Australian skeptics strike back against antivaxxers!

By Phil Plait | August 5, 2009 7:07 am

In news that makes me want to shout from the rooftops, the Australian Skeptics have announced that a formal complaint has been lodged against Meryl Dorey and the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN), a rabid antivax group that has been giving misleading information about vaccinations in their literature and on Aussie TV for months. You can read the whole complaint here (PDF).

If Ms. Dorey’s name sounds familiar, she’s the person who said that pertussis (whooping cough) doesn’t kill anybody — but it did kill 4 week old Dana McCaffery, who was too young to get vaccinated against it. You can read more of what I’ve written on Ms. Dorey, and I also suggest you take a look at some of her, ah, odd ideas involving conspiracy theories and the Illuminati.

Sigh.

The complaint lodged against Dorey and the AVN means she and they will be investigated by the New South Wales Health Care Complaints Commission for breaches of the Public Health Act of 1993. Since Dorey and the AVN do dispense (bad, wrong, and I daresay potentially lethal) advice about health, they fall under this act.

I’m very happy this action has been taken, and I’ll keep you updated as I hear more.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Alt-Med, Antiscience, Debunking, Skepticism

Comments (79)

  1. Terry

    Phil, I love you, really. But the link the “odd ideas” did not seem to indicate that Ms Dorey subscribes to these plots as you seem to indicate. The AVN blog posted the article and Ms Dorey’s only quote seems to distancxe her from those calling them “unprovable”. She’s wacky enough as it is and you don’t want to give her the ammunition to accuse you of “false accusations”.

  2. Terry, the “odd ideas” to which Phil refers are the conspiracy claims Ms Dorey has endorsed on her site. In an article titled “Flu is not the Biggest Danger it’s the Vaccine” she talks about “the global jackboot of sheer, undiluted evil” and then links directly to a Pakistani site that invokes the illuminati, chem trails, and subcutaneous tracking devices delivered in vaccines. I think you’ll agree that these are “odd ideas” to put it kindly.

  3. @Terry
    Here is Meryl’s original blogpost…
    http://www.nocompulsoryvaccination.blogspot.com/2009/07/flu-is-not-biggest-danger-its-vaccine.html
    You’d think she’d wrote that very odd piece. There is no attribution or anything, just a click here to read more. It is like she is trying to take credit for that drivel. A plagiarist as well as the other obvious crimes she has committed.

    Good job Oz Skeptics.

  4. Cool, are there any laws like that here in the USA to use against our local anti-vax nuts?

  5. BigBob

    Beautiful. Go Oz. Lead by example.

  6. The Pakistan Daily article Dorey links to is actually copied from David Icke’s website. The original comes with hilarious pictures to illustrate the horror of the vaccination conspiracy. Read more at AVN against the Lizard People

  7. Jim

    Bevans:
    If there were, I would think that Jenny McCarthy would be in hot water by now…

  8. While I agree that the anti-vaxxers are dangerous, I have to disagree with using the blunt hammer of the legal system to shut them up. When the British chiropractic group uses libel laws to attempt to silence critics you felt that this was nearly proof that they had no logical or scientific evidence to back up their claims.

    If we start using similar anti-free speech tactics what’s to stop the anti-vaxxers from making the same argument? After all, if the evidence is on our side, we should be able to make a convincing argument without threatening to send the opposition to jail.

  9. Phet

    This makes me EXTRA proud to be Australian.

    I think this sums it all up:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMGIbOGu8q0

  10. Peter B

    Matt Moore

    This isn’t an anti-free speech action under libel law. It’s a complaint under the NSW Public Health Act that the AVN is producing false and misleading information. Read the complaint at http://scepticsbook.com/wp-content/uploads/COMPLAINT-to-HCCC-1.pdf Unlike the BCA-Singh action, the complaint is full of evidence backing up the complaint.

  11. Robert E

    @Matt Moore:
    The difference being that the Chiropractic group was using the “blunt hammer” of the legal system to obscure truth, the Skeptics are using it to prevent the spread of mis-information that can be, demonstrably, deadly.

  12. I share your concerns Matt – after all, free speech makes it possible to see how conspiracy theorists “think”.

    But, this isn’t something as subjective as “libel”, where someone launches an action because “they’re offended” because someone was a bit mean to them. I don’t think there is any law/rule/guideline, as such, that says people should not label other people’s businesses “bogus” though it might be ill-advised to do so due to libel laws (I’m struggling to elaborate that point but rest assured, it makes sense to me).

    In the AVN case, I think we’re talking about breaching actual, written laws/rules/guidelines. If they are offering health advice without the necessary registration to do so, then this would presumably be a breach. If they’ve actually broken a written law/rule/guideline then not to pursue them would be irresponsible.

  13. Gary Ansorge

    8. Matt Moore

    Free speech is fine, as long as one prefaces it with evidence or the statement “in my opinion”. Making didactic statements, as is done by rabid anti-vaxers, should REQUIRE verifiable evidence. This is something one often forgets in the heat of argumentative discourse. What we mean by free speech is that anyone is free to express their OPINION but anti-vaxers stridently maintain far more than an opinion, they claim anyone opposed to their ideology is blatantly evil, funded by evil money grubbers, stupid or just down right mean but the one thing they avoid is real evidence.

    Free speech doesn’t allow one to shout “fire” in a crowded theater, neither should it allow one to promote social disease in a crowded world, as in, ” everyone avoid vaccines and let disease thin out the weaker ones of our species”. I think they must be held accountable for their rancorous ravings or at least required to note that their blatherings are merely unsubstantiated opinion.

    GAry 7

  14. John

    I was totally pro-vax until I read about the swine flu debacle in the early 70’s, which looks set to repeat itself on a massive scale. Much to the profit of certain organisations who sit on the board of advisors the World Health Organisation.

    Anyone know more about this than I do, please say…. this is something I’d like to be proved wrong about.. especially the possibility of mandatory vaccine for a harmless flu I’ve already had…

  15. Peter P

    8. Matt Moore

    RE: “If we start using similar anti-free speech tactics…”

    I don’t think it’s a tactic, per se. The complainant has foreseen a possible “free speech” defence – and is countering it up front. First from the legal standpoint: “Contrary to the perceptions of an Australian public raised on a diet of Hollywood movies, there is no right of free speech in the Australian Constitution”. He then covers the point more broadly on page six of his submission:
    “…As Oliver Wendell Holmes USA CJ, put it so succinctly, “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theatre.” ” Although I’m not sure of the context, he at least references the quote (United States Supreme Court Schenck v. United States 1919).

    It seems a well put-together complaint that I hope will cause the so-far-unaccountable purveyors of unsubstantiated and false information to take pause.

    Perhaps free speech should not be considered a defence for purposely spreading potentially-deadly misinformation? What a concept!

    Cheers from Down Under,
    Peter

  16. It will be interesting to see if the complaint has any effect. I read the relevant sections of the Australian code, and while it does appear that AVN qualifies as a “health education provider,” if there’s case law or other regulation that narrows the definition of that term (which isn’t defined in what I read), this could get tossed out. For instance, if that term means specifically institutions providing training to practitioners, then it wouldn’t be applicable. The NSW HCCC’s website description of who can be complained about doesn’t appear to include websites that promote quackery as opposed to actual practitioners of quackery. And I hope that this complaint was attached to a completed HCCC complaint form, as it doesn’t contain all of the information that the complaint form asks for–that might be another ground for tossing it out, if there was no such form included.

    It doesn’t appear to me that the complaint was authored by or reviewed by a lawyer–it’s a bit sloppy and has some argument that doesn’t look like very good legal reasoning. In particular, the charge that Dorey violates the regulation about not providing “health care” (as opposed to “health education”) outside of training doesn’t seem to be supported by the evidence in the complaint.

    This may prove to be more effective in focusing some critical attention on AVN than it is on actually stopping them.

  17. tacitus

    Cool, are there any laws like that here in the USA to use against our local anti-vax nuts?

    No, because America is different from just about every other industrialized democratic nation on Earth. The freedom of speech/anti-nanny state conservative/libertarian cause is much stronger than the desire to legislate to protect the consumer from predatory and willfully ignorant practices. Most other countries, including Australia and the UK where I used to live, have much stronger consumer protection laws in most areas than the US.

    The argument is that if people don’t want to be conned, they should educate themselves on the issues. If they don’t, and they suffer because of it, then it’s nobody’s fault but their own.

    While that may be a laudable sentiment in some cases, the price society pays for this “freedom” is high. As we have seen, businesses of all kinds love this type of attitude. It leads to less regulation and less oversight, and allows them to cut corners and get away with profoundly anti-consumer practices in pursuit of the almighty dollar. The “alternative medicine” crowd is merely hitching a ride on this free market free-for-all.

    The recent financial crisis is only the most recent and devastating example. While the blame can squarely be laid at the feet of the companies making a fast buck hawking poorly regulated sub-prime mortgages and credit default swaps, many conservatives make the point that consumers did not have to buy the sub-prime mortgages on offer. That is true. If they weren’t suckered in by the multi-million dollar ad campaigns, the carefully crafted, slick sales talk, and could see through all the less-than-frank high-pressure focus-group tested sales pitches, then perhaps we could have avoided the agony last fall, but the reality is that the vast majority of people will always be ill-equipped to resist such tactics. It’s like sending a platoon of green GI recruits up against an equal number of veteran Navy Seals. They don’t stand a chance.

    The same goes for credit card companies, toy manufacturers, food production, big pharma, the chemical industry, toy manufacturers, and many more including, of course, all kinds of woo-based industries, including the forces of the anti-vax movement.

    The principles of self-reliance, especially when coupled with the absolute right to freedom of speech, do not come without a cost to society. It does make it much harder to stop companies and individuals from continuing to do harm than in places where consumer protection is valued more highly (and yes, self-reliance and freedom of speech less so). This is what much of the current healthcare reform debate is all about. One side wants to protect consumers from the excesses of the health insurance industry, the other side believes that their freedoms (including their freedom to fail–which they don’t like to think about) are being eroded.

    In an idea world, where every consumer is highly educated, and is never a sucker, then perhaps the principle of self-reliance above all else would work perfectly. But, of course, in the real world, this type of libertarian utopia would never work. It would merely be open season for the strong to predate on the weak. In fairness, the vast majority of people, even most libertarians understand that, which is why the US does have a whole heap of regulatory laws that prevents the economy from being a total free-for-all.

    But this American undercurrent of self-reliance (and accompanying mistrust of big government) does manifest itself in much weaker consumer protection laws than in other countries, and the lobbyists for the health insurance companies are taking advantage of that mistrust to deliberately stoke populist right-wing anger to try and stifle any reasoned debate over legislation designed to rein in their worst excesses.

    Is a society served better by stronger consumer protection laws? In general, I think so, but it can be honestly debated. Are Europeans giving up some freedom when they demand that the government clamp down on the worst excesses of the free market? Perhaps, in a small way, but the majority of people (who care to take notice) in these countries find it an acceptable price to pay in order to buttress the interests of the consumer against the interests of powerful businesses, which they (and I) think is better for society in the long run. (You would think they were one and the same, but sadly it’s often not the case).

    No doubt someone will counter with the “slippery slope” argument about the erosion of freedoms, but frankly I think it’s hard to prove that case. The UK is one of the oldest democracies in the world and is, in many ways has more freedoms today than it ever has had. Yet Brits have never had the same constitutional freedom of speech that the US enjoys, but somehow we still manage to “throw the bums out” when we get unhappy enough with them. And stronger consumer protection can even encourage innovation, as the anti-pollution laws to combat acid rain, proved.

  18. Greg in Austin

    John said,

    I was totally pro-vax until I read about the swine flu debacle in the early 70’s, which looks set to repeat itself on a massive scale.

    Keep reading about that debacle. Post links if you can.

    If I remember correctly, the vaccine was rushed to delivery without proper testing and using unsafe manufacturing methods. Whether it was by public demand for immediate vaccines or simply carelessness I don’t know. But there was evidence of the problems right away (evidence that the shots did more harm than expected) and that the bad vaccines were pulled as quickly as possible. There are safety measures in place now (which we learned from that mistake) that would prevent the same thing from happening again. That is also why we don’t get a vaccine for a new strain of virus overnight.

    If you look at the CDC and FDA websites, you will see there have been thousands of studies on the efficacy of vaccines, and the side-effects of vaccines, and overwhelmingly vaccines are much safer than the diseases they prevent.

    8)

  19. @John

    I was totally pro-vax until I read about the swine flu debacle in the early 70’s, which looks set to repeat itself on a massive scale. Much to the profit of certain organisations who sit on the board of advisors the World Health Organisation.

    Anyone know more about this than I do, please say…. this is something I’d like to be proved wrong about.. especially the possibility of mandatory vaccine for a harmless flu I’ve already had…

    I’ll try to address your concerns, though it’s mostly from memory, so I might be off a little bit. The 1976 flu vaccine debacle was the result of quite a number of factors which were unique to the situation and do not apply at all to vaccines in general.

    In February of that year, a soldier at Fort Dix became ill and died. Within a couple weeks, health officials announced that it was a strain of swine flu and that it was similar to the strain that caused the 1918 pandemic that killed an estimated 50-100 million people worldwide. The government and public were justifiably panicked by this news, and the president (Ford) called for a vaccine to be produced and administered to the American people.

    The vaccine was produced and tested and found to be safe, but IIRC, after the testing a change was made to the vaccine. Public and government pressure, however, resulted in the vaccine being distributed without additional testing. In total, about 24%-30% of the population (approx. 52,328,439 – 65,410,549 people) received the vaccine. Of those, there were 500 cases of Guillain Barre Syndrome (about 1 per 100,000). Of those 500, 25 died and the majority of the remainder recovered. So, the rate of death associated with the vaccine was 1 per 2,093,137. The 1918 flu infected about a third of the world population, and of those infected, death came to 1 out of every 5-10.

    Meanwhile, additional testing was going on to gather more information about the 1976 strain. (So, the vaccine was produced and administered before the full profile of the virus was understood.) They discovered that the particular strain of flu was not nearly as virulent as they had first thought. The only recorded death from the 1976 flu was the one soldier at Fort Dix.

    So, we had a strain resembling the 1918 strain. The full profile of the virus was not understood when the orders were given. The flu had not reached pandemic proportions. Fear led to public and governmental pressures preventing adequate testing after changes were made to the vaccine. And even after all of that, the risk of death from the vaccine was still way below 1:1 million, while the perceived potential of death from the flu was significantly higher.

    That is quite different from today’s swine flu. The flu has a much better profile, due to better identification and reporting. It is already at pandemic levels. We know what the death rate is like and we are learning more and more about who is most at risk. Vaccine production methods have also improved since then, leading to safer, more effective vaccines. All this before the vaccine has even been tested, let alone distributed.

    The 1976 flu case was a unique event, subject to factors that don’t even play a role in today’s flu pandemic, let alone vaccines in general.

    For other vaccine myths addressed, please take a look at my web site at antiantivax.flurf.net (you can click on my name to get there).

  20. tacitus

    Here’s an example of the different levels of consumer protection — US vs UK.

    In American TV advertising, I believe you are not allowed to lie about a competitor (except in political ads, or course, where it is expected), but you can say just about anything about your own product, whether it’s true or a flat out lie. (Please feel free to correct me, if I’m wrong). Sure, people are free to sue the company if harm comes to them as a result of a lie told in an ad, but that is an uncertain process at best, given the deep pockets of most companies and the delaying tactics which means it could take years before they even get to court.

    In the UK, the Advertising Standards Authority, has much more teeth than that. Not only are companies required to substantiate all claims about their products, they cannot do things like overtly imply that drinking their beer will make you more attractive to women (thus many American Budweiser ads would not be allowed). They also have to respond to consumer complaints about an ad which sometimes results in an advertisement being taken off the air (if the ASA rules in the complainant’s favor).

    Draconian? A restriction of freedom of speech? Perhaps in the eyes of many Americans. But the Brits are quite happy with it being that way, and understand the benefits of legally requiring advertisers to maintain a modicum of honesty in their work.

    And, in fact, likely as a direct result of the extra restrictions on advertisers in the UK, British TV ads are often recognized as some of the best in the world. They have had to innovate and come up with clever ideas to get their message across in a memorable way, often with a large dose of humor to smooth the way.

  21. Don’t forget about what the young aus skeptics are doing too!:
    http://www.youngausskeptics.com/2009/08/australian-vaccination-network/

  22. @tacitus

    Blatant, outright lies about your product are not allowed in U.S. advertising. Whether the Federal Trade Commission has the time/resources to investigate and punish you for it is another matter.

  23. tacitus

    Thanks for the info Todd. I do believe that British advertisers do still have to live with a greater number of restrictions over how they sell their products, though it’s probably more in how much they can imply as opposed to outright lie.

  24. mike burkhart

    It’s about time . it is clear from reading the complant that thes groups don’t care about the suffering of children all they want to do is advance ther poltical agenda at the expence of childrens lives and the fact that one invaded the privacy of greaving parnets is proof In fact I wonder if these people would get a tetnis shot if they had a major cut or wound or would they die of it? since they want our children to die of preventable disese . P.S. Ive had all of my vacanations and am in perfect health and I bet Phil has to and he looks healthy

  25. Ja Muller

    There really should be a post explaining why the chiropractor law suit is bad but this one is ok. Those positions certainly look on the surface to be contradictory.

  26. Greg in Austin

    @tacitus,

    Most of the herbal and non-FDA approved products pushed by TV advertisers (such as weight loss pills, digestive cleansers, anti-oxidants, i.e. miracle pills) make wild claims, but add the “fine print” at the end of the commercials.
    “Results not typical.”
    “Individual results may vary.”

    Some of my favorites are the weight loss pills that only work, “Combined with diet and exercise.” Well, if you did the diet and exercise without the pills, you’d still lose weight!

    The actual real medicine advertisements (for things like depression, anxiety, migraines, etc.) actually say, “See your doctor for more details,” meaning you can’t just order them online or buy them over the counter. At least those have actual clinical studies to prove their effectiveness.

    As for those non-medical products, like the Sham-wow(tm) and Oxyclean(tm), well, they probably don’t do everything they say in the commercial either. They all have a money-back guarantee, but obviously they count on the majority of fools (I mean, customers) to never ask for their money back.

    You are right, though. There are very few laws here that prevent fools from giving anyone else their money.

    8)

  27. Aw come on, no links to Facts, not Fantasy here yet?

    http://factsnotfantasy.com/vaccines.html

  28. Greg in Austin

    Ja Muller Says:

    There really should be a post explaining why the chiropractor law suit is bad but this one is ok. Those positions certainly look on the surface to be contradictory.

    The main difference is the British Chiropractic Association is suing an individual for his freedom of speech, and for pointing out the fact that they are purposefully misleading clients by claiming chiropractic therapy cures things like asthma or infections. There is no medical evidence to support some of the BCA’s claims, and there is evidence that they know this, and are intentionally duping people into unnecessary treatments.

    While on the other hand, there is a ton of evidence that says vaccines are safe, that they do prevent deadly diseases, and that they do not cause things like autism. So, in both cases, Phil and the others are on the side of the actual medical evidence, and against those that are spreading lies.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think chiropractic and massage therapy serve very useful purposes – to realign the spine and joints after physical injury or skeletal defects, or to relieve muscle tension and improve relaxation, etc. But I will not accept a claim that either of those can cure blindness or cancer or any other illnesses without clinical studies that prove it.

    8)

  29. tacitus

    There really should be a post explaining why the chiropractor law suit is bad but this one is ok. Those positions certainly look on the surface to be contradictory.

    Other countries simply aren’t as squeamish about infringing on someone’s absolute right to freedom of speech as many Americans are. In places like Australia and Britain, there is more expectation that the government will take action to protect its citizens from harm, even if that harm is in the form of expressing an opinion. If there is enough evidence that encouraging people to refuse vaccinations by making false claims about them is causing harm to society in general, then in other parts of the world it would seem to be right and proper that the perpetrators be legally called to account.

    I know that seems dangerous to many Americans, but history tends to show that even without constitutionally enshrined protected speech, citizens know how to push back when they decide that the government has gone too far. There have been several cases where British police have arrested people with outspoken and unsavory views. Yet in each case, the storm of protest resulted in no charges being brought.

  30. tacitus

    Most of the herbal and non-FDA approved products pushed by TV advertisers (such as weight loss pills, digestive cleansers, anti-oxidants, i.e. miracle pills) make wild claims, but add the “fine print” at the end of the commercials.
    “Results not typical.”
    “Individual results may vary.”

    Ah, yes, I should have remembered those examples. Yup — British advertisers would not get away with that. They have to provide solid evidence that the claims they make are true, notwithstanding any microscopic weasel words at the bottom of the screen.

  31. No, because America is different from just about every other industrialized democratic nation on Earth.

    And thank goodness for that.

    I know that seems dangerous to many Americans, but history tends to show that even without constitutionally enshrined protected speech, citizens know how to push back when they decide that the government has gone too far.

    It seems dangerous to Americans precisely because of the recent example in Britain. Just because we agree with the provax Australian doesn’t mean we should support his attempt to stifle dissent.

    If you start putting people in jail for saying unpopular things you’ll soon find that something you want to say is unpopular.

  32. Travis

    Tacitus, would it also not be possible for the snake oil peddlers, if they took power, to use those same types of laws to suppress real science that might expose their products shortcomings? Imagine how awful it would be if real doctors, with real peer reviewed evidence, were being punished and barred from distributing it in the name of “consumer protection.”

    Just imagine if a bunch of celebrity drones, in the mold of Jenny McCarthy, were elected to the highest offices of the land and then used those laws to ban advertising for real medicine to push homeopathy and herbal remedies.

    I generally feel we need to keep science out of the court room because it should not be a popularity contest. We know all too well that, if Creationists could, they would love to try and have science decided in courts where their sophistry would be mistaken for charm and their mythology mistaken for science.

  33. Firstly, I think the libertarian Americans are jumping the gun. This ain’t a free speech issue. It is about making claims that are demonstrably false and dangerous contrary to existing regulations.

    Secondly, antivaxxers are shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre. No free speech issues there either. It isn’t about stifling dissent.

    Thirdly, the Jennys of the world could not ban advertising for real medicine in Australia if they were in charge because direct to consumer advertising of pharmaceuticals in Australia is illegal anyway. Real doctors aren’t going to be barred from talking about evidence based medicine in the name of “consumer protection”. That is just plain ridiculous. If anything like that happens we’ve got far bigger problems.

  34. Michael Kingsford Gray

    Australia does not have a ‘free speech’ law.
    There is no comparison with the US system at all.
    Australia is still a nominal monarchy.

  35. Australia is a federal parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy. But so is Canada and has nothing to do with our (lack) of free speech laws. No Bill Of Rights either. We are signatories to various UN resolutions on such but they’ve never been ratified in parliament so they can’t be used.

  36. Interestingly a Bill of Rights and Freedom of Speech in the US didn’t stop the US banning the communist party in the 50s. The High Court in Australia found that banning the Reds in Oz was unconstitutional and so the commies were never banned in Oz.

  37. This ain’t a free speech issue. It is about making claims that are demonstrably false and dangerous contrary to existing regulations.

    Umm… that is exactly what a free speech issue looks like. What happens when you disagree with the existing regulation, yet you’re not allowed to speak against it? In order to have free speech for yourself, sorry, you have to give it to all the people you disagree with.

    Australia does not have a ‘free speech’ law.

    That’s a shame, because free speech is an inalienable right. Also, I don’t have to approve of something just because it’s legal.

  38. Free speech entitles you to disagree with anything including speaking out against existing regulations. The distinction is when that “free speech” is demonstrably and provably wrong, incorrect, dangerous and will cause harm. I can see that the distinction is pretty fine. You could say that a quack advertising a cure for cancer should be protected under free speech laws?
    We have a precedent under Australian law. The Anti-vilification laws that entitle people to an opinion as long as it does not incite violence.

    We actually have a right to political free expression in Australia and was implied from the constitution by the High Court. Otherwise not so much unfortunately.

  39. Daniel Raffaele

    It was my group, Stop the Australian Vaccination Network that instigated this measure. I should point out that Australia does not have a bill of rights and free speech is therefore not enshrined. Nevertheless, it was a condition of the complaint that we demonstrate that free speech was not being impinged upon, which was done.

    The AVN are technically speaking a public health organisation and therefore they fall under the jurisdiction of the New South Wales Public Health Act. This complaint was filed in accordance with that act.

    Myself and others in the group have been fighting the AVN online for months now and this is the first major step taken against them.

  40. Differences between Singh and AVN cases? Here goes…

    Singh vs BCA is about one party feeling upset about something another party said about them. It is essentially two individuals against each other where one argues that the other said some mean, nasty and possibly untrue things – about them. Note that the BCA libel suit is about two or three sentences in an entire article dismissing chiropractic as little more than nonsense. That’s because you can’t libel “chiropractic” but you might be able to libel the BCA (though there’s apparently some doubt over that too).

    Singh is not being sued because he cast doubt on chiropractic. He’s not being sued because his opinions (or facts) will put lives in danger. He’s not being sued because his stated opinions (or facts) are not in the public interest. He’s being sued because the BCA (supposedly) took “personal” offence at a couple of phrases in a substantial article.

    The AVN action, on the other hand, is about the AVN allegedly breaching written rules. If the rules state “you musn’t offer health education without appropriate registration/licensing” then in doing so, you break the rules and should be “prosecuted” (I’m assuming no court action, per se, is involved here and that it’s more an administrative ruling – but I don’t know that and could well be very wrong).

    The BCA vs Singh action, on the other hand, is a subjective matter based on one judge’s definition of some words.

    The AVN action is not based on the “plaintiff” being personally offended by something the AVN said about him. Unlike the BCA action against Singh, the action taken against the AVN would be argued, I’d think, to be based on public interest, not personal umbrage – plus, the complainant has nothing to gain or lose as a direct result of the action.

    The AVN action is not an action launched against one or two opinions casually expressed by the AVN in an otherwise solid opposition to vaccination. It is launched against almost their entire raison d’entre.

    Also, and again I might be wrong, the AVN action would ultimately be the government vs AVN, not the original complainant vs AVN. The government (crown) takes no side in the BCA/Singh case.

    Lets also not ignore the relative costs involved in the two cases. I’d expect the costs in the AVN case to be minimal and I’m not expecting any sorts of fines would be imposed (but I could be wrong). The BCA action, on the other hand, sends out a chilling message because of the enormous costs involved in defending your right to speak freely.

    This is my ill-informed, personal opinion.

  41. Enjoy:

    http://podblack.com/?p=1529

    National newspaper The Australian features an advertisement on page nine by the Australian Skeptics, funded by Dick Smith.

  42. Randall Johnston

    Last night in North America, a widely syndicated overnight radio show spent four hours telling people that they should NEVER get any vaccination of any kind. The “experts” who spoke were Barbara Loe Fisher, Dr. Andrew Moulden, and Jane Burgermeister. It was shocking and infuriating.

  43. RE: fraudulent advertising.

    Back in the 1950’s, one company got fined for a phony commercial, and while I don’t recall who it was, here’s a summary:

    The commercial features a shaving cream, and the announcer showed a sheet of ‘sandpaper’, which he proceeded to put the cream on, then use a razor to ‘shave’ the sheet. In fact, it was a sheet of paper with sand glued (loosely?) onto the sheet. Again, I don’t recall the details on what happened to the company (fined probably), and they had to pull the misleading ad.

    J/P=?

  44. Victor

    Just a few questions. Are undecided parents really getting all the information they are looking for? Insults, some from professionals, will not convince them. What happened to the old bedside manner? When parents who have had their children vaccinated discover that their is an unvaccinated child at the school they become concerned that their children might come into contact with them. Why? Have they no faith in the immunisation? Most people in the world are not vaccinated. Vaccinate and travel the world safely! Surely the unvaccinated are the ones at risk, not the vaccinated. Parents who are undecided have a double dilemma. They are afraid of what might happen if they go for vaccination and they are afraid of what might happen if they don’t. Children in the US are being given more than 30 vaccinations and there are many more in the offing. Is any one trying to project into the future to see where this is heading? Will there ever come a time when a particular disease has not been seen for X number of years that that particular vaccination can be dropped? Perhaps undecided parents need more information about the human immune system. How it responds to atacks of diseases, how it responds to vaccinations, at what age is it mature enough to develope full immunity against diseases, etc. Concerned parents are not stupid or mischievous, but statistics don’t seem to be working too well, neither are horror stories.

  45. Travis

    As someone who identifies as a moderate socialist I find the idea of someone brandishing me a “libertarian” quite amusing. I have no problem with steps being made to ensure “truth in advertising” I just advise caution about developing the tools used to accomplish it lest they one day become the weapons the Woo’s use themselves. As an example, here in California a lot of laws were passed in the 1970’s making it real easy to stop the construction of new freeways, something many environmentalists might get behind, but today those same new laws are being used to stop construction of new mass transit systems. As a result it’s looking like our new High Speed Rail system might never get built now forcing us all to continue using old and congested freeways.

    “Something, something paved with good intentions.”

    Oh, Shane, Communism was never banned in the USA in the 50’s.

  46. Gonzo

    Huzzah! Great news Phil! Thanks for the post.

    You know, I was thinking the most ironic thing about these anti-vaxxers is that the most vocal and annoying voices in their so-called movement have almost certainly been vaccinated themselves.

    Sigh, indeed.

  47. Peter B

    Matt Moore said: “…that is exactly what a free speech issue looks like. What happens when you disagree with the existing regulation, yet you’re not allowed to speak against it? In order to have free speech for yourself, sorry, you have to give it to all the people you disagree with.”

    Matt, the complaint is being brought because the complainant is claiming the AVN has breached regulations of the Public Health Act of New South Wales. Is that an unacceptable restraint of free speech? If so, does that make *any* complaint about someone breaking the law a restraint of free speech? This isn’t about trying to silence someone because the complainant disagrees with them; it’s about trying to punish them for breaking the law.

    “…free speech is an inalienable right…”

    Where is this stated? Is the right completely unlimited?

  48. @Victor

    When parents who have had their children vaccinated discover that their is an unvaccinated child at the school they become concerned that their children might come into contact with them. Why? Have they no faith in the immunisation?

    While vaccinations are nearly 100% effective, there are individuals for whom the vaccine just doesn’t take. At present, I don’t think there is a way to screen for that, but I could be wrong.

    Will there ever come a time when a particular disease has not been seen for X number of years that that particular vaccination can be dropped?

    Yes. I believe smallpox is gone, so that vaccine is no longer needed. Polio would be eliminated within the next couple years, if some of the countries where it remains hadn’t gone all conspiracy theory and claimed that the vaccine was a way to kill off the population.

    There are some diseases, though, for which the vaccine is likely to never be dropped, e.g., influenza, since they have non-human reservoirs in which to persist. Only those diseases that are specific to humans can be eliminated and the vaccines dropped from the schedule.

    All of this depends, of course, on high vaccination rates around the world.

    For people that have questions about vaccines and want honest answers, I would direct them to the CDC or AAP web sites. My site (http://antiantivax.flurf.net) also has some info addressing the major myths and misinformation from the anti-vax front, as well as links to other resources.

  49. Na

    @14. John

    I’m sure by the time I’ve posted this, someone will have mentioned it, but: the flu’s not harmless. H1N1 has killed many people in Australia, including IIRC children. I’m in the state of the country that has had the most deaths. So personally, I’m glad to see the Oz anti-vaxxers get their comeuppance. (Aussies, correct me if I’m wrong, I’ve been out of the country but recall seeing some news about flu related deaths)

  50. JT

    @Matt,

    Free speech is not an absolute right. No person in the US or Australia has the right to incite violence, or the right to lie when advertising a product.

    Take the overused example of shouting fire in a crowded theater as an example. The reason this is cited as an example of unprotected speech is that the shouter is inciting panic under false pretenses, and that panic is likely to injure or kill bystanders. This is *exactly* the same as anti-vax hysteria.

  51. Ice Ko

    Tacitus says: “In places like Australia and Britain, there is more expectation that the government will take action to protect its citizens from harm, even if that harm is in the form of expressing an opinion.”

    The government? The govern… Oh yeah, those wisdom-dispensing, avuncular and ‘authoritative’ agencies run by totally honest people with no special interests or agendas of their own to spin and sell and get votes with, no established power groups or persuasive lobbyists influencing them in what they approve and legislate and authorize and prosecute, no history of misleading dependent, undereducated sucker populations (as you apparently see so many of our fellow citizens) or withholding information from them etc. Never mind that it was Phil Gramm, Bill Clinton, Barney Frank and other government ‘leaders’ who pressed for idealistic mortgage environments that encouraged all sorts of folks to buy houses they would never be able to pay for.

    Keep the statist faith, Tass. There are still hundreds of you born every minute. No offense….

  52. Lawrence

    @Ice – so what does that have to do with the current topic?

  53. This is *exactly* the same as anti-vax hysteria.

    See, that’s the problem. Shouting fire in a crowded theater (which, unless there’s actually a fire, surely must be a very rare event) is wrong because it could immediately create a panic in which no one has time to find out the truth before starting to run… dozens get trampled, etc. I understand that that sort of speech (which, like I said, is exceedingly rare) should be punished.

    But the line you’re drawing is another thing entirely. No one hears, “Vaccines are bad for your children!” and immediately decides not to vaccinate, and 30 seconds later dozens are dead. Parents think these things through, weigh their options, check the data, consult with friends and doctors, etc. Spreading false info about vaccines is awful and evil, but shouting fire it ain’t.

  54. Lawrence

    @Matt – well, the results are the same – people die. Just because it takes a little bit longer doesn’t mean it isn’t awful & evil.

  55. @Travis

    You are correct. There was no outright ban of the poor ol’ communist party in the 50s. The House Committee on Un-American Activities made it pretty hard for the poor buggers though. Many people lost careers and were even imprisoned. So if not an explicit ban maybe implicit. Funnily the party declined to about 5000 members in the 50s of which about 1500 were Hoover’s informants. Love researching this stuff.

  56. @Na
    Somewhere between 30 and 40 deaths including children so far in Oz.

  57. Lawrence – Just because something is awful and evil doesn’t mean it should be illegal. Fight stupidity with knowledge, not by using the legal system to silence people.

  58. Jeff Keogh

    Matt Moore,

    “Just because something is awful and evil doesn’t mean it should be illegal.”

    Fair enough. What criteria would you use to make something illegal, then?

    I submit that they are the very basis of a formalised system of law.

  59. @Matt Moore
    Just because something is awful and evil doesn’t mean it should be illegal.

    What like murder, pedophilia, rape, theft…?

    Fight stupidity with knowledge, not by using the legal system to silence people.
    That always works. But in Oz we have to put on seat belts, wear motor cycle helmets, not smoke in restaurants… not at the same time. ;-)

    Sometimes you could say that legislation is for the stupid people. Anyway you can still argue for these things. The legal system is stopping people acting out these things.

  60. Murder, pedophilia, rape, and theft all violate the rights of others, and should therefore be illegal. Awful and evil are necessary but not sufficient.

  61. Fair enough.
    So why is not giving dodgy advise not sufficient especially when that advice leads to death?

    Same goes for the homeopaths in the UK prescribing homeopathic malaria prophylactics to people going to the tropics? I’d call that criminal.

  62. Na

    @35 Shane

    Thank you; exactly right!

  63. Na

    @58 Shane again:

    Thanks; I knew it had been a lot. I’m glad I had my flu shot recently.

  64. fred edison

    George Noory (Coast to Coast AM radio program on Premiere Radio Network) believes that vaccines cause autism. I just heard him say those words, moments ago, live on the radio show. He was talking to a doctor about different medical related subjects and the healthcare reform issue, vaccines came up among the topics. You can hear it on the Thursday show, approximately 2 hours 30 minutes into the program. There you are, Phil. Add another one to your list of popular talking mouths who are misinformed and illogical anti-vaxxers. Noory has joined Jenny McCarthy on her baseless vaccine blame game for autism. I had suspected he was an anti-vaxxer at heart, because of his continual downplaying of the importance of vaccines. And due to the frequent guests who are anti-vaccines, two guests were on just a few nights ago speaking of those dangerous and unnecessary vaccines they force on you. Maybe you already knew it, but this is the first time I’ve been able to confirm it, as he blurted it out clearly and proudly. Unfortunately for the (not so bright) listening audience, those words could be the nails in the kids coffins that will die because of terrible advice like his. I hear enough callers giving him support for his stance on similar issues. I immediately sent him a pointed fast blast to refute his ridiculous claim (it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve disagreed with him nor the last), but he’ll probably ignore it and go one with his poorly educated opinions as usual, spreading his personal belief to the masses. No, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jenny shows up on his program some day, and they have a marvelous time comparing and sharing their revelations of home cures for cancer and other brain farts passed off as helpful medical advice. I have a strong feeling I’ll have to buy a new radio if that day ever comes, due to it flying through the air and smashing into a wall in disgust.

  65. Shane – I agree that it should be illegal for a doctor, or someone who pretends to be a medical expert, to give out fake medicine. And a doctor that refuses to vaccinate children should be prosecuted, too.

    But in this case, it’s a third party that is advising against vaccines. People need to be able to make up their own minds about homeopathy, anti-vaxx, and other bullshit. Silencing quacks will only lead to other quacks claiming it’s a conspiracy against the truth.

  66. Peter B

    Matt Moore said: “Fight stupidity with knowledge, not by using the legal system to silence people.”

    Yes, we’re trying to do this.

    But the complainant wants the AVN punished for breaking the law as it currently stands in New South Wales. How does punishing someone for breaking the law become an issue of free speech?

  67. Peter B. – The existence of that law is an issue of free speech, as it abridges it. The use of the law to silence someone is also clearly abridging free speech, but more importantly, I think it’s just a bad tactic.

  68. @Matt Moore
    The law has nothing to do with free speech. It is a consumer protection measure. Now if you position is that there is no speech that should be restricted under any circumstances then… I dunno… you’re possibly on the looney libertarian fringe but you’re free to say whatever you like. All I can say is that there is a limit to everything and the line does get a little blurry sometimes but when babies die this might be one of those occasions to draw a line because parents do think they’re getting good advice and they’re told not to trust doctors or look for advice elsewhere.

    As to the tactic? That’s an entirely different matter.

  69. If it’s a consumer protection measure then I don’t see how it applies in this case. The AVN isn’t selling any product, so there are no consumers to protect.

    And I’m proud to be a part of the loony libertarian fringe. Looniness in defense of freedom is no vice.

  70. @Matt Moore

    Did you read the complaint that Phil linked to? It shows that it is not a simple matter of free speech. In particular, see the final section on recommendations, where they list specific sections of law where AVN has breached it.

  71. #38 shane: “Interestingly a Bill of Rights and Freedom of Speech in the US didn’t stop the US banning the communist party in the 50s.” Nope, the CPUSA has never been legally banned in the U.S., though it was targeted in a number of different ways and about 1/3 of CPUSA members were FBI informants at one point.

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