The warning is back (3/5/2014)
In July 2010 the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) issued its first ever Public Warning, telling people to stay away from the Australian Vaccination Network. The AVN fought the order, and a restriction on their charity status, in the NSW Supreme Court, and to the obvious displeasure of the judge the order was overthrown. (The relevant legislation had been written in 1993 and required the HCCC to only act on complaints made by affected individuals. In this case the complaint had been made by a third party. The judge was not pleased about this and made it quite clear that she was not happy with the law but had to rule according to what it was. The law has since been changed to reflect changes in society and communication since 1993 (when the World Wide Web has just been invented). The AVN claimed an enormous victory in the court, and puts the change in legislation down to ownership of the NSW Government by Big Pharma.)
Warning about the Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network, Inc. ('AVN'), formerly known as Australian Vaccination Network Inc.
30 Apr 2014
The NSW Health Care Complaints Commission has completed an investigation into the Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network, Inc. ("AVN"), formerly known as Australian Vaccination Network Inc and under section 94A(1) of the Health Care Complaints Act has decided to make the following public statement and warning. The Commission investigated whether information published and disseminated by AVN may be misleading or inaccurate.
AVN was established in 1994 in New South Wales by a group of people concerned about the lack of scientifically-based information cautioning against vaccination. AVN states on its website that the government and the medical community, in general, "exaggerate the safety and benefit profiles of vaccinations whilst downplaying their risks." AVN states it was formed with the purpose of:
providing medically-referenced information on vaccine safety and effectiveness lobbying to ensure that vaccinations are never made compulsory for Australian children supporting those who have chosen not to vaccinate or to vaccinate selectively.
AVN disseminates information to the public via a variety of mediums. These include its website, www.avn.org.au, the magazine entitled "Living Wisdom" (which ceased publication in January 2013), its Facebook page, Twitter account and YouTube. Meryl Dorey, the former President, has also held a number of radio interviews.
The Commission investigation focussed on information provided on AVN's website and some information disseminated on AVN's Facebook page.
Public warning The Commission has established that AVN does not provide reliable information in relation to certain vaccines and vaccination more generally. The Commission considers that AVN's dissemination of misleading, misrepresented and incorrect information about vaccination engenders fear and alarm and is likely to detrimentally affect the clinical management or care of its readers.
Given the issues identified with the information disseminated by AVN, the Commission urges general caution is exercised when using AVN's website or Facebook page to research vaccination and to consult other reliable sources, including speaking to a medical practitioner, to make an informed decision.
The Commission has recommended that AVN amend its published information with regard to the above issues and the Commission will monitor the implementation of these recommendations.
And did the AVN have something to say? Of course it did. And was the response truthful? Don't ask silly questions. You can read it in all its glory here, and here is my analysis using the traditional yellow highlighter to mark "inaccuracies". My comments are in italics.
HCCC Once Again Shown to be Incompetent and Arrogant
May 1, 2014
In a move that displays the worst of medical politics, the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) has once again issued a public warning against the Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network, Inc. (AVN). This office and the way in which they have carried out their "investigation" are an absolute disgrace. They have made themselves into a laughing stock. Far worse, they have clearly demonstrated that nobody can have faith in any statements made by this government body when they continue to rely upon verifiably incorrect and biased information.
The HCCC is far from a laughing stock, the investigation was undertaken very carefully (they didn't want to end up in court again), and the information they relied on came largely from the AVN's own web sites, statements, and publications.
Several years ago, the HCCC conducted a year-long "investigation" into our citizen-run healthcare consumer watchdog group. They did this at the behest of the Australian Skeptics and their splinter group, Stop the AVN – organisations with close ties to pharmaceutical and mainstream medical interests.
I have no idea why "citizen-run" should be an issue. The people who manufacture and distribute methamphetamine are citizens and presumably run their organisations. The claim that they are a "healthcare consumer watchdog group" is precisely the thing that the HCCC has found them not to be, so saying it again doesn't change the facts.
I don't know how many times Ms Dorey needs to be told, but there is no relationship between Australian Skeptics Inc and the Stop the AVN Facebook page other than some commonality of membership. Australian Skeptics had nothing to do with setting up Stop the AVN, and the fact that Stop the AVN was given the Skeptic Of The Year award in 2010 is evidence, as the rules explicitly preclude the award going to any related organisation or individual.
As for the ties to Big Pharma, Ms Dorey might like to make sure that she has some evidence of this, because while the committee of Australian Skeptics might include a nurse and a medical researcher it also contains two lawyers.
Despite strong evidence that they lacked the jurisdiction to either investigate or cite our organisation, the HCCC did both. The AVN took the matter to the Supreme Court where justice was served by the AVN's win. The HCCC was found to have acted illegally and both their investigation and public warning were thrown out. Costs were awarded to the AVN.
The HCCC certainly did have jurisdiction, and the judge made this quite clear in her ruling. The AVN's "win" was due to a technicality (since corrected by legislation). Nobody acted illegally, and the public warning was withdrawn voluntarily. Which is why they were very careful with the new warning.
Within weeks of their loss, the HCCC sought and were given unprecedented new powers specifically to 'get' the AVN. These powers enabled them to file their own complaint against the AVN, investigate and then, pass judgement without any oversight.
The law was changed to reflect the fact that as it stood it was out of date with current conditions. It was not changed to target the AVN specifically, but to give the HCCC the power that everyone thought it already had to investigate complaints about health care providers. Laws are changed all the time as society's expectations and knowledge change – you could once use asbestos to insulate pipes, now you can't; cigarettes once came in colourful packaging and could be advertised anywhere, now they can't; when I took my driving test I had to use hand signals to indicate stopping or turning, now it is illegal to have any part of your body outside a moving vehicle.
Our group has done everything within its power to work cooperatively with Alana McKaysmith (the investigator), Tony Kofkin (Director of Investigations), and Kieran Pehm (the Commissioner). For all this time, the department not only ignored most of our submissions – they also refused to answer questions or provide documentary evidence for their claims, many of which were either demonstrably or intentionally incorrect.
I have seen the submissions (they were published on the AVN's blog) and it is little wonder that the HCCC didn't take much notice. You do not present a convincing argument when you issue ultimatums and deadlines to public servants, especially if your submissions are simply long-winded repetitions of "we are right, you are wrong, nya, nya, ..."
We encourage you read the HCCC's original correspondence as well as our submissions at this link . We invite you to consider the serious implications of government departments and public officials who behave as though they are above the law and allow themselves to become tools for corporate financial interests instead of supporting the tax-paying public as is their stated mission.
It is a dangerous thing to claim that public officials are corrupt. If there is evidence of this then it is relatively easy to make submissions to the Independent Commission Against Corruption. Of course, if the claims are found to be baseless the public officials might have recourse to the courts to seek damages for defamation.
The AVN calls on the Government of NSW to explain why an investigation, using taxpayer funds, was carried out in such an incompetent and unfair manner. We would like to ask how a body like the HCCC, which is supposed to protect the health of the citizens of this State, can openly abuse their privileged position in order to conduct a vendetta against a legally constituted citizen-run support group.
More accusations of bias and corruption, so even more reason to go to ICAC. Also, being "legally constituted" is no protection against government action for acting badly. The Office of Fair Trading, who did a lot of the pushing to get the AVN to change its deceptive name, spends much of its time and resources investigating legally constituted organisations, as does the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, and there is nothing to stop the HCCC taking action against incorporated medical practices (something which I'm sure Ms Dorey would applaud).
Dangerous precedent (17/5/2014)
Lots of material gets published in scientific journals which is later shown to be incorrect or incomplete. Peer review isn't perfect and by definition new findings are things that haven't been observed before. This is the nature of science – it is a work in progress and every scientist has the right to challenge what has been said before. What is relatively rare is for a published paper to be totally retracted and this is usually only done when fraud has been identified. A case can be made for withdrawing results found by incompetence, but this is usually handled by publishing papers which refute the original findings and point out its flaws – we can learn from the mistakes of others.
The online journal Frontiers of Psychology has retracted a paper about conspiracy ideation among climate change deniers – that they seem to be prone to believing other conspiracy theories. This hurt the feelings of deniers, so legal action was threatened against the journal. I find this retraction disturbing, because the complaints were not about any science but were about things that people didn't want said about them.
Darwin visits the Blue Mountains (17/5/2014)
While doing some location scouting for a possible documentary about the time Charles Darwin spent in Australia I visited the remains of the town of Newnes in the Blue Mountains north of Lithgow. (An aside – across the ridge north of Newnes is Capertee Valley. This is the second-largest erosion valley in the world after the Grand Canyon.) On a wall inside the Newnes Hotel is a quotation from Darwin's diary, and it inspired me to write something about what he was thinking at the time.
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An offer I can refuse (17/5/2014)
The message below turned up in my Usenet feed for the group misc.health.alternative a few days ago. I have had a bit to say about the Bitcoin farce and pyramid schemes so I don't think I'll be rushing to take up the offer. When a few days later the same person suggested a pyramid scheme to sell a cure for diabetes I had to seriously consider my policy about who I block and why.
I get mail (31/5/2014)
I received a very nice letter from Troy Grant MP, my state's Minister for Hospitality, Gaming and Racing. It says:
Thank you for your letter and material of 31 March 2014 to the former Minister George Souris MP concerning fund raising activities conducted by the Australian Vaccination-Skeptics Network. I am pleased to be able to respond in my capacity as the newly appointed Minister.
I have requested the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing conduct an investigation into the matters raised in your complaint and am advised that this is currently underway.
The Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing will write to you directly at the conclusion of the investigation and provide you with any findings on the matter. Thank you for your interest in this matter.
Should you require further information, Mr XXXXX, Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing, can be contacted on 99 9999 9999 or at email@example.com.
Troy Grant MP
I published the letter on Facebook (with the contact details of the public servant blacked out, of course – he doesn't need harassment for just doing his job). I was asked why I didn't redact my address. I posted this in reply:
People have questioned the wisdom of revealing my address.
My address has been public for some time. It was published as part of the AVO documentation, and in any case I'm in the electoral roll and it's no secret I live in the Blue Mountains so anyone with the research skills of a typical PhD anti-vaxxer should have no trouble finding me. Also, my company is not a secret (Google will turn up my name on the work web site) and a search at ASIC will give the suburb.
Plus, I don't care if they know. I have a shredder for disposal of hate mail after I scan it and put it up on my site, and if people want to start turning up at my house they will soon see what AVOs were created for.
I've had the President of Scientology in the region turn up at my place for a chat about comments I'd made about CCHR, so I'm not going to be frightened by any of Meryl's flying monkeys. I've been threatened by experts.
Picture for the benefit of flying monkeys.
Testimonials – for me! (31/5/2014)
A prolific Usenet kook was asked to look at something I had written and replied:
The mere fact that something appears on the bowditch website, shows that it is based on faulty science combined with fiction.
I thought about having this printed on a t-shirt, but before I could do anything the following comment was made by the same loon:
The logic behind most of bowditch's ratbags website is blatantly pro-mainstream / pharmaceutical medicine. Whatever mainstream ridicules, that is what ratbags ridicules.
I have asked her to point out the Big Pharma bias in the following things, but I don't expect an early (or coherent) reply.
You can see the correspondent's web site here. Enjoy yourself.
Shaken baby Vileness (31/5/2014)
Meryl Dorey, ex-President of the Australian Vacination-skeptics Network, spoke at a wooness expo last weekend. A "debate" with her was scheduled but had to be cancelled. She claimed nobody would "debate" her, and when I offered she went Full Mental Jacket on Facebook and her blog, calling me all sorts of names. In the end it became logistically impossible for me to attend as I had commitments on both the days before and after, and getting from my place to the venue and back on the one day would have taken almost 23 hours (I live three hours from Sydney airport, for a start). This meant that she was free to produce her normal stream of lies. I'll have more to say about this next week, but for now I'll just mention that she again brought up the disgusting lies about vaccines causing Shaken Baby Syndrome and containing parts of aborted foetuses. (In answer to a question, she suggested that the products of abortion are sold to vaccine manufacturers to use as an ingredient. Apart from the obvious insanity of this idea, she knows it's not true).