Anti-vaccination Activists v The Obvious

Voltaire is usually attributed with the epigram:  “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Actually, it wasn’t Voltaire but his biographer, Evelyn Beatrice Hall, who wrote that. But that’s a minor point.

The major point is, should we accept the advice? Should we allow just anyone and everyone to have an opinion?

Of course we should, but it’s hard to accept it sometimes. Take the case of Meryl Dorey, president of the Australian Vaccination Network. She has no medical qualifications and yet she dispenses medical advice regarding vaccinations, namely , that they are linked to autism. They aren’t. But that doesn’t stop her misleading people and openly advocating her ideas. The site states that it is there to promote the “right to free choice when it comes to vaccinations, vaccines and immunisations.” It’s a pity that the information it gives out to support the idea that vaccines and autism are linked is just plain wrong.  Free choice good. Misinformed choice bad.

Meryl Dorey is going to be a guest speaker at this year’s Woodford Folk Festival near Brisbane. There are a lot of families who attend this festival each year. Lots of kids. Lots of loving parents.

I don’t know about anyone else, but alarm bells go off in my head when an idea has to put so much effort into defending itself from critics. If what they claim is obviously right, then experts would accept it. If so many people disapprove of the claims, and it is therefore necessary to defend them, then surely those criticisms should be addressed before reliance on them is made. This is what peer-review is all about. Every scientific or medical idea must be reviewed and tested and questioned and the person relying on them must defend them, that is a given. But when a lot of energy must be directed into long-term, ongoing defence of an idea, and the criticisms of that idea are based on sound science and medicine, then surely the accuracy of the idea must be in some sort of doubt.

Meryl Dorey and her associates have every right to be wrong. But when they use their wrong ideas to influence others into making the same mistakes, which leads to their lives and their families’ lives being put at risk, then their right to express their wrong ideas must be questioned.