Meryl Dorey

The #StopTenpenny Campaign against anti-vaccination seminars in Australia – Podcast Report

On The Skeptic Zone Podcast #325 {Permalink}, Evidence, Please has a report on the #StopTenpenny campaign against anti-vaccination seminars in Australia by US anti-vaccine campaigner Sherri Tenpenny.

Below are the links I’ve mentioned on the report, plus a transcript below the jump.

Social Media:

#StopTenpenny on Twitter
Stop Sherri Tenpenny from entering Australia Facebook Page

Blog Posts and Facebook Statements:

Reasonable Hank, “2015 anti-vaccine tour of Australia – the Tenpenny caravan of hurt
Diluted Thinking, “Anti-vaccination Seminars in 2015 by Stephanie Messenger
Diluted Thinking, “Healthy Lifestyles Naturally (HLN) – Seminars
Reasonable Hank, “Getting to know Sherri Tenpenny – a guide
Reasonable Hank, “Venues confirm being misled by anti-vaccine Messenger – Tenpenny tour
Stop the Australian (Anti)Vaccination Network, Statement regarding SAVN views and intentions are regarding Tenpenny’s visit

Media Reports:

4th January 2015
The Daily Telegraph, Jane Hansen, “Pro-vaccine lobby fight to stop US anti-vaccination campaigner Sherri Tenpenny lecturing in Australia

5th January 2015
Mamamia, Amy Stockwell, “This woman is a danger to children. And she’s coming to Australia.
The Daily Mail, Louise Cheer, “Should this woman be allowed to preach her anti-vaccine warnings in Australia? Parents’ outrage over American doctor’s child health seminars
news.com.au, Jane Hansen, “Uproar as US anti-vaccination campaigner Sherri Tenpenny announces trip to Australia
The Guardian, Michael Safi, “US anti-vaccine activist Dr Sherri Tenpenny plans Australian tour in March
The 7:30 Report, Jane Cowan, “Anti-vaccination lobby to blame for US return of preventable diseases say doctors” (video)

6th January 2015
3AW Radio, “Victorian Health Minister slams anti-vaccine movement
SBS, Shanthi Benjamin, “Calls for government to deny visa to US anti-vaccine activist
The Age, “Vaccine row about to boil over
Sunshine Coast Daily, Adam Davies, “Push to ban anti-vaccination campaigner from Aussie tour
ABC PM Radio, Bridget Brennan, “Controversial anti-vaccination campaigner to visit Australia
The Project TV, “Ms Information – the campaign against an anti-vaccination campaigner who plans a speaking tour in Australia

Times Live, Katharine Child, “No vaccine for Mandela-itis
The Age, Julia Medew, “Doctors want to bar anti-vaccination campaigner
ABC, Bridget Brennan, “Calls to deny visa to American anti-vaccination campaigner Sherri Tenpenny to speak in Australia
Junkee, Meg Watson, “Why You Should Join The Campaign To Stop Anti-Vaxxer Sherri Tenpenny Coming To Australia
Health of Ukraine, “Scandal in Australia : the inhabitants of the country are outraged at lectures about the dangers of vaccines” (in Russian)
Herald Sun, Phillipa Butt, “Health Minister urges organisers to cancel event featuring anti-vaccination activist Sherry Tenpenny
The Age, Nick Galvin, “ABC’s 7.30 under fire over anti-vaccination campaigner James Maskell

7th January 2015

New Zealand Herald, Daily Mail, “‘Deny her a visa’ – Australian outrage over anti-vaccination activist’s speaking tour
Queensland Health, Dr Sonya Bennett, “Queensland Health’s response to anti-vaccination discussions
The Guardian, Weekly Beast, “7:30 falls into vax wars
ABC News, “Sherri Tenpenny: Who is the controversial anti-vaccination campaigner planning to visit Australia?

ABC News, “Sherri Tenpenny: Sydney venue cancels seminar of US anti-vaccination campaigner” (Republished on Mamamia)
SBS News, “A controversial American anti-vaccination campaigner may be prevented from entering Australia.
ABC News , “Sydney venue cancels seminar of US anti-vaccination campaigner

8th January 2015

The Age, Eryk Bagshaw, “Sherri Tenpenny: US anti-vaccination campaigner’s Sydney and Melbourne shows cancelled
Sydney Morning Herald, Julia Medew, “Venues cancel events featuring US anti-vaccination campaigner Sherri Tenpenny
Medical Observer, “Doctors protest anti-vax speaking tour” (Login required)
3AW Radio, “Talking Health –  Sally Cockburn interviews Meryl Dorey and John Cunningham” (audio only)

9th January 2014

The Daily Mail, “More venues cancel anti-vax seminars
The Today Show, “Prof Peter McIntyre refutes Dr Tenpenny anti-vaccination beliefs” (video)

The Today Show, ‘The Grill’, “Misinformation tour by anti-vaccination activist” (video)
The Guardian, Oliver Milman, “Anti-vaccination campaigner compares critics to Charlie Hebdo attackers

11th January 2015

Sydney Morning Herald, “Anti-vaccination views are misguided – but not illegal
Daily Life, Jacqueline Maley, “Anti-vaccination advocate’s tour in tatters after most venues cancel
Sunrise TV, “Health experts urge parents to vaccinate kids” (video)

Skeptical Coverage:

Doubtful News, “Tenpenny’s anti-vaccination tour hits a snag in Australia (Update)
Society for Science Based Medicine, “They Do Not Shrug Down Under

Petitions:

change.org, “Petition to Refuse Sherri Tenpenny’s Visa into Australia
The Parenthood, “Petition to STOP anti-vax. campaigner Sherri Tenpenny #StopTenpenny

Event Links:

EventBrite Event Listing and Ticket Sales
GanKinMan Foundation
GanKinMan Foundation FB Page
Birth, Baby and Beyond FB Event

 

Report transcript:

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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 domain 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.

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

Exploiting Tragedy to Push Conspiracy Theories

My sadness over the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday is still incredibly raw and I don’t have a great deal to say on the topic beyond expressing my despair at the loss of life and innocence, my sorrow for those affected and my hope that President Obama will push for some long overdue reform to firearm legislation in the USA.

What galls me though, and what I would like to discuss here, is that some people see tragedies such as the events at Sandy Hook Elementary as opportunities to push their pet conspiracy theories.

Before the dust had settled at the World Trade Center, before the bodies were retrieved, while the brave folk who risked their lives searched through the rubble, conspiracy nuts were penning missives claiming 9-11 to be an inside job.

I do understand that in trying to make sense of what has occurred people can find comfort in believing that the horrors of the world are by design rather than awful circumstance. However, I find myself with little tolerance for those pushing their conspiracy theories in the wake of real grief and while others are searching for evidence-based approaches to prevent similar circumstances arising again.

One conspiracy theory I’ve witnessed getting an airing over the past few days is the belief that medications prescribed for psychiatric conditions are the cause of psychiatric illness. Certainly, no medication is without potential side effects and any person taking medication should be aware of its possible impact on their mental state, but the anti-psych-meds conspiracy theorists claim that psychiatric medication is of no benefit to individuals experiencing mental illness and is causing great harm to peoples’ mental states. In short, they want people with mental illness to cease the treatment that gives them an opportunity to improve their functionality and lessen their suffering.

As with anti-vaccination groups, the anti-psych-med believers feel that their information and views are superior to the evidence-based findings of the scientific community and the expertise of medical professionals.

Unsurprisingly, there is a crossover between anti-vaccinationists and the anti-psych-med movement. Even less surprisingly, given the subject I find myself returning to again and again on this blog (I do have other things to talk about, I promise), the Australian Vaccination Network appear to be anti-psych-med as well as anti-vaccination, as is evidenced by the CCHR* DVDs that they stock in their online shop (and their general disdain for pharmaceutical companies, mainstream medicine and evidence based health advice).

Two days after the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting, presumably pseudonymous “Nancy Novax”, a long time friend of the AVN, posted a link on the AVN’s Facebook page purporting to provide evidence that “SSRIs” (nb: Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, a family of antidepressant medications which can also be effective in treating generalised anxiety disorder) “and other psychotropic medications are the true causes of the mass murders and massacres that have been occurring in the US”.

An AVN admin (presumably Meryl Dorey herself, as the post was not initialled for identification), decided it appropriate to share this with the AVN’s followers, with the caption “Is anyone is deluded by thinking the mass shootings in the US r because of the availability of guns? Index 2 SSRI Stories”

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(Link to original post)

To their credit, several of the AVN’s supporters have responded with disgust.. and some of those responses have been allowed to remain on the AVN’s Facebook page. I won’t republish them here and discuss them, but if the thread is deleted by the AVN, I will upload screenshots and link to them here.

The AVN admin also shared this anti-psychiatry diatribe with gross speculation about the shooter in the comments of the post above.

Then there’s this repugnant rant by Mike Adams “The Health Ranger” over on naturalnews.com, titled “Gun control? We need medication control! Newton elementary school shooter Adam Lanza likely on meds; labeled as having ‘personality disorder’

Here’s Sherri Tenpenny hijacking this tragedy to go on an anti-vaccination conspiracy rant:

A comment worth reposting…thanks Arlene:
“We hear how a gun kills children — which is horrible and I will not take anything away from that — but we don’t hear about how our government is killing our children…Yea, now we’re all going to hear how we must have gun control… But doctors who vaccinate kill [and maim] more than all the guns put together.”

And here, the National Vaccine Information Center shares an article from “activist-musicians” The Refusers blatantly attempting to claim that the shootings were the result of “vaccine injury”:

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I’m willing to bet that there are dozens more examples of similar statements and agendas. I’ve seen quite a few more over the past couple of days. I’m not going to go looking for them though…frankly, I’m tired.

I’m tired of charlatans attempting to push people away from considering medical treatment that is in their best interest.

I’m tired of wondering why some people seem to be so very prone to believing that their theories are correct, despite the fact that the rationale to keep them afloat in the face of contradictory evidence increases in absurdity to the extent that they truly believe that mainstream medicine, the scientific community and governments are all colluding to suppress the truth that they and a small handful of their associates are privy to.

And right now, I’m incredibly tired of people trying to piggyback their nutbag lies on to the senseless deaths of innocent people.

* The CCHR are the ambiguously named Citizens Commission on Human Rights, a Scientology front group who campaign against psychiatry and psychiatric medicine. As loathe as I am to give them any traffic, I think that their site speaks for itself.

Further Reading (and Viewing)

Penn & Teller beautifully sum up my disdain for conspiracy theories in this episode of Bullshit, which I wholeheartedly recommend. Unless you’re not comfortable with some very strong language from a good humored and angry man (and emphatic gestures from another)… then steer clear.

What’s The Harm? Conspiracy Theories – In fact, I recommend the entire site. It can be terribly sad, but if you ever find yourself shrugging and thinking that woo is not worth challenging, What’s The Harm? provides strong reinforcement that it’s worth maintaining opposition.

Scientology, anti-psychiatry quackery and Mike Adams: It all becomes clear now – post by Orac over on Respectful Insolence, examining Mike Adams’ similar anti-psych-med rant in reaction to the mass shooting in Tuscon, Arizona last year.

Tenpenny blames vaccines for Newtown shooting – SkewedDistribution on Sherri Tenpenny’s further diatribe on the shootings.

I have contributed some money to assist the families of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre with funeral costs, via the group We Are Atheism. Here is their collection page.

[Edit] 12:00pm 19/12/2012: Added the NVIC screenshot and put a link to SkewedDistribution’s post in to Further Reading.

The (soon to be) Network Formerly Known as the AVN

Just before midnight last Friday night (the 14th of December, 2012), some rather fantastic news broke.

New South Wales Fair Trading (a state government department) had that day issued Meryl Dorey, president of the Australian Vaccination Network, with a letter stating that after investigating several complaints made to the department regarding the misleading nature of the AVN’s name, it is the Commissioner’s opinion that the use of the name ‘Australian Vaccination Network’ by a group of anti-vaccinationists is against the public interest. The Commissioner then directed the AVN to change its name. The AVN have been given until the 21st of February 2013 to lodge an application for registration of change of name. If this is not done, the department may cancel the AVN’s registration, close the AVN down and seize their assets.

The full letter is available here. Thank you to Meryl Dorey for making it available to the public.

Several newspapers have run with this story, news.com.au gave us “Anti-vaccine group ordered to change name”, which the Herald Sun ran as “Minister orders anti-vaccination group to change name”, with added quotes from the president of the AMA, while The Daily Telegraph ran the truncated “Anti-jabs lobbyists warned”. A few highlights:

NSW Fair Trading Minister Anthony Roberts fired a broadside at the AVN, saying the information it provided was a public safety issue of “life and death”.

“This is not a victimless issue, it’s about the ability to stop pain and suffering,” he said.

Mr Roberts likened the AVN’s message to sanctioning speeding.

“People do not have the freedom of choice when it comes to endangering others … it’s the equivalent of saying a bloke can speed down the road and endanger others,” he said.

Mr Roberts said he was prepared for any appeals the AVN might make.

“This is an order, it is not a request,” he said.

“The Australian Vaccination Network does not present a balanced case for vaccination, does not present medical evidence to back up its claims and therefore poses a serious risk of misleading the community,” Mr Roberts said in a statement.

NSW Fair Trading Assistant Commissioner for Compliance and Enforcement Robert Vellar says the AVN’s name had misled parents seeking information.

“People are being confused about the true nature of the information they are being provided on the AVN website, the name is misleading,” he said.

The Northern Star, which is the local paper of the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales (which covers the town from which Meryl Dorey runs the AVN), published “Anti-vaccine group must change ‘misleading’ name. This article contains an unusual point worth noting – they attempted to contact Meryl Dorey for a statement, but she did not return their calls. Given Meryl Dorey’s usual eagerness to engage with the media, this is a strange event indeed.

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Here is the cover sheet which will be greeting Meryl at her local newsagency this week.
Many thanks to Alison Gaylard and her friend for snapping a photo and sharing it.

Unsurprisingly, Meryl Dorey has reacted quite strongly to the letter from the NSW Fair Trading and subsequent media attention. She published a lengthy post on her blog in response, entitled “Government puts the boot into the AVN, Democracy and the Truth”.

I do not have the time to review the entire post, but some highlights include:

The Department’s open cooperation with the AMA is analogous to them responding to complaints by mining companies about Greenpeace’s name. After all, Greenpeace is not green, nor do they go around looking for peace, therefore, would the Department tell them to change their name too? How about the Cancer Council? Couldn’t someone be misled into thinking that they are FOR cancer? And the Department of Health? Don’t get me started! The Department of Ill-Health would be more accurate in my opinion.

Greenpeace is not green. Say it with me, “Greenpeace is not green”.

A wonderfully skilled wordsmith of my acquaintance, Shellity, has written a poem in response to the above quote of Meryl’s, I heartily suggest you give it (and the rest of her blog) a read: “Nominal”.

As for the statement regarding the Cancer Council, no Meryl, it is highly unlikely that anybody could be led to believe that the Cancer Council were pro-cancer. It is a reasonable assumption though, they they are an authority on the subject and that they provide trustworthy evidence-based information regarding cancer. The same cannot be said for the Australian Vaccination Network with regards to the topic of vaccination.

Later in the blog post, when discussing NSW Fair Trading, Meryl quips that they “might consider changing that name because at least in the present situation, it is extremely misleading!”. I assume that this is a little Merylese bon mot, but it is hard to be certain.

Several paragraphs on is another statement I that would like to address.

Blog overlap

The letter from the Department was handed to my daughter at approximately 11:45 AM and the first article appeared in the Australian media approximately 10 hours ago. But Skeptic blogs started to announce this information approximately one hour before the media did. How do you think they came by this information? I really do wonder. Is there a direct line of communication between the Australian Skeptics, Stop the AVN (SAVN) and government departments? There is a long and open history of collusion between media outlets and various ‘skeptics’ so it is not impossible that they heard about this letter before the AVN had even received it. Is this collusion one of the reasons why these departments have been ‘putting the boot’ into us for the last 4 years at an apparent cost of millions of dollars to the taxpayer? Is the fact that many SAVN members are actually employed by government departments – and use their government email addresses when writing about the AVN and wanting to close us down – cause for concern? I will leave those questions with you to ponder.

Going by the time on the blog post announcement on the AVN’s Facebook page, 11:40am on Saturday the 15th of December (the post itself has no timestamp), the “approximately 10 hours ago” statement refers to 1:40am the same day.

I was online when the news broke, it first hit Twitter at 11:29pm on Friday evening. This linked to a paywalled version of the Herald Sun article, “Minister orders anti-vaccination group to change its name”, which refers to the 14th of December as ‘yesterday’ and is dated 12:00AM, December 15, 2012, but evidently went live at least half an hour before midnight.

The skeptic (I find the dramatic quotes quite unnecessary) bloggers who wrote posts about the news did so over the next hour; there’s a satirical piece by Dave The Happy Singer titled “Meryl Dorey to rename the Australian Vaccination Network Stop Stop The AVN” (posted at 12:26am Saturday) and a rightfully pleased announcement from Peter Bowditch on The Millenium Project on Ratbags.Com (posted 1:15am Saturday).

Kate from Stop the AVN has made a timeline graphic here, which helps clarify.

Both Dave and Peter’s blog posts refer to the article on the Herald Sun, which went online almost an hour before Dave’s post was made, giving both bloggers adequate time to write and publish. More to the point, both blog posts directly refer to the Herald Sun article and contain no information that is not included in the newspaper article.

Where then is Meryl getting the idea that skeptic bloggers had the information before the media published it? And is it then reasonable that she extrapolate from this the notion that the Australian Skeptics, SAVN and ‘government departments’ are illicitly sharing information and that the media is also in on the act? It’s a long and rather conspiracy-laden shot, Ms Dorey.

On the subject of unsubstantiated finger pointing, the AVN’s website went down on Sunday and this was the announcement:

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(The “View all 8 comments link doesn’t reveal further comments when clicked on, three have been deleted – original post here)

Fortunately, the SAVN admins are people of many talents. Here, Dave Singer outlines why it is inaccurate to blame the AVN’s website problem on a DDOS attack:

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(Original post and subsequent discussion here)

So what next for the AVN from here? I see four options, for them to change their name and complete the appropriate paperwork with all relevant authorities that that would entail, for them to continue with their current name and face being forcibly shut down by NSW Fair Trading, for them to disband in an act of grand martyrdom and for Meryl Dorey to lay low for a while or for them to apply for a right of review of the department’s direction with the Administrative Decisions Tribunal.

Either way, we live in interesting times and I am quite curious to see which direction this will progress in.

Further Reading (and some listening and watching):

Anti-Vac group told to change name – Tracey Spicer and Tim Webster on 2UE Radio discuss the NSW Department of Fair Trade’s decision with phone in guest Anthony Roberts, the Minister for Fair Trade (who is rather critical of the anti-vaccination movement and refers to groups such as the AVN as “nut jobs”). Audio available, I will link to a transcript if I see one about.

AVN ordered to change its name – An article on Australian Doctor’s website (professional credentials and login required to view full article).

Australian Vaccination Network ordered to change it’s name – The media release from the Minister for Fair Trading’s office, also published here on the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association’s website.

The AVN Asks – What’s in a Name? – The AVN’s official media release on the department’s direction. I’ll be sure to add links to any news services who run with the story.

AVN’s Meryl Dorey orders NSW Fair Trading to change its name – Another blog post from Dave the Happy Singer

NSW Government orders the AVN the change their name or face closure – A blog post on the Skeptics’ Book of Pooh Pooh

Panellists on ABC’s current events panel show The Drum discuss the AVN in a less than impressed manner. Thank you to Anne Blake for uploading the video.

Anti-vaccination network told to change its name or be shut down – An article on The Conversation by Rachael Dunlop

And now for some Jimmy Rustling of a different kind – And a blog post by landlockedseaotter

David Penberthy: Anti-vaccine set forced to fess up – An opinion piece by David Penberthy appearing in Adelaide Now endorsing NSW Fair Trading’s direction.

AVN – NSW Fair Trading Orders Name Change – Christine Bayne of Diluted Thinking has put together a brilliant run down of the correspondence between the AVN and NSW Fair Trading and the potential liabilities faced by AVN committee members.

I would like to note a special thanks to everyone over at Stop the Australian (anti)Vaccination Network, especially those who have been posting links and information as they’ve come across them. I have been a little overwhelmed recently, trying to work out how to balance university, parenting and getting enough sleep, so my participation and this blog (and the housework) have fallen by the wayside somewhat. I am hoping that after the holiday season is done, I will be able to rest and find the resources to put more time into both SAVN and writing.

If you are interested in supporting SAVN, you are very much welcome to like their Facebook page. SAVN also uses the hash tag #StopAVN on Twitter.

[Edit] 1:45pm 19/12/2012: Added links to the piece in The Conversation and landlockedseaotter’s post to the Further Reading section.

[Edit] 12:00pm 21/12/2012: Added links to David Penberthy’s article in Adelaide Now and Christine Bayne’s post at Diluted thinking to the Further Reading section.

Don’t Ask the AVN, Take Your Child to a Hospital

Today, there has been another instance of an adult concerned for a child’s wellbeing asking the AVN for advice – not a parent this time, but an aunt – and the AVN not issuing an appropriate recommendation to have the child assessed by medical professionals.

It began with this post, from Robert Catalano, who proclaims to be the President of the American Natural Healthcare Society and has authored a book titled, “The Great White Hoax, The Suppressed Truth About the Pharmaceutical Industry, American Freedom vs, Medical Power”. It appears that Robert’s description of himself as an “anti-medicine activist” is one of the few and far between moments of accuracy he experiences in his writing. Judging by this extract (and I cannot imagine how the omitted text could possibly redeem what is written here), his book is a conspiracy heavy diatribe of pure bulldust, as is this post:

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The AVN seem to be allowing a little more disagreement to be visible on their Facebook page than usual at the moment. A discussion ensued, with the AVN supporting Robert’s claims and trying to promote a book that is sold on the AVN’s website, “Diabetes Without Drugs” by Suzy Cohen.

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The uncensored conversation didn’t last long though – the next comment, in which the author suggests that Robert may not be as well informed about diabetes as he claims to be (and includes a copy-paste of accurate information), was made by one of the AVN’s own courageous anonymous admins, CP. It has since been deleted.

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Next though, was the sort of comment which makes my blood run cold (in a metaphorical sense, on the off chance that somebody thinks I’m having a dreadful reaction to the aspartame that was in a cola I drunk yesterday). It filled me with dread, in any case.

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Again, an adult responsible for a child who is described as being unwell, asking for advice on the AVN’s page.

By this point, Robert is no longer participating in the conversation. Several conscientious and sensible commenters rightly urge Jess W to get her nephew to a hospital. The AVN admin (who is not identifying him or herself at this point) ignores Jess’ comment and instead opts to debate the legitimacy of natural diabetes management and cures with Hayley A.

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Jess W returns with a direct question to the AVN. The AVN admin’s reply admonishes her for not having the time to learn about ways to help a 4 year old child and suggesting that Jess’ priorities are not in the right place, completely overlooking the fact that Jess has stated that her nephew is very unwell, difficult to rouse and has an extremely high blood sugar level reading.

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This is the time to be telling Jess W to call an ambulance immediately, not tell her off for not handing over $35, waiting for the AVN to ship the book to her (given their poor performance in delivering their magazine, “Living Wisdom”, which their subscribers pay for, there’s no precedence set for the book to arrive promptly) and reading 432 pages on the dietary management of Type 2 diabetes.

What Jess W is describing needs to be diagnosed by a professional in a clinical assessment – if it is indeed diabetes, it is extremely improbable that a four year old would be facing Type 2. Type 1 diabetes cannot be cured, nor can it be managed through diet alone. Fastidious monitoring of blood glucose levels and administration of insulin are required in order to avoid the person with diabetes developing ketoacidosis, a life threatening condition. From Diabetes Australia’s website:

Ketoacidosis is a serious condition associated with illness or very high blood glucose levels in type 1 diabetes. It develops gradually over hours or days. It is a sign of insufficient insulin.  Most cases of ketoacidosis occur in people with type 1, it very rarely occurs in people with type 2.

Without enough insulin, the body’s cells cannot use glucose for energy. To make up for this, the body begins to burn fat for energy instead. This leads to accumulation of dangerous chemical substances in the blood called ketones, which also appear in the urine.

This is a serious medical emergency and can be life threatening if not treated properly. If these symptoms are present, contact your doctor or go to hospital immediately.

It is also worth noting that “Diabetes Without Drugs” (preview viewable here) contains Quack Miranda Warnings both on the inside cover and on page xii of the introduction, urging readers not to act on the advice contained within without consulting their doctor.

Back to the comment thread, the AVN admin remains anonymous, accuses Hayley A of rejecting the suggestion that diabetes is naturally curable merely because that suggestion is coming from the AVN and then links several YouTube videos to bolster their claims.

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I am not certain what the now missing comment from Karam S was that the AVN admin is replying to in the last comment – I’m vigilant with the screencapping, but I did spend some time taking my kids swimming this afternoon.

Update: The helpful and vigilant Dr Rachael Dunlop has supplied the missing puzzle piece, which is indeed quite puzzling in itself:

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I will admit at this point that I was having doubts as to whether Jess W’s claims were authentic. Not enough to feel that her comments didn’t warrant attention and reasonable responses, but I did entertain the possibility that she was somebody out to demonstrate that the AVN, (who I will remind you now are recognised as a health care provider by the HCCC), provide unconscionable and dangerous advice and misinformation to those who believe them to be a credible source of information.

Thankfully, mine (and many others’) suspicions were found to be within reason. Jess W appeared on SAVN’s Facebook page, knowingly breaking her own ruse to reassure us that there was no sick child whose caregivers were relying on the AVN for advice.

I would like to note that before this afternoon’s events, Jess W was not known to me, nor to any other people involved with SAVN that I saw discussing the matter in public. To the best of my knowledge, she acted independently.

Meryl Dorey posted this when she discovered that Jess W’s story was not real:

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(Pardon the confusing timestamps, Craig D’s comment was, unsurprisingly, deleted)

Note that Meryl’s confusing disclaimer has made an appearance again.

The second comment from an AVN admin is unattributed, so I assume that it came from one of the other admins of the AVN’s Facebook page. To the best of my knowledge, there are four or five admins other than Meryl, who go by the monikers RR, B52, SB, CP and the recently appeared B9. While I support the right of internet users to anonymity and pseudonymity, I find it disturbing that people speaking on behalf of a recognised health care provider do so without declaring their credentials and affiliations.

SAVN admin Kate has posted an open letter to the anonymous AVN admin who made the second comment on the screencap above. Please take a moment to read it here.

As always, there is much considered and varied commentary on today’s events on Stop the Australian (Anti-)Vaccination Network’s Facebook page.

The thread on the AVN’s page has disappeared and reappeared. At the time of writing, it is viewable (and still being commented on) here.

The ethics of Jess W’s conduct are certainly questionable. She did perpetrate a hoax which played with my emotions very effectively and caused me some anxiety. I spent this afternoon imagining a boy of four, much like my own beloved son, listless and unresponsive while his family made the dreadful mistake of seeking advice from the AVN instead of taking him immediately to a hospital. It made me feel ill with worry, helpless and incredibly sad – and I’m sure many others felt similarly, just as we’ve felt reading about the unvaccinated baby exposed to whooping cough and the young boy suspected to have measles whose mothers also recently posted on the AVN’s Facebook page seeking help. I, personally, cannot condone Jess W’s actions, nor endorse such tactics. While they were effective in demonstrating the AVN’s response to a caregiver of a sick child, I do not feel that the lie was worth the outcome. Conversely, I am still finding myself thankful that the AVN’s response wasn’t being demonstrated with a real child’s life at risk.

While thankfully this sick young boy did not exist, he could have. Even if the AVN admins had their suspicions that Jess W’s story was not true, was it really worth ignoring then admonishing her if there was even a tiny chance that a child’s life was at risk? Why did the AVN admins cling so tightly to their need to dispense anti-medicine tropes and keep toeing the party line when they were clearly out of their depth? Why did they refuse to urge Jess W to get her nephew to a hospital?

He could have been real and this could have been tragic. I am terrified that the next time someone comes to the AVN for advice on an ill child, it will be.

The AVN do not deserve the responsibility that they are trying to shoulder. Likewise, trusting parents who are seeking health advice for their children do not deserve the dangerous lies of the AVN.

Previously on this topic:

Don’t Ask the AVN, See your GP

The AVN Issues a Quack Miranda Warning

Further reading:

The day the AVN thoroughly rustled my Jimmies by landlockedseaotter, a great blog post on today’s events which further addresses the claims made by Robert Catalano and the AVN about diabetes cure and management (as well as the AVN’s behaviour).

The AVN Issues a Quack Miranda Warning

At the beginning of this month, I wrote about two instances I’d observed where the Australian (Anti)Vaccination Network provided advice to parents who came to them asking what to do in cases of suspected vaccine preventable disease or exposure to vaccine preventable disease. You can read the blog post here.

When these posts appeared on the AVN’s Facebook wall, there was discussion on Stop the Australian (Anti)Vaccination Network’s Facebook wall regarding the legality of the AVN providing medical advice. Some participants in this discussion stated that they were considering submitting complaints to the New South Wales Health Care Complaints Commission.

Complaints to the HCCC (and to the New South Wales Office of Liquor, Gambling and Racing, who deal with granting fund raising licences) have been submitted in the past by both persons associated with SAVN and others. The most notable complaint thus far led to a hearing in the Supreme Court of New South Wales, in which the HCCC was found to be unable to issue a public health warning against the AVN or require them to place a disclaimer on their website due to a loophole in the legislation. A clear summary of what occurred can be found in this article by Rick Morton on Mamamia. While the outcome of the court case was a great disappointment for those who feel that the AVN should be accountable for the misinformation they spread, we are a persistent lot and I look forward to eventually reporting some very good news as a result of the efforts of my esteemed colleagues.

Understandably, the AVN’s president does not like these complaints. She incorrectly labels them as ‘vexatious’ (these complaints are not intended to cause annoyance, they are intended to assist government bodies reduce the danger the AVN presents), feels that we waste the time and resources of governmental bodies (who exist to deal with precisely what is being submitted) and considers complaints regarding the AVN to be a form of personal abuse and harassment.

After learning that she was facing another round of complaint submissions following SAVN noticing that she was providing dangerous medical advice to parents, Meryl Dorey issued the following announcement on the AVN’s Facebook page.

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The disclaimer here is equivalent to a Quack Miranda Warning, being a statement issued by charlatans to avoid legal action should anyone believe what they have to say or purchase what they are selling. A typical Quack Miranda Warning from the US reads:

“These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.”

Similarly, Meryl’s disclaimer above attempts to absolve her of any responsibility for what she (or others speaking for the AVN) are saying.

Phil Kent on SAVN’s page paraphrased it wonderfully, stating that:

“The pseudoscience I promote personally and as the president and spokesperson of my organisation do not represent my personal views and opinions or those of the organisation I represent.”

It would be interesting to hear the opinion of an expert in law as to whether Meryl’s disclaimer is actually sufficient to provide her or the AVN with any legal protection, given the high standard of conduct expected of an HCCC recognised Health Care Provider.

When I first read Meryl’s announcement about her disclaimer, I wondered whether she was being at all wise in calling people who believed that she was giving advice (rather than ‘sharing information’) “stupid”, given that she may well have been insulting those who will eventually be making decisions regarding the AVN’s future (not to mention the number of esteemed folk who contacted me after I wrote about the AVN’s advice giving, aghast and appalled that they were doing such a thing).

Calling complainants “bastards” did not strike me as wise either, though the potential repercussions may be more substantial than I initially thought, given Section 98 of the 1993 Health Care Complaints Act, which states,

98 Offence: intimidation or bribery of complainants

(1) A person who, by threat, intimidation or inducement, persuades or attempts to persuade another person:

(a) not to make a complaint to the Commission or a professional council or not to continue with a complaint made to the Commission or a professional council, or

             (b) not to have discussions with, or take part in proceedings before, the Commission or a professional council concerning a complaint or a matter that could become the subject of a complaint,

is guilty of an offence.

(2) A person who refuses to employ or dismisses another person, subjects another person to any detriment, or harasses another person, because the other person:

(a) intends to make a complaint, has made a complaint, or has had a complaint made on his or her behalf or otherwise concerning him or her, to the Commission or a professional council, or

(b) intends to take part, is taking part, or has taken part in any discussions with, or proceedings before, the Commission or a professional council concerning a complaint or a matter which could become the subject of a complaint,

is guilty of an offence.

A (since banned and deleted) SAVN commenter on the AVN’s Facebook page questioned whether Meryl was calling complainants “bastards”. Her reply:

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“I wasn’t referring to complainants – I was referring to people on your page who”… “file vexatious complaints”.

Indeed.

The full thread is viewable here, including obligatory cries of ‘sheeple’ and many deleted comments.

Back to the HCCC case that went to the NSW Supreme Court that I mentioned earlier, where the HCCC was found to be unable to demand that the AVN place a disclaimer on their website. That disclaimer is as follows:

1. The Australian Vaccination Network’s purpose is to provide information against vaccination in order to balance what it believes is the substantial amount of pro-vaccination information available elsewhere.

2. The information provided should not be read as medical advice; and

3. The decision about whether or not to vaccinate should be made in consultation with a health care provider.

The AVN put a lot of effort and money in to challenging the HCCC in the Supreme Court. Aside from the acknowledgement that the AVN is anti-vaccination (they prefer to frame themselves as being ‘pro-choice’ and in turn highly inaccurately claim that their critics are ‘anti-choice’), the AVN’s self-imposed disclaimer covers all ground that the HCCC’s disclaimer did… and it is now being attached to each of the AVN’s blog posts and relevant Facebook comments.

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It’s a small victory, but I’m counting it as a win. I’m sure that there are many more to come.

Further Reading:

Quack Miranda Warning – Rationalwiki