Seven Ways to Identify Pseudoscience

Original seven ways – © Relatively Interesting

  • The use of psychobabble – words that sound scientific and professional but are used incorrectly, or in a misleading manner;

Self-help books, folk and pop psychology, and motivational seminars often use psychobabble.  Deepak Chopra is a name that comes to mind at present. Nothing more than a fraud according to Professor Jerry Coyne, one may delight in the Wisdom of Chopra which is a Twitter stream made up of seeming quotes that are randomly generated by words that can be found in his genuine Twitter stream. If anybody breathes prescient life into the words of the late Carl Sagan it is the scoundrel and intellectual mobster Deepak Chopra.

Sagan proffered;

I worry that, especially as the Millennium edges nearer, pseudo-science and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive.

  • A substantial reliance on anecdotal evidence;

Without a doubt the alternatives to medicine behemoth would be lost without dramatic tales of self-limiting illnesses merely running their course, or completely false or hugely exaggerated stories of serious, disabling or terminal disease executing an about face due to the power of some wonderful concoction. The frustrating hurdle here for those who promote reason is that almost all work undertaken to convince the patient occurs in their own mind. Scam artists from peddlers of herbs to chiropractors, Baptist religions and indeed even the Catholic Church are swift to take credit if they have been involved.

  • Extraordinary claims in the absence of extraordinary evidence;

From 9/11 being an inside job to images of the apparent exhumation of giant skeletons to alien autopsy videos and shaky vision of UFOs drifting across a grainy background it seems all these and other extraordinary claims have one thing in common. A powerful need to believe in their truth by those that ensure certain – in fact sometimes many – conspiracy theories indeed exist. Now thanks to Netflix we can wander through a range of delightful titles that offer everything from reasonable special effects to WW2 era reports and “experts” convinced our governments expect us to believe the laws of physics have been broken.

  • Claims which cannot be proven false;

Insisting oneself or perhaps a number of people in the world have communicated telepathically at infrequent and random intervals with aliens from a distant star is impossible to disprove on face value. The claimant can continue to insist he/she is unaware of who the other telepathic human recipients are, or when he/she will receive or has received a communication. The communication may be quite benign such as, “Happy Birthday Deepak”.

Ideally the burden of proof should be placed on the party making the claim.

  • Claims that counter established scientific fact;

Often going hand in hand with claims that rely on anecdotal evidence are those that defy scientific fact. Homeopathy stands atop the podium in this regard. Not only is it absolutely certain to not work but it’s adherents may insist on relaying impossible tales – often knowing they are outright lies – to besmear evidence based medicine and promote junk, bogus cures. For example pertussis (or Whooping Cough) is sometimes referred to as “the 100 day cough”. Prominent Australian antivaccinationist Meryl Dorey claimed on national TV both her vaccinated and unvaccinated children “got it”. She treated it homeopathically and “none of us were sick for more than two weeks and it was nothing worse than a bad cough”.

Countering established fact may be said of an enormous number of claims made about pseudoscientific “cures” for many ailments. Some treat energy meridians or “chakras” that don’t actually exist. These involve peddling herbs, acupuncture, acupressure, chiropractic, osteopathy, chanting, cupping, aligning activities with moon cycles, astrology and more.

Without a doubt denial of anthropogenic climate change should be mentioned here and we might again reflect upon to Carl Sagan’s worrying prediction.

  • Absence of adequate peer review;

In 2015 antivaccinationist and science fraud Judy Wilyman, under the auspicies of antivaccinationist and conspiracy sympathiser Dr. Brian Martin, finished her PhD at the University of Wollongong. The controversy surrounding inadequate peer review between 2012 to 2016 and indeed until today is a function of the copious inaccuracies in her thesis. Entitled “A critical analysis of the Australian Government’s rationale for its vaccination policy”, it was an immature an inaccurate antivaccination conspiracy rant. The fact that it was accepted, and indeed accepted with it’s discredited bibliography, indicates a clear absence of adequate peer review.

Tragically this eventuality has emboldened Wilyman to demand respect from academics and to level outrageous personal claims at her critics, rather than attempt to publish respectable material.

  • Claims that are repeated despite being refuted;

Whilst a great deal of the above intellectual repugnance deserves a slice of this pie, the authors at Relatively Interesting have populated it with the anti-vaccination obsession with the globally damaging claim that vaccines cause autism. Originally at a 1998 media conference designed to reassure parents, head author of the now rejected paper Andrew Wakefield proffered the baseless claim that rather than use the MMR trivalent vaccine, parents should consider choosing single shot vaccines. The “vaccines cause autism” claim has not only been shown to be false and cannot be replicated, but it is now well established that Wakefield acted with the sole aim of making tens and probably hundreds of millions of pounds via his plan to establish immuno-analysis laboratories for the new condition he was calling autistic enterocolitis. He also held patents for single shot measles, mumps and rubella vaccines.

A five member General Medical Council panel found Wakefield guilty of over 30 charges including 12 of causing children to endure “clinically unjustified” invasive testing procedures, buying blood at children’s birthday parties and managing four counts of dishonesty. Then, his “continued lack of insight” into his conduct, and consequences thereof, meant that only “total erasure” from the medical register was warranted. Today on the back of countless refutations of Wakefields claims he now pushes the fraudumentary Vaxxed full of false information and complete with the tampered audio of phone conversations.

 

Regrettably today more than in recent years we can benefit from keeping an eye out for these seven markers of pseudo-science.

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Features of the anti-vaccination movement on Facebook

Recently Australia’s most vocal, persistent and offensive anti-vaccine pressure group, The Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network argued vaccination is a breach of religious freedom. They misinformed the federal parliamentary inquiry into religious freedom that vaccines were prepared with “the products of abortion”.

Vaccination was therefore “a moral evil”, violating teachings of Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism, they contended citing absolutely no evidence to support their stance. The Australian Medical Association noted that their position was “irrational” and “unscientific”.

It was clear that the AVN was trying to find its way around the No Jab No Pay family assistance requirements and the No Jab No Play policy requirements. In April 2015 it was initially announced that religious exemptions for vaccination would cease. This was reinforced by health minister Greg Hunt in March this year. The only grounds for exemption of childhood vaccination are medical. The AVN’s claim that vaccines contain “the products of abortion” is not only baseless, but well refuted.

The AVN’s ignorance of the moral considerations involved are not difficult to discern. A Vatican City 2005 Statement, Moral reflections on vaccines prepared from cells derived from aborted human foetuses, includes in reference 15;

…the parents who did not accept the vaccination of their own children become responsible for the malformations [due to rubella infection] in question, and for the subsequent abortion of fetuses, when they have been discovered to be malformed.

Still it is quite predictable that this morally bereft pressure group will continue to press the fallacious contention that vaccines contain aborted foetal cells. Social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter are means by which the anti-vaccination lobby interact. Indeed the conduct of antivaccinationists on Facebook has revealed much of their conspiratorial, cruel, cult-like nature.

First we witnessed the anti-vaccine lobby grow with simple access to misinformation via the Internet combined with the ability to invent and spread more. With the growth of social media we have witnessed this social malignancy improve it’s networking skills and spread their dangerous misinformation and conspiracy theories in real time.

In this light I was grateful that the sharp eyes of others interested in the impact of the anti-vaccination lobby had come across the following research paper.

Mapping the anti-vaccination movement on Facebook. Naomi Smith and Tim Graham.

Information, Communication & Society

Published December 27th, 2017. https://doi.org/10.1080/1369118X.2017.1418406

It looked at 6 anti-vaccine Facebook pages.

  1. Fans of the AVN
  2. Dr. Tenpenny on vaccines
  3. Great mothers (and others) questioning vaccines
  4. No vaccines Australia
  5. Age of autism
  6. RAGE against the vaccines

Post, like and comment data were further used to generate 6 social networks which were then further analysed.

Abstract;

Over the past decade, anti-vaccination rhetoric has become part of the mainstream discourse regarding the public health practice of childhood vaccination. These utilise social media to foster online spaces that strengthen and popularise anti-vaccination discourses. In this paper, we examine the characteristics of and the discourses present within six popular anti-vaccination Facebook pages. We examine these large-scale datasets using a range of methods, including social network analysis, gender prediction using historical census data, and generative statistical models for topic analysis (Latent Dirichlet allocation).

We find that present-day discourses centre around moral outrage and structural oppression by institutional government and the media, suggesting a strong logic of ‘conspiracy-style’ beliefs and thinking. Furthermore, anti-vaccination pages on Facebook reflect a highly ‘feminised’ movement ‒ the vast majority of participants are women. Although anti-vaccination networks on Facebook are large and global in scope, the comment activity sub-networks appear to be ‘small world’. This suggests that social media may have a role in spreading anti-vaccination ideas and making the movement durable on a global scale.

Some key points from the paper’s Discussion and Conclusion might be listed as follows.

  • There is a large amount of online information that is important to the anti-vaccination (AV) community.
  • Social media acts as an “effective hub” in the communication of AV information. The information is “designed to encourage grass roots resistance”.
  • AV communities are relatively sparse, not functioning as close knit communities of support.
  • Yet participation alone in AV groups can reinforce AV beliefs.
  • AV participants are reasonably active across a number of groups.
  • This suggests AV users participation in various AV groups is more autonomous than would be explained by Facebook’s recommender system.
  • Liking and commenting across a number of AV pages may create a “filter bubble” effect.♠
  • This effect is a pattern of involvement and activity that reinforces AV beliefs and conduct.
  • More research is needed to discern how much of this effect is due to the users own conduct as opposed to Facebook’s algorithmic structure.
  • AV Facebook pages exhibit “small world” network structure characteristics. Information diffuses quickly through the network via user comments.
  • “Small world” characteristics may be due to inherent aspects of the AV movement or may manifest due to the Facebook “platform”.
  • Either the former or latter aspect driving development of “small world” specifics will have unique and interesting implications.♣
  • The former suggests that as a social movement the AV lobby might develop as a “small world” network that may be amplified and made more visible online.
  • If the latter, the Facebook platform may be instrumental in the growth of the AV movement, protecting from disruption of outside influences.
  • Wide sharing of posts suggests the AV community has scope beyond the public Facebook pages.
  • Sharing may be important in spreading AV information and growing the AV movement.
  • Gender composition of AV movement reflects cultural understanding of parenting – primarily maternal.
  • Vaccination is historically “a mother’s question”. AV is described by the authors as “a mother’s question”.
  • “AV movement is primarily led by women”. Note; Sherri Tenpenny runs “Vaccine Info” on Facebook.
  • Whilst anti-vaccination is not gender specific, the “gendered nature” of Facebook page participation suggests the AV movement is “feminised”.
  • Several key pre-occupations of AV communities are evident on Facebook pages; institutional arrangements are seen to be perpetuating the harmful practice of vaccination.
  • AV community is “morally outraged about vaccination and structurally oppressed by seemingly tyrannical and conspiratorial government and media”.
  • There is a strong belief in conspiracies driven by government and media; Cover up of vaccine injury and death, spreading of Zika virus by Bill Gates and belief in chemtrails.
  • Comparison of vaccination to the Holocaust indicates strong sense of persecution within AV Facebook pages studied.
  • Strong anti-science and anti-medicine beliefs in tandem with use of natural remedies.
  • Findings limited by sample size.
  • Further, more comprehensive research is needed.

♠ Commonly referred to as an “echo chamber’.

Final paragraph;

The results of this investigation suggest a robust and highly gendered network structure that has a strong sense of moral outrage associated with the practice of vaccination. This ‘righteous indignation’, in combination with the network characteristics identified in this study, indicates that anti-vaccination communities are likely to be persistent across time and global in scope as they utilise the affordances of social media platforms to disseminate anti-vaccination information.

Concerns about vaccination reveal a community that feels persecuted and is suspicious of mainstream medical practice and government-sanctioned methods to prevent disease. In a generation that has rarely seen these diseases first hand, the risk of adverse reaction seems more immediate and pressing than disease prevention.

♣ Regarding “small world” characteristics being due to either AV specifics or to the Facebook platform, the authors write;

Both outcomes are equally interesting. The former suggests that social movements (like anti-vaccination) may inevitably develop as ‘small world’ networks structure that is further amplified and made visible online. If it is the latter, this demonstrates that Facebook as a platform has important implications for the dynamics, spread, and durability of social movements outside of the specific case examined here. Indeed, if the materiality or architecture of Facebook shapes networks towards ‘small-worldness’, this suggests that such platforms may be instrumental for the anti-vaccination movement and social movements more broadly to blossom, flourish, and resist being dismantled or disrupted by outside influences.

The above paragraph rings true and undoubtedly applies to a number of anti-science movements and conspiracy theories across the developed world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

You can listen to the audio below;


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

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

 

Click transcript below to embiggen

Click transcript below to embiggen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The about section states as follows:

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

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

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

[…]

Lyle Shelton’s ‘red herring’ consequences to same-sex marriage

Lyle Shelton of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) has done a fine job building straw men from supposed “consequences” of same-sex marriage legislation.

He has been pushing this shadowy notion for well over a year, using the interim time to select a favoured stable of consequences. As a constant face for the No campaign he has recently been offering these quite doubtful consequences as reason to vote No in the upcoming plebiscite. To hear Shelton tell it, oppression of select freedoms is absolutely certain. To hear others tell it he is talking nonsense. Offering red herrings. He’s certainly doing what many do when the evidence doesn’t favour their position and opinion.

Mainly, work hard at divergence. Draw attention away from the actual matter at hand. As has been recently pointed out by Nick Greiner more than one billion people live in countries where same-sex marriage is a reality. Keeping this in mind we can see that even with the stable of starring consequences the ACL and Shelton are offering a paucity of examples to defend the No Campaign. More so we should revisit his approach from last year to grasp how little has changed. As Independent Sydney M.P. Alex Greenwich notes, Lyle Shelton rarely talks about marriage with respect to the same-sex marriage debate.

On July 26th 2016 Shelton appeared on Sky News and was asked by Paul Murray to explain the No case. Mr. Shelton is no stranger to dodging an answer to questions, instead getting his own point across. He replied, “This is essentially about three things, Paul. It’s a package deal that comes with a bunch of other things”. He then went on to stress that “gay couples have equal status with heterosexual couples under law that has existed since at least 2008”. He again pressed the “package deal” point, contesting that “if we change the definition of marriage, Safe Schools comes under the banner of the rainbow flag and rainbow political agenda”.

His evidence? “You’ve got to look no further than Victoria, Premier Daniel Andrews, one of the biggest proponents of gay marriage, he’s forcing Safe Schools into his schools”. Then freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of religion appear to be under threat. Changing the definition of marriage “in Commonwealth law weaponises state based anti-discrimination law”. He mentioned the case of Archbishop Julian Porteus. An anti-discrimination complaint was lodged in November 2015 against the Archbishop with respect to his “Don’t Mess With Marriage” booklet.

The third problem is about “what we do to children”. Shelton contended “that mothers don’t matter to a baby anymore. That’s what same-sex marriage says in law and culture”. Later he contends that “we won’t be able to stop commercial surrogacy, which is deeply unethical, if we change the definition of marriage. It is a definite flow-on effect”. He “cannot get anyone from the gay lobby to deny that commercial surrogacy is not next”. The Australian Christian Lobby argue that commercial surrogacy is another part of the “package deal” with same-sex marriage.

The next day he ran much the same by Steve Price on 2GB. According to Shelton same-sex couples enjoy the same lifestyle as heterosexual couples. If we redefine marriage, we redefine parenting. There will be “flow on effects” including gender ideology via the Safe Schools programme, which (you guessed it) is “a package deal with same-sex marriage”.

Shelton is now frequently referring to “radical LGBTIQ” education as a result of Safe Schools. It’s rather tiring researching his presentation. He will launch into the “consequences” that he insists loom before us. Every interview. Often two or perhaps three times. Although this is of course far more palatable than the May 2016 blog piece in which he wrote on Safe Schools. Including;

The cowardice and weakness of Australia’s ‘gatekeepers’ is causing unthinkable things to happen, just as unthinkable things happened in Germany in the 1930s.

Despite using a range of “consequences” to same-sex marriage to defend a No vote, it is Safe Schools that entirely make up the first No Campaign TV advertisement. The ad’ was commissioned by the Coalition for Marriage which is led by the ACL. The ABC report in part;

Claims legalising same-sex marriage will lead to sweeping education reforms are “patently ridiculous”, Education Minister Simon Birmingham has said after the release of the first national TV ad from the No campaign.

He continues to rattle off the other consequences he has firmly committed to memory. Although as I mentioned, with one billion people living in countries with same-sex marriage enshrined in law, his sample is strikingly tiny. He still mentions Archbishop Julian Porteus from Tasmania. He never misses a chance to remind listeners that in March 2016 Bill Shorten promised the Guardian Australia’s Why Knot? event that Labor would not alter discrimination legislation to please opponents to same-sex marriage. The Guardian reported;

Labor will oppose any attempt to extend discrimination law exemptions to allow people who object to same-sex marriage to deny goods and services to gay couples.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten made the pledge at Guardian Australia’s marriage equality event Why Knot in Sydney on Thursday.

Responding to a questioner who asked him to rule out allowing bakers not to sell cakes to gay weddings, Shorten said Labor would oppose such discrimination law exemptions and repeal them at the earliest available opportunity if they passed.

“It’s not allowed now under the current law – why would we water down existing laws? We don’t need to water down anti-discrimination law to keep some people [who oppose same-sex marriage] happy.”

Shelton has summed this up as “cake makers and wedding service providers losing freedoms”. Furthermore he frequently refers to Senator James Paterson to reinforce the “loss of freedoms” consequence. The Guardian recently reported in part;

Parliament must decide how to protect religious freedom if same-sex marriage is legalised, and cannot wait until the marriage equality postal survey is finished, the Liberal senator James Paterson has said.

The Victorian senator has called for an overhaul of anti-discrimination law to allow service providers to refuse gay weddings, telling a religious freedom forum in Perth on Thursday there will be no time to deal with the issue after the survey is finished.

Constantly, along with Shorten and Paterson, Mr. Shelton will also mention Alex Greenwich to complete his trio of politicians whose individual conduct apparently confirms the consequence of eroded civil liberties.

A staple discrimination consequence often presented to Australians is that of Irish cake makers Daniel and Amy McCarthy. In 2014 bakers at the family run company, Ashers, refused to make a cake with the slogan Support Gay Marriage, above an image of Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie. The customer was gay rights activist Gareth Lee. By May 2015 a Belfast High Court ruled the company guilty of unlawful discrimination based on grounds of sexual orientation. Ashers paid £500 plus court costs.

Nonetheless in a few weeks the UK Supreme Court will hear arguments over two days to consider the initial judgement. One must wonder however just how much consideration will be placed on the argument that certain messages in icing pose a risk to the soul. As Pink News reported last May;

The bakers claimed in a legal brief that God considers it a sin to make cakes with pro-gay messages on, but multiple courts have upheld the decision against them.

Now with the UK Supreme Court taking an interest this apparent consequence may prove inconsequential to those who are essentially discriminating against others. The attention has already resulted in a significant increase in profits. As of last May Ashers reported an increase of £200,000.

Another “consequence” raised by Mr. Shelton is truly a case of having your cake and eating it too. He’d have his audience believe Oregon couple Aaron and Melissa Klein are innocent bakers that had their right to protect their beliefs crushed. However it was the decision of the Klein’s to not serve same-sex customers due to religious beliefs, then close their shop and move their business to home. The attention to this case led to a Wikipedia page, Sweet Cakes By Melissa.

In July 2015 Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries confirmed in a final order an administrative court’s decision to fine the couple. They were fined $135,000. However along with a number of other news outlets, Pink News reported in March this year the couple wanted to overturn the judgement. There also appeared to be strange activity around the finances raised;

The Christian bakery in Oregon that waged a court battle against anti-discrimination rules are now trying to avoid paying legal costs – despite donors giving them several times the full amount.

The owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa came to national attention when they claimed it would be “sinful” to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple, launching a legal battle against the state’s equality laws.

After losing the long-running court case last year, bakers Melissa and Aaron Klein were ordered to pay $135,000 in costs and damages .

More than  $400,000 was raised online after the anti-gay American Family Association (AFA) rallied its supporters to donate to Sweet Cakes to cover the fine.

It could still be several weeks at least until the appeals judges hand down a ruling.

Mr. Shelton loves to tell us of the consequence that befell 71 year old Washington grandmother Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts. Stutzman refused to provide floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding based on her religious beliefs. A lower court found she had violated the state’s anti-discrimination laws. Last February Washington’s state Supreme Court agreed with the lower court’s ruling. Robert Vischer argues here that the court erred in its decision. The Attorney General outlines his case below (bold mine);

Fighting discrimination before the state Supreme Court

I will not tolerate discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. I had another opportunity to uphold our anti-discrimination laws recently, this time before the Washington State Supreme Court.

My office filed the lawsuit in 2013 against Arlene’s Flowers and its owner and operator, Barronelle Stutzman, for discrimination over the refusal to serve a same-sex couple seeking to buy wedding flowers, a service she and her business provided to opposite-sex couples.

Last year, a Benton County Superior Court judge ruled that Stutzman’s actions violated the state Consumer Protection Act. Before I filed our lawsuit, I sent a letter to Ms. Stutzman asking her to agree to stop discriminating, in which case my office would not seek fines or penalties. Ms. Stutzman declined that offer. She lost the ensuing lawsuit and pursued an appeal, which the Supreme Court heard in November.

Washington law is clear: Businesses cannot discriminate. If you serve opposite-sex partners, you must serve same-sex partners equally.

Recently there has been a development that reinforces how tenuous this case is to the argument of “consequences” coming from Shelton. Indeed the development itself suggests that the ACL is at best sloppy and at worst deceptive with the full import of its claims. On July 14 this year, The Daily Signal reported;

Less than one month after the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would review the case of a Colorado baker who declined to make a cake for a gay couple’s wedding celebration because of his religious beliefs about marriage, lawyers asked the high court to combine it with a similar case involving a florist from Washington state, The Daily Signal has learned.

On June 26, the Supreme Court announced it would hear the case of Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado. In 2012, after refusing to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding celebration, he was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union and charged with violating the state’s anti-discrimination law.

The case of baker Jack Phillips is also listed on the ACL website. One hopes if the reviews are successful that this consequence will be accurately reflected on the website.

We constantly hear from Mr. Shelton that in Canada, father Steve Tourloukis lost the right to remove his children from “radical sex education programs which became compulsory after marriage was redefined”. It is reported that the Ontario Superior Court of Justice upheld the School Board’s decision to deny permission to remove children from class to avoid what Tourloukis had labelled “false teachings”. It is reported in part;

The Board took the position that it was not possible to know, in advance, what does or does not amount to a “false teaching”, and that permitting the applicant’s children to be withdrawn from classes where certain topics are taught would be contrary to the values of inclusion and student well-being that underline a number of Ministry and Board policies, including the Board’s Equity Policy. The Board also argued that granting the accommodation requested by the applicant could lead to feelings of exclusion by students, including the applicant’s children.

Another “consequence” of same-sex marriage legislation that Shelton has on high rotation is that Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven wants priests and pastors who refuse to wed same sex couples to “find another job”. Shelton opens a June 27th blog post with;

With Australian same-sex marriage activists saying there are no consequences to changing the definition of marriage, the Swedish Prime Minister (pictured) has warned priests to perform gay marriages or “find another job”.

Interestingly the quote “find another job” is part of a link to an article that doesn’t present such a dismissive phrase. Because Löfven didn’t say this. This hasn’t stopped Shelton claiming so constantly on TV and radio. What the Swedish PM actually said in this regard is reported as follows in the article Shelton links to;

We Social Democrats are working to ensure all priests will consecrate everyone, including same-sex couples,” Lofven told Kyrkans Tidning magazine.

“I see parallels to the midwife who refuses to perform abortions. If you work as a midwife you must be able to perform abortions, otherwise you have to do something else… It is the same for priests,” he said.

Another constant from Shelton is the London based Jewish Vishnitz Girls school. He tells his audience that it faces closure “because it won’t teach its students that gender is fluid”. The Independent reported in part on June 26th, 2017;

A private faith school in London has failed its third Ofsted inspection for refusing to teach its pupils about homosexuality.

Inspectors visiting Vishnitz Girls School in north London last month said the Orthodox school does not give pupils “a full understanding of fundamental British values”, The Telegraph reported.

[…]

Ofsted makes clear that schools are not expected to “promote” ideas about sexual orientation or gender reassignment, but they are expected to “encourage pupils’ respect for other people, paying particular regard to the protected characteristics set out in the 2010 Equalities Act”.

Perhaps one of the most strikingly misleading claims from Lyle Shelton is a post in the ACL blog headed, You Won’t Believe The Latest Consequence Of Same-Sex Marriage In Canada.

A new law in Ontario, Canada, threatens to take children from “abusive” parents who do not agree with them changing their gender.

Australian Christian Lobby Managing Director Lyle Shelton warned that if the gender diversity requirement was removed from the Marriage Act, pressure would build for similar law here.

Ontario’s Minister of Children and Youth Services Michael Coteau said his Bill 89, passed last week, designated parents who did not agree with their children’s chosen gender as “abusive”.

The wording here is designed to mislead readers into believing that a new law has been passed solely to label parents who do not agree with their child’s gender change as “abusive”. And that should parents not agree with the gender change there is a risk the children will be taken. But is this really what Bill 89 is claiming? The Explanatory Note includes;

The paramount purpose of the Act — to promote the best interests, protection and well-being of children — remains unchanged from the current Act.

The additional purposes of the Act are expanded to include the following:

         To recognize that services to children and young persons should be provided in a manner that respects regional differences wherever possible and takes into account,

                physical, emotional, spiritual, mental and developmental needs and differences among children and young persons;

                a child’s or young person’s race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, family diversity, disability, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression; and

                a child’s or young person’s cultural and linguistic needs.

         To recognize that services to children and young persons and their families should be provided in a manner that builds on the strengths of the families wherever possible.

The Bill in total is extensive. 352 sections (containing subsections) within 13 parts. After the preamble the second reference to gender, for example, is mentioned (in the Bill proper) in Paramount purposes and other purposes. It is found in Part 1, Section (1), subsection iii, as below;

Part 1 (1)  The paramount purpose of this Act is to promote the best interests, protection and well-being of children.

(2) The additional purposes of this Act, so long as they are consistent with the best interests, protection and well-being of children, are to recognize the following:

(3) Services to children and young persons should be provided in a manner that,
[…]
iii.  takes into account a child’s or young person’s race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, family diversity, disability, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression,

The term “abusive” does not appear in the Bill copy to which Shelton has linked. There are 16 matches to “gender” and 35 matches to “abuse”. It is quite clear from reading the text surrounding these terms that removal of children would be from a demonstrably abusive environment. Exactly what constitutes abuse is well defined. Merit for Shelton’s claim that children would be taken from parents who simply do not “agree” with their child’s gender is lacking.

I find it concerning that Shelton makes this contention in such a fickle manner. The psychological challenges experienced by LGBTIQ adolescents subject to unwanted gender bias or bigotry are well documented. As are many tragic outcomes in some cases where proper support is denied. Society itself must be confident that the rights of children and adolescents will be protected in this regard.

Fortunately this Bill strives to build on the strengths of families “wherever possible” and seeks to promote “the best interests, protection and well-being of children”. It is patently clear that reference to gender identity and sexual orientation is a very small part of what makes up a child’s or young person’s identity. Australia has nothing to fear from Canada’s protection of children because the nation has same-sex marriage legislation.

A number of the other “consequences” listed above are to be revisited by Supreme Courts and one is presently subject to appeal. Others demonstrably discriminate. Indeed there will always be those seeking to draw attention to themselves, or as was said in the case of “Washington grandmother” Barronelle Stutzman, seeking her fifteen minutes of fame. Shelton constantly embellishes and misleads to create the illusion of unjustified, socially restrictive “consequences”.

Shelton’s manufactured concern about a “package deal” and demonstrably unlikely “consequences” is puerile and immoral.