No pennies for Tenpenny

Following up on my earlier piece about anti-vaxer Sherri Tenpenny, I’m pleased to report that all the commercial venues that were booked for her potentially lucrative “seminars” have cancelled. It appears the bookings were made by her Australian contact, pro-disease advocate Stephanie Messenger, under the name of a bogus anti-SIDS charity. Apparently, charges of to $200 a head were proposed.

What free speech issues arise here? As I argued previously, I don’t support a ban on Tenpenny visiting Australia, and having come here, she should be free to organize and address public meetings, open to anyone to attend (and heckle!). But there’s no reason to permit her to make money out of her evil lies. As regards potential venues, if they take her money, they are complicit in her activities.

It’s worth observing that this balance only works if there is a substantial public sphere in which freedom of expression is guaranteed, leaving private businesses to make their own choices on matters like venue hire. The privatised world favored by propertarians is one in which freedom of speech and thought is subordinated to the rights of property owners. In the US, for example, the absolutist opposition to government restrictions on free speech goes hand in hand with the right of employers and landlords to sack or evict anyone whose opinions (or even abstinence from favored political organizations) they don’t like.

68 thoughts on “No pennies for Tenpenny

  1. This got my attention:

    there’s no reason to permit her to make money out of her evil lies

    An interesting suggestion.

    I would support an absolute ban on people making money out of their lies (perhaps enforceable along the lines of our draconian ‘proceeds of crime’ laws – i.e. take the money first and make them prove their innocence).

    That would be ‘goodnight’ for News Ltd, the CSG industry, Big-Agri, tobacco, James Hardie and pals and many others.

    We could make it retrospective.

  2. @John Brookes

    Not necessarily. Only if they want to argue that their money shouldn’t have been confiscated – in keeping with the proposition: anyone would be free to lie their head off but, as JQ suggests, they are to be prevented from making any money out of it.

  3. I suppose we would have to extend it to politicians wages – again the presumption is reversed so, for example, we confiscate Newman’s wages and he can go to court and try to argue that he didn’t – at least in part – make that money from telling lies about, for example, sacking public servants.

    It would certainly put a hose through the PR and advertising industries.

  4. The measles outbreak centred in Disneyland, California, is related to this issue. The anti-vaxxers had some wins in the local jurisdiction(s) and look what it led to.

    J.Q. is right. The correct term for anti-vaxxers is actually “pro-disease advocates”. I guess they’d like to go back to the days of epidemics of polio, cholera, smallpox, typhus and yellow fever just to name a few. Of course, methods apart from vaccination also play a role in mitigating some of these diseases.

  5. The right to freedom of speech is circumscribed by the requirement that the speech acts are based on the truth. Where the truth is not at issue, as in artistic expression or speech that is declared by the speaker to be opinion, then there are no such restrictions. As people say, you are entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts.

  6. @jungney
    I agree with Jungney.
    It’s really hard for me to see any freedom of speech issue here. If a pyramid scheme salesman tells you that by investing with him you can double your money, he can be prosecuted and jailed for doing so, and no-one claims that the pyramid scheme seller’s freedom of speech is infringed; but for some reason, providing equally misleading and deceptive advice about health, and making money from doing so, is claimed (even by our host) to be an issue of freedom of speech. I really don’t see the difference between the two cases.

  7. What is considered a lie today may be tomorrow’s truth. Many Nobel prize winners were first considered liars or at best merely incompetent.

  8. @captain moonlight
    Nobel prize winners then went on to prove their assertions by producing scientifically valid, peer reviewed evidence, which was reproducible by others. This is why they won Nobel prizes – they were able to prove that they were speaking truth.

    What was your point again?

  9. Lisa C, the point should be obvious; at any point in time there are scientific truths that are false and scientific falsehoods that are true. Any system of adjudication that cemented in today’s truths and punished heretics would be destructive of science.

    You’ve obviously not been reading your Feyerbend.

  10. @captain moonlight
    That’s probably because it’s spelled “Feyerabend”.
    Please name 3 Nobel prize winners who were considered liars and/or incompetent by a majority of their scientific peers.

  11. Nkb cheap point, l’m typing on my phone on a train, not always easy.

    Why would you need me to give you three names? Why don’t you give me 3 names and tell me why you still prefer science by Truth Commission?? Surely an erudite man such as yourself should have no trouble thinking of 3 examples.

    And what should we do with compulsive liars who also happen to be darlings of the left? Vandana Shiva, anyone?

  12. @captain moonlight
    Pointing to Feyerabend’s explanations of the relativity of knowledge is hardly evidence that anyone ever accused anyone else of lying; scientific knowledge becomes superseded as alternative explanations arise which appear to have greater explanatory authority. There’s no deceit in that.

  13. Interesting. I used to think that Feyerabend reached his philosophical position through reasoning about science, and that it has then been (mis)used by anti-vaxers and similar. But, from what I’ve read (will try to find link) the reverse is true. Feyerabend believed in alternative medicine of some kind, and developed his “anything goes” methodology to support this belief.

  14. I’m no disciple of Feyerabend PrQ but your followers here appear to favour central command science and reading Feyerabend might help widen what are obviously some very narrow horizons.

    How would Marshall and Warren have fared under the Truth Commission science favoured here, I wonder? And what of poor Shechtman?

  15. I just read the wiki entry on Feyerabend

    negative opinions about astrology and the effectivity of rain dances were not justified by scientific research, and dismissed the predominantly negative attitudes of scientists towards such phenomena as elitist or racist

    and

    He argued that no interesting theory is ever consistent with all the relevant facts. This would rule out using a naïve falsificationist rule which says that scientific theories should be rejected if they do not agree with known facts

    Interesting concept but on his terms how can you prove it?

  16. “What is considered a lie today may be tomorrow’s truth”

    It would be helpful if you could define “truth”

  17. rog, I’m still trying to work out who Marshall (I’m guessing not the guitar amplifier maker), Warren and Schechtman are. I’d never heard of Feyerabend either (to the best of my knowledge), but he sounds … odd.

  18. No, rog, that would not be helpful at all. I’m the one arguing for free expression in matters of science without regard to any truth metric. The onus rests entirely on those who want a Truth Commission to operationalise truth. Good luck with that.

  19. @captain moonlight
    We can refine this as: that speech entitled to the defenses of free speech is speech that conforms to the rules of how you go about making truth claims. In other words, whilever we live in a world in which two plus two equals four then the truth claim of the statement must be verifiable or discountable according to the rules of the discipline within which the claim is made. Therefore, truth claims in history must be supported with evidence sufficient to satisfy the standard of truth claims within history; the same with science, sociology, psychology and so on.

    As to truth claims – how are you going with evidence to back up your claims that Vandana Shiva is a liar and that Nobel Prize winners have previously been discounted as liars?

  20. Jungney, try reading the thread. I’ve cited two very well known cases already. Both cases received widespread media coverage. Shiva lies every time her lips move. Google her dishonest claims about her qualifications, indian farmer suicides etc. The more she lies, the more the less intelligent left venerate the old thing, so it seems. Lord Monckton is the right wing equivalent.

    I find the scientific illiteracy and lack of even the most elementary level of common knowledge about science of the heretofore assembled Quigginites utterly puzzling.

  21. @Nevil Kingston-Brown

    a pyramid scheme salesman tells you that by investing with him you can double your money

    Good point.

    We’ll have to add the gambling industry to the list.

    Confiscate all the money they have made from their lies, and let them prove (good luck with that!) they didn’t make all those billions through telling lies.

    We’re on our way to a budget surplus and a better society!

  22. @Nevil Kingston-Brown

    a pyramid scheme salesman tells you that by investing with him you can double your money

    Good point.

    We’ll have to add the g@mbling industry to the list.

    Confiscate all the money they have made from their lies, and let them prove (good luck with that!) they didn’t make all those billions through telling lies.

    We’re on our way to a budget surplus and a better society!

  23. It’s funny: I know who Paul Feyerabend was, but who is this Shiva?

    My understanding of Feyerabend’s view of science was that a rigid, prescriptive methodology could not promise, or necessarily assist, scientific progress; in fact, such a prescriptive approach would stifle it. His analysis is that science progresses by all means available, including transgressing the supposed methodological processes at play. He highlighted the way in which a blind insistence of consistency between older established theories and new theories is to bias the case in favour of the established theory, and that while there may be some merit in this, it is far from clear that it is deserving as a universal principle; plenty of evidence is in fact on the contrary.

    For example, general relativity more than merely supplants Newtonian gravitation and dynamics, it changes everything; a massive object may move, in periods of short duration and in regions of spatially small extent, to a good approximation as it would have in special relativity, but the local space-time of GR and SR is an entirely different construct to the Galilean space and time construct used in Newtonian gravitation and dynamics.

    As another, more obvious, example, Quantum Mechanics breaks inviolable rules of classical dynamics, to the point that there can be no consistency between some aspects of QM and Classical Mechanics (i.e. classical laws of motion). It has been shown that quantum effects of significance can occur at macroscopic levels, there being no classical counterpart with which to be consistent. Super-conducting fluids, Bose-Einstein condensates, and other charming things, violate the rule of consistency. If we said in that case, we stick with the current theory of motion and dynamics, forces and so on, rejecting QM as a failed attempt, we’d be a long way behind in our scientific progress.

    I think Feyerabend is just observing the obvious, namely scientists, at various times and places, are flexible in their manner of arriving at superior and/or more broadly applicable scientific theories. A fact in one theory might be an assumption in another theory, and plain wrong in yet another theory. Again, this isn’t heretical, there are adequate examples scattered through the history of scientific knowledge and its evolution to support this. Geology in the 20th century has some good examples, as does chemistry from 17th century onwards.

    Feyerabend’s insights are called anarchic, but I don’t really see it that way; in fact, he is really just stating, in a philosophically convoluted way, that radical progress comes from intensely creative thought; constrained thought is less likely to be of that level of creativity which will penetrate the mist, discovering new paths to follow. Untrained creative thought, on the other hand, has nothing of value to add. It is very much like the classical musician, an artist at the height of mastery, who can break the rules to produce a profoundly new direction in music. Without the skills acquired by learning and following the rules (until it is beaten into the subconscious), allowing the mind to wander is liable to be an aimless stroll in the desert. I don’t think Feyerabend meant that anything goes all of the time; if he did, then I’m mistaken and he truly was an anarchist in thought.

    I also believe his criticism of the falsification of Popper fame is worth making; even Popper sought positive means (under the label of “corroboration”), as he discussed in his philosophy of science.

    There is nothing wrong in principle to applying sociological academic knowledge to the domain in which scientists operate; it is just that we are more used to thinking of sociology and anthropology applied to some group not like us, perhaps a well hidden ancient tribe somewhere. Mind you, there is nothing wrong in turning the Feyerabend’s blowtorch back upon his own academic sphere, and seeing what parts melt, what parts burn, what is impervious.

  24. I think the Left should be careful what it wishes for. The lies told by the anti-gm left are many and varied. There is no way these people would be allowed to speak under the yoke of a Truth Commission.

  25. @Captain moonlight

    Declining to give a soapbox to people advocating dangerous nonsense is not quite the same as ‘punishing heretics’.

    Freedom of speech means you’re free to advocate nonsense (with provisos) – if you can find a soapbox – and I’m free to encourage other people not to give you a soapbox.

    Proviso: Freedom of speech is not absolute. Given that there are gullible people in the world, the community rightly reserves the right to limit promotion of *dangerous* nonsense. That’s why (I hope and assume) we have consunmer protection regulations that stop people marketing garlic as a cure for AIDS.

    But I hear the sceptics say, ‘How are you so sure what is and is not nonsense?’ Well, in a world where life is finite but processing information takes time, when the science isn’t certain we use rules of thumb to judge what is most likely. Maybe we can’t prove logically that ‘no tiger is friendly’ without getting to know all the world’s tigers; but as a rule of thumb it has served pretty well during our evolutionary history.

    Douglas Hofstadter (Metamagical Themas:114) comments nicely on excessive tolerance of nonsense: ‘Can cardboard pyramids really sharpen razorblades placed underneath them? How many weeks must one wait before one gives up? And what if, after you’ve given up, a friend claims it really works if you put a fried egg at each corner of the pyramid? Will you then go back and try that as earnestly as you tried the original idea? Will you ever simply reject a claim out of hand?’

  26. @captain moonlight
    3 names would demonstrate a trend. “Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, 3 times is enemy action”. I don’t see why I should have to provide your examples for you; you are the one making these ridiculous claims, including inventing some paranoiac illuminati-like “Truth Commission”.

    Marshall & Warren and Shechtman all met with some initial incredulity at their results, but their results were all rapidly confirmed by other labs – citations of their papers increased exponentially immediately after they published (http://www.csicop.org/si/show/bacteria_ulcers_and_ostracism_h._pylori_and_the_making_of_a_myth). Shechtman was called a liar by Pauling, who himself had a well deserved reputation as a crank by that state, but not by the majority of his profession by any stretch of the imagination.

    I have no time for Shiva, but since she’s not a Nobel Prize winner she’s hardly relevant, is she?

  27. @captain moonlight
    3 names would demonstrate a trend. “Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, 3 times is enemy action”. I don’t see why I should have to provide your examples for you; you are the one making these ridiculous claims, including inventing some paranoiac illuminati-like “Truth Commission”.

    Marshall & Warren and Shechtman all met with some initial incredulity at their results, but their results were all rapidly confirmed by other labs – citations of their papers increased exponentially immediately after they published. Shechtman was called a liar by Pauling, who himself had a well deserved reputation as a crank by that state, but not by the majority of his profession by any stretch of the imagination. By contrast, none of Tenpenny’s claims about the dangers of vaccines have been substantiated by any published study (Wakefield’s fraudulent MMR/autism paper was withdrawn).

    I have no time for Shiva, but since she’s neither a Nobel Prize winner nor coming to Australia to sell quack medicines and endanger public health, she’s hardly relevant, is she?

  28. There was an article in the paper today about anti-vaccination people trying to start a pretend church (The Church of Conscious Living I think it was) to get around vaccination regulations…

  29. Lol. It took 2 years before Shectman could get his first quasicrystal paper published and he even lost his for his heresy. Marshall and Warren faced an even harder time. You are either intellectually dishonest or silly.

    Shiva has been part of a very successful movement to thwart acceptance of gm crops and this makes the old windbag every bit as repulsive and dangerous as Tenpenny, yet left wing unis shower her with hon degrees and every time she farts The Guardian sings her praises.

  30. @captain moonlight
    From the abusive and scatological turn you’ve taken towards VS I’m guessing that you’re doing work experience at Menzies House over the summer break. I haven’t kept abreast of VS since I first read her in the early 1990’s but, from a quick glance today, she seems to be sustaining her critique, not of gm crops per se, but of the political economy that attends them.

  31. @captain moonlight
    2 years is not unusual for a controversial paper. Marshall and Warren, despite the post-event mythmaking, did not have a particularly hard time at all.
    The broader point is that the scientific mainstream, whom you deride as being a “Truth commission”, very rapidly accepted their claims after they were published and replicated. The same scientific mainstream is rejecting Tenpenny et al as frauds and liars because their claims cannot be demonstrated. The same scientific mainstream also rejects Shiva’s claims that Golden Rice and GM are harmful. If Shiva was invited by an Australian University to receive an honorary doctorate, esp. of science or medicine, I’d be happy to protest it. But she isn’t. Shiva is a complete red herring in this debate.

    So what is your point? From what little can be made of your barely coherent teenage scatological verbiage, it seems to be “the left are such hipocrits LOL”. But opposition to Tenpenny is not confined to the left and many on the left (e.g. our host) are opposed to anti-scientific tendencies on the left (see JQ’s posts on Greenpeace vandalism). I suggest you go away and sit on your toilet until you manage to squeeze out some fresh ideas.

  32. Shiva wants Indian farmers tied to the land in the manner of feudalism, with no access to gm or green revolution technology. She also wants to opt out of globalism. In other words she wants to go back to the horrific pre-industrial era famines that plagued India pre the green revolution. This is presumably why 99% of Indian farmers ignore her advice. I’ve never understood why so many on the left are infatuated with her racist and Hindu nationalist fantasies.

  33. @captain moonlight
    2 years is not unusual for a controversial paper. Marshall and Warren, despite the post-event mythmaking, did not have a particularly hard time at all.
    The broader point is that the scientific mainstream, whom you deride as being a “Truth commission”, very rapidly accepted their claims after they were published and replicated. The same scientific mainstream is rejecting Tenpenny et al as frauds and liars because their claims cannot be demonstrated. The same scientific mainstream also rejects Shiva’s claims that Golden Rice and GM are harmful. If Shiva was invited by an Australian University to receive an honorary doctorate, esp. of science or medicine, I’d be happy to protest it. But she isn’t (and hasn’t been, AFAIK she has never gotten a Doctorate here). Shiva is a complete red herring in this debate.

    So what is your point? From what little can be made of your barely coherent verbiage, it seems to be “the left are such hipocrits LOL”. But opposition to Tenpenny is not confined to the left and many on the left (e.g. our host) are opposed to anti-scientific tendencies left or right (see eg JQ’s posts on Greenpeace vandalism). I suggest you go away and sit on your toilet until you manage to squeeze out some fresh ideas. Maybe you could start with explaining why you’re fine with unreservedly condemning Shiva but condemning Tenpenny is the result of an antiscientific Truth Commission witch hunt. What do you think Feyerabend would make of Shiva?

  34. Are you stoned nkb?

    All i have done is argue that Tenpenny should have the right to spread her BS. I can’t see why you’re so keen to turn her into a martyr. It is a weird minority view that only opinions deemed true according to some metric you fail to define be permitted. Neither our host or myself support such nonsense.

  35. CM, I have yet to see a point in your comment sbeyond “What is truth?’ said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer.”

    I’ve never heard of Vandana Shiva, but we’ve had plenty of discussion of GM crops here. Your comments suggest you haven’t read any of it, but are just (in line with your general approach), making stuff up.

  36. Haha, now she’s cancelled her trip citing “security concerns”. The only security concerns I saw were threatening tweets from anti-vaxers against venue owners who cancelled her bookings.

  37. John Quiggin,

    I have indeed read with great interest many of the gm food threads here. Many of your most prolific commenters see it as a big ag conspiracy and i also note with dismay your endorsement of mandatory labelling and the silliness spouted by the UCS. Shameful.

  38. CM, there’s a perfectly good case based on personal freedom both for allowing Tenpenny to come and speak (assuming she doesn’t try to make money out of it*) and for allowing everyone to know what they are eating. This has nothing to do with the anti-science and anti-truth claims you’ve been posting.

    * Once it became clear that she couldn’t charge $200 a time, Tenpenny’s interest in sharing her views with the Australian public appears to have dissipated.

  39. Oh look i agree that Tenpenny is an oxygen thief but i remain disturbed by the Truth Commission that your authoritarian left fans favor. The chilling effect on free enquiry should be obvious.

  40. @captain moonlight

    This rhetoric of yours “Truth Commission that your authoritarian left fans favor” is typical right wing / libertarian hyperbole. What “Truth Commission” do leftists like me on this blog favour? If we favoured one, what realistic chance would we have of getting one instituted? What “chilling effect” can powerless leftist blog commentators (like me) have here on this blog or elsewhere for that matter? Who would be “chilled” by my opinions when I am a powerless, unknown, un-rich citizen and have no following, no party, no party memebrship, no publications and no forums of my own of any kind?

    Let’s compare me to Rupert Murdoch. How much wealth, power, reach and influence does he have compared to me? Hints: Murdoch is a multi-billionaire and my household net worth is within 1 std. deviation of the mean for Australia. Murdoch is a multi-national media tycoon. I own no media companies and no media shares of any kind (and indeed no companies and no shares or any kind).

    What “chilling effect on free enquiry” do I have compared to Rupert Murdoch? The answer in my case is none. The answer in Rupert Murdoch’s case is an enormous amount. Your hyperbole is ridiculous. You strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.

  41. CM, it is obvious that what is at contest, both in this discussion and in larger spheres, is exactly the nature of the right to free speech. If there is a free speech case to be made in favour of Tenpenny, or David Irving or any other person who knowingly spreads demonstrable untruths, then what is it?

  42. Jungney,

    But there is no way to determine if people who hold beliefs that most find risible are lying as opposed to just plain wrong. Moreover risible nonsense sometimes turns out to be true: plate tectonics was first muted 100 years before it went from risible nonsense to conventional wisdom. You should have enough good sense to know that your authoritarian position would be reactionary in practice. Why are you so opposed to the Open Society?

  43. From your answer to my question it appears that you support the right of Tenpenny to propagate her views because i) she might be right in the long term and ii) you cannot tell whether or not she might be lying. Do you apply the same ‘logic’ to cc science deniers?

  44. But there is no way to determine if people who hold beliefs that most find risible are lying as opposed to just plain wrong.

    “You can’t tell whether people are lying or genuinely believe it” is a special case of “You can’t tell what other people are thinking”: it’s actually something that differs between different people.

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