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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One ring to rule them all… revisited

On April 2nd 2009 I wrote a post about a scam product claiming to stop snoring by stimulating acupressure points.

One ring to rule them all… looked at the AntiSnor “acupressure… modern miracle” that could boast of 140,000 satisfied customers. The post originated on the Atheist Age blog and fortunately attracted some comments from a David E. Woodley.

According to David there were some conflicting details about the ring’s inventor John R. Woodley – David’s father and, “our greedy and selfish and underhanded little brother John V. Woodley” or ‘Golum’ as he is affectionately called by family members these days”. This had led to two separate stories as to how the power of this ring was discovered circulating in the public domain.

golum_snor1annotatedOne story was that John Woodley, aka Golum had made the ring in an attempt to find pain relief following a car accident. The other story was that John Woodley Snr. had made the ring for his wife. She was heading to hospital and needed to control embarrassing snoring.

Clearly a magic ring was in order.

That I’d chosen the title, “One ring to rule them all…” and then found out later that he who coveted ownership of The Precious was nicknamed “Golum”, was indeed delightful. Or perhaps testimony to the limits of my imagination.

Since the post was written, the ACCC published a media release. On March 25th, 2010 they wrote in part;

Misleading advertising claims about an alleged anti-snoring ring have been withdrawn by the manufacturer and supplier after Australian Competition and Consumer Commission intervention.

More than 200,000 consumers worldwide are understood to have sought relief from the Anti Snor Therapeutic Ring which the supplier, ATQOL Pty Ltd, claimed used acupressure to stop a person from snoring and provide a relief from sinus, restless sleep and insomnia.

The ring was sold at most major chemist and health store chains in Australia and promoted through national television advertising and the company’s website.

Additionally, the company’s website, www.nosnor.com, claimed the ring had a ‘proven history of successful drug free treatment of snoring’ and was ‘Tested and recommended by a Physician’.

The ACCC raised concerns that these claims were likely to mislead consumers to believe that the product had proven medical outcomes in treating snoring, sinus, restless sleep and insomnia when this was not so.

antisnor ring

AntiSnor: Purportedly the two impressions place pressure on acupressure points on the inside of the finger and thus relieve snoring

It was claimed in 2009 that this modern miracle works because the little bumps apply pressure on key points on the surface of the skin to stimulate the body’s natural self-curative abilities. The two prongs on the inside of the Antisnor Therapeutic Ring press on the heart meridian and the sterling silver metal also gives energy to this channel. Wearing the ring increases energy flow to what is referred to as the upper jiao, which contains the heart and lungs. This allows for improved breathing, which leads to the cessation of snoring”.

Yes. The ACCC were onto something to be sure. Pharmacy News confirmed that the manufacturers of the “deceptive” One Ring had complied.

Time has passed.

In 2011 Choice listed AntiSnor amongst “quack” health products pharmacies sell.

A year ago Choice included AntiSnor amongst it’s collation of dubious pharmacy-sold products.

The website now lists results and a conclusion from a purported 2012 clinical trial, conducted in France by Proclaim. Under the heading, The ACCC and AntiSnor acupressure ring it is no surprise that we read, “ATQOL first developed an innovative natural therapy product in 1999, based on nerve point stimulation and the ancient Chinese practice of acupressure. After being approached by the ACCC in 2009, we began scientific research into Western medical reasoning behind why this product is so effective. This lead to conducting an independent Clinical Trial performed in France with alarmingly positive results.”

It continues with some Peacock terminology;

Clinical trials concluded in 2012 conducted by PROCLAIM ( France ) supervised by Sonia Guillou ( Study Director) Lydie Guiard (Technician) and Dr Mathilde Rauch ( Pulmonologist Specialist)
2009 , Registered in Germany (DIMDI) Class 1 medical device for Acupressure Snoring Device ( UMDNS Reg; DE/CA67/53.2-2678.400/102 )
Registered with the Australian TGA (184173)
After a two year filing process in 2012 the ANTISNOR Ring was given an exemption snoring device sold over the counter by the USA FDA.

So now the AntiSnor acupressure/reflexology ring has a proud website boasting on the home page:

antisnor_home page

A visit to the site confirms that the registration of TGA listed products in Australia still benefits the sponsor of these products more than consumers. Despite the fact that testimonials are not evidence and there is no evidence of a control group – or indeed the much touted study itself – readers are informed this very same product is now “clinically proven” to reduce snoring. Somehow it even involves “modern medical technology”. The link to “articles” takes readers to blurbs crafted to support the logic of an “acupressure” ring.

We’re also informed, “Our website may contain links to other websites “ONLY” operated by ATQOL Pty Ltd”. And the study is condensed to this bar graph based on participant answers:

sleep quality

Whilst the study may be absent, there is a “conclusion”:

The report concludes that “77% of the spouses and 80% of the snorers were satisfied with the anti-snoring ring” (page 25) and that … “the anti-snoring ring … tested under the supervision of a pulmonologist doctor by 30 couples, was effective in reducing snoring and improving the sleep quality of the snorer and his spouse” (page 25)

Presently the ring remains on sale in Australian pharmacies and consumers are offered testimonials as evidence of efficacy.

“Deal or Dud” judges AntiSnor

Of chiropractic tripe and the odd zebra stripe

When we think of chiropractic and Equidae, it’s usually unicorns that come to mind.

The search for the chiropractic subluxation has been as fruitful as the search for the unicorn. In fact perhaps less fruitful, as we know with a high degree of accuracy what the unicorn looks like. Yet with the chiropractic subluxation our fairy tale is limited to conjuring mystical malaise or blaming dastardly disease as the work of this elusive evil.

chiro face palm

Do not be alarmed. This man has not seen a unicorn.

Rather, he had just been told that chiropractic subluxations

involve some type of “static” in the spinal cord.

Doctors (real doctors) report that he made a full recovery

after his palm was removed from his face.

Interestingly enough, whilst chiropractic teaches that areas of subluxation are invisible and can be “detected” only by the presence of symptoms, Simon Floreani, erstwhile president of the Chiropractors Association of Australia, has other ideas.

Check out the Catalyst video below at 1min, 45sec. Using the apparently magical Activator – or the “stick that goes click” – on an infant, Floreani announces:

Areas of subluxation that I can feel there, that are immediately improved after you adjust it like that…

You can read more about the Sonic Screwdriver-like Activator here in The Medical Observer. Just be prepared for some tongue in cheek observations. In September 2011 it was reported in Australian Doctor that the Federal Government had been asked to investigate both the Activator and “the Nervoscope” as they had been reported as having, “no biomechanical or physiological effect and cannot diagnose or treat any health condition”.

Fortunately, whilst new-age chiropractors continue to push their ineffective devices, practices and claims onto an unsuspecting public, genuinely motivated supporters of evidence based medicine are busy exposing their scams.

Check out the videos below to see just how devoid of facts claims made by the resurgent followers of Daniel David Palmer, really are. And keep an eye out for Simon and his zebra.

Catalyst – July 11th 2013


Floreani’s penchant for cutting his own path may help explain why he has chosen the zebra over the unicorn.

zebra floreaniFloreani positions a young subluxee on his treatment table cunningly disguised as a zebra

Lateline – July 6th 2009


Zebra floreani2

Floreani seems to be watched over by a zebra

Today Tonight – December 2011


Today Tonight – March 14th 2013

Interview: Terry Kelly talks Skeptic Convention with Richard Saunders

President of Australian Skeptics Victorian branch, Terry Kelly, chats to host of The Skeptic Zone podcast, Richard Saunders about this years National Convention.

You can listen by visiting the AuSkepCon chirbit page.

Download the MP3 here.

Or listen by clicking the pointy red triangle bit below:

Active Skepticism at this years national convention

This years Australian Skeptics National Convention looks set to cover a huge range of topics.

Active skepticism – changing for the better is the theme, and subjects involving skeptic and science activists and advocates loom large.

Anti-vaccination, non-evidence based alternatives to medicine, attacks on medical science, science and reason itself will feature during keynotes and panel discussion. Consumer scams, regulation of therapeutic goods, dodgy new age diagnostics, the changing role of social media, upcoming challenges and changes and more, more, more.

Along with Aussie favourites such as Ken Harvey, Dr. Rachie, Richard Saunders, Adam vanLangenberg, Lynne Kelly, Chrissy Wilson, etc will be James Randi, D.J. Grothe, Brian Thompson, Rebecca Watson and more.

Grab all the details and ticketing information from the video below and remember to keep up with developments.

Dates: Friday November 30th to Sunday December 2nd.

More information at Victorian Skeptics.

AuSkepCon is on Facebook and you can follow @auskepcon on Twitter.