The Anti-Vax Group Formerly Known as AVN

Those in the loop may already know that the long awaited name change for the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN), the anti-vaccine mouth piece of Meryl Dorey, ordered in late 2012 has recently occurred.

The new moniker for the group is Australian Vaccination-Skeptics Network, I assume the hyphenation is present so that the group might reasonably continue to use the AVN contraction making the transition easier.

Backstory

As reported on Sciblogs in 2012 in a guest post from Dr Racheal Dunlop (via an article originally posted on The Conversation) the New South Wales Department of Fair Trading ordered the AVN to change their name citing:

“The Australian Vaccination Network does not present a balanced case for vaccination, does not present medical evidence to back-up its claims and therefore poses a serious risk of misleading the community,”

The AVN billed itself as an impartial information source on vaccine matters but even a cursory look at their website and associated materials reveals an organisation whose only purpose is to oppose vaccination. On the information page of their website the AVN states:

“the AVN says that you need to look at both sides of this issue, ask lots of questions, look at your own family’s health history and then – and ONLY then – make a decision that you think is right for your child and yourself.”

further on,

“Let’s look at it this way. If you were going out tomorrow to buy a new car and your budget was $35,000, you would not just go to the first car yard you came to and say, “Here’s $35,000. What can you give me?” That would be stupid!

Instead, you would do research, read car magazines, speak with family and friends about their experiences, do some test drives and then, after you had satisfied yourself that you had found the right care [sic] for your needs, would you plonk down your hard-earned cash to buy a vehicle.”

This sounds reasonable, in the same vein what I would not recommend and would not do is to take as reliable information from a source whose only objective is to tear down the type of car I was looking at. It does not lend credibility to a view for it to only recognise the failings of a particular approach. Regardless, this is merely window dressing which provides a veneer of reasonableness for the group’s anti-vaccination agenda.

This assessment may seem harsh and/or simplistic but it is difficult to come to any other conclusion considering the fact that every news story, article, personal anecdote, everything has some sort of negative light attributed to vaccines or the people who promote them. The assertion above can be refuted by a single instance of positive vaccine related coverage in any AVN publication. Have at it.

In 2010 the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission published a public warning advising the AVN to include a statement on their website stating that their purpose is anti-vaccine, that they do not provide medical advise and that vaccination decisions should be made with a doctor. The AVN appealed this warning and won but the judge in that case described Meryl Dorey as “coy” regarding they anti-vaccine nature of her group.

Name Change

As noted above, the AVN was ordered to change it’s name in 2012 or risk being disincorporated. After fighting this order the name change has finally been instituted. Not everyone is happy with the change.

In an effort to restrict the AVN from using names that incorporate the word “skeptic/sceptic” members of the Australian Skeptics registered variations of the AVN name with the word “skeptic/sceptic” included. One of these is very similar to the final name change opted for by the AVN. The action taken to prevent this outcome was undertaken due to the perception that scepticism is not the appropriate description for action taken by a group that advances a particular (scientifically unsupported) conclusion. Scepticism is a process, informed by science, by which we can move ever closer to the truth by clearing away misunderstandings and incorrect conclusions.

This is antithetical to the message of the AVN which is essentially “We have the truth and that truth is: vaccines are harmful”.

It will be interesting to see where this goes in future, legal challenges may well be in the works.

Regarding the AVN referring to themselves as skeptics, they follow in the footsteps of climate change skeptics so this is really nothing new. For the moment I’m preferring to be optimistic, perhaps those on AVN’s side of the fence will take the Skeptic label to heart and be open to all evidence, even if it contradicts their own views.

OK, perhaps that borders on the delusional side of optimism.

Vaccine Education

The AVN styles themselves an educational resource for parents investigating vaccines, news of their name change comes on the heels of recent research investigating the effect of different educational approaches attempting to increase vaccine compliance.

The study was a survey based investigation which tried multiple methods of educating parents about vaccines. The disappointing result was that none of the approaches succeeded in the goal of increasing intent to vaccinate. All of the approaches had negative side effects, ranging from actual decrease in intent to vaccinate to increased belief in vaccine/autism link or other serious vaccine side effects.

While these results need to be investigated further they fit into a larger known pattern known as the “backfire effect” where corrective information ends up reinforcing the false belief rather than replacing it with the facts.

In a climate such as this any public effort to educate could result in lower vaccine uptake, especially among those pre-disposed to be wary of vaccines in the first place. Such is the danger when dealing with the tangled web of bias that is human cognition.

Other resources on this story

Kylie Sturgess of Token Skeptic

Sharon Hill – Doubtful News

Daily Telegraph

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