Denial

The Australian Vaccination Network’s Much Anticipated Name Change

Just in, an announcement from the Australian Vaccination Network that they are complying with the Administrative Decisions Tribunal’s court order to change their misleading name. Their chosen (and approved) new title: “The Australian Vaccination-Skeptics Network”. From the AVN:

As of Friday, March 7th, the Australian Vaccination Network, Inc. will now officially be known as the Australian Vaccination-Skeptics Network, Inc. We will still have the same domain address (www.avn.org.au ) and will still go by the acronym "AVN".
Full announcement here.

Frankly, this strikes me as incredibly bizarre, but quite in keeping with the AVN’s previously demonstrated thinking. Admins on the AVN’s Facebook page have repeatedly condemned the skeptical movement, referring to skeptics as “Septics” and insisting that we are shills for Big Pharma and the like. At the same time, the AVN have registered the domainĀ australiansceptics.com, an attack site which discredits the skeptical movement and claims that vaccine denialists of their ilk are “The REAL Australian Sceptics”. One wonders why the AVN wishes to co-opt a title which they have treated with such derision – I can only assume that they feel that their attempts to align themselves with skepticism lends them credibility not offered to those honest about their denialism. Presumably, this is why the AVN have been reticent to ever label themselves as anti-vaccination, regardless of the fact that all of the misinformation that they spread is undoubtedly anti-vaccine. Despite their continued attempts to discredit scientific skepticism, they are quite aware that their position is the one lacking credibility.

I would like to note here that scientific skeptics do well to approach the topics that they examine with an awareness of personal bias (and the utmost effort to remove such), apply critical thought and are open to changing their position based on empirical evidence. I would argue that the AVN do not qualify as such, given their dogmatic anti-vaccination position and refusal to accept the overwhelming scientific consensus that vaccination is the safest and most effective means by which we have to prevent people contracting vaccine preventable diseases. The AVN downplay the seriousness of illnesses such as pertussis and measles, spread misinformation regarding the efficacy of vaccination and make claims that the risks associated with vaccination are much higher than evidence shows.

Let us hope that if they are permitted to continue using their new name, the wider public will consider the AVN to be in the same category as “Climate Change Skeptics” – denialists without the integrity to openly admit that they are such.

An Open Letter to the AVN

Below is an open letter to members of the Australian Vaccination Network, an anti-vaccination group here in New South Wales. I posted it on their Facebook wall in mid-July 2012, as I had participated in an exchange of comments on one of their threads in which I stated that I was troubled by the AVN’s actions and expected to be banned for such, so I figured I had little to lose and may as well make an attempt to communicate something which had been playing on my mind. It was deleted and I have been banned from commenting on their page again.

I still feel that it is a worthy sentiment and wish for it to be in the public domain. It’s been noted that the similar questions can be asked of those who hold other beliefs incongruous with the current conclusions of the scientific majority – for example, those who deny the existence of anthropomorphic climate change or those who deny that human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the cause of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

I do genuinely want to understand how it is that people are able to find such fallacies so convincing in the face of not only the evidence which states otherwise, but the dedication and integrity of those who study and work in the field. I suspect that my best opportunity to comprehend it is to read the work of those who have studied it, and I am, but I still wish to ask the questions below directly to those it applies to.

It’s a fairly emotive attempt at an appeal to reason, but I feel that that is appropriate for the message I was trying to convey.

a screencap, transcribed below

As I am facing the possibility of being banned from commenting and posting on this page after having stated my strong concern about the AVN in previous comments, I would like to take this opportunity to say my piece.

I genuinely feel saddened that some people evidently hold so little faith in humanity that they believe that there are these great cover-ups and malicious attempts to cause illness or hold back safe treatments which may cure of alleviate the suffering of the ailing. To believe that mainstream science and medicine are corrupt is to believe that a high percentage of scientists and medical professionals who have devoted themselves to advancing our understanding of the universe and/or improving the wellbeing of humankind are either naive or corruptible. Certainly some people can be misled, have an improper understanding of data and statistics (particularly laypeople), become dogmatic and abandon critical thought or be greedy or desperate enough to behave without conscience, but it must be a dreadful and sad world view to hold to believe that the majority of medical professionals and scientists (and the employees of the agencies who regulate them) behaved in this manner.

I don’t believe that you’re all awful people. I feel that you believe that you’re acting in the best interest of your families, your communities, the world at large. I just don’t understand why it is that you find what you’re reading and discussing to be so much more convincing and compelling than the possibility that the majority of scientists and medical professionals are ethical, well informed and trustworthy.

I’m pleased to have started blogging – thank you for reading and I hope that you’ll bear with me while I become accustomed to WordPress and make myself at home.