Breaking: Australian antivax group slammed for "misleading and inaccurate information"

By Phil Plait | July 12, 2010 11:41 am

stop_the_avn_logoWe can celebrate another victory for skeptics and reality!

The antivax group Australian Vaccination Network has been found to give "misleading and inaccurate information" to its followers, according to an Australian government investigation. The investigation also concluded that despite their many denials, the AVN is in fact an antivaccination group and must make that clear when disseminating information.

Ouch.

The entire report can be downloaded here from the Antivaxxers.com website.

Here’s the background: Meryl Dorey is the head of the AVN. She travels across Australia talking about the dangers of vaccination, and by "talking about" I really mean spewing misinformation. She says things that are not correct, cherry picks data, misrepresents scientific studies, and basically distorts reality in order to push her propaganda about vaccines.

Given that vaccinations do work, are almost entirely safe, and have almost eliminated such diseases as pertussis, measles, polio, and smallpox, some reality-based people have taken exception to Ms. Dorey’s tactics.

That included Ken McLeod, who filed a complaint about Dorey and the AVN with the New South Wales Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC). There were two thrusts to the complaint: one was that the AVN is a health care service provider, because they dispense health care advice, and second that the way they dispense that advice is misleading and harmful.

The HCCC agreed on both points. First, they concluded that:

According to its own constitution and through its activities the AVN is a health education service.

I found it bizarre that Dorey would try to deny that (it was a classic "who me?" denial on her part). She’s trying to eat her cake and have it, too; dispense health care advice but then deny any responsibility for what happens when she does.

The second part is where the AVN and Dorey get handed their heads. The HCCC report goes on for page after page listing out the breaches by Dorey and the AVN, showing where they have distorted and misrepresented vaccination information, all in a biased, negative way (keep in mind that Dorey has vehemently claimed the AVN is not antivax).

For example, the report points out things like:

  • The AVN’s claims that vaccines are untested is simply false;
  • The AVN’s claims about toxic substances in vaccinations are exaggerated and in some cases simply wrong;
  • The AVN’s claims that vaccines are contaminated with viruses is cherry- picked in order to support an antivax stance;
  • The AVNs claims that vaccines do not necessarily protect against disease misrepresents the facts;

and much more.

In the end, sadly, the HCCC won’t punish the AVN for its falsehoods, but it has recommended they put up a prominent disclaimer on their home page stating that they are antivax, that the information provided by the AVN is not medical advice, and that a decision to vaccinate or not should be made after consulting an actual health care provider.

But have no doubt: this is a big win for skepticism and reality! Dorey and the AVN were repeatedly slammed in this document, which is a litany of their transgressions. While I have no doubt Dorey will continue to claim she is the victim of a pogrom by people trying to suppress information and all that — and the rabidly antivax Age of Autism site has already called this whole thing fascism: yes, fascism, which doesn’t mean what they think it means — the truth is, Ms. Dorey and the AVN are guilty of spreading false, slanted information in order to spread their vicious antivax nonsense.

Ken Mcleod, who filed the suit in the first place, has issued a public statement about the report that’s well worth reading, too.

And remember, while Dorey and the AVN place themselves up on pedestals, there’s a pertussis outbreak in Marin County, California , another in Bakersfield, California, and similar reports from around the planet.

The bottom line is that mouthpieces for antivax propaganda distort reality, spread falsehoods, and consistently use fear as a tactic to spread their nonsense. This comes at a great cost: more disease, more disregard for reality, and literally more cost as money has to be spent caring for sick patients.

I’m glad that more people are taking this health threat seriously, and very glad for this victory against the antivaxxers. Keep ‘em coming!

My thanks to Rachel Dunlop, David McCaffery, Al Janulaw, Linda Mitts, and the Stop the Australian Vaccination Network website for info pertaining to this post.


Related posts:

- Australian skeptics jeer Meryl Dorey
- Major step against antivaxxers in Australia
- The AVN is reaping what they sowed
- Australian skeptics strike back against antivaxxers


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Alt-Med, Antiscience

Comments (41)

  1. That’s a huge WOOT for reality! Great news!

  2. No [Expletive].
    Lets hope the continues the AVN stays on the same track it has been on this year.

  3. ohh antivaxxers complaining in 3..2..1…

  4. Gary Ansorge

    When these diseases were rampant, nearly everyone chose to vaccinate (as vaccines became available). Since they are no longer as devastating, many assume they’re non existent. This is the Cassandra Syndrome,ie, if your predictions are to be accurate, they must be ignored. If people actually accede to the prediction and do something about it, the prediction is nullified.

    The same thing has been happening with the Y2K bug, with people claiming there was no real problem.

    I expect, if we actually succeed in countering global warming some will claim it was all hype to begin with.

    ,,,and, of course, we have the gulf oil spill as another example, in which there was adequate forewarning to both legislators and BP that the worst case scenario was imminent but their predictions of disaster were ignored, so the worst came to pass.

    Ah, the perils of being a successful prognosticator.

    GAry 7

  5. Leo

    Ah,

    When I first read the story, I thought they had a hatred of digital equipment vintage mainframes.

  6. This comes at a great cost: more disease, more disregard for reality, and literally more cost as money has to be spent caring for sick patients.

    I knew Dorey was really a shill for Big Pharma! She serves her Reptilian overlords well.

    Oh, and before people start going off on how bad vaccines are, please read the info at antiantivax.flurf.net and the subsequently linked pages.

  7. Terry

    Woot. Glad to see reality get a shot in the arm.

  8. geekGirlND

    Slightly OT, but have you seen today’s xkcd? http://www.xkcd.com/765

  9. Lucas

    I was really hoping Age of Autism misspelled fascism and called it facism (I suppose it’s a worldview concerning the preponderance of faces), but it turns out you did instead. :(

    This typo, of course, completely destroys your argument, Mr. Dr. Plait, sir!

  10. Sorry about the fascism typo. Corrected.

  11. Szwagier

    Full. Of. Win.

    Of course, if natural selection has its way, all the antivaxxers will be dead of combined measles and whooping cough pretty soon.

  12. Mark Hall

    I’m always stunned when people do things like this.

    If you’re an Anti-Vaxxer/global warming denier/Young Earth Creationist/etc, at some point you would have to realize that you’re cherrypicking data, deliberately leaving out facts which contradict your position, or stating things in a deliberately misleading fashion. You’d have to look at your own flawed reasoning and realize that you’re essentially arguing something that you yourself know is wrong, right?

    So why do they keep at it?

  13. @Szwagier

    Except that a good portion of antivaxxers are immunized against the common vaccine-preventable diseases. Their kids, who may learn some logic and reason from someone other than their parents, will pay the price, as will totally unrelated individuals who do not share their erroneous way of thinking.

  14. Drivethruscientist

    The XKCD post for today is a misunderstanding of what a 30c dilution of sperm would in fact actually do. That homeopathic preparation in the comic would actually be a contraceptive I believe. Admittedly I’m no homeopath though :)

  15. Lawrence

    I’m sure some of these kids, when they get older, will catch one or more of these preventable diseases and be shocked that their parents were stupid enough not to get them vaccinated.

  16. This also brought Orac out of his extra Vegas time http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2010/07/health_fascism_in_australia_the_anti-vac.php

    Ms Dorey and her group are despicable, on the same level as Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist crew menacing the families of dead soldiers at their funerals. Harassing the parents of a dead baby? I can’t even type, it’s just beyond comprehension.

  17. ND

    Lawrence,

    Either they or the parents will blame anything but the lack of vaccination. I think you’re underestimating the strength of belief. Quite a few people become so irrationally obsessed with an idea that they have a hard time letting go in the face of hard evidence. Even the death of their child will not be enough for some people to snap out of it.

    Edit: I think I’m reacting a little strongly here to what you said. Still such people are out there :(

  18. Jack

    You can see a report aired on the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s Lateline program from last night (Oz time) if you go to:

    http://www.abc.net.au/lateline

    That Meryl Dorey is some piece of work.

  19. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    I’m glad the Anti-Vaccine Network got their well deserved slam.

    # 11:

    Only if anti-vaccination is hereditary.

    Statistics seem to say there is a certain correlation between bad education, anti-vaccination beliefs and religion on one side, and intelligence on the other side, and the later is partly hereditary.

    But I doubt it will be a strong factor because of the lack of immediate heredity.

    #14:

    It’s a joke, not a misunderstanding.

    The straight homeopathic idea would be the one needing actual testing. (Since a diluted semen sample would have much lower likelihood of giving pregnancy, thus acting as ‘a contraceptive’ placebo, in the same way that a cold shower does.)

    While it is funny that a homeopath solution of semen would almost certainly not contain any sperm cell at all. Or, if two lesbians are doing it industrial strength for family purposes, it is “a homo path solution”.

    Now, if we could do a homeopathic solution of the worlds homeopaths…

  20. I just had a deployment physical for work and one of the standard blood tests was to see if I still held immunity to everything I’d been vaccinated against. I’m still immune; I could be a roiling plague pot to any antivaxxer around.
    I win.

  21. Rob G.

    “In the end, sadly, the HCCC won’t punish the AVN for its falsehoods, but it has recommended they put up a prominent disclaimer on their home page…”

    Funny… sounds like a big old slap on the wrist to me. Who here actually believes the AVN will “…put up a prominent disclaimer on their home page…”? If the HCCC can’t punish them, what’s the point?

  22. About time the media got behind this. That poor family whose child died from pertussis, I can’t believe how heartless the AVN are. Dorey is a crook, and should be treated as such.

    The report is on Youtube too: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29tciApImhI

  23. Cairnos

    @ Rob G – Not sure but I suspect that this could affect any future liability the AVN may face

  24. Michael Kingsford Gray

    21. anothermike Says:
    “…I’m still immune; I could be a roiling plague pot to any antivaxxer around.
    I win.”

    What if your plagues get passed to an unvaccinated infant? No-one wins.
    It is the involuntary victims of these woo-woo bastards about whom I care.

  25. ND

    To me, the harrasment against the family who lost a child shows an blind idealogical mindset. Dorey is despicable.

  26. SteveA

    I hate to rain on the parade, but these penalties seem superficial at best. It is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, but until people like Dorey & McCarthey are held legally and/or financially responsible for the harm they’ve caused, I don’t feel entirely comfortable putting stuff like this in the win column.

    And what’s up with “In the end, sadly, the HCCC won’t punish the AVN for its falsehoods, but it has recommended they put up a prominent disclaimer on their home page…”? Is there no government body that actually has the teeth to shut down this nonsense?

  27. Nigel Depledge

    @ Steve A -
    IANAL, but I suspect that the AVN could be sued for libel by the medical establishment. However, there would be no guarantees and the process is sure to be lengthy and expensive.

    OTOH, this may set them up for real liability in the future, as has been pointed out by a commenter above.

  28. Nigel Depledge

    Overall, this is good news. I really think that the bodies regulating the practice of medicine should be stepping in all over the world, with the following justifications:
    1. None of the antivaxxers is qualified to give medical advice (Andrew Wakefield used to be, but has been struck off and that disqualifies him in every meaningful way);
    2. The advice they give has the potential to cause a great deal of harm because it goes against everything that is known about viral diseases; and
    3. Tney are telling whopping great big porkies (pork pies = lies) about the contents of vaccines.

  29. Ray

    I’d feel a lot better about this if someone went to jail for killing little kids.

  30. RMcbride

    But they are still allowed to spew their misinformation with no penalty. Is this really a win?

  31. jfb

    @Leo #5:

    When I first read the story, I thought they had a hatred of digital equipment vintage mainframes minicomputers.

    Fixed for me (VAXen weren’t mainframe class machines in power or price). And yeah, every time I see the term “antivax” it makes me a little sad; I cut my programmer teeth on VAX/VMS. Everything since then has been a bit of a disappointment.

  32. Grimbold

    That Meryl Dorey really is a nasty piece of work.

  33. flip

    I watched the news breaking on ABC (Australia), and was very happy to see it. The segment wasn’t as hard-hitting as I expected, although they came down on the side of science (and avoided the usual ‘balance’), even coming up with some hilarious footage of Dorey trying to reverse her own words.

    Nice to see the McCaffreys also doing their bit, in what must be an extremely difficult situation and under lots of emotional stress. Congrats to everyone who fought for science and won!

  34. MaDeR

    Slap on the wirst. How anyone will enforce showing this disclaimer? Of course, this is still good news.

  35. Steve-o

    Is this Ken Macleod the SF writer?

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