The Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) recently published a guide called the “Disinformation Dozen,” a group of 12 COVID-19 vaccine deniers who are responsible for the bulk of anti-vaccine information on social media. Some of the names are familiar (at least to me) and some are not that familiar (again, at least to me).
CCDH is one of the leading voices in calling out the anti-vaccine world, especially during this time of COVID-19 deniers. They have long pointed out that social media, especially Facebook, has become the major mouthpiece for these groups. And recently, President Joe Biden has called out Facebook for “killing people” as COVID-19 had evolved into the pandemic of the unvaccinated.
The Disinformation Dozen have a long history of grifting, lying, and anti-vaccine rhetoric. Of course, more recently, they have become committed COVID-19 vaccine deniers, while many of them are promoting evidence-lacking COVID-19 treatments like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin. And according to CCDH, the Disinformation Dozen are responsible for about 73% of the anti-vaccine content on Facebook. That is disturbing.
Because I like to be an encyclopedic resource for anti-vaccine garbage, like my list of facts and myths about the COVID-19 vaccine to debunk deniers, this article will be a list of the Disinformation Dozen along with links to further criticisms of them, whether or not it was written by yours truly. I wanted to also update what platforms some of these people are still using for their propaganda.
We are seeing the COVID-19 deniers significantly overlap with the vaccine deniers, lead by the chief science denier in the country, Donald Orange Trump. So most of the Bill Gates vaccine conspiracies neatly fit into Bill Gates coronavirus conspiracy.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), founded by Bill & Melinda Gates using their vast Microsoft wealth. I have always favored capitalism, and believe there is no particular moral code associated with accumulating wealth. It is, however, wonderful that they have decided to use their wealth to help humanity.
As strong supporters of vaccines, the Gates and their foundation have become one of the leading targets of the vaccine denialists who use a bunch of outright lies to attack his good works. Bill Gates and vaccines is a constant drumbeat from the anti-vaccine world.
Most of us know that Bill Gates did not invent these vaccines, but the attacks on him make it seem like he did.
These personal attacks remind me of Ernst’s Law, which states “If you are researching complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and you are not hated by the CAM world, you’re not doing it right.”
Sayer Ji is the founder of the pseudoscience pushing website GreenMedInfo. Ji is a slightly different version of Mike Adams who runs his own pseudoscience pushing website, Natural News. To be honest, if you read a random article from either one, they sound alike, and they promote the same junk science. In case you wondering, they hate vaccines for all the same gibberish reasons that are pushed by all anti-vaccine websites.
So what is Sayer Ji saying today? Well he’s pushing some nonsense conspiracies about Anthony R Mawson’s anti-vaccine papers. And if you don’t recall who Dr. Mawson is, he’s the brainless researchers had a paper retracted. Then resubmitted that same paper and got it retracted again. What makes these retractions juicily ironic is that they were both retracted by awful predatory journals.
Mawson’s article was published for the first time in Frontiers in Public Health, a part of the Frontiers Media empire. It was published for the second time in the Journal of Translational Science, a part of OAT. Both Frontiers Media and OAT are predatory publishers according to the definitive Beall’s List. A predatory publisher is an “exploitative open-access publishing business model that involves charging publication fees to authors without providing the editorial and publishing services associated with legitimate journals.”
I never have written about it, but there’s a second article written by Anthony Mawson, “Preterm birth, vaccination and neurodevelopmental disorders: a cross-sectional study of 6- to 12-year-old vaccinated and unvaccinated children,” also published in OAT’s Journal of Translational Science JTS). Go ahead, look for that article, I’ll wait. Oh, Google is of no help? I forgot to mention but that article was also scrubbed from the JTS website, just like Mawson’s other articles. Well, if you’re really interested in the article, because the internet never forgets, here it is.
In case you’re wondering, this other article uses the same data, same techniques, and same bogus conclusions as the double-retracted article. Let’s take a quick look.
Why these articles are bad?
Because the journals in which they were published are bad. Frontiers in Public Health (FPH) is not indexed in PubMed. And the Journal of Translational Science (JTS) is not indexed in PubMed. PubMed is one of the most valued resources in searching for biomedical articles, even in obscure journals. Both FPH and JTS lack an impact factor. As we mentioned above, both FPH and JTS are published by predatory publishers (one of the possible reasons that the journals are not indexed). There is nothing positive to say about these journals.
A real study to compare vaccines effects is generally a meta-review (at the top of the hierarchy of scientific evidence) of several large epidemiological case-control and cohort studies. For example, this study, by LE Taylor et al., included five cohort studies involving 1,256,407 children, and five case-control studies involving 9,920 children. It examined the possibility of links between vaccination and autism, MMR vaccine and autism, and thimerosal and autism. (A more detailed analysis of this article can be found here.) This was a huge, well-designed systematic review that found a simple conclusion –
Findings of this meta-analysis suggest that vaccinations are not associated with the development of autism or autism spectrum disorder. Furthermore, the components of the vaccines (thimerosal or mercury) or multiple vaccines (MMR) are not associated with the development of autism or autism spectrum disorder.
Dr. Mawson actually has the background to run a well-designed study such as this one. Why doesn’t he, instead putting together studies so bad that even junk science journals retract them? Apparently, he’s trying to find data that supports his preconceived conclusions about vaccines, which is really just how pseudoscience works. Those of us who are pro-science tend to gather high quality data published in real high quality journals, and see where it leads us. And unless you only believe in studies in awful journals, then any rational mind would see that the overwhelming scientific evidence continues to show us that vaccines are relatively safe. And they most certainly are not involved with neurodevelopmental disorders.
Sayer Ji keeps saying stuff
Sayer Ji issued some sort of conspiracy theory about these retracted articles in a recent editorial. He’s where he went with that rant:
This fake news blog, which we hope the foundation will disavow, has been used to target a 35-year career scientist and his research in order to derail publication of two papers that were peer reviewed and accepted on their merits. Retraction Watch falsely claimed that one of the studies had been retracted by another journal, when it had never been officially accepted. They compounded the falsehood by claiming the paper had been retracted a second time, when it had simply been temporarily removed pending a response from the author to the false allegation. (Note – all emphasis is from Sayer Ji.)
So let’s go through his statements one by one.
Yes, Mawson’s two studies (retracted three times) were small. But they weren’t very powerful, ranking right near the bottom of the hierarchy of quality scientific research.
The studies hardly terrified anyone. However, some of us are terrified that parents will read this junk science and choose not to vaccinate their innocent children against vaccine preventable diseases.
Yes, Retraction Watch wrote about these retractions, because that’s what they do. And they are constantly looking at papers across science, especially biomedicine, where papers have been retracted. And since I am a regular visitor of the website, I know that they don’t hold back. They write about any researcher whose research is forced to be retracted or gets into trouble with any institution that points out the fake research.
Speaking of “fake,” Sayer Ji, in a ridiculous attempt to discredit Retraction Watch, claims it is a “fake news blog.” And he wants the MacArthur Foundation, which sponsors the blog, to withdraw its funding. I’m sure the MacArthur Foundation, which prides itself on scientific integrity, are going to listen to a pseudoscience pushing charlatan. Yeah, that’ll happen.
Sayer Ji attempts to make a semantic point that the journal had never officially accepted the paper. That’s a stretch of the truth by both Ji and OAT (which also made that claim). So they state, without a hint of irony, that the paper wasn’t technically retracted, the considering accepting it. That is such a load of inaccurate silliness, that I can’t believe they tried it.
Before the article was “retracted,” we can see, in a screenshot of the actual pdf version of the article, it contains the full masthead of OAT’s Journal of Translational Science:
We know what Sayer Ji is trying to do. He wants to have “proof” that vaccines don’t work or are dangerous. He’s got very little that supports his beliefs, and these studies from Anthony Mawson, three times retracted, would be perfect to support his needs. If they weren’t so awful as to have been retracted by predatory journals.
As we all know, bad science with respect to vaccines always comes back to haunt us, like zombies. And that’s what Sayer Ji is trying to do – he wants to keep this junk science alive to scare parents away from protecting their children from diseases.
Google provides me with the search terms that result in clicking on a link to this website. I rarely look at them, but today I looked to find all of the search terms that were pseudoscience examples – some of them were hysterical.
I wanted to do something completely different – away from the anti-vaccination hate-filled creeps, away from the anti-science GMO beliefs, and everything else. Let’s amuse ourselves with some of my favorite search terms over the past three months.
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.
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.
I have a lot of issues with the pseudo-medicine pushed by many many websites whose sole purpose is to push woo, or nonsense, to their readers. Then they have links to buy junk medicine from their website. Natural News, Mercola, and others have become multimillionaires with this business model.
These “entrepreneurs” deceive their readers with pure pseudoscience, using misleading language, and searching scientific literature for research that confirms their beliefs and ignoring everything that refutes it. They oversimplify complex issues, “take this pill, it will prevent all cancers,” making it seem most medicine can be boiled down to taking a couple of supplements–which they sell on their website. Of course.
Let’s make something clear right here, at the beginning of the article–there is a vast amount of legitimate scientific literature that describes evidence that GMO crops are safe to both human health and the environment.
In the world of scientific research, the absolute highest quality evidence are meta reviews, which are methods to contrast and combine results from a wide swath of peer-reviewed studies which may be useful in identifying patterns, sources of disagreement and other relationships. Since meta reviews combine the results from a larger number of studies, they can be more statistically significant.
It follows up previous publications on EU-funded research on GMO safety. Over the last 25 years, more than 500 independent research groups have been involved in such research.
According to the projects’ results, there is, as of today, no scientific evidence associating GMOs with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than conventional plants and organisms.
Remember, scientific consensus is not based on debate or arguing. Yes, the lone voice pushing new ideas or fighting a dogma should be given a pulpit to share their evidence. And that’s the key point, evidence matters, dramatic beliefs do not. If someone is going to state that GMO’s are unsafe, then they need to bring evidence, published in real journals, that carry the same weight as the thousands of articles that say “GMO’s are safe.” Just like the climate change deniers, who claim there’s a scientific debate, but have never brought the quality and quantity of evidence of the climate change supporters, the anti-GMO crowd uses the same exact tactics–screaming and yelling about the dangers of GMOs using very bad science.
Anecdotally, it has always seemed like the HPV quadrivalent vaccine, known as Gardasil or Silgard, was the most despised vaccine on the market. Although I write about almost every vaccine, I seem to write more about Gardasil, countering all kinds of silly claims. Despite several large case-controlled epidemiological studies, some of which I’ve discussedpreviously, there is some pervasive fear that the HPV vaccine is dangerous. You don’t know how many times I’ve read “I vaccinate my kids, but never that Gardasil stuff.”
Just for review, forget that Gardasil saves lives by preventing cancer. The HPV quadrivalent vaccine specifically targets human papillomavirus (HPV) subtypes 16 and 18, that cause not only approximately 70% of cervical cancers, but they also cause most HPV-induced anal (95% linked to HPV), vulvar (50% linked), vaginal (65% linked), oropharyngeal (60% linked) and penile (35% linked) cancers. It also targets HPV6 and HPV11, which account for approximately 90% of external genital warts. The viruses are generally passed through genital contact, almost always as a result of vaginal, oral and anal sex.
There is substantial clinical evidence that once a population is vaccinated against HPV, the rates of infection drop, which should lead to lower risk of various cancers. There is no other way to say this but Gardasil is very safe and very effective at preventing cancers.
Since I just wrote an article about the pathetic “peer-reviewed” paper being pushed by the antivaccination cult, I was almost reluctant (not really) to take down another so-called peer reviewed paper. But this one is actually worse than the B Hooker et al. travesty. It’s much much worse.