big pharma

Applying Hitchens’ Razor to the Claims of Meryl Dorey

On Monday the 25th of November 2013, prominent anti-vaccination group the Australian Vaccination Network lost its appeal against the New South Wales Department of Fair Trading and was ordered again by the New South Wales Administrative Tribunal to change its name. This is fantastic news for those of us who believe that the AVN’s name is misleading and misrepresents their anti-vaccination stance. Reasonable Hank has done an excellent job of covering the news in his blog post “Australian Vaccination Network ordered to change duplicitous name“.

On the evening of the decision, ABC’s Lateline aired a report by Steve Cannane discussing the court’s decision, with interviews with Dr Rachael Dunlop and ex-president of the AVN, Meryl Dorey.

With thanks to Anne Blake for uploading the video.

I would like to say that the following quote from Meryl Dorey surprised me, but having followed her public statements for some time now, I am quite familiar with the Big Pharma Shill gambit. From the transcript of Lateline:

STEVE CANNANE: In response to today’s decision, Meryl Dorey claimed she was a victim of hate groups and vested interests.

MERYL DOREY: Many of those people either work in the pharmaceutical industry or work for the pharmaceutical industry and it is apparent that some of these people are quite close with certain members of the NSW Parliament and of our government. So, you know, you can call it a conspiracy theory, but I’d say that there is evidence.

Well Meryl, where is this evidence? I have asked twice on Twitter, but so far have had no response.

conspiracy
conspiracy2

TumbleweedTumbleweed .gif from RationalWiki page
"List of scientifically controlled double blind studies which have
conclusively demonstrated the efficacy of homeopathy"

Meryl, if you are going to make public claims which assert that there is a conspiracy between those who campaign against the AVN, pharmaceutical companies and the Australian government, you’d do well to back them up. If you can or will not, I suggest that the public would do well to apply Hitchens’ Razor to your statements.

“What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”

NB: Given Meryl Dorey’s tendency to take her critics’ words as threats, I would absurdly like to point out that Hitchens’ Razor (coined by the¬†interminably quotable late Christopher Hitchens) is an epistemological law regarding the onus of burden of proof and not a literal razor.

Further Reading:
Stop the Australian (anti)Vaccination Network on Facebook
@StopAVN on Twitter
#StopAVN on Twitter

Big Pharma Shill

In the course of challenging the claims of the anti-vaccination movement, I (and a great many fine people before me) have been called several choice words and have witnessed some rather odd conclusions being jumped to. One which crops up frequently is that we are ‘big pharma shills’ and/or ‘lackeys for the drug companies’, implying that we have a close relationship with one or several pharmaceutical companies which are not disclosed and that we are being rewarded for promoting their agenda or products.

This seems to be a common form of libel used by some members of anti-vax groups to discredit or cast aspersions on those who disagree with them, suggesting corruption, greed and underhanded behaviour. It is directed at individuals and groups and happens with enough frequency that it’s almost background noise. I am familiar with anti-vax individuals who pepper their comments and tweets with the term ‘shill’ as though it were punctuation.

I question whether there is much point challenging these claims. Personally, I don’t appreciate the suggestion that I don’t conduct myself with integrity, but in the grand scheme of things, I can cop it on the chin. It’s less troubling than being told that I’m poisoning or killing my children by vaccinating them and it’s coming from people who frankly don’t have a great effect on my self worth.

Other than clearly refuting these claims (which again is a matter of trust that I am being honest) or requesting evidence from those making the accusations (of which there is none), I have been unable to conceive of any way to challenge them. Taken to absurd lengths, I could submit to having my finances investigated, but a clear record could be met with suggestions that I am receiving cash in hand, goods or other benefits, or the auditor could be accused of being corrupt and in on the conspiracy, as could a private investigator.

As there is no way to completely disprove (or prove) these claims, it may be better to focus on whether anybody beyond the echo chamber of conspiracy theorist anti-vax sub-groups actually finds these claims in any way believable or compelling.

My suspicion is that rather than the intended outcome, being that the person challenging anti-vax claims is being discredited, the cries of ‘shill’ and ‘lackey’ mostly serve to suggest to the wider public that the person making said claims is prone to jumping to conclusions, attacking the integrity of the person challenging them rather than addressing the topic at hand and/or valuing their personal hypotheses over evidence based claims. If so, I think that I can accept being subjected to a tirade of ‘shill’ and ‘lackey’ every now and then if it serves to further discredit the anti-vax movement.

What do you perceive the effects of these claims to be? Comment is most welcome.

Further reading:
The “Pharma-Shill Gambit” – Respectful Insolence
Thrills, Spills and Big Pharma Shills – Subspecies (demonstrating a point I didn’t touch on, that the suggestion that those with financial or other links to ‘Big Pharma’ behave unethically is pretty darn offensive and inaccurate also)
We, Pharma Shills – The Poxes Blog (an excellent outline of how absurd the pharma shill conspiracy theory is)

Addit: Oh, alright. No, I do not have a relationship with any pharmaceutical company beyond the over the counter analgesics I take when my back is particularly bad or the vaccines that have been administered to myself and my family. I’m fortunate enough not to have any need for prescription medication at the moment and when it’s a viable option, I prefer to alter my lifestyle to manage health troubles rather than go on medication. If it’s recommended though, I have no objection to taking medication and I have a great deal of gratitude that it’s around to help us maintain the best level of wellness possible, particularly when I consider the alternative.

My experience is that those in the anti-anti-vax and skeptic communities that I have interacted with have a strong belief that pharmaceutical companies should be held to the highest standards and are well deserving of criticism when ethical standards are breached. A fine example of this willingness to examine non-evidence based medical claims and question whether behaviour and methods are ethical and effective is demonstrated by public health advocate Dr Ken Harvey, who critically examines and holds to account the big pharmaceutical companies, shonky products and the Australian Vaccination Network alike.

If those who believe that the people who spend their time and expertise devoted to reading, writing, examining and challenging misinformation and behaviour which is dangerous to the public’s health are motivated by greed or are behaving with a lack of integrity, I can only assume that this is indicative of the way they they view the world. Dim indeed.