Mike Vandeman

See the field guide to trolls for more information

Michael J Vandeman, PhD (in psychology, not any science related to environmentalism[1]) is an "environmental activist" who is pursuing a lengthy campaign of vilification against mountain bikers in the apparent belief that they are a unique and terrible threat to habitats. He posts gleeful reports of the death and injury of mountain bikers or people who enjoy mountain biking even where the individual was not riding a bike at the time.[2][3] He exaggerates negative traits and coverage associated with anyone who has any connection made with a mountain bike and asserts that this is "typical mountain biker" behaviour[4][5].

Vandeman is regarded as a troll and/or kook.[6][7][8] He was voted Usenet Kook of the Month in May 1998[9]

A police report dated June 1 2010 describes Vandeman as wanted for assault with a deadly weapon, the victims being bikers on a fire trail close to the University of California, Berkeley.[10]

What's the problem?

Michael Vandeman's Usenet posting history as [email protected] and [email protected] is probably all the evidence you need here - including an average rating of one star from over 1,600 rated postings on Google (the lowest achievable).

Quad bikers (and ATVs in general) are recognised as a significant problem by several wilderness authorities, the noise is enormously upsetting to wildlife, they cover large distances per day and the trails they carve are wide. So here's a Google search for all the posts where Vandeman mentions the word quad: [1]. Four hits as of Jan 15 2010, of which two are quoted text, one is a contraction of quadriplegia, and one is a typical Vandeman thread where a criminal escapes on a mountain bike after shooting a quad bike rider.

Aside: I was all set to archive this page out since there was no activity on his original email address since April 2009, but it turns out that he's still at it with a new address including this classic Vandeman thread started on December 9 2009: ANOTHER Typical Mountain Biker Is Wanted for RAPE! (facts of the case: Rapist rode off on yellow mountain bike in Easton - the fallacies of the title are obvious: no evidence is presented that this individual is typical of anything; mountain bikes are the de facto standard for all use these days so a person on a mountian bike is not a "mountain biker" in the sense of Vandeman's crusade; he was also riding on the road and away from any habitats). At least that one actually had a mountain bike, others are much more tenuous such as ANOTHER criminal mountain biker! ("He is thought to have had a bike, possibly a mountain bike or BMX."). Last check shows him still trolling as of Jan 5.

Vandeman claims that I am working on creating wildlife habitat that is off-limits to humans ("pure habitat"). Want to help? (I spent the previous 8 years fighting auto dependence and road construction.) He has been making this claim unamended since at least 1998 so one must assume that it was the 8 years previous to that to which he was referring. This campaign does not seem to have been effective at least as far as the available national statistics are concerned: [2] - it appears that Vandeman does support on-road bicycle use but this rather invites the question of what his views might be on the habitat destruction caused by road building, since cyclists could might arguably travel on graded paths with relatively little degradation of utility over that provided by paved roads. He is by his own admission a keen hiker, inviting further speculation on the genuineness of his commitment to "human-free" habitats. There is no evidence that this work has resulted in anything tangible, and it is apparent that his views have not seen print in any reputable peer-reviewed publication. He cites his own "research" but the closest it's got to publication is presentation of some papers to conferences (which, as anyone will tell you, is not hard to do, and the rooms are usually nearly empty for paper readings by unknown individuals at conferences).

There is probably no chance of convincing him of anything but you might "win" an argument with him (while pissing off everyone else, of course) by one of two tried and tested means:

  • Point out where he is palpably wrong, and keep coming back to it however he wriggles and changes the subject, until he loses interest and starts insulting you.
  • Ridicule him mercilessly.

I think that some Vandeman threads in the past spawned side-discussions of some actual merit but these days, it's pugilism and nothing more. Great fun for the willing participants but if reading gleeful death reports of other humans gets your goat, or if you can't bear to read a gross misrepresentation of published science without correcting it, you are strongly advised to steer clear of Mike Vandeman and killfile all threads in which he participates.

Reputation

Google Scholar suggests that he has some activity in his academic field of expertise, psychology.

Mike seems to be concerned about his online reputation and has attempted to suppress criticism and commentary of his vendetta against mountain biking. This concern for reputation and fairness sits a little oddly with threads such as Mountain Bikers' Middle name Is "Irresponsible" where individuals are identified by name. Perhaps he believes that mountain biking is so evil that the standards he requires for his own reputation simply don't apply, or perhaps he subscribes to the Scientologist doctrine of Fair Game.

Background

Mike Vandeman has decided that mountain biking is a massive threat to habitats, and has set about assembling a dossier of evidence that proves this (see policy-based evidence making. Unfortunately for him there does not seem to be anything objectively and independently verifiable to distinguish mountain biking from horse riding or hiking as a threat to habitat, and he is a keen hiker and has supported equestrians in flamewars. He has also failed to comment on off-road motorised recreation, which, unlike mountain biking, is identified by several wilderness agencies as a separate, significant and specific threat.

Identified significant threats to habitat include logging, water extraction, off-road motorsport and (of course) wildfires caused, ironically, mainly by hikers and campers. As far as I can tell not one of the official wilderness management agencies sees mountain biking as a separate and significant threat worth discussing on their websites.

Vandeman's behaviour led at one point to him being banned from holding office or claiming to hold office or speak for the Sierra Club. The sources for this were online but he now seems to be restarting a previous campaign to remove all "defamatory" material about his activities by lodging complaints with service providers and others (his earlier complaints resulted in the removal or renaming of some Vandeman FAQs associated with various Usenet groups).

Modus Operandi

There are two reasons why Vandeman is loathed by mountain bikers on Usenet. First, he has rendered several newsgroups completely worthless through incessant trolling. Second, his habit of posting gleeful death reports of mountain bikers.

Standard Vandeman threads:

  • "Another Mountain Biker Dies" See this thread for the perfect example. Turns out the deceased wasn't riding his bike at the time, but climbing. Threads like this mark Mike out as a true four-letter fellow, not just a harmless kook. Trust me, having trolls gleefully abusing the death of your loved ones for their own ends is 100% unfunny.
  • "Another death threat from a typical mountain biker..." see this thread where Vandeman changes the title to "death threat" from "hate mail". There is no death threat. But as is pointed out later in the thread, if someone posted that Mike will die in the next 100 years, he would see that as a death threat.
  • "Why Is the Supply of Idiot Mountain Bikers ENDLESS?" - standard bullshit thread usually accompanied by posting of an email sent to his widely-advertised address, including all headers, which is generally considered a gross breach of netiquette. Such emails are usually of the form "why don't you get lost you pointless idiot" or variations thereon. When replying, please change the thread title from mountain bikers to Vandespam.
  • "The impact of mountain biking on habitats, a review of the literature." You know what to expect. A classic of policy-based evidence making, cherry picked facts from mostly his own work. This is where he is at his most persistent. Having been completely trounced in the thread Science Proves Mountain Biking Is More Harmful Than Hiking, he posted precisely the same arguments at EFFECTS OF OFF-ROAD RECREATION ON MULE DEER AND ELK (essentially this is a paper on mule deer and elk which shows that, er, mountain biking is not measurably more disruptive than hiking). He refuses to publish the search base or terms for his "literature review", which is of course a critical part of any objective assessment of this kind of work.

As I say, the right way to deal with Vandeman if you can't ignore him is either a scholarly rebuttal, repeated until it becomes obvious to everyone but him that he has no credibility whatsoever, or howls of derision. Be warned, though, that his behaviour is that of the street-corner evangelist. He apparently wears the insults as a badge of honour, and if he is derided by millions but listened to by one, he will probably consider that a vindication of every moment he has spent. You have been warned.

The Mike Vandeman FAQ

This taken from one of a few archives still left up of Jefferson Talbot's Mike Vandeman FAQ. It includes some good generic advice for dealing with kooks and mission-posters. I'm not saying this is necessarily a 100% factual account of Mike Vandeman or still represents the opinion of Jefferson Talbot but it gives a good indication of what others think of him and his behaviour and, importantly, how to handle his posts to Usenet (with the executive summary being: ignore them).


Q: Who is Mike Vandeman?

A: Some guy who really hates mountain biking, thinks all mountain bikers are habitual liars, and wants them banned from everywhere except paved roads.

Q: Is Mike Vandeman a kook?

A: You betcha, just read his posts.

Q: Is Mike Vandeman stupid?

A: No, he isn't. (He claims to have a Ph.D. in psychology.) That's what makes him so difficult to deal with. If you're of average intelligence, you will probably fall into several of his traps of logic, and completely miss the point of his posts. If you really have trouble expressing yourself, especially in written form, he will publicly skewer you (and you're the one he's really after, which is why he posts here). Even some mountain-bikers in this group admire him for his ability to make a fool out of you.

Q: What exactly is the point to Mike Vandeman's posts?

A: He hates mountain biking, and wants it banned. It conflicts with his desire to hike on trails he wants to himself. He doesn't want you mountain biking past him when he's hiking, and really gets pissed when it happens on a hiker only trail. Apparently this is a big problem in his area, but even if it's only one errant MTBer every few months, it's a big deal to Mike. He thinks *all* mountain bikers ride on hiker only trails, and he thinks all mountain bikers are destructive, and behave the same. It's bigotry, plain and simple.

He won't stop until all mountain biking is banned. (It's a personal vendetta.) The purpose of his posts is to annoy mountain bikers and manipulate them into making themselves look stupid, violent, or destructive. He then takes those posts and passes them on to people unfamiliar with mountain biking so they can form their own prejudiced, mis-informed conclusions about the sport.

Q: Well, if Mike Vandeman is intelligent, as you say, I should be able to convince him, using reason and logic, that mountain biking isn't as harmful as he says, shouldn't I?

A: No. You've already missed the point. Mike Vandeman hates mountain biking. Someone who hates something isn't interested in logic unless it supports him. If he had solid, scientific data to back his claims, he would be more calm and reasonable.

Q: Is Mike Vandeman some sort of master of logic and debate?

A: Some say he is. The obvious flaws in some of his posts are intended to trap you into responding to him. Once you respond, he will attempt to guide you down a path where he'll prove you wrong anyway, likely about something that is completely irrelevant to your point. You'll give up long before you win. Even if you're right, you will soon find that arguing with him was a waste of time. We've all been there.

Q: Does Mike Vandeman play golf?

A: Hell if I know, but I've enjoyed accusing him of this extremely destructive sport. I even got a rise out of him with some of my posts, so I suspect he might be a golfer. (This, of course, is irrelevant anyway.)

Q: Isn't Mike Vandeman just a nutcase who doesn't know what the hell he's talking about?

A: This kind of prejudice is exactly what Mikey preys upon. Most people believe that if Mike is way off base on some things, he must be wrong about everything. Arguing with such a person should be easy, right? Wrong! Mike is right about a lot of things, and he will prove it. Like Bill Clinton, he's not always saying what you think he's saying. He also knows when he's wrong, better than you do. (That's how he knows which way to steer you in a debate.) By the way, yes, he is a nutcase.

Q: So, what are Mike Vandeman's main arguments, and how do I fight them?

A: You don't fight them, but here's a sampling:

Argument: Mountain Biking causes damage to the environment

Traps: He's right, it does cause damage. The problem is, people who enjoy mountain biking think it's the kiss of death to admit this. However, it isn't. Most people will try to deny it, which is what he wants, so he can make you into a liar (which, of course, you are). Others will adopt an antagonistic attitude and say "Yeah, I cause damage, I love to kill things and destroy stuff. F*k You", etc. Mike loves this stuff. It supports his claims that Mountain Bikers are A*holes. This is what he saves and passes on.

The truth: MTBing does cause damage, though minor. You do kill plants and animals when you ride. (They're usually insects.) You also frighten animals when you go by (which is why they hide, but that's their natural behavior). But Mike also causes damage when he hikes. In fact, we all kill insects no matter where we walk. Before you decide to argue this point, he's heard it all and ignored it all before.

Argument: Mountain Bikers are liars. (He loves this one, and will prove you to be one if you fall into his traps.)

Traps: He's probably right. Most of us have been known to lie from time to time. (I don't know anyone who hasn't.) Some people admit this truth, and point out that Mike Vandeman is also a liar. (You're right, he is! You're catching on!) By the way, Mike also has an alternate definition of "liar": Someone who disagrees with him. By this definition, you are most certainly a liar.

The truth: All humans are liars, so if you deny lying, he'll have a field day with you. Don't even bother pointing out this obvious truth for him, it means nothing. Also, by being accused of lying, Mike is not necessarily saying that you're dishonest. He's using his own definition. When he say's "All mountain bikers are liars", well, he's right. Everyone lies sometimes. When he says "Mountain bikers lie constantly", he means we all disagree with him constantly, and in his own world, we're liars. So, by Mike's special definition of "liar", he's also usually right. But Mike lies deliberately, and stretches the truth, and exaggerates, to make his point against mountain biking.

Argument: Mountain biking is easier than hiking. Used to prove that biking is more destructive than hiking because you go farther into the woods. He also loves this one because MTBers interpret this as him saying we are wimps.

Traps: This is a truly pointless argument. What does he mean by easy? He means distance covered for a given number of leg strokes. However, you, still sore from that last killer climb, will tell him no way is mountain biking easier. The last thing you want to admit is that a ride that damn near killed you was easy! You just found out that walking up that hill was easier than riding it! Mike has discovered one of your buttons and will keep pushing it.

The truth: Depends on a precise definition of a vague, relative term like "easy". In reality, the bicycle acts as a transmission between your legs and the ground. You trade speed for torque. For speed, high gearing is easier. For torque (climbing), low gearing is easier. Walking is the ultimate "first gear" for humans. Mike doesn't understand the point any better than you do, so these arguments can go on for weeks. Relax. It means nothing.

Mike takes basic truths, words them to be inflammatory (liar!), and waits for you to deny them. He uses these basic truths as twisted proofs of some really outrageous and extreme arguments, and seems to deliberately employ poor logic calculated to get you to take the bait. When you do, you'll likely make a flawed argument yourself, and he'll make a fool out of you. You lose. If you make no mistakes, he'll ignore you. You still lose. If you think you're going to change his mind, you are sadly mistaken, and you will lose. (Sing, pig, SING, dammit!)

Argument: Mountain bikers frequently harass hikers and wildlife and should be banned from the wilderness.

Traps: This is one of his most inflammatory and overgeneralized statements, and will get your blood boiling. This is where he goes over, and you'll really want to set him straight. Forget it. He won't budge. You'll see posts from little old ladies (presumably Vandeman himself) who claim a biker whizzed by and knocked her down, stopped, turned back, flipped her off, uttered profanities, and sped off in a cloud of wildlife killing dust, leaving a trail of trash behind. (There's also the whipsnake story.) You can't deny or disprove it, since you weren't there. Pointing out that you've never committed such an act is irrelevant. He'll accuse you of allowing it to happen.

The Truth: Who knows. If it happened once, a dozen times, or never at all, it's irrelevant to the way most of us ride. No need to point this out to Mike, though, he's ignored it all before. If you contradict one of his fabrications or flaws, he'll call you a liar (which, you'll recall, you are), or state one of the other truths above. Your discussion will degrade to some irrelevant point where he's right. You lose. By the way, he'll never get back to the point about which he's wrong, so you'll never get a chance to prove it. Even if you prove him wrong for the rest of us (which is easy), you'll never prove it to him, which was the point of your post in the first place, wasn't it?

Argument: All Mountain Bikers .

Traps: You: "Well, I've never " Mike: "Most mountain bikers have , so by allowing your fellow bikers to , you are part of the problem!" You: "I don't know of any bikers who , and I would never allow anyone in my group to do that." Mike: "You are a liar. I see mountain bikers -ing all the time. Why do mountain bikers always lie?"

Truth: Mike's claims that all mountain bikers behave the same as the few extremes he's supposedly observed, are prejudice, plain and simple. We all know this, but arguing it is useless. He'll ignore you, call you a liar, or lead you down some other path where he's right, like "Mountain bikes go farther than hikers do."

Q: So, how can we get Mike Vandeman to stop posting to this newsgroup?

A: I don't know. Several things have been tried, and haven't worked, including:

Ignore him: Even if you're not new, it's really hard to ignore him. Some of his posts are so obviously out of whack you'll just *have* to reply, if for no other reason, than to get it out of your system. Even if you decide to ignore him, there is a constant influx of newbies (even newer than you) who will go down the same road over and over with him, thinking they can change him.

Invite him for a one-on-one meeting: Forget it. He won't bite. He's afraid of getting the sh*t kicked out of him or worse. (The man does have enemies, after all.)

E-mail him: There is currently an E-mail campaign against Mike. He hates this. If your e-mail is well crafted, well reasoned, and clever, it will probably get ignored. If, however, your e-mail is abusive or poorly written, he will complain to your ISP about harassment or spamming (and depending on your ISP, you might actually have problems from that), and he will post your message to this newsgroup and a whole bunch of others, to show how stupid you are. (That's what he's trolling for, you know.)

If you threaten him, he will really have a field day. He will post your e-mail with some kind of heading like "Mountain biker threatens violence to protect his destructive activities", and cross post it to a half-dozen newsgroups who don't want to hear it. If you mail-bomb him (send multiple messages filled with gibberish), he'll post that, essentially mail-bombing usenet. E-mail him or don't. That's up to you.

Complain to his ISP for spamming: Been there. Done that. He successfully argues his first amendment right to post to alt.mountain-bike. As long as his posts are related to mountain biking, he does have a right to post here, and it's not spam. (Spam us usually considered to be off-topic usenet posts, usually ads, or unsolicited bulk e-mail.) Like it or not, messages condemning mountain biking are on-topic. (Another one where Mike is right, and his ISP agrees with him.)

The purpose of this FAQ is not to keep Mike Vandeman from posting here. It's not to keep you from responding to him. It is, however, to keep you from wasting time doing things that have been done before, which we're all tired of reading over and over.

So, you're left with making a choice:

You can set your own newsreader to ignore all of his posts. This will keep you from seeing him and from being upset by his rants. You can also go to rec.bicycles.off-road. Mike's posts have been banned there because that NG is moderated. (Note, that Mike isn't banned, just his posts. ;-)

Or, you can decide to have fun with him, as many of us are tempted to do from time to time. Think up something clever and amusing. Just understand that you will soon tire of this exercise.

Q: So, what's the best way to respond to Mike's posts, if I choose to?

A: Amuse us. Amuse yourself. Don't take it seriously at all. If you reply to Mike's post and he makes a fool out of you, you lose. If another MTBer posts a reply to you, with "ROTFL" or other words of approval, (especially if Mike ignores you), you win! (Come to think of it, even if the only one chuckling at your post is you, you still win!)

Just remember, we've already seen these before, so don't bother arguing them:

  • There are worse things than mountain biking. (Not to Mike.)
  • Mike hikes, yet condemns hiking. (Yep, it's true.)
  • Mike uses public transportation, which pollutes the air. (He doesn't care.)
  • Mike uses twisted logic to make his points.
  • "Mike, why do you keep ignoring my question about ?" (Perhaps you have a valid point, which doesn't serve him.)
  • Mike says MTBing is easier only because he's never done it. (And he knows it pisses you off.)
  • Maybe Mike should try mountain biking. (Many invites, yet he's never taken anyone up on it. I wonder why!)
  • Mike crossposts too much. (To get everyone sick of mountain biking.)
  • Mike annoys all of us, and we wish he'd go away. (He already knows this.)
  • Mike must be a golfer. (Rumor has it!)
  • Mike is wasting his time here, since no one will change their mind. (Except his sock puppets.)
  • Mike should be working on larger issues like clear-cutting. (His mission is banning mountain biking, though, remember?)
  • Mike is giving true environmentalists a bad name. (He doesn't care.)
  • Mike should be nicer to people, then they might agree with him more. (He thinks the way to change people is to piss them off. How's it working?)

Q: If Mike Vandeman is such a nutcase, and people want him to go away, why are so many people talking about him? What's the fascination?

A: I suspect he really has a Ph.D. in psychology. Initially, he causes us to question a sport we find harmless. Then, he irritates and infuriates us with his outlandish claims. He knows exactly which buttons to push to get a rise out of old timers as well as a continuous influx of newbies. Perhaps his only true mission is to generate long off-topic threads and dominate the newsgroup.

Q: So what makes you such an expert on Mike Vandeman, and his use of logic?

A: Not a damn thing. It's just my opinion!

Q: Where can I learn more about Mike Vandeman?

A: Why? OK, from the fool himself: http://www.imaja.com/change/environment/mvarticles

or, an excellent, balanced examination of Mike's claims: http://members.xoom.com/bbauer/environ.html (Relax. Mountain biking doesn't cause significant damage to natural areas. It's about the same as walking.)


That's the Mike Vandeman FAQ which was, as far as I can tell, the version removed form faqs.org and later restated as the "Mr Anti-Bike Curmudgeon" FAQ or some such.

ISP complaint

Michael Vandeman has complained to my ISP about the "defamatory" nature of this page. I will make the following completely clear: First, I extend to him an open invitation to notify me of any material in this page which is provably factually incorrect, and I will amend or remove it. This does not extend to matters of legitimate good-faith disagreement - he may well see himself as a fearless crusader for truth but I see him as a troll and so do plenty of others. You can make up your own mind from his Usenet posting history as linked above. Second: this page is my own work and my own responsibility and my ISP have no responsibility for it as a carrier beyond notifying me that a complaint has been made; if I choose to continue to publish this material in the sincere belief that it is true and defensible as "fair comment" under the laws of the United Kingdom, and having checked to the best of my ability that all items presented as fact are indeed fact and those presented as opinion are obviously matters of opinion alone, then it is against me, and me alone, that he must seek redress.

References

  1. BikeMagic forum
  2. [http://groups.google.co.uk/group/alt.mountain-bike/browse_thread/thread/e32f11badef8fd9b?pli=1 Another Mountain Biker Dies]
  3. [http://groups.google.com/group/ca.environment/browse_frm/thread/afe751d6436ef1e5/bd3d70c3a270c194#bd3d70c3a270c194 "He died Oct. 23 of heart failure while mountain biking with friends in the desert near Moab, Utah" ]
  4. ANOTHER Typical Mountain Biker Is Wanted for RAPE! (the perpetrator rode off on a mountain bike, this was in an urban context nowhere near any trails or habitats)
  5. Death Threat From A Typical Mountain Biker where "If I get me hands on you, you're gonna be a bed case for life for running down a kitten (and enjoying it, not to mention bragging)" is interpreted as a "death threat".
  6. MTBR forums
  7. NSMB forums
  8. alt.mountain-bike
  9. Kookpedia
  10. Police report