How the Oxford trial pause challenges anti-vaccine conspiracies

Recently the Oxford COVID-19 vaccine trial was paused due to a possible case of transverse myelitis in one of the subjects. Today (Saturday UK time) it was announced that the trial would resume following advice from from safety experts.

Confirmation Update: Transverse myelitis has not been diagnosed in the subject [1], [2], [3], [4].

The news of the pause had the anti-vaccine lobby reacting with as much composure as dozing picnickers who have awoken to find they are laying atop a large nest of very active fire ants.

There is the urge to proclaim we told you so. Yet this includes the realisation that forfeiture of key pegs in anti-vaccine conspiracy is required. What has followed as we see below appears to be confusion, the inability to comprehend events, fabrication of fallacy and bogus reinforcement of elements of the Big Pharma conspiracy.

It’s important not to underestimate how disturbing genuine challenges to an individuals world view can be. In the case of the Oxford trial announcement, the anti-vaccine conspiratorial view of the world is threatened by a distressing reality. For the dedicated anti-vaxxer this leads to uncomfortable cognitive dissonance. In fact anti-vaccine conspiracies must exist in the first place to resolve the cognitive dissonance that arises when scientific evidence and epidemiology overwhelmingly refute the myth of dangerous vaccines and manufactured claims of vaccine injury and death.

In this case there are three main challenges to current anti-vaccine beliefs.

  1. The MSM (mainstream media) presented a transparent account of the Oxford trial pause.
  2. The pause in the trial itself shows that the safety aspect of Phase III clinical trials is working well.
  3. Cursory reading of the situation confirms the efficacy component of Phase III clinical trials and the use of a placebo.

The anti-vaccine lobby contend that mainstream media are biased against the “truth” of vaccine horror because what is reported is not anti-vaccine. If the mistake of giving anti-vaccine identities air-time to push unsubstantiated disinformation is made, criticism swiftly follows. Yet primarily it is the industry requirement to fact check that keeps anti-vaccination views from being presented unchallenged.

It’s more likely that their antics make tabloid or news segments because they are dishonest and at times vindictive. This attracts regular criticism of the Australian Vaccination-risks Network. A scheme by anti-vaxxer Kyia Clayton to interview AVN president Aneeta Hafemeister on ABC Hobart was met with outrage. It was justly criticised on Media Watch which yet again led to Meryl Dorey urging members to bombard the ABC and ACMA with complaints.

Rather than rise to the occasion and present evidence that meets the standard of scientific consensus the AVN has instead accused the media of being part of the larger conspiracy. Attacking mainstream media and articles that are based on vaccine fact is a substantial activity for Australian anti-vaxxers.

A constant claim of anti-vaxxers is that vaccines are never tested adequately for safety. This is partly due to the erroneous belief that vaccines are so full of dangerous chemicals and biological matter that they cannot possibly be safe. Ergo, any genuine monitoring for adverse reactions in large samples would reveal that a high percentage present with such reactions. As this is not the case their only conclusion is the biased testing conspiracy.

Another claim is that vaccines are never tested for efficacy. They don’t work and we have all been deceived. Herd immunity is a fake concept. Vaccines were introduced after improved sanitation and hygiene eliminated most disease and thus deserve no credit. This claim is made with the help of deceitfully crafted graphs plotting mortality, not morbidity, in such small numbers it appears that vaccines had no impact. The two claims specific to Phase III clinical trials are often made together.

This was clear when the AVN responded to an August 2019 SMH article by Liam Mannix, Anti-vaxxers live in an online bubble this scientist wants to burst. Their response is a strange collection of “propositions” the author angrily contends must exist, whilst citing pseudoscience and articles relating to medication, not vaccines.

The AVN piece included this under “Proposition 4”;

…there have never been double-blind, placebo-controlled prospective studies done on either the safety or efficacy of vaccines, not even when a new vaccine is introduced.

Oh my. This persists despite accessible evidence to the contrary and available WHO recommendations. More so, in line with all anti-vaxxers the AVN argue their definition of a placebo (such as saline) is what should be used in vaccine trials. In fact it is used in many trials but the AVN choose to ignore this. This may include shifting the goal posts. Virology Down Under discuss this no true Scotsman anti-vax fallacy related to placebos.

In some vaccine trials a saline placebo is not ethically suitable and the placebo used is not inert. With respect to the urgency COVID-19 presents this article argues that placebos aren’t needed for vaccine challenge trials. In the Oxford trial a non-saline placebo functions as a more effective control as Dr. Norman Swan explains below. The AVN have always objected to Gardasil studies which used AAHS (the amorphous aluminium hydroxyphosphate sulphate adjuvant) as a placebo.

Without citing any reference the AVN offer their definition of a vaccine trial placebo;

By definition, a placebo must be a totally inert substance which will never provoke a response.

In a recent Coronacast episodeThe Oxford vaccine’s troubles. Why it’s not doomed (yet) Norman Swan talked about efficacy and safety in this vaccine trial. Whilst the USA are using a saline placebo, the other participant countries are not. Swan explains;

A few weeks ago, phase 2, phase 3 studies, that’s dose finding and whether or not the vaccine works in large numbers of people and whether it safe, started in Brazil, South Africa and the UK, and they were aiming to recruit 17,000 people. There was also a phase 3 study just beginning in the United States in about 80 sites, trying to recruit about 30,000-odd people. The aim is to have a trial of about 50,000 people.

And interestingly it’s a placebo-controlled trial but the placebo is not saline. It is in the United States, but in Brazil, South Africa and the UK it’s actually not a dummy drug, it’s not saline, it’s a meningococcal vaccine, and they are doing that so that people don’t recognise whether or not they’ve had a placebo. It’s very important in a placebo-controlled trial that you don’t know that you are in the placebo arm. And if you get a shot in your arm and nothing happens and it’s pretty mild you think, well, maybe I’m in the placebo group.

The presenters talk about the seriousness of transverse myelitis and Norman Swan offers this context;

However, there was a study not so long ago which looked at 64 million vaccine doses and really found very little evidence, if any, that transverse myelitis is caused by immunisation. Out of 64 million doses they found seven cases or eight cases that may be associated with it. And they look really widely. They didn’t just look at the week after you’ve had the immunisation or the month after, they looked at almost any time after you’ve had the immunisation, and they conclude that transverse myelitis, unless in very rare circumstances, is not caused by a vaccine. […]

So what they’ve got to find out with this person is are they in the placebo arm, are they in the active arm, is it really transverse myelitis, what are the antibodies that have actually been shown? Are there any other symptoms? And did the person actually get infected with real COVID-19 after the trial had started…

I recommend reading the transcript or listening to this episode of Coronacast. Tegan Taylor and Swan talk more on Phase III trials and discuss the specifics of the Oxford vaccine. It’s an adenovirus carrying genetic material into cells to instruct the cells to produce fragments of COVID-19 virus. It is these fragments that induce an immune response. With respect to the use of placebos in vaccine trials a July 27th episode examines the ethics associated with the fact that subjects in the placebo arm of Phase III trials are not receiving a vaccine.

By the time the Oxford podcast was published on Thursday the AVN was already suggesting on Facebook that there may be more adverse reactions hidden from the public.

AVN Facebook post

Dubious message on AVN Facebook

“It does raise questions”? The problem with the above post is the apparent interpretation by an AVN Facebook administrator that one of the “close friend daughters” who took part in the Oxford trial “is in the Royal” [London Hospital], “diagnosed with Transverse Mylytis” (sic). There is an unverified claim that, “they have asked to keep this quite (sic) as they don’t want the public to know”. The AVN admit the information may not be true.

Yet is this really evidence of a covert case of transverse myelitis? Perhaps Karen McNab is referring to a) her friend’s daughter and also b) the “volunteer” mentioned in the WhatsApp message. The trial subject who had the presumed adverse reaction is a woman who is in hospital.

Of course my interpretation could be wrong. There is however no clear statement that one of the friend’s daughters has transverse myelitis.

Some AVN members were justifiably suspicious.

AVN FB members question source

Rixta Francis, a long term AVN member prone to simply inventing disinformation published her predictably outrageous fallacy of the Oxford trial. This is an excellent example of an immediate, and  feverish attempt to slap at the fire ants of cognitive dissonance. Fellow members are supportive.

Facebook: Rixta Francis misleads over Oxford COVID vaccine trial
Self published author of The Fiction of Science Rixta is prone to reinterpret reality in the manner above. To appreciate this we need to explore her approach more fully. In an interesting example of how things come round in circles Francis is infamous for her abuse of the memory and parents of baby Riley Hughes, who featured in the SMH article I mentioned above.

Riley died from pertussis in March 2015 before he was old enough to be vaccinated. Feeling a need to educate parents about immunisation Catherine Hughes began the Light For Riley campaign. She now runs the Immunisation Foundation of Australia. Ten months after the death of Riley, Francis falsely claimed Catherine was a member of Stop the AVN, suggested Riley and his pertussis had never existed or that the parents killed infant Riley themselves.

The post below suggests the Oxford adverse reaction has been staged. It includes dismissal of genuine media intention, dismissal of safety and dismissal of efficacy helped by quoting Australia’s CSIRO. Again this is textbook management and minimisation of cognitive dissonance.

AVN Facebook post

Other comments in the thread follow a similar theme and manage to reveal quite ridiculous thought processes. The reason people placed themselves at such risk is because they were offered “a small fortune… it all comes down to money”. Vaccines always cause “horrific injuries”. We “can’t cure cancer but we can make a vaccine in six months for a disease we don’t understand?”.

It will be interesting, but not surprising, to see how this group reacts to the news that the trial has resumed.


Further reading:

Oxford Vaccine Group

Oxford vaccine trial – University of Oxford

How Vaccine hesitancy could undermine Australia’s COVID response – The Guardian, September 12th 2020

Fact Check: Mastercard partnership on vaccination records is unrelated to finances – USA Today, September 9th 2020

Halting the Oxford vaccine trial doesn’t mean it’s not safe – The Conversation, September 9th 2020

Vaccine testing and approval process – CDC

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Government cuts to ABC harm quality journalism

Sky News Australia, owned by News Corp, has a well earned reputation for denying the evidence of climate change and the need for reducing carbon emissions, which host Chris Kenny recently referred to as “leftist climate policies”.

The occasion was indulgence in what has earned the outlet another, equally concerning reputation. Regular attacks directed at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation based on the contention that they promote biased leftist ideology. That the ABC leads unwarranted leftist media campaigns, the most significant recently being an apparent “attack” on Cardinal George Pell, although it was News Corp which first reported charges brought against Pell. Since Pell’s High court acquittal of historical child sexual abuse charges the tone and pace from Sky News seem to have increased.

More so a specific amount is levelled at ABC Media Watch and its host, Paul Barry. Yet they fail to mention it was Paul Barry on Media Watch who tackled the claims that Pell was not innocent because he had been found not guilty due to reasonable doubt. Barry insisted that Pell was innocent until proven guilty. As he was now not guilty, has was innocent.

The brazenness combined with the shoddiness of these attacks has been percolating for years. Accusations in the main are made with no real evidence, simply opinion. This is doubly true when it comes to attributing motivation to the ABC or its journalists. The present environment that allows the confidence for Sky to present what is often junk journalism often with the aim of smearing the ABC exists in very large part thanks to successive Coalition governments.

Australian Government criticism of the ABC has a long history and its tone reflects what party is in power at the time. Yet moves to manipulate the ABC through budget cuts and misleading verbal attacks about “ideological bias” have proven to be from the game book of the Coalition. Despite a pre-election promise to maintain budgets of both the SBS and the ABC, the Howard government targetted both. His governments 1996 budget included a 2% ($55 million) annual cut to ABC funding beginning in 1997-98. And an independent review of the ABC was commissioned to be led by Bob Manfield.

Howard continued to verbally attack the ABC over his four terms. His former Chief-of-Staff Graeme Morris described the ABC as “our enemies talking to our friends”. Dennis Muller (Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne) noted in The Conversation in February last year that Howard himself labelled the ABC nightly news as “Labors home video”.

And that;

Howard’s communications minister, Richard Alston, kept up an unremitting barrage of complaints that the ABC was biased. This culminated in 2003 with 68 complaints about the coverage of the second Gulf War. An independent review panel upheld 17 of these but found no systematic bias.

I could not agree more with Muller that;

This playbook – repeated funding cuts, relentless allegations of bias, and recurring inquiries into the ABC’s efficiency and scope – has been followed to the letter by the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison administrations.

Interesting then that The Howard Years, in which he worked at shaping his legacy, was a successful ABC-TV event.

But I really wonder if Howard could have foreseen what he’d put in motion. Yes Howard was conservative. Morally, socially and politically. His fawning to the Australian Christian Lobby left behind inestimable damage in that it swung the gates wide for organised bigoted fundamentalism. His record of demonstrable apathy in response to climate change and his capitulation to the Greenhouse Mafia was inescapable. Less than eight months ago in a keynote speech to mining industry representatives he criticised “climate change zealots” and perhaps foolishly said he was “agnostic” when it came to climate change.

But John Winston Howard was not anti-science as were those around him. Of course, when we look at the evidence of climate change there is really no room for agnosticism. Yet Howard was defending his legacy and the contribution Australia’s mining industry had made to economic stability during the GFC of 2008. He didn’t deny the existence of climate change or label it a leftist conspiracy without foundation.

Certainly he was not an enemy of reason. Climate change aside he understood the importance of evidence and the risk of turning ones back on it. Perhaps he wondered at the wisdom of the Liberal Party Council. On June 16th 2018 they voted to privatise the ABC, despite this going against the very pursuit of journalistic independence that led to the founding of the ABC. The Institute of Public Affairs was delighted with the prospect of privatising the ABC. Two members of the IPA had published a book on “how to do it” just a month before.

This wasn’t a sudden decision in conservative politics. By then the Abbott-Turnbull administrations had already cut $338 million from ABC funding since 2014. The 2018 Budget handed down by then Treasurer Scott Morrison included a three year freeze on ABC funding beginning in June 2019. He said at the time, “everyone has to live within their means”. The tied funding of $43.7 million will cost the broadcaster $83.7 million in budget cuts over three years, on top of the cumulative $254 million in cuts since 2014. There was no better news in the 2019 budget.

It was reported in The Conversation in April last year;

This has resulted in an accumulated reduction in available funding of A$393 million over a five-year period, starting from May 2014. According to current budget forecasts, this also means the ABC stands to lose A$783 million in funding by 2022, unless steps are taken to remedy the situation.

Earlier this month Opposition leader Anthony Albanese asked the PM to reconsider the ABC budget freeze in respect of their essential role over the bushfire season and now the coronavirus pandemic. SBS reported;

“Will the Prime Minister restore funding so the ABC can keep doing its job so effectively?” [asked Albanese]

Mr Morrison responded: “The ABC is doing an excellent job and they’ll continue doing that job with the resources that have been provided to them.”

“Like all agencies, like all Australians, they will all do the best job they can with the resources they have available to them.”

The funding cuts are brutal and are a clear sign of the federal government’s aim to restrict the journalistic vision of the ABC. The ABC was clear in stressing that the most recent cuts threaten delivery of the ABC Charter requirements. More so 800 staff have lost their jobs. As I noted above, I wonder if Howard would be comfortable with this. Leading up to the last Federal election Labor promised to reverse the budget freeze and ensure the $83.7 million the ABC stood to lose. They also promised $60 million to the ABC and SBS.

Writing about the Young Liberals call in late June 2018 to sell the ABC, Vincent O’Donnell noted;

But most members of the conservative movement are hostile to the ABC because it is said to be biased. Accusations of bias are useful tools to undermine confidence and support for the ABC…

[…]

…there are folk whose political beliefs are so far to the right that just about all of Australia, and most of the world, is to the left. Any media that reflects this reality is necessarily left wing and biased.

Intermingling of the Coalition government and right wing conservative journalists criticising the ABC goes back some time. In August 2014 a parliamentary library research paper noted (part 4: Disbanding the network);

Following its victory in the 2013 election, the Abbott Government became increasingly critical of the Australian Network for what it argued [were] overly negative representations of Australia. In addition, Prime Minister Abbott was critical of the ABC’s overall reporting stances; the Prime Minister claiming the ABC took everyone’s side but Australia’s.

The same paper reported in Box 5: Spy scandal and the role of the media that the ABC had reported on Edward Snowden’s leaked information that Australian intelligence officials tried to tap the phones of Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his wife. The ABC also reported on asylum seeker claims that they had been abused by members of the Australian Navy. In respect of the Indonesian phone tapping incident Chris Kenny, “accused the broadcaster of embarrassing Australia and Indonesia, undermining co-operative relations and diminishing national security”.

Andrew Bolt contended that the ABC, “was ‘not just biased. It is a massive organ of state media, strangling private voices and imposing a Leftist orthodoxy that thinks it fine to publish security secrets’.” The ABC apologised with respect to the asylum seeker claims, saying it was sorry if the report had led people to assume they believed the claims. Their intention was to present the material “as claims worthy of further investigation”.

The government continued to criticise the ABC, accusing it of “maligning Navy personnel”. Defence Minister at the time, David Johnston claimed the ABC had “maliciously maligned” the Navy and contended that their reporting justified an investigation. In March 2014 the ABC reported evidence supporting abuse of asylum seekers in Indonesian detention centres. The then Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, argued the claims had no credibility and that the ABC should “move on”.

The same research paper includes in Box 1 – One man’s satire another man’s distress, which covers a 2013 Chaser segment wherein a photoshopped image of News Corp journalist Chris Kenny having sex with a dog was shown. Initially the ABC refused to apologise arguing that viewers were, “adequately warned by an onscreen classification symbol and accompanying voice over of the likelihood of seeing potentially offensive content”.

The point I wish to make here is relevant to the opening paragraphs. Kenny did have a defender. On Media Watch Paul Barry firmly disagreed with the ABC and The Chaser view of satire, arguing it was neither satirical nor clever. The saga rolled on for a time with further developments, some serious, some frivolous. Ultimately the ABC did apologise to Kenny.

These examples deal almost exclusively with TV journalism. Of course Media Watch ranges across radio, internet, social media, printed news and TV. Ongoing criticism and bullying of the ABC by the Coalition government is quite telling. As Muller wrote in Constant attacks on the ABC will come back to haunt the Coalition government;

The bipartisan political vision for the ABC was that it should not be vulnerable to sectional interests or commercial pressures, but should exist to serve the public interest in the widest sense

The ABC cannot do this without financial and factual support from governments. More so attacks on the ABC from unapologetic right wing ideological bastions such as Sky News are indicative of a wider social problem. A lack of critical thought and an inability to understand and respect the impact of evidence.

It may well be worth looking more closely at that soon.

 


 

Judy Wilyman – unedited TV interview

Some thoughts on vaccine conspiracy theorist Judy Wilyman’s misleading “TV interview” which was published on YouTube on August 16th, 2018.

Viewers are being mislead by Ms. Wilyman’s constant and repetitive referral to “university research” and the allusion to an existing “scientific debate” on vaccination. The science on vaccination is settled and there is certainly no genuine debate. Only anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists constantly seeking to create the impression there is a debate and that the truth is being suppressed.

One wonders. What is the “objective and evidence based university research (approved by the University of Wollongong)” of which Ms. Wilyman speaks? What was the study design? What was the sample size? By what methodology were vaccine ingredients causally linked to chronic disease? Which ingredients were shown to cause chronic disease or pathological changes? By what mechanism do which ingredients cause pathology? How did the study control for other variables? What methods of analysis and statistical verification were used?

Where was this research, “approved by the University of Wollongong [UOW]”, published? Has it been reproduced? How many unsuccessful attempts to falsify the research have there been? Certainly Ms. Wilyman has not published any original research or data. Indeed apart from startlingly unverified claims gleaned frequently from dubious sources, Ms. Wilyman is yet to produce the basic outline of any study design. Rather Ms. Wilyman has joined the ranks of those who misrepresent the purpose of package inserts, and why certain information is included for legal purposes. Not as an indication of what vaccine recipients should expect.

Some Australians are aware that Ms. Wilyman was awarded a PhD from UOW Humanities Department on the basis of a literature review that sought to criticise the Australian Immunisation Schedule and the safety of vaccines in general. Ms. Wilyman has no qualification in health, medicine, public health, epidemiology, vaccine science or any qualifications relating to immunisation at all. During this interview Ms. Wilyman contends, whilst failing to cite any supporting research that vaccine ingredients are causing chronic disease in Australian children.

All Wilyman cites appears to be her own literature review, in which she mistakes correlation for causation. More so, the references cited by Ms. Wilyman in her thesis are firmly biased toward her anti-vaccine theory, and blatantly so. Because of this fact Wilyman has reinforced the fact there is no scientifically reputable debate on the safety and efficacy of mass vaccination at all. In cases where a debate on any topic could be mounted the author of a literature review would present bipartisan sources, review and critique the value of each then finally argue a conclusion based upon the material reviewed.

However the scientific consensus from peer reviewed material addressing vaccine safety and vaccination schedules is one that demonstrates absolutely the safety and success of vaccines. Ms. Wilyman is unable to demonstrate a scientific consensus in peer reviewed literature that suggests widespread chronic disease as a result of mass vaccination because such a consensus does not exist. Ms. Wilyman underscores the intellectual paucity of her stance by insisting that “it has not been proven that autism is not linked to the vaccines”. It has indeed been demonstrated over and over again that autism is not linked to MMR or any vaccine.

One finds it more than disturbing that someone awarded a PhD from an Australian university is incapable of understanding the vast body of work dismissing any link between autism and immunisation. More so, Wilyman goes on to falsely claim there have been deaths and widespread harm causally linked to vaccines. There have been no deaths linked to vaccination in Australia for close to 45 years. On November 21st, 2015 The Social Services Legislative Amendment Bill (No Jab, No Pay) in Brisbane was informed serious reactions to vaccines occur from zero to five times per year in Australia.

These figures reveal Ms. Wilyman’s claims of frequent death and disability from vaccination as bogus. Her abuse of the right to freedom of speech is significantly disturbing as she consciously presents demonstrably false information with the ability to cause community harm, harm to infants and children and the sabotage of public health. For over 17 minutes Judy Wilyman pushes the standard anti-vaccine conspiracy theory, and at one alarming point suggests the Australian Vaccination Schedule with the added incentive of No Jab, No Pay is a breach of The Nuremberg Code.

Let’s clear up what the purpose of the Nuremberg Code is. Following the Nuremberg trials and the conviction of Nazi doctors for human experiments on concentration camp prisoners, the Code was introduced in August 1947. It seeks to give clear instructions and rules as to what is legal when conducting human experiments. There are ten points to the Nuremberg Code.

Comments (below) in response to the video are predictably from the conspiracy theory handbook. The first observes that the government wants to hide what is in a vaccine. You may have noticed above that I linked to vaccine ingredients on this Australian Government Dept. of Health Fact Sheet. The second comment notes “government or doctors” don’t read package inserts. Deaths and serious sickness is covered up.

The harm caused by this misinformation – which is being constantly pushed (and certainly not corrected) by Judy Wilyman is not something one can take lightly.

YouTube comments;

  • “It’s very very suspicious when a government and the AMA want to hide the truth from the public about what is in a vaccine. The whole idea of vaccines is to sterilise the population and polysorbate 80 is in all of them. Obviously that idea has come from the minds of psychopaths”.
  • “All those who promote the lies of the safety of vaccines are equally responsible as BigPharma for the poisoning and maiming of their own people, (sic) They should recall the Nuremberg Trials and the consequences of those who experimented on the innocent people. The risks of vaccines are listed on the Data sheets of the vaccines and also the Package inserts, which are not studied by government or doctors, and the deaths and serious sicknesses are covered up.”

Ms Wilyman would be wise to stick to humanities it would seem.

 

Update: Note; Reference to “scientific debate” on vaccination above refers to the contention of the anti-vaccination lobby that the risk/benefit ratio of vaccines is something that is still being debated or a topic that warrants debate. The benefit of vaccines far outweighs the extremely small risk of harm.

Fake News serves conspiracy theorists well

A recent article posted by Orac examined the fallacious story of FBI raids on the USA Centre for Disease Control.

What’s concerning here is that such stories aren’t just bogus claims or cherry picking from evidence or misrepresenting of reports and announcements from authoritative sources. Nope, these stories are utter nonsense with no basis at all in verifiable events.

They aim to advance malignant and anti-social agendas. In the case of the above lie that the FBI raided CDC offices, it’s clear purpose was to exploit the drooling anticipation of the anti-vaccination lobby. Mainly that with “vaccine/autism/tweeting” Trump having been inaugurated the evil masters behind mass poisoning-by-vaccine would get theirs.

A second very useful purpose is that very few people check the source of the material. Within 24 hours the fake news story may have been read by tens to hundreds of thousands. Even if the piece is refuted with evidence and thoroughly debunked, it is unlikely readers drawn to the key message will invest the time and intellectual discipline to ascertain a. the facts and b. how readers were deceived.

There’s an interesting article here examining Trump’s grab bag of lies.

Do read Orac’s piece. It focuses on the FBI/CDC issue nicely. Not only was this fake news story published but was followed up with further fake news boasting articles with headlines proclaiming “Confirmed”.

Fake news isn’t new to those dealing with anti-vaccination lies. The anti-vaccine lobby has been publishing deceitful articles and “announcements” for years.

It seems in the present climate it is likely we will see more fake news from a range of anti-science, far right wing, bigoted groups that are finding a damaging voice to Western democracy.

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:

RULES FOR POSTING ABOUT THIS STORY:
1. DO NOT WAIT FOR ANY FACTS ABOUT WHAT REALLY HAPPENED. IT IS IMPORTANT THAT YOU IMMEDIATELY POST WHATEVER MINDLESS CONSPIRACY THEORY YOU CAN THINK OF.
2. BLAME THE JEWS

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

 

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