The Lyin' in Winter
After a few months of blogging and running into supporters of the autism-mercury hypothesis, I have begun to notice that there is a fundamental difference between their approach to the issue and mine (OK, so I'm slow on the uptake). I'm not referring to the positions that we have taken - which are essentially polar opposites - but to the methods and attitudes we bring to the discussion.
Reading back over some comments on this and other blogs, I see a pattern emerging. There are nasty language, ad hominem attacks and exasperation coming from both sides of the issue, but autism-mercury advocates are far more likely to resort to accusations of:
 Conspiracy (a form of lying)
 Cover-up (another form of lying)
 Bias/Conflict of Interest (leading to - you guessed it - lying!)
These accusations are not only leveled at "the government", the pharmaceutical industry ("Big Pharma") and doctors, they are hurled at anyone - blogger, commenter or hapless bystander - who disagrees with them.
On the other hand, I have rarely seen someone on the "opposing side" accuse one of the autism-mercury proponents of lying in any of its myriad forms. Those times that I have, it has been to accuse some of the "alt-med" practitioners and researchers favored by the autism-mercury supporters of deliberately deceiving their clientele. I have yet to see someone accuse an autism-mercury proponent of "lying" about their beliefs. Granted, I have seen people rather rudely accuse autism-mercury proponents of being willfully stupid, but not of deliberate falsehood.
So, why do I focus in on these accusations of lying? It's because they are so clearly false that even the accusers must know - at some level - that they are false. The people making these accusations cannot really believe that so many people are telling the same lie. And yet they continue to accuse people of lying - not just once or twice but several times in quick succession.
Now, a disagreement over interpretation of the data is one thing - even reasonable, intelligent people can disagree on how to interpret data. I happen to know of people who believe that the earth is flat - I disagree with them, but I don't think that they're lying.
So why would the autism-mercury advocates repeatedly accuse others of lying? For some of them, the fact that other people don't agree with them is just too threatening - their need to believe in the autism-mercury connection is too desperate to tolerate any questioning. Rather than acknowledge that there might be an explanation other than their own, they assume that anybody who disagrees with them is lying.
Others are simply incapable of imagining that anyone could come to a conclusion other than their own. Interestingly, this is very similar to the "theory of mind" dysfunction that is often (and perhaps inaccurately) attributed to autistic people. Unable to imagine how reasonable people could disagree with them, the only remaining explanation for them is that everyone who disagrees is lying.
Finally, some of the people accusing their opponents of lying are doing so in order to move the discussion out of the realm of ideas (where they are usually losing) and into the realm of emotion. And the emotion they are trying to evoke is hate.
Hate allows people to ignore the arguments - or even the essential humanity - of their opponent. You can't hate someone that you're having a difference of opinion with. You can hate someone who is trying to oppose you with lies, however. Hate requires a belly full of righteous indignation, a sense of outrage, a sense of being wronged.
The hate-mongers in this debate are trying to frame it in such a way as to inflame people's sense of outrage - to make them feel threatened, wronged or victimised. Here are just a few examples out of my nearly six-month sojourn:
 "You're trying to keep me from curing my child!" Not true, since nobody in this debate currently has that sort of power - and those making the accusation know that.
 "You're trying to keep the information away from parents who need it!" Also obviously false, since the Internet, books, pamphlets and other media are full of that information. If anything, it is the autism-mercury proponents are trying to suppress information contrary to their point of view.
 "You're lying to protect the government/Big Pharma/the doctors!" While this cannot be discounted out of hand, it would imply a conspiracy of such immense scope and scale that it would be impossible to resist - and yet the accusers themselves manage to resist it.
 "You're calling me a liar!" Rarely true - more often used after being told that they are wrong, mistaken or that they haven't proven their point. It escalates the situation from a disussion of the facts to a personal affront - leading to hate.
Why do people want to inject hate into the debate? Quite simply, hate and anger are a form of emotional energy that can be used to unite people who might otherwise barely speak to each other. In addition, hate has a way of clouding the issue, of keeping people from asking the important questions - like, "OK, so you say that the other folks are lying - why should I believe you?"
Look back through human history - as far back as the Greek city-states or as recently as yesterday's newspaper - and you will see countless examples of leaders fomenting hatred of some group or another in order to keep their followers' attention off their own shortcomings. And the autism-mercury organization has plenty of shortcomings!
By whipping up the hate of the parents - and throwing stones at anyone who disagrees with them - the leaders of the autism-mercury movement manage to keep their followers from noticing that their own house is made of glass. Here are but a few of the shortcomings that the autism-mercury folks want to keep from their followers:
 The data keeps coming in against a mercury-autism connection. You can ignore a couple of studies - or even explain them away as "flawed" or "biased" - but it gets harder with each additional one.
 The people publishing (or, more often, promoting and not publishing) data supporting the mercury-autism connection have a greater conflict of interest than any they can dream up about the scientists publishing data not supporting the connection.
 The number of people who would have to be members of the "conspiracy" to "cover up" the mercury-autism connection is expanding at an exponential rate. It will soon need to encompass nearly everyone on the planet to remain a workable "theory". As a general rule, conspiracy theories tend to collapse under their own weight, and this one is at the point of collapse.
 Many of the people promoting the mercury-autism connection are using tactics that are not only unsound, but are morally and ethically repugnant. Harrassment, intimidation, name-calling and "dirty tricks" (ala Richard Nixon) are not the way to convince people. They are exactly what they appear to be - attempts to silence the opposition without having to address the issues they raise.
Funny thing about whipping up hate - it is like a fire; always needing something more to burn. It is a powerful tool but a cruel master - and it usually ends up mastering those who try to use it. Eventually, the hate-mongers end up being eaten by the very thing they created.