The Information Provided by Dr. John Cunningham in the Vaccination Debate in Australia:
In February/March 2014 John Cunningham chose to join the debate on immunisation. At the time he did not have any specialist qualifications in vaccination science, public health or immunology listed on his website. He specialises in spinal disorders in Melbourne and he is a leader of the Stop the Australian Vaccination Network (SAVN) – an industry-associated lobby group set up by Dick Smith’s Australian Skeptics Inc lobby group; a group that has many non-scientific members/subscribers, who use abuse and ridicule from an anonymous facebook page, to promote vaccines to the public.
Dr. John Cunningham has never publicly debated health experts in the field of infectious disease control in Australia nor has he written any peer-reviewed publications on this topic to make him an expert in this field. Yet he was given a powerful voice in the Australian media from 2014 – 2018 to denigrate my PhD research on infectious disease control with false and misleading information. This is called Agnotology – promoting ignorance in the community by using the mainstream media to educate the public with false and misleading information to manipulate their behaviour on the use of vaccines.
The University of Wollongong also participated in Agnotology when it used the UOW Head of Public Health, Heather Yeatman, to promote the government’s claims about vaccine safety and efficacy, on the UOW website one week after my PhD was published in January 2016. Approximately 60 academics in the faculty of medicine, science and health were required to sign their names to these government claims even though none of these acadmics, including Heather Yeatman, had ever researched this science.
This is deceiving the community on an important health issue and it is a breach of the University of Wollongong’s charter to provide integrity in academic knowledge. At the same time in January 2016 John Cunningham was quoted in many articles in the Australian (Murdoch) media providing false information about my PhD research.
Dr. John Cunningham has also used deceptive and inappropriate strategies to denigrate my university research. When responding to my request to debate my research he sent his unsolicited opinions, including false information, to members of the public, including UOW academics and journalists.
This occurred whilst I was a student at the University of Wollongong (UOW). The university academics were not required to correct his false information even though he had used their unsolicited email addresses in a way that gave endorsement to his information. John Cunningham did not have any connection to the UOW at the time and his emails to these academics were unsolicited.
The University of Wollongong’s policies also did not require the UOW academics to tell this doctor that it was inappropriate to copy their UOW addresses into the copied (cc) field of unsolicited emails to the community. This strategy enabled Dr. John Cunningham to provide false and misleading information about vacination and my research to the community giving the appearance that it was endorsed by university academics.
It is a breach of the medical code of conduct for doctors to provide false information to the community in a manner that can deceive the general public about the credibility of the information.
Here are the corrections to the false and misleading information that John Cunningham provided to members of the public and UOW academics in his emails in 2014 that denigrated my research on vaccines.
Is this appropriate ethical conduct for a medical practitioner to denigrate a student’s research and reputation with false information instead of debating the issues through the appropriate channels?
Professor Brian Martin has written several articles on the abuse and harassment that my research has received from the SAVN lobby group – a lobby group that is supported by corporations and promoted at the (almost 100% industry-funded) Australian Immunisation Conference run by the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA).
In his article Brian Martin states:
“I have studied issues of intellectual freedom for many years; never have I heard of a campaign against a research student more relentless and abusive than the one against Judy.”
Further, the leader of the Australian Greens, Richard Di Natale, provided false information to support the SAVN lobby group (an offshoot of the Australian Sketics Inc) in the Australian parliament.
In July 2014 John Cunningham continued his vexatious attack on my research by making an anonymous complaint to the University of Wollongong about my major whooping cough research project that was completed in 2006. This research project was a critique of the Australian government’s whooping cough policy and the research was awarded a high distinction by UOW academics in 2006.
However, 8 years later in 2014, John Cunningham, a member of the public (not a member of the UOW community) and a SAVN activist, was permitted to make an anonymous complaint to the University of Wollongong of allegations of academic misconduct about this research. This was 8 years after the research was completed and the degree of Master of Science awarded.
Professor Heather Yeatman was the head of the UOW School of Public Health at the time and she excused herself from assessing the allegations made by this lobby group activist by claiming she had a conflict of interest with her role as president of the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) – an organisation that has endorsed SAVN (a facebook industry lobby group) to promote its opinions (and the strategies it uses to suppress the vaccination debate in Australia) at the PHAA’s National Immunuisation Conference.
The UOW ran an investigation into John Cunningham’s allegations without any evidence of misconduct being provided and despite the fact that his allegations were not technically ‘misconduct’.
The UOW concluded that it was an unwarranted investigation.
However before its conclusion in May 2015, the ABC provided anonymity to “two medical experts” in November 2014 to publicise the UOW’s investigation into my whooping cough research – using my name in the article. This harmed my reputation with an investigation initiated by Dr. John Cunningham without any evidence for his allegations.
This publication of the investigation in the media occurred even though the university’s investigation procedures were confidential and even though the investigation had not been completed.
At the conclusion of the investigation (May 2015) I received an apology from Judy Raper, the UOW deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research, for the unwarranted investigation and she stated that the university’s processes had been misused, “university complaint processes are not a forum for academic debate.” The unfounded allegations had been published in the mainstream Australian media with my name despite the fact that the investigation had not been completed.
Here is the research on the whooping cough vaccine that the industry/medical lobby groups did not want the public or the government to see in 2014 – ‘An Analysis of the Federal Government’s Pertussis (Whooping Cough) Policy‘ This thesis is published unchanged and it received a high distinction from UOW academics in 2006 yet the industry lobby groups successfully smeared this research with false information when the government was implementing mandatory vaccination into social welfare policies in 2014 (No Jab No Pay legislation).
Here is a quote from the apology I received from the University of Wollongong for the wrongful investigation into my whooping cough research and the inappropriate behaviour of Dr. John Cunningham in misusing the University of Wollongong’s complaint procedures:
In May 2015 an investigation by the University of Wollongong Student Conduct Committee found Dr Wilyman not guilty of academic misconduct. The Deputy Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation, Judy Raper stated that the investigation should not have happened and that “academic misconduct processes are not a forum for academic debate”.
In January 2016, one week after my PhD thesis was published on the UoW website, John Cunningham wrote several articles in the Australian press denigrating my research with false and unsupported claims. The UoW does not correct false and misleading information about student research in the media nor does it promote independent research that is in the public interest. Here is a link to the open letter I wrote to UOW academics asking them to proivde eivdence of John Cunningham’s derogatory claims in the Australian media. No evidence was provided by the University of Wollongong to support John Cunningham’s comments.
On the 26 january 2016 John Cunningham, who has no qualifications in public health, immunology or vaccination policy received an Order of Australia Medal for ‘Immunisation and Science’ one week after he had published his false and derogatory comments about my academic research on vaccines in the Australian newspaper. This award was publicised by the lobby group – Australian Skeptics Inc., a lobby group with links to industry.
John Cunningham is a doctor specialising in the spine and he is an activist for a lobby group that uses inappropriate conduct to suppress scientific debate of vaccination in Australia. He has no published articles in the field of public health, immunology or vaccination policy.
The following conduct by John Cunningham was reported to the Australian Health Practitioners Regulatory Authority (AHPRA) in March 2017. The complaint was in regards to the following actions:
- His conduct in misinforming the public about the risks of vaccines presented in my PhD thesis. He dismisses the risks of vaccines as “anti-vaccination” instead of allowing the scientific evidence and arguments in my PhD thesis to be assessed in public debates.
- His promotion of false and derogatory comments about university research and his actions in promoting his opinions about a UOW student’s research in unsolicted emails to the public, UOW academics and journalists. He had no official connection to the Univeristy of Wollongong yet he copied UOW academics into emails in a way that could imply, to the public and journalists, that his false information was endorsed by the university. This strategy allows any member of the public to discredit university research in Australia. In other words, it devalues Australian degrees and it is being assisted by the University of Wollongong’s policies.
- His conduct in fabricating allegations about a UOW student’s research and integrity, eight years after the research was completed, and the degree awarded. The allegations were baseless and the only outcome was to harm my reputation in public debates of vaccination. This occurred because the confidentiality of the investigation was allowed to be breached before the investigation was completed.
My complaint was dismissed by AHPRA in September 2017 on the grounds that John Cunningham “cannot be spreading false and misleading information about vaccination based on accepted scientific-evidence”. This statement is false and AHPRA needs to be transparent about who is defining the ‘accepted’ scientific-evidence and why the ‘accepted’ scientific evidence in my PhD thesis should be ignored.
I challenged AHPRA’s decision and I received a response from AHPRA on 30 January 2018.
Doctor’s are required to demonstrate honesty and a committment to academic integrity in their professional conduct.
AHPRA dismissed my challenge to their decision (January 2018) by claiming that the conduct I have described “does not relate to the professional conduct or performance of Dr. Cunningham occurring in the course of his practice as a medical practitioner.” Yet the strategies John Cunningham has used are being used in his professional capacity and he is discrediting the accepted scientific arguments for the risks of vaccines by misusing the appropriate channels for debate.
John Cunningham has been awarded an Order of Australia Medal (January 2016) for this conduct and contribution to “Science and Immunisation”.
A lack of integrity in academic debates is dangerous to public health and this is being assisted by the University of Wollongong’s policies and by AHPRA because they are not protecting students reputations and research. This allows professional lobby group activists and compromised doctors such as John Cunningham to succeed in confusing the public about the credibility of academic literature by misusing the academic process. These strategies are devaluing Australian degrees as well as harming human health.
Industry-lobby groups (such as SAVN) are using these strategies to remove credibility from independent research and the University of Wollongong (UOW) is not required to rectify the academic record for the public when false allegations and comments are made about the accepted scientific evidence presented in a PhD thesis.
The University of Wollongong’s (UOW) Policies and Procedures
In November 2016 I made a complaint to the NSW Ombudsman about UOW’s policies and procedures. This complaint asked the Ombudsman to investigate the misuse of the University’s procedures by lobby group activists:
1) Why did the University of Wollongong allow a member of the public to make an anonymous complaint of ‘allegations of academic misconduct’ about student research that was completed 8 years prior to the complaint? This was a complaint by a member of the public who was known to the UOW executive for previous inappropriate behaviour in debating my research.
2) How was it possible for the UOW to implement an investigation into my research when the complainant did not provide any evidence to support his allegations? And when UOW Emeritus Professor Brian Martin stated that the allegations did not qualify as “academic misconduct allegations”. And
3) Why has the UOW allowed lobby group activists to use it’s procedures to harass a UOW student and harm their reputation and to promote false and misleading information about the student’s area of research (vaccination) on the UOW website written by non-experts in this field?
The NSW Ombudsman replied on the 12 December 2017 without addressing this complaint and stating that the review is closed and no further correspondence will be acknowledged or provided with a response unless it raises substantive new issues that warrant an action. Here is the response I provided to the NSW Ombudsman on 14 December 2017. To date I have not had a response from the Ombudsman.