Pauline Hanson has become the latest politician to flirt with the fringe view of immunisation denial. Of course, like all thoroughly modern anti-vaxers, she claims to be about choice and empowerment rather than denial of the overwhelming scientific consensus.
Of all the weasel words immunisation deniers use, I get most infuriated by the ‘do your own research’ trope.
You don’t need to. Unless you’re a senior research scientist with your own lab, a posse of postdocs and serious wad of cash, we don’t need your help.
What Senator Hanson appears to mean is that she wants average people who find misinformation on the internet to be allowed to disagree with decades of rigorous, serious scientific effort. Unlike so many of my medical colleagues, I make an effort to keep up with goings-on in the antivax movement so I am grimly aware of the depths of hubris and folly that inform the ‘research’ that you so easily find when you innocently Google for vaccine information. The average person with high-school science knowledge and healthy faith in human decency has no chance.
Someone who has limited time and attention would not possibly bother to wade through the byzantine details of how Andrew Wakefield’s fraud was uncovered and the scurrilous ongoing attempts to smear Brian Deer, the investigative journalist who brought it to light.
Only a dogged student of human nature would have the stomach to watch videos featuring the pseudoscientific ramblings of the supposed intellectual leaders of this wretched movement. Yet many of us have done this for you. Trust me, there is no wisdom or learning in these cranks.
Only the real enthusiasts would have watched with bemusement last month as the Chiropractors’ Association of Australia (CAA) had a public spat on their own Facebook page with the AV-sN, Australia’s leading antivax organization. CAA finally got around to demanding the removal of a link from AV-sN website endorsing their chiropractic philosophy of opposing immunisation. Their public statement read in part
“It has come to our attention that the Australian Vaccination-sceptics Network contains a link to the CAA National website. We have requested that they remove this link to our website as a matter of urgency. The Chiropractors’ Association of Australia (CAA) does not support the views promoted by the Australian Vaccination-sceptics Network.”
The former president of the antivaxers then further embarrassed CAA by turning up in the comment section and lamenting that
“More and more chiropractors are speaking out against their governing body trying to tell them that they must ignore basic chiropractic philosophy of the power that made the body heals the body in order to gain acceptance from mainstream medicine. When will the CAA understand that mainstream medicine’s only concern is to maintain their own authoritarian monopoly and destroy any and all competitors?”
I’ve previously documented how CAA has been providing antivax speakers at official learning activities approved for professional development by their regulator, but you won’t find this information on the front page of your Google search. As recently as 2015, the CAA National Conference featured several speakers with links to the antivax movement. But again, the background briefing needed to appreciate the importance of this is not available to any but the most hardcore antivax-watchers.
I could go on and on in this vein, but I’ll spare you. Suffice to say that everywhere you get suspicion and hostility about immunisation you also get shoddy thinking and misrepresentation of plain facts. You get routine denial of reality and genuinely unhinged discourse. Science becomes The Enemy. Ideology trumps evidence.
There is no worthwhile political debate to be had here. Giving such deformed pseudoscience any media oxygen at all is reckless. It is unworthy of a serious aspirant to political power. By parroting the coded messages of the antivax movement, and encouraging hesitant parents to ‘do their own research’ Senator Hanson is enabling an unspeakable industry to thrive. Make no mistake, there are hucksters both big and small raking in money by manufacturing hostility towards one of the greatest gifts our benighted species has managed to give itself.
All these cretins want is the chance to get unwary, perhaps vulnerable parents in front of their finely tuned propaganda.
What Senator Hanson has just done is give them a flood of fresh eyeballs to sell to.
Authors: Michael Vagg, Clinical Senior Lecturer at Deakin University School of Medicine & Pain Specialist, Deakin University