47 thoughts on “Monday Message Board

  1. TPP and like agreements are all about giving corporations the right sue (often democratic) nation states in star chambers run by corporate lawyers. It is flagrant and outrageous. The democratic polity and its tax-paying ordinary people have no rights in this situation. The corporations are acting like pirates.

  2. As oil slips below $US30 a barrel, I’m wondering why the Turnbull Government wouldn’t boost excise revenue with the argument that ‘stabilising’ petrol pump prices for consumers has wider benefits. Headlines listing the availability of ‘$1 litre’ gas in certain locations prompting wasteful ‘bowser shopping’ would be one plus. I appreciate that Canberra doesn’t set petrol pump prices, that price gouging occurs but surely some national advantage to revenue could be taken from the widening gap between what motorists were prepared to pay two years ago and what current volatility offers. Too bad if it smacks too much of a carbon tax. After Paris 21 I think the public would ‘buy’ it.

  3. Pablo, if the government wanted a non-disruptive way to raise some revenue, putting a floor on petrol and diesel prices would be a good way to go about it. If it brought in an average of $10 a barrel a year that would come to around $37 billion. However, I’m not entirely sure budget deficits are there for filling. I think they may actually be a very blunt tool certain interests use to get what they want and so there may not be much enthusiasm for this idea because it doesn’t cut thngs like welfare or public health.

    And there is always the danger that some people may try to have the petrol and diesel floor price apply to the diesel mining companies use as well and as we have learned, they have a special status and no tax increase of any kind can be applied to them. Just to ordinary Australians.

  4. @Ivor

    Hmmm. Is this just another case of ‘those short bastards made all the money last time, this time it’s my turn’ ?

    Or is it just “being seen (but not herd) to be wrong for the right reasons rather than right for the wrong reasons” ?

    In any case on one of the blogs I visit fairly regularly (Eschaton) I notice that the ads have stopped blaring about “how to survive the Great Aussie Recession of 2015” and have started to blare about “how to survive the Great Aussie Recession of 2016”. So it goes.

  5. @Ikonoclast

    Quite right, Ikono, I have to grant you that: one of these days in one of the infinite number of alternative universes, there may occur a year 2015 in which there is a Great Aussie Recession.

    But I think that neither you nor I will be there to see it … but maybe two other creatures of the same names and general appearance will, thus illustrating the theoretical stickiness of universal history.

  6. @GrueBleen

    One doesn’t need a multiverse theory to validate my statement.

    I was referring to predictions of a future Aussie recession on this planet in this universe. 🙂

  7. @Ikonoclast

    Yes, point taken, Ikono, but just for the sake of interlocution, I’ll refer you to this contribution re recessions and the USA:

    So You Think A Recession Is Imminent, Employment Edition, by Tim Duy:

    The recession drumbeat grows louder. This is not unexpected. Most forecasters have an asymmetric loss function; the cost of being wrong by missing a recession exceeds the cost of being wrong on a recession call. Hence economists tend to over-predict recessions. Eight of the last four recessions …

    (You can find the whole thing here: http://economistsview.typepad.com/timduy/2016/01/so-you-think-a-recession-is-imminent-employment-edition.html )

  8. @rog

    I will channel and misquote Seinfeld.

    “First you ACCEPT the thesis, then you MARK the thesis.” 😉

    I reckon there would be cogent reasons for giving the thesis a very low (Comprehensive Fail) mark. There is indeed “freedom of opinion” but the thesis itself would have to argue “freedom of action” for its propositions to mean anything operatively. Complete freedom of action is very hard to argue when second and third parties, including innocent children, can be placed at significant risk of injury or death.

    One wonders what the academic advisers were doing. Did they advocate against submitting such a paper and indicate why it would be very likely to draw a Comprehensive Fail? Then again, some people just can’t be advised.

  9. Maybe I don’t know the right terminology. Does “accept the thesis” mean it has passed examination and been published in some basically reputable manner or place? I thought it meant that is was just accepted for examination and from there might be failed.

  10. @John Quiggin

    Why was a thesis requiring scientific expertise written in, and presumably supervised by, a member of the Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts? I’m going to guess that no one who knows anything about actual existing medicine went near it or was even aware of it.

    If so, this should not come as a surprise. The University of Wollongong is quite famous for its Science Studies.

  11. The thesis certainly has some peculiar aspects and possibly should have been returned for rewriting.

    It does not maintain a sufficiently neutral stance.

    But I have seen far, far worse nonsense in Western economics.

  12. @Uncle Milton

    To answer my own question, Wilyman’s supervisor is by background a physicist and mathematician who seems to be a specialist in the sociology of science.

  13. @Ivor

    That is not the “University position”. It is the “Brian Martin, Professor of Social Sciences,
    University of Wollongong” position on his own website. Given his learning and position it is still a position to be respected and taken into account. Nonetheless, I see no way that it is the express “University position”.

    In his summing up, Brian Martin states: “The attacks on Judy Wilyman and her PhD research should be understood as part of a campaign to denigrate and discourage anyone who dares to make public criticisms of standard vaccination policy.”

    In the body of his defence, Brian Martin refers to what one might call “lay activist” attacks from pro-vaccination people. But these attacks, while they could be of an ad hominum, unscientific and even unsavoury nature, are not the only kind of criticism that Judy Wilyman’s thesis could conceivably face. The other kind essentially would be informed scientific criticism. Public policy in certain arenas – and vaccination policy is one – needs to be scientifically informed.

    Brian Martin defends Judy Wilyman against uninformed and personal attacks in that defence but makes little or no direct mention of the issue of the scientific veracity or otherwise of her claims; which claims would first, one would think, have to deal comprehensively with the science literature and the methods and studies over the years for assessing clinical effectiveness and risk. I mean that Brian Martin makes no more than general claims that necessary scientific research might be left undone due to conflicts of interest in pharmaceutical research. Such claimed conflicts and ensuing scientific errors would have to be comprehensively documented and demonstrated and shown to have a totality almost equatable to a conspiracy. I doubt that the necessary supplementary proposition (if it is made or implied) that no corroborating research or attempts at refutation of vaccination efficacy have ever been undertaken anywhere via public research.

    One can have an opinion about a policy arena which requires considerable prerequisite scientific understanding. If one does not have that understanding, the opinion remains unsubstantiated. To my mind it is material whether or not Judy Wilyman’s thesis demonstrates this considerable prerequisite scientific understanding and then deploys it effectively in a scientifically, as well as a rhetorically, convincing manner.

  14. @Uncle Milton

    The supervisor Brian Martin has a long record of defending academic freedom and opposing intellectual suppression. He published “Intellectual Suppression: Australian Case Histories, Analysis and Responses” in 1986.

  15. @Ikonoclast

    OK technically – it is the view of the relevant Professor at the University.

    If I was to split hairs, I think I would look for another one.

    Anyway I cannot spend more time on this as I have to head off for my anti-shingles vaccination.

  16. In the thesis conclusion, Judy Wilyman writes;

    “Most mass vaccination campaigns were introduced in to developed countries after 1950 in an attempt to eliminate infectious diseases, not because infectious diseases were a serious risk to the majority of Australian children.”

    Again in the Summary, she writes;

    “Vaccines were not introduced to reduce the deaths and illness due to infectious diseases but to see if they could be eliminated.”

    These comprise first a spurious claim “not introduced to reduce the deaths and illness due to infectious diseases” and then a spurious distinction “but to see if they could be eliminated”. The two goals are not antithetical but accumulative.

    We can also see Judy Wilyman cherry-picking “after 1950” to eliminate some of the most spectacularly successful vaccination programs in history. But even campaigns after 1950 had very important results, for example polio.

    Judy Wilyman writes; “The correlation between the increased use of vaccines in the NIP and the significant increase in chronic illness in children has not been acknowledged or investigated by the Australian government.”

    Correlation on its own does not prove causation. There are a number of other theories and reasons for increase of allergies and chronic illness in children. Among them, saving ill children and keeping chronically ill children alive longer would, all else being equal, increase the incidence of chronic illness in children.

    This RACP Fact File would appear to be enough on its own to debunk Wilyman’s overall claims.


  17. @Uncle Milton

    Agreed. And, we might also assert, not criticizing a bad thesis is certainly an attack on University integrity and prestige.

    But where does this nonsense that there somehow exists an untrammeled “right of free speech” come from ? I was never offered that in my ‘terms and conditions of membership’ charter when I signed on as a member of the human race.

  18. Does this mean that the PhD was awarded without reference to scientific rigour? It seems to me that the attack on science has found succour in Wollongong (ex Brian Martin)

    In the field of science and technology studies, there is no requirement that students or supervisors have research records in the scientific fields being analysed; this is social analysis of science, which is different from doing scientific research.

  19. rog,

    If it was ONLY social analysis of science, there should be no statements about the veracity or otherwise of the science as science. Yet there were such statements in the paper and these statements did pertain to the central proposition.

  20. @GrueBleen

    The Australian High Court has ruled that there is no such thing as a ‘right to free speech’. It was a case involving former NZ Prime Minister Lange & the Australian press. So there is no legal standing to the idea of ‘freedom of opinion’. We also have the relatively recent Bolt case about peddling pseudo rot on race. Maybe Bolt should go for a PhD at UOW..

  21. Uncle Milton :

    Good for him, but criticising a thesis is not an attack on academic freedom.

    Platitudes like that do not help. No one suggests that criticising a thesis is an attack on academic freedom.

    Many attacks so far have been on the project when it was underway, the author, the supervisor, the University, the Faculty, and the referees.

    For example:

    Why was a thesis requiring scientific expertise written in, and presumably supervised by, a member of the Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts?

    A typical snide attack from the great unread was:

    I’m going to guess that no one who knows anything about actual existing medicine went near it or was even aware of it.


    the attack on science has found succour in Wollongong

    Others have sought to restrict academic freedom. See:

    there should be no statements about the veracity or otherwise of the science as science.

    Social scientists have very right to make statements about the veracity or otherwise of science and its impacts on society and the environment. Many academics are engaged in multi-disciplinary endeavours.

    We even saw a dog whistle….

    not criticizing a bad thesis is certainly an attack on University integrity and prestige.

    … call out the hounds!

    Anyone can download and read the thesis. However criticism of a thesis has to be at least at the same level as the thesis.

  22. Freedom of speech obviously includes freedom to criticise speech with which you disagree. It’s a spurious issue in the current context, since no one (AFAIK) has suggested preventing Wilyman from speaking, even when she has made some very nasty accusations against bereaved parents.

    Academic freedom raises some other issues. A thesis shouldn’t be rejected because it is controversial, but it must meet academic standards of accurate citation of the literature, a substantial contribution to knowledge on so on. On the face of things, Wilyman’s thesis fails these tests.

  23. Sean Lever,

    We do have freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is a common law right. Keep in mind that such freedoms are always “freedoms within bounds”.

    “Common law (also known as case law or precedent) is law developed by judges, courts, and similar tribunals, stated in decisions that nominally decide individual cases but that in addition have precedential effect on future cases.” – Wikipedia.

    Keep in mind that common law can be determined in part by judges etc. taking into account custom and community standards and expectations.

    The Australian Law Reform Commission site says;

    “2. Freedom of Speech
    A common law right

    2.1 Freedom of speech is a fundamental common law right.[1] It has been described as ‘the freedom par excellence; for without it, no other freedom could survive’.[2]

    2.2 This chapter discusses: the source and rationale of freedom of speech; how it is protected from statutory encroachment; and when laws that encroach on freedom of speech may be justified. The ALRC calls for submissions on two questions.”

    Also, Wikipedia does not quite tell and interpret the trials as you do either.

    “Australia does not have explicit freedom of speech in any constitutional or statutory declaration of rights, with the exception of political speech which is protected from criminal prosecution at common law per Australian Capital Television Pty Ltd v Commonwealth. There is however an implied freedom of speech that was recognised in Lange v Australian Broadcasting Corporation[55]

    In 1992 the High Court of Australia judged in the case of Australian Capital Television Pty Ltd v Commonwealth that the Australian Constitution, by providing for a system of representative and responsible government, implied the protection of political communication as an essential element of that system. This freedom of political communication is not a broad freedom of speech as in other countries, but rather a freedom whose purpose is only to protect political free speech. This freedom of political free speech is a shield against government prosecution, not a shield against private prosecution (civil law). It is also less a causal mechanism in itself, rather than simply a boundary which can be adjudged to be breached. Despite the court’s ruling, however, not all political speech appears to be protected in Australia and several laws criminalise forms of speech that would be protected in other democratic countries such as the United States[citation needed].” – Wikipedia.

  24. @Ivor

    You quoted me completely out of context. I said in full:

    “If it was ONLY social analysis of science, there should be no statements about the veracity or otherwise of the science as science. Yet there were such statements in the paper and these statements did pertain to the central proposition.”

    I was not trying to “restrict academic freedom.” It was Brian Martin who said it was “social analysis of science”. In that context I wrote “If it was ONLY social analysis of science, there should be no statements about the veracity or otherwise of the science as science.”

    If it contains the latter (truth statements about certain science) then it is a combined social analysis and scientific review and indeed a multi-disciplinary attempt. If it is a multi-disciplinary attempt then it should get all the disciplines right. It is very clear it did not get its scientific review portion (at least) right.

    It is very arguable (I certainly argue it) that philosophers of science, philosophers of social science and logicians would all find multiple faults with this thesis. The paper is pseudo-science for certain and pseudo-social science in all likelihood.

    I am pleased our blog host has mentioned “she has made some very nasty accusations against bereaved parents”. I was of a mind to mention this matter but held back out of caution. Our host knows the limits of comment on his own blog better than I. The reason this issue is relevant is that certain parties, including Brian Martin, have attempted to portray Wilyman as a crusading, innocent, objectively accurate victim of other nasty accusations and innudendo. The situation appears more ethically complex than just this depiction of Wilyman as the persecuted White Hat.

    Among other matters, Wilyman has made this a political play in a political debate and done so via the route of academia (or pseudo-academia?) for the gain of intellectual-academic credibility. This is fine. It is her right to do that. But she has entered a tough arena at her choice.

  25. @Ikonoclast


    If it was social analysis of science then this ought not exclude statements about the veracity of science as science.

    Academics engaging in multi-disciplinary work must ensure that the veracity of work from other disciplines that they use is valid.

    It does not matter whether this is statistics, political science, chemistry, engineering, biology or medicine.

    Anyone undertaking “social analysis of science” could be criticised if they did not canvas issues of the veracity of the science they were using as science.

    Presumably many people will criticise the statistics used in the thesis. Are we to accept that as it is a social analysis there should be no statements about the veracity of statistics as statistics?

    The whole weakness of the thesis could well be that they did not adequately explore the veracity of the science they were using.

  26. And in the interests of giving links to both sides of the story here is Brian Martin’s longest defence and explication of the Judy Wilyman imbroglio.


    People may make of this defence what they will. For my part, I will briefly address the emotive issue of “mobbing as a way of suppressing dissent”. First, there appears to be an assumption that mobbing (mobilising cooperatively en masse) happens only as unjustified offence. There is another possibility with two variants. Mobbing as defence and mobbing as offensive defence. If a group is attacked it will likely defend itself. Scientists, parents and officials trying to defend the health of children with the best of confirmed and validated science (and it is confirmed and validated far better than any Wilyman’s wild, unsubstantiated claims ) have been attacked. That they should show cooperative defence is scarcely surprising.

    Second, there seems to be a presuppostion that dissent is always right and virtuous: that heterodoxy is always right and orthodoxy is always wrong. This is not so. There are cases (plenty in hard science and medicine) where the orthodoxy is correct. Thus there is valid dissent and invalid dissent, the later refutable by empirical facts and valid arguments. If the dissenter will not engage properly with facts, empiricism and science in matters where these are relevant, claims of being “bullied”, when “refuted” might be closer to the mark, carry very little weight.

  27. @Ivor

    A social analysis of science need not include any analysis of the veracity of science just as a social analysis of religion need not include any analysis of the veracity of religion(s). In each case, practical relations and practical outcomes might be the only parameters analysed. Categories of knowledge and belief might be excluded from the study for reasons of theory, method or expedience.

    However, if a social analysis of science does include some analysis of the veracity of some science it needs to get that right according to the widely accepted standards of modern science. Wilyman does not do that.

  28. There is no presumption that dissent is always right and virtuous.

    There is no presumption that heterodoxy is always right.

    There is no presumption that orthodoxy is always wrong.

    A “critical analysis of vaccination” can be critically analysed.

    Whether is should be denied a PhD is another matter.

    There are academic standards mechanisms if people want to pursue it.

  29. @Ikonoclast
    As you say, correlation does not prove causation. It can provide support for argument of causation, but without a physical/chemical/biological understanding, that’s about as far as we can get. If (statistical) correlation were enough, we’d be able to claim that the increasing prices of milk is causing more chronic illnesses among children, or that the decline in passive smoking is causing more chronic illness among children, or that the growth in average income is causing…you get the idea 🙂

    I know people who have had outbreaks of shingles, from moderate to fairly severe: it is no joy, that’s for sure. I know at least one person who has had polio, and that is a wicked disease. I’ve seen someone suffering from the croup (whooping cough?), and that’s a shocker too.

    Even if vaccination caused a small increase in (autism/or other favourite “bad” condition), if the increase is much lower than the decrease in mortality, permanent injury in survivors, etc of the diseases against which we are vaccinating, then on balance the vaccination may be worth it.

    As another example illustrates, sometimes a small increase in one risk is worth it because of the big (enough) decrease in some other risk. Consider the installation of seat belts in vehicles, and the mandatory use of them; there are some rare crashes where the seat belt has increased the overall injuries to the wearer, or even been responsible for their fatality. On the other hand, literally thousands of people have not only survived crashes, but escaped serious injury, thanks to the mandatory use of seatbelts. Accepting that there is a slight increase in the risk of the seat belt actually causing further injury in those rare cases of unusual crash dynamics, we also accept that for the rest of the seat belt wearing crash victims, the benefit of wearing it was considerable; thus, on balance, we accept seat belts as mandatory to wear.

    Nevertheless, I do doubt there is any biological basis for sustaining the claim that an increase in autism rates is somehow caused by vaccination procedures. I won’t categorically rule it out, but so far the evidence is negligible, whereas the evidence of benefits of vaccination is pervasive. Would I vaccinate a child, even if there were a very slight risk of autism as a result? Absolutely.

  30. @Ikonoclast

    That was my point – we don’t have a bill of rights nor is free speech in our constitution. The notion of free speech arises from precedence, of which a High Court’s decision holds the greatest sway.

  31. I look forward to gaining multiple qualifications from the University of Wollongong when I submit my theses – “Evolution; It’s Only a Theory”, “The 6000 Year Old Earth”, “The Irrefutable Evidence that Dinosaurs Travelled on the Ark”, “An Investigation Into the Earth’s Position at the Centre of the Universe” and “The Flat Earth, a Paradigm”.
    For far too long, people who know the truth have been silenced! The future belongs to me.

  32. @Ikonoclast

    There is a double standard here in how universities selectively apply ‘freedom of speech’. If it is internal criticism of senior management’s approach to running the university, these academics generally end up with their positions being made redundant. Sometimes whole depts./schools get decimated.

    I’m all for free speech in universities so long as it is applied consistently and equitably. This is currently not the case.

  33. @zoot

    LOL. Good one, zoot. I’m tempted to submit my seven word thesis which solves ALL the problems of ontology and epistemology.

    And darn, it got one hit on Google, not mine. I am at best the second person to come up with this formulation. But I am the first one to take it seriously… which might be kind of worrying if one thinks about it. Of course, I am keeping it secret until I write it down. 😉

    PS. The problem of induction is so puny I disdain it.

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