The continuing hunt for who I am

I’ve tangled with anti-vaccine activists for a while now. It all started when I had to investigate a possible death from pertussis and I found out that the parents were misinformed about the whooping cough vaccine by one of those groups that have the word “information” in them. This was right before the 2009 flu pandemic. When that happened, I was appalled by the number of people even within healthcare and public health who were dubious of the H1N1 vaccine and were also misinformed by an “information” group and others who advocated for people to “do their own research.”

When I started this blog, I decided to make myself anonymous because of the experiences of a friend who was harassed and threatened with lawsuits by a couple of anti-vaccine people. He made the mistake of putting his name out there for the world because, he reasoned, if everyone knew who he was, they would believe his statements more than if he was just another nameless person. Me? I don’t care if you believe me or not. I care if you believe the facts I am presenting you, so I try to back them up with references and links whenever possible. This has worked well for me, but I got cocky.

I posted on this blog and on Facebook a picture of a wall sign from work. It was a picture showing the floor where I worked and where the office was, more or less. That was a mistake. I was told yesterday that someone called to ask if “Reuben Gaines” or “Edward Jenner” (my pseudonym on Facebook) worked there. When the person taking the call answered in the negative, the person making the call (a man with a foreign accent) complained that someone (me) was impersonating an epidemiologist.

I have two or three ideas of who the caller was, and I can’t help but wonder the obsession with finding out who I am in real life. Do they want to hurt me? My family? Do they want me out of a job? None of those things would ever stop te world from turning and science/medicine from moving forward. Even if I die right this instant, children would still get vaccinated and they would still not get autism from their vaccines. So why try?

The answer is simple. They’re trying because it distracts me from writing about the anti-vaccine and anti-science issues of the day, from being one more dissenting voice they have to contend with. That, and I believe that they want to have a monster under the bed, or a windmill, to be fearful of and fight against. Fear and anger are together the wind under their wings.

To those who continue to pry into who I am and what I do, I issue you a challenge. Counter my evidence and my facts and leave the personal out of it. Because, I assure you, you will not like it once you get to know me if you are an irrational, mindless anti-vaxxer. I can dish it out with the best of them. So shit or get off the pot, so to speak, and come at me with science, bro.

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.