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A kinder and gentler 2010

At the start of 2004 I instituted a "kinder and gentler" policy for dealing with people with whom I might not normally be friendly. During 2004 the policy was reactive – I was kind and gentle when replying to critics. I extending the policy for 2005 to become proactive, and regularly reached out to people with whom I might not be in agreement.

I decided to reintroduce my Proactive Kind and Gentle Policy again in 2009. Under the policy, I write to people to ask them questions to clarify their positions or to point out problems with their arguments. By doing this I hope to establish a dialogue and to demonstrate my commitment to tolerance of their views. Here are the 2010 efforts at diplomacy and friendship.

Kind and Gentle email collection
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Anti-vax hypocrisy (9/1/2010)
Irony meters were shattered across the Internet when Barbara Loe Fisher from the National Vaccine Information Center published a screed on the NVIC site and elsewhere headed "2010 Needs a Fearless Conversation About Vaccination". I will remind you that it has been less than three weeks since Fisher sued Dr Paul Offit, journalist Amy Wallace and publisher Condé Nast because she was afraid of their conversation. Even I was amazed at the blatant hypocrisy of someone asking for a free exchange of ideas while suing someone for expressing ideas. I wasn't too amazed, of course, because long experience has taught me that pragmatism always overcomes society's principles with anti-vaccination liars. I was also less than amazed that Fisher would hijack the tragedy of September 11, 2001, to her deranged cause, or that she would invoke the name of Franklin D Roosevelt while ignoring the fact that vaccines prevent the disease which crippled him.

As my comments about the article posted on the NVIC site, Age of Autism and Fisher's own blog didn't manage to get through the approval process and as I just happen to have an email address for Fisher, I thought a Kind and Gentle email was in order.

Dear Ms Fisher,

I am writing to you about your article "2010 Needs a Fearless Conversation About Vaccination" which has appeared in several places. I am emailing you directly because there seems to be technical problems at the NVIC site, Age of Autism and your blog which have prevented my comments from being published. I assume that the problems are technical as I understand your want "fearless conversation" and are therefore opposed to censoring contrary views.

This brings me to my question. There is much publicity about your lawsuit against Dr Paul Offit, Amy Wallace and Condé Nast. How does your suing a doctor, a journalist and a news publisher fit in with your need for a "fearless conversation"? It seems to suggest that you must be fearful of something. I would hate to think that you are just a hypocrite who wants different rules to apply to different people.

As is my normal policy, this email and any reply will be published on my web site at

Thank you.

While I'm in a Kind and Gentle mood, I thought I would get in touch with the lawyer handling the case against Dr Offit et al. His name is Jonathon Emord, and on his web site he lists a lot of papers he has published about freedom of speech and unequivocally states "Emord has maintained an abiding conviction to achieve full First Amendment protection for the freedoms of speech and press". That seems rather clear to me, but it doesn't seem to fit in with initiating court cases which attempt to stifle "freedoms of speech and the press".

Dear Mr Emord,

I see on your web site that you have "maintained an abiding conviction to achieve full First Amendment protection for the freedoms of speech and press". This seems strangely inconsistent with the fact that you appear to be the lawyer acting for Ms Barbara Loe Fisher in her attempt to silence the press and her critics. I realise that there are subtle nuances in the law that might not be apparent to a layman, but there does seem to be a contradiction between your expressed enthusiasm for free speech and your active involvement in Ms Fisher's case against Dr Offit et al. I know that lawyers often have to take on matters which are distasteful (particularly in criminal cases), but surely you should have been able to find a lawyer with less commitment to the ideals of free speech than yourself to handle Ms Fisher's assault on the principle.

As is my normal policy, this email and any reply will be published on my web site at

Thank you.

Here comes de judge! There go the anti-vaccination liars (13/3/2010)
In January I reported that Barbara Loe Fisher of the National Vaccine (dis)Information Center had sued Dr Paul Offit, journalist Amy Wallace and publisher Condé Nast because an article in Wired magazine had hurt her feelings by suggesting that when she tells lies she is not telling the truth. To make her point more forcibly she followed up three weeks later by calling for a free discussion of vaccination issues in an apparent attempt to redefine the meaning of the word "free" in the context of free speech. These actions led directly to NVIC and her sharing the Anus Maximus Award in the 2009 Millenium Awards. She was ably assisted in her attempt to stifle Dr Offit's and Ms Wallace's freedom of speech by absolute free speech advocate Jonathon Emord, who also picked up a Millenium Award for his efforts.

Well, here it is only half-way through March and the legal system has moved with unusual alacrity and tossed Ms Fisher's suit into the garbage where it belongs. You can read the full opinion of the Judge here, and note that the case was dismissed because Fisher and her powerful lawyer were not able to even establish that any cause for the suit existed. In lawyer speak they "Failed to make a claim". As I had suggested to Ms Fisher that she might like to produce some proof that she wasn't lying, such as some science, I particularly liked the final paragraph in the opinion:

Plaintiff may wish to defend in court the credibility of her conclusions about the dangers of vaccines, the validity of the evidence she offers in support of those theories, and the policy choices that flow from those views – as well as her own credibility for having advanced those positions. These, however, are academic questions that are not the sort of thing that courts or juries resolve in the context of a defamation action. Rather, an actual statement of fact that is capable of being proven true or false is required as a matter of law. In this context, Plaintiff has not alleged such a statement and has therefore failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. An appropriate Order shall issue.

She couldn't produce a "statement of fact that is capable of being proven true or false". Perhaps she needs to get a new lawyer.

In the sprit of generosity that I like to show even to people with whom I disagree, I sent the following Kind and Gentle email to Ms Fisher and Mr Emord.

Dear Ms Fisher and Mr Emord,

I was teaching a class today and the matter of people suing other people to shut them up arose. I immediately thought of the frivolous action that Ms Fisher had brought against Dr Paul Offit, Amy Wallace and Condé Nast. You can imagine my surprise when I got home and checked my email to find that Judge Hilton had thrown the suit into the rubbish bin where it belonged. People often say that the legal system moves at glacial speed, but in this case the court obviously felt that having a case as transparently silly as this one on the active list was an embarrassment to the law.

I assume that the judge's opinion will be given prominence on the web sites of both the NVIC and Mr Emord's law firm, as it will be on my site. Perhaps the opinion could be featured next to the awards that both of you won in the 2009 Millenium Awards.

As is my normal policy, this email and any reply will be published on my web site at

Thank you.

How many times do I have to say it? (27/3/2010)
Remember how your mother used to say that when you committed a sin of omission or commission? The difference between then and now is that you were a child then and you are not now. Now when you are told something you usually remember it, and when you are corrected about some fact that you have got wrong you absorb the truth and don't repeat the error. Unless you are a pathological liar, of course, or you think that by repeating an untruth you can make it true.

Here is a message posted to the Australian Vaccination Network's Facebook page last week. (I can read the page because Facebook don't allow selective banning from pages, but I can't post there even if I join as a fan and in any case my fandom is always cancelled within minutes of my clicking on the "Become a Fan" button.) One of the vagaries of Facebook is that all administrators of a page are anonymised by the software, so the convention is to put an identifying signature on posts. "B52" is Meryl Dorey, who used to be the President of AVN and might still even be, although they have gone very quiet about the reconstruction that was supposed to be imminent.

As I am banned from correcting the falsehoods in this message in the place where they were published I will have to do it here. So that Ms Dorey can never again claim that she doesn't know that what she said is not true, I have informed her by email:

Dear Ms Dorey,

In a message posted to the AVN's Facebook page on Saturday, March 20, 2010, you made certain statements which do not accord with the known state of the world.

  1. You say that "there is room for both sides of this debate as long as there is respect". I have always shown you respect, as evidenced by the fact that I address you as "Ms Dorey" and not as something like "total slime", words you once used to refer to me. If you really believe what you say and are not just mouthing empty rhetoric you should immediately allow me to follow you on Twitter, comment on your blog, become (and remain) a fan of the AVN's Facebook page (with commenting rights) and, of course, join the AVN's mailing list at Yahoo!.
  2. You say of the discredited Dr Wakefield: "Nor have any of his published articles been shown to be anything less than perfect in their science". I know that you know this not to be true, because I know that you are very well aware of the retraction of his 1998 article by The Lancet, the findings by the GMC of his unethical conduct in the collection of samples for research, and also of the evidence produced during the Autism Omnibus action showing how the data he used for his research was manipulated to suit his intended outcome. You might say that all of these are just attacks by Big Pharma on an honest man, but you would be wrong. The expression "less than perfect in their science" does not even approach a description of Dr Wakefield's fraudulent publications.
  3. You say "Autism has been shown in the American vaccine courts to be linked with vaccination". As you could not possibly be unaware of the resolution of the Autism Omnibus case I am amazed that you can make this statement. No court has ever found any connection between autism and vaccination. Some courts might have awarded compensation, but that is not evidence of a link, only evidence that some judges can be influenced by emotion rather than science. Given almost five thousand autistic children to choose from and asked to find the three strongest cases demonstrating a link, proponents of the link could not find even one which passed scientific scrutiny.
  4. Finally, you tell Janelle "My choice does not affect you or your children". The choices you make and the choices made by people who follow your advice certainly do affect the children of others. You might remember David and Toni McCaffrey, whose daughter died from whooping cough as a result of coming into contact with the pox-ridden, unvaccinated children of parents who chose to do what you say everybody should choose to do. They were affected by someone else's choice. The children who died of measles in the UK in the last few years were certainly affected (as were their parents) by the choice that Andrew Wakefield made to put his own financial interests (fees from lawyers and potential royalties from a vaccine) ahead of science and truth. I know it's easy to say "But THOSE aren't MY children", but as the Vatican said in the ruling about vaccination that you occasionally misrepresent, vaccination is "morally justified as an extrema ratio due to the necessity to provide for the good of one's children and of the people who come in contact with the children".

Respectfully yours,
Peter Bowditch

And it doesn't end there ... (27/3/2010)
I apologise for so much AVN stuff this week, but this was too good to pass up. It seems that Meryl Dorey of the AVN is getting ready for a new career once she finds someone to take her place as the President of the Australian Vaccination Network. (I have applied for the position of AVN President and have even found a sponsor prepared to completely fund the organisation if I get the job, but I haven't heard back from the selection committee yet).

It could be that Ms Dorey is planning to cross over from the Forces of Darkness to the side occupied by sensible people. On October 30, 2009, when AVN was going broke and she was too busy for words, she managed to find the time and budget to register the following domain names:

As she always uses the spelling "septics" when disagreeing with people she assumes have something to do with Australian Skeptics Inc (and how I love that joke, which retains its humorous quality even unto the millionth repetition) and as Australian Skeptics always use the spelling "skeptics" (to retain a connection with the original Greek root of the word), the only inference that can be drawn is that she is planning to start a competing (or perhaps complementary) organisation to promote skepticism and critical thinking in Australia. After all, as she said to Mike Munro on television when asked for her scientific qualifications "I have a brain" and perhaps she has decided to put that brain to good use.

This situation demands a Kind and Gentle email to Ms Dorey.

Dear Ms Dorey,

You have no idea how pleased I was to find that you had registered various Internet domain names which include the word "australiansceptics". I knew that you were looking for something to do after you stepped down as President of AVN, but I never suspected that you would be planning to join me and my friends over here in skeptic land. As you usually use the spelling "septics" (a joke which is still funny after a million repetitions) and Australian Skeptics Inc use "skeptics", it seems obvious that you are planning your own skeptical organisation.

This can only be good news as the country needs as many supporters of skepticism and scientific and critical thinking as it can get to fight the forces of evil and nonsense. Sometimes it's difficult to convince sensible people that, for example, there are those who oppose vaccination, and it would be immensely useful to have someone with inside knowledge of organised insanity to help get the message of truth out.

As you are well aware, I do not speak for Australian Skeptics unless I specifically say so and in this case I am expressing my personal view. Australian Skeptics Inc might have an opinion on the matter but I will leave it up to them to comment.

I am sure that we can put aside the differences we have had in the past and I look forward to working with you to educate the population to recognise and accept medicine, science, rational thought and truth rather than quackery, magic, superstition and lies.

Your friend

AVN and OLG&R (28/8/2010)
Do you remember how the NSW Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing had asked the Australian Vaccination Network to show cause why OLG&R should not take action over the AVN operating without a valid charity registration and collecting funds which were not passed on to where they were supposed to go? AVN were given 28 days to respond, but they have apparently been too busy lying about the benefits of influenza, measles and chickenpox to get the paperwork done.

I always try to be helpful, so I sent this kind and gentle reminder email to Meryl Dorey at AVN:

Dear Ms Dorey,

This is just a reminder in case you have been busy and forgot, but your response to the NSW Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing was due last week. You know, where you had to explain why AVN kept asking for charitable donations for two years after your registration had expired and why you said that you were collecting for Bounty Bags when the people who distribute the bags had never heard of AVN and wouldn't want your propaganda in them anyway.

Just as an aside, the charities collecting for flood victims in Pakistan have put a very high priority on vaccination. Are you going to issue a media release criticising this approach and suggesting that donations only be made to organisations which promise not to vaccinate children. You did this for both the Aceh tsunami and the Haiti earthquake, so I look forward to you being consistent in your attempts to deny life-saving assistance to the victims of natural disasters.

Your friend,


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