Dr. John Cunningham’s False and Misleading Information on Vaccination Research

The Information Provided by Dr. John Cunningham in the Vaccination Debate in Australia: 

In February/March 2014 John Cunningham took up my invitation to doctors to debate my research. He is a specilaist in spinal disorders and a leader of the Stop the Australian Vaccination Network (SAVN) – an industry-associated lobby group linked to the Australian Skeptics Inc (a group that has many non-scientific members/subscribers who use abuse and ridicule to promote vaccines to the public). When responding to my request he chose to send his opinons of my research, with 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) and the University of Wollongong’s policies allowed members of the public to influence the credibility of university research in this way. The university academics were not required to correct the false information that John Cunningham provided to the public nor were they required to tell him it was not appropriate to copy their addresses into the copied (cc) field of the email – which can imply that it is endorsed by the UOW academics. 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.

John Cunningham does not have any qualifications in public health, immunology or vaccination policy, so why did the University of Wollongong allow UOW academics to be visibly copied into these derogatory emails from a member of the public, that harm a student’s reputation and the credibility of the university research? And 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?

John Cunningham is a leader of the SAVN lobby group that uses abuse, ridicule and false information to reduce the credibility of university research. 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.”

Yet the leader of the Australian Greens, Richard Di Natale, has supported some of the SAVN activists who have abused citizens in the Australian parliament, with false comments about these individuals and the actions of the SAVN lobby group (an offshoot of the Australian Sketics Inc) in Australia.

Further, in July 2014 John Cunningham made an anonymous complaint to the University of Wollongong about my whooping cough research project 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. Yet in 2014, John Cunningham, a member of the public (not a member of the UOW community) and 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 awarded.

An investigation was implemented without any evidence of misconduct being provided. 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 who published information about the investigation using my name in the article. This harmed my reputation with an investigation initiated by John Cunningham without eny evidence for his allegations. This 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 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 project ‘An Analysis of the Federal Government’s Pertussis (Whooping Cough) Policy‘ (unchanged) that received a high distinction from UOW academics in 2006 and that industry lobby groups smeared with false information in 2014.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3.  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”. I challenged this statement in October 2017 and I received a response from AHPRA on 30 January 2018.

I challenged AHPRA’s decision on the basis that John Cunningham dismisses the accepted scientific evidence for the risks of vaccines as provided in my PhD thesis as ‘anti-vaccination’. He is suppressing the scientific evidence without open debate of the medical literature. Public health cannot be protected by suppressing the academic arguments and this is contrary to the accepted practice for medical practitioners under the Geneva Convention: the ethical code of conduct for doctors with respect to informed consent for all medical interventions.   

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.”  Therefore it does not constitute a ground for notification under Section 144 (1) (a) or (b). Yet the strategies John Cunningham has used in his professional capacity are discrediting the accepted scientific arguments for the risks of vaccines that are presented in a PhD thesis and confusing the public about the safety and efficacy of vaccines.

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 because they are not protecting students reputations and research. This allows professional lobby group activists such as John Cunningham to succeed in confusing the public about the credibility of academic literature by misusing the university’s policies. 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.