Lyle Shelton’s ‘red herring’ consequences to same-sex marriage

Lyle Shelton of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) has done a fine job building straw men from supposed “consequences” of same-sex marriage legislation.

He has been pushing this shadowy notion for well over a year, using the interim time to select a favoured stable of consequences. As a constant face for the No campaign he has recently been offering these quite doubtful consequences as reason to vote No in the upcoming plebiscite. To hear Shelton tell it, oppression of select freedoms is absolutely certain. To hear others tell it he is talking nonsense. Offering red herrings. He’s certainly doing what many do when the evidence doesn’t favour their position and opinion.

Mainly, work hard at divergence. Draw attention away from the actual matter at hand. As has been recently pointed out by Nick Greiner more than one billion people live in countries where same-sex marriage is a reality. Keeping this in mind we can see that even with the stable of starring consequences the ACL and Shelton are offering a paucity of examples to defend the No Campaign. More so we should revisit his approach from last year to grasp how little has changed. As Independent Sydney M.P. Alex Greenwich notes, Lyle Shelton rarely talks about marriage with respect to the same-sex marriage debate.

On July 26th 2016 Shelton appeared on Sky News and was asked by Paul Murray to explain the No case. Mr. Shelton is no stranger to dodging an answer to questions, instead getting his own point across. He replied, “This is essentially about three things, Paul. It’s a package deal that comes with a bunch of other things”. He then went on to stress that “gay couples have equal status with heterosexual couples under law that has existed since at least 2008”. He again pressed the “package deal” point, contesting that “if we change the definition of marriage, Safe Schools comes under the banner of the rainbow flag and rainbow political agenda”.

His evidence? “You’ve got to look no further than Victoria, Premier Daniel Andrews, one of the biggest proponents of gay marriage, he’s forcing Safe Schools into his schools”. Then freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of religion appear to be under threat. Changing the definition of marriage “in Commonwealth law weaponises state based anti-discrimination law”. He mentioned the case of Archbishop Julian Porteus. An anti-discrimination complaint was lodged in November 2015 against the Archbishop with respect to his “Don’t Mess With Marriage” booklet.

The third problem is about “what we do to children”. Shelton contended “that mothers don’t matter to a baby anymore. That’s what same-sex marriage says in law and culture”. Later he contends that “we won’t be able to stop commercial surrogacy, which is deeply unethical, if we change the definition of marriage. It is a definite flow-on effect”. He “cannot get anyone from the gay lobby to deny that commercial surrogacy is not next”. The Australian Christian Lobby argue that commercial surrogacy is another part of the “package deal” with same-sex marriage.

The next day he ran much the same by Steve Price on 2GB. According to Shelton same-sex couples enjoy the same lifestyle as heterosexual couples. If we redefine marriage, we redefine parenting. There will be “flow on effects” including gender ideology via the Safe Schools programme, which (you guessed it) is “a package deal with same-sex marriage”.

Shelton is now frequently referring to “radical LGBTIQ” education as a result of Safe Schools. It’s rather tiring researching his presentation. He will launch into the “consequences” that he insists loom before us. Every interview. Often two or perhaps three times. Although this is of course far more palatable than the May 2016 blog piece in which he wrote on Safe Schools. Including;

The cowardice and weakness of Australia’s ‘gatekeepers’ is causing unthinkable things to happen, just as unthinkable things happened in Germany in the 1930s.

Despite using a range of “consequences” to same-sex marriage to defend a No vote, it is Safe Schools that entirely make up the first No Campaign TV advertisement. The ad’ was commissioned by the Coalition for Marriage which is led by the ACL. The ABC report in part;

Claims legalising same-sex marriage will lead to sweeping education reforms are “patently ridiculous”, Education Minister Simon Birmingham has said after the release of the first national TV ad from the No campaign.

He continues to rattle off the other consequences he has firmly committed to memory. Although as I mentioned, with one billion people living in countries with same-sex marriage enshrined in law, his sample is strikingly tiny. He still mentions Archbishop Julian Porteus from Tasmania. He never misses a chance to remind listeners that in March 2016 Bill Shorten promised the Guardian Australia’s Why Knot? event that Labor would not alter discrimination legislation to please opponents to same-sex marriage. The Guardian reported;

Labor will oppose any attempt to extend discrimination law exemptions to allow people who object to same-sex marriage to deny goods and services to gay couples.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten made the pledge at Guardian Australia’s marriage equality event Why Knot in Sydney on Thursday.

Responding to a questioner who asked him to rule out allowing bakers not to sell cakes to gay weddings, Shorten said Labor would oppose such discrimination law exemptions and repeal them at the earliest available opportunity if they passed.

“It’s not allowed now under the current law – why would we water down existing laws? We don’t need to water down anti-discrimination law to keep some people [who oppose same-sex marriage] happy.”

Shelton has summed this up as “cake makers and wedding service providers losing freedoms”. Furthermore he frequently refers to Senator James Paterson to reinforce the “loss of freedoms” consequence. The Guardian recently reported in part;

Parliament must decide how to protect religious freedom if same-sex marriage is legalised, and cannot wait until the marriage equality postal survey is finished, the Liberal senator James Paterson has said.

The Victorian senator has called for an overhaul of anti-discrimination law to allow service providers to refuse gay weddings, telling a religious freedom forum in Perth on Thursday there will be no time to deal with the issue after the survey is finished.

Constantly, along with Shorten and Paterson, Mr. Shelton will also mention Alex Greenwich to complete his trio of politicians whose individual conduct apparently confirms the consequence of eroded civil liberties.

A staple discrimination consequence often presented to Australians is that of Irish cake makers Daniel and Amy McCarthy. In 2014 bakers at the family run company, Ashers, refused to make a cake with the slogan Support Gay Marriage, above an image of Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie. The customer was gay rights activist Gareth Lee. By May 2015 a Belfast High Court ruled the company guilty of unlawful discrimination based on grounds of sexual orientation. Ashers paid £500 plus court costs.

Nonetheless in a few weeks the UK Supreme Court will hear arguments over two days to consider the initial judgement. One must wonder however just how much consideration will be placed on the argument that certain messages in icing pose a risk to the soul. As Pink News reported last May;

The bakers claimed in a legal brief that God considers it a sin to make cakes with pro-gay messages on, but multiple courts have upheld the decision against them.

Now with the UK Supreme Court taking an interest this apparent consequence may prove inconsequential to those who are essentially discriminating against others. The attention has already resulted in a significant increase in profits. As of last May Ashers reported an increase of £200,000.

Another “consequence” raised by Mr. Shelton is truly a case of having your cake and eating it too. He’d have his audience believe Oregon couple Aaron and Melissa Klein are innocent bakers that had their right to protect their beliefs crushed. However it was the decision of the Klein’s to not serve same-sex customers due to religious beliefs, then close their shop and move their business to home. The attention to this case led to a Wikipedia page, Sweet Cakes By Melissa.

In July 2015 Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries confirmed in a final order an administrative court’s decision to fine the couple. They were fined $135,000. However along with a number of other news outlets, Pink News reported in March this year the couple wanted to overturn the judgement. There also appeared to be strange activity around the finances raised;

The Christian bakery in Oregon that waged a court battle against anti-discrimination rules are now trying to avoid paying legal costs – despite donors giving them several times the full amount.

The owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa came to national attention when they claimed it would be “sinful” to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple, launching a legal battle against the state’s equality laws.

After losing the long-running court case last year, bakers Melissa and Aaron Klein were ordered to pay $135,000 in costs and damages .

More than  $400,000 was raised online after the anti-gay American Family Association (AFA) rallied its supporters to donate to Sweet Cakes to cover the fine.

It could still be several weeks at least until the appeals judges hand down a ruling.

Mr. Shelton loves to tell us of the consequence that befell 71 year old Washington grandmother Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts. Stutzman refused to provide floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding based on her religious beliefs. A lower court found she had violated the state’s anti-discrimination laws. Last February Washington’s state Supreme Court agreed with the lower court’s ruling. Robert Vischer argues here that the court erred in its decision. The Attorney General outlines his case below (bold mine);

Fighting discrimination before the state Supreme Court

I will not tolerate discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. I had another opportunity to uphold our anti-discrimination laws recently, this time before the Washington State Supreme Court.

My office filed the lawsuit in 2013 against Arlene’s Flowers and its owner and operator, Barronelle Stutzman, for discrimination over the refusal to serve a same-sex couple seeking to buy wedding flowers, a service she and her business provided to opposite-sex couples.

Last year, a Benton County Superior Court judge ruled that Stutzman’s actions violated the state Consumer Protection Act. Before I filed our lawsuit, I sent a letter to Ms. Stutzman asking her to agree to stop discriminating, in which case my office would not seek fines or penalties. Ms. Stutzman declined that offer. She lost the ensuing lawsuit and pursued an appeal, which the Supreme Court heard in November.

Washington law is clear: Businesses cannot discriminate. If you serve opposite-sex partners, you must serve same-sex partners equally.

Recently there has been a development that reinforces how tenuous this case is to the argument of “consequences” coming from Shelton. Indeed the development itself suggests that the ACL is at best sloppy and at worst deceptive with the full import of its claims. On July 14 this year, The Daily Signal reported;

Less than one month after the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would review the case of a Colorado baker who declined to make a cake for a gay couple’s wedding celebration because of his religious beliefs about marriage, lawyers asked the high court to combine it with a similar case involving a florist from Washington state, The Daily Signal has learned.

On June 26, the Supreme Court announced it would hear the case of Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado. In 2012, after refusing to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding celebration, he was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union and charged with violating the state’s anti-discrimination law.

The case of baker Jack Phillips is also listed on the ACL website. One hopes if the reviews are successful that this consequence will be accurately reflected on the website.

We constantly hear from Mr. Shelton that in Canada, father Steve Tourloukis lost the right to remove his children from “radical sex education programs which became compulsory after marriage was redefined”. It is reported that the Ontario Superior Court of Justice upheld the School Board’s decision to deny permission to remove children from class to avoid what Tourloukis had labelled “false teachings”. It is reported in part;

The Board took the position that it was not possible to know, in advance, what does or does not amount to a “false teaching”, and that permitting the applicant’s children to be withdrawn from classes where certain topics are taught would be contrary to the values of inclusion and student well-being that underline a number of Ministry and Board policies, including the Board’s Equity Policy. The Board also argued that granting the accommodation requested by the applicant could lead to feelings of exclusion by students, including the applicant’s children.

Another “consequence” of same-sex marriage legislation that Shelton has on high rotation is that Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven wants priests and pastors who refuse to wed same sex couples to “find another job”. Shelton opens a June 27th blog post with;

With Australian same-sex marriage activists saying there are no consequences to changing the definition of marriage, the Swedish Prime Minister (pictured) has warned priests to perform gay marriages or “find another job”.

Interestingly the quote “find another job” is part of a link to an article that doesn’t present such a dismissive phrase. Because Löfven didn’t say this. This hasn’t stopped Shelton claiming so constantly on TV and radio. What the Swedish PM actually said in this regard is reported as follows in the article Shelton links to;

We Social Democrats are working to ensure all priests will consecrate everyone, including same-sex couples,” Lofven told Kyrkans Tidning magazine.

“I see parallels to the midwife who refuses to perform abortions. If you work as a midwife you must be able to perform abortions, otherwise you have to do something else… It is the same for priests,” he said.

Another constant from Shelton is the London based Jewish Vishnitz Girls school. He tells his audience that it faces closure “because it won’t teach its students that gender is fluid”. The Independent reported in part on June 26th, 2017;

A private faith school in London has failed its third Ofsted inspection for refusing to teach its pupils about homosexuality.

Inspectors visiting Vishnitz Girls School in north London last month said the Orthodox school does not give pupils “a full understanding of fundamental British values”, The Telegraph reported.

[…]

Ofsted makes clear that schools are not expected to “promote” ideas about sexual orientation or gender reassignment, but they are expected to “encourage pupils’ respect for other people, paying particular regard to the protected characteristics set out in the 2010 Equalities Act”.

Perhaps one of the most strikingly misleading claims from Lyle Shelton is a post in the ACL blog headed, You Won’t Believe The Latest Consequence Of Same-Sex Marriage In Canada.

A new law in Ontario, Canada, threatens to take children from “abusive” parents who do not agree with them changing their gender.

Australian Christian Lobby Managing Director Lyle Shelton warned that if the gender diversity requirement was removed from the Marriage Act, pressure would build for similar law here.

Ontario’s Minister of Children and Youth Services Michael Coteau said his Bill 89, passed last week, designated parents who did not agree with their children’s chosen gender as “abusive”.

The wording here is designed to mislead readers into believing that a new law has been passed solely to label parents who do not agree with their child’s gender change as “abusive”. And that should parents not agree with the gender change there is a risk the children will be taken. But is this really what Bill 89 is claiming? The Explanatory Note includes;

The paramount purpose of the Act — to promote the best interests, protection and well-being of children — remains unchanged from the current Act.

The additional purposes of the Act are expanded to include the following:

         To recognize that services to children and young persons should be provided in a manner that respects regional differences wherever possible and takes into account,

                physical, emotional, spiritual, mental and developmental needs and differences among children and young persons;

                a child’s or young person’s race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, family diversity, disability, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression; and

                a child’s or young person’s cultural and linguistic needs.

         To recognize that services to children and young persons and their families should be provided in a manner that builds on the strengths of the families wherever possible.

The Bill in total is extensive. 352 sections (containing subsections) within 13 parts. After the preamble the second reference to gender, for example, is mentioned (in the Bill proper) in Paramount purposes and other purposes. It is found in Part 1, Section (1), subsection iii, as below;

Part 1 (1)  The paramount purpose of this Act is to promote the best interests, protection and well-being of children.

(2) The additional purposes of this Act, so long as they are consistent with the best interests, protection and well-being of children, are to recognize the following:

(3) Services to children and young persons should be provided in a manner that,
[…]
iii.  takes into account a child’s or young person’s race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, family diversity, disability, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression,

The term “abusive” does not appear in the Bill copy to which Shelton has linked. There are 16 matches to “gender” and 35 matches to “abuse”. It is quite clear from reading the text surrounding these terms that removal of children would be from a demonstrably abusive environment. Exactly what constitutes abuse is well defined. Merit for Shelton’s claim that children would be taken from parents who simply do not “agree” with their child’s gender is lacking.

I find it concerning that Shelton makes this contention in such a fickle manner. The psychological challenges experienced by LGBTIQ adolescents subject to unwanted gender bias or bigotry are well documented. As are many tragic outcomes in some cases where proper support is denied. Society itself must be confident that the rights of children and adolescents will be protected in this regard.

Fortunately this Bill strives to build on the strengths of families “wherever possible” and seeks to promote “the best interests, protection and well-being of children”. It is patently clear that reference to gender identity and sexual orientation is a very small part of what makes up a child’s or young person’s identity. Australia has nothing to fear from Canada’s protection of children because the nation has same-sex marriage legislation.

A number of the other “consequences” listed above are to be revisited by Supreme Courts and one is presently subject to appeal. Others demonstrably discriminate. Indeed there will always be those seeking to draw attention to themselves, or as was said in the case of “Washington grandmother” Barronelle Stutzman, seeking her fifteen minutes of fame. Shelton constantly embellishes and misleads to create the illusion of unjustified, socially restrictive “consequences”.

Shelton’s manufactured concern about a “package deal” and demonstrably unlikely “consequences” is puerile and immoral.

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Don’t Mess With Anti-Discrimination Laws

A fortnight ago Australians learned that the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) was urging the federal government to set aside anti-discrimination laws during the marriage equality plebiscite. This would facilitate free speech for the “no side” which was, according to ACL Managing Director Lyle Shelton, fearful of being prosecuted if they expressed their views on same sex marriage.

According to Fairfax, Gillian Triggs, President of the Australian Human Rights Commission described it as “a disgraceful way of dealing with the issue”. Suggesting the ACL failed to understand how the anti-discrimination law worked, she added. “It’s an outrageous proposition and it’s highly misguided.”

In a radio interview with Jon Faine on Melbourne’s ABC 774 Shelton raised the example of the rather unambiguously titled “Pastoral letter” Don’t Mess With Marriage (below at 1 minute mark).

… at the moment we’ve seen the Australian Catholic Bishop’s Conference taken to the Tasmanian Human Rights Commission because someone felt offended by a very gentle, and respectful booklet just explaining Christian teachings on marriage.

Speaking to Fairfax about the same case Shelton is quoted as saying those who argued against same sex marriage faced a “constant threat of quasi and full-blown legal action”. Apparently as Shelton sees it these laws are not fair. State anti-discrimination laws have “such a low threshold” and thus, according to Shelton, the ACL is very concerned about fairness during the campaign.

The “gentle and respectful booklet”, as Shelton labelled Don’t Mess With Marriage was published in November last year. It points out on p.13 that:

Respecting a child’s dignity means affirming his or her need and natural right to a mother and a father. And there are countless reliable studies that suggest that mothers and fathers enhance – and their absences impede – child development in different ways.

[…]

‘Messing with marriage’, therefore, is also ‘messing with kids’. It is gravely unjust to them.

Lyle SheltonLyle Shelton

A few pieces of this “gentle and respectful” wisdom require an entire paragraph in large font. Don’t think the fact that many children are happily raised in single parent families might get in the way of the ACL “Christian teachings on marriage”.

There is a big difference, however, between dealing with the unintended reality of single parenthood and planning from the beginning artificially to create an ‘alternative family’ that deliberately deprives a child of a father or a mother. (p.13)

Same-sex friendships are of a very different kind: to treat them as the same does a grave injustice to both kinds of friendship and ignores the particular values that real marriages serve. (p.9)

Under a photo of a sad child staring expressionless into space with disheveled hair and wearing a singlet is the heading Consequences of redefining marriage. Large font paragraphs sum up:

But if the civil definition of marriage were changed to include ‘same-sex marriage’ then our law and culture would teach that marriage is merely about emotional union of any two (or more?) people. (p.14)

Husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, will be seen to be wholly interchangeable social constructs as gender would no longer matter. (p.14)

As always with such bigotry we’re reliably informed there is “sociological research” or simply research to back the claims. One citation mentioned on page 16 is M. Regnerus (2012): How different are the adult children of parents who have same sex relationships? His methodology and conclusions are condemned by a number of experts in this fact check from Equality Matters.

Indeed there was no comparison of same sex couples raising a family to heterosexual couples raising a family. Rather the criteria used is whether a parent had ever had a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex. The parent subjects were in fact part of a failed heterosexual union. Only a minor part of the sample spent “more than a few years living in a household headed by a same sex union”.

D. P. Sullins’ Emotional problems among children with same-sex parents: difference by definition is cited. It is also the subject of Emma Green’s Using Pseudoscience To Undermine Same-Sex Parents. Green notes:

This is not a new argument. Especially in the past decade, as gay marriage has been legally recognized in many states, a small number of scholars have claimed that kids of same-sex parents are exposed to more potential harms than kids of straight parents. This, in turn, has been used to argue against gay adoption and marriage.

In 5 Things to know about the new “gay parents are bad for kids study” Democratic Underground lay out how poorly data collation was conducted by Sullins, and note a lack of controls or adjustments for ambiguous variables (Point. 2). They ask in point five, So why bother authoring a study that is very obviously flawed?

This is essentially the problem with the deeply offensive Don’t Mess With Marriage. Children are the innocent victims of same sex marriage. They are to endure a “grave injustice”. Also the booklet is sprinkled with apparently awful outcomes for individuals and institutions across the globe. Again the tone is that same-sex marriage has a victim count.

So why would any objection be raised against Don’t Mess With Marriage, if Shelton deems it “a very gentle, and respectful booklet just explaining Christian teachings on marriage”? We find out in this Australian Women’s Weekly article that the “anti-gay” scribe was handed out to Catholic school children. 56 schools in Canberra according to Canberra Archbishop Christopher Prowse. Students discovering sexual orientation and gender or aware they are gay attend these schools. One mum stressed she was “furious”.

Referring to “sociological research” to quietly pass the buck to justify emotionally destructive and psychologically harmful biases might be intended to lend academic integrity to organised bigotry. Yet it appears any such consensus as put forward doesn’t exist.

The American Psychological Association published a statement on June 11th 2012. It includes:

On the basis of a remarkably consistent body of research on lesbian and gay parents and their children, the American Psychological Association (APA) and other health professional and scientific organizations have concluded that there is no scientific evidence that parenting effectiveness is related to parental sexual orientation. That is, lesbian and gay parents are as likely as heterosexual parents to provide supportive and healthy environments for their children. This body of research has shown that the adjustment, development and psychological well-being of children are unrelated to parental sexual orientation and that the children of lesbian and gay parents are as likely as those of heterosexual parents to flourish.

[…]

In fact one study which did have the religious right unsettled was the 2014 University of Melbourne (Australia) study by Crouch et al. Parent-reported measures of child health and wellbeing in same-sex parent families: a cross-sectional survey (Full paper). Abstract Conclusions read:

Australian children with same-sex attracted parents score higher than population samples on a number of parent-reported measures of child health. Perceived stigma is negatively associated with mental health. Through improved awareness of stigma these findings play an important role in health policy, improving child health outcomes

Lyle Shelton’s appeal to antiquity is one for those who love to dig through history. In defending the request for an “override” of anti-discrimination laws Shelton claimed,

…those in the “no” camp were not seeking to say anything bigoted, but to put forward the “millenia-old” argument that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.

A History Of Same Sex Marriage by William Eskridge Jr., offers a markedly different view of marriage, history and culture. There are the fascinating accounts of fourth century Christian martyrs and Roman soldiers St. Sergius and St. Bacchus. Perhaps married lovers as John Boswell concluded – to much criticism. Or simply “made brothers” via adelphopoiesis. Or as others postulate was the Christian tradition of adelphopoiesis the ideal vehicle to allow a same sex union in all but name? Nonetheless the real answers would lie in a firm grasp of history and anthropology.

Still, it matters little what is “millenia-old”. Appeals to antiquity are regarded as logical fallacies because in all their forms they are bankrupt of evidence to persuade. Today in our present social climate the denial of same sex union requires discrimination and frequently, bigotry. Expecting “override” of anti-discrimination legislation hints at the tone of argument the conservative religious movement would like to get away with.

The ACL should be ashamed they feel justified in making such a request.

 

Reject that and you belong in hell

In God We Teach follows the story of a high school student who recorded his history teacher proselytising for Jesus.

In Kearny New Jersey, student Matthew LaClair recorded teacher David Paszkiewicz preaching about Jesus. An avowed “anti-Darwinist”, who places god before all and concludes academic freedom includes the freedom to preach and not teach, at one time Paszkiewicz informs his history students:

He (Jesus) did everything in his power to make sure you could go to heaven. So much so that he put your sins on his own body, suffered your pains for you and is saying ‘please accept me, believe’.

You reject that and you belong in hell.

During a high school christian club meeting Paszkiewicz allows students to articulate the fundamentalist view that immorality thrives through “endorsing” evolution. One student suggests that people would, “… grow cold and empty. You grow cold to people with disabilities. You grow cold to an after life. There is no after life. Why not do what you want? Why not steal? Why not assault people?”.

Paszkiewicz calmly tells the student attendees;

The world doesn’t understand this but believers do. Teaching Darwinism, is something that’s going to take peoples eyes off of god, especially Jesus Christ. […]

It may be against the law to teach Creationism as fact, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

With the town backing the wayward teacher, Matthew LaClair does what clearly had to be done to defend the right to public education and the separation of church and state.

An excellent documentary by vic Losick. Read more at In God We Teach or visit Vimeo.

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.

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