An amusing sequel (in a masochistic and depressing kind of way) to my earlier post detailing how I got involved in one of those fruitless anti-vaccine debates over at a thread on the Guardian’s website.
It now appears that all the Nature Network bloggers who have commented there are part of a Dark Conspiracy of Sinister Vested Interests.
You can tell this, of course. Because we blog at Nature Network. We are therefore, I gather, under orders to puff Nature and NPG, and defend its output, presumably in return for inducements.
Now, one normally comes across this kind of argument in the form of the perennial / venerable “Pharma Shill Gambit”. I am not sure what this latest variant should be called. The “Nature Patsy Gambit”, perhaps? The initials are quite catchy. (Warning: that was irony there. Just so you know).
The start of this latest spat was when one of the most limpet-like of the anti-vaccine people, Clifford Miller, wrote:
(comment of 6 Jul 2010, 7:20AM)
“The “Nature” magazine bloggers remain silent – ACElliott, MSFo [Mike Fowler], scww [Stephen Curry]. It is a non “peer reviewed” “Nature” letter which prompted the Guardian’s “Genetics of Autism” “Story Tracker” in the first place. (italics mine)
I felt I had to point our that this wasn’t actually an accurate description of Letters to Nature – see my response at 10.04 am today, July 6th, noting what all scientists know, that such letters are actually peer-reviewed papers.
The response to that came a few hours later, at 12.50. Among other things, it described me as
“one of Nature’s own bloggers.”
I don’t think it was intended as a compliment.
Now, as I am a polite sort of chap, I felt that I should point out that this was not really accurate, so at 2:11 pm I wrote:
“Nature Network is a blogging platform. Nothing more. Most people who blog there (like Stephen Curry, [Mike Fowler] and I) are not Nature staffers. We receive no money, or any favours in kind at all, from Nature Publishing beyond their hosting the blogs – just like on WordPress, or Blogger. The trade is that NN get to host our content for free.”
And that (or at least an hour later, at 3.13 pm) is when it became apparent that I was part of a Conspiracy. (If I’d only known, I’d have asked for a special pen. Or luncheon vouchers)
There is a much closer relationship with “Nature” magazine than you suggest.
When the “Nature” bloggers’ posts were thought not to be going up on this Guardian forum fast enough, didn’t a “Nature” staffer offer to visit the Guardian offices to make enquiries?
That is not “just like on WordPress, or Blogger”. It is unlike.
And surprise surprise, it was the publication in “Nature” magazine which prompted this Guardian piece on “The Genetics of Autism”.
So a paid employee of “Nature” was so interested in lending a hand? Wholly unknown of course to the general public.
Which of you disclosed their interest in “Nature” when posting comments here then? scww [Stephen Curry] just posted in his profile his link to his blog on “Nature”. Nothing else from the other “Nature” magazine bloggers to disclose any form of relationship with “Nature” magazine.”
I was a bit puzzled by the reference to the “Nature staffer”, so I suggested:
“News to me. Did they offer to fly there in a secret black helicopter?”
At which point the Chief Conspirator was unmasked:
“No. “They” did it on your very own blog:-
“Hmm no still not up, and we have a pretty good connection here at Nature Towers. The Graun is round the corner, maybe I should pop over and ask? :)”
Posted by: Nicolas Fanget Jun 17, 2010
My reply is directly below. However, it is obviously fruitless, as I have been exposed (according to my attackers there) as having a Special Relationship with the Forces of Darkness and Suppression of Truth (namely Nature). Read if you dare.
The sad thing is that this little incident will probably be regarded, on both sides, as quite revealing.
The anti-vaccine people will be convinced – they clearly already are, if you read the comments, which have now reached new heights of vitriol – that it exemplifies once again that they are the victims of dark conspiracies. As one of them put it earlier:
“The Guardian, Nature, Ben Goldacre and his Badscience forum followers all nice and cosy together.”
Next time they will probably add the NN bloggers too.
* sigh *
And I will, I guess, be taking it as another of those periodic lesson that you cannot pierce peoples’ crazier beliefs. All they hear is the little bits of what you say that can be read as having a meaning they decide on, and one that confirms what they are already sure they know.
The technical term for this is “Confirmation Bias”.
Put another way, people see what they want to see.
Finally, it is all a bit wearisome.
I’m trying to see the funny side of being told you have just been revealed as part of a non-existent conspiracy. For some reason I am reminded of a very famous (and very old) Monty Python joke from my youth. See if you can see the connection.
PS I also wrote, in one of my comments today, a slightly tongue-in-cheek Conflict of Interest disclosure statement. What do you think?
“I am a University scientist. My job is to think, teach and write about science. I do this in various places, including at Nature Network. I tend to believe scientific explanations of things, supported by scientific evidence. I tend to think scientists and doctors understand science and medicine better than anti-vaccine activists and other pseudoscience types do. I have been known to say this publicly, including on blogs and comments threads.”