The Shorty Awards, in my own words.
On Wednesday March 3rd, 2010, the Shorty Awards were announced in New York City. I was unable to attend, even though I would have been delighted (I heart NYC) so instead I settled in front of my computer at work to watch the live stream from 11 am. The categories were announced in alphabetical order, so it wasn’t long before we reached the health category.
The Shortys are affectionately known as the ‘Twitter Oscars’ which is accurate in the sense that none of the nominees know if they have won before the ceremony. Further, The Shortys are not won purely on votes alone. A panel of judges makes the final decision following an initial round of nominations to select six finalists, then a secondary voting round.
As I watched the awards being handed down, it became apparent that those who had won the voting round were not automatically winning the final round. Some finalists had come from 3rd or 4th to take out the trophy. I was decidedly nervous. So it was with great relief that I heard my name announced as the winner of the health category.
Some very perceptive readers (I’m looking at you AndyD!) observed that I remained very quiet during the entire Shortys process. I did not blog it, I only occasionally asked for votes and I rarely tweeted about it except to say ‘thanks’ when I had won a round. There was a reason I made the decision to do this and some of you might have worked out why.
It was because specific alt. medders behaved so badly throughout this process that all I had to do was sit back and watch them self destruct. It was much better for me to say nothing, quietly screen capture their abuse and ad hominem attacks and wait for it all to crumble around them. Which it eventually did, not in the least on Wednesday, as you are about to see.
As Steve Novella advised me when the ‘she’s a fatty post’ appeared on Mercola’s site (see below), it was apparent that they had forgotten their roots in unicorns, sunbeams and fairy dust and reverted to their apparent true colours of personal insults and crazy antics. And Mercola and Adams did it in spectacular style. All I had to do was sit back and wait whilst other people documented the carnage.
Let’s recap a little shall we?
It all started when Mike Adams from Natural News was coming first and Dr Mercola second. At this stage I was somewhere down near 16th place, when I alerted my twitter followers to the competition. My mate and all round awesome smart guy Jason Brown decided he would have none of that and instigated a campaign to get me to the top position. Amongst other things he alerted PZ Myers of the hugely successful Pharyngula blog, who is known for his ability “to Pharyngulate”. PZ kindly blogged about the competition and this was when things began to get interesting.
Firstly, my position was elevated to the top five and increasing when Mike Adams got wind that a big pharma drug pusher was threatening his top spot. In fact, at this time I wasn’t even winning, but this didn’t matter to Mike, so he wrote a long post on his website asking his followers to vote for him (which is completely within the guidelines for The Shortys BTW).
Well it seems they did, but we started to notice some abnormalities with their votes. Many people including Tim Farley, Jason Brown and @Weezmgk did a quick audit and found that many of the votes for Adams were coming from newly created accounts, which were clearly set up explicitly to vote for Mike in health (and also for me in quackery). Weezmgk also did an audit on 160 votes when Adams had a total of 530 and found 104 were invalid. That’s 65%. That’s a lot.
Tweeting votes from new accounts was explicitly against the rules, which stated that only twitter accounts which were established and active prior to the competition start date on January 1, 2010 were eligible to place votes.
Next thing we knew, Mike Adams was completely disqualified.
And this was when it started to get interesting. Mike threw an epic tantrum, he threw his toys out of the pram, he hand flapped, he foot stamped, he wrote a frothing rant about how the competition was rigged, he threatened to sue the judging panel, and he wrote to the organisers;
“If you allow this to continue, the integrity of the entire Shorty Awards will be destroyed. I had hoped this would be a fair, honest competition that highlights the usefulness of short-form content, but thanks to the rogue voters who are supporting Dr. Rachael Dunlop, the Shorty Awards are quickly becoming a platform for defamation and false accusations where those who can spread the most aggressive insults are allowed to win.”
He then wrote a a truly epic post entitled “What sceptics really believe”. I won’t post the original blog here because it’s much more fun to read the various take-downs. Orac over at “Respectful Insolence” described it as A pyromaniac in a field of straw man or black hole of burning stupid incinerating every straw man in the universe? Mike Adams attacks skeptics. Phil Plait described it as “Alt. Med. guy whacked with the Shorty end of the stick”. Steve Novella over at Neurologica also covered it.
The following day Adams wrote another post referring to “hate speech from jackals who attack natural medicine” (all up, he wrote about four ranting posts about skeptics, filled with conspiracy theories and references to Big Pharma). My personal favourite was the claim that skeptics believe that the water in your toilet is the same as water from a mineral spring.
Adams got so asinine on his Facebook page that some of his followers suggested that his computer had been hacked. Not so I’m afraid. He really is that nasty. Many people covered Adam’s public tantrums, but I especially enjoyed the analysis by the Merseyside skeptics on their Skeptics with a K podcast. I recommend you have a listen.
But now it was Mercola’s turn to throw his toys out of the pram. He posted an acerbic rant on his Facebook page, pleading with his followers to vote for him by insulting me;
The ad hominem attacks became decidedly more charming, until some of his followers began to question his motives and behaviour;
The ‘little known’ bit might have been accurate before the Streisand effect multiplied my Twitter followers by a huge amount and traffic to my website doubled overnight – all thanks to Mercola putting my url on his website with the comment;
‘If you want a real laugh to see how ridiculous some of her positions are you can go to her site’. www.skepticsbooks.com
Thank you Joe Mercola.
Someone might want to direct Mercola to the definition of The Streisand Effect.
Interestingly, all the while Mercola was ranting and railing about me and pleading with his fans to vote and ask three friends to vote, he was simultaneously dismissing the Shortys as ‘just a stupid popularity contest’. One he cares about deeply it seems. He also made remarks about how him winning would have implications for the credibility of alternative medicine and natural health providers everywhere. Well I guess that never happened.
As the voting round continued, things began to get difficult for us. Remember mercola.com is one of the largest natural health websites in the world, he had at the time 64,000 fans on Facebook, he even claimed to have emailed 2.5 million people pleading with them to vote for him. At one stage, his votes went from 600 less than me to overtake me by more than 2000. I thought we might have lost it then, but as soon as they appeared, the Shortys removed them.
It doesn’t matter how many fans you have if they can’t read the rules, their votes won’t count.
Of course as you can predict as his votes started to disappear his fans accused me of having some kind of influence over the Shortys and called me a cheat, a fraud and a liar, amongst other things. I began to get votes in such categories, meanwhile my fans were much more creative, nominating Mercola for ‘mythical half fish, half drink’ – a category which he took out comfortably I am happy to say!
As the deadline for the voting round drew closer, I asked Tim Minchin to ask his 50,000+ followers to vote for me, which he very kindly did. (Interestingly, in contrast to when PZ Myers tweeted it, this kind gesture did not translate into many more votes. Clearly, PZ has his fans much better trained).
So it all ended on Wednesday and so far there has not been a squeak from the Adam’s or Mercola camps. What began as a fight for our principles, science and evidence, ended as an incredibly interesting insight into the minds of believers who when challenged in lieu of any evidence to support their claims, simply run behind the shelter shed and call me fat.
To my surprise and delight, there has been a huge amount of mainstream media coverage of the awards, probably because news agregator AFP picked up the story. In Australia, my name even appeared in the headline of many articles, whilst others described “Aussie biologist honoured for ‘tweeting’.”
My sister learned of the award from Brisbane commercial radio who ran it as a news item. The free afternoon newspaper, MX which is distributed to over 700,000 commuters in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane ran the story on page two in Sydney (see left) and page four in Melbourne.
A Big Pharma thank you to all my supporters and all who voted for me throughout the process. I guess this little known non-physician is not so ‘little known’ anymore.
To reiterate my acceptance speech;
This award recognises the value of sharing evidence based health information on twitter. For science, reason and critical thinking, thank you.
Good manners doesn’t hurt either.
Media coverage I have collected so far.
Nine msn; Aussie Biologist Honoured for Tweeting
The Australian; Australian Scientist Rachael Dunlop wins Twitter Award
Adelaide Now; Australian Scientist Rachael Dunlop wins Twitter Award
Sydney Morning Herald; Aussie biologist honoured for tweeting
BigPond News; Aussie honoured at Twitter awards
The Mercury Tasmania; Aussie scientist wins Twitter award
News dot com dot au; Aussie scientist wins Twitter award
Audio Boo from Richard Saunders; Congratulations Dr Rachie (includes audio of announcement)
CNN dot com reports on the Shortys