Something quite sinister has been brewing over the last week. An article was published in the Herald Sun newspaper; having a good, well-deserved swipe at the misinformation spread by Meryl Dorey and her Australian Vaccination Network. The article was written after the author, Susie O’Brien, came across this excellent petition: Stop misinformation about vaccination (please, sign the petition if you can).
The article is what you would expect from an opinion piece. It calls for mandatory immunisation. It cites reasons why, such as the proliferation of anti-vaccination misinformation disseminated by Dorey and her ilk. I’m ambivalent about the call for mandatory immunisation. I like to see myself as an optimist, believing that parents will make informed decisions based on factual information. On the whole, this is correct. But, I’m pessimistic about my optimism. The internet allows for anti-vaccinationists like Dorey to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD). The internet has a huge influence. And, anti-vaccinationists use this medium to spread the FUD, cajoling all sect members to spread the good word to all family and friends. This is not so good. This is where the anti-vaccinationist next door impacts directly on your community: your children. Zealots and fundamentalists cannot sit quietly: they must deliver the message. They must save the unbelievers, whilst proving that they are the chosen ones; the holders of the real truth.
Last week, Meryl Dorey called upon her followers to start a letter writing campaign to change.org, and Health Minister Tanya Plibersek. This week, the Herald Sun was included in the call to arms. As of writing 32 letters appear on three AVN blog posts.
Let us be clear. Meryl Dorey started this call for letters from her followers. Meryl Dorey made it quite clear that she wanted copies of each letter, so as to publish all letters on her blog. Meryl Dorey is the instigator, collater, and publisher of all of these letters. The responsibility of this whole affair rests solely on the shoulders of Meryl Dorey. This is a Dorey creation, and Dorey must wear the outcomes of this affair, whatever criticisms come her way. Dorey must own this affair.
If anything, Meryl Dorey is a master manipulator. She knows what pleases her followers. A bit of agitation from Dorey and she knows that the followers will come and play. Dorey also knows that her followers crave her attention. What better way to repay them, and vindicate their loyalty, than to publish their words; praising them, without the slightest hint of criticism or analysis. Dorey loves it: they love it. For glory.
When the letters have all been copypasted into Dorey’s blog; then, she can sit back and bask and throw barbs at anyone who would question the content: she has something with which to further infuriate the followers. The cruel SAVN.
I’ll be brief: no one denies that children have been harmed, and some have died, due to their immunisation. These numbers are miniscule. This is not even questioned. What is questioned, however, is the constant calls from Dorey and her ilk that there is a silent massacre happening under our noses. The Appeals to Emotion and Post hoc fallacies are the stock in trade of denialists like the anti-vaccine movement. It is when they are asked to substantiate these fallacies that they run into trouble: they just can’t. Yes, there are rare examples of vaccine injury, and Adverse Events Following Immunisation are taken extremely seriously. The problem for Dorey and her followers is that what they are claiming as vaccine injury just does not exist in reality.
I’m not going to get into these sorts of arguments consistently made in the raft of letters sent by Dorey’s followers. The vast majority rely on the disproven, unproven, or downright wrong claims made by anti-vaccine advocates the world over. The usual anti-vaccine suspects are cited throughout the letters, as are Big Pharma conspiracy allusions. What I do want to concentrate upon is how these members of our community have been deceitfully, and exploitatively used by Meryl Dorey: they are themselves victims of the propaganda and misinformation spread by the anti-vaccine movement. I feel for them, a little. They have been duped. They are handing over their hard-earned. They are propaganda tools. They are being made to look like fools by an ideologue who glories in their devotion to her. And who benefits? Who indeed.
I want to include some examples from these letters. Meryl Dorey wants them to keep writing. Dorey has told them they are “amazing”.
In this Facebook post, Dorey notes of this star letter: “I think the writer is … brilliant in the way she has presented the argument”:
The star letter was investigated here, and the general consensus was that is just doesn’t make sense. Yet, the AVN followers gushed over the writer. Do they not see what is staring them in the face? Jason Brown has blogged on this particular letter, here.
One devotee liked the poor analogies so much, she took them to another level, doing as instructed by the “unsuspecting” Dorey, using the analogy as a template of “inspiration”:
Another letter writer has a general disdain for everything, it seems:
Dorey even included a letter from this unfortunate writer. Talk about throwing someone under the bus. This poor misinformed soul didn’t even know who wrote the damned article in question, whilst ironically questioning the accuracy of the article, and Dr Ieraci’s qualifications:
I want to focus on Dorey’s reaction to this exploitation of her followers. As usual, Dorey has attempted to get some currency out of the reaction to the misinformed letter writing campaign. As expected, Dorey has taken to Twitter to prove how “cruel” SAVN can be. Remember, in Bangalow, black is white; and Strawmen roam the streets: and so it comes to pass that valid criticism of poorly written, factually irrelevant, openly published material is somehow exempt from public criticism. Dorey uses the opportunity to mangle meaning; distort reality; misrepresent facts; and lie like there is no tomorrow – who knows, tomorrow may never come…
If you want to exploit the flaws in your followers’ critical thinking skills, and you want to do that for your own glorification by publishing fallacious and vicious letters; then, you only have yourself to blame when the letters are examined and your followers’ intent is exposed to be illogical, vicious and selfish. Again, this is not all their fault. This is all Meryl Dorey’s fault. She started this call to arms; she published the answers. She exposed her followers to this criticism. Own it, Mrs Dorey. Own your mess.