NOTE: This blog post was written on December 28, 2014.
A few days ago, I told you about all the awesome people I’ve met and will meet in my path through life. Unfortunately, because of my professions (first as a lab tech, then as an epidemiologist) and because of my current work towards a Doctor of Public Health degree, I’ve also managed to pick up some enemies. Yes, “enemies” is a strong word, but there is no better way for me to describe some of these people. They have tried to get me fired from earlier jobs, tried to find out where I live, and have said all sorts of interesting things about me online.
They won’t say it to my face for some reason. They also won’t put it in writing in emails when I’ve emailed them and asked them to repeat what they wrote online.
One of the more active anti-vaccine people that I have encountered is one “Jake Crosby“. He used to be a blogger with “Age of Autism,” an anti-vaccine blog devoted to blaming autism and other ailments to vaccines. The contributors to that blog get offended when they are called “antivaxxers,” but they also don’t reply when asked which, if any, vaccine they would approve of. Mr. Crosby acts a similar way, but he takes it one step further.
“The microphone was then handed to someone behind me who started shouting quickly and energetically before I even had a chance to turn around. I didn’t catch his name at the time, but I found out later it was Jake Crosby, a young man with Asperger’s Syndrome and a contributor to the Age of Autism website, which is not so much an autism awareness website as it is a venue for anti-vaccine propaganda. However, all that Mr. Crosby was allowed to say into the microphone was his name and affiliation, followed by the beginning of a question regarding Andrew Wakefield, before Dr. Offit shouted out, “Let me just stop you right there!” Dr. Offit proceeded to tell the audience that Jake was following him around the country and disrupting his seminars and that he had obviously “made it” since he now has a stalker. I agreed with Mr. Crosby’s assertion that he should be allowed to ask a question and personally thought that Dr. Offit disrupted his own seminar more than simply answering the question would have caused. Regardless, Jake Crosby got up and left under his own will. Although I appreciate Mr. Crosby’s enthusiasm for increasing autism awareness, sensationalizing his interactions with Dr. Offit on his Age of Autism blog does little to further his cause.”
It could all be a matter of perception, however. This is how Jake Crosby described that exact same moment:
“It was during Dr. Offit’s lecture when he first spotted me seated in the audience. At the end of his talk, he scowled at me. I was not intimidated. Three questions into the Q&A discussion, the microphone was handed to me and I proceeded to ask my question:
“Hi Dr. Offit, I’m a student at GW School of Public Health. You said Dr. Wakefield “can’t stop suing people”… As I was about to ask my question, Offit began shouting me down:
“Stop right there! Stop right there!”
“Were you aware…”
“Stop right there! Jake, I am sick and tired of you following me to my events! Get out! Leave!”
“This is only the second event of yours I’ve been to.”
He responded by saying I cannot criticize him in person, only online.
“You can write about me on your vindictive blog!”
I found this very ironic. For someone who complains about the internet being a source of misinformation as much as Offit does, he sure doesn’t like being challenged in person.
“I have a right to ask a question just like everyone else.”
But Dr. Offit doesn’t like my questions, perhaps because he doesn’t have answers.
“No, it’s your ‘yeah, but…’ questions! ‘Yeah, but’ this! ‘Yeah, but’ that! You don’t want to ask me a question, you want to tell me I’m wrong!” (Well, if he isn’t wrong, he should have nothing to worry about.)
He must have been referring to my response to him at NIH when I pointed out that not every cause of autism had to be prenatal just because he cited several causes that are.
I stood up to leave, and he continued his tirade even as I was walking out the door:
“Go lie about this on your blog! Go stalk someone else!”
He never stated how I had “lied,” and repeated the false accusation that I “stalk” him.
Then several audience members clapped for the congressionally reprimanded millionaire vaccine industrialist. I continued exiting the room.”
For the record, several of the statements about Dr. Paul Offit are plainly false. He was not reprimanded by Congress. He is not a “vaccine industrialist” if we use the common definition for industrialist. Yes, Dr. Offit helped develop a vaccine, and, yes, he was more than likely paid a ton of money for it. (I wish that is the case because developing a vaccine that has saved millions of lives should have some kind of reward.) Yet Dr. Offit has since given the patent rights away and is not getting paid for the vaccine anymore. But this is how the world of an antivaxxer operates, by quickly throwing in misinformation in between the truths. Again, it may all be a matter of perspective.
Here’s video from a similar exchange, where Jake Crosby tries to “ask questions” and is called a “stalker” again:
And then there is this issue of the NIH Record, describing the exchange in the video above this way:
“During a brief Q&A, Offit urged his fellow scientists to “fight the good fight,” and “inform people of the consequences of non-vaccination. Make that come alive—the unneeded suffering and death.” Offit was also challenged by a young man identifying himself as a local graduate student who rose in defense of Dr. Andrew Wakefield. After fielding the young man’s questions in increasingly measured tones, Offit explained, “One of the consequences of what I do is that sometimes you get hate mail, sometimes you get sued, and now I have a stalker.” This particular student, he said, “often makes disparaging comments about me at national meetings as well as on the Internet.” Publicly identified as a nuisance, the man stormed out of Lipsett Amphitheater and slammed the door.”
And here is how Jake Crosby described that encounter at NIH:
“Like Seth Mnookin did earlier this month, Paul Offit blatantly lied about me while giving a lecture. The congressionally reprimanded millionaire vaccine industrialist told a room full of people I was a “stalker,” and event organizer, Dr. Tara Palmore had me escorted out of the “Great Teachers” lecture given by Paul Offit at the NIH on December 14, now on Videocast.
My crime: Asking Dr. Offit a challenging question and then pointing out one of the fallacies in a statement he made after dodging my question. Drs. Offit and Palmore also had a little talk about me at the end of the lecture, which was recorded onto the VideoCast, unbeknownst to them.”
You be the judge. Jake claims to have been escorted or “thrown out” of both events, but third parties saw him leave and even slam the door. It must be a conspiracy that two different objective observers saw things completely differently than how Jake Crosby sees them.
It’s become “a thing” of mine to say that something belongs in “Crosby’s Labyrinth” when something is seen completely opposite to how it happened. For example, a 42-23 routing of the Baltimore Ravens is seen as a “snag” by Ravens fans… In Crosby’s Labyrinth. Russia’s invasion of Crimea is seen as an “intervention” by Vladimir Putin… In Crosby’s Labyrinth. The term was coined by Seth Mnookin, by the way.
It’s been a while since Mr. Crosby was ousted from Age of Autism. It was a long and complicated set of events that Orac chronicled as they were happening:
“Whatever the reason, the ongoing feud between Jake “Boy Wonder” Crosby and his former mentors and allies in the antivaccine movement keeps bringing me back for more, as it did last week after a couple of months away. Maybe it’s because when the antivaccine movement is fighting among itself it’s wasting energy that it could otherwise be using discouraging vaccination, fear mongering, and endangering public health, and that’s a good thing. Maybe it’s the sheer enjoyment of seeing people who tried to get me fired ripping into each other. (Hey, I’m human, the computer-inspired moniker notwithstanding.) Maybe it’s a little of both. Either way, it is a good thing to see them wasting time and effort on this.”
Indeed, it was fun to see them go at each other. I’ll admit it. But it was only fun up to the point that I realized that here was this young man who was gifted with the ability to communicate very well, and that he had turned to the “Dark Side” of the public health “force”. Mr. Crosby went on to start his own blog, “Autism Investigated.”
Before we go further, you need to understand something about Mr. Crosby. He sees himself as “toxic”, damaged by vaccines at some point in his life, with that damage resulting in his Asperger’s syndrome. You need to understand this in order to see in context the things that he writes. If I had been convinced that something “damaged” me at some point in my life, I would probably lash out against it as well. I hope that I wouldn’t go as far as some antivaxxers have gone (e.g. lies and deception and demonization of some really good people). But we’re all different, I guess.
Yesterday, upon my return from vacation, I saw that Mr. Crosby had replied in a comment thread I started on a blog post of his. The blog post is all about the so-called “CDC Whistleblower”. My comment was about some deleted comments on that blog post. Because the comments section on that blog post has been deleted, I will try to re-create the comments from the Disqus commenting page. (The screen shots of these comments are at the end of this blog post.)
Me: “Removing my comments, Jake? What ever happened to all that openness and transparency and stuff that you like to accuse other bloggers of doing? You can delete my comments all you want, Mr. Crosby, but I’ll still be here. I’ll still be fighting the anti-vaccine lies and misinformation of you and all your friends (and some of your enemies).”
RevSangFroid (another commenters): “Yeah, and about 4 or 5 deleted comments under the Willingham article. It looks like Jake can’t stand the heat. Maybe that’s why some people call him ‘The Kid’.”
Jake Crosby, to RevSangFroid: “I’m clearly not the only person who thought those deleted comments constituted trolling as I have no control over what comments get deleted here. Trolls shouldn’t be surprised to see their comments go. That the trolls here act surprised anyway makes them the kids, so speak for yourself.”
It is at this point that I reply directly to Mr. Crosby.
Me: “Me? A troll? Mr. Crosby, you disappoint me. I thought you taught John Stone the fine art of attacking a person based on subjective things, not that he taught you his style. As for trolling, just be happy you don’t have a steady (honest, paying) job to which I can mail a whinny, childish email asking for your immediate dismissal for bogus reasons. Just kidding. I wouldn’t stoop to your level. I have better, more objective ways to deal with your lies and misinformation. Things based on evidence and reason, two things that clearly you need teaching on.”
That email I am referring to is an email that Mr. Crosby sent to the health department where I worked. He asked that I be disciplined or fired, and stated that I was writing under a pseudonym (against the requests of my bosses) because someone else wrote on a similar theme as I did back then. It is at this point that “Lilady R.N.” a public health nurse with years of experience in public health commented. (I know her, but she prefers to be anonymous online for many reasons.) I then replied to her…
Me, to Lilady: “You know what? Sometimes I wonder if it’s even worth our time dealing with this petulant child. He’s probably sitting comfortably, secure in the money and power that his family can provide, laughing at us peasants for wasting our time on him. Every minute we spend trying to point out his mistakes in “reporting” is a minute we can spend dealing with the liars he once called his friends. He’s become a small fish in a cesspool that wants to pass off as a pond. I’ll check back in when he posts something truly anti-science and anti-vaccine, which shouldn’t be long, given his track record of writing such things. The difference between Jake and I is that people in public health and health care google me and come to me with job offers I can’t take because of school. People more than likely google Jake and, like me and so many who read his stuff, they just shake their heads in shock that he’s in a PhD program in public health. See you on the next post, Jacob.”
Yes, I come off as a bully. I’d like to take this moment to apologize to Mr. Crosby for my tone in that comment. He replied…
Jake Crosby: “”people in public health and health care google me and come to me with job offers I can’t take because of school.” [He’s quoting me here.] Probably jobs trolling people and threatening them online as you’ve done to me.”
In his email to the health department where I worked, Mr. Crosby mentioned a similar thing. He mentioned that he was afraid of me because I had threatened him physically. I have never met Mr. Crosby in person. I have never (to my knowledge) been in the same room as he has. I’ve been to DC when he was a student there, but I did not ever run into him in public or in private. I’ve asked Mr. Crosby to explain how I threatened him, but he has never replied. In fact, I asked again after that comment above.
I will not publish his email because it was not sent to me, though I saw a copy of it, and there is a copy of it in my employee file at the health department. My bosses talked with me about it, and they seemed just as confused by the three-page rambling message. (It didn’t flow very well, looking more like a list of grievances about vaccines than anything else.) I’ve asked Mr. Crosby, the sender of that email, if I am free to publish it. He has not replied. If he replies that I can, then it will be up for all to see on another blog post later.
An interesting thing is that the Disqus commenting platform notified me that it was Mr. Crosby who replied to me as above, but, upon accessing the comments, his name is replaced by “guest”. (You’ll see that it is him from the screen shot I took before his name switched over to “guest” and from the notification that Jake Crosby had replied to me.) That same “guest” then replied to Lilady…
Guest: “This is who I despise – “creatures like you who cover up poisoning infants.””
The comment thread ends there, with an insinuation, in my opinion, that vaccinating (as Lilady has done in her work in public health as a nurse and promotes in her anti-anti-vaccine activism) somehow “poisons” children. Remember, again, Mr. Crosby thinks he is “toxic” because of vaccines:
“When my mother mentioned chelation last summer, I finally told her about the news report [on thimerosal allegedly causing autism]. She said she believed thimerosal was responsible, having known about it since I was 12. When I asked why she hadn’t told me then, she said she didn’t want to upset me; I had frequent meltdowns at earlier ages. The news program I saw was disturbing. Nevertheless, I began to see it as good news: relief that I knew both what had been causing my problem and that it wasn’t “me.”
However, not everyone sees it as such. Neurodiversity advocate Kathleen Seidel was quoted as saying “Did it ever occur to you that someone might object to having their family members labeled as inherently toxic?” Perhaps we should let the family members decide for themselves. For me, the thimerosal-autism link was a logical explanation for my condition, and it was reassuring to know that my issue had nothing to do with who I am. This allowed me to accept my condition and disclose it to others.”
Mr. Crosby is only one of many people I’ve come across online in the discussion on the benefits and dangers of vaccination. I’ve come across others in person, and they are very vicious in their personal attacks. They have called me many names and accused me of many things. Like Mr. Crosby, they accuse me of crimes then go extremely silent when asked to elaborate.
I meant it when I wrote to Lilady that I wonder how much time I’m wasting trying to get across — or trying to correct — Jake Crosby. At this point, we’re talking past each other and getting into a nasty discussion of each other’s professional and personal attributes, not on the evidence for/against the use of vaccines as measures of public health. It really is a waste of time, so I’m done… For now.
Here are the screenshots:
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
About History of Vaccines: I am the editor of the History of Vaccines site, a project of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Please read the About page on the site for more information.
About Epidemiological: I am the sole contributor to Epidemiological, my personal blog to discuss all sorts of issues. It also has an About page you should check out.