About a year ago, Meryl Dorey, Australia’s infamous American-born vaccine denialist and anti-science promoter, and her Australian anti-Vaccine Network (AVN) was ordered to change its misleading name or be shut down. The New South Wales (an Australian state) Office of Fair Trading left an order at the home of AVN president Meryl Dorey yesterday with a letter of action, “labeling the network’s name misleading and a detriment to the community.” Given Dorey’s, and by extension the AVN’s, well known antivaccination stance, this order wasn’t surprising.
Dorey and AVN attempted to fight the order through Australian courts, but lost. And was recently ordered to pay A$11,000 in court costs to cover the legal fees of Stop the Australian Vaccination Network campaigner Dan Buzzard after he appealed against an apprehended violence order she took out against him last year. She actually then went to AVN and begged for money to pay for it, since I guess she does not get the Big Pharma shill money. Amusingly, the group, formerly known as the Australian Vaccine Network, and their leader/mouthpiece, Meryl Dorey, kept prevaricating about changing the name. But finally the Australian government ordered her to change the name or there will be consequences.
Finally, Meryl and gang renamed their group the Australian Vaccine-Skeptics Network (still abbreviated as AVN). Ironically, Meryl and AVN first tried to name the group the “Australian Vaccine Sceptics Network”, using the Australian English spelling of the word, but a real skeptic (or sceptic) already owned that name. In even more irony, Meryl called the real owners of the trade name, a “hate group.” No, she really said that given Meryl and her group are the definition of a hate group.
As I’ve written before, the word “skeptic” (or sceptic) has different meanings different contexts, much like the word “theory” has a different meaning in a formal scientific background than it does in common vernacular. To the average person, a skeptic is a person inclined to question or doubt all accepted opinions, without respect to evidence. It’s not very meaningful in terms of scientific discussion, and it it carries little weight in a debate about the scientific merits of an idea or a scientific hypothesis. In ordinary usage, this type of skepticism has one of three meanings:
- an attitude of doubt or a disposition to incredulity either in general or toward a particular object;
- the doctrine that true knowledge or knowledge in a particular area is uncertain; or
- the method of suspended judgment, systematic doubt, or criticism that is characteristic of skeptics.
So global warming “skeptics” use this form of the word, in that they doubt that global warming is real, without being very scientific about it. Another, more annoying, misappropriation of “skeptic” is from a group called the Real Australian Sceptics, which is merely a front organization for the Meryl Dorey’s Australian anti-vaccination lunatic group, the AVN. In both cases, they are misusing skepticism to try to invest some scientific legitimacy to their cause. However, they are actually pseudoskeptics, or denialists, who deny an established fact, scientific theory, scientific law or any evidence that supports a well-established discipline. More often than not, this denialism occurs in spite of overwhelming evidence, and is almost always associated with motives of convenience to the denier. Denialism is often subject to and powered by confirmation bias.
Pseudoskepticism is signified by the following:
- If only doubt has been established, a pseudoskeptic will then move immediately to denial. Doubt, in a scientific sense, means the null hypothesis has some evidence, but not completely accepted.
- Double standards in the application of criticism.
- The tendency to discredit rather than investigate.
- Presenting insufficient evidence or proof.
- Assuming criticism requires no burden of proof. Pseudoscience and pseudoskepticism rely upon rhetorical arguments rather than evidence established by the scientific method.
- Making unsubstantiated counter-claims.
- Counter-claims based on plausibility rather than empirical evidence.
- Suggesting that unconvincing evidence provides grounds for completely dismissing a claim. And sometimes they overrate evidence as “unconvincing.”
On the other hand, scientific skepticism is the noble pursuit and accumulation of evidence, based on the scientific method, which is used to question and doubt claims and assertions. A scientific skeptic will hold the accumulation of evidence as fundamentally critical to the examination of claims. Moreover, a true skeptic does not accept all evidence as being equal in quality, but, in fact, will give more weight to evidence which is derived from the scientific method and less weight to poorly obtained and poorly scrutinized evidence.
In the world of real scientific skepticism, evidence published as a meta-review in a peer-reviewed, high impact factor journal far outweighs evidence in the form of anecdotes or confirmation bias that cherry picks data. Moreover, reproducibility, the hallmark of a good meta-review, and empirical research are valued above all other evidence. Finally, all claims that are to be advanced must be “scrutinized, tested, tortured to see if it really holds up.”
Let’s be clear. Meryl Dorey and her “vaccine-skeptics” are really just pseudoskeptics who deny all of the evidence that shows vaccine’s benefits far exceed the small risks. Vaccines have tiny risks of adverse effects that are overwhelmingly outweighed by the benefits of reduced diseases with hospitalizations and deaths.