By Nancy Hokkanen
The 141-year-old magazine Popular Science announced recently it was shutting down the comments section that follows its articles. Online content director Suzanne LaBarre blamed “trolls and spambots,” claiming that “even a fractious minority wields enough power to skew a reader’s perception of a story.”
Popular Science is but one more magazine struggling with shrinking ad revenue, market share and staff. Surely a lack of staff also played a role in the decision to close off comments, but one wonders whether troll patrol could be handled by interns or trusted volunteers. When once-venerable publications like PopSci shut down all reader dialogue – especially on global and personal topics, such as vaccine safety issues – they risk reader alienation and lapsing into bully pulpits for hire by industry.
“The best scientist is open to experience,” said science fiction author Ray Bradbury. Yet in capitalistic America, science is frequently co-opted by industry for profit. Online publications that offer readers democratic input can be threatening to industry’s bottom line, particularly when consumers report adverse reactions to products.
And with journalistic objectivity increasingly replaced by advertorial and press releases, media consumers ingest more persuasive articles with polarizing terminology steeped in the subtext of social control: We talk; you listen. We have the science; you are not experts. Our experiments are irrefutable; your experience is irrelevant. Then (as the first rule of advertising states) they repeat, repeat, repeat, hoping to drown out opposing voices.
Closing off article comments echoes a popular tactic used by schoolteachers and drill sergeants: punishing an entire group when one person breaks a rule. The goal is to engineer peer pressure – to coerce the majority group into using whatever means necessary to bring the outlier into conformity.
A July PopSci column, “How To Argue With The Anti-Vaccine Crazies,” attempted to arm readers for waging war with words. But the bibliographic “blanket party” merely amounted to a laundry list of flawed and fraudulent CDC epidemiology, intermixed with surprisingly frank admissions of vaccines’ imperfections. Oddly the author’s first attempt at refuting the so-called “crazies” began with the disturbing confession that “some older vaccines had severer side effects than current ones do.” And in sad real-life corroborations, earnest commenters reported severe vaccine injuries to family members.
In the eye of each media beholder, such vaccine adverse reports become defined either as valid empirical observations or coincidental fearmongering anecdotes. To believe, or not believe? That is the question… and unanswerable by corporate science, as long as researchers manufacture fallacious epidemiological studies rather than examining victims (or at least their medical records). The U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s statistical conflations are designed to comfort busy or simple-minded folk who seek information confirming all is right with the world. Proceed with business as usual.
A key media tactic for squelching public outcry is to frame autism as a celebration of quirky savant loners – handily ignoring the U.S. autism epidemic affecting 1 in 50, the special education rate of 1 in 6, and countless children ill with asthma, allergies, autoimmune conditions, toxic metals levels and gastrointestinal dysfunction. PopSci’s gushingly headlined article “Drone Club For Kids With Autism Is Really, Really Awesome” promises “[t]hese videos will make you smile.” Other stories chirp that children with autism are “so good at math” and enjoy interactions with robot substitutes for warm, caring humans (bearing a creepy gray face and metallic eyes shimmering like neurotoxic mercury).
Shiny, happy “Autism Lite” articles validate the worldview of those readers uncomfortable with confrontation, fearful of societal censures wrought by speaking out about autism causality controversies. Denial permits one to live unfettered by guilt or concern. But denial also allows stressed autism parents to get through each day by painting pretty pictures over bleak scenarios. However that excuse does not apply to journalists who abandon ethics while perpetuating cultural illusions intended to halt investigations into vaccine policymakers’ malfeasance.
Regarding the study of autism, PopSci tries to reassure readers by insisting that altruistic scientists are on the case – distracting one from asking why University of Minnesota researchers require “hours upon hours of observation” (plus abundant funding) to determine whether a child has autism. Passive scientific acceptance of the autism-as-behavior model ensures that children’s undiagnosed medical conditions continue to cause them misery.
The Alliance for Human Research Protection website offers readers this admonition: “For the triumph of evil it is only necessary for good men to do nothing.” Corporate media censorship indicates that autism advocates are making a public relations impact by personally investigating causality, treatment, and perpetrator justice, and publishing their findings far and wide. (Ironically studies of online vaccine comments and public health conferences are now promoting anecdotal evidence to convince consumers to buy more shots.)
Industry PR flacks pejoratively portray vaccine safety questioners as uninformed or irrational. However, many autism advocates devote hours daily to investigating research studies and scientists, thus amassing large in-home science libraries. A keyword search of just my own computer found this telling aggregation:
Autism = 3,252 items
Vaccine = 2,916
Mercury = 2,221
Study = 1,308
Conflict of interest = 122
Vaccine + Death = 485
As hard as corporate-biased writers and editors try, they cannot control readers’ skepticism about who determines what information and research constitutes science bedrock. Despite the high-sounding defensive rhetoric of so-called “science writers,” one cannot always believe what one reads. Cognitive dissonance is inevitable when readers discover vaccine and autism research that:
- excludes affected populations,
- uses inappropriate placebos,
- leverages fraudulent statistics,
- employs questionable researchers,
- approves products not fully tested,
- contains amounts of metals deemed toxic by other agencies, and
- refuses to compare health outcomes with those not using the product.
Then factor in government and industry’s complete failure to physically examine the medical condition of vaccine injury victims, for purposes of treatment and prevention. Ask the victims eventually granted compensation from the National Vaccine Injury Compensation whether policymakers or manufacturers have ever showed any interest in finding out why the vaccines failed.
The illusory “heroic myths” perpetuated by the vaccine industry’s PR fabricators compare unfavorably with honest reality – the independent science and investigations, combined with multitudinous field reports from families living 24/7 in autism’s trenches. Censoring comments will not silence truth.