I am writing an article on Universal Medicine winning the Lismore Chamber of Commerce’s People’s Choice Award, and invite your response on the following questions:
* Do you have any comment on the fact that a new-age esoteric breast and ovary massage “healer” group has won the People’s Choice awards?
* Do you think it reasonable that a charity is eligible for this award, instead of restricting eligibility to regular Lismore business for this award?
* Who was eligible to vote in the People’s Choice award?
* What if any measures were taken to prevent vote spamming by members / followers of this group?
Dr Matthew Berryman
I received the following response:
Dear Dr. Berryman
Re your email of Aug. 25th concerning the People’s Choice Award, the general public voted for their chosen business (s) so the award went to the business that received the most votes…just like an election. The voting rules were publicised prior to the awards night and the Chamber had nothing to do with the selection of the winning business…it was as the name implies, The People’s Choice Award.
I hope this answers your questions satisfactorily.
So, in other words, they have no comment other than to point out the eligibility criteria for votes, which are simply that anyone could have lodged a vote through either the Lismore Chamber of Commerce’s Facebook page (poll obviously no longer appears) or through a nomination form available from the Northern Star newspaper. Thus, it was open to spamming by any business—and Universal Medicine is registered as a business, apparently you can sell kooky beliefs—that can get members / customers to vote. Their win is just further evidence of the grip they have over their members, and I wonder in the absence of that which deserving Lismore business might have won this award.
In her recent Facebook post, devoid of any science, Mrs Dorey refers to the fact that I’m not a medical doctor. My qualifications aren’t related to the content as I was quite clearly referring to the HCCC decision, along with Fair Trading and other laws and regulations. As Mrs Dorey knows, I have a PhD and I have had a peer reviewed scientific paper on vaccination published, without any financial support. Mrs Dorey has no peer reviewed scientific publications to date on vaccination. If her arguments had any merit, why hasn’t she published? Particularly with millions of dollars raised and over two decades of research behind her. There’s no big conspiracy here, it’s that either she hasn’t bothered to try and publish her research, or it hasn’t been judged to have any merit by actual scientists. Ditto her attack on our poster presentation at the PHAA conference. Do her followers seriously believe the conspiracy theories she raises and not question why their money that they freely donate and give in membership fees are not used by Mrs Dorey to attend such a conference to influence Government policy with her supposed research?
I have been speaking with a lawyer, who pointed out to me that liability could arise if an adverse event was suffered as a result of information provided by the AVN or any other exhibitors for that matter. With the right to freedom of speech comes great responsibility, and I am sure that you would be seeking that your exhibitors have public liability insurance that covered such events. I note in fact that your exhibitors kit states: “In particular, the Exhibitor must confirm that the Public Liability Insurance policy held by them covers risks associated with display or merchandise at this Exhibition by the Exhibitor and covers YCHY FOUNDATION and Events”.
Exhibitors would therefore be obliged to report any pertinent details to their insurer regarding the information they provide / devices they sell / etc., such as the HCCC public warning in the case of the AVN, or that your official chiropractor makes false claims to treat autism and HIV. The reason I am raising this with you is that I am concerned, based on rather strong (and I might add defamatory) remarks by Meryl, that she may not have public liability insurance, and that if she does, she may not have advised her insurer of the risks identified by the HCCC in their report. Can you please confirm whether you have received a copy of the AVN’s public liability insurance or not; if so can you please advise me who the insurer is so I can liaise with the Insurance Fraud Bureau of Australia regarding the AVN’s compliance with disclosure regulations.
Dr Matthew Berryman
Expo organiser Mr Pina-Roozemond responded rather promptly with:
Thanks for the email, just letting you know that I do indeed have a copy of the relevant insurance document. Taking your lead I called the insurance company to verify that everything was in order and it is.
I’m not entirely convinced that Mrs Dorey would be entirely covered in the event that someone did take her advice seriously, ended up ill, and sued, but I’m not an expert on law or insurance. I am however pleased that the Expo organisers have considered this, and warned of the dangers of Mrs Dorey’s views and are providing pro-vaccination material:
Whilst I do take offence at Mrs Robinson having falsely described my robust but polite debate as bullying, I am more offended to hear of bad behaviour on both sides of this issue. I hope the above exchange between myself and Mr. Pina-Roozemond serves as a good example.
Despite claims of the AVSN being an open book, the financial details remain something of a mystery. Why are your computing costs so high, for example—it looks like you are purchasing new computers every year, which seems excessive, along with your web hosting—and I deal routinely with these costs in my job. Also, were the professional fees for accounting, for lawyers, or some combination thereof? Unlike Stop the AVN, I can’t see any money being spent directly on helping parents. Can you outline on which items in your budget the donations were put to, exactly?
To which the President of the AVN responds
I will not enter into any discussion with you regarding any deeper aspects of our financial affairs.
“…or provide documentary evidence for their claims, many of which were either demonstrably or intentionally incorrect.” Say, for example, thisor thisor this.
Update 2:Clarification from the Expo that they were just slow in updating the list of sponsors and that Aspect Caloundra weren’t asked this year. Meanwhile, I wonder if the remaining sponsors including WIN TV are aware that the celebrity “psychic” thinks that the ability to wiggle a certain part of her anatomy (video not exactly safe for work) proves that mind over matter is possible. Clue to Shé: when people say “mind over matter” they don’t usually refer to the conventional nerve cell – muscle cell interaction.
An open letter to Mrs Dorey regarding her blog surrounding the “Great Debate” on vaccination.
I would like to clear up a few misconceptions that Mrs Dorey is spreading regarding me and Dr Dunlop.
First, Mrs Dorey seems, like Ms Robinson (a.k.a. Annie Infinite), to insinuate that I subscribed Ms Robinson’s email address to a number of pornographic sites.
There is no genuine debate when one side ignores scientific evidence. Relatedly, there is no dichotomy between science and natural therapies. Either there is scientific evidence of efficacy and safety or is there is not. The evidence on vaccination is clearly in favour of vaccination except for genuine medical exceptions, and not false concerns about autism [1, 2], etc. of the sort that the Australian Vaccination-Skeptics Network (AVSN) raise.
Regardless of any statements on government sites (and Google returns no hits for the quote you provided without citing a source for), there is no constitutional or other legislative blanket protection of speech, and speech on medical topics is regulated across Australia. The HCCC is currently investing the AVSN and has been preparing a warning for which I have attached the draft (not the first one they have released) – and the full draft report can be found here.
It’s disingenuous to state that the t-shirts are acceptable whilst ignoring the rest of the HCCC enquiry. Further, I wouldn’t call ignoring scientific evidence that can save lives to be loving children. It’s also disingenuous for you to claim you have no opinion on Black Salve when you have previously and illegally run advertisements and a YCHY Expo organiser has expressed her opinions.
I decline to enter into a debate for the following reasons:
*) Whilst I am qualified to speak on the statistics of risk around vaccination and vaccine-preventable diseases I am no more qualified than Mrs Dorey to speak on the detailed medical matters, and
*) False balance debates can send unhelpful messages by presenting a false view of the balance of risks. 
If you choose to go ahead with hosting Mrs Dorey, given her lack of scientific qualifications and evidence, in any form, then responsibility rests with you, as it does for any other medical misinformation provided in any form at the Expo.
Dr Matthew Berryman
 Gerber JS, Offit PA (2009). “Vaccines and autism: a tale of shifting hypotheses”. Clin Infect Dis 48 (4): 456–61.
 Demicheli V, Rivetti A, Debalini MG, Di Pietrantonj C (2012). “Vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella in children”. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2: CD004407.
 Dixon, Graham, and Christopher Clarke. “The effect of falsely balanced reporting of the autism–vaccine controversy on vaccine safety perceptions and behavioral intentions.” Health education research 28.2 (2013): 352-359.
This correspondence followed my correspondence (below, sent on the 25th of March) to a number of the Expo’s sponsors, suggesting that they examine their financial support of the Expo as a whole (to which the phrase “the event” most clearly refers to), given Mrs Dorey’s attendance and other misleading health information routinely provided. This is also irrespective of whether the Expo was in turn funding her (as they mentioned to me later, they claim they are not), or whether she is running a stall or “debating”, or running a seminar. Furthermore, I noted past advertising and promotion by Ms Robinson of a stall illegally sellingblacksalve. Mrs Dorey also repeats the defamatory remarks by the conference organisers that I resort to name calling, without providing any evidence.
I understand that [Name of Sponsor] is a sponsor of the ‘Healthy’ Lifestyle Expo 2014, also known as the ‘You Can Heal Yourself Expo’, to be held on the Sunshine Coast in May.
This event routinely promotes dangerous medical advice:
At last year’s expo there was a stall selling Black Salve, promoted as a do-it-yourself cancer cure; this has a strong risk of causing damage in addition to the risk that it fails to remove all the cancer, which can then spread. I have enclosed a public health warning from the Therapeutic Goods Administration about Black Salve with more information about it.
This year’s expo features a seminar by Mrs Meryl Dorey from the Australian Vaccination-Skeptics Network, well known for providing anti-vaccination misinformation (with potentially fatal consequences), and currently subject to an investigation by the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission (draft warning enclosed), in addition to investigations by other government agencies for fraud.
I strongly urge you to support public health by withdrawing your sponsorship of this event.
Dr Matthew Berryman
Last but not least, surrounding Mrs Dorey’s mention of Dr Dunlop, I note:
The Expo did not email Dr Dunlop an invitation prior to her name being mentioned as a possible debater. Perhaps it was a case of poor communication between Expo organisers, although it’s highly suspicious that another proposed debater also did not receive an invitation:
Dr Dunlop declined to participate on the 9th of April, which is not surpising given her views on false debates.
On 9 Apr 2014, at 14:04, Rachael Dunlop wrote:
No thank you. Please either remove my name from the site or indicate I have declined the invitation to participate.
I am not sure why Mrs Dorey persisted with this incorrect information well after Dr Dunlop’s email, though we cannot rule out a delay between the Expo receiving Dr Dunlop’s refusal and their subsequently informing Mrs Dorey.
Doctor Berryman, BSc. (Maths & Comp. Sci.), BEng. (Comp. Sys. Eng.) Hons. I, PhD (Complex Systems).
Of course, that’s not the first time that Meryl’s made frivolous complaints to get material removed. But, moving on to more serious matters, I recently became aware of one member of the anti vaccination (antivax)/antifluoride/other conspiracy theory community making threats by private message:
When the person the message was sent to had done little more than post polite responses to antivax people on public Facebook pages. Yet, after Facebook reviewed a complaint about that message, they found it didn’t breach their “community standards”. Some community if that’s acceptable.
Even more worrying, is that Facebook allows a group for the promotion and discussion of child abuse to stand. First, let me make a few things clear:
I do not consider antivax people in general to be child abusers. Misguided, certainly, but there is usually no intent to cause harm to a child—they simply believe that vaccines are ineffective and dangerous, which is not true, but still, that’s what these people believe. And most are otherwise taking on board other measures, often useful. Example:
What I do consider child abuse is when parents, some of whom are happy to be vaccinated themselves, want to deliberately infect their children with diseases that they know full well are at best very unpleasant, and worse carries the risk of serious complications, including death. These parents have intent to harm their children, no matter how much they want to brush aside the risks of complications.
Before we jump in to look at this child abuse group that Facebook considers to meet “community standards”, let’s review a few extra facts on a couple of diseases and the vaccinations for them.
About one out of 10 children with measles also gets an ear infection, and up to one out of 20 gets pneumonia. About one out of 1,000 gets encephalitis, and one or two out of 1,000 die. Other rash-causing diseases often confused with measles include roseola (roseola infantum) and rubella (German measles).
Stats and science are important, but somewhat pale in comparison with these descriptions of cases in ICU from an Intensive Care Specialist:
I am an Intensive Care Specialist. Although it was a while ago now, I do remember my first job in Intensive Care (ICU). During my first week I admitted a young man onto ICU with chicken pox. He was 18-19, a young, fit, healthy, tradie. He liked football (soccer – it was England), and had never had any major illnesses before. He was fully vaccinated according to the schedule of the day (this was in the late 1990’s). This was in the days before there was a vaccine for chicken pox. He had chicken pox pneumonia, and was in respiratory failure as a result of this. He was struggling to breathe, and working really hard just to get the air in and out of his lungs. We had to give him an anaesthetic, and put him on a ventilator to try and keep him alive. At that time I had no idea that chicken pox could be so dangerous. I knew it was contagious, I mean, although I had escaped with mild disease when I was a kid, I remember that 26 of my class of 28 kids were off school at the same time with it. I hadn’t remembered learning specifically about it at med school, but I certainly did some reading during that first week on ICU.
It is not unusual, or rare, for it to cause pneumonia of such a severity that it requires hospital care. Not all that get it survive. He was ventilated for a couple of weeks. He, and his family, suffered terribly during that time. He was lucky though. He did survive. His lungs will be permanently scarred though, and I’m not sure he’ll ever play football again. He was the first patient I looked after in ICU with a vaccine preventable disease. The first of so many. The last was only this week, when I tried to help a gentleman with shingles. Shingles is excruciatingly painful, and also caused by the varicella virus. Thankfully, both these diseases are now preventable by vaccination.
So, without further ado, here’s the group for people (currently 482 members) who want to deliberately infect their kids with chicken pox (and in some cases as you’ll see, measles):
Here’s a selection of the discussion I recently obtained from this closed group:
Dr Pappas said he was concerned the decision was an endorsement of chiropractic treatment for infants when there was no scientific evidence to support it.
”I think they have put the chiropractor’s interests before the interests of the public,” Dr Pappas said. ”[Treating infants] is inappropriate and it carries a very small but real risk of causing damage, and in some cases, devastating damage.”
A review published in the Pediatrics journal in 2007 also found serious adverse events relating to spinal manipulations in children, including a brain haemorrhage and paraplegia.
There are some group members also interested in infecting their kids with measles:
and, despite warnings in the group description and from members (who seem more concerned by the illegality than the public health hazards), those who still seem keen on sending chicken pox via the frigging postal system and provide strategies on minimising detection (presumably the US post are on the lookout for licked lollipops alone):
I am reading How Animals Grieve by Barbara J. King, and it’s quite a moving, yet scientific, read. King obviously cares very deeply about animals, and presents her research and that of others, as well as a number of moving stories, yet is very clear about studies vs anecdotes (and the proper use of them), making clear what is on solid basis and what is speculation / uncertain. I’m still part-way through the book, but wanted to get a bit of a review out there as it’s such a great book; I will update this post with any more thoughts if I have them while reading the rest. Any corrections / comments to this post are as always, most welcome.
As an academic with a science/engineering background, I couldn’t help but ponder a few of the statements:
The author writes “Death-related behavior in these insects is, as far as we can tell, driven purely by chemicals. While it’s possible that entomologists just don’t know how to recognize displays of insect emotion, I’m comfortable in hypothesizing that ants don’t feel grief for their dead comrades.” As that section stands, though, it’s more of a generalisation; for it to be a hypothesis it must make some sort of prediction, which we don’t get to until King then presents definitions of love and grief and how they are intertwined, a key point of this book, in particular the part “the animal who loves will suffer in some visible way. She may refuse to eat, lose weight, become ill, act out, grow listless, or exhibit body language that conveys sadness or depression.” So to link the two sections of text, and make it a hypothesis: we do not expect ants to show any behaviour that carries some detriment to the individual.
King writes “The key to success for at least some nonhuman animals seems not to be pure brain power, but instead a lengthy period of mutual attunement with humans. Thanks to their history of domestication, dogs have had extensive “practice” reading the movements of human companions. DNA science, together with archaeological research, tells us that dogs and humans initiated this process over ten thousand years ago, maybe even as early as fifteen thousand years ago.” Whilst perhaps our ancestors selected dog ancestors to be those who were particularly attuned, perhaps it’s more a case of simply an exaptation of existing behaviour, modified by the nurturing process of raising a dog in a household? This is a bit of a nature vs. nuture debate; I’m not denying there is some selective pressure I just think the ball may lie more firmly in the nuture side.
On a cat who can tell when patients in a nursing home are about to shuffle off this mortal coil, King writes “The explanation for Oscar’s death predictions lies, I believe, with the smell of molecules called ketones as they are released from a dying body.” Now I’m not an expert on the biology of dying, but as far as I understand there are some conditions, namely organ failure, where release of ketones may occur prior to death, and others that don’t, leading to this hypothesis: in those patients who suffer organ failure, Oscar the cat would be able to predict, whereas if someone dies suddenly from a myocardical infarction, then Oscar wouldn’t be able to predict that.
On the landing of the chimpanzee Ham in his space capsule in the ocean, King writes “Or was he terrified, both because of intense heat and because he was bobbing around untended in the ocean for three hours, not knowing what would happen next? The image is hard for the mind to take, Ham alone in the capsule, with no other being to empathize or to comfort him during what can only have been a truly frightening experience.” Yet I suspect part of the terror in that situation comes from our knowledge that the capsule had holes and was gradually sinking, and our knowledge that that may lead to death. I suspect Ham may have been a bit frightened by the whole experience, landing and water coming in, but not very frightened in the way we feel when we put ourselves in that situation through the act of reading.
Ultimately, the book builds a solid case for both love and grief in a number of different species of animals, according to King’s reasonable and grounded definitions of both. The solid use of narrative makes this a compelling read even for the lay audience it is targeted at, and it’s a deeply moving book with images that I will keep with me for a long time, and make me ponder the beautiful and diverse range of animals that I share this pale blue dot with. If this bit doesn’t tug at your heart strings, and make you realise that animals can show grief, I am not sure what will:
On the following day, before moving on to another part of the Elephant Sanctuary, Sissy made a choice that surprised the people who witnessed it. She placed her beloved tire, her security blanket, on her friend’s grave. There she left it, an elephant memorial offering, for several days.
Tomorrow (and possibly Friday) there is an appeal hearing before the New South Wales Administrative Decisions Tribunal to decide on whether the Australian Vaccination Network’s name is misleading. To illustrate their stance, I note their book on vaccination, recently released for free, contains 27 references to the word “poison” (they are not poisonous), close to 100 mentions of vaccination being ineffective, over 50 on the word danger / dangerous, etc. If that doesn’t illustrate the anti-vaccination stance of the AVN I don’t know what would.
The research shows that up to 53% of Australians have concerns about vaccination. It is important that these parents get their information from a credible source. People need to know that Australian Vaccination Network is a fringe group of hard core vaccine refusers. Their name deliberately seems amibigous in order to present themselves as presenting serious research on both sides. They merely present non-scientific information on the anti-vaccination side. Your doctor is often your best choice when you have questions concerning your health.
I note the comments by New South Wales Fair Trading’s Principal Solicitor in his decision that is being appealed:
All in all, the available information shows, in my opinion, that the AVN is mostly concerned with opposing vaccination and mandatory immunisation. When issues have two sides, it takes just one of them.
One would expect that an organisation with the name ‘Australian Vaccination Network’ would provide comprehensive and credible information on vaccinations in Australia, and a balanced view on what is involved in the processes and benefits and risks involved, as well perhaps on where and how such treatment can be obtained. The AVN does not do this. Its views are anti-vaccination, and it advises against being vaccinated or taking part in immunisation programs. Complaints received by NSW Fair Trading support this view of the AVN. Parents of young children may be particularly interested in learning about issues concerning vaccination and may easily come across the name Australian Vaccination Network in an Internet search, only to find its issue is opposing vaccination. The name does not suggest that it is anti-vaccination.
The issue here is not with the nature, objects or functions of the AVN or what it espouses, but rather with its name. It can adopt another that is not unacceptable. Free speech is not the issue.
The Australian Vaccination Network Inc’s message is anti-vaccination.
Its name does not reflect that message or its true nature, objects or functions.
Its name is likely to mislead the public
As such, the name is unacceptable for registration as a name under the Associations Incorporation Act 2009.