History > Front page updates November 2015
Last weekend the news from every direction was the unfolding atrocity in Paris, with each bulletin announcing more deaths. This particular event got a lot more publicity than mass murders in Lebanon and Kenya shortly beforehand, a fact which contributed to the clutch of conspiracy theories that inevitably appeared. Here are some of the random thoughts of insane people:
Since then there has been an attack on a Radisson hotel in Mali. Geographically challenged pundits are declaring this to be another attack on France. Mali has not been a French colony since 1960 and the hotel is part of a US-owned chain, but again - details, details ...
Jab, No Pay
The Australian federal parliament is moving legislation through to remove monetary benefits from parents of unvaccinated children when those benefits are contingent on vaccination. There has been the predictable whining from those who believe that saying you have a conscientious objection to something should not stop you receiving money for doing what you don't do. (A recent news report says that since conscientious objection to vaccination was limited to religious objection (and no established religion is opposed to vaccination) the number of objecters has dropped by 8,000.) A Senate enquiry solicited over 2,000 submissions, and to everyone's great amusement, 703 of the submissions were copies of this crazy Freeman Of The Land delusion:
My Will Concerning the No Jab No Pay forced vaccination legislation
YOUR DUTY: As my elected representative, you have been entrusted to execute My Will in accordance with your duty of office and the Australian Constitution. The purpose of Government is to create and administer laws and services, on behalf of and in accordance with the WILL of the people it represents. I can not conscientiously vote for anyone that is not willing to represent the people's will on any issue
It is MY WILL that any current legislation related to the No Jab No Pay campaign be repealed and that any future legislation related to coerced vaccination through remuneration or discrimination be abandoned. This type of legislation is contrary to both Australian and International Law. Our Constitution expressly prohibits civil conscription in order to receive welfare or childcare benefits - section 51, 23A. This legislation is also contrary to international human rights laws to which Australia is a signatory. Article 6, sect 1 of the Universal Declaration of Bioethics and Human Rights states that any preventative, diagnostic and/or therapeutic medical intervention is only to be carried out with the prior, free and informed consent of the person concerned, based on adequate information. This consent can not be coerced out of an individual by way of financial blackmail. Informed consent is also written into the Australian government's vaccine handbook and clearly states "For consent to be legally valid, the following elements must be present: It must be given voluntarily, in the absence of undue pressure, coercion or manipulation." Some parents will need to leave their jobs if they can no longer afford childcare or be forced to vaccinate their children (against their will) in order to keep their jobs. This is not informed consent and this is illegal. To impose this legislation, not only breeches human decency, but also Australian Informed Consent Laws and The Australian Constitution which guarantees Australians political, medical and religious freedom.
It is MY WILL that you, as my Representative, take any and all steps
and measures to ensure that this
legislation is repealed and prevented in future
It seems that anti-vaccination liars know as much about constitutional law as they do about science and medicine.
Massive protest rallies have been organised. One in Sydney outside the offices of News Ltd attracted a huge crowd of about a dozen (including children) to rant against Rupert Murdoch's family and his media empire's support for vaccination. It is not known if Mr Murdoch was in the building, but some of the journalists made a point of coming out and pointing fingers of scorn. A protest in Canberra the next day might have had more impact if it was held outside Parliament House, but maybe the lawn there couldn't accommodate the enormous crowd.
It makes it so much easier to ridicule the vaccine opponents when they do it themselves.
In other areas of anti-vaccine activism I give you this. There is a policy at some Facebook pages of redacting the names of people committing stupidity. That policy does not apply here.
On November 4 I braved terrible weather and a long drive to give a brief talk to a lot of very smart school children at the presentation ceremony for the 2015 Young Scientist Awards.
I would like to start by congratulating all finalists for the awards on behalf of Australian Skeptics Inc. You might wonder what the connection is between skepticism and science, but they both have the same objective - it's to ask questions and find the answers. Science is skepticism put into practice.
One of my greatest disappointments during 2015 was that I was unable to attend the memorial service for Professor Harry Messel, head of the Physics Department at the University of Sydney for many years. I actually had one of the rare tickets for a seat inside the Great Hall which doubled the disappointment that I couldn't get to the function. Professor Messel was my ultimate boss when I had my first job as computer programmer, working in the Physics Department, and while I have occasionally been accused of being around since the Stone Age I can assure you that the computers we had there were the very latest ones and were made of bronze. (As a nice coincidence, the video you saw earlier of the finalists in the Paper Plane Competition was made on the field immediately outside the Sydney University Physics Building.)
My column in the latest edition of Australasian Science is about psychological research and why it can be perceived by people who don't understand it as less scientific than other forms of scientific investigation. I have to declare my bias, of course, as psychology was a large part of my university studies, but I never did find out why I have a compulsion to take my clothes off just to write a column headed "Naked Skeptic".
In the June edition of Australasian Science I wrote about the reproducibility of scientific studies. I was mainly concerned that there were studies in pseudoscience where replication did not indicate presence of any effects at all, and generally this is because the original studies or experiments were conducted without proper controls or procedures. The fact that much of this "research" doesn't stand up to closer investigation is generally ignored by pseudoscientists, although they are very quick to point out that much of what is published in real scientific journals also fails the replication test.
There was much glee in woowoo world earlier this year when it was suggested that 50% of the content of medical journals may either be incorrect or out of date. This is no surprise to people who understand how the science of medicine advances. As an example, it is perfectly reasonable to assume that papers about effective treatments for bacterial diseases were largely reduced to the status of historical relics after the discovery of antibiotics. Similarly, imaging techniques like PET and MRI made much of what was known about treatment of physical conditions obsolete, and the changes that might result from increasing knowledge about the human genome and neuroscience will send a lot of what we now know into the dustbin.
The legal grist mill
The courts have been busy and I will have something to say next week. The two big stories are: