In May 2015 I was fortunate enough to be interviewed by Serkan Ozturk of Australian Doctor. I was one of three subjects chosen from different fields of health activism. I admit I felt way out of my depth compared to the other two highly qualified, highly respected experts; and being the subject of an interview was entirely novel and strange. As the full article is now available online, here, I can now publish my excerpt courtesy of Australian Doctor and Serkan Ozturk. I highly recommend clicking on the link to read the other interviews, introduced here:
WHERE THERE’S SMOKE, THERE’S FIRE Professor Mike Daube is a professor of health policy at Perth’s Curtin University. Since 1973, he has been involved in campaigns highlighting the dangers of tobacco and smoking. He is currently president of the Australian Council on Smoking and Health.
A STRUGGLE FOR WOMEN’S RIGHTS Brisbane GP Dr Janet Fairweather became a doctor later in life after a career in accountancy. She has been a local voice for women’s rights regarding access to abortion. She has also campaigned against abortion remaining on the criminal code in NSW and Queensland.
TAKING A STANCE – Serkan Ozturk. Australian Doctor – May 29 2015.
THE NEEDLES ARE OUT
The writings of public health blogger Peter Tierney, who uses the pen name Reasonable Hank, have seen him become a target of anti-vaccination activists. A single father who once worked in the healthcare industry and now lives on the NSW south coast, Reasonable Hank says he has been the victim of numerous death threats in a bid to silence his calls for an evidence-based approach to health.
“I first got involved with the whole vaccination issue because I saw what happened to the McCaffery family online when their little baby Dana died in 2009 from whooping cough. They spoke out on TV about the need to vaccinate, the importance of herd immunity. But I was just shocked at the treatment that they got from the Australian Vaccination Skeptics Network (AVSN). These grieving parents were publicly vilified. The same type of treatment is still happening to other families who have lost babies to vaccine-preventable disease.
I have ventured out beyond anti-vax to anti-vax chiropractors. Chiropractors argue that there is not a large segment, but I and my friends would argue that there is still a large segment of chiropractors — the subluxationist or vitalistic chiropractors — who are linked to the anti-vaccination lobby in Australia. Indeed, chiropractors made up a huge majority of the professional membership of the AVSN. A friend did a pie chart to represent it. It’s astonishing at how huge the chiropractic profession was represented within the AVSN.
All I do is basically collate screenshots of information from the internet — documents, Facebook posts, websites and that kind of thing — and use them as evidence as to what people are doing and present them to a wider audience through my blog. My practices are pretty simple and straightforward.
But you learn pretty quickly that the internet can be a big bad place and you learn pretty quickly the true definition of trolling. They are out to get a response, they are out to offend, they are out for any sort of vengeance they can get to elicit any sort of reaction they can get. That’s why they are so offensive when they attack grieving families.
The most prominent threats I’ve received would be death threats from a particular gentleman in Adelaide. They are pretty disturbing. The gentleman in question has sent death threats to others and is well known to police. Receiving death threats directly in your inbox is a little bit startling but you just need to sit back and take them for what they are. I suppose we have known of each other for about 18 months. He may have made a few comments online before sending direct messages to my inbox. There’s a couple of death threats from others along the lines of ‘we know where you live’.
I’m never really that worried about any sort of violence from this type of person because they are basically cowards. It is a worry though when they are starting to use your kids’ names in things, that is definitely a worry. Although I’m known as Reasonable Hank, it is okay to use my name, however. That’s not a secret. I used to be a ‘grunt’ in the healthcare field and now I live on the south coast of NSW.
There is one particular AVSN troll — and I use that term in its most accurate sense — who has been vilifying grieving families for about six years, as well as me. I think she has created 15-17 fake online profiles impersonating me over the years.
They have made a lot of Facebook profiles impersonating people but I was their delicacy, so to speak.
It’s a common tactic used by all ‘denialists’ to say it is you who is actually attacking people and being a bully. You’d be aware of certain large religious cults that would use similar tactics. The comparisons and similarities of the tactics they use are striking.
All of those sorts of things — calling you a bully, calling you violent, calling you abusive.
In the very post that they use calling you a bully, they show the examples that they are basing their claims upon and it’s sort of self-defeating for them. They will get a comment out of context and try to paint it as something that it’s not.
I get to say things that doctors wish they could say as well. We certainly don’t have the restrictions of AHPRA hanging over our shoulders, which is what doctors and nurses and the like do have.
A doctor or nurse could say something that is perfectly reasonable online, but all it would take is one litigious anti-vaxxer — and there are thousands out there — to make a report to the medical board and even though the complaint may be vexatious and hollow, the practitioner still has to go through the process of having a complaint heard against them.
My friends and I don’t have that drama and it has been said to me by a doctor that we do what they can’t. They are thankful for it but we need to do it with integrity. There is no point going out there and being a ratbag online and diminishing the whole movement with poor activities.”