Australian Skeptics National Convention 2012

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

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

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

Follow @auskepcon on Twitter.

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

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

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

The day Meryl Dorey sent me porn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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.

The Real Australian Sceptics

A short time ago the Skeptic community received a delightful tickle on the collective ribcage.

A rather intellectually dishonest blog appeared with the title The Real Australian Sceptics under the pretence of “critiquing” articles. It was, predictably, Meryl Wynn Dorey’s latest shot at the ontology of her assumed foes. Those worshippers of evidence and scientific consensus: The Skeptics. It’s an old tactic. If you can’t sustain an argument attack the party that holds an opposing viewpoint.

This isn’t the post to dissect the intellectual absurdity of Ms. Dorey’s attack on Skeptics. Suffice to to say – again – this game of provocation wherein Ms. Dorey futilely seeks to alienate and besmirch skeptics has it’s genesis within stratospheric errors she has made in the wake of being held to account.

The blog itself is monumental dreck. To date it’s emerging as a rehash of all the disproved antivaccination creeds and attacks on accepted evidence. Magically, everything old is new again. The usual rules of ultra-strict comment censorship apply.

If you’re keen for your daily dose of Merylisms, The Real Australian Sceptics doesn’t disappoint, opening with an attempt at selective deception in the first sentence.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a sceptic is defined as, “a person inclined to question or doubt accepted opinions”.

Actually the Oxford English Dictionary entry reads:

1 a person inclined to question or doubt accepted opinions.

  • a person who doubts the truth of Christianity and other religions; an atheist.

2 Philosophy: an ancient or modern philosopher who denies the possibility of knowledge, or even rational belief, in some sphere.

Meryl appears to take advantage of the phrase “accepted opinion”, by omission of the widely accepted opinion of theistic persuasion as a working example. Furthermore the second entry refers to philosophical denial of the possibility of knowledge or even rational belief. Having falsely defined “sceptic”, this then leaves the door open for Meryl to potter about on the very fringes of rationality and knowledge, wearing the guise of evidence whilst ranting about science.

Surely even with limited use of “accepted opinions”, we must include Naturopathy, Homeopathy, Home Birth, Vaccines causing Autism, Vaccine Dangers, Pharmaceutical bias, etc, etc. These are all irrefutably on the scale of accepted opinions. An opinion moves toward fact or mere belief based upon the amount of evidence that sustains it. The subtitle of Dorey’s blog is Accept Nothing. Question Everything. Apparently then, this is applied only to suit the author.

I think we can see, straight out of the blocks as it were, problems with her method of attack. Like two Meryls in a particle accelerator one is shooting off counter-clockwise at the speed of light confident those Wascally Skeptics will finally get theirs. Another Meryl is shooting clockwise questioning everything, accepting nothing… including the existence of the other Meryl. Eventually they collide head on in a great splattering mess.

Meryl also takes a shot at “the American spelling”: Skeptic. Wrong again. In doing this she’s really having a go at the Skeptic movement. Nothing new here, and as we’ll see her tactics are also copied and pasted from others whose beliefs have failed to endure scientific scrutiny. Skepticism is not cynicism or denial as we might associate these concepts with climate science denial, vaccine denial, HIV/AIDS denial and the steadily growing denial of conventional medicine.

Colloquially, Skeptics can be said to seek the evidence, consider existing evidence or ask for evidence when presented with certain claims. Skepticism is the rejection of predetermined ideas that aren’t supported by evidence. Skeptical activism may be described as where evidence, science and consumer and/or human rights overlap. Under What Is Skepticism? Brian Dunning writes in part:

The true meaning of the word skepticism has nothing to do with doubt, disbelief, or negativity. Skepticism is the process of applying reason and critical thinking to determine validity. It’s the process of finding a supported conclusion, not the justification of a preconceived conclusion… The scientific method is central to skepticism. The scientific method requires evidence, preferably derived from validated testing. Anecdotal evidence and personal testimonies generally don’t meet the qualifications for scientific evidence, and thus won’t often be accepted by a responsible skeptic; which often explains why skeptics get such a bad rap for being negative or disbelieving people. They’re simply following the scientific method.

Okay. So Skepticism is not Accept Nothing, Question Everything. It revolves around the scientific method and evidence. Yet in attacking science Dorey clumsily raises the notion of “true scepticism”.

There are those in Australian society today who call themselves sceptics (or skeptics – which is the American spelling of that word). Yet by their actions and stated beliefs, they are far removed from true scepticism.

Now we can see the purpose of the second definition in the Oxford Dictionary. I doubt Meryl is aware of the metaphilosophy of True Scepticism, most commonly associated with David Hume, the 18th Century Scottish Philosopher. Nonetheless in a roundabout sort of way Meryl has painted herself into a very tight corner wherein she is seemingly defending denial of knowledge and rational belief, as a means to critiquing scientific arguments and articles.

Oh my.

We need a term for these traitors of true scepticism of course. Some time back on her Facebook page Meryl spotted the term pseudo-skeptic. She decided there and then it was “a keeper”. Unfortunately it was already being kept and here is where it all gets a little more silly.

RationalWiki has an entry on Pseudoskepticism. Interestingly is does not describe anything like Meryl’s contention. There is Legitimate use. The use by those who deny climate change science, vaccine success, etc. In fact it does a good job of describing Meryl Wynn Dorey. The description includes:

In this case the word is simply a synonym of denialism, as there is a vast amount of real evidence which is simply willfully ignored by these pseudoskeptics. The use of the phrasing “I am skeptical of X” is to sound more rhetorically reasonable that “I don’t accept X and never will regardless of the evidence”, even if the latter is more accurate.

Then there’s the delightfully headed paragraph on Usage By Woo Promoters, which also describes Meryl Wynn Dorey:

It is perhaps more often used as a loaded term by promoters of woo to dismiss skeptical criticism of their beliefs as unfounded… Given the difficulty of absolutely disproving even the most absurd hypothesis they then go on to maintain that all those who ask for evidence are “pseudoskeptics”.

Oh, snap!

We seem to have established Meryl’s hijacking of terms for the purpose of provocation and revenge. With the greatest of respect to Meryl is must truly be the nadir of her two decade assault upon scientific knowledge. The world is full of those who despise the notion of skepticism because it quite simply requires evidence for ones claims. Dorey has no evidence. She deals in falsehoods. Very lucrative falsehoods. Scams.

The abuse of authority or the demanding of privilege based upon certain claims crumbles before skepticism’s quiet and calm request for evidence. Meryl’s fraudulent donation campaigns, subscriptions for a non existent magazine, promised vaccine tests and boasts of phoney “protection” from mandatory vaccination evaporate in the presence of just one skeptic.

In some strange anger driven fever, Ms. Dorey seeks to discredit the Skeptic movement by making absurd claims about the nature of reality and science. Suddenly claiming something isn’t true does not make one a skeptic. Nor does it remotely undermine the accepted notion of Skepticism. Accepting nothing cannot be any further removed from the outcome of scientific research. Science, as skeptics understand and accept it, is not about belief. It is about conclusion. The weight of evidence.

There is nothing wrong with doubting and questioning. Far from it. Yet at some point we need a method from which to exploit our knowledge – not a mangled pseudoskepticism that denies knowledge exists in the first place. That method is the scientific method. Proper doubt and proper questions are what give us scientific consensus.

Because of doubt, questions and the demands for evidence that skeptics and scientists continually entertain, scientific consensus can and does change. Because it can change it is arguably fragile and unfairly criticised by opponents of skepticism. Yet because of what is required to change scientific consensus, it makes for an incredibly robust source of evidence. Thus “accept nothing” is naught but a position of intellectual paucity.

Accept Nothing, Question Everything is sheer, utter denial. It demands to be seen for the intellectual cowardice it really is: Shirk Certainty.

Meryl Dorey is happy to quote Hippocrates when it suits her. I hope she is aware of this quote:

There are in fact two things, science and opinion; the former begets knowledge, the latter ignorance.

The Real Australian Skeptics is an emerging cornucopia of contrary, provocative nonsense based upon grossly misunderstood notions of evidence, opinion and philosophy. Whatever it is intended to be, it is certainly not a place for truth.

It is presently the very home of Ignorance.

Are Meryl Dorey’s critics really against free speech?

Well, they’ve (The Australian Skeptics) actually said it. It’s been said several times. We don’t have freedom of speech in Australia. Many of them have said that and I have quotes on the internet, you can see it.

Meryl Dorey speaking to Tiga Bayles on Let’s Talk 98.9 FM, 19th December 2011

Meryl Dorey has never been one for facts. Recently her claim that her critics, “say that we don’t have freedom of speech in Australia” (Let’s Talk transcript), has lurched into full gallop. It’s always been around as a demonstrable distortion of documented facts, which I’ll get onto. It pops up on Facebook during tirades to fellow members or on her website posts where it sits in competition with “health fascism”, how “disease mongering” is profitable, that the pharmaceutical industry is in “a secret pact with mainstream medicine” or stupidly comparing herself to the bogus “Lord” Monckton.

Those of us following Woodford Festival’s ill conceived decision to host this threat to public health as an “expert” on such a crucial health topic as vaccination, will be familiar with the “free speech means free pass” argument. Dr. Rachael Dunlop made the following observation writing on ABC’s The Drum:

The argument that has been circulating in favour of letting Dorey speak at the festival has been one of free speech. But this is not about free speech.

Dorey is entitled to voice her opinions but not her own facts. And when a public health warning has been issued about her information, it is the responsibility of the festival organisers to make people aware that she is not an authority on vaccination, that her information has been deemed misleading and she does not support you getting your kids vaccinated.

You could argue suppressing my right to yell “fire!” in a crowded cinema is also about free speech, but when people’s safety is at risk, common sense must prevail.

We’re also entering the 5th year of a pertussis epidemic which began in Ms. Dorey’s hunting grounds and from there spread across Australia. The festival attracts lovers of alternative thinking who can only be harmed by Ms. Dorey’s manipulative diatribes. As such, the organisers of Woodford Festival made an extremely poor, ignorant judgement call and are now complicit in risking Australian health.

Dorey’s talk and opposition to it have little to do with free speech. As I contended recently, her track record of scams, misappropriation of funds, exploitation of members, copyright abuse, lying to the media and much more reveal a cowardly bottom rung con artist who makes an easy living by misleading Aussie citizens and authorities. Her disdain for our laws and insult to our intelligence is blindingly obvious. Charity fraud (including misappropriation of business names), copyright abuse and non compliance with health authority legislation/regulation carry feather touch penalties.

The other fairly outrageous caper I find irksome is how Dorey lies to those who lend support. Those who trust her to tell the truth. She’s a convincing speaker, making her victims easy game. This angle to her grossness literally blossomed as Dorey took Tiga Bayles for a goose, abusing his not insignificant ignorance and blind trust almost ferociously. Tiga simply believed what she said and replied accordingly.

In a sad turn of events Tiga is denied any facts and quickly made the fool. By show’s end he’s almost worshiping at Dorey’s feet, convinced she is fighting “the haters”. Added to this is the sheer volume of effort given by Meryl Dorey toward misleading Tiga about her critics. If she has such a vital role to play in promoting “informed choice”, can’t she just knuckle down and get on with it?

Putting the AVN aside entirely, I always find it a bad sign when one agent has to define their own qualities by highlighting what are supposedly negative qualities in an opposing agent. For Meryl Dorey, the libellous and slanderous attacks on her critics have now become an indispensable binary dance of her own making.

Scarcely moments into the show Dorey misleads the audience and once again leaves little doubt as to why she must be challenged and held accountable:

We have the Health Minister in Queensland saying that it’s nonsense to look at the other side of the vaccination issue. And the National Health and Medical Research Council, which is the government body that’s involved with this, says that you have to be able to make an informed choice. So all we’re doing is trying to support what the National Health and Medical Research Council says, and allow people to make an informed choice. If doctors and the government were doing their job, we wouldn’t even have to be here. I could be off having fun with my family and instead I’m sitting here working. [….]

…. but there is an organisation called the Australian Skeptics, and they set up about three years ago a sub-group called “Stop the AVN”…. They just think everyone should vaccinate, just listen to your doctor, nobody who is not a doctor is able or has a right to talk about this information…. And they say that we don’t have freedom of speech in Australia, which is not correct. [….]

But people need to be aware of what vaccines they are giving their children, why they’re vaccinating and how effective and how safe the vaccines are. And this organisation, Stop the AVN, says you’re not entitled to know that. And I think that people should be aware that there is such a strong push, from a very small section of the community, to stop them from being informed.

All of this is false and Dorey knows it to be. If SAVN are recommending listening to one’s doctor, how can they also say people aren’t entitled to know “how effective and how safe the vaccines are”? That’s exactly what critics of vaccine deniers wish people to know. The show transcript is a cornucopia of infuriating lies, and we need to expose the genesis of Dorey’s musings on opposition to free speech. However, it must be said clearly that linking Stop The AVN with Australian Skeptics actually occurs only in Meryl Dorey’s mind.

SAVN was set up by a private individual after Meryl Dorey harassed the grieving parents of an infant who died from pertussis. Dorey demanded access to the infant’s medical records and contended that Paul Corben, Director of Public Health at the North Coast Area Health Service misled the public by confirming a pertussis fatality. Corben wrote to the family:

Ms. Dorey called me on the 12th of March seeking details of your daughter’s illness and death… Ms. Dorey contended that I had misled the public in attributing your daughter’s death to pertussis.

Despite Corben’s clear email to this effect Dorey simply denies it. What ensued was a vindictive letter writing campaign and visits to family members by AVN intimates. It was not until The Australian Skeptics awarded Ms. Dorey the 2009 Bent Spoon Award for the traditional annual celebration of the perpetrator of the most preposterous piece of paranormal or pseudo-scientific piffle, that Dorey’s hatred for all things skeptical was unleashed. Perhaps Meryl has difficulty accepting just how many critics she has. Yet I suspect painting this picture of a looming enemy is not only compulsory for conspiracy theorists, but far easier than providing evidence.

Dorey continued to mislead Tiga regarding free speech:

Tiga: […] And it’s our right as parents and family members to be making free and informed decisions, and give free and informed consent, if we disagree.

Meryl: They disagree with what you’ve just said. They say we don’t have freedom of speech and you don’t have a right to say no.

Tiga: And by the way, Phil said, no the skeptics don’t tell lies, well, he didn’t say they don’t tell lies, he said they don’t say there isn’t any freedom of speech, they might imply that.

Meryl: Well, they’ve actually said it. It’s been said several times. We don’t have freedom of speech in Australia. Many of them have said that and I have quotes on the internet, you can see it.

Tiga: But even to imply it, Meryl.

Meryl: Well, it’s more than implication because they actually have said that.

A caller, Phil, had quite honestly said that it may be implied (as Dorey is doing) that freedom of speech is opposed by those who object to demonstrable falsehoods capable of harm, being voiced without contest. Here’s the exchange:

Tiga: And the skeptics… is it right then what Meryl… was Meryl correct when she said the skeptics say that we don’t have freedom of speech. Is that something the skeptics would say? In this regard?

Phil: Well, it may be implied. But this isn’t a freedom of speech issue.

Tiga: But it may be implied, Okay.

Later Dorey and Tiga excel themselves:

Tiga: What are these people, like governments, doctors, Stop the Australian Vaccination Network, the skeptics, what are these people when it’s controlling, and the haters that are out there. What’s the difference, probably even much better off under a communist system.

Meryl: That’s right. There isn’t any difference. And Stop the AVN is a hate group. They definitely are. They act like a hate group, they’re abusive, they’re bullies. So, yeah, I agree with you 100% with what you’re saying and it’s anti-democratic. You know, in a democracy we do have this right to choose, we do have the right to speak, so anyone who says we’re not is not democratic, and I think we all want to live in a democracy.

I recommend browsing the transcript. Or you may download the entire 45 minute audio here (or listen below) and make up your own minds about pre-show collusion, Tiga’s arguably conspiratorial anti-medicine beliefs and Meryl’s hilarious claims that she doesn’t lie nor object to the position of doctors defending vaccination. There’s monumental abuse of indigenous health realities from both sides. A few moments of listening hint that Tiga is far too proud to ever admit what a fool Dorey has made of him.

So, what is the source of Dorey’s claim that her critics would deny free speech? Would any academics or critics seriously advance such a primitive notion? Is Dorey cognizant of perhaps a different reality, that exposes this position as an intentional lie? Or could she prove (as intimated) that critics of anti-vaccination propaganda, “say we don’t have freedom of speech and you don’t have a right to say no”?

It’s possible to turn this right around and find that the evidence shows something quite different. Meryl Dorey is really about saying what she wants even if it has been shown to harm individuals or society in general.

In his complaint to the HCCC Mr. Ken McLeod addressed the issue of AVN free speech on page 6. [Item 5] Is the AVN protected by a right of free speech?

Contrary to the perceptions of an Australian public raised on a diet of Hollywood movies, there is no right of free speech in the Australian Constitution. On the contrary, Australian legislation and case law are littered with restrictions on speech, from contempt of parliament, national security, contempt of Court, sub judice rules, criminal defamation, breach of copyright, racial vilification, etc. For example, see Jones v Frederick Toben.

In 2002, a judge of the Federal Court of Australia found that Töben’s website “vilified Jewish people”, and ordered Töben to remove offensive material from his site. In May 2009, he was sentenced to three months in jail by Justice Bruce Lander after being found guilty of 24 charges of contempt, in that he continued to publish offensive views in defiance of Court orders {Jones v Toben [2009] FCA 354}.

Likewise, cancer quack Jillian Margaret Newlands has been ordered by the Queensland Supreme Court to cease providing her quack cancer cure and dangerous advice, such as advising clients not to seek chemotherapy treatment. [Public Statement by Qld Minister for Tourism and Fair Trading Peter Lawlor, Thursday, April 23, 2009 “Unregistered health provider ordered to stop misleading cancer patients”]

So, in Australia, one is entitled to free speech provided that one does not harm an individual or society in general. As Oliver Wendell Holmes USA CJ, put it so succinctly;

“The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theatre.” [Source]

The AVN is clearly harming individuals and society and is not protected by any right of free speech. Indeed, by explicitly including “health education” in the Health Care Complaints Act, speech is clearly not protected here, as speech is necessarily a part of the education process.

In her reply to the HCCC Ms. Dorey accuses Mr. McLeod of a “jihad-like mentality” (yet maintains taking offence at the term “quack”) and offers, Response to Section 5 of the McLeod Complaint – So Called Right of “Free Speech”;

Contrary to Mr McLeod’s ʻAmerican TVʼ version of Constitutional Law (under which he has adopted foreign terms such as “Right to Free Speech” derived from the US Constitution), there is in fact an implied freedom of communication and discussion on political and government affairs contained in the Australian Constitution and embodied within the federal system of government…. It has been found by the High Court of Australia that these sections, when read in context, provide that members of the Senate and the House of Representatives to be directly chosen at elections by the people and that therefore this requirement embraces all that is necessary to effectuate the free election of representatives at periodic elections, including the right to unfettered communication and discussion of all matters relating to government and public policy [Citation].

Freedom of communication on matters of government and politics has been determined by the High Court as being an indispensable incident of the system of representative government that the Constitution creates…. This freedom of communication and discussion is protected against the exercise of federal and state legislative and executive power and extends to all those who participate in ʻpoliticalʼ discussion (such as the AVN) and therefore is not limited only to electors and elected [Citation].

… The High Court has extended this freedom of communication on matters of government and politics extends to all non-verbal conduct [Citation], which would include content on the AVN website and all published materials of the AVN which is the subject of this complaint from Mr McLeod.

It is submitted that the HCCC should approach this complaint with this attitude of balance, and act to responsibly and lawfully when weighing up the competing interests at stake in the circumstances regarding the subject of this complaint. The High Court cases cited above confirm that the HCCC has a constitutional obligation to ensure that the ʻgag orderʼ and other similar provisions of the Health Care Complaints Act are not attempted to be implemented in response to this complain (sic) in a way that would offend or restrict the AVN’s constitutionally protected freedom of political expression. [….]

In closing on this particular subject, I submit a statement made by the Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, as quoted in August 22nd, 2009 edition of the Daily Telegraph. In a speech before Federal Parliament, Mr Smith stated that, “We understand, respect and recognise free speech. We value the capacity of someone to come to our country and say things, even if we do not agree.”

The full epic ramble covers three pages most of which I have spared you. Dorey failed to address Mr. McLeods argument on free speech content that may be inherently malignant. Instead an irrelevant attempt to suggest that the AVN engages in political discussion akin to “communication on matters of government and politics”, is made repeatedly.

In aligning herself with “an implied freedom of communication and discussion on political and government affairs contained in the Australian Constitution and embodied within the federal system of government”, Dorey assumes quite some self-promotion. The citations are related to media outlets and political speech as implied by the constitution, both during and outside of election time, qualified privilege and publication without malice, amongst others.

In short Ms. Dorey seems to have little grasp on the notion of responsible free speech. Ken McLeod has made a very good case as to why free speech despite it’s great value must not be abused or used as a tool of demonstrable harm. Meryl Dorey sees her role as so lofty, the HCCC should stand back and make way. It’s arrogant in the extreme and speaks volumes as to how Dorey sees herself.

Nonetheless that is the source of Dorey’s repeated claims that “the skeptics”, of which Ken is not a member and SAVN, “say that we don’t have freedom of speech in Australia”. Item 5, page 6 of a complaint raised against Meryl Dorey. Period.

It is clear that the HCCC agreed with McLeod’s version, having reviewed Dorey’s material and finding her a risk to public health. Dorey is entirely cognizant of the above. Yet she has again chosen to misrepresent the facts in an attempt to cast opponents as malignant. At worst this is a dispute over the interpretation of free speech under the Australian Constitution.

Using free speech to lie to Tiga Bayles about free speech in such a manner as to intentionally engender ill will and hatred toward others is perhaps the most eloquent justification as to why Ms. Dorey must be stopped from speaking to the detriment of others. What she should say is:

I, Meryl Dorey believe I have a right to say what I want regardless of the consequences to individuals or society and hide behind this as “free speech”.

That is what the evidence shows and it’s backed by her conduct. In essence Dorey is shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre and wants to keep doing so.

One repetitive issue did come up again. As I’ve noted earlier, Dorey believes Nicola Roxon’s recent announcement on immunisation incentives should have led with instructions on how to become a conscientious objector. As if the health minister should be actively promoting disease, disability and epidemics. She had Tiga fired up in no time:

Tiga: So, the government is responsible also for misinformation.

Meryl: Very much so. And we’re going to be complaining about that, but unfortunately what happens is you complain to the Ombudsman, and the Ombudsman says, oh well, tell the minister for health about this. It’s the Minister for Health who’s misinforming people in the first place. So there’s really no way to complain.

Tiga: Typical.

It’s hard to find analogues to this. Perhaps media announcements on how to get exemptions from total fire bans should take precedence over any warnings? Life savers pointing out where the most dangerous rips are outside the flagged zone? SES telling residents where to hide from rescuers as bush fire tears into town? Light houses leading you onto the rocks?

Meryl Dorey’s idea of free and responsible speech is a dangerous one.