Second ABC complaint upheld: Meryl Dorey “distorted and selectively presented information” on pertussis vaccination

Unfortunately, she (Meryl Dorey) added little and took the opportunity to promote a case against the use of the pertussis vaccine based on distorted and selectively presented information.

 ABC Audience & Consumer Affairs, December 19th, 2011

Readers of musings and mumblings here may remember a look at one Meryl Wynn Dorey’s “ABC of immunisation lies“, following Nicola Roxon’s Immunisation Incentive announcement.

Ms. Dorey kicked off deceiving Terri Begley’s audience on Mornings, November 25th on ABC 612. As covered by reasonablehank in ABC Complaint upheld – Meryl Dorey “disingenuous” and “added little” with “unsubstantiated claims”, a complaint was lodged and upheld by ABC Corporate Affairs.

In the afternoon Dorey popped up again on ABC 666 Drive speaking with Louise Maher. Again she seized the opportunity to launch into rapid fire fiction on pertussis infection and vaccine efficacy. This trick has been picked apart a few times here. So, I shot off a long complaint with references, tables and tactics laid out. To my delight the dedicated folk at ABC Audience and Consumer Affairs waded through it and the complaint was upheld. With their permission I’ve copied the response below.

The only other point (related to media correspondence) I’d like to cover is that I also sent a synopsis of Dorey’s pertussis and autism tricks to Tiga Bayles prior to her appearance on his Let’s Talk show. It had my name, phone number and email address. He didn’t raise any of the points as Dorey recited exactly what I’d warned him she would, choosing to feign surprise and smooth her path. He did however mention “the haters” and “sad small-minded people” who “hide behind anonymity too”.

Dorey agreed that her opponents were “cowards”, members of a “hate group” and guilty of a range of lousy transgressions, primarily around suppressing free speech. Without sounding too small minded, I did feel this was most unhelpful on Tiga’s part. Others also wrote openly to him and still more had articles published on widely read publications, such as The Drum and Mamamia. Meryl Dorey’s critics are not anonymous.

With that out of the way, we can enjoy knowing that both of Dorey’s appearances on ABC on November 25th have resulted in upheld complaints.

Reprinted with permission of ABC Audience and Consumer Affairs.

Dear Mr. Gallagher,

Thank you for your email of November 27 concerning the interview of Meryl Dorey conducted by Louise Maher on radio 666.

As your correspondence raised concerns of misleading and inaccurate content, your email was referred to Audience and Consumer Affairs for consideration and response. The unit is separate and independent from ABC program areas and is responsible for investigating complaints alleging a broadcast or publication was in contravention of the ABC’s editorial standards. In light of your concerns, we have reviewed the broadcast and assessed it against the ABC’s editorial requirements for accuracy, as outlined in section 2 of the ABC’s Editorial Policies: In the interests of procedural fairness, we have also sought and considered material from ABC radio.

On Thursday November 24 Louise Maher spoke to the ACT Chief Health Officer Dr Paul Kelly about a measles outbreak at a Steiner school in the ACT.  The following day she looked at the government’s announcement that day that from July 2012 up to $2100 of the family tax benefit per child will be conditional on a child being immunised, and spoke to Dr Julie Leask, from the National Centre for Immunisation Research and senior lecturer at the School of Public Health at Sydney University and Meryl Dorey from the Australian Vaccination Network.

The program team believed that Ms Dorey would have something to add to the discussion about the Government’s initiative. Unfortunately, she added little and took the opportunity to promote a case against the use of the pertussis vaccine based on distorted and selectively presented information. As this was not anticipated, the presenter was not in a position to effectively challenge Ms Dorey’s assertions. To her credit, Ms Maher recognised this and acted to get expert advice to air from the Chief Medical Officer of the ACT.

That interview was ultimately aired on the following Monday. The effect of that delay was to potentially mislead listeners about the effectiveness of the pertussis vaccine. This was exacerbated by the fact that the introduction to Ms Dorey did not adequately contextualise Ms Dorey’s comments by informing listeners that she is a campaigner against vaccination who has no medical qualifications and her organisation has been the subject of a warning by the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission for providing misleading information to the public.

Notwithstanding the team’s efforts to address claims made by Ms Dorey, it is our view that she wasn’t introduced with sufficient context to ensure listeners were not misled by her unsubstantiated claims.

Radio management apologises for this lapse. It advises that it will again communicate to radio staff the importance of providing listeners with all relevant context and information when presenting controversial and potentially dangerous viewpoints – particularly if they propose to interview Ms Dorey again.

Accordingly, Audience and Consumer Affairs conclude the broadcast was not in keeping with the ABC’s editorial standards for accuracy as outlined in section 2.1 of the ABC’s Editorial Polices. Please be assured that your comments and this decision have been conveyed to ABC Radio management and the producers of the program.

Thank you for taking the time to write; your feedback is appreciated.

For your reference, the ABC Editorial Policies are available online at

Should you be dissatisfied with this response to your complaint, you may be able to pursue your complaint with the Australian Communications and Media Authority,

Yours sincerely


Audience & Consumer Affairs

  • Louise Maher receiving “distorted and selectively presented information” on the use of the pertussis vaccine:

MP3 file for download here.

Alan Jones on Alan Jones

I think it would be good for Australia if Tony Abbott was the Prime Minister of Australia

– Alan Jones, influential conservative “shock jock” media identity, climate science denialist and Abbott supporter –

Leigh Sales of ABC’s 7:30 Report hosts an extended interview with radio broadcaster, climate science denialist and beacon for conservative anger, Alan Jones.

Covering issues from mining, to respect for the office of PM, to potential for sustainability, to denial of climate change Jones argues Australia is “entitled” to a better Prime Minister. Side stepping a few points such as flaws in the science challanging climate change vs the wealth of science supporting it, Jones suggests topics choose him. His science illiteracy and propensity for ad hominem attacks against those of differing opinion is at times mixed liberally with logical fallacies as Jones insists on maintaining the upper hand.

Whilst denying using abusive terms Jones immediately defends those he uses as justified. Rob Oakeshott is “brain dead” for supporting climate change agendas and will unlikely get another job. On Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, calling her “a fool is flattering… that’s flattering”. One would have been delighted if the irrelevant anti-Greens sentiment – indeed anti-Left sentiment – buoyed by claims of anti-Right climate conspiracies could be supported with evidence.

Perhaps most regrettably Jones falls back on the commonly debunked climate science denialist tactic of citing ICPP emails as legitimising any and all denial of climate change. Now well established as a careless use of language entirely divorced from the volume of data, the leaked emails are of no moment. One can only imagine if Aussies applied the same logic to Jones’ illegal “cash for comments” scam [Wikipedia entry]. Should his criminal conduct and breach of media codes be seen as cause to mistrust his transparency?

Unusually, despite the platform of the ABC and given the impact of his show on community opinion, Jones produced not one cogent argument to support his irrational position on climate change. His best appeal to authority is to reference interviewing “some of the leading scientists in the world… finest minds” who said anthropogenic climate change affirming science is “a hoax”. Having interviewed a senior IPCC scientist, Jones completely loses track by noting he “agreed with most of the statistics I offered”. Then his famous fallacy gets a run.

Quoting the percentage of CO2 in the atmosphere, the percentage of that arising from from emissions and the percentage of that which is derived from Australia, he triumphantly reinforces the 0.000018% of atmospheric CO2 attributable to Aussie emissions. The child-like reasoning here is shocking. It’s a little number thus cannot be of menace. That climate is certainly effected by tiny, cumulative changes leading to dramatic and devastating consequences seems beyond him. As is the impact of only a couple of degrees increase in average temperature. But is he really serious?

CFCs make up a tiny fraction of 1% of our atmosphere. Yet CFC-11 has 17,500 times carbon dioxide’s capacity to trap heat in the atmosphere. That 0.04% of CO2 Jones loves to quote. Jones has no problem with the science of ozone depletion, nor action taken to preserve the ozone layer. Surely then, a bright chap like him could further appreciate the power of minor changes to atmospheric chemistry. Though there’s no political gain to be found in denying ozone preservation. No cleverly crafted junk science making up cushy rebuttals. What if we applied this dismissal approach to human health?

The size of the HIV or Ebola virus is microscopic. The percentage of body surface area opened by a bullet wound is insignificant. The number of cardiac cells to misfire and lead to a lethal infarction is minuscule compared to the total. A tiny blood vessel amongst hundreds of thousands, effecting 0.000018% or less of brain neurons can change a life, wipe memory, destroy speech, render us blind and so on. No doubt he could comprehend such simple notions. Suffice it to say it pays to remain skeptical of Jones’ motives. Or indeed, respect how effective the climate change denialist movement has been.

There was of course, no defence of the scurrilous and unconscionable abuse of science behind the entire denialist movement. For example, consider this from an article by Donald Prothero published in e-Skeptic, late last September:

As Oreskes and Conway documented from memos leaked to the press and published in their book Merchants of Doubt, in April 1998 the right-wing Marshall Institute, SEPP (Fred Seitz’s lobby that aids tobacco companies and polluters), and ExxonMobil, met in secret at the American Petroleum Institute’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. There they planned a $20 million campaign to get “respected scientists” to cast doubt on climate change, get major PR effort going, and lobby Congress that global warming wasn’t real and was not a threat. Then there was the famously cynical 2002 memo from GOP pollster and spinmeister Frank Luntz to the Bush White House:
The scientific debate is closing [against us] but not yet closed. There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the science… Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community. Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate, and defer to scientists and other experts in the field.

Incredibly Jones says at one point he “finds it hard to believe people in politics behave the way they do, and expect people to take them seriously”. It’s a brilliant example of Poe’s Law colliding with the Dunning-Kruger effect.