Anti-vaccine harassment – can you sue for libel?

Anti-vaccine harassment from Mike Adams

For the past three years or more, ever since I (pretty accidentally) got drawn into the vaccine discussion, several of you asked an opinion over the legal aspects of dealing with anti-vaccine harassment. One recurring question is “can I sue for libel over this.”

I want to take advantage of a number of recent and particularly ugly attacks to provide a primer on when you can, in fact, sue for libel over something said online.

I also want to make clear that – as many of you heard from me – I think that almost always suing for libel is the wrong strategy. First, I think tort suits are a bad way to deal with discussion, even ugly discussion. And at least in part, if you step up, you should know the discussion can include ugliness. And sometimes from both sides.

Second, even if you are a private figure, tort suits are hard, expensive, and public. And if the other side is willing to put aside ethical standards – and if you get to the point where you think about suing for libel, you’re usually dealing with someone with, at best, flexible ethics – that’s going to be part of the lawsuit process as well, and you can expect things to get worse before you win. And after you win.

Third, in many cases our law is rigged against those speaking on public matters, intentionally, because we value free speech. That can protect you if you’re sued by an opponent, but it will work against you if you are the one suing.

Further, suing an anti-science attacker can really work for them. You give them publicity they would not otherwise have. If they win, they can really push the slur against you. After all, it’s not libel, you lost, they can claim it’s true even if they won because the law is rigged against the plaintiff. If they lose, it’s because of the conspiracy, and because the system is rigged against them – and they still had the publicity and cost you time you will never get back, grief, and probably resources. It really is a bad deal for you, no matter what.

And finally, it leaves a bit of a bad taste that the tactic has been repeatedly used by anti-vaccine activists.

But I also see the other side. I hear you when you tell me that you should not have to put up with harassment  when it crosses a line. I understand that you have not given up your private rights by becoming involved in this discussion. The law values and protects reputation, and harm to your reputation can cause a variety of other harms to your livelihood and your family – and your emotional well-being.

Being a vaccine advocate does not mean you cannot use your legal rights, especially when you are under direct attack to your good name. And if you’re already being sued from your side, a counter-suit, if you have a claim, might make sense.

At any rate, it’s probably worth going over the basics of the law.

Continue reading “Anti-vaccine harassment – can you sue for libel?”

David Gorski conspiracies – Mike Adams is wrong

David Gorski conspiracies

The blogosphere has been all intoxicated by Mike Adams, the self-styled Health Ranger who publishes the Natural News website, and his detailing of various David Gorski conspiracies. At first, I thought that Adams was a bit insane, a view that Dr. Gorski himself stated.

In case you don’t know, David Gorski is the managing editor of the website Science-Based Medicine, which is like the anti-Natural News.

But upon further review, and doing my own research, I have come to the conclusion that Mike Adams is pretty much wrong but not for the reasons you might think. I think Adams got lazy and didn’t do a thorough investigation, as befits someone who claims to be the Health Ranger.

I hope that Mike Adams forwards an official Shill Check™ to me for performing this valuable duty to science and the Truth™.

Continue reading “David Gorski conspiracies – Mike Adams is wrong”

Mike Adams of Natural News – nuclear stupidity about Gorski

Mike Adams of Natural News attacks David Gorski

This story is about Mike Adams of Natural News, considered the number one lunatic of the pseudoscience and anti-science pushing American Loons (a particularly vile form of worldwide loons).

Mike Adams, who styles himself as the Health Ranger (more like the anti-Health Ranger), runs the anti-science website, Natural News. Adams claims that Natural News is a science-based natural health advocacy organization, led by himself, a proclaimed “activist-turned-scientist.”

If you know nothing else about Natural News, Adams has claimed he’s a better scientist than Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Yes, let that sink in for a few minutes. Tyson thinks that evidence should be studied to form a conclusion, you know, the scientific method. Adams thinks that he can invent a few lame experiments to confirm his preconceived beliefs. That’s pseudoscience, in its purest form.

Mike Adams’ anti-science beliefs includes just about every important scientific fact of our modern world. He is an AIDS denier (meaning he doesn’t think that AIDS is caused by HIV). He is anti-vaccination. He is an 9/11 truther. He is an Obama birther. He thinks chemtrails exist. He has advocated violence against GMO supporters.

Mike Adams of Natural News encompasses the totality of science denialism in one wonderful package. If you wonder why he’s such a lunatic, it’s really just to sell his junk medicine to a naïve public. Essentially, he has used his “pseudoscience to sell his lies to the public.”

You might think there are no other lines he can cross. But you would then be underestimating his skills in lying and attacking those who support real science.

Continue reading “Mike Adams of Natural News – nuclear stupidity about Gorski”

Mike Adams invents Tribeca vaccines conspiracy theory

I thought I was done with the whole Robert De Niro/Tribeca Film Festival/Andrew Wakefield fraud documentary. De Niro pulled the film, and that was that. Story ends. But I did predict that the anti-vaccination crazies would invent all kinds of crap about this story. And behold, Mike Adams, the anti-science pushing nut behind Natural News, goes full batshit insane to invent the Tribeca vaccines conspiracy theory.

As Michael Corleone says in the Godfather, “Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.”

But I refuse to be pulled all the way back – I’ll just pull a few quotes to show you Adams’, the so-called Health Ranger, crazy. Continue reading “Mike Adams invents Tribeca vaccines conspiracy theory”

The fictional CDC coverup of vaccines and autism – movie time

fictional CDC coverup

The zombie anti-vaccine trope of the CDC coverup of vaccines and autism – tied to a so-called CDC “whistleblower” – has risen again from the dead. I thought it was time to bring back my zombie-killing snarky, sarcastic, and humorous debunking of that trope. Let’s have some fun.

I and about 20-30 other pro-science bloggers wrote articles about a strange story, pushed by all of the usual suspects in the anti-vaccine universe (starting with Natural News, Green Med Info, and the Age of Lying about Autism). Despite new information, press releases, claims and counter claims, nothing has changed in the facts about vaccines and autism as a result of this somewhat entertaining story that included fictional claims with real people.

What are the facts? Vaccines do not cause autism according to boatloads of evidence.

Nevertheless, this story is provocative, laughable at some level, and filled with rather disreputable characters – it gives all us bloggers, who focus on the real scientific evidence behind the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, a great subject for writing.

As I surmised when I first wrote this article over a year ago, this zombie trope has risen again!

Since much of this story has strong fictional elements, I think we should examine this story as if it were a synopsis for a screenplay behind a proposed new superhero movie. You know, The CDC vs. the Evil Cult of Antivaccination. 

Hey, I ought to copyright that, just in case someone does turn in into a movie. Because this synopsis has all of the important parts of a movie–unsavory characters, a fool, the superhero government agency dedicated to saving lives, and the geeky nerds who think science trumps lies. No cool spacecraft or benevolent aliens unfortunately. I’ll work on that.

OK, let’s get with the story. Continue reading “The fictional CDC coverup of vaccines and autism – movie time”

Neil DeGrasse Tyson vs. The Health Ranger–your debate prediction

As I wrote recently, the Great American Loon, Mike Adams (and reigning #1 on the list of American Loons) has claimed that because he follows advice of Neil DeGrasse Tyson, which is to ”follow the evidence wherever it leads, and question everything.”

Adams wants Tyson to join him in denouncing vaccines because of the mercury content. I kind of thought the mercury trope was dead, but I keep having to remind myself that these tropes tend to become zombies and arise many times. Anyways, you can read this, this, and this all of which pretty much debunks everything about mercury, vaccines, and autism. 

Since Dr. Tyson has already given full-throated support to vaccinations (including during a zombie apocalypse, but that’s another story), the probability that Mike Adams is going to get word one out of him can be measure in billionths of a percent. 

But let’s imagine they did have a debate. What do you think will happen? Vote early and vote often. You actually can only vote once per day, but I love that saying.

Natural News claims it follows evidence like Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Neil deGrasse Tyson at The Amazing Meeting 6, 2008. Wikipedia Commons license.
Neil deGrasse Tyson at The Amazing Meeting 6, 2008. Wikipedia Commons license.

The lunatic Mike Adams, self-styled Health Ranger, pusher of pseudoscience, and publisher of the ignorant self-congratulatory, pseudoscientific website, Natural News, has issued an insane “challenge” to Neil DeGrasse Tyson, eminent astrophysicist, real scientist, and inheritor of Carl Sagan’s common-man touch about the wonders of science.

What is this challenge? Well, Adams claims that since Tyson, who stated, in the new series Cosmos, that “follow the evidence wherever it leads, and question everything,” then because Adams only follows the evidence in his “cutting-edge science” publication, Natural News, then Tyson ought to accept all of the evidence uncovered about vaccines.

OK, before you read the next sentence, please put down your coffee or other liquid refreshment, take a deep breath, exhale. Then Adams demanded that “Neil DeGrasse Tyson, will you publicly denounce the use of mercury in medicine and join the growing call for mercury-free medicine?”

What mercury used in medicine? Oh yeah, that old thiomersal in vaccines trope. The thiomersal which is an organo-mercury molecule that is quickly cleared from the body by the incredibly efficient kidneys. Or the thiomersal that was removed from vaccines despite no evidence that it did anything to anyone getting an immunization. 

Even though Tyson is an astrophysicist, he really does follow the evidence. And believe it or not, Neil DeGrasse Tyson has said something about vaccines. He accepts that they work.

Getting over the laughable claim that Mike Adams thinks he follows any evidence, unless by evidence we mean pseudoscience that supports his ignorant beliefs about medicine, his challenge to Tyson is just plain ridiculous. Tyson, like any good scientists, accepts vaccines as safe and effective.

Visit the Science-based Vaccine Search Engine.

 

Polio vaccine does not cause cancer–update

This article has been substantially updated with more information. Please check it out.

Vaccine myths are annoying, not just because they are dangerous to the public health, but because they are like the diseases prevented by vaccines, because the myths keep returning to infect the public, just when you’re not watching. It’s bad enough that social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Google, reddit) continuously send out this pseudoscientific myths, but it’s the ersatz “news” sites that do the same. They retread old myths as if they are “breaking news”, which requires we skeptics and pro-science writers to jump out like a vaccine trained immune system to thoroughly destroy these antivaccine myths.

I have long ago accepted that there are just ignorant and plainly delusional people who will buy into any pseudoscience that shows up on their radar screen, without utilizing a single neuron for critical analysis. However, I also understand that there are people on the fence about vaccines (or any other issue with a pseudoscience counterargument), who will appreciate a thorough debunking of ignorant lies.

For example, I wrote an article a while ago about some nonsense meme on Facebook that contended that eating ripe bananas cured cancer because the bananas contained a protein called tumor necrosis factor (TNF). It was based on some “Japanese scientific study,” which took significant effort to find. After a critical and thorough reading of the article, I concluded that: the study made no claim that bananas made TNF, AND even if bananas did, you couldn’t ingest enough bananas to get a bioactive dose of TNF, AND even if you could, you wouldn’t absorb any TNF through the digestive tract, AND TNF doesn’t do what the meme writer thought it does (TNF is badly named, and does not directly attack cancers). In other words, the myth lacks any truth, except, maybe that bananas are yellow.

This is by far the most popular article I’ve ever written with probably close to 100,000 page hits. The reason is that every 2-3 weeks, the myth about bananas arises out of the background noise of the internet, people (unknown to me) use my article to debunk the banana myth in the comments section, and the myth slowly dies. But it never really completely dies. It’s only 99% dead. It’s a zombie which keeps coming back to life.

Thus, the best we skeptics can do is keep debunking these social media fables and tall tales, and move along to refuting the next one in line. At least I can save time by not having to write the article again, we can just update with any new information and re-debunk (yes, I have the absolute right to invent words). Continue reading “Polio vaccine does not cause cancer–update”