I’m hoping this becomes a slammed-in-parliament series. Last week I wrote this post: Anti-vaccination network slammed in NSW Parliament. I have just found out that two of my favourite groups – anti-vaccinationists, and general conspiracy wingnuts – were served a cold dish of whoop-arse in the South Australian Legislative Council (home of chemtrailer, Ann Bressington). The hero, in this case? Kyam Maher MLC:
Meryl Dorey and Ann Bressington can be heard to exclaim, in unison: “HANG ON, I RESEMBLE THAT COMMENT”.
I am ashamed that this speech slipped by, almost one week before Dr Andrew McDonald’s speech in NSW Parliament. But, better late than never.
Thank you Mr Maher. You have pretty much nailed it. We can only hope that this conversation will lead to similar changes in South Australian health complaints legislation (and other States and Territories), as those which are underway in New South Wales right now. Without appropriate mechanisms to hold cranks to account, all we can do is complain amongst ourselves. That doesn’t help anyone.
I will include the full transcript of Mr Maher’s March 20 2013 speech, because it so good:
The Hon. K.J. MAHER (15:33): As members of parliament, we have a great privilege in shaping the policy and laws that guide our state, but with that, I believe, comes a responsibility to base what we do on the best available evidence and on scientific consensus. Science is central to our understanding of the world. Good, accepted science is testable, can be replicated, peer reviewed, unpicked, examined and reconstructed, but it is also open to new ideas and is self-correcting when better evidence is presented and properly tested.
However, science regularly finds itself under attack. As Ian Chubb, Chief Scientist for Australia, recently noted:
As a society, we should be challenging those who, regardless of reason or factual basis, mock science and scientists for their spurious ends, whether it’s a headline or avoiding an inconvenient truth.
And he is right. The Hon. Ann Bressington has been making quite a name for herself recently in her assaults on accepted science. From her Agenda 21 conspiracy, which seems to hold that scientists and policy makers across the world are secretly involved in an elaborate conspiracy to control all aspects of our lives, to supporting the chemtrail conspiracy, which claims aeroplanes deliberately drop chemicals on the population for some reason. Apparently, it happens right here in Adelaide. To quote the Hon. Ann Bressington, ‘from two unmarked plain white small aircraft that often land at Parafield Airport after a morning spray’.
Many such conspiracy assaults on science can be mildly amusing and, apart from encouraging others to abandon reason and critical thinking, do not necessarily do much external harm. However, some anti-science irrationality actually causes harm—potentially, great harm.The Hon. Ann Bressington is a well-known and vocal opponent of the fluoridation of water. I am not an expert in this area of science, so I rely on the overwhelming scientific consensus. Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council and the World Health Organisation are strong supporters, and the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention have called fluoridation of public water supplies one of the 10 most important public health achievements of the 20th century.
It is suggested that fluoride is dangerous because it is toxic. This falsehood comes from a very fundamental misunderstanding of the idea of toxicity. Toxicity is dose dependent; it depends literally on how much you have. The water to which fluoride is added is toxic in high enough doses; when consumed in large quantities, people die from water intoxication. Respected scientists, experts in their field, those whose research is properly peer reviewed, overwhelmingly agree that the levels of fluoride added to public water supplies are safe and have a very positive dental health effect.
Then there are some anti-scientific pursuits that can actually lead to deaths, such as the anti-vaccination movement. The Hon. Ann Bressington commented on Twitter as recently as last month that vaccines are about population reduction. Nothing could be further removed from reality. Vaccines save the life of an estimated three million people every year.
As with the fluoridation of water, over time individuals, groups and researchers dwelling at the fringes of science have criticised the efficacy of vaccinations, or they have falsified or overstated potential side effects of vaccinations. Perhaps the best known example is that of Dr Andrew Wakefield, whose claim against the scientific consensus that the MMR vaccine might be linked to autism saw vaccination rates in England drop considerably. The dangers of relying on bad, not accepted science were highlighted when this particular doctor, who was found to have falsified his results, was struck off as a medical practitioner and massive conflicts of interest in his research were revealed.
The Australian Vaccination Network is a fearmongering anti-vaccination group pushing this life-threatening nonsense in this country. They have been the subject of various adverse findings and orders by health authorities, government departments and Liberal government ministers in their home base of New South Wales. I congratulate the New South Wales authorities for tackling this dangerous group.
The risks posed by the anti-vaccination movement are real. Millions die unnecessarily. Children too young to have their full course of vaccinations and the herd immunity that prevents the uncontrolled spread of horrible disease are put at risk. On vaccination the science is clear; the debate is over. The benefits of vaccines are so immense that the morality of advocating against them without very good evidence needs to be questioned. When bad science is promoted such that it can cause great harm, we have an obligation to call it out. We cannot stand idly by and let such claims go unchecked.
I note that the Hon. Rob Lucas is down to speak after me, and I invite the shadow health minister, who sits in this chamber, to join with me in condemning dangerous anti-scientific approaches to public health that can endanger lives and cause death.