Fake news, post truth, anti-vaccine

In 2016 use of the terms fake news and post truth became commonplace. Yet for those who address attacks on science, scientific consensus and the use of evidence in designing legislation, both concepts already had a long history.

Evidence based public health policy is attacked through the intentional disinformation of fake news and mocked via the subjective, emotional selective trickery of post truth. Alternatives to medicine rely upon bogus testimonials, false claims of scientific backing and pseudscience.

The anti-vaccine lobby want to be seen to be presenting a range of specific arguments against vaccination. Yet their main aim is to convince the unwary that vaccines cause harm and also kill on a huge scale. This in turn demands a feverish use of fake news and post truth. When their lack of fake evidence fails, post truth themes seeking to enrage an audience because governments “take away their right to choose” what’s best for their children’s health may quite sadly find their mark.

Presently we can see application of these concepts respectively with the promotion of the fraudumentary, Vaxxed and claims that Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his wife profit from their investment in childhood vaccines.

Meryl Dorey

In March last year Meryl Dorey wrote (bold mine);

Australia has a long history of holding its elected representatives accountable when there is even a hint of corruption or profiteering – yet the current PM’s wife is Chairman of the Board of a company involved in vaccination and other pharmaceutical pursuits whose value has increased dramatically due – at least on the surface in my own opinion – to policies which her husband has helped push through Parliament. Did Mr Turnbull excuse himself during the debate on No Jab No Pay? Did he tell Parliament that he had a conflict of interest and excuse himself from the vote on this legislation? These are genuine questions – I don’t know the answer and my investigations so far have not been fruitful. Despite the apparent conflict of interest, not a word has been raised about this in the media or by the opposition.

Ah yes. “Not a word has been raised about this in the media or by the opposition”. Not so. Particularly with the number of media reports on the Turnbull’s investments.

Firstly had Dorey done her research well (or is that not employed the post truth tactic of cherry picking?), she’d know that six months earlier Lucy Turnbull was questioned about potential conflicts of interest for an article that was published in the media. Most importantly, quoting Mrs. Turnbull;

“I am currently in the process of assessing my role on company boards to ensure there are no conflicts of interest,” she says.

“We are seeking advice from various sources, and we hope to be in a position to decide in the next fortnight, whether I can keep doing what I am doing,” she says.

Just over a fortnight later the same paper wrote up Labor’s attacks on the Turnbull’s wealth. The byline was;

Labor’s attacks look like a shabby smear, but the bar is set very high for prime ministers and their partners.

Now in fairness to Meryl I should address why Bill Shorten didn’t challenge the PM for not excusing himself from the vote on No Jab No Pay, based on that conflict of interest. Firstly, Dorey did contend that “on the surface in my own opinion”, the value of Prima BioMed “increased dramatically due to policies which [Turnbull] helped push through Parliament”.

Okay, so it was a feelpinion. Worthless. But we can do better.

Two paragraphs earlier Dorey was ranting at Malcolm Turnbull, including;

Are you afraid that your wife’s profits at Prima BioMed (profits that jumped to AUD $5.5 million mere weeks after No Jab No Pay legislation was announced) might be affected if enough people start to question vaccination?

Above Dorey has linked to a May 21st, 2015 Financial Review piece headed, Patience Pays Off for Prima Chairwoman Lucy Turnbull. A small three paragraph piece, it finishes;

After a $15 million equity injection from US firm Ridgeback Capital last week at 1.73¢ a share, the stock has climbed from 2.2¢ to 16¢ after the bell on Thursday – jumping 190 per cent yesterday alone. And Turnbull’s stake? Now worth a tidy $5.5 million.

Clearly Dorey has fabricated the notion that the value of Prima BioMed increased due to the passing of No Jab No Pay.

Dorey can claim any rubbish she likes to try to sell the line Turnbull is shaping legislation to boost the share value of Prima BioMed. But the $15 million from Ridgeback Capital didn’t go to a company that manufacturers childhood vaccines. Yes Lucy Turnbull is Chair of the board of Prima BioMed, a biotechnology company working on cancer immunotherapy. Dorey really stretches the facts to contend it is accurately described as, a company involved in vaccination and other pharmaceutical pursuits. The company presently focuses on three main products targetting autoimmune disease and cancer which you may read about here.

The most notable link to vaccination is the development of CVac, the commercialisation of which was one reason for the formation of Prima BioMed in 2001. CVac, targetting ovarian cancer, ultimately trialled unsuccessfully. A potential trial for pancreatic cancer was cancelled in Febuary 2015. Read up on CVac here and Lucy Turnbull’s personal financial loss here.

More on the Turnbull’s investments here. Remember it’s now 18 months since Lucy Turnbull told Fairfax she was, “assessing my role on company boards to ensure there are no conflicts of interest”. Her full history of board, Foundation and senior committee positions indicates a person devoted to the success of not for profit, charity and with a love of science and medical innovation.

There is simply no substance to the claim by Dorey and others of a conflict of interest based on profits from childhood vaccines.

Belgin Sila Colak/Arslan

Last October when Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy was targetted by antivaccinationists the public got a glimpse of the name behind the Facebook group Anti-Vaccination Australia. Belgin Colak, aka Belgin Sila Colak, aka Belgin Sila Arslan.

Earlier this Month (March 6th) she posted this on her public timeline.

A “Yale study” eh, I thought. I followed the link and ended up at a “trueactivist” Feb. 17 piece. Under that deceptive headline the authors ran through a number of bogus, disproved claims about vaccines based at best on temporal correlation. A number of comments were scathing as to the misleading intent of the article. Now have a good read of Belgin’s claims above. “Multiple studies and other countries” report vaccine induced disorders. And these “very brave and unabashed scientists [who] have been able to show a correlation of what many have known for quite some time”? Where are they?

Had Belgin read the comments she’d have picked up on the objections to the alternative facts the authors had used. The worst was;

As with most research studies, the researchers stop short of claiming the vaccinations cause the all too common brain disorders.

In other words there really was no study from Yale suggesting autism and multiple brain disorders were linked to vaccines. Belgin’s love of fake news was on display here, for there was in fact an accessible link to the actual study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry. The title was Temporal Association of Certain Neuropsychiatric Disorders Following Vaccination of Children and Adolescents: A Pilot Case–Control Study. The institutes involved were, 1) Department of Public Health Sciences, Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, Hershey, PA, USA and 2) Yale Child Study Center, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, USA.

What conclusion did these “very brave and unabashed scientists” offer? Bold mine;

Conclusion: This pilot epidemiologic analysis implies that the onset of some neuropsychiatric disorders may be temporally related to prior vaccinations in a subset of individuals. These findings warrant further investigation, but do not prove a causal role of antecedent infections or vaccinations in the pathoetiology of these conditions. Given the modest magnitude of these findings in contrast to the clear public health benefits of the timely administration of vaccines in preventing mortality and morbidity in childhood infectious diseases, we encourage families to maintain vaccination schedules according to CDC guidelines.

This is so clear we should thank Belgin. This study offers what antivaccinationists often demand. It’s saying there may be correlation in a small group but not causation. Vaccines work. Keep on vaccinating. The end.

A week ago I noticed Belgin post what can only be described as simply reprehensible exploitation of Saba Button.

The health department knew this vaccine had been reported several times, yet they still administered this vaccine on (sic) children regardless of numerous ER reports. You’re told a fever, seizures and crying is normal. Some never wake up, some end up with autism, and some are permanently disabled. Every vaccine causes damage! They’re still out there murdering babies, destroying lives, pushing more vaccines on children and now on expectant mothers. Every parent should be aware of this and have a choice!

Alternative facts and post truth galore. I addressed this case back in November 2011, because of similar exploitation at that time by Meryl Dorey. There are no excuses or denials to be made. Fluvax was not suitable for under 5 year olds. There were problems with both CSL, who incorrectly advised the TGA and the W.A. Health Department. Meryl Dorey was variously, fallaciously claiming hundreds of cases and hundreds of admissions. The ABC reported “hundreds of reactions” on April 18th, 2010 with 47 taken to hospital reported on April 23. The West Australian on the same day reported 23 admissions. This led to the suspension nationwide by Commonwealth chief health officer Professor Jim Bishop.

Why was it even used? During a 2006 Fluvax trial with a sample of 272, 1 child had a febrile convulsion. The TGA argue that one adverse event in a clinical trial is “not usually regarded as an adequate signal of a major safety problem”. In 2010 the febrile seizure rate caused by Fluvax was 3.3 per 1,000. This is remarkably similar to the rate in the 2006 trial. Yet TGA national manager, Dr Rohan Hammett told a Senate estimates committee hearing that the 2006 data showed “no sign of a febrile convulsion signal”. More so CSL may have advised the TGA of fever (not seizure) rates from 2005 – far less than 2006 fever rates. It is a convoluted, detailed issue. Do read this post. Fortunately Saba was compensated.

Belgin Sila Arslan claims there were or are fatalities and cases of autism. False. Every vaccine causes damage! False. Babies are being “murdered”. Repulsive. A visit to The Saba Rose Button Foundation presents a very different view.

The SABA ROSE BUTTON FOUNDATION is a not-for-profit charity focussed on raising funds to help children who have special needs and their families. The funds raised will pay for these special children to participate in ‘intensive blocks’ of physiotherapy, for specialised equipment that is needed, for parental respite and for care in the home.

Vaccine Injuries

I stated above that antivaccinationists ultimately seek to convince the unwary that vaccines harm and kill on a significant scale. Both references here to Belgin confirm this. Dorey also insists vaccines injure and kill – but never has the subjects or the evidence to confirm this. On her blog she lies smoothly, as here;

Many of you know of children who were injured or killed by vaccines. I personally know the families of at least 10 children who died as a result of vaccination and dozens (this is within my family and my close friends) who are permanently injured.

Other material above shows Dorey beating the conspiracy drum: profit from evil vaccines. Fortunately for me she raised the passing of No Jab No Pay legislation. Professor Julie Leask is not a fan of No Jab No Pay. This may well delight the anti-vaccination lobby. During the Social Services Legislation Amendment (No Jab No Pay) Bill hearing in Brisbane on November 2nd, 2015, Professor Leask answered questions on vaccine injury. Her submission to the inquiry was firmly against No Jab No Pay. Thus with some hope one may view her information on vaccine injuries as something antivaccinationists might entertain.

Put simply there are between zero and less than five injuries that would require compensation each year, according to Leask citing a vaccinologist.

The audio and text below is from page 41 of the hearing.

If you listened to the audio you heard the anti-vaxxers in attendance groan in denial at the “zero to less than five” serious vaccine injuries per year figure. But this didn’t stop Meryl Dorey publishing Julie Leask’s anti-No Jab No Pay submission to the Social Services Legislation Amendment Bill on her blog. Splendid post truth cherry picking right there.

To conclude we can expect to see anti-science groups gradually develop skills in the use of fake news/evidence and post truth. Recent stories in Australia involving measles cases in the unvaccinated and a case of tetanus are concerning. Cases of vaccine preventable disease are likely to become more and more common. As the unvaccinated spread their wings management of imported disease will demand more resources and frustrate health authorities.

Politically, science has lost a certain respect and may be under threat as rabid post truth movements such as Trumpism take root. Yet the harm such thinking and ideologies cause, and the cost inflicted financially and socially is easily seen and eagerly discussed. Exploitation has its limits.

And that is always a positive.

UPDATE: What does a health minister and an anti-vaxxer have in common?

Pod On The Hill podcast (by Victorian Labor). Episode 6, March 30th 2017.    

  • Outtake of discussion of anti-vaxxers – 3min 27sec – Download mp3
  • Or listen to outtake below:

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Full episode on Soundcloud. Forward to 23 minute mark for beginning of anti-vaxxer discussion.

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Julie Leask on Roxon’s immunisation incentive

Julie Leask, a research fellow and lecturer at the National Centre for Immunisation Research & Surveillance is a social scientist specialising in vaccination issues. Julie also lectures at the University of Sydney and Sydney Medical School.

She chats with Louise Maher on ABC 666, Friday November 25th about the government’s linking of vaccination to financial incentives.

Download audio here.

Grab some NCIRS fact sheets from here.

Follow Julie on Twitter – @JulieLeask