Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Anti-Vaccination Cranks Versus Academic Freedom

Lawyer Michael Brull below sets out very ably why the University of Wollongong should not have awarded a Ph.D. to an anti-vaxxer nut.  But he also argues that stripping a PhD in response to bad science is not the solution. 

Brull is one of those unhappy souls, an anti-Israel Jew.  He doesn't like Australia or Christians much either, but he loves Muslims. Rather a waste of a good brain it seems to me.  I have written before about his tergiversations.  So his  judgement is severely flawed.  And judgement is what is involved here.  As he shows below, the science is not in dispute.

And his judgement is that a dangerous bit of bad science should be tolerated in the name of free speech.  As the proprietor of two free-speech blogs, I might be expected to agree, but just about everyone agrees that infinite tolerance is not possible.  Toleration must have its limits. 

We do not tolerate people who go around raping and murdering, for instance.  And there is a similar issue here.  The anti-vaxxers do kill. By persuading others of their cause they destroy herd immunity -- and it is only herd immunity that protects newborns from such dangerous diseases as whooping cough.  Newborns cannot be vaccinated until their immune system is strong enough.  And, for me, protecting children is a huge priority.  It is a normal human instinct, in fact -- though one that can be submerged by both Islam and Leftism.  So giving any credence to an anti-vaxxer is a fatal mistake. I would therefore support the many who argue that the University of Wollongong must rescue its scholarly reputation by withdrawing a foolishly granted Ph.D.

One might in passing note that Brull's defence of an anti-vaxxer is consistent with his Leftism.  Anti-vaxxers destroy and that is the basic Leftist aim too.  They hate "the system"

A little while ago, Judy Wilyman’s doctoral thesis was accepted by the University of Wollongong. Now with PhD, she will title herself a doctor, in recognition of her academic achievement. For some at least, this will increase the respectability of her advocacy, now that she has fancy new credentials for the arguments she set out in her dissertation.

This has alarmed many. This is because Wilyman is sceptical of the value of vaccinations.

Take for example, Helen Petousis-Harris. Her web page identifies her background as “predominantly biological sciences, and she did her PhD in Vaccinology, specifically around vaccine reactions. She has worked at the Immunisation Advisory Centre at the University of Auckland since 1998 where she has developed a passion for all things vaccine. Currently Helen has an appointment as a Senior Lecturer in the Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care and her teaching is largely around vaccination.”

She analysed the abstract of Wilyman’s dissertation. Her conclusion: “It is [a]litany of deceitful reveries. How it could possibly pass as a piece of Doctoral level work is inexplicable and it has made no contribution to knowledge. Shame on you University of Wollongong.”

Other scientific reviews were no more flattering. And a wave of academics at the University of Wollongong reacted too. As reported at the Australian Medical Association, “Sixty-five senior medical and health researchers including Professor of Public Health Dr Heather Yeatman, Dean of Medicine Professor Ian Wilson, and Professor Alison Jones, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health, have jointly signed a public statement backing the evidence supporting vaccination and its importance in preventing disease.”

Meanwhile, “Professor Peter McIntyre, director of the National Centre for Immunisation Research & Surveillance and an advisor to the WHO, told The Australian that he had offered to advise Wilyman but withdrew his offer as she was “not willing to entertain” evidence which contradicted her beliefs.”

As far as I can tell, there are zero relevant experts who think Wilyman’s PhD has even the vaguest connection to what the relevant science actually shows. The dissertation is an embarrassment to the University of Wollongong, and the academic standards it supposedly upholds.

The dissertation, however, raises two interesting questions. The first is how it came to pass that this dissertation was able to gain acceptance. The second question is what is the appropriate response is to the dissertation.

As to how it was accepted, SBS explains that according to the requirements of UOW PhDs, “The requirements include that there be at least two external examiners who are from different countries and they do not have a relationship with the students’ supervisors and not affiliated with the university in question.” So it seems the blame can be shared around. If this protocol was followed, there were two external examiners who were adequately impressed by Wilyman’s purported scholarship. It is not on the public record who those two people are.

However, Wilyman’s supervisor is. His name is Brian Martin, and he is a professor of social sciences. He has a PhD in theoretical physics. He posted an essay in which he came to Wilyman’s defence against her many critics. Martin presents Wilyman’s dissertation as addressing question of policy, not purely questions of science:

“[Stop the Australian Anti-Vaccination Network] and some others apparently believe the only people qualified to comment about vaccination policy are “experts” who have degrees and refereed publications in scientific journals, for example in immunology or epidemiology. A moment’s reflection should reveal the flaw in this claim: being an expert in immunology or epidemiology — usually a narrow aspect of such a field — gives no special insight into vaccination policy, which involves many different areas of knowledge, and includes matters of ethics and politics. If anyone can lay claim to having special knowledge about policy, it is those who have researched policy itself, including critics of the Australian government’s policy such as Judy.”

So what issues of policy does the dissertation address? This is Martin’s summary:

“It makes four main critical points in relation to Australian government vaccination policy. First, deaths from infectious diseases had dramatically declined in Australia before the mass introduction of most vaccines, suggesting that vaccination is not the only factor in controlling these diseases. Second, Australian vaccination policies were adopted from a one-size-fits-all set of international recommendations, without consideration of the special ecological conditions in Australia, for example the levels of sanitation and nutrition, and the incidence and severity of diseases. Third, nearly all research on vaccination is carried out or sponsored by pharmaceutical companies with a vested interest in selling vaccines; the conflicts of interest involved in vaccine research can lead to bias in the research design and conclusions drawn. Fourth, there are important areas of research relevant to vaccination policy that have not been pursued, but should have been; a plausible reason for this “undone science” is that the findings might turn out to be unwelcome to vaccination promoters.”

In fact, these questions are issues of both politics and science. The first is an empirical question, subject to scientific research. So is the second, though if its premises were established, then a policy question would arise. The third is indeed a policy question requiring no special expertise to investigate. The fourth is mixed.

Perhaps some areas of research aren’t being pursued – Wilyman would not be the first to observe that scientific research is biased towards wealthy or powerful interests. That this “undone science” would be unwelcome to vaccination promoters is again an empirical question.

Given that the focus of the dissertation, according to its lone defender, seems to mostly be scientific questions, one might think that the appropriate field to conduct this study in is one of the hard sciences where her findings could be subjected to rigorous and informed peer review.

Instead, Wilyman’s dissertation was conducted through UOW’s social sciences.

This seems like the most effective way to avoid serious scientific scrutiny of her claims. Her external examiners may have rapidly found themselves out of their depth in dealing with questions of vaccination science.

So how does Wilyman present herself? Her website is called “Vaccination Decisions”. She presents herself as a dispassionate scientist, who has studied the issue since 1993. Her critics, however, are not scientific, and are “consumer lobby groups”:

“During the last decade I have attempted to debate my academic research but the media will not report the other side of the vaccination debate with credibility. Whilst attempting to debate my research in public forums since 2010 I have been attacked by consumer lobby groups, in particular the Australian Skeptics and the ‘Stop the Australian Vaccination Network (SAVN)’. These consumer groups are not scientific organisations and many subscribers of this group have used false and misleading statements to disparage my reputation and reduce my credibility in public debates.”

Thus, it sounds like her motives are pure, unlike her critics, who it seems are simply mercenary thugs. Wilyman doesn’t even explain that she is anti-vaccination, whilst her critics are in favour of them.

What are her qualifications?

“I have a Bachelor of Science degree and I have practised as a science teacher for 20 years. In 2004 I began researching this public health issue at the University of Wollongong (UOW). I completed a Master of Science degree (Population Health) in the Faculty of Health and Behavioural Sciences in 2007. This included a research project analysing the Australian Government’s Policy on Whooping Cough. In 2007 I continued my research with a PhD.

In 2008 – 2010 I transferred to the Environmental Science Department at Murdoch University to research and lecture in environmental health issues. I transferred back to Wollongong University in 2011 to complete my PhD investigating the Australian government’s reasons for its current National Immunisation Program (NIP). My PhD includes an examination of the science in the government’s vaccination policy and a critique of the influences in the decision to use an increasing number of vaccines in children.”

So, she sounds pretty scientific. And her PhD purportedly examines the science. Whilst Wilyman complains her critics aren’t scientific, she forgets to mention at that point that neither was the field in which her PhD was examined (it is later listed as “School of Humanities and Social Sciences”). We will return to the question of her Masters Degree.

Soon she gets to her position:

“In the 1990’s I became aware of the significant increase in chronic illness that was occurring in children. By 2004, 41 per cent of children (0 -14 years of age) had a chronic illness 1. The diseases that have been increasing since the late 80’s include allergies, anaphylaxis, ADHD, autism, coeliac disease, cancer and autoimmune diseases (e.g. arthritis and diabetes). The medical journals and animal studies link the ingredients of vaccines as a cause of these diseases. Although the increase in these diseases correlates to the increasing use of vaccines, the government has not funded research that would prove or disprove this plausible link. The Australian government claims it is a coincidence that these diseases have increased with the increasing use of vaccines but does not provide scientific-evidence to support this statement.”

That’s a pretty impressive list of diseases that vaccinations supposedly cause. Traditionally, when a scientist makes a breakthrough, and has a contribution to make in the sciences, they present their findings to a journal, so that it can be peer reviewed. Wilyman does not appear to have chosen to do this for some reason.

Anyway, Wilyman has dismissed her critics as “funded by industry interests” (I wonder how she’ll respond to this article). Critics at Mamamia don’t have relevant qualifications either (is her PhD a relevant qualification?).

Then I got to the part of her website that was most interesting.

“The Australian government appoints Ministers of Health who do not have qualifications in health and it has a duty of care to ensure that all science on the cause of autism is included in vaccination policy-decisions. Ministers should not be making pledges for public health policy on lobby group websites. There are many scientific articles that indicate vaccines are a valid cause of autism, for example, these articles 1 , 2, 3, 4 and 5, yet the government has not addressed these articles in the discussion of vaccination policy on the Immunise Australia Program (IAP) website.”

I have included her links in the quote above. What are these “scientific articles” proving “vaccines are a valid cause of autism”? Note: none are scientific articles; that is, essays by scientists published in scientific journals. They are all websites – like this one, which is just a commentary on a hearing in the US.

One is an essay, in PDF format. It is titled “An Essay on the Environmental and Genetic Causes of Autism and the link to Vaccines”, and is by Mark Allan Sircus. I googled him, and naturally, he has a website.

When I saw that he treats cancer with marijuana, I naturally was interested in this pleasant sounding treatment. Sircus “practices and preaches Natural Oncology, an integrative medicine that… utilizes natural substances like magnesium, iodine, sodium bicarbonate and medical marijuana together with far-infrared heat treatments and oxygen therapies.”

So then I googled Natural Oncology. The first result was The Natural Oncology Institute, Vincent Gammill. Gammill is Wilyman’s favourite scientist. So who is Gammill? A 69-year-old man who told police he had “no formal education beyond high school, but then ‘remembered’ he had obtained a doctor of science degree sometime in the 1990s.”

Gammill then founded the Natural Oncology Institute. He was arrested by police after a 50-year-old woman complained that he treated her breast cancer with expired meds and a bag of dirt, for the princely sum of $2000.

Police proceeded to charge him with “practicing medicine without a license, dependent adult abuse and furnishing dangerous drugs without a license.”

His “patient” reported him after trying a concoction he showed her how to make, which caused a “burning sensation in her stomach”, according to police.

Anyway, though Sircus apparently practices the same type of Natural Oncology as its quack founder, I haven’t found any evidence that he’s been arrested for treating cancer with dirt. I suppose it isn’t entirely surprising that his paper wasn’t published in a peer reviewed journal.

Wilyman, for her part, lists her various publications at The Conversation. These include Medical Veritas: The Journal of Truth in Health Science.

When a journal has the word “truth” in it, you just know a conspiratorial mindset is lurking. Sure enough, it appears to be home to more anti-vaccine quacks.

Let us return to Wilyman’s Master of Science Degree from the Faculty of Health and Behavioural Sciences in 2007.

As Wilyman noted, this included her analysis of vaccination policy. In 2014 two medical experts lodged a complaint about her thesis, though it appears nothing has come of this. You can get a sense of its high-minded presentation of quackery from this paragraph:

“The ecological evidence is showing a significant increase in chronic illness in children. This includes the increasing incidence of diabetes mellitus, leukaemia, food allergies, asthma, epilepsy, behavioural and intellectual disabilities and autism (AIHW, 2004). Refer Appendix 6. Whilst this increase in disease has occurred in children at the same time as vaccination use has increased it is not evidence for a causal link. However, the biological plausibility of vaccines as a cause of these diseases is demonstrated in animal studies, the clinical evidence from adverse reactions to vaccines and the volume of reports from parents claiming their child’s development changed after vaccination (Kirby D, 2005).”

So what next?

Regardless of what one thinks of Wilyman’s dissertation, any ex post facto policy designed to strip her of her PhD or Masters degree will be wrong as a matter of principle, and as a matter of policy.

Certainly, there are some who think that Wollongong can’t just stand by and let Wilyman have her PhD. The Australian editorialised that “this is a battle between life and death, and Wollongong has put itself on the wrong side”.

It is hard not to point out that one might equally suggest that the issue of climate change is a “battle between life and death” – yet the Australian has shown considerably less interest in campaigning on proper recognition of this issue.

Yet it was not just the Oz. A petition was launched against Wilyman’s PhD, acquiring 2,100 signatures. The petition announced that “Action is urgently required to address gross academic misconduct”. It called on the government to take “immediate disciplinary action” against the University of Wollongong, complaining that “federal funding of such dangerous myth-making is unconscionable.”

This kind of attitude pervades some of the critics of Wilyman’s work. For example, blogger Chrys Stevenson wrote, “Free speech is all very well. But, when propaganda and misinformation from uneducated rabble-rousers endangers the lives of children and vulnerable people, I think we can rightly argue free speech must have limits.”

Or to turn to the petition, which warns that the University’s acceptance of Wilyman’s work “demonstrates an anti-scientific culture at the University of Wollongong that is inimical to scholarship”.

For those who have studied in the humanities, there are indeed academics who partake in an “anti-scientific culture”. For example, there are postmodernists, social constructionists and so on who believe that science is all a social construct, an oppressive domain of white men which isn’t to be taken too seriously.

However distasteful one finds these views, the opinion that the humanities should reflect a particular viewpoint in an argument is an opinion that the humanities should not include intellectual diversity.

The point of intellectual inquiry is that it should be free. If there are sins in the academic work of Wilyman, they may be found in dishonest footnotes, or improper external examiners. The fact that her opinions are unorthodox or distasteful to many is not, in itself, grounds for her degree to be taken from her.

Those who think that the government should step in to settle this dispute between Wilyman and her critics are the ones who subscribe to a fundamentally “anti-scientific culture” which is “inimical to scholarship”.

The sciences are not built around policing of consensus and expulsion of dissenters. They are built around uncertainty, and progress is made by dissenters successfully persuading their peers that a new paradigm can better explain the way the world works.

If Wilyman’s work is left to the scientific community, I have little doubt they will filter her out, just as they do other anti-vax and unscientific cranks.

As it stands, it is clear to any lay person with the ability to Google that the overwhelming preponderance of scientific experts disagree with Wilyman, and in fact regard her scientific expertise as nil.

Attempts to discipline the university, or strip her of her PhD will only legitimise her opinions.

Rather than being a marginal quack with strange views, she will become a persecuted martyr, bravely defending her beliefs in the face of intimidation. The argument will shift from the evidence and the experts to whether someone in the humanities should be able to argue for a view that other people don’t like.

“What are they afraid of,” the anti-vaxxers will cry. “We just want an open debate”.

It is natural to want to combat the pernicious nonsense of people like Wilyman with the quickest, most powerful tool available. Yet this kind of attack on academic freedom would have very dangerous implications.

And ultimately, it is the wrong tool to counter the claims of anti-vaxxers. Ultimately, what is needed is persuasion, not coercion.

SOURCE (See the original for links)

Warmists hoist with their own petard

Judith Curry comments on the cutbacks to climate science at the CSIRO

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, CSIRO was the word leader on atmospheric boundary layer research.  In the 1970’s and 1980’s, CSIRO was a leader in atmospheric physics research, producing such scientists as Graeme Stephens and Peter Webster (who both  left Australia for the U.S. in the 1980’s).  Since the 1990’s, CSIRO has done important climate monitoring, and has also done climate modeling research, participating fully in the various CMIP and IPCC exercises.  One has to wonder whether the health of climate science in Australia would be better if they hadn’t bothered with global climate modeling and playing the IPCC games, but rather focused on local climate issues and the climate dynamics of the Southern Hemisphere.

Now that the UN’s community of nations has accepted a specific result from consensus IPCC climate science to drive international energy and carbon policy, what is the point of continued heavy government funding of climate research, particularly global climate modeling?  I have argued previously [e.g. link] that we have reached the point of diminishing returns from the current path of climate modeling.  That said, we still don’t understand how the climate system works on decadal to centennial time scales, and have very little predictive capability on these time scales, particularly on regional scales.

To make progress, we need to resolve many scientific issues, here is the list from my APS Workshop presentation:

Solar impacts on climate (including indirect effects)
Multi-decadal natural internal variability
Mechanisms of vertical heat transfer in the ocean
Fast thermodynamic feedbacks (water vapor, clouds, lapse rate)
See also my previous post The heart of the climate dynamics debate.  It is critical that we maintain and enhance our observing systems, particularly satellites.  And we need much better data archaeology to clarify what was going on in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and also some more serious paleoclimatic reconstructions (that avoid Mannian tree ring ‘science’.)

Looking forward to a new U.S. President next year, whether the Democrats or the Republicans are in power, I don’t expect a continuation of the status quo on climate science funding.  The Democrats are moving away from science towards policy – who needs to spend all that funding on basic climate science research?  Global climate modeling might be ‘saved’ if they think these climate models can support local impact assessments (in spite of widespread acknowledgement that they cannot).  If the Republicans are elected, Ted Cruz has stated he will stop all funding support for the IPCC and UNFCCC initiatives.  That said, he seems to like data and basic scientific research.

In any event, I don’t think the current status quo regarding scientific research will continue.  We will undoubtedly see many climate scientists redirecting their research, or leaving research positions for the private sector.  Ironically, circa 1990, the DOE Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Program [link] was seeded by retreading nuclear scientists and engineers from the DOE labs to radiation and climate science.

JC message to climate scientists advocating for more funding at the same time they are claiming ‘settled science’ [e.g. Marcia McNutt]:  you have been hoisted on your own petard.  You are slaying climate science in the interests of promoting a false and meaningless consensus.


Airline fears photography

The bitch should have been helping at the counter instead of harassing the photographer

A man claims that Virgin Australia staff called the police after he took a photo of a line of people waiting for assistance at Melbourne Airport.

Richard Lipp, a photographer, said that he was on board a plane heading to Byron Bay in northern New South Wales, when his flight was turned back to Melbourne due to bad weather.

'We just had a really nice joy flight... to nowhere,' he said in a video blog.

When the plane arrived back at Melbourne Airport, the photographer said that around 200 passengers had to queue for assistance to get accommodation and new flights.

'Just landed back in Melbourne... thank you Virgin, and they've decided that [for] 200 people, they could only open one counter to help us all.'

 'When I took a photo to document this fact for Virgin head office, I was confronted, bullied and then had the Federal Police called because I wouldn't delete a photo of the general area with people's backs turned to me,' Mr Lipp said.

The photographer said that he was confronted by a Virgin ground crew member soon after taking the photo..

'Did you ask permission from all these people?' the worker asked him in the footage.

'I took a photo of this general area, I was not targeting anyone,' Mr Lipp said.

'Well that doesn't count... I can take this further...keep doing that we'll see what happens,' she responded.  She then says 'we've got the federal police coming down here.'

The photographer then says: 'That's fine, I haven't done anything wrong.'  'You didn't ask for permission,' she said.

He then sarcastically asks the crowd, 'Does anyone mind if I photograph the back of their heads?'

A man jokingly responds with, 'You got my left or my right?'

The photographer then inserted more footage of ground crew asking him to delete the photo into his video.

The footage ends with Mr Lipp and his friend, Claudia, re-booking a flight for 6 o'clock the next morning.


Learning to read requires direct instruction and parental involvement

Jennifer Buckingham

Reading seems so straightforward. Skilled reading is unconscious and automatic ­-- most people are not aware of the complex cognitive processes taking place. Few adults remember how they learned to read, so when it comes to working out how to help their children they will often look to the experts. Unfortunately, advice to parents is often confusing and contradictory.

It is not simply a case of 'read to children and they will learn to read'. This is the trap of whole language teaching methods. For children to make the connection between the strange black shapes on the page and the words they hear and say, they have to be explicitly taught.

But even before this happens, children need to develop a large store of words that they can understand and use -- a large 'receptive' or oral vocabulary. Recent studies found that around 20% of Australian children starting school have poor language skills. They do not speak clearly, and they know and use a limited number of words.

The best way to develop these skills in children is through adult-child spoken interaction and through shared reading. Both of these are important. Spoken interaction provides children with models and guidance of how to pronounce words properly and gives them immediate information about the world around them. Clear speech also develops phonological awareness -- the ability to identify the distinct sounds in spoken words -- which is strongly related to the ability to decode words using phonics.

Shared reading -- defined as reading with rather than reading to children -- is essential; firstly because it introduces the concepts of the written alphabet and printed text, and secondly because books expose children to a wider range of words and language structures generally used in speech. Vocabulary can be conceived broadly as general knowledge. To know what the word 'planet' means, is to know what a planet is. Vocabulary and general knowledge are fundamental to reading comprehension, which is the end-game for learning to read.

Parents should not be expected to teach their children to read. But it will help to break the cycle of low literacy if children arrive at school well prepared to learn to read. If, ideally, they then have evidence-based reading instruction in the first few years of school, Australia will be well on the way to fixing its persistent literacy problems.


AGL pulls out of coal seam gas across Australia, now uneconomic

AGL is pulling out of coal seam gas in Australia, ceasing its exploration and winding down or selling its operational gas fields.

Plummeting oil and gas prices were cited by AGL as one of the main reasons for the decision in its announcement to the ASX on Thursday morning, as well as lower than expected production volumes from one of its fields in NSW.

AGL said a review had concluded that “production of natural gas assets will no longer be a core business for the company”.

The decision by American chief executive Andrew Vesey follows his pledge last year to shut all its coal-fired power stations by 2050.

“Exiting our gas assets in NSW has been a difficult decision,” Vesey said. “AGL has invested significantly in these projects and communities over the past seven years.

“We are talking about potential investment of a billion dollars, so we had to make sure there were returns for shareholders. That has increasingly become uncertain in recent weeks,” Vesey told analysts.

Crude oil prices have slid about 70% in the past 18 months, and last month slipped to a 13-year low below $US27 a barrel, with gas prices following in its wake.

Farmers and residents who have been fighting coal seam gas have told Guardian Australia they are “ecstatic” with the decision. Lock the Gate Alliance – a collection of farmers, conservationists and residents who are concerned about unsafe gas mining – say it’s a well-earned victory for the thousands of people who have protested against CSG around the country.

In Gloucester near the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, AGL had planned a 300-well development the company said could supply 15% of NSW’s gas needs, which would no longer go ahead.

“We are thrilled. It’s a fantastic decision,” said Steve Phillips, Lock the Gate coordinator in the Hunter. He says the protests would have had an impact on the decision. “I think the fact they had no social license to go ahead would have been a factor for them.”

Activists’ eyes moved quickly to Santos, which remained the only company trying to develop coal seam gas in NSW.  “This leaves Santos as the last one standing, trying to get CSG off the ground” Phillips said.

Shares in AGL rose 1% to $18.77 following the announcement.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Re. "Anti-Vaccination Cranks Versus Academic Freedom"

I have a feminist-lefty single mum neighbour who thought it was good idea not to vaccinate. Her little boy got whooping cough and looked awful, like he had Mixamatosis. She didn't mind though. She seemed almost contented.