More on Wakefield's descent: money, money, money!

By Phil Plait | January 12, 2011 1:30 pm

Last week, I wrote about how the martyr of the modern antivax movement, Andrew Wakefield, is being openly accused of fraud by journalist Brian Deer and the British Medical Journal — with tons of evidence, I’ll add. Seeing as how Wakefield has been promoting the outright dangerous and potentially deadly antireality antivax idea for years, this news was welcomed by the skeptic community.

But that was only Part 1. The BMJ has just published Part 2: how Wakefield stood to make not just millions, not just tens of millions, but actually hundreds of millions of dollars by promoting the false link between the MMR vaccine with autism and Crohn’s disease.

He was paid quite a large sum of money by a lawyer, Richard Barr, to find that connection. We’ve known this for a long time, in fact; Deer wrote about this a while ago (as well as Wakefield’s vast conflict of interest involving developing his own version of the vaccine to replace the one being used). But this new article is important because it goes into a lot of detail — and, like his first article, is meticulously referenced and footnoted — providing an ironclad link between the money and Wakefield’s actions.

As Orac points out, antivaxxers love to accuse those of us who defend reality of being in the pay of Big Pharma (or whatever Big Nebulous Organization they can tenuously link us to), and many of them are outspoken about following the money. Will they do that here, and realize that by their own logic they have to abandon and even repudiate and censure Wakefield?

<crickets>

Right.

So with Jenny McCarthy still spouting dangerous nonsense, Meryl Dorey saying stuff so obviously wrong that a radio interviewer shut her down, and so many other antivax organizations willing to expose babies and the population at large to potentially fatal but preventable diseases, what can you do?

Please, please, please: if you know anyone at risk of being affected by antivax propaganda, send them to Immunize for Good. There is a wealth of factual information there, especially in their Fact or Fiction section.

That simple act can save lives. It’s that simple.

Comments (64)

  1. John

    As you say – Wakefield was doing this to promote his own vaccine. The antivax movement hat resulted was just irrelevant collateral.

    And you wonder why people don’t trust scientists who promote vaccines?

  2. I am still mystified at how tenaciously people will cling to a mistaken position, despite all the evidence that should lead a reasonable person to change their mind… As Carl Sagan said:

    “In science it often happens that scientists say, “You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,” and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.”

    I suppose we can add the anti-vax pro-disease nutters in with politicians and fundamentalists…

    Again, gotta pimp http://factsnotfantasy.com/vaccines.php :D

    John, false dichotomy. Wakefield was promoting his woo deluded idea of what he though a vaccine was. It wasn’t really a vaccine, like a cow really isn’t an apple.

  3. QuietDesperation

    Please, please, please: if you know anyone at risk of being affected by antivax propaganda, send them to Immunize for Good.

    Unfortunately, I only know smart people in real life. :-) There is a woman at my work who seems to be a Dr. Mercola groupie, but debunking in a workplace with a large HR department is fraught with peril. :-(

  4. Jake Bathman

    That interview with him on CNN with AC was great. He’s spouting crazy talk (“hit man”).

  5. Derek

    Where does the antivax industry get it’s money? It can’t just be from selling books.

  6. andy

    Totally off-topic here, but is there any way you could increase the number of posts that appear on the front page of the blog? You update so frequently that topics disappear extremely rapidly and it might help build up more discussion on the astro-related stuff, which seems to attract a slower-paced commentary than other more hot-button topics.

  7. Dan I.

    @ 1. John

    Except that the vast, overwhelming majority of scientists who do this research AREN’T developing their own, for profit, vaccine.

    Most of the scientists aren’t paid by “Big Pharma” (which, btw, would make a hell of a lot more money treating the many many cases of diseases that vaccines PREVENT FROM EVER OCCURRING).

  8. Jeff

    @Larian LeQuella That’s the thing with irrational mindsets. Rationality and irrationality cannot exist in the same mind at the same time. It’s just that simple. Therefore, since they’re irrational already, trying to tease rationality out of their irrationality is like trying to desalinate all the Earth’s oceans.

    That’s right. It just won’t happen. It’s disgusting, it’s grotesque, it’s infuriating and it’s downright dangerous, but we’re stuck dealing with their nonsense because they’re the only ones that can change their own minds. Since most of them are completely uneducated and unpracticed in any critical thinking methodology, such as Scientific Method, they simply aren’t equipped to change their minds. They mistakenly believe that being wrong is just not acceptable, so there’s no place in their heads for different possibilities than the one possibility they know beyond a shadow of a doubt is correct.

    I believe the above mindset is called “Faith” by many that practice it, but I call it “Cognitive Blindness.” No, that is not a criticism of spirituality, which I believe is entirely faith-based, instead it is a criticism of the belief that the presumed supporting evidence surrounding spirituality is true, when the evidence is overwhelmingly contradictory. For instance, actually believing the Earth can be only 6000 or so years old, simply because your spirituality requires “Faith” that its mythology is true.

  9. Andy said,

    Totally off-topic here, but is there any way you could increase the number of posts that appear on the front page of the blog? You update so frequently that topics disappear extremely rapidly and it might help build up more discussion on the astro-related stuff, which seems to attract a slower-paced commentary than other more hot-button topics.

    At this moment, 5 of the 7 posts on the first page are directly astronomy related. I’m confused… if you want the asto-posts to get more comments, why did you comment here? Did you make comments in the other 5 articles?

    8)

  10. The thing I found interesting about this is that all of these anti-vax people will cling to this report even though it was thought of as dubious and poorly sampled when it was released. After all, it supposedly showed that vaccines caused autism. Thankfully it has come out that he actually faked his results, not just used poor samples.

    But here is where I find it gets intriguing. A recent study has shown that there may be a link to autism and giving birth to children back-to-back(within a 3 year period). Now how many of these people who jumped on to cling to the anti-vax movement will also consider not having children close together? I seriously doubt any of them since that would deprive them of their rights to spawn their brood. The anti-vax only put everyone else at risk, not inconveniencing them with proper planning.

  11. Cheyenne

    I hate to be a pedantic dweeb but Wakefield is definitely NOT a “martyr” for antivax. To be a martyr you have to suffer for your cause. He’s raking in millions and doesn’t care about anybody but himself. Maybe cross out “martyr” and put in “disproven, shameless, greedy asshat”?

  12. andy

    Greg in Austin said,

    At this moment, 5 of the 7 posts on the first page are directly astronomy related. I’m confused… if you want the asto-posts to get more comments, why did you comment here? Did you make comments in the other 5 articles?

    If you actually read my comment it would have been clear that the issue was the speed at which the articles get shunted into the archives, not on the ratio of astronomy stuff to other stuff (which is not really something I am in a position to criticise – Phil Plait can post what he wants and if I don’t like it I am perfectly free to go elsewhere). I don’t see how this is confusing.

    From personal observation, even if a discussion thread has lively discussion going this tends to fall off extremely rapidly once the article falls off the front page, and the lifetime of articles on the front page here is one of the shortest on the various blogs I frequent (maybe this is because my reading habits on blogs are somewhat skewed), because of the combination of a fairly low number of posts displayed on the page, and the rapid frequency of updates here.

    Reason I posted here was purely because it was the latest thread.

  13. Jeffrey

    Phil,
    Thank you for your ongoing campaign to protect children from these crackpots. I also urge you to take on those people (including the scientologists) who discourage the mentally ill from getting proper treatment. I am not just an advocate for the mentally ill, but have been diagnosed with “severe” bipolar disorder. Yet, I take my meds and receive regular therapy and maintain a full-time job. Can the scientologists provide the same results? I’ll rely on my psychiatrist (who is certainly no tool of the pharmacy industry). If I listened to Tom Cruise where would I be? Out of a job and probably living on the streets. Keep up the good fight.
    Jeff

  14. Greg in Austin

    @andy,

    Personally, I don’t think the location of the post, whether it be on page 1 or page 20, has much to do with the number of comments on that post. Look at some of the more heated debates on autism, ufo’s, or politics. Many of those have up to and over a thousand comments, and I know for sure that they were not on page 1 when that happened. Folks will post more on the topics they find more interesting.

    Sorry if I seem cynical, but your first comment sounded a lot to me like you have a different agenda. If that’s not the case, then no worries, and feel free to ignore my comments.

    8)

  15. truthspeaker

    I agree with Andy – I’d like to see most posts on the front page. Phil often makes several posts a day so if I don’t check every day I can miss stuff as it goes to the back pages.

    And yes, I already have Bad Astronomy in my RSS feed.

  16. andy

    @Greg in Austin. All I was suggesting was a longer front page to allow some of the more moderate discussions (not the screaming “autism, ufo’s, or politics” threads which are fuelled by controversy and thus keep going and going) to develop a bit more and keep them a bit more visible.

    Sad indictment of the times we live in and internet culture that your automatic reaction is to go looking for a hidden agenda.

  17. DKB

    Phil,
    Next time you’re accused, you should own up to being on the payroll of “BigKnowledge.”

  18. Tail

    Call it hyperbole, heated rhetoric, or just exaggeration–we don’t like it when anti-sciencers do it to make a point. So I winced when Phil proclaims here, in bold face for emphasis, that Wakefield stood to make hundreds of millions of dollars from his bogus scheme.

    Hockey-stick income estimates made by wide-eyed entrepreneurs in an investor solicitation are seldom reality. Figure in that Wakefield would own only 37% of the enterprise, and that we have no idea what their operating costs were going to be, makes the hundreds of millions number even less likely.

    Actually, it’s more damning that he was peddling a company based not just on fraudulent science but also on the failed transfer factor process. Hard to think of him as anything other than a snake oil salesman, except that he was paid a half million dollars by a law firm to conjure up the results and that babies have died because of what he did.

    In any event, I can’t help but wonder if Wakefield’s money raising efforts were as shady as his science. Here in America offering to sell an equity interest in your company to even a family member can get you in trouble with the SEC if done improperly. I wonder if the regulators in the UK have looked into his dealings?

  19. I have paid close attention to this since Wakefield’s first study was published. Like many parents of a child with autism, I held off on a second MMR because of it.

    For my fellow parents, the science has spoken. It did so several years ago. There is no link. Give all of your kids the MMR!

    Dan

  20. DKB (17): That’s awesome! Maybe I’ll tweak it to Big Science. Or Big Reality. :)

  21. Tail (18): Even if that’s an exaggeration, it’s apparently what he believed he could make, so the point stands. And knowing the market for antiscience alt-med stuff, that number doesn’t seem inflated to me at all.

  22. QuietDesperation

    Totally off-topic here, but is there any way you could increase the number of posts that appear on the front page of the blog?

    Just check twice a day. :-)

    You update so frequently that topics disappear extremely rapidly and it might help build up more discussion on the astro-related stuff, which seems to attract a slower-paced commentary than other more hot-button topics.

    Er, that’s why they are called hot button topics.

  23. Gary Ansorge

    22. QuietDesperation

    Contention is what drives Faux Snooze(and they’re really good at stirring the pot). Astronomy, no matter how interesting we find it, rarely provokes contention. The really big ticket items are evolution(because it undermines religion), vaccines(because it requires mass participation to be maximally effective), politics, of course(because everybody thinks they know more about how to do it than the ones actually DOING it), religion(because there are so many and they all claim “special” knowledge, w/o evidence).

    That’s just off the top of my head, so feel free to add to this list.

    We are a contentious species and from all the screaming, hollering and arguing, eventually a consensus appears. Reminds me of the collapse of a quantum probability, so many possibilities but only one gets expressed.

    (People: a macroscopic example of the false vacuum).

    Gary 7

  24. réalta fuar

    @18 Yep, I thought exactly the same thing. @ B.A. you should ask yourself: has ANYONE (and of course I’m talking individuals here) ever made hundreds of millions of dollars from a vaccine (I’d be surprised if anyone has even made millions, given how modern medicines are developed (maybe Salk or Sabin?) ). I suspect that the total “antiscience alt-med” industry , such as it is, hardly grosses even millions (I’m certainly willing to look at facts to the contrary). I certainly don’t remember any huge, mega best-sellers……Most of the big names like Jenny M. seem to be motivated by things other than enriching themselves, misguided and ignorant as they are.
    Oh, if you expand “anti-science alt-med” to include herbal medicines, organic farming related stuff etc. then perhaps there is lots of money there, but they don’t generally meet my definition of “anti-science” they way the AGW denialists and anti-vaxers do.
    If Wakefield actually thought he could make hundreds of millions, then that alone certifies him as a nutter!

  25. Robert

    @24 Not to undermine your main point, but I’ve heard Jonas Salk gave away the polio vaccine he developed.

  26. Lisa

    There is “clinic” near my home that claims to treat ailments from allergies to neurological disorders in children. I went to an information session at her office a couple of years ago and it was sickening. She had hundreds of bottles of homeopathy cures. While she never actually said that parents should not vaccinate, she did show several clips of Barbara Loe Fisher saying it. The message was quite clear. She also uses bioelectric assays to diagnose diseases, which is a non-FDA approved diagnostic tool and it’s insurance fraud if she is billing it insurance companies. I just wish I knew who to contact to get her investigated. I’d love to make her a little jumpy.

  27. Hevach

    @5. Derek

    Two ways come to mind: A. They have rich people on board. B. They’re constantly doing the talk show and interview circuits. I doubt that’s all of it, but people have successfully run public awareness campaigns by hooking somebody famous and getting them to talk about the subject on TV.

    You may remember last year some time it was “revealed” how much compensation and perks a certain prominent politician whose name is irrelevant demanded for a talk show appearance or TV interview? That wasn’t even particularly unreasonable for somebody who’s in demand for those appearances – everyone prominently involved in the last couple elections was demanding as much, some of them even more, and they weren’t having a hard time filling a schedule.

    The BMJ articles are putting anti-vax figureheads in demand. It’s kind of a double edged sword to arguing in the media: If you ignore them, they win, but if you fight back, no matter how one sided the evidence, you create the base for them to fight back.

  28. Lawrence

    Here is a huge difference profits between the Pharma industry and the woo-meisters. Pharmacuetical companies like Merck & GSK actually have to pay hundreds (if not thousands) of researchers to spend years developing hundreds of potential drugs and treatments – only to see one in twenty or one in fifty even make it to medical trials, where only a small number actually pass muster and can be put on the market.

    This is a hugely expensive process – and doesn’t even include the patent process (and the timeframe when generic equivalents can be put on the market, which substantially reduces the already small overall profit margins). Include the patent litigation costs, plus regulatory expenses, and you’ll realize that the Pharma industry does generate an incredible amount of gross revenue, but actually isn’t as profitable as people think it is.

    Now, compare this to people like Adams, who peddle all kinds of various “woo” products – none of which require all that much research, much less actual proof that they work. They aren’t paying bevies of scientific teams, conducting multi-year clinical trials, or under the same kind of regulatory oversight – so their profits margins are staggering my comparison.

    Seriously, if you follow the money, be more worried about BIG WOO!

  29. TheBlackCat

    @ réalta fuar: It wasn’t just a vaccine, it was also diagnostic tools. The idea was that every government and a huge number of lawyers around the world would want these kits in order to diagnose people who have been harmed by the vaccine.

    Further, the idea was that every government in the world rushing to replace the extremely-common MMR vaccine with a safer alternative. But all the vaccine manufacturers had been working on the standard MMR vaccine. I gather the idea was that Wakefield would conveniently be the only one with a working alternative right when governments needed an alternative to switch to (since he had been working on it before the announcement came out). In other words a wholesale worldwide switch from MMR to Wakefield’s vaccine.

    These two factors seem to be the selling points.

    However, Wakefield knew his study was a fraud, knew that it wouldn’t be replicated, knew that his vaccine wouldn’t work, and must have at least suspected governments wouldn’t make the switch and that the lawsuits would fail because his results couldn’t be replicated. The only conclusion I can draw from this is that Wakefield was trying to fleece gullible investors during the .com bubble. He had to have known he couldn’t deliver on anything he promised.

    Then, when the whole thing fell through, he got to keep all the money he was given up-front (the transactions were structured so he always got a sizable chunk of cash up-front), plus he was able to blackmail the hospital into paying him to keep his mouth shut about their part in the fraud.

    In other words, it was an elaborate con. He convinced the hospital and investors to give him a lot of money up-front on the promise that they would get a lot more back when his study came out. By the time it became clear the study was a fraud and no money was going to appear, the hospital had become complacent in the whole affair and couldn’t go public with it without seriously hurting their reputation. They couldn’t do anything to get their money back without publicly admitting they helped cover up everyones’ conflict of interest. They were left with no choice but to pay him to go away.

    This, as I understand it, is a pretty standard con. You get someone to give you some money up-front for something of questionable legality, promising to pay back several times more. Then, when the mark realizes they have been conned, they can’t go to the police because the matter was not completely legal, leaving you with all the money and the victims covering up your crime for you.

    Perhaps someone else can see another explanation, but so far I have not been able to come up with one.

  30. Grimbold

    Thanks for the link to the Meryl Dorey interview. I’d completely missed it until today. Wow, Tracey Spicer really did rip her a new one didn’t she?

  31. @ 24 réalta fur wrote: … has ANYONE (and of course I’m talking individuals here) ever made hundreds of millions of dollars from a vaccine…

    Boring troll is boring. It should read the links

  32. andy

    @QuietDesperation

    Er, that’s why they are called hot button topics.

    Wow am I ever so thankful to you for explaining this to me. There is no way I wasn’t aware of that already.

    Dear god am I sorry I ever made the suggestion in the first place. I guess the idea of making things visible for longer to benefit discussions that don’t go at a rapid fire pace is anathema and probably because I have ulterior motives. Clearly no-one can involve any discussion which isn’t on an über-controversial topic and so such topics should clearly be shunted off into the back pages of the archives as quickly as possible.

  33. Nigel Depledge

    John (1) said:

    As you say – Wakefield was doing this to promote his own vaccine. The antivax movement hat resulted was just irrelevant collateral.

    And you wonder why people don’t trust scientists who promote vaccines?

    Wow, a non-sequitur in comment #1.

    So, John, if you have a point to make perhaps you’d care to make it clearly and explicitly, using reasoned argument rather than snide insinuation, hmmm?

  34. Nigel Depledge

    Dan I (7) said:

    Most of the scientists aren’t paid by “Big Pharma” (which, btw, would make a hell of a lot more money treating the many many cases of diseases that vaccines PREVENT FROM EVER OCCURRING).

    I daresay that some of the Big Pharma companies might leave off vaccine development in order to maximise profits, but the one that recently bought the company I work for seems to be concerned mainly with making people well through whatever is the most effective means available. After all, it employs many thousands of very smart research scientists globally, and we will all be more satisfied with our modest salaries if we believe that we’re doing what we do for the good of humanity rather than just for making big bucks.

    Such a large cohort of scientists would be too expensive to motivate using money alone.

  35. Nigel Depledge

    Gary Ansorge (23) said:

    The really big ticket items are evolution(because it undermines religion),

    This is an oversimplification. Evolution only undermines religion if you constrain your god into being small-minded and not very capable. There are plenty of churches that have publicly accepted the findings of science.

    It’s only the more radical ones that insist on some degree of biblical inerrancy that have a problem with evolution.

    We are a contentious species

    I disagree!

    ;-)

  36. All of the interviews are with Wakefield and members of the antivax community. Speaking to them may be a waste of time. Instead, it might be a good idea to speak to the 10 researchers who divorced themselves from the Wakefield paper. They may have more information and be more willing to come forward and share what they know.

  37. Nigel Depledge

    Réalta fuar (24) said:

    Most of the big names like Jenny M. seem to be motivated by things other than enriching themselves, misguided and ignorant as they are.

    Yes, but I suspect that she has been guided by people who are making quite a lot of money out of her and others.

    Oh, if you expand “anti-science alt-med” to include herbal medicines, organic farming related stuff etc. then perhaps there is lots of money there, but they don’t generally meet my definition of “anti-science” they way the AGW denialists and anti-vaxers do.

    Homeopathy is a big business, and your costs for making sugar pills are minimal. I have no idea what the industry is worth, but homeopathic sugar-pills are available on every high street in the UK. I count homeopathy as anti-science.

    Also, consider this: Boots, the British chain of Pharmacies, sells, for about £12, plant sterol tablets. Now, having done my PhD on sterol biosynthesis I know a thing or two about sterols. The easiest way to get plant sterols into your body is to eat plants. Sterols are quite robust molecules, and many of them will survive various cooking processes unaltered (sterols are easily extracted from cells by boiling the cells in a solution of potassium hydroxide in methanol for a few hours – phospholipids are saponified and therefore become water-soluble, while sterols remain insoluble in water so can be separated by an aqueous-organic extraction).

    So, this product is not anti-science per se, but is certainly trading on people’s ignorance.

  38. Nigel Depledge

    Andy (32) said:

    Dear god am I sorry I ever made the suggestion in the first place. I guess the idea of making things visible for longer to benefit discussions that don’t go at a rapid fire pace is anathema and probably because I have ulterior motives. Clearly no-one can involve any discussion which isn’t on an über-controversial topic and so such topics should clearly be shunted off into the back pages of the archives as quickly as possible.

    Hey, it’s the internet. Of course people are going to overreact! ;-)

    Seriously, though, it’s not that the later posts aren’t visible – you just have to scroll down the screen to the “Older posts” link.

    Speaking of which…
    Phil – is there any chance you can engineer an “Older posts” link at the top of the page, so (on those occasions I’m looking for an older post) I don’t have to wait for all the pretty pictures to load before I can click it?

  39. Richard Wolford

    Don’t worry Andy, the Internet is nearly coded with hyperbole :) One good suggestion could be to see if there is a way that Phil could rank posts by popularity and provide a page that would let you see the most popular posts. I’d love something like that actually.

  40. Robert E

    @Sman #31: from themedica-dot-com: “The total market size of alternative medicine is valued at US $2.7 billion while global market for traditional therapies accounts for US $60 billion.” Didn’t find anything on specific companies or individuals but didn’t look that long. Not a big percentage of the overall market, but still a LOT of money.

  41. One Eyed Jack

    I think I’m in love with Tracey Spicer.

    I’ve never heard an interviewer so completely shut down a woo artist like that.

    I want to hear Tracey Spider and George Noory have a debate.

  42. Zucchi

    @31 Sman: Don’t insult your fellow posters. You’ve shown no basis for calling realta fuar a troll; you should apologize.

    I wonder why Wakefield went into medicine, and what he thinks of himself when he looks in the mirror. Maybe he’s conned himself along with others.

  43. Greg in Austin

    @andy,

    I’m not certain who is overreacting here, us or you.

    Anyone with years of experience reading Phil’s blog would know that there are always posters who want to complain about posts they don’t agree with, be it politically, religiously or socially. I found it interesting that you chose a “hot-button” topic to bring up your comment about not seeing enough astro-related posts, when the majority of the posts on the main page were astro-related. Additionally, by continuing to object to anyone’s reply to your comments by adding more comments, aren’t you then increasing the number of comments in a non-astro related post, which was part of your original complaint? Kinda ironic, isn’t it?

    As to your comment,

    Clearly no-one can involve any discussion which isn’t on an über-controversial topic and so such topics should clearly be shunted off into the back pages of the archives as quickly as possible.

    Nobody is stopping you or anyone else from having any discussion you want. And again, the number of comments in any particular post has nothing to do with where the post ends up. This post may be on the first page for days or weeks, if Phil doesn’t create more posts. Or it may be gone tomorrow. As others have pointed out, all you have to do to see previous posts is to use the < Older Entries link.

    Hopefully this helps.

    8)

  44. tmac57

    Cheyenne #11 said: “I hate to be a pedantic dweeb but Wakefield is definitely NOT a “martyr” for antivax. To be a martyr you have to suffer for your cause. He’s raking in millions and doesn’t care about anybody but himself. Maybe cross out “martyr” and put in “disproven, shameless, greedy asshat”? ”

    That’s a very good point. Maybe change it to ‘ faux-martyr’. No ,on second thought,shorten that to ‘fartyr’. (I know,I know…a bit sophomoric,but hey!)

  45. How many times did Wakefield try to plug his book in that AC360 interview? Sheesh!

    “Give me money and I’ll explain everything!”

    8)

  46. Yojimbo

    @43. Greg in Austin

    Not to flagellate a moribund equine (or put words in Andy’s mouth), but it seems as though he has been persistently misunderstood. I think his point is clear and probably correct. He is simply suggesting that less controversial topics are less likely to spur people to pursue them to archive pages, so a longer first page might help generate more discussion for those topics. (My guess is that it may not be a practical change, but that’s not my area).

    Yes he is off topic, as is my comment, so dropping this whole aside is fine with me – I just was surprised that everyone who responded to him seems to have somehow missed the point.

  47. andy

    @43. Greg in Austin.

    Anyone with years of experience reading Phil’s blog would know that there are always posters who want to complain about posts they don’t agree with, be it politically, religiously or socially.

    I have years of experience reading this blog. I’m not sure I can say the same about you, as your reading comprehension skills appear to be lacking – you certainly appear to be responding to something utterly different to anything I have written.

    I found it interesting that you chose a “hot-button” topic to bring up your comment about not seeing enough astro-related posts, when the majority of the posts on the main page were astro-related.

    What complaint about not seeing enough astro-related posts? Can you please quote where I said there weren’t enough astro-related posts?

    Additionally, by continuing to object to anyone’s reply to your comments by adding more comments, aren’t you then increasing the number of comments in a non-astro related post, which was part of your original complaint?

    Please point out where I said I didn’t want to see comments on non-astro posts. I did say something about wanting to see discussions go to longer lengths, but blog comments are not a zero-sum game.

    Kinda ironic, isn’t it?

    I have heard songs by Alanis Morissette which contain more and better examples of irony.

    Nobody is stopping you or anyone else from having any discussion you want.

    To take an analogy that may or may not be helpful, no-one is stopping a wheelchair user from going up stairs. They may find it quite difficult though, and they may end up not bothering. Accessibility and visibility are not binary YES/NO considerations.

    And again, the number of comments in any particular post has nothing to do with where the post ends up.

    Never said it was. I have no idea what you are reading when you claim to be reading my comments.

    This post may be on the first page for days or weeks, if Phil doesn’t create more posts. Or it may be gone tomorrow

    This is about the first point where you even vaguely touch on something I actually said. My entire point is that Phil updates frequently and the blog layout used here does not display many posts per page. Therefore posts get shuffled off the front page quite rapidly and thus have a rapid decrease in visibility. (Same also goes for the RSS feed, it is one of the shortest I subscribe to.)

    As others have pointed out, all you have to do to see previous posts is to use the < Older Entries link.

    See previous comment about accessibility/visibility not being binary.

    Hopefully this helps.

    Well it certainly has been enlightening regarding some things…

  48. Gary Ansorge

    35. Nigel Depledge

    “I disagree!”

    ,,,and I disagree with your disagreement,,,:)

    “Evolution only undermines religion if you constrain your god into being small-minded and not very capable.”

    ,,,which pretty well describes most gods or religious descriptions of God. Those descriptions can be no larger than the people doing the describing, which is why I eschew ALL organized religion. I prefer the Grateful Deads description(hey, it’s all done musically and it’s pretty DISORGANIZED, which really elevates MY mood).

    My take on Wakefield is that he woke up one day, decided people are idiots and he was going to take advantage of that. I’ve thought of that once or twice myself however, I actually have a few moral/ethical compunctions/scruples. Apparently, he didn’t,,,

    Gary 7

  49. Yojimbo

    Um…. Never mind! :)

  50. Mark Filipow

    Andy,
    I suggest using an RSS reader such as Google Reader and then subscribing to the RSS feed for BA. If your new to RSS, there is a great video about it here:
    http://www.commoncraft.com/rss_plain_english

  51. Greg in Austin

    @andy,

    You’re going off the deep end. Relax. There’s no need for personal attacks.

    Please re-read my 1st and 2nd comments on this post.

    * 1) The majority of Phil’s post on the first page are STILL astro-related, which seems to invalidate your original claim that the astro-related posts disappear quickly. I stand by my comment that the location of the post (whether its on page 1 or page 20) has no bearing on how much discussion that post generates.

    * 2) If my initial suspicion was that you wanted more astro-related posts instead of things you didn’t agree with was wrong (as you claim it is) then just drop it and let it go. No harm, no foul.

    Please, let’s continue on with our normal program.

    8)

  52. andy

    @Greg in Austin

    The majority of Phil’s post on the first page are STILL astro-related, which seems to invalidate your original claim that the astro-related posts disappear quickly

    It doesn’t do anything of the sort. If all posts disappear quickly, then the astro-related posts disappear quickly. I never said anything about different types of posts disappearing at different rates. I just said the speed at which posts get moved off the front page is perhaps too fast for some of the more moderately-paced discussions around here (and a large fraction of astro posts do have discussions that proceed at quite a moderate pace).

    Really I just made a suggestion that more posts should be displayed on the front page, so that posts would be easily-visible for longer. This would apply to all posts. It is like having two conveyor belts of different lengths going at the same speed – items will stay on the longer conveyor belt for longer. (Just to clarify the analogy a bit in case you are still perplexed by everything I say – the conveyor belt represents the front page, the items represent blog posts, and items dropping off the end of the conveyor belt represents blog posts moving off the front page.)

    How hard is this to understand? I guess you are so convinced I must be trying to argue for special privileges for astro posts that you keep making the assumption that I don’t know how blog software works in moving articles off the front page.

  53. Greg in Austin

    @andy,

    Why assume I don’t understand your point just because I disagree with it?

    You said,

    You update so frequently that topics disappear extremely rapidly and it might help build up more discussion on the astro-related stuff,

    1) Topics don’t disappear, they just go on to the next page.
    2) The location of the post has no bearing on the amount of discussion.
    3) Why pick out astro-related stuff specifically? What about the topics that don’t generate a lot of discussion, but are also not astro-related, such as Phil’s Caturday posts? Do you want them to get more attention too?

    Do you see my point?

    8)

  54. andy

    @Greg in Austin

    Do I really have to elaborate on those points again? I believe I have covered them already. I really cannot convince myself anymore that you have any interest or capability for actual discussion beyond tendentious nitpicking. I see your point, but it has virtually nothing to do with the original suggestion.

    Jeez I never knew suggesting that articles should remain visible on the front page for longer could be so difficult an idea to communicate, or start needless controversy from those who deliberately try to interpret everything I say in the most stupid way possible.

    Clear the front page! Clear the front page!

  55. Greg in Austin

    Ok, andy. Whatever you say.

    Back on topic, I think its amazing that Wakefield is still speaking out and claiming there was no fraud:

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-01-13/study-tying-vaccine-to-autism-was-not-a-hoax-researcher-says.html

    8)

  56. PeteC

    @Greg(53),

    My apologies, but I’m afraid that I think Andy has a point, and I would – politely – like to ask you to clarify your point.

    Andy has given a reason for his opinion – he would like there to be more posts visible on the front page so that people can scroll down and see them for longer, as frequent updating can push a post off the front page; and whilst the ability to see older posts of course exists, it is hard to deny that once it is off the front page it gets a lot less attention.

    You, on the other hand seem to be arguing “no”. I can not see that you have made a reason for your argument, beyond a simple denial. I can imagine a couple of reasons – saving the web administrator the time required to make the configuration change to display more posts, reducing bandwidth on the server by displaying fewer images (assuming Discover has bandwidth issues) or page load times (though they seem to load fast enough to me).

    Is one of the above your reason, or is it something else? To me, the request to see a few more posts per page seems relatively harmless, and I would like to ask you what you think I’ve missed.

    Would you support an alternative, such as just displaying titles/links to the next (say) 10 posts at the bottom of the page, without images or text?

  57. Greg in Austin

    @PeteC,

    No worries! I will be happy to clarify.

    My argument was, and maybe I didn’t make this clear, that the posts that generate a lot of discussion do so regardless of what page they are on. Conversely, the topics of Phil’s posts that don’t generate a lot of discussion still don’t even if they are on page 1.

    Take for example these three latest, “hot topics:”

    blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/01/09/the-immediate-aftermath-of-tragedy/#comments

    blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/01/06/texas-creationist-mcleroy-spins-the-educational-disaster-he-created/#comments

    blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/01/05/breaking-bmj-calls-andrew-wakefield-a-fraud/#comments

    They are currently on pages 2 and 3, yet all have plenty of comments today and yesterday, and I would bet they continue to be discussed for many days or weeks to come. For more fun, do a search for UFO or Autism, and you will find posts that had people commenting for weeks or months, and I know for a fact those posts got buried 5 or 10 pages deep and still had a great deal of discussion.

    I did originally wonder if andy had another motive for requesting more discussion, since there are always some folks who demand that Phil only post topics which they agree with, but since andy claimed this was not the case, I said I was wrong and let that matter drop.

    It doesn’t matter to me if Page 1 has 5 posts or 25 posts. I personally have no strong feelings one way or the other. I sometimes use the RSS news feed, and sometimes read Phil’s blog directly. I have no objection to andy’s request, I only questioned his logic. Andy apparently likes to argue, and he did a pretty good job, except for the few ad hominems. He claimed I lacked reading comprehension skills and called me stupid, but I try not to let those things bother me. I’ve been called worse. ;)

    If that doesn’t answer your questions, please let me know, and I’ll be happy to elaborate.

    8)

  58. Nigel Depledge

    Richard Wolford (39) said:

    One good suggestion could be to see if there is a way that Phil could rank posts by popularity and provide a page that would let you see the most popular posts. I’d love something like that actually.

    Nooooo![/Luke Skywalker]

    Please please please do not do this.

    Such lists generate self-fulfilling prophecy, just like Amazon, Google, YouTube, DiggIt, Flickr etc. etc. Listing stuff by popularity simply brings the stuff that is slightly more popular than the other stuff to most people’s attention more readily, thus pretty much guaranteeing that it becomes most popular.

    I can tell which posts are most popular from the number of comments. Popular does not always mean interesting or valuable, so I’d much rather they just stayed in chronological order.

    OK, rant over, for now.

  59. Nigel Depledge

    Greg in Austin (43) said:

    I found it interesting that you chose a “hot-button” topic to bring up your comment about not seeing enough astro-related posts, when the majority of the posts on the main page were astro-related.

    Go back to Andy’s original post. This is not his gripe.

    IIUC, Andy’s gripe was that too few topics remain on the front page ‘cos Phil updates prolifically and things rapidly get shunted to page 2. He wasn’t asking for more astronomy-related posts, he was asking for a longer front page.

  60. Nigel Depledge

    Greg in Austin (51) said:

    The majority of Phil’s post on the first page are STILL astro-related, which seems to invalidate your original claim that the astro-related posts disappear quickly. I stand by my comment that the location of the post (whether its on page 1 or page 20) has no bearing on how much discussion that post generates.

    Actually, I think you’ll find that by the time a post reaches page 5 or 6 it is very nearly dead. I’ve occasionally had what felt like one-to-one conversations with another commenter on page 5 or 6 of Phil’s blog because – despite the initial popularity of the topic – there are only a handful of diehard commenters (obviously, I cannot comment about lurkers as I d o not have the data) who will follow a discussion back to page 5, 6 or further.

    In fact, off the top of my head I cannot recall ever following a discussion beyond about page 8. Usually, by the time a discussion reaches that point, there are many equally interesting entries that I view (and may wish to comment on) before I get there, especially since there is currently no “Older posts” link at the top of the page, the link is only at the bottom, and only appears once the whole page has loaded.

    So, although I don’t think it’s a truly big deal, I think Andy kinda has a point.

  61. flip

    #60 Nigel,

    Or Andy and others could do what I do. Subscribe to the RSS of the comments. I have a special folder in my reader just for the comment feeds. Allows me to keep abreast of interesting topics no matter how old they are, or where they appear in the main page.

    Personally, I think extending the number of posts is moot. Phil updates so much that one day’s posts quickly become page 2 by the next day. Increase the number of posts to 10 instead of 5, for instance, just means that on average the last post of the day before is at the bottom of page 1 instead of top of page 2.

    Extend it to 15, and the page length gets ridiculous. (And where does it end?) There’s a reason why web designers use 5 posts on average: brevity is rewarded on the net. People don’t have the attention span to scan 15 posts per page. It makes for a much longer page load time. All that scrolling is annoying, just to find a single thing you want to read. For those of us who find every single post worth reading, that’s what feed readers are for. And if Andy has trouble keeping up, then invest in a feed reader that doesn’t delete the posts after a certain length of time. (Ie. not Google Reader) I have about 100 posts or more in my feedreader from BA alone, going back to early last year. I read the hot topics as soon as I can, and leave the astronomy stuff or less hot-button stuff to when I have more time.

    Web design is about finding a good middle ground that people can understand and use. I don’t see how increasing the page length will make the blog any easier. I can understand Andy’s comments in terms of a forum, where things turn over quickly and it’s hard to find topics of discussion. But this is a blog, not a forum. It’s not designed for the use as a forum, but as an archive of one person’s thoughts. As such, navigation needs to provide access firstly to the archive of posts; not the discussion that ensues.

    My two cents anyway. I don’t personally see what the fuss is about. I like to say in terms of design: “there’s no wrong way of doing it. But there might be a better way of doing it”. Andy has made a suggestion, it’s not wrong, but I don’t think it’s necessarily better.

  62. Nigel Depledge

    @ flip (61) –
    Fair enough. Especially that last parag.

  63. andy

    In fact I do subscribe to the RSS feed. There aren’t all that many posts in that one either. In fact, the posts listed in the RSS feed correspond exactly to what’s on… the front page!

    In fact pretty much the only other blog I have subscribed to that updates at a comparable frequency to this one is Pharyngula, which has an RSS feed length of 15 posts, as compared to a mere 7 here. Front page there goes to 9 posts, admittedly not much longer than here, but it doesn’t feel like such a breakneck race off the front page.

    This doesn’t appear to be an issue with Discover: Cosmic Variance has 10 posts on the front page and in the RSS feed, and that blog does not update at nearly the rate that this one does.

  64. flip

    Andy, I was referring to the COMMENTS rss feed. Ie. For this post, http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/01/12/more-on-wakefields-descent-money-money-money/feed/

    The comments rss can always be found at the bottom of the post, where the tags are.

    It’s how I know to come back here and reply to you, because I’ve got this comment feed in my blog reader.

    This way, you can keep a discussion going no matter where it is on the front page.

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