When I first got involved in an anti-vaccine “battle,” I thought it was going to be easy. I’d present some facts to counter the lies and misinformation, and that would be that. Reason would prevail. Unfortunately, that was not at all the case. I logged into a blog about vaccines and autism, and the commenters accused me of everything from pedophilia to being part of the illuminati. Seriously, I wish I was joking.
Not too long after that, because I had used my real name in the comments of that blog, the blog manager decided to contact me via email. It was “fun” at first because he came at me with all sorts of convoluted conspiracy theories and accusations about who I really was. See, he googled my name and found out that I worked for a health department. Not content with emailing me personally, the guy called me at the office. When I refused to talk to him on the phone, he actually showed up, unannounced, and asked to speak to me. Luckily, I told the cops that guard the building that he was not to be allowed in without an appointment anymore and to please check with us to see if there was really an appointment made. This was a matter of the overall safety of the building.
I can take care of myself.
The guy eventually backed down and things were pretty calm for a few months. I had been writing small articles here and there and teaching some classes here and there, when a friend asked me if I wanted to blog about public health. I didn’t know if I should, but I gave it a try. A couple of my posts made it onto his blog and that was that. But soon after that he was asked by his bosses to stop using social media to discuss public health. It was a big deal online, with dozens of people coming out in his favor. (He’s back blogging and will soon go to a prestigious school for a doctoral degree.) But, because he was silenced, I started this blog.
The other reason why I started this blog was that I started writing a short story (which is now more like a novella) about what would happen if the United States really did do away with the vaccination program. How would diseases creep back? Who would pay the price? What would trigger such a thing? Then I decided to inject a little bit of drama and create characters that were ruthless in their efforts to take down the “medical industrial complex” and to scare people into using vaccines again. Of course, as you may have read, some of the characters are based on friends and colleagues of mine. We’ve actually sat around a table and discussed the “what ifs” of the story. I wanted this blog to be a discussion online about the story like that discussion at that table in a restaurant was.
Of course, one thing led to another, and I found myself more and more liking the blogging and the refuting of anti-science and anti-vaccine lies. And then I had an audience. There is a steady stream of usual commenters and a huge number of science bloggers (and skeptical bloggers) out there who read and share my blog posts.
Unfortunately, there are also people like that first blogger I encountered, ruthless people who will do anything and everything in their hands to smear the name of anyone they deem to be the enemy. Like they did with my friend, I worried they might come after my job or show up at the office (with a weapon this time). I also worried about my loved ones.
There is a scene in “The Dark Knight Rises” where Bruce Wayne tells a young cop to use a mask if he’s going to take on the criminal underworld. The cop asks why, and Bruce explains that it protects those he cares about. That is why I am forced to not use my real name on this blog and in my interactions online. Only a few select people know my real name, location, and what I do at the health department. And I quite like it that way. On this blog, I identify myself with Batman. I mask my true identity to be more of a symbol than an actual person. As a man, I can be broken. As a symbol… You know, all that comic book stuff.
So here I am at 200 blog posts, and I am exhausted. I love writing and I love refuting lies. I love reading the opinions of others about my writing (including the few chapters of “The Poxes” that I’ve written), and I am humbled and honored to have such a great community out there that shares my blog posts and thoughts with others and respect what I have to say about public health in general and epidemiology in particular. But, time and time again, I feel tired and run down. I feel like “they” are going to figure out who I am and really do something evil, something that I can’t fix. What if they go after my friends?
As a result, I’ve given a lot of thought to hanging up the cowl, so to speak. Maybe I could do like “Doctor Who” and just have someone else take over the blog while I go on to bigger and better things. Maybe I can have my version of Robin come in and take over while I live a more peaceful life. But we all know what would happen.
We all know that “they” would find a way to drag me back into the fight and force my hand to write again about their treacheries. In short, they would do their worst, and I would, again, try to do my best.
Because we must fight, and fight like we’ve never fought before, and fight them until we can’t fight them anymore.
So I’m not giving up. I’m not hanging up the cowl. I’m not ending my blogging. They can do whatever they want, and we’ll deal with the consequences as it happens. Why? Because someone has to endure. Someone has to take all the hatred and vitriol that people who want to see the world burn bring with them when they want to force on unsuspecting people a view of the world that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, a view of the world that is distorted by fear and magic. They will try to influence policymakers to make some god-awful choices for our public health.
And I and others will stand in their way.
So here’s to the next 200 posts… Starting in September. (Every hero needs a vacation.)
ADDENDUM: The 201st post has been written. So, in case you didn’t get the gist of this post, I AM COMING BACK. Here’s a clip that explains this post: