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First Place - The Anus Maximus Award
In late 2015 the University of Wollongong accepted a PhD thesis titled "A critical analysis of the Australian government's rationale for its vaccination policy", written by Judy Wilyman. She will now be awarded a doctorate.
This award is shared between the three players in the drama - Dr Wilyman, Professor Brian Martin who supervised the process, and the University of Wollongong which awarded the degree.
I should start off by countering one of the criticisms that have been made of the thesis - that the research was conducted in a Humanities department. This is actually irrelevant. (He would say that, wouldn't he? He has a BA.) It is perfectly legitimate to investigate science from outside the world of science, and in fact most of the most famous and well-known philosophers of science were not themselves scientists. The real criticism is that the thesis is not of the academic quality expected for the granting of a doctorate from a legitimate university.
Let's look at the three winners individually.
Dr Judy Wilyman spent a decade working on this. I have read the thesis, well, most of it anyway (at 390 pages it is only slightly shorter than my paperback copy of Darwin's "The Origin Of Species"), but the standard of "research" can probably be summed up by the fact that the second sentence in the abstract repeats one of the standard diversions used by anti-vaccination campaigners worldwide: "Deaths and illnesses to infectious diseases were significantly reduced due to environmental and lifestyle reforms prior to the widespread use of most vaccines in the mid-20th century". Dr Wilyman is and always has been an opponent of vaccines, and the thesis is merely a regurgitation of the nonsense we have been hearing forever, including conspiracy theories such as that the Australian government vaccination policy is informed by a conspiracy between the WHO and Big Pharma. In other words, we knew what she was going to say before we had a chance to read it.
The "Publications in support of this thesis" include a link to a television show which quoted Ms Wilyman, with authorship attributed to Ms Wilyman (the actual author was journalist Anna Salleh), a paper in the journal Medical Veritas (a publication which is vehemently opposed to vaccination), a presentation at a conference run by an organisation which has run another conference specifically devoted to the dangers of radiation from mobile phones, and a couple of papers published in a journal produced by an Australian college of alternative medicine. (I couldn't find out too much about the college because their website was blocked by my antivirus program for trying to install malware on my computer.) Like I said, I didn't have to read far into the thesis before encountering red flags.
Professor Brian Martin reacted to criticism of the thesis not by addressing the substance of the criticism but by accusing all critics of being bullies and crying "freedom of speech". These seem to be special interests of his lately, and a previous paper he wrote about people bullying the Australian Vaccination Network was submitted as evidence in at least two court hearings. (In both cases the magistrate ruled that it was inadmissible.) On the day that acceptance of the PhD thesis was announced he pre-emptively published a paper accusing anybody who might have something bad to say about the thesis of doing so with an ulterior motive. It is usually the job of the candidate to defend a doctoral thesis, not the supervising academic, and in any case any defence should be based on the quality of the work. By rebutting all criticism as simply being examples of bullying, Professor Martin is diverting the conversation away from where it should be going. As supervisor, he should have made a major contribution to the quality of the work but it seems that even he can't defend it.
Yes, academic freedom requires that unpopular or disruptive views must be freely expressed, but that doesn't mean that anything goes and that opinions and prejudices can be presented as fact without supporting evidence or when any evidence is presented that it is selected by a firm and consistent application of confirmation bias. Freedom of speech might be the fundamental freedom, but it doesn't mean you can just make stuff up and call it research.
The University of Wollongong is included in the award because by allowing this thesis to be accepted it has tarnished the qualifications of everyone who has received a higher degree from the institution in the past and those who will do so in the future. The value of any qualification is inextricably linked to the standards set by and the reputation of the issuing institution, and the publicity surrounding this case could lead to employers reasonably questioning whether a degree from the University of Wollongong has any value at all.
Quote of the Year
Usually the Quote of the Year award is given to some quack or charlatan who has made some egregious remark that is offensive to people who can think, but this year I'm making an exception and granting the award to a Judge of the Federal Court of Australia for saying something that I liked hearing. One of my great pleasures during the year was to sit in a Federal Court courtroom in Sydney to hear the penalties being placed on Fran Sheffield and the company Homeopathy Plus! for lying about how homeopathy can be a substitute for vaccination. Unfortunately the judgement can't be generalised to all of the fraudulent activity of homeopaths (which is everything that they do), but it's a start. Maybe they will be more careful in the future when making their absurd claims. You can read the complete judgement here.
I consider that it is appropriate to grant injunctive relief in the terms sought by the ACCC, to impose pecuniary penalties on Homeopathy Plus cumulatively totalling $115,000 payable to the Commonwealth in 30 days, and to impose pecuniary penalties on Mrs Sheffield totalling $23,000 payable to the Commonwealth in 90 days. I also consider that the respondents should be jointly and severally liable for the ACCC's costs.
It should be noted that "Highly Commended" does not mean "Highly Recommended". Quite the opposite, in fact.
What can I say about veterinary homeopathy that doesn't apply to ordinary homeopathy for humans? I suppose if you used it on a duck it might make its quack more quacky, but I don't think my local vet will be using it on my dog or the many farm animals in the fields around where I live. Actually, I hope she doesn't, because there's only one vet in town and I'd hate to have to drive 50 kilometres every time the dog has the sniffles to talk to a sane vet.
I probably can't do better than to quote from the website of the Institute:
"Noetic" comes from the Greek word nous, which means "intuitive mind" or "inner knowing." IONS™ conducts, sponsors, and collaborates on leading-edge research into the potentials and powers of consciousness, exploring phenomena that do not necessarily fit conventional scientific models while maintaining a commitment to scientific rigor.
Some would say that applying "scientific rigor" to something which science does not recognise could be a thankless task, but how else are we to learn about the power of the mind to create and interpret reality? Or as they say of their vision:
The Institute of Noetic Sciences serves an emerging movement of globally conscious citizens dedicated to manifesting our highest capacities. We believe that consciousness is essential to a paradigm shift that will lead to a more sustainable world. We encourage open-minded explorations of consciousness through the meeting of science and spirit.
I like "paradigm shift" It sounds so sciency. I am also pleased that a search for the word "quantum" on the site brings up many page links. The study guide to the amazingly informative film "What tHe βLεεP Dθ ωΣ (k)πow!?" is just one of them. And did you know that "Quantum theory reveals what many indigenous cultures have always known: Everything exists in dynamic flux-everything vibrates-and everything is in relation to everything else"?
This is an amazing resource. Use it wisely.
I spend far too much time on social media, Twittering and Facebooking all day when I should be doing other things. I don't even have enough time left over for YouTubing or Instagramming, let alone seeking romance with Tinder or Ashley Madison. As an atheist, however, I am intrigued that the Bible addressed this very issue. As it says on this site:
Social media can be a powerful platform for global evangelism. It is a venue, which can glorify God, edify the saints, and convict the lost. However, there are certain personal, church, and ministry communications that should not be shared on social media. It is not the best venue for these important exchanges. Much of what is published on social media would be better handled in a private setting. Social media has helped to blur the lines between appropriate public and private interactions.
The Holy Scriptures, on the other hand, bring light and clarity. They are sufficient for all of life, faith, and practice. It is there we discover God's standards for communication. The time has come for Christians to reconsider their interactions through social media. With full assurance in the sufficiency of Scripture, Operation Save America challenges Christians to serious self-examination concerning our conduct by means of Facebook and other social media sites (Psalm 26:2; Galatians 6:4).
There is much on this site to cause reflection on how we behave. I'm not an American, but it is in my interest for America to be saved from whatever threatens its continued existence. If it goes where will Australian TV programming, cinema features or recorded music come from? I know we could always make our own, but where's the fun in that? You might think that recognising the dangers of social media is just a small step, but we have to start somewhere. I could quote Mao Tse Tung but he wasn't a Christian and was an enemy of America so it probably would be out of place here.
Oh, and Operation Save America is very big on protecting unborn children from the abortion holocaust. Maybe they should gather outside abortion clinics and take photos to display on Instagram and Facebook. Oh, wait ...
NRM Corporation Pty Ltd and NRM Trading Pty Ltd operate a business called Advanced Medical Institute which promises better and longer lasting sex. They have been in a constant battle with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for several years about the validity of the claims they make in their advertising. Resisting (but failing) to say that they have been standing up to the ACCC, it is obvious that they have been displaying a level of persistence that would not have attracted any watchdog attention if it had applied to their customers.
I encourage AMI and its owners to continue the fight. Keep it up, you might say. It gives me and others the opportunity to make bad puns, keeps the courts and the ACCC's lawyers gainfully employed and raises expectations that some scamsters might even see the inside of prison cells even if only for contempt of court.
2015 was a tough year for the Australian anti-vaccination liar community. State legislatures placed restrictions on entry to childcare facilities for unvaccinated children, and the Federal Government has changed the laws about certain taxation and other benefits to make them contingent on children being vaccinated. All forms of conscientious objection, including religious, have been removed and the only exceptions to the rules are for medical reasons. This has caused eruptions of mouth foam from the anti-vaxxers the likes of which I haven't seen since I watched a firefighting demonstration at the airport. Rallies and protest meetings have been called, sometimes attracting crowds in the double figures (even without counting the children, the police or the skeptics who turned up to mock). High Court challenges are being mooted, preceded of course by the obligatory fund raising campaigns.
Huge crowd at an anti-vaccination rally in Canberra (November 2015)
This award is to encourage anti-vaccination liars to keep it up. Keep holding rallies where nobody turns up, keep recording incoherent spittle-flecked rants in Centrelink offices (yes, that really happened), keep paying lawyers to misinterpret the law, keep attacking the parents of children who have died from vaccine-preventable diseases (and keep accusing them of lying about actually having children or killing them to support a pro-vaccine agenda - yes, that really happened), ... Doing all these things will reinforce in the public's mind what vile, batshit crazy wastes of oxygen you are. And if you are offended and upset by what I say about what a disgusting lot you are my response will always be "Well, that wasn't a wasted day".
I'm not sure how much encouragement someone needs if they are not discouraged by an infant urinating and defecating all over the place. I suppose it's like the way people coo over the not-housetrained puppy they got for Christmas. Just follow it around with a few paper towels and one of those squirty bottles you get from the pet shop until it learns to go outside. Or, in the case of a child, learns to climb up onto the toilet and use toilet paper afterwards. (Elimination communication believers do use toilet paper, don't they? Doesn't it inhibit communication?) Do little boys have to be taught to leave the lid up or is it innate?
Perfect for cleaning up after toddlers. Or your pet.