Risky Business

Recently the Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network emailed members to announce their change of name to Australian Vaccination-risks Network.

The author of the email took the opportunity to falsely attack Australian Skeptics Inc., thoroughly misrepresent the global Skeptics movement and reinforce baseless fears about the risk benefit ratio of vaccines. The email also misrepresented the circumstances via which the Australian Vaccination Network came to have the word “skeptics” inserted into it’s name. As will become clear below the word “risks” could have been chosen by this anti-vaccine group four to five years ago.

The word “risks” was suggested along with “skeptics” by the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal as a means by which the group could satisfy a request by the NSW Department of Fair Trading. NSW Fair Trading had written to the AVN referencing;

…an increasing number of requests to have NSW Fair Trading amend the name of the Australian Vaccination Network Inc., based on the contention that the name is misleading and deceptive, and therefore undesirable.

The full letter dated August 28th, 2012 is below.

 

There were ample histrionics from the AVN. Despite the clarity of the correspondence they claimed only the AMA had complained, “- an industry lobby group who obviously feels threatened by the idea that parents might choose not to vaccinate – costing them money”. This was “anti-competitive behaviour” on the part of NSW Department of Fair Trading. Democracy and truth were threatened. The matter was an “abuse of process”. Skeptic blogs began to report on the issue about one hour before media outlets did. Thus, Meryl Dorey conspiratorially queried;

Is there a direct line of communication between the Australian Skeptics, Stop the AVN (SAVN) and government departments?

Which brings us back to the groups’ most recent email, the very tiring attacks on skeptics and the even more tiring contention that Australian Skeptics Inc. is linked to Stop The AVN. It’s worth noting that because of confusion with the official sounding Australian Vaccination Network, the volunteer citizens group Stop The Australian Vaccination Network had prior to the time of NSW Department of Fair Trading involvement changed their name to Stop The Australian (Anti) Vaccination Network.

Now, above I mentioned attacks and misinformation on the part of the Australian Vaccination-risks Network. Let’s continue to call them the AVN. Below is a snap from their email;

It seems quite clear the connotation of the email is that NSW Fair Trading “forced” the AVN to adopt the noun skeptics as part of their name. Worse the noun skeptic is purposefully misrepresented in the context in which it is used, which leads to such ridiculous name calling as “anti-skeptics”.

Let’s examine the misrepresentation of a very basic definition of the word “skeptic” with the term as it is understood by the Skeptic movement first. Then by examining the evidence that Ms. Dorey discarded the option of “risks” to instead choose “skeptics” after losing an appeal against NSW Department of Fair Trading, we will appreciate the deceptive argument that is laid out.

The noun cited above is a very basic, indeed rather limited understanding of the term. In fact by citing this and then immediately referring to the global skeptic movement Ms. Dorey (whom I have little doubt wrote this unsigned email) confirms she is ignorant of the difference between a skeptic and the Skeptic movement. She has completely ignored the importance of evidence and scientific consensus to the Skeptic movement.

Her view of a skeptic as used to attack genuine scientific skeptics would seem to be someone who doubts reality. I have written about this childish abuse of science and philosophy in addressing her blog The Real Australian Sceptics. At that time – May 2012 – Dorey used the exact same definition of the noun “skeptic” as in the email above. The article examines why Dorey and the AVN are in fact pseudo-skeptics, despite her antagonistic habit of using that term to describe skeptics who request she prevent current, reproducible, peer reviewed evidence.

I imagine the inventive ‘those who do not question accepted opinions and attack those who do’, may well reflect the anti-SAVN work of Brian Martin who was initially contacted and misled about apparent attacks, by Ms. Dorey herself. He then published a number of extremely biased pieces, which laden with conspiracy theory, appear to repeat the same conclusion from various angles. Namely that the SAVN and skeptics have bullied and attacked Ms. Dorey. Yet there is absolutely no mention of Dorey producing convincing evidence.

The Skeptical Movement page hosted at Wikipedia has far more suitable definitions under Scientific Skepticism. Note the importance of evidence as opposed to opinion and ideology.

What skeptical thinking boils down to is the means to construct, and to understand, a reasoned argument and, especially important, to recognize a fallacious or fraudulent argument. The question is not whether we like the conclusion that emerges out of a train of reasoning, but whether the conclusion follows from the premises or starting point and whether that premise is true.

— Carl Sagan in The Demon-Haunted World, 1995, p. 197

Science is […] a way of skeptically interrogating the universe with a fine understanding of human fallibility. If we are not able to ask skeptical questions, to interrogate those who tell us that something is true, to be skeptical of those in authority, then we’re up for grabs for the next charlatan, political or religious, who comes ambling along.

A skeptic is one who prefers beliefs and conclusions that are reliable and valid to ones that are comforting or convenient, and therefore rigorously and openly applies the methods of science and reason to all empirical claims, especially their own. A skeptic provisionally proportions acceptance of any claim to valid logic and a fair and thorough assessment of available evidence, and studies the pitfalls of human reason and the mechanisms of deception so as to avoid being deceived by others or themselves. Skepticism values method over any particular conclusion.

“Skepticism is a provisional approach to claims. It is the application of reason to any and all ideas—no sacred cows allowed. In other words, skepticism is a method, not a position.”

Back to the possible choice of “risks” to add to their name. Verily did the AVN appeal the NSW Department of Fair Trading request after proclaiming in the July 20th, 2012 email “The AVN Asks – What’s In A Name”;

The Australian Vaccination Network has no intention of changing its name and any group or government department that believes it has the right to try and force us to do so will find themselves strenuously opposed.

The AVN lost the appeal [ABC]. The full Administrative Decisions Tribunal finding can be found here.

I’d like to draw your attention to the Introduction of Reasons for Decision. A section of Part 3 has been emphasised;

1) The Australian Vaccination Network Inc (AVN) has been directed to change its name. The main reason the Director General of the Department of Finance and Services gave for making that direction was that the name is likely to mislead the public in relation to the nature, objects or functions of AVN. The Director General found that AVN’s message is anti-vaccination and that the name does not reflect that message. Two other reasons the Director General relied on were that the name is “undesirable” and that it suggests a connection with the Commonwealth government.

2) AVN applied to the Tribunal for a review of that decision. I have decided that the decision to direct AVN to adopt a new name is the correct and preferable decision. But my conclusion is not based on a finding that AVN’s message is exclusively anti-vaccination, that the name suggests a connection with the Commonwealth government or that the name itself is undesirable.

3) AVN’s main object is the dissemination of information and opinions that highlight the risks of vaccinations. AVN is sceptical about vaccinations. The existing name, Australian Vaccination Network Inc, suggests that the association is pro vaccination or, at least, is committed to providing comprehensive information and opinions about the pros and cons of vaccination. The name should be changed so that it is not likely to mislead the public in relation to its main object. Although I do not have to decide this issue, a name that includes the word “risk” or “sceptic” such as Vaccination Risk Awareness Association Inc or Vaccination Sceptics Network Inc would, in my opinion, be acceptable. The name could also include the word “Australia” or “Australian” without suggesting a link to government.

Still the choice made by Ms. Dorey and others was the word “skeptics”. They were not forced to use the term. Far from not wanting to be associated with the Skeptic movement it is more likely, given the online attacks by the AVN toward skeptics, that they enjoyed insisting that a true skeptic doubted everything. Their mistake of course is that members of the Skeptic movement are far more interested in seeking evidence and actively exposing charlatans, fraudsters and those who care little for discarding ideology in place of evidence.

Nonetheless there we have it. One simple email and once again members have been lied to. Unfortunately the group will continue to mislead the same members and readers about the risks of vaccines, which are very minor indeed.

  • Please speak to your GP about any safety concerns regarding immunisation
  • Department of Health – Immunisation
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Fentanyl: use, abuse, addiction and harm

ABC’s Background Briefing have recently looked critically at the rise in prescription of fentanyl and associated addiction, harm and fatal overdose.

A national emergency Pt. 1 (May 20th, 2018) reviews issues covered in Prescription killer: Australia’s imminent fentanyl epidemic (November 2017).

The programme summary from Pt. 1 of A national emergency follows;

Alarming numbers of Australians are dying from fentanyl overdoses at increasing rates and undercover recordings show just how easy it is to get it.

A NSW coronial inquest into the deaths of six people has just found double the amount of people die from prescription opioids than they do from heroin.

In the first of a two part investigation, reporter Hagar Cohen revisits a story first broadcast last year, she speaks to people whose lives have been torn apart by fentanyl abuse.

You can also listen to the programme below. (33.5 MB) © ABC Background Briefing;

Or download the mp3 file here.

 

On May 27th, 2018 Background Briefing presented A national emergency Pt. 2. The programme summary follows (bold mine);

Paramedics across Australia are stealing lethal opioids to cope with workplace trauma.

Freedom of Information documents reveal nearly 100 investigations into the misappropriation of addictive drugs by ambulance workers since 2010.

In this co-production with the 730 program, reporter Hagar Cohen asks why paramedics have stolen fentanyl for personal use.

A warning, this episode deals extensively with suicide. It might not be suitable for everyone and if it brings up any issues at all for you please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

You can access the audio above or use the player below. (35.8 MB) © ABC Background Briefing;

Or download the mp3 file here.

 

The opening summary from last year’s Prescription killer: Australia’s imminent fentanyl epidemic is as follows;

Fentanyl is the prescription opioid so deadly a dose the size of ten grains of sand can kill you.

In the US it’s fuelling a national emergency, making up a third of all drug overdoses there.

New exclusive figures show alarming numbers of Australians are dying from fentanyl overdoses at increasing rate.

Undercover recordings show just how easy it is to get. Hagar Cohen investigates. [November 26th, 2017]

You can access the audio above or use the player below. (34.6 MB) © ABC Background Briefing;

Or download the mp3 file here.

 

NB: Transcripts are made available at ABC Background Briefing past programmes shortly after the programme airs.

Debunking Anti-Vaxxers

Just over a couple of months ago the video Debunking Anti-Vaxxers was published by Toronto based AsapSCIENCE.

There’s a lot of very helpful information packed into less than seven and a half minutes, and it’s particularly worth visiting the YouTube page for a very comprehensive list of “further reading references”.

You can follow @mitchellmoffitt and @Whalewatchmeplz on Twitter and on Instagram here and here, respectively. There are also links to AsapSCIENCE on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

 

I was also interested to come across Bill and Melinda Gates’ 2018 Annual Letter. It’s entitled The 10 Toughest Questions We Get. The questions are answered with graphs, videos and margin notes.

They are;

  1. Why don’t you give more in the United States?
  2. What do you have to show for the billions you’ve spent on U.S. education?
  3. Why don’t you give money to fight climate change?
  4. Are you imposing your values on other cultures?
  5. Does saving kids’ lives lead to overpopulation?
  6. How are President Trump’s policies affecting your foundation’s work?
  7. Why do you work with corporations?
  8. Is it fair that you have so much influence?
  9. What happens when the two of you disagree?
  10. Why are you really giving your money away—what’s in it for you?

“Vaxxed” and the manipulation of William Thompson’s telephone audio

Back in April I published a list of 15 reputable references that debunked key claims put forward in the fraudumentary, Vaxxed; from cover up to catastrophe.

They continue to gain relevance. This year the anti-vaccine lobby in Australia has pushed the Vaxxed mantra of widespread fraud at the CDC, targetted ATSI communities and launched an insulting plan for profit. As usual Meryl Dorey is heading the push for hard cash, this time via the Patreon site. Unfortunate donors will get nothing in return beyond access to “bi-weekly webinars” should she manage an income of $2,000 per month. And why? According to her blurb on patreon.com;

…to keep everyone up-to-date on the most recent news and information from around the world regarding vaccination and health rights

This, dear reader, would preclude accepting that one cannot access such misinformation already in countless anti-vaccine echo chambers. However Dorey really wants $5,000 per month. Again the reward is to nothing more than a rehash of her anti-vaccine beliefs and a smattering of more recent anti-vaccine articles with a very likely history of rejection, retraction or both;

This class will aim to help parents and health professionals to make informed choices regarding vaccination by providing them with a broad ranged (sic) of historical and up-to-date references and outlining some of the questions they need to be asking before saying yes (or no) to vaccines.

Dorey is seemingly on a high thanks to recent attention received because of harm the bogus messages spread via Vaxxed and Vaxxed Q and A sessions can cause public health. Reasonable Hank has published an excellent piece pulling back the covers on Dorey’s latest scam, reminding readers there is still the matter of $160,000 raised for the promised High Court challenge of No Jab No Pay legislation. The video clips provided by Hank are just a couple of those in which Dorey is basking in the controversy created by the Vaxxed production team.

This raises the rather inescapable fact that audio from Dr. William Thompson was manipulated on two separate occasions. Discerning this, shall we say, fraudulent presentation of what William Thompson said when talking to Dr. Brian Hooker is thanks to the publication of Vaccine Whistleblower: Exposing Autism Research Fraud at the CDC, by devoted antivaccinationist Kevin Barry. The book contains four legally obtained telephone conversations between Hooker and Thompson. This allowed for a comparison between transcripts of recorded telephone conversations and the conversation audio in Vaxxed.

The first here was when the Vaxxed trailer was released. You can listen to the audio below;


The two segments spliced together come across as (Thompson broaching discussion with Hooker);

you and I don’t know each other very well. You have a son with autism, and I have great shame now.

As mentioned in the opening paragraph, 15 reputable references were published here last April. The above audio from the trailer was splendidly exposed by Matt Carey of Left Brain Right Brain in March 2016. Carey clearly explains what has happened with manipulating audio here – and the context Wakefield was trying to create for the audience. This is a trailer, so to be sure listeners are indeed misled as they are supposed to be, Del Bigtree follows the spliced sentence with an explanation (10 second mark).

We see that a single sentence is the result of splicing together two sections of conversation and removing parts of those sections in Call 2. Looking at the transcript one can see that 90 words from Thompson and 39 words from Hooker are omitted. So 129 words of conversation actually lie between the two segments of audio that make up the manufactured sentence;

you and I don’t know each other very well. [129 missing words] You have a son with autism, (and) I have great shame now.

Next is audio describing the same call from Thompson to Hooker, yet produced for the final film itself. This audio is the product of three separate segments spliced together, with the third introduced in between the original two segments. We can now hear Thompson say, “I don’t know how this is all going to play out”.

You can listen to the audio below;


It is quite clear that segments 1 and 2 in the transcripts below have been significantly edited with the purpose of creating a certain context.

Brian, you and I don’t know each other very well. I don’t know how this is all going to play out. You have a son with autism and I have great shame now when I meet families with autism because I have been part of the problem.

 

Click transcript below to embiggen

Click transcript below to embiggen

The anti-vaccine lobby in Australia, particularly members of the AVN should offer their members and those who attend Vaxxed screenings an explanation as to why this audio was tampered with on two separate occasions in two different ways. With apologies to those who dislike colourful annotation I trust the volume of audio modification is clear.

The context sought through modifying the audio is false. William Thompson did not ring Hooker with the aim of revealing that the CDC had suppressed information that any vaccines cause autism. He did not ring to claim the CDC was committing fraud. If Thompson had accused the CDC of fraud in order to hide a link between vaccines and autism, one can be certain that Wakefield would have shouted this far and wide.

I don’t know where in the four transcripts the sentence “I don’t know how this is all going to play out”, has been lifted from. Yet one can see plainly that the sentence has been inserted. It is not an original part of the transcript above.

Finally there’s Thompson’s statement of August 27th, 2014. One cannot reconcile the claims of the Vaxxed charade with Thompson’s position on vaccines. Concerns over the omission of certain findings “in a particular study”, does not a CDC fraud make. As one may well have concluded, Thompson had no control over what his name was attributed to following the deception of Brian Hooker.

I want to be absolutely clear that I believe vaccines have saved and continue to save countless lives. I would never suggest that any parent avoid vaccinating children of any race. Vaccines prevent serious diseases, and the risks associated with their administration are vastly outweighed by their individual and societal benefits.

My concern has been the decision to omit relevant findings in a particular study for a particular sub­ group for a particular vaccine. There have always been recognized risks for vaccination and I believe it is the responsibility of the CDC to properly convey the risks associated with receipt of those vaccines.

I have had many discussions with Dr. Brian Hooker over the last 10 months regarding studies the CDC has carried out regarding vaccines and neurodevelopmental outcomes including autism spectrum disorders. I share his belief that CDC decision-making and analyses should be transparent. I was not, however, aware that he was recording any of our conversations, nor was I given any choice regarding whether my name would be made public or my voice would be put on the Internet.

It seems that despite the increased efforts of the AVN to promote Vaxxed and to push further lies onto Indigenous Australians the reality remains that there is no demonstrable CDC fraud and no viable CDC whistleblower.

Catherine Hughes interviewed on radio about a troll site “fact checking” the Light For Riley charity page

If [the death of infant son Riley] wasn’t enough for the Hughes family they were then subject, and continue to be subject, to a targeted
campaign of online abuse and harassment from the antivaccination movement. But they have kept up their public campaign
because they know better than anyone else the devastating consequences of these diseases.

August 8th 2017 – Shadow Health Minister Catherine King (video)
Australian Immunisation Register and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2017

The above was read out almost three months ago during House Debates in Parliament, by Shadow Health Minister Ms. Catherine King. She had just previously said;

I would like to finish today by sharing a story of a Western Australian family who I met a number of years ago and who continue to be huge champions for vaccination. They have had very personal and deep experience of just how dangerous vaccine-preventable diseases are. I refer particularly to Catherine and Greg Hughes, who’ve experienced what no parent should have to go through, losing their baby boy to whooping cough

It is clear that the regular consistency of what reasonable hank has called “the abhorrent attacks on the Hughes family”, has also caught Minister King’s attention.

Some minutes later Nola Marino MP, Liberal Representative for Forrest rose to speak and made reference to the Hughes family’s use of social media.

The family took to social media at the time not only to share their grief but also in a desire to help eradicate the disease. They were encouraging people to make sure that their children were vaccinated. In the days before Riley’s death, Mrs Hughes made an impassioned plea to other families to consider vaccinating their children against the disease. She said, ‘If you have not been immunised against whooping cough, please consider getting it done. It was heartbreaking to watch four-week old Riley struggle with it at Prince Margaret Hospital. Please keep him in your thoughts.’

For over two years Australians have benefited from the nonprofit organisation Light For Riley. As is clear in the audio below this charity relies on donations and strives to educate woman about the importance of pertussis boosters during the third trimester of pregnancy. The Hughes have campaigned not only for awareness but also for availability. Every State and Territory offers free pertussis booster shots to pregnant women.

An example of the work done by Catherine and Greg via light For Riley

Catherine Hughes was awarded the 2016 W.A. Young Australian of the Year. There are five words describing Catherine’s work in this summary that take on more significance, given the lies and accusations spread by antivaccinationists; With no thought of reward. Catherine and Greg also won The Australian Skeptics’ Thornett Award, which is given for the Promotion Of Reason, in October 2015.

Still there have been attacks of a reprehensible nature arising from the anti-vaccine lobby. Hank has examined these slurs since their inception and revealed those who invent accusations of barbaric cruelty. Catherine Hughes has responded more than once in writing to address attacks against Riley. By manufacturing conspiracy fantasy those responsible are convincing any observers with an eye for evidence that there is none to discredit Catherine Hughes, Greg Hughes or the Light For Riley charity.

Little has changed in two years and it appears little fresh air is on the antivaccine horizon. From Inside the anti-vaxxination cult, August 6th 2017;

WITHIN 24 hours of their baby boy’s death, Catherine and Greg Hughes were confronted with the ugliness that drives the misinformed anti-vax warriors.

The grieving parents were bombarded with vicious attacks claiming they were “baby-killers” and that their infant son Riley had died because they did not treat him with vitamins and essential oils.

But the inconvenient truth which the Australian Vaccination-sceptics Network and other anti-establishment radicals do not want to acknowledge is that Riley died of whooping cough, for which he was not vaccinated.

“We were told that we were baby-killers simply because we were raising awareness about pregnancy vaccination — a proven method of protecting infants from this disease which we weren’t told about at the time we were pregnant with Riley,” Ms Hughes told the Herald Sun.

“We were accused of being employees of pharmaceutical companies, we were told that our child didn’t ever exist, and we were even accused of killing Riley ourselves.”

[…]

Recently a page attacking Light For Riley appeared on Facebook. Capturing the very nadir of human behaviour in antivaccine circles, it is titled Light For Riley Fact Checker. Predictably the lies begin immediately. The logo proclaims, “Nearly died after my last vaccines. Still can’t get a medical exemption”. An image of a young girl accompanies this nonsense, but that’s as far as it goes. There’s no story, no evidence, no medical statement. Nothing. It is vile and insulting but yet again reveals the fantasy world dependent upon conspiracy that the anti-vaccine lobby can’t live without. Wayne Baird – the AVSN’s shiny new public officer is an administrator.

Any child who genuinely almost died from a diagnosed Adverse Event Following Immunisation would be afforded exceptional care. Yet the bogus claim made over and again by antivaccinationists is that vaccines cause serious injuries and death. The reality is that they do not, yet making this claim appears to assuage any need for diagnosis, documentation or indeed any evidence beyond the claim itself. More so if a claimed vaccine harm occurs in consonance with a supposed conspiracy designed to suppress information the antivaccinationist may confidently argue that deaths from vaccine preventable disease serve to promote vaccination.

This particular Big Pharma claim is a favourite of Judy Wilyman and the AVSN. Also without any evidence the so-called “fact checker” has accused Catherine and Greg Hughes of being paid off by pharmaceutical companies. Tracy Hardy from Mouths of Mums has written about the scam page here. OUTRAGE: Antivax Facebook group mocks the death of baby boy. This is beyond outrageous and has our blood boiling along with this poor family. Yes indeed. Hard to disagree with that observation.

The page not only presents an outright lie concerning a near fatal vaccine injury but attempts to discredit information on Light For Riley. One bizarre post challenges donations for polio vaccines in third world countries. Apparently Light For Riley, “haven’t told your supporters is that polio is transmitted via the oral-faecal route, so hygiene and clean water are very important for preventing polio transmission.” It’s more likely that supporters are aware of this and also of the horror of polio in developed nations before Salk’s vaccine.

What I find most concerning about this “fact check” page is that it relies on the dodgy kudos inherent in vaccine injuries. Across the anti-vaccine lobby the notion that all vaccines potentially cause serious harm all the time is being pushed. Therefore vaccine injuries are rampant. Vaccines don’t really work and the pertussis vaccine is the cause of pertussis.

Disinformation being pushed about vaccines is big on fear yet free of substance.

  • ♣ Below – Catherine Hughes speaking with Oliver Peterson on Perth Live, 6PR October 25th

Greg Hughes responds to the so-called “Fact Checker” page;

Just when you think anti-vaccine lobbyists can’t sink to a new low, last night we were alerted to a page set up, mocking our dead son and lying about us.

Normally I’m not one to provide any oxygen to pages full of misinformation, however a couple of items on the page caught my eye and so I refused to let this one slip.

The about section states as follows:

“This page is making the Light For Riley page accountable to the misinformation they spread about vaccines. Light For Riley are funded by pharmaceutical companies to promote the death of their baby. This page is unfunded and has no conflicts of interest when it comes to promoting accurate information about the vaccine industry.”

Let me give these anonymous liars a fact-check of their own.

We have NEVER accepted funding from pharmaceutical companies. We are run by volunteers, nobody is paid a wage and our activism has only come at expense to us. For the most part we have poured our own money and efforts into the campaign with the two primary motivations being to honour our son and to ensure no family endures the heartache we suffered.

[…]