“It’s rather like a sociologist who insists that jet aircraft remain aloft only because of a conspiracy between aeronautical engineers and greedy airlines. Perhaps Wollongong already has someone working on such a thesis.”
(Editorial, The Australian)
The antivax rant accepted as a PhD thesis by University of Wollongong is defended by the student’s supervisor Professor Brian Martin. The statements given in this justification serve to illustrate that perhaps Martin is unaware of the facts about infectious diseases, vaccines and immunisation programmes. He argues that Wilyman has revealed four critical points about infectious diseases and immunisation.
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.
Strawman argument. It is a well-established fact that clean water and antibiotics have had a profound effect on infectious disease mortality and no one has suggested that vaccination is the only factor in controlling these diseases. Martin (and Wilyman) are trying to give the impression that they are refuting the ‘pro vaccine’ argument, however, this was never an argument put forward by vaccine proponents.
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.
Nope. Vaccination policies (what vaccines to use, when to give them and to whom) are country specific and based on local epidemiology and available resources. Do you see Australia giving everyone Japanese Encephalitis or yellow fever vaccine on the national programme? No. that is because it is only used in people at risk like travellers. But some countries use these routinely as per recommendations by the WHO. The Australian immunisation schedule is different from the NZ schedule and both are different from the US schedule which is not the same as the UK schedule…and so on.
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.
Really? So what about all the research funded by government health funding agencies, the CDC, regulatory agencies and other contestable funding sources. Just one typical example that Wilyman has ignored, what about the cohort study from Denmark and Sweden looking at autoimmune and neurological events after HPV vaccine that includes almost a million girls.
Funding: This study was supported by a grant from the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research and the Danish Medical Research Council. The funding bodies had no role in the study design; the collection, analysis, and interpretation of the data; the writing of the article; and the decision to submit it for publication. All authors are independent from the funding agencies.
I have scrolled though Wilyman’s references, she does not seem interested in literature that assesses vaccine safety or efficacy. But then again her framework is ‘undone research’ so I suppose that would contravene her assumptions, best to just leave them all out!
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.
What findings? Wilyman hasn’t done any research. She has not proposed a theory. She has simply regurgitated antivax rhetoric without question – a fact that has already been thoroughly pointed out.
What really leaves me flabbergasted is this statement:
SAVNers 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.
I am fighting the urge to be sarcastic – why would we want pesky experts on immunisation involved here? If we revisit Wilyman’s aim:
…assess the rigour of the claims supporting the efficacy, safety and necessity for the use of an expanding number of vaccines in the Australian Government’s National Immunisation Program (NIP).
Then is it not fair to say that expertise in immunology or epidemiology may actually be a prerequisite?? But ah!, I have had a thought as to why neither Wilyman nor supervisor Martin may think so. It is because of relativism.
Wilyman’s thesis all makes sense if you view it from a relativistic position. Relativism says that all points of view are equally valid and all truth is simply relative to the individual. Using this philosophy I look like Lara Croft – yup, it’s true! I am beginning to like relativism already.
Even better, this makes all moral positions, all religions, all forms of art AND all opinions completely relative just to you. You can decide what is right for yourself and it is equally as right as anyone else’s ‘right’. By this point of reference, all crimes should be assessed based on the viewpoint of the perpetrator, yes?
I conclude that this work is an example of subjective relativism and it ok to have your own facts – perhaps that is a bit like an alternative universe and in Wilyman’s Universe this is the truth.
See other Sciblogs posts on the University of Wollongong thesis here.
Featured image: Flickr CC, European Commission DG ECHO.