscience forum:

    http://badscience.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=16796&start=75#p379109

  8. David N. Brown July 11, 2010 at 00:07 #

    AoA et al flushed the credibility of any “threat” claim down the toilet, for anyone paying attention, when Blaxill and the “Hairy Biped” described my letter to Neurotoxicology as “threatening”. My only “threat” in that letter was to inform them I would call for a boycott of their journal if they allowed a Wakefield paper to see print. Their lying about it was quite pointless, as I had had the complete text of my letter up at my site since November.

    I’d say what they see as “threatening” is anyone who stands up for the truth and exercises their rights against the AoA/GR libel and lawsuit machine.

  9. daedalus2u July 11, 2010 at 01:18 #

    To me, bullying is an act of abusive cruelty which occurs when a person tries to hurt another person and does hurt another person when the bully is not acting in self-defense or in actual defense of another person.

    Bullying is the act of one person against another person. One cannot bully a non-person, but there are analogous acts of animal cruelty that were the victim a human they would constitute bullying. One cannot bully a corporation.

    In the context of blogging, one cannot “bully” an idea. Ideas are incapable of being bullied. The only things that can be bullied are people. People who hold ideas may feel bullied if those ideas are shown to be false. However, bullying requires the intent to hurt. If the intent is to inform or to educate, and the message is factually correct, then it cannot be bullying. Saying that autism is not caused by mercury is not bullying. Saying that parents who chelate their children are victims of quackery is not bullying.

    Is calling Wakefield a fraud and a liar who has harmed children and resulted in their deaths an act of “bullying”? No, it is not, so long as Wakefield is endangering children by falsely claiming and trying to promote the idea that vaccines cause autism and that children should not be vaccinated.

    In the example in the original post, the message to the Ritz-Carlton was to inform them as to the facts in the case. The Hotel can’t be bullied because it is not a person. No threats were made, just a vague reference to reputation using factually correct material.

  10. Science Mom July 11, 2010 at 03:29 #

    Thanks Chris, that is not where I read it but in line with what I do remember reading. It doesn’t surprise me that they would stoop to such tactics to martyr themselves. After all, intimidation and bullying is precisely what they commit in order to silence their critics.

    It’s working about as well as the Streisand effect dictates it would however.

  11. Emily July 11, 2010 at 03:32 #

    I’m just curious: Did they really say “pubic health,” is that a transcription typo?

  12. Emily July 11, 2010 at 03:34 #

    Never mind. I braved a click and found that it does, indeed, say “pubic health.” I, for one, have never evinced any kind of interest whatsoever in general pubic health, and I resent that characterization. I call that spreading lies and misinformation, dammit.

  13. Emily July 11, 2010 at 03:37 #

    Also, I encourage a review of the sponsor listed at that link: http://www.creationsown.com/aboutus.html

  14. David N. Brown July 11, 2010 at 07:24 #

    “Most of the bloggers, poseurs, and self-ordained autism experts have ties either directly or indirectly to pharma or mainstream medicine (which is really one and the same thing). ”
    It’s a sign of the tastelessness and mindlessness of the “shill gambit that it’s even been played against the starving Possum!

    What’s most insulting is that in the antivaxxers’ minds, we don’t even act like self-respecting villains. It’s a very basic principle of narrative that Bad Guy No. 2 will take out No. 1 if possible and desirable: See Kaa v. Sher Khan, Saruman and Sauron, Darth Vader and the Emperor, my own Zaratustra and anyone who makes the highly questionable decision to employ him. But to listen to the “shill gambit”, the same people supposedly willing to betray professional ethics and public safety just to earn a few bucks would NEVER do the same thing to their bosses. It’s time to demand better: If they’re going to turn us into melodramatic villains, at least let us act like intelligent, independent villains!

  15. Brian Deer July 11, 2010 at 09:33 #

    Thanks Emily. I looked at that site, found Geoffrey Bradstreet, who I’ve come across before. In fact, I bust into his office with a TV crew some years ago. But I thought that, after what Wakefield was doing with autistic children, I was past being shocked.

    No, I’m not past being shocked.

    Here, through a loophole in Florida law, is Bradstreet getting kids in without malpractise insurance. What a scumbag. If DAN and Jane Johnson have any integrity at all (and they might), they should kick him out and post a notice warning parents not to take children to his Florida office. And he should be made to explain why he’s building a business round the most vulnerable and naive. Really.

    Here are the issues:

    http://www.floridamalpractice.com/med20.htm

  16. Dr Aust July 11, 2010 at 11:09 #

    If anyone has doubts about the hysteria and paranoia of the Wakefield groupies they should read the BadScience thread Chris linked about the “moving” of Wakefield’s London talk, and compare it with the way the anti-vaccine people have reported and exaggerated the same events.

    TIn case anyone can’t be bothered clicking, the facts seem to be as follows:

    – a London-based TV company’s rehearsal studio was booked for the Wakefield event through a third party, without them telling the company what event it was for.

    – Rebecca Fisher saw the advert for the event and sent the TV production company directors an email pointing out who had actually booked their studio, and asking if this was someone they really wanted to be publicly associated with.

    – The TV company cancelled the booking, saying they had been misled by the people making the booking.

    – The talk consequently had to be moved at the last minute to another venue.

    • Sullivan July 11, 2010 at 16:06 #

      Dr Aust,

      thanks for summarizing that here. There appears to be a lot of image management going on with Mr. Wakefield and his appearances.

    • Sullivan July 11, 2010 at 16:20 #

      The question of whether we here at LBRB are bullies is a fair one to consider. I have little doubt that there was a lot of eye-rolling amongst the readers of this blog who disagree with what we have to say.

      There is a major difference between being critical and, as may be the case in the above discussion, writing untrue statements about another person in order to “exact a cost” from that person. I am going to say that I believe Rebecca’s side of the story. I’m sure many will claim bias. I would point this out–the Ritz-Carlton has no public comment on the events surrounding Mr. Wakefield’s talk. I called. How did AutismOne form their story?

      I’ve been meaning to write about the situation with Orac. But consider this. People were encouraged to go to his employer. Many people, including the representative from AutismOne, for example, appear to have believed that the AoA blog post showed a conflict of interest. Ironically, this lack of critical thinking could move that action away from bullying in my view. One would have to truly believe that there was a COI in order to forward that AoA piece. Sending that post to his employers was just embarrassing to to the sender, not Orac.

      But, consider this. Why weren’t they mounting a campaign to contact the people hosting the blogs Orac posts to? Why not mass email SEED, who runs ScienceBlogs? I usually don’t go into intent, but in this case it seems clear– the intent was to harm the man financially. They didn’t care about stopping his blogging. They wanted to exact revenge on the man. That is bullying.

  17. Rebecca Fisher July 11, 2010 at 18:50 #

    Thanks for covering this.

    I suspect that they get their information (ie, the fact that I’ve written a letter) from the Bad Science forum, where I posted details pretty much as I did it. Then they make stuff up.

    Prior to the NYC event, I sent the same email to the venue (The Rebecca School, NYC), and received a very polite one back explaining that the relationship between Rebecca School and NAA NY Metro chapter was one of Landlord and Tenant, and they had no control over what they used the rooms for. Which is fair enough.

    I didn’t announce the fact that I’d sent the note until today – and, surprise surprise, no allegations of harrassment, intimidation or bullying.

    DrAust’s summary of my involvement with the London event is spot-on. also here:

    http://www.badscience.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=16796&start=75#p379109

    Kind regards,

    Becky

  18. David N. Brown July 11, 2010 at 18:55 #

    With regard to Wakefield’s appearance in Phoenix, this was in my area, and I was aware of it far enough in advance to make some kind of protest if I chose. While I have been quite outspoken about denying Wakefield access to academic or media “venues”, I decided on this particular occasion Wakefield’s act wasn’t worth the trouble.

    So where do they think continuing “attacks” will come from? Wakefield’s career effectively ended years ago. He has now been formally ejected from his profession, and “de facto” kicked out of his own organization. His latest efforts at self promotion, while giving good cause for concern, have been so pitiful as to destroy his credibility even as a “rabble rouser”. There is a point where even a Possum has better things to do.

  19. Broken Link July 12, 2010 at 13:03 #

    Wakefield’s latest appearances:

    • North San Diego County (Rancho Bernardo area)
    July 20, 2010 6:30pm- 8:30pm

    • Orange County (by OC Airport)
    July 23, 2010 6:30pm-8:30pm

    But now, attendees will have to register in advance, and will only be notified if they can come, and the location of the talk on the morning of the talk.

    I looked at the registration form, and in addition to your full contact details, you are asked about your association:

    Parent
    Grandparent
    Relative to a child with autism
    Media
    Physician
    Community
    Para-professional

    They are going to be torn if someone from the media wants to come.

    Oh, and BTW, Callous Disregard is at #12,777 on Amazon.com

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Tweets that mention Autism Blog - What constitutes a blogger “bully”? « Left Brain/Right Brain -- Topsy.com - July 10, 2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kev. Kev said: What constitutes a blogger “bully”?: There are events around the autism blog-o-sphere that are troubl… http://bit.ly/a3KwT9 […]

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