Australian Skeptics National Convention 2012

The Australian Skeptics National Convention for 2012 is set to run from Friday November 30th to Sunday December 2nd.

You can check out the ticketing situation here, and digest evolving details on a great line up of presenters. There’s a run down on a bunch of events and a look at the awesome Spot Theatre. So, it’s just as well that’s also where the Convention will be I guess.

Head over to Facebook, do the Like thing and keep up to date. The theme is Active Skepticism. So if you’ve an interest in how reason and evidence makes a positive dent from prophylaxis to progressive politics this may just be your gig.

Follow @auskepcon on Twitter.

According to the Victorian Skeptics promotion page speakers include, James “The Amazing” Randi, DJ Grothe (President of the James Randi Foundation), Brian Thompson (Outreach Coordinator of JREF), Rebecca Watson (SGU blogger), Lawrence “Unbelievable” Leung (as seen on TV!), Dr. Rachael Dunlop, Richard Saunders, Lynne Kelly, Dr. Krissy Wilson, Dr. Ken Harvey (Choice Magazine Consumer of the Year Award), Adam vanLangenberg, Dr Cameron Martin (from Friends of Science in Medicine), Meredith Doig, Stephen Mayne (media commentator and shareholder activist), plus many others.

Sounds like there will be some impressive appearances and the opportunity to meet interesting people.

Of course, if you don’t come you can make do with this video.

Meryl Dorey fights to keep misleading title

I have seen evidence that there was even an attempt to have me deported from Australia via complaints to the Dept of Immigration…

– Meryl Dorey adds another angle to her profile as a Freedom Fighter –

Not for the first time, a salient point was serendipitously driven home on the Facebook page Stop The Australian Vaccination Network.

Last Friday night a young lady unleashed some criticism that highlights the cunning purpose of the Australian (anti) Vaccination Network’s name.

Apologies for the overt racism in there. This is far from the neatest example but it does show how persuasive first impressions can be. No doubt this has been Meryl Dorey’s intent all along. To divert attention away from her role as an antivaccine lobbyist.

Simply claiming to not be antivaccine is rather pointless however. Years ago (circa 2005) the proud antivaccine conspiracy group Vaccine Truth made a mockery of the USA NIIC phrase. Meryl took the opportunity to lift the same phrase straight from them.

Before becomming the Australian Vaccination Network in 1996, her group of antivaccine lobbyists was the Vaccine Awareness Network. Thus I was slightly amused to see an AVN contributor suggest to Meryl they switch to “Australian Vaccine Awareness Network”. More amusingly this was supported by Meryl’s most vocal Pit Poodle.

The misleading name has secured media attention and a cornucopia of false balance. Genuinely concerned and in-need parents have been fooled. People have donated money believing advanced safety testing of vaccines was an AVN priority. They scored a Charitable Fundraising Authority. Life was quite comfortable until Stop The AVN formed and exposed schemes, scams, fraud and theft.

This led in part to an investigation by the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission. It found that the AVN website:

  • Provides information that is solely anti-vaccination
  • Contains information that is incorrect and misleading
  • Quotes selectively from research to suggest that vaccination may be dangerous

Under the Health Care Complaints Act 1993, the HCCC had recommended the AVN put an unambiguous disclaimer on its website to convey:

  • The AVN’s purpose is to provide information against vaccination, in order to balance what it believes is the substantial amount of pro-vaccination information available elsewhere.
  • The information provided by the AVN should not be read as medical advice.
  • The decision about whether or not to vaccinate should be made in consultation with a health care provider.

Whilst the AVN insist that the HCCC findings were “overturned” on appeal, this is not the case. A Supreme Court ruling found the HCCC had acted outside it’s jurisdiction in posting a public warning. Ms. Dorey’s aim to have the findings abolished was firmly rejected. The HCCC public warning was removed.

The AVN disclaimer is available here, which essentially covers the points sought by the HCCC. There is thus no doubt. The AVN is an antivaccination lobby group. They are antivaccine, against vaccination, purport to offer alternatives to vaccination and falsely claim to posses a “data base” of vaccine injuries.

Recently as Dorey promoted her latest conspiracy-themed seminar series there was renewed focus on the salient point in question. What Jane McCredie has referred to as:

This country’s most prominent anti-vaccination group, the confusingly named Australian Vaccination Network…

Medical Observer recently reported under Anti-vax lobby rejects AMA call for a name change:

Australian College of Midwives executive officer Ann Kinnear told MO her organisation forwarded an email invitation to an AVN event to about 1400 NSW members before angry midwives told her the Health Care Complaints Commission had in 2009 declared AVN an anti-immunisation lobby.

“Subsequent information that’s come to hand has made me realise it’s a mistake,” Ms Kinnear said. […]

“If a major health organisation understandably is taken in, members of the public would have little hope of realising that they were not accessing independent, credible advice,” AMA (NSW) CEO Fiona Davies said.

Dr Brian Morton, chair of the AMA’s council for general practice, said AVN’s name was “duplicitous, it confuses the public, they are anti-vaccination and they certainly don’t report the evidence”.

Last weekend a suitably tabloid themed heading from the Sunday Telegraph carried some further developments. Doctors unite to smash the anti-vaccine group:

NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner and Fair Trading Minister Anthony Roberts have been urged to force the change on the NSW-registered group in a letter signed by Associate Professor of La Trobe University Dr Ken Harvey.

His call is backed by experts from the Australian Medical Association and the University of Sydney.

As the AVN is registered with the Office of Fair Trading the government can in fact order a name change.

Dorey of course continues with the line the AVN is not antivaccination but “pro-choice”.

Predictably Ms. Dorey has afforded her critics ownership of the term “smash”, despite it appearing only in the headline of the story.

She must have been delighted. In a rambling, stumbling diatribe Dorey included:

They would have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to date trying to “Smash” our small, volunteer-run organisation… We are David to their Goliath and because we stand for truth, freedom and democracy… […]

The idea that a group of doctors can unite to SMASH an organisation that questions a medical procedure sounds more like economic protectionism than true concern to me.

Wait. Economic protectionism? As in restriction of international trade? Subsidising locally produced goods or produce? Taxing imports via the application of tariffs? I think, comrade, that Meryl has been hanging out with her fellow freedom fighters at Conspiracy Central a bit too much.

Which gets to the reasons a name change has become more and more an issue of public safety. The AVN has become less and less about opposing vaccines and merely spreading fear and confusion on the topic. This is the result of a hard working group of volunteers, concerned GPs, medical organisations, certain journalists, reputable parenting forums and the self sabotage of the AVN by Meryl Dorey herself.

Today Meryl Dorey can be found on conspiracy podcasts playing laser tag warriors with some of the more unhinged members of society. If not skepgoating individual skeptics as part of an organised hate group, it’s absurdities such as the above claim that, “hundreds of thousands of dollars” has been spent targetting her alone.

The constant criticism of conventional medicine is commonplace, as is quite evident in this “media release” . Setting out to send a message of defiance on name change, it again squeezes in the notion of being “under attack”.

Let me choose one example to drive home how antivaccine Ms. Dorey really is. Here’s an ABC article warning on the dangers of co-sleeping, including Baby Talk audio. On July 6th, the ABC also reported criticism from the Victorian coroner regarding inconsistent warnings. Almost half of all sudden infant deaths involve co-sleeping. The coroners criticism was welcomed by experts in the field.

Here is Meryl Dorey advising a member of her group in November last year:

Yesterday Meryl sought to encourage another member to contact the families of SIDS cases to “find out if the children were vaccinated before their death”.

Dr. Ken Harvey would appear to be completely correct in his observation that, “The deceptive name of the organisation has potentially deadly consequences”.

Quite so, and this is simply one example that carries a single insight into how far out of step Dorey is with safe advice. More so, the AVN is less and less representative of adherents to alternatives to medicine and even genuine vaccine opponents. As polarising as certain choices clearly are, few Aussies accept there is a war to be fought or that General Dorey is their leader. Added to this is the reality that many new parents are now well aware of the AVN’s lethal, conspiratorial approach.

I’m not sure what the AVN should be called. Something in ancient Sanskrit maybe? Just don’t dare suggest they’re antivaccine.

What would ever give you that idea?

The day Meryl Dorey sent me porn

One of the manufactured devaluations of those who ask the AVN and Meryl Dorey for evidence is that of death threats, family harrassment and worse.

A splendid technique in Meryl’s repertoire of skepgoating, there is virtually no end to what these monsters will do. They seek to force vaccines upon you, regardless of your suitability. Prevent any type of alternative to medical care and hide the negative aspects of vaccination. You know, like these aspects. Or these. Or even these aspects.

It isn’t just death threats Dorey accuses the Australian Skeptics, Stop The AVN and unseen sinister “people who have a vested interest in making sure vaccination is the done thing” of regularly perpetrating. Just recently she told antivaccination supporter David Collins of Wollongong’s Vox FM Breakfast show (Monday and Wednesday), of “incredibly violent pornography being sent to myself and to members of my organisation”.

Responding to a query on cited criticism about her stance on vaccines below, Dorey immediately attacks The Australian Skeptics. Falsely claiming they are linked to Stop The AVN (a non skeptic Facebook page), she then diverges into skepgoating rather than answer the question. The MP3 is here, or listen below.

Do note if you are an AVN member and have been sent porn please pursue this to the full extent of the law.

Dorey was asked last December by Tiga Bayles as to why the police do nothing. Good point, I thought. They’re corrupt Dorey ventured. They don’t care. An indigenous Aussie justifiably not trusting of police, poor Tiga was being scammed like a kid at a carnival.

I do accept a renegade Facebook wanderer stooped to sending Dorey one porn image, well over 2 or more years ago. Yet that is based on the fact Stop The AVN sought said person out and ensured they were removed from any association with organised criticism of the AVN.

The death threat/harassment claim is without foundation. Actual threats. Not anonymous warnings that could be from Dorey herself or frustrated comments from those who “wish they [the AVN] weren’t here”.

So, it’s time to stop repeating this accusation and discuss vaccine science.

Which, as I recently explained, is where skepgoating comes in. Far better to accuse than discuss scientific consensus.

Strange then that yesterday Meryl sent this Tweet smack bang onto my browser page.

Innocently, I clicked the link. Suddenly, my innocence was violently assaulted.

Oh the shock, the horror. I checked again. I double checked. Triple checked. After 10 minutes or so I was convinced. But, focused on evidence, I chose to check some more.

Yes. It was Dorey sending porn to her members and any who may be passing. So not just any publication. We’re talking publication with full penetration. I followed the publishers link. Surely it was an impersonator. What did I find?

Oh my. The October avatar in July – a dead giveaway. This was getting hard to accept. I mean, more difficult to accept. The twitter handle? Check. Surely the subscribers details would be from some Russian sex slave trader. Dorey would be vindicated – like Wakefield!

Nope. No vindication there. Exactly like Wakefield, then. This was worse than any stuff up in mammary… er, memory.  I chased up the tweets in the Vaccination Network Daily. Did they match Dorey’s tweets? Please let it not be so. Vindication would be hers!

Oh. The shame. The bear, naked shame dear reader. Vindication had slipped away like a well oiled breast, to use a turn of phrase I have no idea why I feel the need to.

Seriously. What the hell is this trash. Huff Po’ Love Letters. 850,000 people “ONLY looking for casual encounters”. Sue’s Rendezvous? Dare I? I dared… More naked ready and willing women. And the text;

The Legendary Sues Rendezvous has been open over 35 years of the best adult entertainment, where you can meet at any given night some of the famous faces from music, movies and sports.
The hottest dancers in the tristate area The top D J’s in the industry. Special events, contest, bachelor parties. Free buffet every night

Fail.

Anyway. After skeptics alerted Meryl to her error – yet again saving her butt (no pun intended) – she finally managed to remove the offending material – a day later. Another favour Dorey owes to the skeptic community.

I may as well spell out the obvious. Dorey has sent porn – and invitations to shows, sexual encounters and associated filth with no apology to her members or casual readers.

It’s disgusting and cowardly. No amount of skepgoating can assuage that.

Kerryn Phelps’ support for vaccination is timely and welcome

On January 30th this year Radio National Breakfast aired a lively discussion between Professor John Dwyer, co-founder of the newly formed Friends of Science in Medicine and Professor Kerryn Phelps, President of the Australasian Integrative Medicine Association and prior AMA head.

As it so happened the AVN were delighted with the interview, discussing it on February 3rd. They immediately set to work sculpting an armour for Dr. Phelps to wear into battle for “Health Freedom”. The AVN had no doubt. If you support alternatives you would never vaccinate, their president reasoned.

In answer to an anti-medicine anecdote, Meryl Dorey commented at the time:

It just shows you [redacted], that people will pay for health but you can’t give them sickness for free no matter how hard you try. Doctors hate the competition. They know that people like yourself have left mainstream medicine because you have found something that works better. But that can’t be allowed so the scientocracy that we live in will try to control the situation so you no longer have the choice. This is what we are fighting against and it has to be all of us – healthcare consumers and healthcare organisations. If you use a natural health practitioner, get in touch with them and ask them to find out what their national organisations (CAA, ATMS, etc) is doing about this situation. It’s not the time to sit on their hands and hope it goes away. It’s time to fight!
MD

The day Dr. Phelps and Dwyer were on air Dorey published on healthcare choice, falsely accusing FSM of seeking to shut down alternatives to medicine and drive consumers into the prison of her imagined Scientocracy. I didn’t expect to revisit this article so shortly. Nonetheless… In what may be mistaken for a description of Mordor under the whip of Sauron she began:

There is an organisation in Australia which hates every natural therapy. They hate the healthcare practitioners and they hate the healthcare consumers who ‘turn their backs’ on Western medicine in favour of a range of other modalities which put no money in their pockets and take away their prestige. Worst of all, they hate anyone who chooses not to use vaccines! That is the ultimate heresy, as far as they are concerned.

But it’s OK – because they have a plan and they have the money and media backing, they think, to bring this plan to fruition. This group, the Australian Skeptics, has been instrumental in setting up the organisation, Stop the AVN.

Now, they are working on a new initiative – and this one is more ambitious then just stopping a small, parent-run community support group. Now, their goal is to stop anyone in Australia (today Australia – tomorrow the world as far as this bunch of ratbags is concerned) from learning about or using natural therapies. Their mad campaign is getting plenty of publicity too!

They have just set up a new front group called Friends of Science in Medicine (FSM) which is behind the new effort to outlaw the teaching of any natural medicine course in University. This organisation ultimately wants to shut down homeopathy, chiropractic, acupuncture, naturopathy, herbalism, ayurvedic therapies and on and on. In their unspeakable arrogance, they claim that there is no evidence for therapies which have been used safely and effectively, in many cases, for thousands of years. Instead, they say, we should all be forced to exclusively rely on mainstream medicine with its dreadful record of poor safety and effectiveness!

By February 17th, Dorey was using Kerryn Phelps as a proxy figurehead for this nonsense. As someone who uses the term “alternatives to medicine” and cringes at the “integrative” semantics, I don’t agree with Dr. Phelps on many non conventional medical issues. Yet Dr. Phelps’ Uclinic is unmistakably professional. Was Dorey serious or just ripping off Dr. Phelps’ image? Was a prior head of the AMA honestly backing Dorey’s new attack on FSM? On conventional medicine? On vaccination?

I tweeted, and seven minutes later received an honest, slightly baffled reply:

Oops. Rather tactless of me. But, as Meryl had written on February 8th:

Excellent observation. It continued to come true.

Predictably, Meryl Dorey had forged a fiction around Dr. Phelps’ role as President of the Australasian Integrative Medicine Association. It must have chafed somewhat to be reminded Dr. Phelps is a GP, supporter of vaccines, proponent of necessary vaccination rates and “diametrically opposed” to the activities of the AVN.

A close follower of the #StopAVN tag, this must have shattered Meryl’s very black and white world view of health care and practice. One is either against the evil of medicine or a skeptic and actively involved in a plot to enslave humanity to illness. At least that’s the battle cry we see in place of actual evidence to challenge evidence based medicine.

Could it possibly get any worse for Dorey? Dr. Phelps wouldn’t retweet anything from strident Dorey critic, that nasty Mia Freedman would she?

Oh.

Poor Meryl has to absorb someone with extensive experience could be a GP, proponent of non conventional medicine and conventional medicine, opposed utterly to the AVN whilst actively supporting and promoting vaccination. Still Dorey peddles homeoprophylaxis and is fanatical about the long dead association between autism and vaccination.

Last night Dr. Phelps happened to tweet in conversation:

@Havenr64 is convinced vaccines do cause autism and took umbrage to an article Dr. Phelps had written in Medical Observer ♣. Entitled It’s time we objected to conscientious objectors, it is a splendid article with excellent timing. Most importantly however is that Kerryn Phelps is a real doctor, with actual research and a life time of genuine experience backing her.

Health consumers who are cautious of conventional medicine or interested in “alternatives” would do far better to seek similarly well balanced advice. Those questioning vaccination, and not trusting their GP, would also benefit enormously from seeking advice through the Australasian Integrative Medicine Association.

The last person to trust is Meryl Dorey or her Australian Vaccination Network. Dorey profits from ensuring you will not trust vaccination. In truth your “health freedom” or choice is abused from the moment you make contact. If you believe the path to making sound choices on vaccination is to donate money to fund a “fight” between imagined forces, you have been conned handsomely.

Nicola Roxon and Jenny Macklin announced the Stronger Immunisation Incentives last November. It was a poor read of the antivaccination movement. Dorey seized immediately upon the option of conscientious objection not being promoted as the primary variable by the government. Claiming details weren’t present at all in Roxon’s announcement, they were actually prominent in the centre of the text. Still, today Dorey has exhaustively promoted how to receive the immunisation incentive without having children immunised.

Kerryn Phelps writes:

HOW far are you prepared to go to engage with so-called “conscientious objectors” to childhood immunisation?

Everyone has a line they will not cross. The line for informed consent gets very blurry when it comes to the proxy consent provided by parents on behalf of their children. […]

As GPs we are convinced of the merits of immunisation against the vaccine-preventable infectious diseases that were so feared by previous generations who did not have the benefit of effective treatments or prevention. […]

I hesitate to even mention groups such as the Australian (Anti-)Vaccination Network.., but… I feel I can mention the harm they are doing to public health with their misinformation campaign aimed at scaring parents away from immunisation.

Parents have been encouraged through various government incentives to have their children fully immunised before starting school.

However, from 1 July the system changes. The PIP incentive for doctors has been scrapped and parents will need to document that they have fully vaccinated their child in order to receive the Family Tax Benefit Part A Supplement of $726.35 per child. […]

If parents want to claim the money, they have to demonstrate that their child is fully immunised, or have their doctor complete documentation that they are a conscientious objector.

One of my colleagues told me last week that she intends to be a conscientious objector to conscientious objectors. I must say the idea appeals to me.

When parents request that she fills in the government form indicating the child is exempt on the basis of parents being conscientious objectors, she will politely indicate that is against her principles and advice, and will refuse to provide the documentation. […]

It is a convincing argument. Ethically doctors wish to support their patients’ choices. Yet with vaccination, rejection of this nature is not a choice, but a clear mistake. A cursory grasp of the manipulation at play to scare parents off vaccinating their children is alarming. An understanding of the entire abusive scam should be regarded with concern and disgust.

Presently parents are objecting because many feel there is this attack on their freedom of choice. A read of Dorey’s material finds the same theme over and again. Forces seek to control. Why is the default position vaccination? You are being told what to do. Health fascism. Loss of health choices… etc. It’s an appeal to emotion, not intellect. Vaccination is cast as a mockery of individuality, of democratic freedom.

Fortunately Dr. Phelps is a voice of reason at a time when false dichotomies are used to fool those who seek more natural choices, to also fear vaccination. A wedge has been driven into Meryl Dorey’s fictional scheme. No longer is it simply “us and them” as her members pay dearly to hear. False balance need no longer be the only choice.

This isn’t unique. Most natural therapy organisations recommend conventional vaccination. Chiropractic and homeopathy are two that mislead clients about vaccination. What we certainly lack is a public voice bridging the unnecessary gulf between vaccination and non conventional medicine. It is certainly time to detach the choice of alternative medicine from refusal to vaccinate.

I for one am very grateful to Dr. Phelps for making her views known.

– ♣ Subscription to Medical Observer is free.

Skepgoating: why antivaxxers need to devalue skepticism

Skepgoating: Skepgoating (adj) is derived from the notion of scapegoating. It refers to the practice of falsely accusing (scientific) skepticism, skeptics or other individuals of pursuing predetermined agendas derived from distortions of (scientific) skepticism. Used as both defence and attack it aims to cast the other party as inferior, negative and wrong. Particularly found within or in relation to discourse in which truth can demonstrably be derived from evidence. In this way the accuser seeks to drive onlooker or reader attention away from the lack (or presence) of evidence and evoke an irrational and emotional response toward the individual or organisation being skepgoated.

Claims made in skepgoating are false. Rather than address evidence, attempts are made to malign the other party to such an extent that a Faux Victory is claimed. Eg: “Skeptics worship science and are too close minded to understand”. Or, “Skeptics want to suppress your freedom of speech and your right to choose”. Or, “Skeptics want to do bad things to me, that is why they say words that make me appear stupid”.

Skepgoating is also used by certain cult-like groups to imply skepticism by association, by group members who exhibit independent thinking. In such cases skepgoating may have similar power to the belief in witchcraft leading to swift and disproportionate retribution directed at the skepgoat (n). Banishment of the skepgoat and expunging of their visible history follows in an attempt to convey unity to remaining cult members. Dominant or Alpha skepgoaters decide who will be deemed a skepgoat.


As pseudoscience, anti-science, sham disciplines and conspiracy theories have blossomed with high speed information flow, those with a critical eye have kept pace. Some go on to embrace skepticism (scientific skepticism) with an astute and passionate awareness of critical thought and evidence based decision making. Others take great delight – perhaps comfort – in reading skeptic material. Skeptic social events and presentations (often together) are well attended.

Here’s where an observation is needed. There isn’t necessarily a direct correlation between how active a person is skeptically speaking, and how they identify with organised skepticism. In certain areas of interest to skeptics, the most active are not remotely interested in organised skepticism. Alternatively, active skeptics may well spread their interests across many areas. This might prohibit ongoing activism in one area but produces valuable skill sets in skepticism itself.

Some skeptics are deeply involved in areas that demand all ones skeptical faculties, yet find it absent from skeptical topics. In my case drug law reform and a host of human rights issues spring to mind. Having been around these areas a very long time, my advice to skeptics would be to not involve the skeptic movement in major law reform. Being generally apolitical is a valuable feature of skepticism. Exactly when topics enter mainstream skeptical discourse, in part reflects social evolution.

Perhaps it’s best worth noting that some areas involving research, science, critical thought and ample evidence may at once yield unambiguous themes and needs, yet not suit skepticism. Said differently, some areas of scientific consensus receive the attention that reflects political climate more than scientific veracity. Beliefs change in the wake of evidence and the process cannot be rushed. The sacking of Professor David Nutt by the UK Home Office in 2009, is a powerful example of this.

Nutt was of course, absolutely correct. Yet the skeptic in me can spot the evidence he perhaps should have lingered to consider. No matter how you approach it, the facts about drug related harm appear to trivialise the matter. Politically and emotionally Australia, the UK and the USA still blame the inanimate drug and not the policy that denies us control. Unpalatable for many, yes. Slowly changing, indeed. But a fact no less and one that impacts on conclusions.

Rest assured, I’m not diverging onto that topic. Rather, hoping to point out how this fits with the observation above and offers insight into the intellectual paucity that sustains generalised attacks against skeptics in the form of skepgoating. Labelling skeptics as beholden to predetermined agendas is born of the same in-group type thinking that labels science a belief system.

When it comes to skepgoating, your relationship to skepticism may at times be defined for you, by someone with a need to pigeon hole interlocutors or label critics. Note this recent Facebook comment.

As most here know, the AVN is a strident anti-vaccine group, falsely professing to offer “informed choice”. However, as demonstrated by this comment there is a dominant theme emerging peculiar to taking sides rather than discussing vaccination choices. Both the person addressed, and the topic of that address, are very much fans of the AVN. Apparently if one is out of step it’s “outrageous” and one is a friend to a ‘skeptic’. Yes, those inverted commas are intentional and I’ll get to that.

I conclude this comment is quite representative of the AVN. One notes praise and support for the commenter from the AVN president and her own similar combative monochrome approach used to restrict independent expression. Particularly one notes the absence of tolerance for freedom of expression with the AVN.

Of course this is a very silly comment – albeit important to this post. So, what’s going on? Although the subject being attacked here merely thanked another member for posting something “from the pro side” she has been skepgoated. No praise for vaccination took place, and nothing “outrageous” occurred. No rationale is needed. Just point the finger and intone the magic word.

This comment brings up the need for another observation. Whilst passive deconstruction of pseudoscience, scams and paranormal topics of all manner is as old as skepticism itself the internet radically changed communication about these topics. There are no cigars for spotting that skeptics are known for one primary trait. Requesting and examining evidence to substantiate claims. In this light skeptics tend toward a strong appreciation of the scientific method and the role of science.

It follows quite predictably that scientists, those working in or with a background in science, those with an appreciation of science and scientific education to communities and others who understand science, may gravitate toward skepticism. This is by no means absolute but suffice it to say there is overlap. A cursory search would indicate skeptics feel motivated toward activism and use of modern media to publish critiques of pseudoscience and exposure of scam tactics. Ultimately skeptics value scientific inquiry, the scientific method and tend to seek out and conclusively judge scientific consensus.

This helps to grasp the genesis of the irrationalism in the above comment. In an age in which non evidence based claims are pitched toward the health consumer, skepticism is proving a bitter natural pill to swallow. Regarding vaccination the science and pseudoscience are easily identified. “Pro-vax” is quite meaningless, but has been promoted heavily to falsely qualify conclusive evidence and sustain the illusion of a debate.

There is no “pro-vax” and there is no “informed choice”. There’s fact and mistakes. Vaccine science makes vaccination a no brainer. Misinformation leads to fear, confusion and poor or delayed choices – aka mistakes.

For skeptics however, this topic presents examples of evidence denial, cognitive dissonance, confirmation bias, conspiracy theory, flawed reasoning, blind belief, belief in the absurd, exhaustive scams and schemes, in-group thinking, cult like features and so on.

A veritable banquet of non critical thought and destructive behaviour, the antivaccination movement is of enormous interest to skepticism. Of course, the notion that someone deemed to not be a “fan” of an antivax group, are therefore friends to skeptics is utterly ridiculous and paranoid. It helps underscore just why these groups attract so much interest from skeptics.

Forget vaccination for a moment. What if you’re interested in the psychology of quasi-religious bigotry, how leadership dogma drives members to attack, how the need to belong shapes perception of the Self and others, the primal need to identify “enemies” and thus elevate our own importance, and on and on. There’s practically an entire Skepticamp in that one comment.

In this case it goes beyond “If you’re not with us you’re against us”. It’s essentially asserting that if you deviate from arbitrary rules you can be labelled in a manner that defines a great deal about you as a person – including loyalty, belief and motivation. Whether on a micro or macro scale one need not be a skeptic to appreciate how destructive the dictatorial thought process is.

This actual skepgoating comment exists in a thread relating to a major skepgoating article by Mike Adams. In fact the person who published it on Facebook goes to extreme lengths to devalue skepticism almost daily. This is primarily to fill an evidence vacuum and to convince members or observers that skeptics have malignant intentions. Meryl Dorey is that person and first published this article two weeks after it was written – 2, 1/2 years ago.

Then again only days ago.

I’m not convinced Dorey believes very much of this at all. It’s rampant ad hominem generalisation that, presented with no reference to Adams, would appear to be Poe’s Law in action. As noted here before, the pseudo-neoconservative philosophy she peddles flips the argument away from evidence based discussion to a claim of being persecuted. “Thinking” with ones gut yields poor results and this is Dorey’s aim.

As AVN member and coach University of Wollongong lecturer Dr. Brian Martin argues, this allows one to provoke outrage in onlookers with the hope of causing backfire of critics’ evidence based techniques.

Martin reveals in his writings that his grasp of what separates pseudoscience and actual dissent is remarkably poor. Referring to scientific theories as “dominant paradigms” he seems incapable of grasping scientific consensus, the scientific method, the import of evidence, altruism and moral responsibility. A champion of both pseudo’ and anti-science we see that fierce devaluation of demonstrable facts and scientists themselves, pepper his writings.

Depending on the sophistication of your audience, almost any attack will do. Engender outrage. Force backfire. Justify censorship. Divert from evidence. Inhibit thinking. Which brings us back to Dorey’s second posting of Mike Adams at his most absurd. The fact that it’s bogus is kind of cute given that he did some “research”. It includes;

Skeptics believe that many six-month-old infants need antidepressant drugs. In fact, they believe that people of all ages can be safely given an unlimited number of drugs all at the same time… Skeptics believe that the human body has no ability to defend itself against invading microorganism and that the only things that can save people from viral infections are vaccines. Skeptics believe that pregnancy is a disease and childbirth is a medical crisis. (They are opponents of natural childbirth.) Skeptics believe that ALL vaccines are safe and effective (even if they’ve never been tested), that ALL people should be vaccinated, even against their will, and that there is NO LIMIT to the number of vaccines a person can be safely given. Skeptics believe that the SUN has no role in human health other than to cause skin cancer. Skeptics believe that human beings were born deficient in synthetic chemicals and that the role of pharmaceutical companies is to “restore” those deficiencies in humans by convincing them to swallow patented pills…..

Mike claims to have lifted all this from skeptic sites. However, “I’m not going to list those websites here because they don’t deserve the search engine rankings”. Given that not raising the rankings of sites one links to is quite basic, we may conclude Mike invented this silliness.

Okay, so that’s a patently nonsensical article. It’s false and clearly so. Indeed, round two imploded on Meryl Dorey and set the tone for the above comment. As usual most critical comments have been deleted and the members banned. Only “skeptic trolls” would disagree with Mike. The single remaining critical comment has the most “Likes”. I can’t be sure but it may have remained due to the reply below it. The respondent authored the original comment above.

It’s quite unambiguous. Despite attesting to not fancying polarisation it is clear this individual is only there to skepgoat. Now a certain Facebook page is deemed populated by skeptics. It isn’t. Yet evidence based critiques of health scams have become hate speech. Anyway, I think the point is made. This is a decided effort to divert attention from evidence and attack the results of scientific inquiry.

So what then is scientific skepticism? Why attack it so often and so ridiculously? Definitions of scientific skepticism including Wikipedia are worth reading. For our purposes in understanding skepgoating it’s not just skeptical appreciation of evidence and inquiry. Identification of belief and the ease of accepting doubt attracts criticism. Where there is doubt there is… doubt. Pseudoscience is frequently about replacing doubt with fiction or logical fallacies.

In terms of belief consider alternatives to medicine, superstitions, vaccine injury chic, paranormal scams, new age diagnostics and healing, vitamin therapy, wonder foods, etc. The list is practically endless. Appreciating evidence, scientific inquiry and understanding how easily humans are fooled is not what those profitting from cancer cures or removing “vaccine poisons” want widely known.

Mike Adams is a prime example. By attacking modern medicine and modern living he attracts a global demographic that may likely purchase from his multi-million dollar empire selling garbage that purports to repair the damage sustained from modern living. Damage he simply invents. Like Meryl Dorey it’s difficult to be sure where the crafty money making begins and the delusion leaves off.

Then there’s the plain whacky skepgoating characters like Martin Walker. Skeptics are “the global corporate science lobby group”. His Health Fascism in Australia is priceless:

To quote Orac. “‘Health Fascism’ in Australia? The anti-vaccine loons think so”. Walker is one bizarre piece of work. His rambling attack on sinister fascist skeptics includes:

The sinister Skeptics group, agents of what used to be CSICOP now the  Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) organised from the US and linked to the major corporate lobby groups, American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) and American Council Against Health Fraud (ACAHF), which is in turn linked to the Australian CAHF) are making ground in Australia.

Supported by authoritarian ideological influences in government and Big Pharma, the Skeptics are running constant attacks on homeopathy, natural cancer treatments, those who question vaccination and those who support any form of alternative medicine.

With the present world fiscal crisis, all those linked to Big Pharma and Science are fighting a bitter battle to preserve drug company competitiveness. But where fascist influences in government and health with most force come together is in attacking anyone who speaks out about freedom of choice and expression in relation to vaccination.

Over the last year the international corporate lobby Skeptics, have been behind a campaign against the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN). […]

Yes. The “campaign” one retired bloke sent off in a complaint. Nice work it was, but “campaign” by an international corporate lobby? NURSE!

Dorey tried this approach herself blaming skeptics for Friends of Science in Medicine:

There is an organisation in Australia which hates every natural therapy. They hate the healthcare practitioners and they hate the healthcare consumers who ‘turn their backs’ on Western medicine in favour of a range of other modalities which put no money in their pockets and take away their prestige. Worst of all, they hate anyone who chooses not to use vaccines! That is the ultimate heresy, as far as they are concerned.

But it’s OK – because they have a plan and they have the money and media backing, they think, to bring this plan to fruition.

This group, the Australian Skeptics, has been instrumental in setting up the organisation, Stop the AVN.

Now, they are working on a new initiative – and this one is more ambitious then just stopping a small, parent-run community support group. Now, their goal is to stop anyone in Australia (today Australia – tomorrow the world as far as this bunch of ratbags is concerned) from learning about or using natural therapies. Their mad campaign is getting plenty of publicity too!

They have just set up a new front group called Friends of Science in Medicine (FSM) which is behind the new effort to outlaw the teaching of any natural medicine course in University. […]

It’s widely known SAVN is a Facebook page set up by a non-skeptic. It’s a Facebook page, not an organisation. FSM was quite capable of launching themselves. Yet Dorey’s skepgoating is clear. Whilst Australian Skeptics employ a total of one person to ensure a decent magazine appears each quarter the above paints them almost as powerful as a small country.

My little definition of skepgoating up top includes “other individuals” because, well even skeptics can’t do everything. Just make it seem that way.

I explained how crucial it is for Dorey particularly to tar all critics with one brush. Not with the AVN? Then must be a skeptic actively working against the AVN. This next example speaks for itself.

An article today in The Telegraph notes vaccine conscientious objectors (perhaps having grown under her guidance) continue to secure government immunisation incentives. It also ran in other online publications.

They ran a poll asking “Should anti-vaccine parents get paid?”. The results are quite in line with national vaccine rates. In fact they err toward more fully vaccinated Aussies supporting the payment for vaccine objectors.

Nonetheless this is Meryl Dorey’s response:

[Note – see update at end]

Despite most skeptics in Australia not bothering with such unscientific nonsense as a dodgy self reporting poll, Dorey still plays that card. It gets sillier when one notes she has asked her own members to visit the poll and vote. Nonetheless it’s a great example of skepgoating and raises my promise to elaborate on those inverted commas within the initial comment.

You see scientific skeptics aren’t skeptics but pseudo-skeptics according to Meryl. No doubt this is intended to provoke the odd skeptic but it’s bizarre given the definition of pseudoskepticism. Marcello Truzini coined the term. He wrote in On Pseudo-Skepticism in 1987:

In science, the burden of proof falls upon the claimant; and the more extraordinary a claim, the heavier is the burden of proof demanded. The true skeptic takes an agnostic position, one that says the claim is not proved rather than disproved. He asserts that the claimant has not borne the burden of proof and that science must continue to build its cognitive map of reality without incorporating the extraordinary claim as a new “fact.” Since the true skeptic does not assert a claim, he has no burden to prove anything. He just goes on using the established theories of “conventional science” as usual. But if a critic asserts that there is evidence for disproof, that he has a negative hypothesis—saying, for instance, that a seeming psi result was actually due to an artifact—he is making a claim and therefore also has to bear a burden of proof.

I’ve dealt with Dorey’s obsession with laying claim to skepticism before, including that appallingly offensive blog abusing the name of Australian Skeptics. She seems to have muddled Hume’s true skepticism (philosophy) with evidence denial. This prompts her to argue that belief is actual skepticism. As in be so skeptical deny reality as well.

Where this fails utterly is that in promoting belief, she unwittingly concludes that is a final contention. You may know this position as “science can’t explain everything”. Dorey, and pseudoscience take it further. “If science is limited this way then anything is possible – especially what I allege”. It’s here where the agnostic (if you like) or acceptance of doubt in science that skeptics are at home with kicks in. Belief does not change. Scientific skepticism accepts that change is always likely but what may eventuate is a matter for inquiry. Certainly not conjecture or at worst, rank conjuring.

Of course science doesn’t “know” everything. But assuming it thus truthfully knows nothing, is a recipe for intellectual disaster. This gives us vaccine denial, AIDS denial, conspiracies, UFO assertion and other false contentions that lead to attacks on modern medicine and the growth of sham industries.

SCEPCOP do exactly the same. Claiming to be the Scientific Committee to Evaluate Pseudo Skeptical Criticism Of the Paranormal, they also lay claim to being actual skeptics. It’s pretty cringe-worthy. Dorey’s use and abuse of both “skepticism” and “pseudoskepticism” is identical to SCEPCOP. There’s also Skeptical Investigations and plenty of others like them. These groups spawn individuals who associate covertly with skeptic groups only to compile negative evaluations about skeptic interests.

Child Health Safety is another antivax site with a long record of attacking skeptics, and presupposing the intent of discourse based on identity. From Dorey’s blog.

Wow. Um is there a point you wanted to make? As you can see dear reader, skepgoating frequently involves attacks with no substance, no context and actually no relevance. All we see over and again is the need to devalue genuine agents of evidence.

Rational Wiki describe pseudoskepticism as if describing these groups and the AVN. By projecting their own pseudoskepticism they seek to devalue critics and label evidence based criticism unfounded. The important point is that it has two common usages at present. 1.) To further devalue scientific skepticism by laying claim to the title (but not process) of skepticism. This is abuse of the term and includes Meryl Dorey’s use.

2.) As a substitute for “denial” it may be used to describe those who pimp and preen as skeptics, make a few convincing noises but hold to a predetermined agenda. They will ignore any evidence that challenges them. Despite holding a PhD in physics and strutting as an academic, our radical sociologist antivaxxer Dr. Brian Martin is a genuine pseudoskeptic. A fraud. I can be no kinder.

I should stress that skeptics themselves must be aware of slipping into pseudoskepticism. Fortunately skeptics are rather good at keeping each other honest. This may sound strange but I’m yet to find a better defender of Dorey than skeptics. Not because they accept her piffle for a moment. But because tolerating generalisations or making assumptions about the AVN without evidence is intolerable.

As I mentioned earlier communication influences present day skepticism. In this way skeptics and those with good critical thinking abilities have made genuine long lasting inroads into debunking scams. People are getting ripped off, made ill and at times dying. Often, they are ripped off while dying and being made more ill by some shonky scam. Skeptic movements have a particular distaste for such “health freedom choices”. They are only too happy to inform governments how poorly existing legislation is. So, if skepticism has changed what can we identify?

Skepticism might be viewed as existing at the centre of four inroads. Evidence, human rights, consumer rights and moral or legal obligation. Each inroad is not exclusive. They may accommodate portions of each other or highlight qualities we value as a society. Such as education, free speech, rationalism, reason, truth, democratic freedom, progressive policy design, equality and so on.

I’ve left out specifying paranormal investigation, enduring themes (like perpetual energy and religious experience) exhaustively examined and respectfully considered by skeptics. I couldn’t possibly do justification to legendary visionaries like Nigerian skeptic Leo Igwe and his struggle to fight superstition and brutal irrationalism with reason and education. No doubt this article could be pages long and include almost every division of pseudoscience and superstition.

One thing I should stress is that skeptics do identify those who have been misled as opposed to those who mislead. The result is an even stronger conviction to prevent charlatans from scheming and scamming the vulnerable. From sabotaging education and indoctrinating with dogma. In turn those who measure profit by victim count, don’t cope terribly well with a skeptic critique.

Presently it’s practically standing room only for the enemies of reason. From creationism to cancer cures they are easy to find. So too is a critical response to these impossible claims. Depending upon ones background, education, experience and social circle individuals pick up fairly quickly on the patterns that resonate with them.

Skepticism is tearing down the walls of illusion and that is why pseudoscience is so keen to attack skeptics and skepticism. Arguments, much less legal or legislative challenges, cannot be won by scam artists on merit. To them it’s imperative that those who seek to hold them to account be devalued, falsely maligned, abused, accused and worse.

If there is one thing this article lacks it is a full representation of the outrageous, scurrilous, blame filled and nauseating attacks on skeptics. Skepgoating.

Ultimately the more skepgoating there is, the better the job skeptics seem to be doing.

July 16th – Update on newspaper poll. Another copy to run a similar piece was the Courier Mail. Providing a shorter piece, they worded their poll differently. “Are vaccinations worth the risk”? I know, I know. Given one is more likely to become a billionaire than experience anaphylactic shock it’s a stupid and loaded question. Still here’s the poll results as of early afternoon the following day.

So with a general vaccination rate of 95% plus, over 20% of us don’t reckon it’s worth the risk! Pseudo-skeptic vote bot, Pseudo-skeptic vote bot. Where for art thou Pseudo-skeptic vote bot? Pathetic effort.

However, gracious in defeat I doff me cap to the anti-vax flying monkeys.