Over the past few years, I’ve been asked to write several posts on vaccine myths and why they’re not true.
For reasons that I don’t entirely understand, they’ve been extremely popular being syndicated in multiple places and a recent one being made into a short video in partnership with SBS News and The Conversation.
Of course, some people don’t like to see scaremongering and falsehoods about vaccines debunked, especially when their livelihood depends on it (as it does for Meryl Dorey of the Australian Vaccination Network).
It’s just not worth arguing with some people. As I said in a recent radio interview on the same subject, I don’t try to reach anti-vaxers through my work – I aim to reach parents who are confused or overwhelmed (and a recent survey shows that this group consists of about 50% of parents) by the sheer volume of information on Google. But inevitably my path will eventually cross with anti-vaxers.
One such incident occurred recently when NZ based Erwin Alber who runs Vaccination Information Network Education or VINE took exception to my myths video (the link is here but has obviously been heavily edited by Erwin – go there if you dare).
Normally I would advise against engaging with these people especially when it’s on their own fora where they can easily ban and delete (as he as subsequently done – more on that below).
But this time I decided to make an exception, really just to remind these people that the person they are calling “a junk scientist” a “raving lunatic” and saying that “she makes me ill” is a real person who sees their comments. As expected I was wasting my time and indeed just succeeded in poking a wasp’s nest. Here’s how it started
So the fact that Erwin was completely disrespectful and rude didn’t surprise me in the slightest. What did surprise me a little was his apparent complete disregard for the law by calling me a liar.
Pharma shill, barefaced liar, pharma whore, you are involved in crimes against humanity and child abuse, evil. Nice.
So I’ve been podcasting for over 4 years, I run a popular blog, my myths article is linked to my university and Erwin says “I couldn’t find a way to contact you”. I suggested to him that this reflected his mad internetz skillz and that he might just be too cowardly to contact me directly.
So once some other people started commenting, the banhammer descended. These comments (amongst others) are no longer there
Now there’s a old saying when it comes to science debates, in fact it’s one that Meryl Dorey uses repeatedly. It goes, when you’ve got no science then you resort to calling people names (as Matthew mentions above). So based on Erwin’s outburst he’s got no science to refute my statements but also he crosses extremely close to the line (and possibly over it) into defamation/libel by repeatedly calling me a liar.
I’ve been doing this stuff for a while and one thing I’ve learnt from frequent lectures and shaking fists from my barrister mate who has a masters degree in libel/defamation is never call someone a liar UNLESS YOU HAVE WATER TIGHT UNEQUIVOCAL EVIDENCE TO PROVE YOU ARE CORRECT (caveat: EVEN THEN, JUST DON’T DO IT).
I’ve seen many people refer to anti-vaccine campaigners as liars, something that makes me cringe every time I see it in black and white.
Even though they insist that “truth is their defense” (which is absolutely the case in Australian law – truth and the public interest are a valid defense) I’m still firmly in the fight-evidence-with-evidence camp as much as humanly possible.
(It’s true that I once repeated a not-very-nice name given to Meryl Dorey by someone else, but this was many years ago, when I was green and inexperienced and I certainly wouldn’t do it again).
Whilst clearly I am not a lawyer (IANAL) I don’t think it’s a good idea especially now there is legal precedent for this being an actionable offense.
In February 2013, an Australian man who is diagnosed Asperger’s successfully sued John Best – you know John Best? He’s never met a conspiracy theory he doesn’t like and subscribes to the Illuminati and the Rothchild’s. Even Age of Autism, – yes that AoA (trigger warning) – distance themselves from him. In additon, this is not the first time he has been sued for defamation but I’ve been unable to establish who won this case)
The Victorian case concerned long-term abuse and vilification of the plaintiff, Mr Phillip Gluyas, by John Best, centering around a long-running dispute over the causes of autism. But the debate went beyond the discussion of scientific evidence;
Here’s an excerpt from the trial republished from Defamation Watch
“But the defendant’s responses to the plaintiff …became abusive, denigrating and vitriolic. There were numerous offending articles and they claimed, among other things, that the plaintiff had a history of brutality, was severely deranged, that he abused autistic women and, like Hannibal Lecter and Adam Lanza, that he was a danger to society…the plaintiff sued him for it…and the defendant then wrote to the court and repeated his attacks.”
The repetition of the attacks in response to the suit steeled the judge’s resolve who awarded the plaintiff 5 x the money he had requested in the original suit, plus interest.
So not only did the defendant have no respect for science or decency for that matter but the law didn’t seem to matter to him much either. Bad luck to him.
Other things to note about this case are the plaintiff’s established reputation
“His Honour was satisfied that the plaintiff was relatively well known, particularly among people interested in the autism spectrum. In 2008, he contributed to the development of an Autism Plan in Victoria and attended State Conferences on Autism. He had also developed a reputation for his football umpiring and his involvement in wrestling.”
But the critical factor in awarding damages was the plaintiff had to demonstrate that the material had been downloaded and read by multiple people. In fact the size of the damages awarded was determined by the factor;
“While the plaintiff only proved a limited number of people had read the articles, His Honour took account of the grapevine effect, …..His Honour also said that it would have been considerably more, if there had been more widespread publication in Victoria.”
Now here’s where we come back to Erwin. His FB page has about 38,000 fans. In the interests of rallying support I screen-shotted many of the posts and posted them on Twitter where I have over 8000 followers. They also went up in my FB page which has over 2,500 “friends”. Erwin should really learn to shut up.
I used to think he was a bit kooky but now I think he’s also extremely foolish. The last thing I posted in the thread where he abuses me was a link to the above case. I got notification that he posted one more time after that, but since then things have gone quiet. And I’m not interested in going back.
I also want to make it clear that I absolutely do not hide, lie or attempt to conceal that vaccines are not 100% safe. This would be foolish on my behalf and counter active to my aim to reach out to confused parents. Vaccines have been known to cause side effects. I have stated this numerous time before. See for example, Myth 4: Vaccines have never been tested here.
But what Erwin claims about the side effects of vaccines, that they’re “poison”, that they cause autism are simply not supported by evidence. Vaccines are NOT linked to autism, and reactions are extremely rare. And I’m not the only one who says the benefits of vaccines far outweigh the risks.
You might be wondering why I’ve blogged this then and why I sent it out on Twitter and FB. Because people like this need to be exposed. A lot of this stuff goes on behind the scenes in depths of long lost FB threads or blog posts, but nevertheless they are seen by a lot of people. And the evidence is there, that anti-vaxers are not nice people. And apparently not very smart when it comes to the law either.
Postscript and for the information of Erwin: I suggest you *do your research* as you claim to do, whence you will establish that I am not a clinician. A simple Google search (which you seem to love so much) would demonstrate this. Herp Derp