Home > History > Front page updates February 2012
Excuses, excuses, ... (11/2/2012)
Yes, I've been away. I had to do a whole lot of accounting work to satisfy the government department which provides my wife with benefit payments for a medical condition. One of their requirements is that we must submit the accounts of my business every year by a certain date or the benefits get cut off. We had missed the deadline, but managed to get back into their good books before the payments stopped.
The same department administers unemployment benefits, and people who want to keep receiving those payments have to provide evidence of job seeking activity every fortnight. My younger daughter gets an allowance for being a full-time student, but she has to regularly provide evidence of attendance at classes. I'm in a twelve-month arrangement in which the government provides a small subsidy to my business to develop and market a new product. I have to submit progress reports every month, and there are also quarterly reporting requirements which result in immediate cancellation of payments if deadlines are missed. To receive an aged pension you have to regularly provide the relevant government department with statements of your assets and income.
There is another benefit scheme in Australia in which parents receive payments (actually it's a taxation benefit) for having their children fully vaccinated. You might think that this benefit would be withheld if you chose not to vaccinate your kids, but you would be wrong. All you have to do is fill in a conscientious objection form and the money keeps flowing. You don't have to give any reason for your objection, just say you have one.
Anyone offering a conscientious objection to fulfilling obligations related to the disability support pension, or Newstart, or the aged pension or the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme would have those objections looked at carefully and then be informed that they were off the program and had received their last payment. All you have to say to keep getting the vaccination benefit is say "Give it to me". I have no problem with real conscientious objection, but to prove it should require evidence of active membership of a religious group with opposition to vaccination as part of its dogma. Anything else is just lying and theft. Is it any surprise that the Australian Vaccination Network offers to provide people to accompany parents when they go to the doctor to get these lying forms filled in?
Did I mention that claiming conscientious objection for no reason other than you are either an anti-vaccination liar yourself or believe the lies they tell is lying and theft? I did? Good. I wouldn't want to be misunderstood.
That child abuse thing (11/2/2012)
Back in January I mentioned a case of child abuse, where a naturopath boasted about exposing her child to chicken pox. Here is how the story was reported in the local paper, the Cambridge Post.
This did not please the anti-vaccinators, and here is what Meryl Dorey erstwhile (and perhaps still current) president of the Australian Vaccination Network had to say in a letter to the paper.
I love the headline: "Anti-vaxers reply on chickenpox". At least the paper is under no illusion about Ms Dorey's position.
Let's just give that letter the yellow marker treatment, shall we:
Stop the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN) reported a WA mother to Child Protection Services (CPS) for doing what our mothers and grandmothers did - exposing her child to a benign disease of childhood so they would get natural immunity - a benefit vaccines cannot provide.
But the response of CPS and the government is the real concern.
Instead of laughing it off the government used this poor woman's situation to try to once again attack the AVN, a public health safety watchdog that has provided medically sourced information to Australian parents for more than 18 years.
It is because of the AVN that families can still access all government payments and send their children to school, pre-school and child-care centres whether they are vaccinated or not.
No, it wasn't "because of the AVN.
And isn't the rest of it a disgrace? People can claim benefits to which they are not entitled and send their pox-ridden spawn to schools and kindergartens to infect other people's kids. This is not something I would be proud of, but as you can see there is no yellow - this vileness is the truth.
According to the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System, since the vaccine was introduced in Australia, the rates of chicken pox have been steadily increasing.
First, The vaccine was introduced in 2003 and chicken pox has only been reportable since 2006. Here are the results:
Notice the huge increase, mostly due to doctors now being familiar with what the disease looks like. I had chicken pox as an adult and it was the first adult case my doctor had ever knowingly seen. Also note the steady increase between 2008 and 2010.
It would be expected that a newly-introduced surveillance system would show an increase in reported cases over time as doctors became familiar with what the disease looked like. By the way, there was one case in 2003 and 5 in 1997 (the two years prior to 2006 with reported cases), but to include those in the graph would cause my old stats teacher to come to my house with a machete.
If child protection can be called in because this mother tried to protect her child through natural immunity, what is next?
Child protection wasn't "called in". A clear case of child abuse was reported to CPS, they flick-passed it to Health who then washed their hands of it. And as for "what is next?" Perhaps parents "protecting" their children from sexually transmitted diseases by exposing them to adults with syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia. Then see what CPS does, and it won't be "Oh, that's OK". And the mother didn't try to "protect her child through natural immunity", she placed the child in a health (and possibly life) threatening position. I suppose if I pointed out again that the mother is a naturopath and therefore devoid of any medical knowledge I would be accused of ad hominem, but facts are facts.
Speaking of chicken pox ... (11/2/2012)
I was looking at a Facebook page for an organisation committed to providing better health to people and the advertisement at the right appeared. Joe Mercola is an opportunistic quackery salesman who has never seen a disease he can't make money out of by offering a cure. Sometimes he even offers a range of mutually exclusive treatments, but that doesn't bother him as long as there is money to be made. He won the Anus Maximus Award in 2006 for his nine cause of autism, some of them known only to him (pasteurised milk?) but all with a tailored cure.
Every time I think that I have seen the lowest point that filth like Mercola can attain I am reminded that perhaps there isn't a bottom. Perhaps it goes down as far as the edge of the universe.
How desperate and clueless can you get? (11/2/2012)
One of the criticisms levelled at cancer quack Stanislaw Burzynski is that he never publishes results of any of his "clinical trials" but instead relies on anecdote and advertising videos with actors playing the parts of cured patients. One of his supporters asked me where Einstein published the Theory of Relativity. After I got over the shock of finding someone comparing Burzynski to Einstein, I replied with the facts - both were published in Annalen der Physik, Special Relativity in 1905 and General Relativity in 1916. I got back a "Hah, hah, you're wrong" and was told that relativity was first published in an article in the New York Times, so why was I criticising Burzynski for not appearing in real scientific journals?
The New York Times? You are probably as surprised by this as I was, but make sure you are sitting down before reading any further.
The article in the NYT was tracked down, and there it is over at the right. You might notice that it was published in 1919, three years after General Relativity, and refers to an observation which confirmed that light could be bent by gravity, one of Einstein's predictions. Nobody could dispute that this was "one of the greatest ... achievements in the history of human thought". What the article wasn't, however, was publication by Einstein of anything at all. You can see the whole article here.
This is just one example of the desperation shown by quackery supporters when asked to provide evidence. Comparing their heroes to real scientists is a common gambit. I asked this particular fool when he was going to mention Marshall, Semmelweis and Galileo and he wanted to know what any of them had to do with anything. (Barry Marshall was offered the following day, but that conversation line disappeared when the big differences between Marshall and Burzynski were pointed out - Marshall was right and the "hatred" showered on him by other doctors included a Nobel Prize.)
Another fool then appeared in the forum saying that he didn't support Burzynski at all but people like me should act like real skeptics and wait until all the evidence was in. He kept shouting at me and refusing to understand plain English, demanding that I show him some evidence that Burzynski is a crook. I referred him to my page here about the charlatan and he thanked me. Then he found out that I wrote it and the idiocy restarted. His classic criticism of me was that I had said that Burzynski removed people from trials if they failed to improve, and this idiot went on to tell me that "excluded for failure" meant "included in the results". Conversation from then on was limited to him demanding that I show where he had used the exact form of words that I was using to illustrate his nonsense. (For example, I said that he had claimed that "excluded=included" and he demanded to see where he had said exactly that.) He stated that I wasn't aware of Burzynski's patents on antineoplastons (not that patents mean anything) and when I pointed out the 19 patents at the US Patent Office he said that those weren't the ones he was talking about so I was ignorant. He finally blocked me on Twitter and ran away, although he continued to talk about me behind my back.
I am prepared to accept that Stanislaw Burzynski can cure cancer using antineoplastons. All he has to do is publish some results from the 59 clinical trials he claims to be conducting (or even the single trial completed in 2006). He's had 30 years to get some results out and the only evidence coming from him over that time is that he is a thief, a charlatan and a liar.
Look what's bobbed up (11/2/2012)
Every now and then people feel the need to mention my name in blogs and other places. A few weeks ago my name appeared in the Australian Vaccination Network blog (I was being lied about, of course) and it elicited the following comment:
Now, here's the thing - all comments on this blog have to be approved by the moderator (I am blocked from commenting) and this was approved almost immediately. A friend told me that he had posted a comment several hours earlier and at least five comments had been approved after he posted but his comment had not appeared. So it seems that defaming me anonymously gets immediate release but legitimate criticism of anything in the blog gets careful attention before being made available to readers.
Mr O'Neill's message was removed after about three days of ridicule and complaints to the blog owner (not complaints by me - I didn't really care and I'm blocked from all forms of communication with the blog owner), but now we know - offensive, lying, defamatory remarks about people who support vaccination will be approved immediately without even considering whether their content might be true. I suppose, though, that this is consistent with lying about vaccines, where truth is never a consideration.
It's time to be Kind and Gentle again (11/2/2012)
I friend of mine contacted an organisation that handles magazine subscriptions and advised them that issues of Living Wisdom, the magazine put out by the Australian Vaccination Network, had been a bit thin on the ground lately. So thin that they have been invisible. There is probably a law against offering a magazine subscription which provides six issues a year and then later saying this just means six issues whenever they happen to come out, but I'm not a lawyer. What I do know is that subscribers have contacted the AVN about the missing issues and have been given platitudes, if they got any response at all. Here is what the subscription management service had to say:
I thought this could do with a Kind and Gentle email to the publisher:
Dear Ms Dorey,
I realise that you have been distracted lately by matters such as your court case against the HCCC. (I hope to be in court to see your next appearance on February 22. Perhaps we could catch up over a coffee.) I know you have also been very busy writing blog posts and approving comments on them, as well as posting to Facebook and Twitter. (Could you see your way to unblocking me on Twitter, please? It's rather unfair that I can see your tweets but you can't see what I say about you.)
It seems that in all this busyness you have forgotten to post out issues of Living Woosdom, sorry Wisdom, and subscribers might be getting a bit impatient. I've even heard that iSubscribe have dropped you from their web site and list of magazines that they sell subscriptions to. You have mentioned financial worries and I'm sure you don't need any of this aggravation. Perhaps you should check the garage to see if there are any magazines there that you have forgotten to take to the post office. I'm sure that subscribers will be happy to receive them even if they are a couple of months, or even years, late.
I hope this finds you well. See you on February 22.
Hear him talk (11/2/2012)
The latest edition of Radio Ratbags is up there for downloading. It contains the talks I gave at BarCamp and SkeptiCamp in 2011. You can listen to it here, or find the all of the episodes here.
Yes, Wednesday, February 22 was the big day. It was to be the last hearing date for the great big court case where the Australian Vaccination Network was taking on the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission.
For a bit of background, in July 2010 the HCCC requested that the AVN run a message on their web site saying the following:
The Australian Vaccination Network should include an appropriate statement in a prominent place on its website which states:
The AVN refused to do this, so the HCCC issued its very first ever Public Warning which included the following words.
The AVNís failure to include a notice on its website of the nature recommended by the Commission may result in members of the public making improperly informed decisions about whether or not to vaccinate, and therefore poses a risk to public health and safety. (You can see the full warning here.)
In October 2010, the NSW Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing withdrew the AVN's status as a charity, giving the following reasons:
Having considered the report, the matters raised in the Department's letter dated 29 July 2010, and the Organisation's written response to those issues, the Minister is satisfied that the authority should be revoked under the following grounds as set out in section 31 (1) of the Act and for the following reasons:
(a) that any fundraising appeal conducted by the holder of the authority has not been conducted in good faith for charitable purposes
The Organisation has failed to publish a disclaimer on its website as recommended by the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC). This has resulted in an unacceptable risk of potential donors to the Organisation being misled when making a decision whether or not to make a donation, which has led to appeals not being conducted in good faith.
(c) that any fundraising appeal conducted by virtue of the authority has been improperly administered
The Organisation's website is misleading in that it may lead people making donations to believe that they are donating to a cause which promotes vaccination whereas the Organisation adopts an anfi:-- vaccination position. When requested by the HCCC to publish a disclaimer on its website the Organisation failed to do so.
(f) in the public interest, the authority should be revoked
The failure of the Organisation to comply with the HCCC recommendation resulted in the Commission publishing a Public Warning on 26 July 2010 advising that this failure "poses a risk to public health and safety". In this circumstance it is in the public interest to not permit the Organisation to conduct fund raising appeals under the Act.
This had the effect of severely restricting the ability of the AVN to raise money, as the order also prevented them from enrolling new members or soliciting donations from anyone except existing members.
In what could almost be considered a deliberate misreading of the OLG&R revocation, Meryl Dorey from the AVN issued a media release in which she said:
As you can see, the OLGR based their entire decision on the HCCC's demand for us to declare ourselves as being anti-vaccine and putting their disclaimer on our website - two things which we refused to do (they say we failed to do it - there was no failure involved - this was a deliberate move on our part to defend our freedom of communication) (You can see the full release here.)
How anybody can interpret the statement by the OLG&R to say that the "entire decision" was based on the HCCC's original request (not the warning) when there were clearly two other reasons is a mystery, but much of the anti-vaccination movements interpretation of reality is a mystery.
Based on this false assumption, the AVN took the HCCC to court in the mistaken belief that if they could get the HCCC action overturned they could go back to asking people for money and it would be business as usual.
Now read on.
The court case dragged on for some time with everyone being inconvenienced by short hearings and adjournments, but matters finally came to a head in front of Justice Christine Adamson on February 22. Justice Adamson had only been appointed to the Supreme Court bench in September 2011 so she had not been present for any of the previous action, but she had read all the transcripts as well as written submissions from the legal teams for both sides. The day was spent with the lawyers clarifying things they had said in their submissions and arguing (again) about which sections of the legislation covering the HCCC were relevant and what certain common words meant when lawyers and legislators used them. Some amusement was felt when the barrister for the AVN seemed to be trying to get Ms Dorey's sworn testimony removed from the body of evidence and when the judge used the word "coy" to describe an evasive reply by Ms Dorey during cross examination. Slightly less amusing was when it became obvious that the lawyers for the HCCC seemed to have failed to include some evidence which would have been very beneficial to their case. After all the talk, the judge said that we could all come back on Friday, February 24, for a decision. (As an aside, I was encouraged by Justice Adamson's obvious commitment to use of the yellow highlighter.)
The decision did not go as we would have liked it, because Justice Adamson ruled that the HCCC had exceeded its authority. Her decision was based on her interpretation of who is allowed by the legislation to make a complaint. Note - she did not rule on the content of the complaints themselves or that the HCCC did not have power over the AVN as a health care provider (the AVN's lawyers had accepted that status for their client). She ruled that the wording of the relevant Act of Parliament restricted the ability of complaining to people who had been directly influenced by the AVN's words and actions. In this case the two complaints had been submitted by third parties. Once these complaints were ruled out, the HCCC had no reason to act. The HCCC has since removed the warning from their web site (it is retained here for historical reference, but has been moved so it cannot be indexed by search engines).
Here are the major points:
So despite much crowing by Ms Dorey about the great win in the courts, it really is business as usual. The order preventing the AVN from fundraising stands and the HCCC has the undoubted ability to examine and act on the AVN's activities. In future, complaints will be made in a legally acceptable form now that the rules are quite clear. If anything, the decision can be interpreted as implying that the AVN has no influence at all, because evidence of any such influence could have changed the outcome.
There is one interesting matter outstanding, however. The solicitor acting for the AVN apparently publicly declared that she was working pro bono, which means that she cannot submit a bill even though costs have been awarded against the HCCC. Ms Dorey was running (before the OLG&R ban, presumably) an appeal for money to pay legal fees, but with the solicitor getting nothing and the barrister's costs being covered by the HCCC, one wonders what happened to any money collected. Maybe the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing might like to have a look at that.
I'm waiting patiently (25/2/2012)
In 2006 the Chiropractors' Association of Australia came up with a Strategic Plan.
They even had some major objectives.
Unfortunately they probably have managed to influence health policy in the last few years, because chiropractors can now legally use the title "Dr" in front of their names to confuse the public about reality. We are still waiting for that "credible scientific research" though. Actually, if chiropractic was shown to be useful to treat any medical condition and this was demonstrated using properly-conducted clinical trials the appropriate term might be "incredible research". Much like hearing about successful transmutation of lead into gold, or achieving true "free energy", or maybe finding a single cure for all forms of cancer.
A coming night out? (25/2/2012)
A friend of mine attended this meeting. It was just as bad as it sounds, and probably worse. He will be out of therapy soon and a complete recovery is expected.
You will notice that the venue was a secret and was only revealed by text message shortly before the event. The event organisers have stated that this is so the meetings can't be interrupted by dreadful skeptics. In one truly bizarre comment about this series of seminars, Meryl Dorey of the Australian Vaccination Network likened the event organisers to the WWII French Resistance and compared their critics and potential disrupters to Nazis and Italian Fascists. Paranoia runs deep in conspiracy land.
There will be one of these secret meetings near my place on March 1. (I can't get a copy of the advertisement because it was published in a small-circulation local newsletter and by the time I heard about it all the copies had disappeared from the usual outlets - probably those Nazis trying to stop people from attending.)
I offer the following image without further comment, although I might have something to say next week.
He talks and writes (25/2/2012)
The latest episode of Radio Ratbags is a bonus edition featuring an interview I did in September 2010 with Tony Pitman of radio station Joy 94.9. It's about former president of the Australian Medical Association Dr Kerryn Phelps who has carved out a new career as a champion of almost all forms of quackery and nonsense. You can listen to it here, or find the whole series here.
When you are not listening you could be reading. My latest Naked Skeptic column in Australasian Science magazine is gracing newsstands and letterboxes right now. It's about the way that television news and current affairs shows provide uncritical promotion of nonsense and pseudoscience without even spending five minutes to check facts. I've actually been offered stories in programs like these as evidence of serious research into matters like cancer cures. You can read the article here.