The need for anonymity when you speak out

I got an interesting message on Facebook a few days ago. It was from “Sherri Kane” a woman from Hawaii who is very involved in conspiracy theories:

“When the film ended, Sherri grabbed the microphone. Her face had turned into a grim, ugly mask, the corners of her mouth pulled downward as if by strings.

“I don’t want anybody to leave the room right now,” she said. “I have a question.” She pointed at Dina, our photographer, who was circling the room taking pictures.

“Come up here,” Sherri said. “I want you to tell everybody who you work for.”

“I’m with Popular Mechanics,” Dina said. “Everybody knows that.”

As though she were talking to a small child, Sherri continued, “And can you tell everybody what Popular Mechanics has to do with a conspiracy cruise?”

Someone in the audience interrupted, “You know she’s the photographer, not the reporter?”

“Let me ask the questions, okay!” Sherri snapped, turning back to Dina. “And can you tell everyone why Popular Mechanics would be interested in people like us?”

Dina just smiled. “What, you don’t think you are interesting?”

“You’re taking photos so that you can label us conspiracy theorists!”

Dannion Brinkley groaned. “Let’s keep it in 528, y’all,” he said.

A woman named Abbie, who taught free yoga classes every morning, also stepped in. “That’s enough, guys,” she said.

“And who are you?” Sherri said.

“She’s a plant!” someone yelled from the audience.

Eyes rolled. Heads shook. People filtered out.

Someone muttered, “She’s the yoga teacher.””

Sherri and her man also sell interesting supplements (from the same Popular Mechanics article):

“On Tuesday morning, we sat down in the front row of a presentation we had not yet been barred from: Len Horowitz’s lecture on 528 hertz. While Len fussed with the projector, Sherri set out boxes of nutritional supplements and crystal pyramids for sale. Their flagship product, OxySilver, retailed for $49.40. It contained one listed ingredient: purified water, though its nutritional table also included 5 micrograms of colloidal silver.”

In the same article, we learn that the “Horokane” has a penchant for the melodramatic:

“When we arrived at the Liberty Lab the next afternoon, Len accosted Dina in the doorway. His eyes were the size of dinner plates.

“I want you to see something!” he shouted as he tried to force a packet of papers into her hands, then mine. They were articles from Popular Mechanics debunking bad science. Apparently Len and Sherri had been up all night Googling the magazine and printing out documents in the ship’s computer center. There was also a Wikipedia entry that linked the magazine’s parent company, Hearst, to the Lagardère Group.

I tried to laugh it off and go around him, but Len wouldn’t let me pass.

“Look at this!” he shouted, his face contorting with rage. “Look at this! This is why you’re here! You’re here in bad faith!”

Larry Cook, who had also been milling around in the hallway, stepped in front of Len to keep him from lunging at me.

“Get your hands off me!” Len shouted at him. “Get your f–king hands off me!”

Armed with a camera, Sherri darted out from behind Len and chased me around the hallway, demanding that I explain myself. As I tried to block my face from the camera, I got trapped against the wall between Len and Larry, who seemed seconds away from a full-on brawl.

“If you don’t stop this, I’m calling security,” Larry said. Len then challenged Larry to a fistfight in the ship’s gym.”

From all indications, this is the same Sherri Kane.

She’s not the only one who seems to be interested in my true identity, though. Long time friend of the blog, Jacob Lawrence Crosby, has been probing different avenues to finding out who I am. (Going as far as sending an email to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, claiming that Ren and I were one and the same.) Later, someone with a British Accent called the DC Department of Health and complained that someone there was pretending to be an epidemiologist, and that this someone was me.

One of their biggest complaints about me (or us, really) is that we write anonymously. They say that if we have to write anonymously, it must be because we have something to hide. Well, yes, we have something to hide, our true identity. We hide our true identity because they (the people who want to know who we are) want to inflict some sort of harm on us. They want us fired from our jobs, kicked out of our schools, or harassed by other people.

Furthermore, there are some of us who have jobs which require background checks and security clearances. Not very high levels of these, mind you, but high enough that someone having raging lunatics for fans (like Sherri Kane) would probably not get cleared to work someplace. After all, who wants to employ someone whose fans (like Sherri Kane) want to bring them harm? Why stir that particular hive of bees?

Because of these things, we write anonymously, and we probably will for the foreseeable future. Sorry, but that’s the way it is. Kudos to all of you who speak out without anonymity.

That Kid

There’s this kid who is studying epidemiology though he absolutely detests anything that has been proven through the science of epidemiology. Alright, not “everything”, but everything related to vaccines. In his mind, it seems, anyone who’s concluded that vaccines are good for public health must have been paid by the pharmaceutical industry. Likewise, it seems that anyone who’s been discredited and proven to be wrong about vaccines is a martyr. Why is he studying epidemiology if he can’t make heads or tails of it?

Because he really wants to make heads or tails of it, I hope. Unfortunately, his ramblings against science and against respectable epidemiologists – with decades of knowledge and wisdom under their belts – only works against him. Being a harsh, activist critic of science doesn’t get you the best jobs in science.

Maybe he doesn’t want a job in the scientific or public health field? With an MPH degree after his name, this kid can now exert more referent authority on the people who follow and support each and every one of his screeds. See, it’s different when people see that you have an education. You can do a lot more – good or evil, your choice.

This leads me to address the issue of my own credibility as a public health writer with my own audience. It should be obvious to all of you that I am using a pseudonym. As a result, I am unable to actually show you my credentials in epidemiology, public health, and biostatistics. Weirdly, I have less credibility, at this time, than that kid.

However, I cannot and will not reveal my identity to all of you because people in that kid’s camp have made it their lives’ mission to seek out and harass anyone they disagree with. And disagree with me they do, for I trust well-designed, peer-reviewed, scientific studies. They show up at talks, conferences, and symposia. They monopolize the discussion, spewing their own brand of denialism, and then they libel and slander their way through their blogs. All the while, we – with real jobs and real mortgages – are left defenseless, unable to strike back. If we do, there is hell to pay with those who “lead” us but are averse to confronting the evils of anti-science.

Perhaps one day when I am not afraid to be raked to the coals like I saw them do to Epi Ren, I will reveal myself to the Jedi, and to all of you. Perhaps.