47 thoughts on “Monday Message Board

  1. 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.


  2. @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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. @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..

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. @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.

  10. @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.

  11. 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.

  12. @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.

  13. 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.

  14. @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.

  15. @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.

  16. 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.

  17. @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.

  18. @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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