Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Skeptics gone wild

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on August 23, 2010

I’m no fan of Jenny McCarthy, especially given her anti-vaccination views. I think that most of her arguments are invalid; she insists on perpetuating long debunked myths about vaccines, and seems to refuse to look at the actual evidence regarding vaccines. For that she needs to be criticized as much as we, politely but strongly, can. Nevertheless, it troubles me to witness ad hominem attacks, and the use of logical fallacies against McCarthy. One such argument that seems to have gained a bit of popularity these days goes along these lines:

Jenny McCarthy speaks of dangerous “toxins” in vaccines, yet she gets Botox shots, which include botulinum, one of the most toxic substances around, right on her face.

Unfortunately, even the one who is recently threatening to become my favorite active skeptic around (James Randi of course is on a category of his own, I’m talking mere mortals here), the Bad Astronomer himself made a similar comment at his Bad Astronomy blog.

I see. So injecting kids with scientifically-proven medicine that can save their lives and the lives of countless others is bad because of a fantasy-driven belief that it causes autism, but injecting a lethal pathogen — in fact, the most lethal protein known — into your face to help ease the globally threatening scourge of crow’s feet is just fine and dandy.

I’ve also heard a similar comment being made in an episode of The Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast, fairly recently.

Now, as satisfying as taking shots to people we whole-heartedly disagree with may be, I fail to see what the above comment adds to the vaccine discourse. Jenny McCarthy is wrong because of what she’s choosing to consider evidence, and due to poor critical thinking about the issue at hand, not because of her personal, adult live-style choices. Think about it; it is a non-sequitur, it has nothing to do with the discussion at hand, and I’m not even sure what it is supposed to highlight about Jenny McCarthy herself.

If you are not convinced, let us do the usual experiment and replace the word “Botox/Toxin” with something else,  smoking for example. Now let us assume for a second that teachers can smoke in the classrooms and McCarthy was advocating against smoke in the schools. Also assume she was a smoker herself and had said the following about cigarettes:

I love smoking, I absolutely love it,” she said. “I get it minimally, so I’m not a chain smoker. But I really do think it’s a savior, when I’m stressed and tired.

Now ask yourself: would her own personal love & consumption of tobacco, invalidate her arguments against smoking in schools? Of course not, and for the same reason her own personal use of Botox is not an argument against her anti-vaccine views. It is not related in any way; it is a non-sequitur and using it amounts to nothing more than an ad-hominem, or a poisoning-of-the-well, logical fallacy.

We skeptics take pride in our allegiance to logic and evidence; we are aware of our own shortcomings; we are aware that we are fallible and that we make mistakes. In my opinion the above comments about Jenny McCarthy are a mistake that we should own up to and make amends, and stop using it. If you really want to counter Jenny’s anti-vaccine views, choose one of the claims she makes, do some research, and write a nice blog entry showing where she goes wrong and what the evidence says, but do not resort to ad-hominem attacks. We are skeptics and we ought to be better than that.


No, no, no, no, fuck no!

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on August 20, 2010

This is insane, immoral, inhuman and I sure hope to goodness, illegal!

Doctors who face a shortage of anaesthetic drugs and expertise in war-torn Iraq have successfully used acupuncture techniques for Caesarean section deliveries, according to a new small study.

How the hell do you measure success when you’re cutting a woman’s belly open without anesthesia? What is the objective way of measuring the pain here? You know there is another word for this procedure before, it’s called torture! And what the hell does it mean to be a doctor who faces a shortage of expertise? Can someone explain that to me?

The researchers said that if their results were replicated in a larger study, such practices could be a useful addition to standard medical practice in fully equipped hospitals.

Oh let me get this straight, you want more pregnant women to have their bellies spliced open without anesthesia? Fuck no asshole. Come here, let me introduce you to my little friend: ETHICS!

The technique was used to counter the effects of halothane, which relaxes the womb, but carries an increased risk of bleeding as a result. Oxytocin is normally used to counteract these effects, but was in short supply at the time.

As soon as possible after delivery, six acupuncture needles were inserted into the mother’s toes and ankles and manually stimulated for five to ten minutes. The acupuncture points relate to bleeding from the womb, prolapse of the womb, difficult labour, uterine contractions and retention of the placenta.

What? You just said it was used by doctors facing “a shortage of anesthetic drugs” and now you’re saying it was used after delivery to control bleeding? Would you make up your fucking mind already.  Actually this is good news; it means whoever wrote this piece of garbage is either trying to be funny or a complete imbecile, which carries with it a ray of hope that this whole thing just may not be true, that doctors are not using acupuncture instead of anesthesia anywhere in the world.

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The Skeptic Delusion?

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on August 20, 2010

As skeptics, we take pride in our allegiance to evidence; we take pride in applying the skeptical method to various claims in order to figure out if there is any truth behind the claim or not. “Be skeptical; look at the evidence, defer to scientific consensus; look it up for yourself” are usual phrases that we throw around. Yet, the question must be asked: how realistic are those tenets? How honest is it to claim that, for every position we take in our skeptical activities, we’ve done the research? That we’ve found out what the scientific consensus is? That we’ve looked it up, ourselves?

This latest rambling is inspired thanks to a tweet by Daniel Loxton who pointed to a comment on, what else, a commentary on Phil Plait’s now famous, DBaD (a.k.a. Don’t be a Dick) TAM8 speech. Here is the comment by Red Pill Junkie, in its entirety:

Another thing I liked about Phil’s speech was in his telling the anecdote of how he chose to argue with a young Creationist; when she wanted to discuss things about dinosaurs and evolution, he quickly admitted he is not a Biologist, and hence wasn’t qualified enough to give her the answers to such questions.

That is an important message. Obviously a person with such a passion for science like Phil is perfectly entitled to have a layman’s opinion on fields that stand aside of his particular expertise; people should have many fields of interest, not just the stuff you studied as an undergraduate —Hell, that’s why you’re here reading this, ain’t it? 🙂

But one of the main problems with skeptics as a “movement”, is that the moment they acquire the term —and the methods of acquiring vary greatly from person to person, although more fall into simply “not believing in God, aliens and fairies” and be (very) vocal about it— they tend to erect themselves as experts in *EVERYTHING*; they feel entitled to give an “expert” skeptic opinion about everything they come across —UFOs, ghosts, Atlantis, reincarnation, 9/11, etc etc.

But this is not just their fault, since the Larry Kings of the media world always love to use the age-old formula of inviting an expert in some paranormal field —someone like Stan Friedman, who has spent decades researching the UFO phenomenon— and then inviting another “expert”: an official skeptic. The results are often …disastrous.

So yeah: part of not-being a dick is admitting you don’t have a diploma in Everything-ology 😉

It is important to pay special attention to that last sentence. No one is an expert in Everything-ology. It is simply impossible for any skeptic to have the time, or resources, to do an exhaustive search into every claim that we as skeptics express opinions on. Think about this for a moment: how readily do skeptical activists jump on any claim involving ghosts hauntings? How, quickly do we pull out the staple explanations to explain away that haunted house? Yet, how many of us have gone on just one haunted house investigation? The answer, I suspect, will be that not many of us, myself included, have taken part in such an activity.

Let’s look at something like global warming. How many of us have read at least a substantial portion of the science about global warming? Again, I suspect the answer will be that only a small fraction of us have. When we go around proclaiming that the scientific consensus supports the view, are we really basing that on our survey of the science, or are we basing that on what we heard some acclaimed skeptic say in her podcast, or write in his blog? Honestly, how many of us have read the IPCC synthesis report, all 52 pages of it?

Now, I’m not writing all this to belittle grassroots skeptics; I am myself one. The point is that, as the comment above says, we have to be very careful to first have it clear in our head, and also to make it clear to whoever we’re talking to, that in most cases what we’re expressing is an opinion, and that most of us are not an authority in any sense of the word about most things we’re expressing such opinions about.  We have to know our limitations, and knowing our limitations doesn’t necessarily mean that we ought not to form or express opinions, but it does mean that we have to be more flexible than the believer in the opinions we hold. We have to know that we are fallible, that we are most likely forming an opinion based on incomplete information; that we are utilizing an argument from authority when we’re repeating arguments heard on a podcast, or read on a blog without taking the time to “check it out for ourselves”.

Checking it out for oneself is impossible to apply to everything, so we have to rely on others; we have to rely on Joe Nickell’s expertise when it comes to investigating haunted houses; we have to rely on the IPCCs expertise when it comes to summarizing climate science, but we do so with a grain of salt, beacause we did not do the skeptical thing and check these things out for ourselves. And that grain of salt must grow, the further away the commenter, on whose words we’re basing our opinion, moves from his/her area of expertise. That is why the grain of salt would be small when relying on the IPCC report, bigger when relying on Phil Plait’s comments on evolution, and even bigger if you’re relying on my comments about vaccines at my spanking new, and wonderfully informative vaccination blog, Vaccine Central.

Talking to the dead study: does it hold up?

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on August 16, 2010

A little while ago, I was listening to The Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast, when Steven Novella mentioned that he’d been on the Skeptiko podcast debating Near Death Experience research with the host, Alex Tsakiris. I subscribed to Skeptiko to hear the debate. My initial reaction was that Alex was trying to honestly evaluate the evidence. However, the way he was interpreting it, was unsatisfactory to my skeptical mind. Thus, I decided to listen to a couple other episodes to see if my initial interpretation was correct.

In the next episode, Alex had as guests the hosts of a skeptical podcast I wasn’t aware of, called Righteous Indignation, and one the main thing that the 4 of them spend a lot of time discussing was a study about mediums and communication with the dead. The study is titled “Anomalous Information Reception by Research Mediums Demonstrated Using a Novel Triple-Blind Protocol” by Julie Beischel and Gary E. Schwartz. I have sent Alex an e-mail to ensure that this is in fact the study in question. He has replied confirming that this is indeed the study they were discussing in that show.

Alex took exception to the skepticss comment that the study’s methodology was questionable. After reading the study myself I find myself agreeing, not surprisingly, with the skeptics. This study has glaring issues, and leaves too many important pieces of information out. I tried to reach out via e-mail to the study’s author, Julie Beischel to ask her a few questions, but the e-mail address listed on the study came back with an error message. Unfortunately, those questions will remain unanswered.

So without further ado let me get into the meat of things.

Study Summary

The study’s purpose was to investigate the “anomalous reception of information about deceased individuals by research mediums under experimental conditions that eliminate conventional explanations.” In other words, the authors wanted to set up conditions which made it impossible for the mediums to get information in any way besides “anomalous reception”, a.k.a. psychically, and then figure out the success rate.

8 students were selected, 4 with a deceased parent, 4 a deceased peer. Each student was paired with a student from the other group, thus each pair of 2 students had one deceased parent and one deceased peer, both deceased individuals of the same gender, resulting in 4 pairs of “sitters”. An unrelated third person, who had no knowledge of the sitters or the dead people served as a “proxy sitter”. In other words, the proxy sitter was given the names of the 2 dead people, which he/she then relayed to the medium over the phone. The medium, working solely with the first name of the dead person would then go on to produce a reading for the pair (2 readings per medium one for the dead parent, one for the dead peer). Each pair of sitters received readings from 2 separate mediums.

So to summarize, 8 students organized in 4 pairs. 8 mediums. Each pair got reading from 2 mediums. We have 16 readings altogether. Next comes the scoring.

I’m not going to spend much time on the technicalities of the scoring process. For purposes of the summary it suffices to say that each student was presented with the readings for the pair and asked to choose  the one that better fit their deceased person. So if you were the student with the dead parent, you’d get two readings : the one meant for your dead parent and the one meant for the dead peer of the other student in your pair. You would not know which was which and had to pick the one that best fit your dead parent. After doing this 13 out of the 16 readings were correctly identified.

The authors concluded with strong words:

The present findings provide evidence for anomalous information reception but do not directly address what parapsychological mechanisms are involved in that reception. In and of themselves, the data cannot distinguish among hypotheses suchm as (a) survival of consciousness (the continued existence, separate from the body, of an individual’s consciousness or personality after physical death) and (b) mind reading (ESP or telepathy14)or super-psi1 (retrieval of information via a generalized psychic information channel or physical quantum field, also called super-ESP).

So what is the verdict here? Does this study really provide convincing evidence for anomalous reception?

Basic Criteria for evaluating a scientific paper

Before we start analyzing how well, or not, this study followed basic methodological principles, it is important, I think, to review the basic characteristics that we expect to see in a well designed and run scientific study, and they are:

  1. No fraud – This one is pretty obvious; the very first requirement is that there was no fraud perpetrated by the authors, no hiding of data, no making up data and that sort of stuff.
  2. Statistical competency – We would also expect the authors to have done their statistics properly, that the correct analytical techniques were used and such.
  3. Sample Size – This refers to the number of people drafted to participate in a study. For any given level of statistical confidence interval, a minimum sample size (referred to as n in statistics) is necessary. The smaller the sample the less reliable the results of the study are. Sample size is directly related to the total population for which we’re trying to come to a conclusion, the confidence level and the confidence interval. For a quick calculator and a quick refresher of what these terms mean, you can check out this website.
  4. Randomization – of test subjects is important because it helps to reduce the effect of bias in the study results.
  5. Control Group – Very important to weed out perceived, but not real, effects/benefits from whatever is being studied. Thus, when testing a drug, there will be one group of test subjects receiving the medicine being studied, and another group, separate and distinct from the first, receiving a sugar pill. Neither knows what they’re being administered. The results from the control group are compared with the results from the medicine group to see if there is a real effect, beyond placebo.
  6. Blinding – Single/Double/Triple. Blinding comes in many flavors. The gold standard is double-blinding, when neither the test subject, nor the person administering the thing being tested know what they are dealing with. Triple blinding is also possible, when the people doing the statistical analysis of the raw data are not told which one they’re analyzing. So for example, in the drug scenario double blinding means the test subject does not know if he’s getting the medicine or the sugar pill, the person handing out the pills does not know if she’s handing out the medicine or the sugar pill. In the triple blinding case, the statistician would not be told “here is the data for the medicine and here is the data for the sugar pill”. Instead, she’ll be told “here is data set A and here is data set B”.

These are the core, basic requirements of a properly designed scientific study. Now going back to the study at hand, the skeptics claimed that the methodology, a fancy way of saying the design, of the study was inappropriate, “highly dubious” I believe were the exact terms, if my memory serves correctly. Let us go through the list and see if that is indeed the case, or if Alex was right that this study has very good design. Only one of them can be right, so let us try to find out who is.

Study Analysis

I will skip over #1 and #2 and give the study authors a “Pass” for the simple reason that I am not aware of any evidence that there was any fraud, so unless such evidence comes to light I am inclined to believe no fraud was present, and because I am not an expert in statistics, I cannot scrutinize the statistical methods and results so I am willing to give this study the benefit of the doubt in that regard as well. Let’s look at the other criteria, those that any lay person can evaluate for themselves.

#1 Sample Size – Was the sample size appropriate? Well what is the sample size in this study? Is it the number of students recruited? The number of mediums? Well, given that what is being studied here is not the effect of the reading on the sitter, but the effectiveness of the medium to give a correct reading, I would suggest that the sample here would be the total number of readings performed, thus n=16. Is this sample size appropriate. No, not to enable us to reach any conclusions whatsoever. Even if everything else is done perfectly, all the other criteria were followed to the dot, a sample size of 16, at best, indicates that a larger sample is needed. No conclusions can be drawn from 16 data points.

You do not have to take just my word for it. Let us refer to the calculator I linked to before. How can we apply it to this case? Simple: the study concludes that 13/16 readings were picked up correctly, therefore that is strong evidence for psychic powers, or anomalous reception of information. The unstated premise is that those 13 readings must have been on target. So we can look at the number of readings. According to this study, 13 out of 16 medium readings were correct, which would be impressive. However, let us think for a moment: how many such readings take place, in the US alone in any given year? I would venture a guess of something in the hundreds of thousands. Let us say for argument’s sake that we have a population of only 100,000 readings.

Now we ask the question, what number of readings do we have to study in order for the sample size to be appropriate? That depends on the desired confidence level and interval. No study I’ve ever read has had a confidence level of less than 95%, and if I am not mistaken, this study is using a 99.9% confidence level, but for argument’s sake we’re going to use the lower level of 95%, which will require a smaller sample size. The interval is the + or – that usually follows poll results. I’ve usually seen a few digits, so let us go with 5. Please type all this information in the calculator:

  • Confidence Level – 95%
  • Confidence Interval – 5
  • Population – 100,000

The result? 383. In other words, you’d need to look at 383 readings to be 95% sure that the result is within 5% of the true value. All of a sudden 16 looks really, really tiny, doesn’t it? Strike One!

#2 Randomization – Were the test subjects chosen at random? No, neither the sitters nor the mediums were chosen at random from their respective populations. While I do see why that would be so with the mediums, you want to test the best of the best after all if you want to sort this thing out and you don’t want the charlatans in the medium population to dilute the effect, I do not understand why this simple requirement was not followed when it came to the sitters. The authors had a pool of 1,600 students to choose from, more than enough to get  a nice, random sample out of. Instead the sitters were selected based on answers “yes” or “unsure” to questions about his/her belief in the afterlife and mediums. Furthermore, the final 8 were chosen based on their answers and based on the desired paring, in order to optimize “the ability of blinded raters to differentiate between two gender-matched readings during scoring”.

What does all this mean? Well, simply put it means that the authors hand-picked who they wanted to be a sitter based on the survey questions, and even went so far as making sure that the paired deceased were as different from each other as possible. That basically takes randomization and throws it out the window, no questions asked.

So what exactly were these survey questions the volunteers had to answer? What were the answers of the final 8? We do not know, and unfortunately Dr. Beischel’s e-mail did not work so I could not ask these questions. But these are crucial pieces of information to have. What if all 8 had answered “Yes” to the question “do you believe in an afterlife” or “do you believe in mediums and their ability to contact the dead”? Wouldn’t you think that would severely bias the way they look at the readings? Strike Two!

#3 Control Group – This was a sticking point between the skeptics and Alex in the podcast. Alex kept insisting that there was a control, that the fact that each person got their intended reading and another reading constituted a control. However, he’s missing the main point about controls: it is supposed to be a control group, separate and distinct from the “treatment” group. The magnitude of the placebo effect, random chance etc. cannot be gauged by having the same test subject choose between treatment A and the placebo. That’s just not how science works, and if we are pretending to be running a scientific experiment we must play by the rules of science. You cannot make up a new definition for “control”; that’d be having your cake and eating it too!

So what would the control have looked like in this experiment? Sticking with the way this experiment was run, the control group would be a second group of 8 students, identical to the first 8 who would be getting the same readings but not from a “medium” but a mentalist that can produce such readings without claiming paranormal powers. Then you would run the exact same experiment and tally the results. If there is a statistically significant difference between the first group of 8 students and the control group of another 8 students, then one may reasonably say that more study is needed. This study as run, lacked a control group. Strike Three!

#4 Blinding – Is this really a triple blinded study as the authors proclaim? Well remember triple blinding means that the participants are blinded (meaning they don’t know if they are getting the real or the control treatment), the person handing out the treatment does not know what they’re giving out, and the statisticians analyzing the results do not know what they’re analyzing. This study fails on all three counts.

First the test subjects were not blinded, simply put because there was no control group. Every student knew they were getting a “real” reading indeed. You cannot have participant blinding without a control group, and having the test subject choose between a fake and a real reading does not constitute blinding, especially when the readings are set up to be as different as possible. That’s a basic fact and anyone who has a problem with that is not understanding control & blinding as they are used in science.

Second, the mediums were not blinded. In order to effectively blind the mediums they should not have known if the name they were given was indeed that of a dead person or that of a living one. Not only did the mediums work in complete confidence that they were working only with dead people, but they also knew the gender and approximate age of the dead people they were supposed to give  a reading for. That is not blinding, that is the opposite of blinding, the medium is going in knowing three pieces of information: the person is indeed dead (so no chance of giving a reading for a living person), the person’s gender (gleamed from the name) and the persons’ ages (roughly late teens to early twenties for the dead peer, and late  40s and higher for the dead parent). That is a lot of information for someone skilled at the guessing game. The way the experiment is set up, betrays one important thing: the author is going on about this study already assuming the mediums can indeed talk to the dead, so they didn’t even bother to control for the possibility of fraud, or guessing.

Thirdly, there is no indication in the paper about the blinding of the statisticians and the other persons involved in interpreting the data. The author refers to the proxy-sitters as their triple blinding but that is not what triple blinding means. Matter of fact, the presence of the proxy sitters is completely baffling. They do not need to be there, they add nothing to the overall methodology, and it seems their sole purpose was to pass on a name to the medium, which could have easily been done otherwise.  Anyone who knows anything about triple blinding can easily confirm this is not triple blinding.

So the test subjects and the mediums were not properly blinded, and it appears the statisticians weren’t either. Strike Four!

Other problems with the study

Besides the methodological problems described above here are more problems that need to be worked out before we can have any reliance on the results of this study.

  • There is no mention in here of how accurately the mediums readings matched with the descriptions of the deceased that the students gave in the beginning. Were there any specific pieces of information provided (such as the deceased’s birth date, death date, death place, mode of death, social security # etc, something that is specific to the person being “read”)?
  • The participants were forced to choose one of the two readings provided. They were not asked to pick only if the reading very closely applied to their deceased person, they are forced to choose one of the two. When you combine this 50-50 pure chance, with the fact that the students were hand-picked to participate (possibly having been choses for their propensity to believe) and the fact that the two readings would have been fairly different (medium knew approximate ages) that can easily explain 13 out of 16 hits. The fact that we lack a control group makes that number almost useless as we have nothing to compare it to.
  • When the students were chosen from the pool of 1,600 it was done so in order to “optimize testing conditions…based on answers “yes” or “unsure” to survey questions about his/her beliefs” yet no explanation of exactly what this optimization process involved.
  • When the dead people were paired is was done in a way so to  “optimize differences” across various characteristics. Again no description is given. When they say it was optimized for age does that mean to decrease or increase the age difference in the pair? The answer is unknown.
  • The second part of the reading was the Life Questions in which the medium was to answer 4 specific questions about the dead person. The results on the accuracy of these answers are not available.
  • Each medium reading was transcribed and turned into a numbered list of individual items. It is unknown how specific the items included in the list by the experimenter were. In other word, did it say “Bob died in a motorcycle crash on the I95” or does it say that “Bob died peacefully”? Those kinds of things always matter in a study of this sort.

We can get into more detail about other opened questions that remain and have not been properly addressed. In the Results the authors promise more details in a future manuscript, but I haven’t been able to find it, and as stated previously my attempt to contact the lead author was futile.


So what can we take from this study? How reliable is it? Unfortunately for the talking-to-the-dead enthusiasts, this study is worthless scientifically. It had a ridiculously small sample size, it lacked a control group, had no randomization or proper blinding, not in a scientific sense that is.  There are many other unanswered questions, missing crucial information that could shed some light on the results. The authors forced the subjects to pick one of the two answers, which alone gives a 50-50 chance which when coupled with the other points I raised up earlier more than explains the results observed. And more importantly, nothing was reported on the accuracy of the mediums readings, how specific their readings were especially in the Life Questions sections and how well they matched with the subjects descriptions on specific items.

Would it not have been easier to ask the students to provide ten pieces of information specific to the dead person, ask the medium to do their reading, covering the 10 specific pieces of information and then ask a third-party to analyze how well the mediums’ answers match those specific pieces of information, as opposed to relying on forced choice between two options? I think so. Why wasn’t it done? Id’ rather not speculate.

Hitchens is plain amazing

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on August 12, 2010

No comment needed; his responses and attitude speak for themselves.

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Please do not eat a live frog

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on August 12, 2010

If you want to have fish eat your skin, fine. If you want to stick burning sticks in your ears and eyes, fine again. You can even drink cow urine if you feel like it, but don’t, DO NOT EAT A LIVE TREE FROG. Seriously, skip to picture 19 and be converted to a skeptic instantaneously. Sometimes pseudoscience and woo kill, sometimes they ruin people financially. Sometimes they are just, really, incredibly, unbelievably, fucking gross and out of this world stupid.

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The hammer keepeth comming down on AVNeth

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on August 4, 2010

The AVN’s troubles don’t seem to end, all deserved of course.  If you remember, the AVN (Australian Vaccination Network which should really be Australian Anti-vaccination Network) recently got slapped hard by the New South Wales Health Care Complaints Commission, which issued a Public Warning about the Australian Vaccine Network (AVN), hammering them among other things for distributing information which is “solely anti-vaccination” and “incorrect and misleading”.

The HCCC advised the AVN to place a public disclaimer on their website, saying that its “purpose is to provide information against vaccination” and that the  “information provided by the AVN should not be read as medical advice”, which the AVN promptly ignored, thus leading to the HCCC publishing its public warning.

Now, though the AVN faces new troubles.  According to this article by the Sydney Morning Herald, it risks loosing its charity status:

THE Australian Vaccination Network has three weeks to show why its charity licence should not be revoked after an audit revealed it was soliciting donations without permission.


A spokeswoman from the Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing said the audit had detected a number of breaches of the charity fund-raising law. They included: fund-raising without an authority; unauthorised expenditure; and failure to keep proper records of income and expenditure.

She said other possible breaches of the Charitable Trusts Act 1993 had been referred to the Department of Justice and Attorney-General.

Hm, so not only does the AVN provide information that has been deemed to be incorrect and misleading, but they have bene raising funds without a proper license. And not only that, but there are allegations that funds raised for specific purposes were never used for the purpose for which they were raised.

‘And in 2009 the AVN solicited donations to place an autism advertisement in a magazine. Despite raising thousands of dollars from the general public, these ads were never placed. We are not aware of these donations being refunded,” the service’s website says.

Oooops; that Meryl!

Tajikistan polio outbreak halted via vaccines

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on August 2, 2010

Originally posted by Skepdude at Vaccine Central

An outbreak of polio in Tajikistan has been halted thanks to vigorous vaccination efforts by 1,000 teams of doctors and nurses. The effort took three months to bear fruit, and was sponsored jointly by USAID and the Tajikistan Ministry of Health. The outbreak infected a reported 430 people, with 19 fatalities,  before it was brought under control. The most recent round of vaccinations was conducted on 15–19 June . Preliminary data report coverage of 99.3, with coverage higher than 97% reported from all regions and in the groups aged 0–6 and 7–15 years. Correspondingly, no new cases of infection have been recorded since June 21st. International travelers to this area, and other areas where polio is present, are advised to check with their health care provide to ensure that they are properly vaccinated against the disease.

Stupid quote of the day

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on July 31, 2010

I have been accused of harassing this grieving family by making this call. It is my assertion however that the official from the NCAHS has not only committed a serious breach of confidentiality by informing a third party that I had contacted him; he in fact, has harassed the McCafferys by calling a grieving family to tell them that I had asked for confirmation of Dana’s diagnosis. What possible reason could he have had for taking this action?

Meryl Dorey, AVN

Why this is stupid

Firstly, because it is stupid to claim that a phone call to Dana’s doctor, by an unrelated 3rd party is in any way “confidential”; and it is even more stupid to imply that by informing Dana’s parents that some person is asking for confidential information regarding their baby’s death in any way constitutes breach of confidentiality. Meryl is forgetting that the doctor she called was not her doctor and she was not discussing issues of her health. That would fall within the area of professional doctor-patient confidentiality.

Secondly, it is stupid to claim that the doctor informing the parents of such attempts to get confidential information about their baby’s death by a 3rd party, constitutes harassment. In fact, it is an ethical requirement for the doctor to disclose who he is discussing the details of Dana’s death to her parents; matter of fact he should ask for permission before disclosing this actual confidential information to outsiders. But then we’re talking about ethics and I don’t expect anti-vaxxers to be very well versed in that area.

That Meryl!

Update 8/09/10 – It has been brough to my attention that the official contacted by Meryl Dorey was not Dana’s doctor, but a high ranking official in the institution where Dana was diagnozed with pertussis. Furthermore, he apparently did not contact the McCaffery’s to inform them about the inquiries. It was the McCafferys who contacted the institution to ask if anyone had been poking around, after being harrased by the AVN thugs after their daughter’s death.

Tip of the Iceberg

Posted in Vaccinate Your Children by Skepdude on July 30, 2010


The NSW Health Care Complains Commission (HCCC) describes the information provided by the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN) as “inaccurate and misleading”. However Meryl Dorey from the AVN claims that “all their information is accurate and fully referenced from medical literature”. Obviously someone is telling porkies, and it isn’t the HCCC.

There simply isn’t enough space on my server’s hard drive to detail all the inaccuracies and lies promulgated by the AVN, so I’ll just concentrate on the most obvious ones. Because if the AVN can’t get basic information correct, what hope do they have when the subject becomes more complicated?

The Immunisation Schedule

Surely for Australia’s self-appointed “vaccine safety watchdog”, this would be the most rudimentary knowledge. So can the AVN manage to give correct information on this basic topic? Let’s take a look. Here is what they claim is on the schedule:

AVN’s claim of the vaccination schedule

Let’s check the real Australian Vaccination Schedule. Ignoring the fact that many of these vaccines are combined and that the AVN have included vaccines given after not by 12 months, their description of the schedule is far from accurate. The Chicken Pox (Varicella) vaccine is given at 18 months, not 12. There is one dose of Meningococcal (at 12 months), not three doses. Finally, there is no influenza vaccine on the schedule at all.

These may seem like minor errors, but let’s not forget that the AVN have claimed on their website that they provide “all the information you need” on vaccination. If they can’t get the schedule right, what hope is there for more complex information?

Vaccine Ingredients

Another of the most basic vaccination subjects would be ingredients. After all, if they don’t know what’s in vaccines, how could the AVN be expected to offer advice on the purpose and effect of those ingredients? Let’s look at the statement on their Diphtheria page:

The AVN’s claim about vaccine ingredients

The “mercury” they are referring to is Thiomersal, a preservative used in some vaccines since the 1930s which contains about 1 molecule of mercury per dose. So does “every diphtheria vaccine used in Australia” contain it? No. In fact, it’s not in any currently used diphtheria vaccines, let alone all of them. The first thiomersal-free diphtheria vaccine was licensed for use in Australia in 1997, more than a decade before the AVN wrote this article, and every childhood vaccine used in Australia is thiomersal-free.

Again, one must ask: If the AVN cannot get such basic advice correct, what is the chance that the rest of their information is accurate?


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