There are pro-vaccination lobby groups in Australia who are promoting the government’s immunisation policies with false and misleading information on their blogs and websites. My PhD supervisor at Wollongong University, Professor Brian Martin has written several articles on the strategies being used by lobby groups to prevent open debate on this issue and one of these is – On the Suppression of Vaccination Dissent.
The action of these lobby groups is resulting in a misinformed public because the pro-vaccine lobby groups are providing selective information (and misinformation) about vaccines and discrediting individuals who present valid science against vaccines.These lobby groups are using websites/blogs/media to attack individuals who present the science that questions the use of multiple vaccines.
Many lobby groups are operating as ‘front’ organisations for corporations and are fighting environmental and public health regulations on behalf of these corporations (Michaels 2008: Angells 2005). These groups ridicule academics, use abusive language and provide misinformation to promote vaccination. The tactics these groups are using are part of a ‘disinformation campaign’ that is being presented to the public to confuse the science. Here is an article that describes the tactics these lobby groups are using titled ‘The Deliberate Intent To Deceive People Is At an all Time High’.
One such lobby group in Australia with many subscribers who are using these tactics is the deceptively named Australian Skeptics organisation. This organisation was set up in July 1980 by Dick Smith who collaborated with James Randi, the founder of the US Committee of Skeptical Inquiry (an organisation that promotes corporate interests). Whilst the funding arracgements for this organisation are hidden, their agenda that only focuses on diseases that can be prevented by vaccines plus their active suppression of debate on the skyrocketing chronic illness in children, including autism, that is increasing with the expansion of the vaccination schedule, is evidence that they are not a true grassroots citizen group.
This agenda makes it clear that they are not interested in the “health” of children, they are only interested in diseases that can be prevented with a vaccine. This is an example of astroturfing – where lobby groups present a front as a grassroots consumer group but they are in fact a well funded lobby group promoting corporate interests in government policies. The use of vaccines in government policies represents billions of dollars to pharmaceutical companies.
In 2008/09 as I began presenting my research at the Australian National Health Promotion Conference in Perth and with the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN) – a citizens group questioning the increasing use of multiple vaccines – Dick Smith, funded a full page advertisment in the Australian newspaper for the Stop the Australian Vaccination Network (SAVN). This advert was written by the Australian Skeptic Committee and it falsely derided this citizen group as being an “anti-vaccination organisation”.
SAVN was set up as an anonymous facebook group in 2009 with the only contact listed as “The Young Australian Skeptics”. They called themselves the Stop the AVN (SAVN) Facebook Friends and future advertisements were funded by the “SAVN facebook subscriber” (Eran Segrev, Australian Skeptic President 2012). This anonymity enabled the SAVN subscribers/members to use abuse and ridicule to defame professionals who question vaccines with impunity.
The Australian Skeptics/SAVN lobby group encourage parents to promote vaccines on anecdotal evidence (The McCaffery family in 2009 and the Riley Family in 2017/18). That is, the evidence of their child’s experience with a disease. Whilst these are tragic events this misrepresents the risk of the disease to the community and the risk of vaccines to the community, as many children also die or are harmed by vaccines. Hence it is not the evidence that public policies should be promoted on.
The tactics described above can be observed on the Australian skeptic/SAVN blogs and websites which are criticising individuals and misrepresenting their comments. This does not mean that all subscribers of the Skeptics behave in this way. The Skeptics is an organisation that claims to encourage the investigation of paranormal and fringe-science activities yet many of their subscribers are not scientists or health professionals. They use untruthful information as opposed to scientific arguments to criticise researchers and academics on their blogs and websites.
The organisation currently consists of about 4,000 subscribers in Australia (from a variety of professions) and they publish the non-peer reviewed magazine The Skeptic. Their primary aim is to influence public opinion on scientific issues through the media and websites. Further information about the influence of the Skeptics on the vaccination debate can be found on their website and here.
In 2009, a subscriber of the Canberra Skeptics, Ken McLeod, made a complaint to the NSW government HealthCare Complaints Commission (HCCC) about a consumer lobby group, the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN), who are asking the government to investigate their concerns about vaccines. Ken McLeod is a retired air traffic controller and he does not have a background in health, vaccination science or medicine yet he made a complaint about parents/consumers to the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) – an organisation set up to investigate consumer concerns on all health issues.
The AVN is a group of concerned parents and professionals yet instead of answering consumer concerns about vaccines, the HCCC targeted the AVN with the information provided by Ken McLeod. The complaint by Ken McLeod was later dismissed in the NSW Supreme Court when the judge ruled that the complaint to the HCCC was invalid however the incident allowed the mainstream media to use the incident to misinform the public about the AVN.
The Australian Skeptics provided Ken McLeod and Wendy Wilkinson with the Thornett Award in 2010 for their efforts in exposing what they claimed was ‘pseudoscience’ presented by the AVN. They received $1,000 each from the Australian Skeptics (a non-scientific organisation) for their efforts in criticising the AVN. Ken McLeod has also made false claims about my research and has misinformed the public about this research on social media websites.
The Stop the Australian Vaccination Network (SAVN) also won the Skeptics of the Year Award in 2010 for lobbying the government against the AVN. In 2009 the Thornett award with $1,000 was given to Toni and David McCaffery (parents) for informing the public about the need for whooping cough vaccine based on their personal experience. The Friends of Science was established in 2011 and won the Skeptic of the Year Award in 2012. Other recipients of Skeptic of the Year from 1996-2010 and speakers at the Australian Skeptics National Convention in 2014 (List 1 and 2).
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- JUDY WILYMAN