Conspiracy Theorists: obsessed and beyond reason

This morning I was met with the news that a train accident in Hoboken, New Jersey had left one person dead and over 100 injured. It was being described as “the worst NJ transit incident in the recent past”.

Moments later I was pondering what conspiracy theorists would be doing with this information. I didn’t expect much but a visit to Prison Planet – a hive of conspiracy paranoia fathered by Alex Jones – yielded some pickings. Comments lay under opening paragraphs from an NBC New York article. One read:

Yet another “accident” hundreds in serious condition, death toll still rising.

Note the press will not identify the train engineer.

Note how the press wont even identify if train was under control of “PTC” positive train control.

PTC prevents this, unless its tampered with. PTC cannot turn the power “up”, in a train, only “down”. That region was one the 1st in the USA to get PTC. Appears Mr. Obama needs a few days to work a narrative.

The author seemed to be “arguing” that the event was executed deliberately. His over confident assessment of “PTC” train control in that region suggested such an accident was unlikely if not impossible. The press, in his mind, were suppressing two vital facts: the driver’s name and the presence/absence of PTC control. President Obama thus, needed “a few days” to mislead the American public.

As it turned out the driver, engineer Thomas Gallagher had spoken to authorities “within hours” of the accident. He had been rescued from his crushed cabin and is reported to be in a critical condition.

Another commenter had worked it out using exclamation marks. This was no accident. It was the “scum Muslims”. He’s quite likely blown his ten bucks – unless the almost certainly American born descendent of Irish-Americans, has converted to Islam:

Can you say Tabotage / Terrorism !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The scum Muslims have struck again. This was no accident !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!. Ten bucks – the engineer was a Muslim.

Someone had posted Beastie Boys Sabotage clip, which was followed by Beastie boyz are enemy jews. Why do you listen to their music?

By this point someone gleaned the rules, summarising them neatly:


So why was I pondering what these enemies of reason would be thinking? Recently, I’ve been considering the intractability of conspiracy theorist thinking. Or is that lack of thinking? Either way it (the pondering) is likely a constant for those who value the role of evidence in public health and appreciate the harm caused by opportunists who benefit from peddling fear and confusion.

This week I’d enjoyed a discussion in a clinical setting with a physiotherapist about “vitalistic” chiropractic. Whilst familiar and infuriated with the lack of evidence behind treatment claims, she was fascinated to learn of the anti-vaccine slant in chiropractic.

I’ve been as fascinated as disgusted with the antics of David Thrussell who, as artistic director of the Castlemaine Local and International Film Festival, attempted to bring the rankly deceptive anti-vaccine film Vaxxed to Castlemaine. An outstanding conspiracy theorist and blatant liar, Thrussell has played the victim whilst misleading both the media and sponsors of the film festival.

As always the delightfully unstable Judy Wilyman has been showing off her declining grip on reality. Of late she has chosen to bully the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health at the University of Wollongong and also the Minister for Social Services. Wilyman’s ranting is so far from possessing an evidence base or a cogent stream of argument that it beggars belief. Unless of course, one considers it through the eyes of a conspiracy devotee.

Rob Brotherton (@rob_brotherton) authored Suspicious Minds – The Psychology of Conspiracy Theories. He suggests that to the conspiracy theorist their beliefs are unfalsifiable. There is simply no evidence to prove them wrong. In addition, driven by a need for control – a need which they cannot develop when faced with reality – the likes of Thrussell, Wilyman and Meryl Dorey, develop compensatory control.

The misleading film Vaxxed has given compensatory control to so many who lack control. We may consider Dorey’s misappropriation of funds, Wilyman’s feverish ranting about her superior “research” and Thrussell’s manipulation of others as types of compensatory control also.

Suffering from the insignificance that comes with no control over reality, such conspiracy prone personalities fall victim to proportionality bias. Events they desire to control, but can’t, must have a complicated – indeed powerful – cause. We see this also in their propensity toward other conspiracies.

Between 1/4 to 1/3 of Americans believe 9/11 was the result of some type of conspiracy. Usually the Inside Job theory. Within days of Kennedy being assassinated more than half of Americans believed Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone. Today, according to Brotherton, “the majority of Americans” believe some type of conspiracy led to the Kennedy assassination.

The audio below is from ABC’s All In The Mind and includes an excellent interview with Rob Brotherton. I certainly recommend it.

  • © ABC All In The Mind




‘No Jab No Pay’ Success: Government will not profit financially

It has been widely reported today that the Turnbull Government’s “No Jab, No Pay” legislation has led to an increase in childhood vaccination rates.

This is excellent news and a Parliamentary Budget Review indicates conscientious objectors are not being roundly exploited to fill government coffers. Unless of course, they choose to be.

The success of the policy means a great number of Australians who previously registered as conscientious objectors, no longer do so. Therefore they are not being denied Child Care Benefit (CCB), Child Care Rebate (CCR) or Family Tax Benefit (Part A). It follows then that the government is not guaranteed financial profit from this policy.

The policy was implemented on January 1st this year. 5,738 children whose parents had previously denied them the protection of immunisation have been vaccinated since then. Social Services Minister, Christian Porter stated that 148,000 children who were not up to date with immunisations were now meeting requirements.

The Australian Childhood Immunisation Register indicates increases in immunisation for one, two and five year olds. For one and five year olds there has been an increase from 90% to 93%. The ABC reported:

Vaccination rates had fallen to such a historically low level, that we were seeing the re-emergence of diseases that we had been free of for years,” Mr Porter said.

“Of course, that was a matter of major concern to the overwhelming majority of parents who aren’t vaccination objectors and just want their kids to be safe.

In the Parliamentary Budget Review 2015-16 Michael Klapdor and Alex Grove published ‘No Jan No Pay’ and other immunisation measures. They note that No Jab No Pay involves closing off:

… some exemptions from the immunisation requirements for eligibility for the FTB-A [Family Tax Benefit, Part A] end-of-year supplement, Child Care Benefit (CCB) and Child Care Rebate (CCR) payments stating that it was extremely concerned at the risk non-vaccinated children pose to public health. […]

On 12 April 2015, the Government announced that it would remove the conscientious objector exemption but retain the medical and Christian Scientist exemption. On 19 April 2015, Minister for Social Services, Scott Morrison, announced that after discussions with the Church of Christ, Scientist, their specific exemption would be removed as the Church advised it was no longer necessary.

Also reported today is that families may lose up to $15,000 per year if parents fail to have their children vaccinated. As readers may well be aware, and as is evident in the above paragraphs from the Budget Review, “failing to have their children vaccinated” would be an insistence to deny one’s children vaccine induced immunity, by remaining “conscientious objectors”.

There is no sound reason to make this choice. There never has been, and it is most regrettable that the anti-vaccine lobby has worked feverishly to further distress those who hold misguided anti-vaccine beliefs. One theme has been that the right to make “health choices” has been removed. Or, promises of court action to challenge the legislation on the back of donations scammed by The Australian Vaccination-sceptics Network. Another, that the government would profit financially from discriminating against conscientious objectors.

However a close read of Klapdor and Grove’s Budget Review shows this claim loses credibility as more children of conscientious objectors are vaccinated. Conscientious objectors make up “a minority of the total number of children not up-to-date with their vaccination schedules”. Only 20% of one, two and five year olds not up to date with vaccinations [citation]. The authors cover in depth a number of “other immunisation measures” aimed at raising and maintaining immunisation levels, and finish their review with:

Through these efforts to improve coverage rates, coupled with financial penalties for non-compliance with immunisation schedules, the Government believes that it is taking a ‘balanced “carrot and stick” approach’ to encouraging vaccination. Of course, the sizeable savings expected from the ‘stick’ element may not be realised if these policies succeed in significantly lifting childhood immunisation rates.

The question then, is what percentage of conscientious objectors does the 5,738 children vaccinated since January 1st represent? Using Klapdor and Grove’s reference we may take the figure on page iv. 14,869 children aged one, two or five years were recorded as conscientious objectors in 2012-13. Klapdor and Grove state that whilst there has been an increase in immunisation rates since 1998 overall rates have remained static in recent years [citation].

Thus with some degree of reasonable confidence we may view the 5,738 children of conscientious objectors reported by Social Services Minister Christian Porter, as a percentage of 14,869. This figure of 38.6%, in light of the historical data cited in the Budget Review, might reasonably be viewed as “significantly lifting childhood immunisation rates”, to quote from Klapdor and Grove. And as these authors reasoned a lift in immunisation rates would mean that, “the sizeable savings expected from the ‘stick’ element may not be realised”.

Thus the antivaccinationist claim that they would be exploited to fill government coffers is at this stage seemingly without merit. More to the point if antivaccinationists wish to retain their status as conscientious objectors they are making a conscious choice for financial hardship.

Immunise Australia have provided the below summary and catch up recommendations for children 10 – 19 years.

No Jab No Pay New Immunisation Requirements For Family Assistance Payments

From 1 January 2016:

  • Only parents of children (less than 20 years of age) who are fully immunised or are on a recognised catch-up schedule can receive the Child Care Benefit, the Child Care Rebate and the Family Tax Benefit Part A end of year supplement. The relevant vaccinations are those under the National Immunisation Program (NIP), which covers the vaccines usually administered before age ve. These vaccinations must be recorded on the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register (ACIR).
  • Children with medical contraindications or natural immunity for certain diseases will continue to be exempt from the requirements.
  • Conscientious objection and vaccination objection on non-medical grounds will no longer be a valid exemption from immunisation requirements.
  • Families eligible to receive family assistance payments and have children less than 20 years of age, who may not meet the new immunisation requirements, will be notified by Centrelink.
  • To support these changes, the ACIR is being expanded. From 1 January 2016, you will be able to submit the details of vaccinations given to persons less than 20 years of age to the ACIR.1. Free catch-up for children less than 10 years of ageFrom 1 January 2016, all states and territories will be providing free catch-up NIP vaccines for all children less than 10 years of age on an on-going basis.2. Free catch-up for young persons 10 to 19 years of age, of families who currently receive family assistance payments

    From 1 January 2016, parents who wish to immunise their children in order to continue to receive family assistance payments will have access to free catch- up vaccines for a time-limited period (1 January 2016 to 31 December 2017).

“Something has happened in the motorcade route”

“Something has happened in the motorcade route”

Friday November 22, 1963 Sam Pate, a reporter for KBOX Radio describing President Kennedy’s motorcade


I was struck by recent tweets from Australia’s most troublesome, and arguably troubled, antivaccinationist.

In a splendid example of the transcendental world view that conspiracies are everywhere Meryl Dorey retweeted and commented on a pro-chemtrail tweet. Not just any pro-chemtrail tweet. This came from an account so packed with conspiracy tweets it’s almost suffocating to read. Ample antivaccine waffle, false flags, a comment on the strange absence of accents from Orlando shooting witnesses, the Sandy Hook “actors”, GMO, depopulation, etc, etc.

“TheMatrix” hashtag worked overtime and happened to accompany the tweet that caught Ms. Dorey’s eye.


This prompted a number of replies criticising the lack of thinking behind the chemtrail conspiracy theory. Meryl offered one critic:


Understanding conspiracy theorists and the role implausible fallacy plays in their thinking is not as simple as accusing them of being crackpots. As individuals, they come from any age, race, socioeconomic status, education level, occupation, gender, political viewpoint. Uscinski and Parent wrote the 2014 book American Conspiracy Theories. They note on page 11 that laboratory experiments that induce loss of control and anxiety prompt subjects to draw conspiratorial explanations and see nonexistent patterns.

Such agenticity and patternicity are intuitive human qualities. Left unchecked they are qualities that steer one toward justifying the world as filled with interconnected events. Events that happen for a reason. Despite the evidence void, intuition can shape transcendental conspiracy thinking to believing the reason behind such events is generally one of malignant control.

Empiricism lacks the intuitive quality of transcendentalism. The empiricist accepts that coincidence and random events are part of reality. Any belief thus requires evidence. In this way skeptics are not prone to conclude based upon unchecked intuition. A simple but worthy example is the well used truism that correlation is not causation. For so many claims of the antivaccination movement (say, so-called vaccine injuries as opposed to genuine injuries) there is no evidence – just a claim based upon correlation.

These claims resonate with intuition. But subject to empirical examination and scientific skepticism we find these injuries (as opposed to genuine injuries) do not exist. The evidence supports another cause. With no evidence to the contrary and the inability to accept reality, we find the antivaccine lobby will cry conspiracy. Indeed there are a great many false claims kept in circulation by this lobby that are defeated with scientific evidence. Rather than accept the consensus the group cries conspiracy.

In March ABC Minefield produced Is the truth still out there? Why do conspiracy theories still exist? It’s an excellent episode. Hosts Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens discuss the persistence of conspiracy theories with guest, Patrick Stokes. Enjoy.


Vaccines and autism: A thorough review of the evidence

The following post is an exceptionally detailed review of the evidence, and scientific consensus, specific to the persistent claim of a link between vaccination and autism.

Those familiar with the integrity of the scientific method and its value in examining this particular issue will be grateful for both the quality and extent of this review.

Use of the seven tiered Hierarchy of Scientific Evidence provides an excellent device by which to gauge the value of evidence, and as such, introduces one to a reliable tool for similar endeavours.

I trust you find the article a valuable resource.

Hierarchy of Scientific Evidence


The Logic of Science

One of the most common concerns that people have about vaccines is that they might cause (or exacerbate) autism. This idea is perpetuated by celebrities and innumerable websites, and it has become one of the cornerstone arguments of the anti-vaccine movement, but is there any truth to it? Perhaps unsurprisingly, both sides claim a superiority of evidence. Indeed, you can find numerous websites presenting lists of papers that they claim provide evidence that autism is caused by vaccines (such as “124 research papers supporting the vaccine/autism link“). Conversely, those who support vaccines also have lists of papers which they present as evidence that vaccines do not cause autism (for example, here and here). So which is correct? The internet is full of misinformation on this topic, so I want to cut through that crap and talk about the actual studies themselves rather than simply tossing lists around…

View original post 17,466 more words

Audio: Examining the anti-vax movement


Recently with the decision by Robert De Niro to pull the dangerous and fraudulent film “Vaxxed…”, from the Tribeca film festival, antivaccinationists have been amusingly “outraged”.

The film appears to be a collation of misleading to bogus claims, deceptively produced to appear as a “documentary”, with the aim of selling the ludicrous claim by one Brian Hooker that CDC scientist William Thompson had blown the whistle on CDC fraud. The fraud purportedly being an increase in autism in African-American boys receiving MMR “on time”. This nonsense brings us to the final card that the film’s director, Andrew Wakefield, is not only innocent of the fraud that saw him deregistered but an ethical hero “working to make vaccines safer”.

The hilarity of deceit at play here requires length and focus. The facts are examined here, here and here. This blog’s Wakefield tag is here. What has been predictable is the conduct of the anti-vaccine lobby. The film’s producer Del Bigtree reached new heights of conspiracy laden fallacy in an interview on USA’s ABC. It was “censored” (it wasn’t) because Big Pharma didn’t want “you” to see it. To accept that, one must accept the whole global Pharma-vaccine conspiracy.

Supporters believe this rot without seemingly questioning a jot. But why? How do they reach a state of intellectual helplessness and gullibility? Why are they incapable of discerning reputable information? As it turns out there are many sources discussing conspiracy theory mindsets, cognitive bias, distrust of authority and more. But for now I’ll avoid such in favour of the audio narratives below. I’m sure I’m not alone in musing about the conduct of antivaccinationists, particularly the similarities in spreading deception and abusing those who hold them to account for such dishonesty.

Here in Australia last January saw the acceptance of a PhD thesis from antivaccinationist and conspiracy theorist Judy Wilyman, by the University of Wollongong. This has rightly attracted wide criticism with respect to academic rigour as the work advances a conspiracy theory by advancing incredulous and debunked claims, citing criticised authors and works.

What is of note here is the contribution of her supervisor Brian Martin who has written that Wilyman has been unfairly attacked by critics. This is not an accurate portrayal of the intellectual and academic challenges Wilyman was met with by any means. Martin goes on to accuse Stop the Australian (anti) Vaccination Network (SAVN) of making complaints to “official bodies” and of seeking to prevent anti-vaccine talks.

This is quite true but I note that SAVN has never been so much as cautioned for vexatious conduct. Complaints are made with good reason and can only take shape thanks to the irregular conduct, or worse, of those complained about. Preventing the abuses of free speech that opponents of evidence based medicine and antivaccinationists engage in is essential to the defence of sound public health.

So what would drive an educated individual to work to enable the scurrilous conduct of his student, rather than encourage critical thought and intellectual honesty? This got me thinking of a worthy production.


In August 2015 the BBC broadcast an inquiry, What’s behind the ‘anti-vax’ movement? [© BBC] It could dig a little deeper if we consider the abuse of grieving parents and vile threats that pepper social media. However I think the building blocks of such anti-vax conduct is presented.

  • Listen with the player below…

The four part programme features Dr. Dyan Hes, Brian Deer, Juniper Russo and Heidi Larson. The producers take the view that the so called debate surrounding vaccination has not only been settled, but in view of Andrew Wakefield’s fraud, is a misleading claim. Thus the programme is introduced with the promise that false balance will not be entertained.

Be sure to catch Juniper Russo (Part 3 – The Crunchy Mom) at the 11:15 mark. Juniper was the ideal nature loving mom from Tennessee, convinced Big Pharma had conspired to silence Wakefield. She was wired into the online anti-vax movement and chose to keep vaccines, and other awful medicines, away from her daughter. Juniper’s vaccine beliefs changed when her daughter was diagnosed with autism.

Juniper now takes an evidence based approach to lifestyle and is the author of the blog, Back From Nature.