Antivaxxers grow increasingly bolder

December 30, 2011

Over the last year, the anti-vaccination movement has grown more bold in their misinformation campaigns. It began Thanksgiving weekend of 2010, where they tried to advertise their propaganda in AMC movie theaters. This effort was thwarted however in no small part because of SkepChick activist Elyse Anders. Then months later, they succeeded in getting a commercial running on the Time Square CBS Jumbotron. And last month, they succeeded in getting Delta Airlines to air their propaganda on flights.

Each time Elyse Anders used a change.org petition to influence those who have agreed to work with these antivaccine groups and I discussed this during my recent SkeptiCamp talk, which was focused on promoting more skeptical activism in NYC because as great as Elyse has been for NYC, she doesn’t live here and I hate needing her to fight our local battles when we have a sizable skeptical community, many of whom I suspect would be interested in skeptical activism.

Well now the inaccurately named National Vaccine Information Center is back to their old tricks and are currently, as well as during New Years, running another dishonest ad in Times Square on ABC Full Circle’s 5000 square foot TSQ Digital Screen. And the ad is scheduled to run during the New Years celebration. Also, Jenny McCarthy will be part of the televised show and has promised to try to draw attention to the ad.

And again, since there’s no organized NYC skeptical activism…yet (hopefully more on this soon!), New York’s protector, Elyse Anders, is back with another change.org petition. Please sign this petition urging ABC to pull the ad at once.

Yay! Sweet, sweet death!

Now unfortunately, that’s not the only antivaccine news story lately. The antivaccine Australian Vaccination Network is currently promoting a children’s book that teaching kids that measles is awesome. I shit you not. The book is called Melanie’s Marvelous Measles, and it’s written by a woman named Stephanie Messenger. I’m reminded of another children’s author who wrote about measles, Roald Dahl. Though he wasn’t marveling at the disease so much as cursing it for having killed his kid. For more commentary on this sickening book, check out PZ Myers, Ophelia Benson and Reasonable Hank.

The other big news from Australia was that the head of the Australian Vaccination Network, Meryl Dorey was originally scheduled to give a talk at the Woodford Folk Festival about the evils of vaccines. After our friends at the Australian Skeptics campaigned against it, her talk transformed into a panel featuring Dorey and a bunch of actual qualified experts with the know-how to demolish her arguments. But the Australian Skeptics didn’t stop there. They amusingly paid to have an airplane fly over the Festival with a sign reading:  VACCINATION SAVES LIVES.

Bravo Australian Skeptics on a job well done. Now we just need to bring the same level of activism to NYC.

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News From Around The Blogosphere 5.23.11

May 23, 2011
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1. Actor Paul Giamatti identifies himself as an atheist – Yup, in keeping with centuries of Jewish tradition, Mr. Giamatti doesn’t believe in any gods. He even goes further than many other celebrity atheists in that he’s not afraid to even use the label “atheist.”

2. Australian distributor of Power Balance bracelets goes out of business

The Australian distributor of the controversial Power Balance wristbands will be placed into receivership today, with the owner of the business saying that sales have “evaporated” since the business provided undertakings to the ACCC to stop claiming the wristbands could improve balance, strength and flexibility.

Power Balance Australia owner Tom O’Dowd has exclusively told SmartCompany that while he had been “naive” in thinking that the business would not by [sic] subject to laws surrounding the regulation of health products, the ACCC’s aggressive stance against the products effectively killed off any survival hopes.

3. 60 Minutes reports on Lance Armstrong scandal – Last week, I defended a piece by 60 Minutes about the cult group calling themselves Sovereign Citizens, but this week, I’m taking issue with one of their stories. Now I haven’t been following the investigation into possible use of performance-enhancing drugs among professional bicyclists, nor the particular accusations against Lance Armstrong. But it seems to me, at least as it was presented on 60 Minutes, that the real story here is an abuse of government power. From what I could tell, the entire investigation has turned into a witch hunt based not on any empirical evidence, but on nothing more than hearsay.

Now maybe Armstrong cheated and maybe he didn’t. I have no clue, nor any commitment to either conclusion. Certainly, as with any professional athlete, there is a clear motivation to cheat…at least as long as one  can keep it a secret, as exposure would almost certainly destroy one’s career. But if federal officials couldn’t even nab Al Capone for anything other than tax evasion, why is it that they can potentially bring down Lance Armstrong without anything other than the testimonies and conspiracy theories of people who may have a grudge against him?

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Skeptics get Power Balance to admit their wristband product doesn’t work

December 22, 2010

The Australian Skeptics have been fighting to expose the Power Balance scam for some time now. Power Balance are rubber wristbands with little hologram on them that are marketed with all sorts of vague claims like improving the wearers’ balance, strength, flexibility, etc.  But no longer:

As of today the manufacturers will no longer be making those claims, after a ruling proved them to be unsubstantiated. What follows is a press release from the ACCC explaining further, but it’s worth pointing out that without the work of the Australian Skeptics in demonstrating the falsehood of Power Balance’s claims this ruling would never have happened. So, once again – excellent work, guys!

Misleading advertising claims about the alleged benefits of Power Balance wristbands and pendants have been withdrawn by the manufacturer after Australian Competition and Consumer Commission intervention.

As a result consumers will be offered a refund if they feel they have been misled and Power Balance has agreed not to supply any more products that are misleadingly labelled.

“Suppliers of these types of products must ensure that they are not claiming supposed benefits when there is no supportive scientific evidence,” ACCC chairman Graeme Samuel said today.

Power Balance has admitted that there is no credible scientific basis for the claims and therefore no reasonable grounds for making representations about the benefits of the product. Power Balance has acknowledged that its conduct may have contravened the misleading and deceptive conduct section of the Trade Practices Act 1974.

Another great victory for science and reason!

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Robot News 10.18.10

October 19, 2010

I found two interesting robot-related news stories.

1. First, Australian computer scientist Graham Mann is working on developing algorithms to simulate day-dreaming. Believing that an intelligent system requires built-in emotions to function, he set out to translate the “feel” of Aesop’s Fables for machines. In other words, his goal was to achieve more flexible processing of storylines, which were deemed “simple and short enough to represent as conceptual graph data structures”.

His algorithm was based on Plutchick’s Wheel of Emotions, which illustrated emotions as a colour wheel and disallowed mutually exclusive states – like joy and sadness – from being experienced simultaneously.

The machine freely associated three stories: The Thirsty Pigeon; The Cat and the Cock; and The Wolf and the Crane.

When queried on the association, the machine responded: “I felt sad for the bird.”

No, the machine’s not really feeling sad, but it seems to be able to recognize that that’s an appropriate human-like reaction to the story.  And that in itself might be a major accomplishment in the continued pursuit of AI.

2. The other story isn’t so much news as already available footage that was new to me of the rat-brain-controlled robot. If you hadn’t heard about this before, researchers had previously used the brain cells of rats, cultured them, and then in true Robocop fashion, used them as the guidance control circuit for simple wheeled robots. The cells are able to form new connections that turn the machine into a true learning robot. If this isn’t a huge step forward on the path to AI I don’t know what is.

Take a look at this robot that is literally being controlled by biological cells:

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AVN loses its charity status

October 14, 2010

The Australian Vaccination Network (AVN – not to be confused with the Adult Video Network) has been stripped of its status as a charitable organization on account that it’s, you know, not really a charitable organization but just anti-vaccination propaganda distribution center.

Well, the official reason is that the Australian Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) found the organization’s appeals to have not been in good faith. You see, as I’d written about several months ago, the AVN was ordered to post a disclaimer on their website telling visitors that the site should not be read as medical advice and that the site is not an objective source on vaccines but rather is ideologically determined to oppose vaccination.

But you see, Meryl Dorey and her organization chose to ignore that ruling and not advertise their bias. Soooo, that brings us to today, when the New South Wales Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing (OLGR) revoked the AVN’s charitable status on the grounds it had failed to publish the recommended disclaimer.

“This has led to appeals not being conducted in good faith,” the office says in a letter sent to the AVN.

“The organisation’s website is misleading in that it may lead people making donations to believe they are donating to a cause which promotes vaccination, whereas the organisation adopts an anti-vaccination position.”

This all follows copyright infringement charges made against the organization a month and a half ago.

Suffice it to say, this has not been a good year for Meryl Dorey and her Orwellian “Ministry of Truth.” And unfortunately for Ms. Dorey, this is only the beginning as we will take apart her organization piece by piece. The blood of Dana McCaffery and possibly other infants is on her hands, and we’ll make sure she never forgets it.

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News From Around The Blogosphere 7.13.10

July 14, 2010

1. Church sued because world didn’t end – Two members of Australia’s Agape Ministries donated $1.4 million under the belief that doomsday was coming. But when the doomsday came and went without incident, they demanded their money back since it their generous gift was predicated on the church’s lies of impending doom.

2. Muslim Cleric calls for death to ‘Everybody Draw Mohammed Day’ cartoonist – Although we must take Anwar al-Awlaki‘s threat seriously, I suspect nothing will happen to Molly Norris, the subject of his outrage. Even he’s got to realize that the golden age of the West folding under the threats of Islamofascism are over. That was the indeed the whole point of Everybody Draw Mohammed Day in the first place. They can’t get all of us and there’s safety in numbers. Further, like a quicksand, every recent attempt by Muslim fundamentalists to quash “blasphemy” has only causes them to sink even faster. These scare tactics no longer work and only end up blowing up in their own faces (no pun intended, Muslim suicide bombers) in the Internet Age.

3. 2012 survivalist nut appears on Wife Swap -Yup, it’s another doomsday-related news story:

Dawn, a staunch 2012 believer, makes her adopted clan — a family whose daughter is a golf prodigy — train for the end of the world. “Apocalypse training” apparently means wearing matching camo shirts and making your dog don a flotation vest. Amazing television.

You can see a clip of this in the link above.

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Australian Vaccination Network condemned by health authorities for harassing & misleading parents

July 13, 2010

I’ve written before about the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN – [snicker]) and its despicable leader, Meryl Dorey. Now it seems that Australian health officials have something to say about them as well. The New South Wales Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) has produced a report condemning the claims and activities of the AVN.

Unfortunately, the HCCC is only demanding the AVN to place an easily ignorable disclaimer on their website. According to the HCCC’s AVN Final Report (PDF):

The Australian Vaccination Network should include an appropriate statement in a prominent position on its website which states:

  1. the Australian Vaccination Network’s purpose is to provide information against vaccination in order to balance what it believes is the substantial amount of pro-vaccination information available elsewhere;
  2. the information provided should not be read as medical advice; and
  3. the decision about whether or not to vaccinate should be made in consultation with a health care provider.

The report also makes reference to the alleged harassment of the parents of Dana McCaffery, a 4-week-old Australian infant who died of the easily preventable pertussis specifically because she was too young to receive the vaccine and the disease was allowed to spread by irresponsible locals who chose not to vaccinate.

ABC covered the story here:

And you can hear more of Meryl Dorey spouting out dangerous misinformation on a radio show where fortunately, the hosts weren’t buying her bullshit.

Meryl Dorey and the AVN are so despicable they make the Westboro Baptist Church seem pleasant by comparison.

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