ConspiraSea Day Six: You know who exposes real conspiracies? The media.

This is Day Six in my seven-day series of updates from or about the ConspiraSea Cruise. You can read Day 1 here, Day 2 here , Day 3 here, Day 4 here, Day 5 Part 1 here, Day 5 Part 2 here, and an explanation for what I was doing here. We’ll have an index page up soon collecting these and future pieces.

Day Six was tough for me personally. The main reason is something I’ll write about for Day Seven, but it didn’t help that the seas were particularly high. I’d become seasick on a small-boat excursion the day before (thanks to Michael Badnarik who offered good advice for dealing with it) and even though the cruise ship was mostly very stable, my memories of the Saturday lectures feel like they’re covered with a thin, greasy film.

It also didn’t help that the first session of the day was listening to Winston Shrout give well-meaning people really terrible advice about how to handle their mortgages. That definitely added to my queasiness. I don’t know much about real estate, but I’m pretty sure that the Vatican hasn’t just released the necessary money to pay off everyone’s mortgages. And I’m pretty sure that Winston Shrout wasn’t involved in a multi-trillion dollar transaction that would have done the same thing if HSBC hadn’t sabotaged him. And I’m pretty sure that referring people to NESARA is, at best, a waste of their time. But more about pseudo-law on Day 7.

A few other interesting things happened that day that have lately become more significant. One was the panel, which I described in the last post, in which Wakefield, Jeffrey Smith, Nick Begich, and Leonard Horowitz discussed various topics such as whether Evil exists and opposes their work. Another was a session Smith led on how to be an activist. And a third was Wakefield’s screening of his upcoming documentary on the evils of immunization. All three were marred by speakers hoping to operate in secret, out of the public eye. As I’ve said elsewhere, can we take a moment to ponder the irony of conspiracy theorists demanding people not talk about their work exposing secret conspiracies?

Andrew Wakefield

Wakefield refused to allow the media to see an advance screening of an anti-vaccine documentary coming out in a few months. That made a certain amount of sense, from his perspective. Presumably doesn’t want skeptics fact-checking it before it even comes out. And he wasn’t wrong about what would have happened. I absolutely would have scrutinized the movie for factual statements and started checking them the moment I got home. In fact, we’re shortly going to publish an interview Wakefield gave me in which we carefully scrutinize his statements. This, to his credit, is something that Wakefield insisted all his listeners do: go home and check his statements to see if they’re true. Unfortunately I suspect very few, if any, will do that.

You’ll hear more about this documentary fairly soon.

2016-01-25 09.26.49
Dollars to donuts this slide, or something like it, appears in the documentary. Its claims don’t hold up very well when examined closely–more on that in a future post.

Jeffrey Smith

Smith’s panel was a more egregious example of poor messaging. Which is odd, because my impression of Smith generally is that he’s a very good communicator, if a bit careless when it comes to understanding the substance of what it is he’s trying to communicate. For example, in an earlier session, Smith referred to having to spend a great deal of time on the phone with Dr. Stephanie Seneff, a computer scientist, to make sure he could talk intelligently about the science in his slides. He never stopped to explain why he was getting his information about biochemistry and toxicology from her. I think it’s safe to say that it’s because he’d be hard pressed to find leading experts in the field who agree with his rather extreme beliefs and dire predictions, such as that half of all children will be autistic within our lifetimes.

Despite closing at least two of his presentations to the media, he did give at least one presentation that was open to everyone, and unlike Wakefield he appeared at the final panel in which all of the speakers stood together. I recall that he sat in the audience, rather than with the other speakers, and I thought at the time he might be trying to avoid pictures of himself standing with people who might hurt his credibility. My photos don’t show where he was sitting, though, and at least one person I spoke to remembers it differently. At any rate, here he is with Sean David Morton (under indictment for tax crimes) and Winston Shrout (self-proclaimed third dimensional delegate to the Galactic Round Table and confidant of fairies and elves, and also under indictment). Not that he’s a follower of those two, of course—just a beneficiary of lax credibility standards that let all three pose as experts in fields they don’t actually understand very well.

2016-01-30 20.29.29
Reporter Anna Merlan for Jezebel taking notes on Smith’s speech–something he avoided more than any other conspiracy theorist on the ConspiraSea Cruise.

I tried to attend Smith’s “Tools and Strategies to Change the World” session, largely because I thought I could learn something. He’d touched on some outreach tools at an earlier non-secret session, but not in much depth. And as I said, he knows a lot about communication and persuasion; it isn’t easy for a yogic flyer to rebrand himself as a thought leader on genetic engineering. But I and the professional media were ejected from the room. Smith didn’t want the outside world to hear the “strategies” that were going to be discussed in the workshop.

Stop for a minute to ponder what a foolish tactic that is for anyone claiming to have the science and public interest on their side. The media coverage of that workshop would otherwise probably have been something like, “Smith led a workshop on activism.” Maybe there would have been a paragraph somewhere noting, “And these bizarre things were said,” assuming Smith repeated bizarre things he was willing to say in public (like the scary and farcical claim that half of all kids will be autistic soon). Like the paragraph above, where I noted that Shrout claimed the Vatican is about to pay off your mortgage. So what? Does it really make a difference? A week from now, will you even remember Shrout’s name? You’re more likely to remember this piece, disclosing how Smith tried to avoid public scrutiny of his strategies. Discussing what happened is much less interesting news than discussing the fact that someone doesn’t want you to know what happened. Conspiracy theorists should know that!

So here’s what you need to know about the advocacy Smith promotes: as far as I can tell, he doesn’t want the outside world to know how he’s working to stop the science of genetic engineering, which he seems to be willing to take money to oppose despite not understanding it very well. He wants to tell forgiving, uncritical audiences what they should be afraid of (not just GMOs, also vaccines) and not have to deal with awkward post-hoc questions along the lines of, “Hey, is any of this actually true?” This is all my opinion, of course; I’m sure he’d have a more conspiracy-centric explanation of why he needed secrecy.

I can understand why he might be sensitive about the scrutiny of skeptics. Genetic Roulette, a book he was hawking at the conference, has not fared well when reviewed for accuracy. I wanted to say, “And here’s a supportive review from an expert” in the name of balance. But I couldn’t find any. I couldn’t find any expert reviewing Genetic Roulette and concluding that Jeffrey Smith knows what he’s talking about, or is generally credible on the subject of GMOs. If you know of such a review, please let us know in the comments. I always welcome correction. (One reason that matters is, as I said earlier regarding vaccines, if you’re critiquing a technical subject your criticism should be able to pass muster with the community of experts. Rhetoric is good for scaring people if you can’t do that, and rhetoric is a lot easier than science. Jeffrey Smith is good at rhetoric.)

Smith’s explanation for excluding media was that he wanted people to freely discuss and develop their strategies for opposing GMOs. I know a little something about developing communication strategies. My practice is to be open and honest. I did it when I crowdfunded my ConspiraSea ticket, and I openly disclosed my strategy—even inviting comments from supporters and critics alike. I did it on board the cruise, telling everyone that I was a skeptic writing a book and generally talking about the blog too. (A couple of people complained that I only told them about the book, not the blog. Mea culpa.) And when I spoke before the California Immunization Coalition, I posted my slides publicly for the world to see. Because the strategy I was recommending was to be sincere, be empathetic, ask questions, and provide true information. That kind of approach can be, and needs to be, completely open.

What kind of approach is afraid of public scrutiny?

Len Horowitz and Sherri Kane

Here’s the one you may have already read about on Twitter or in our edits to previous posts. I saw very little of Horowitz and Kane (they operate as a pair) on the cruise; I went to one of their panels, and saw Horowitz shouting at people just before the Wakefield presentation I described in Day Five Part Two. And I described the things I heard about them in Day Three, including this picture taken by reporter Anna Merlan as they were accusing her of being a (possibly unwitting) agent of the CIA or the nation of Qatar.

CafkckqWAAAn01t

Of course, Merlan’s photo didn’t have that purple overlay. The wonderful @mem_somerville added that for us when she heard that Horowitz and Kane were asking us to remove their photos and names from our blog entries, citing the fact that they did not sign a release.

Despite the use of “please,” when someone asks you to remove their photos because you don’t have a release, it’s a demand. This is because a release only makes sense in a context where you don’t have a right to use those photos (or to use them in the specific way you’re using them). Referring to the lack of a release is the same thing as saying, “You don’t have a right to do that without my permission, and I’m not giving you my permission.” In any event, I suspect there is a release–my understanding was that all attendees and speakers signed a standard release before boarding the boat. Conference organizers will not tell me whether Horowitz and Kane did.

It’s a bogus demand anyway. We don’t need a release to post those photos or to reference their names. Horowitz and Kane, who profess to be activists on the public’s behalf, should know and be happy about that. They were trying to drum up interest in their projects and products, after all, and having their sessions videotaped for future distribution. I imagine what they’re not happy about is that they did not behave themselves on the cruise, and they don’t want that to taint their reputation.

(Here’s my take as a skeptic: Horowitz and Kane, assuming you’re going to read this eventually, nothing discredits you more than your own work. If any other readers are curious about them, go check out their documentary about how the Paris attacks were a false flag. Or google their web store for the “vaccine and antibiotic substitute,” which they imply but carefully don’t say can cure cancer. It’s a colloidal silver product somehow infused with light and sound at 528 Hz. (By “somehow infused,” I mean, “not infused at all.” Liquids don’t store light and sound at specific externally-mediated frequencies.) You’ll have to google those things for yourself, I’m not inclined to steer any traffic their way.)

Nevertheless, Horowitz and Kane struck me as very aggressive people. They brag about filing a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against what they describe as “an organized criminal conspiracy” in a long, rambling post titled “Activists Sherri Kane and Dr. Leonard Horowitz Sue Crime Gang.” I haven’t looked up that lawsuit. I guarantee they didn’t win millions of dollars. But I’m also sure their lawsuit, no matter how ridiculous, was a giant headache for the defendants. We don’t need giant headaches. As I’ve said earlier, we’re bloggers—no one foots our legal bills. And even if we got pro bono counsel and won immediately—both unusually likely under these circumstances—it would be a pain in the butt. So for the time being we’ve obscured or replaced their photos. Not their names. That’s an appalling thing to even ask for.

Let me take a moment to thank the estimable @Popehat of www.popehat.com; they run a “Popehat Signal” that helps connect people being sued for exercising their free speech rights with lawyers in the right jurisdictions who are willing to represent them pro bono. Jennifer and Popehat had a conversation about the Horowitz and Kane situation while I was en route to Copenhagen with limited availability to help her make decisions about the seriousness of their demand. Popehat kindly offered to help her find legal help if necessary. Things haven’t gotten to the point where we need that help, and almost certainly won’t. But I can now appreciate just what a relief it is to know that there’s someone out there willing to make those connections. Thank you! Horowitz and Kane, that’s what helping people looks like. Reaching out to support a stranger for free. Not selling $40 bottles of “antibiotic substitutes” to sick people.

And all the rest

One of the most notable things about these efforts to shut down commentary is how rare they were. The vast majority of people on the ConspiraSea cruise, presenters and attendees alike, were very happy to discuss their ideas. Even people like Winston Shrout and Sean David Morton, who were both under indictment for bad legal and financial practices and thus should have been very reluctant to teach those practices to others, were willing to do it in front of a camera and a notepad.

I’d like to thank everyone who talked with me about what they believe and why they believe it, without being ashamed or cautious about the public perception of those ideas. It’s made you more understandable, more credible, and more sympathetic in my eyes—and I hope in the eyes of my readers too.

I want to reiterate that the ConspiraSea Cruise was an overall very positive experience, due largely to the friendly and open people who attended it. People with fringe beliefs need more opportunities like this to come together and openly discuss their ideas. They’re going to draw some criticism, and that’s fine. Ideas that can’t withstand criticism aren’t very good ideas. It’s important to bear in mind that overall I’m a fan of the ConspiraSea project, because Day Seven will cover my biggest disappointment with the endeavor and my biggest personal failure in that week.

19 thoughts on “ConspiraSea Day Six: You know who exposes real conspiracies? The media.

  1. mem_somerville (@mem_somerville) February 8, 2016 / 9:18 am

    Ah, Jeffrey Smith. Even Chuck Benbrook–a hero of the anti-GMO crowd–said of him: “Please do not involve Jeffrey Smith if you want any folks who know the field to take your piece seriously.” https://twitter.com/mem_somerville/status/653246324943507456

    But we know his strategy. He’s going to aim at pet foods now. He put it in a YouTube and a document you can get from Jenny Splitter’s piece at Salon: http://www.salon.com/2015/12/05/stop_telling_me_im_poisoning_my_kids_food_crusaders_sancti_mommies_and_the_rise_of_entitled_eaters/

    It is pretty funny to see him conspiring with activists on a ship about conspiracies, though. Gotta howl with laughter at that.

  2. brenhill2015 February 8, 2016 / 3:40 pm

    Can’t wait for the next installment. Thanks again for the insightful and respectful, (where it’s due!), coverage of this event.

  3. Jennifer Raff February 8, 2016 / 3:48 pm
    • Colin February 8, 2016 / 3:56 pm

      “Planning to undermine us.” That is a world-class ego. My pre-cruise articles don’t even mention them because I had no idea who they were.

      What the article they link does say, in bold type, is “I don’t want to start fights. I don’t want to be disruptive.” Shame they didn’t arrive with the same philosophy.

    • Chris February 8, 2016 / 8:18 pm

      Did they ask for a release from the young journalist they chased with their camera and accusations of working for the CIA?

  4. Hilary Butler February 8, 2016 / 8:23 pm

    Is there any reason you haven’t blogged on the vaccination talk by Sherri Tenpenny which you attended?

    • Colin February 8, 2016 / 8:32 pm

      Just lack of time.

      • Hilary Butler February 8, 2016 / 8:55 pm

        I will be interested to hear your thoughts when you find the time 🙂

        • Bayareamom February 9, 2016 / 4:31 pm

          Same here….when you find the time.

  5. Drugie February 26, 2016 / 8:35 am

    “People with fringe beliefs need more opportunities like this to come together and openly discuss their ideas.”

    Being new here, its really difficult for me to reconcile this sentiment toward CTers with the Day 7 story written by the same author.

    My contention is that, while people can believe what they want, the non-CT crowd should be essentially intolerant of CT. Its dangerous, often criminal and it can devastate lives, along with generally making America an ungrounded, reality-averse population.

    • Anodyne February 29, 2016 / 3:55 pm

      The problem is, being openly intolerant of someone else’s belief system – whether it’s grounded in CT or not – isn’t going to make them more likely to believe you on anything, especially when it touches on subjects to do with that belief system. It is, in fact, going to make them more likely to believe that you’re hostile to their beliefs (which open intolerance is), and that will drive them further down the rabbit hole.

      If anything is going to derail and properly debunk (in such a way that it is no longer given any degree of credibility) the pseudolaw and pseudoscience being thrown around these days, it’s going to be by bridging the distance between the two communities and getting people on the CT side of the fence to realize that skeptics are not inherently hostile – they’ve just looked at the evidence and don’t find it compelling.

      • Colin March 2, 2016 / 9:47 am

        Yeah, this is basically my approach. Drugie’s right to identify some tension there, though–my posts on Shrout and Morton didn’t persuade anyone. They only made people hostile to me. So was I right to write them? I’m wondering this generally, whenever I see someone get into a heated exchange on Twitter for example (or let’s be honest, when I do it myself).

        The research and our common experience is pretty clear, sharp engagement is not very productive and may be powerfully counterproductive. So should we not do it? Should Orac close up his blog, and should I have not made fun of Shrout and SDM?

        I think not. I think there’s a practical and moral purpose to sharp engagement, as long as we try to be very aware of who our audiences really are, what the effects of that sharp engagement are, and what our goals are. I’m thinking of writing a much bigger piece on this.

        What do y’all think?

  6. Enuf March 27, 2016 / 3:50 pm

    A fascinating blog, pleased to have happened upon it.

    Of the principle purveyors of conspiracy theories, as in those who do it for money, my fondest wish is to see successful prosecutions. Fines, jail time, imprisonment, utter ruin. These people cause real harm to common people. Financial, health, the theft and destruction of Hope. Too often they get away with it.

    Nice to hear at least one was met with handcuffs as he walked off the boat.

  7. Nate January 10, 2017 / 1:51 am

    Lets get to the real science behind vaccines. Virus(s) are bred using mice brains, toxic elements are used to inhibit the virus, the inhibited virus and some of the toxins are injected into your blood, the blood freely flows to the brain, the brain contains neuroreceptors that can be damaged by the toxins. It’s science… not hard to understand, yet the CDC doesn’t even know how to explain simple concepts like this in their biased studies.

    • Chris January 10, 2017 / 1:55 pm

      “Lets get to the real science behind vaccines”.

      Which you have failed to provide. All we see are a bunch of unsupported assertions like “injected into your blood.” Please tell us which vaccines are administered intravenously, remember to include verifiable documentation.

      Also, try again with some real science. Just provide the PubMed indexed studies by reputable qualified researchers that any vaccine on the present American pediatric schedule causes more harm than the diseases.

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