medicine

The Dreaded Lurgi

No post of great substance this week, as I have been sidelined by a viral lurgi. I do have quite a few ideas floating about which I am looking forward to writing about when I’m able to think clearly again.

In the meantime, it seems appropriate to post a link to NPS Medicinewise’s campaign to fight antibiotic resistance. It’s an awareness campaign to promote the proper use of antibiotics and I feel that it’s worth a little linkspamming to get the message out to those who might not be familiar with what antibiotics are, do, don’t do and the potential consequences of their inappropriate or incorrect use.

Among OECD countries, Australia is well above the average prescription rate for antibiotics with twenty two million scripts written per year. NPS estimates that if at least 35000 Australians take the Resistance Fighter Pledge, we could get our antibiotic use back in line with other OECD countries. It’s a simple little meme that has the potential to do some good.

Image

1. I will not expect antibiotics for colds and flu as they have no effect on viruses.
2. I will take antibiotics as directed if I am prescribed them.
3. I will practice good hygiene to help stop the spread of germs.

This post brought to you by ‘Big Rest’, ‘Big Fluids’ and ‘Big Home Made Chicken Soup’. Written whilst under the influence of dihydrogen monoxide vapour.

Further reading:
NPS Medicinewise
Treating the Common Cold – Science-Based Medicine

Advertisements

This is criticism, this is not abuse.

A month ago, shortly before the president of the deceptively named anti-vaccination group the Australian Vaccination Network Meryl Dorey and author of anti-vaccination books Greg Beattie were to commence a tour of country New South Wales to hold a series of seminars, I wrote the following letter to the venues these seminars were to be held at (predominantly service and RSL clubs) to alert them to the AVN’s behaviour and my concerns as to the consequences of anti-vaccination misinformation being taken as fact.

Dear XXXXXXX,

I am writing to ask whether yourself and those in your organisation are aware of the nature of the Australian Vaccination Network, who are conducting one of their ‘Vaccination and Health – Your Right to Choose’ seminars at your establishment on the evening of August the XXXXXX.

The AVN promote themselves as being pro-choice on the issue of vaccination, yet all of the information they present is strongly against vaccination and is supported by discredited and/or unscientific studies, anecdotal evidence, out of context quotations and cherry-picked data.

We are currently seeing surges of vaccine preventable diseases throughout the country due to lowered herd immunity and I am greatly concerned that parents misled by the seminar to be held at your premises will endanger the health, and indeed lives, of their children and others in the wider community (in particular, those who cannot be immunised due to illness) by choosing not to have their children immunised.

Respectfully yours,

Jo Alabaster

July 29 2012

I am publishing this here because I stand by my message and my conviction that I was reasonable, fair and not infringing on the rights, safety or civil liberties of anybody in saying it.

In the past few days, the AVN have set up a new section on their website, entitled ‘Dossier of Attacks on the AVN‘, in which they feature myriad claims of attacks, abuse and harassment of the AVN and its members by a ‘mob of abusers’ guilty of ‘cyberbullying’ (the dossier likens their critics’ actions to the recent attacks on Charlotte Dawson). One section is entitled ‘Censorship and Suppression‘ and features two letters, much like my own, to venues that have hosted AVN events in the past.

I disagree that such letters constitute harassment or abuse and reject them being framed as such. Certainly they are critical of the AVN and challenge both the misinformation that the AVN spreads and the lack of integrity shown by the AVN in rejecting the notion that they’re anti-vaccination, but criticism and challenges do not constitute abuse or harassment. Particularly when the AVN operates in the public arena and particularly when their claims left unchallenged can have a detrimental and tragic effect on public health.

Regarding my repeated claim that the AVN are anti-vaccination rather than pro-choice, I would like to draw your attention to a T-Shirt that the AVN has designed and sells which reads, “Love Them, Protect Them, Never Inject Them“. How much more blatantly anti-vaccination can you get? Well, this much more – here’s a substantial list of examples of the AVN’s anti-vaccination stance.

While I am writing, I would also like to address a straw man which I see the AVN using often when making claims that they are being victimised, that their critics are ‘attacking parents who do not vaccinate’.

Parents who do not vaccinate who make their decision based on the misinformation and scaremongering perpetrated by anti-vaccination groups such as the AVN are one of the main reasons that I feel it is important to challenge, criticise and publicly discredit the anti-vaccination movement. I feel that it is a wretched shame that they have been scared and misled into endangering their children and compromising others in the process. The culprits in this situation are not these parents, but those who spread the misinformation that persuaded them not to vaccinate. Harry Phillips on Stop the Australian (anti)Vaccination Network’s Facebook page says it wonderfully here (or he did, before the screenshot was removed by Facebook following a complaint that it ‘violated community standards’. It can now be viewed here. Harry has also been banned from Facebook for 24 hours as a result of this complaint of rather questionable legitimacy. [10:40am 02/09/2012]).

Unchallenged, the AVN is more likely to seem credible to those it is trying to persuade (which, I assume, is why they have banned over two hundred people from their Facebook page, many of whom criticised them, questioned them or presented information that the AVN did not agree with – how’s that for ‘censorship’?). So I will criticise and I will challenge, in public, as will so many others. This is not abuse or bullying, this is an attempt to protect the public against dangerous lies which threaten our health.

Perhaps the AVN would do well to consider why their claims come under so much scrutiny, why so many are passionate about discrediting them. It isn’t because we’re paid by ‘big pharma’, brainwashed by the media or government, naive, corrupt, bullies or on a bandwagon. It is because, simply, vaccination is the safest and most effective method by which we can protect ourselves and our children from infectious disease. Every parent who is convinced by the AVN not to vaccinate is putting their child at risk of vaccine preventable disease and endangering those most vulnerable in our society who cannot be vaccinated due to age or illness. When enough people are convinced not to vaccinate, herd immunity drops and epidemics occur. No conspiracy, naivety or spitefulness is inherent in criticising the AVN, just the above facts.

NB: Any actual threats or abuse should be referred to the police for investigation. I do not condone such behaviour.

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.

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.