I shouldn't be surprised when I read some vile comment from an Age of Autism follower about someone who dared to challenge their ideology. I mean, I've written about this before, like back in May, in June, mentioned it in October and again in November. They have a history of underhandedness, attacking the people rather than addressing the content of the criticism.
Well, they are at it again. This time, the focus of their ire is a skepchick, Elyse.
This all started back just before Thanksgiving, when Elyse took it upon herself to launch an awareness campaign about a PSA being paid for by SafeMINDS, an anti-vaccine organization. The PSA was billed as informing people about thimerosal in flu shots and that pregnant women and new parents should opt for the thimerosal-free version for themselves and/or their newborn. SafeMINDS had paid to have this shown at a bunch of movie theatres over the Thanksgiving weekend.
Now, the way it was billed, it sounds like a reasonable and unobjectionable thing, right? Well, the problem is that the PSA was more of a disservice announcement. It contained a number of factual errors about thimerosal, as well as emotionally charged imagery aimed at scaring people away from the flu vaccine (e.g., a syringe surrounded by puddles of elemental mercury). It made claims like the flu vaccine not being able to be disposed of in a landfill because it contains mercury, but that the government thinks it is okay for pregnant women. In reality, flu vaccines cannot be disposed of in a landfill because they are medical waste, just like used bandages, tongue depressors, saline solution, needles, other drugs and so forth also cannot be disposed of by a health provider in a regular landfill and instead require special handling. Put simply, the PSA was merely meant to instill fear in its viewers...fear of the flu vaccine, fear of thimerosal and, to some degree, fear of vaccines in general.
(Edited to add: As an anonymous poster below mentioned, presence of thimerosal may cause a vaccine to be treated as hazardous waste, if the thimerosal is present in large enough quantities. How it is handled is largely dependent on state laws for waste disposal (though there are other laws that may apply, such as OSHA regulations). For example, Ohio (PDF) classifies some flu vaccines as hazardous waste and others as infectious waste. Neither of these may be disposed of in a regular landfill. While my initial criticism of the PSA was, admittedly, simplistic, it still stands. Medical products, in general, cannot be disposed of in a normal landfill, whether they contain mercury or not. The SafeMINDS PSA used misleading imagery and wording.)
SafeMINDS paid to have this ad shown in quite a number of places, from Boston all the way to California. That latter one is a bit of a head scratcher, by the way, since California state law prohibits administration of a thimerosal-containing vaccine to pregnant women or children under 3. So, why "educate" pregnant women and parents of infants in that state? Seems a waste of money, no?
At any rate, Elyse put up a post on the Skepchick blog asking readers to write to AMC (one of the theatre chains that was supposed to run the ad) and other theatres and ask them not to run it. She also sent the message out over Twitter, having the message picked up by other skeptics, like Phil Plait and PZ Myers, both of whom have huge followings. Well, the campaign worked. AMC refused to run the PSA.
This apparently did not sit well with the folks at Age of Autism, as Kim Wombles at Countering discovered that the insults and denigration against Elyse had begun. Over at Age of Autism, one pseudonymous commenter stated:
Age of Autism Facebook page, we have suggestions that Elyse have some acts committed against her with broken mercury thermometers:
Remember those links I had at the beginning of this post? A couple of them talk about Age of Autism's commenting policy. One would think that this comment would be against their policies. In fact, there was one person that commented on the FB page criticizing the AoA supporters for their crassness. (Curiously, that poster, Juha, had her comments removed.) What is the response from the editors?
It's just gallows humor, people. lighten up. Thinly veiled threats of sodomy with a broken thermometer are just jokes! Turns out, another commenter couldn't find the humor in the thermometer comment, either (criticism and AoA reply):
There are still plenty of comments, though, suggesting that Elyse looks "mental", "disturbed", calls for DSS to step in because "this woman is sick" and so on.
This behavior is reprehensible. I can understand being upset and disagreeing with someone. But address what they say. Do not make threats against them personally and definitely do not drag their children into it (e.g., by posting a picture of the target's child).
Yet another example of the vileness at the heart of the anti-vaccine movement. This is what those of us who support vaccination face. Elyse has a lot of courage to stand up against this kind of behavior, knowing what will happen if she strikes a nerve, knowing that she may need to seek help from the police to protect herself and her family.
Update: The thread on Age of Autism's Facebook page has been pulled. At this time, it is unclear whether Facebook removed it or if it was removed by Age of Autism.