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Climate and vaccine deniers are the same: beyond persuasion

Governments are worried. Vaccination rates are falling under the influence of a campaign of misinformation by a small minority of fanatics. Scientifically there is no debate about immunisation, with every…

There’s no vaccine against persistent attacks on scientific evidence. www.shutterstock.com

Governments are worried. Vaccination rates are falling under the influence of a campaign of misinformation by a small minority of fanatics.

Scientifically there is no debate about immunisation, with every relevant health authority strongly endorsing vaccination. But anti-vaccination activists refuse to accept the evidence, claiming that “every issue has two sides”.

They believe vaccination is ineffective and unnecessary and that vaccines contain toxins and cause autism. They seize on the occasional dissenting study and exploit it for all it’s worth even after it has been discredited. They go hunting for instances of apparent adverse responses among children and advertise them as proof that jabs are dangerous and should be abandoned.

Anecdotes that seem to confirm their opinions trump mountains of carefully collected scientific evidence.

They spread theories about cover-ups, information-suppression and conspiracies among medical experts. They claim to be protecting our freedom and talk darkly about the government trying to take away our liberty. They portray themselves as David bravely fighting Goliath.

The anti-vaccinators attempt to hide their fanaticism behind a façade of respectability, adopting misleading names for their organisations and promoting the views of “experts” who look credible, but who cannot seem to convert their expertise into publications in peer-reviewed journals. While claiming to have better access to scientific truth, the anti-vaccinators show no respect for best scientific practice and dismiss the established experts as frauds.

These tactics are common knowledge. But every one of them is also used by climate science deniers. And yet the same kind of unhinged repudiation of an overwhelming body of scientific facts is treated not as the private obsession of a handful of nutcases, but as a legitimate part of the “debate” over global warming.

The media treat the anti-vaccinators with the disdain they deserve, but sections of the media see no contradiction in actively promoting the same type of anti-science fanaticism when it comes to climate.

The Australian recently supported attacks on “political correctness” in the school curriculum, giving voice to a teacher who argued that “there’s no Asian way of looking at physics”. Quite so; yet it routinely warns its readers about “left-wing" climate science.

Unhealthy advice

What would we think if Prime Minister Tony Abbott declared “immunization science is crap”? Or if he appointed Meryl Dorey, who runs the Australian Vaccination Network (which was recently ordered to change its misleading name), as chair of the National Preventive Health Agency’s Advisory Council?

Yet Mr Abbott has appointed climate denier Maurice Newman to be chair of his Business Advisory Council. In 2010, while chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Newman told journalists they should present both sides of the debate. Back then he felt the need to restrain himself. Now unleashed, Newman is in full flight mimicking the anti-vaccinators. Writing last month in The Australian (where else?) he declared that the evidence for human-induced climate change is a “scientific delusion”.

Newman professes to believe that the scientific establishment is engaged in “mass psychology” because it is “intent on exploiting the masses and extracting more money” (to what purpose he did not say). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – the main global body that reports the scientific evidence on the issue – allegedly “resorts to dishonesty and deceit” and promotes “the religion behind the climate crusade”. Newman insists there are “credible” scientists who say the Earth is cooling rather than warming.

He says that governments that promote renewable energy are engaged in a “cover-up”, while state health departments are “hiding” evidence on the health dangers of wind farms. He declares that unless someone soon puts a stop to this “climate change madness” most of us will “descend to serfdom”.

Bizarre understanding

In a sane world this kind of fulmination would disqualify anyone from public office. But not today. The same ravings now issue from the mouths of many politicians who ought to know better.

One wonders how a man with Newman’s bizarre understanding of the state of the world can provide the government with sound advice about Australia’s business future, particularly when his claims about how climate policies have “decimated” our manufacturing industry have been rebuffed time and time again by systematic economic analysis.

If a private corporation appoints to its board someone with Newman’s views then that is of no public concern. But to have such a man in a senior public advisory role ought to worry every citizen.

I’m guessing that Newman supports immunisation and would not recognise in himself the kind of primitive thinking noted by The Lancet way back in 1927. In an article titled “The Psychology of Antivaccination” the prestigious medical journal commented on the passion of anti-vaccinators in terms that apply with eerie resonance to modern climate science denial.

It noted that the value and limitations of vaccination against smallpox had been thoroughly researched and understood by scientific medicine, and yet it went on to add:

“We still meet the belief … that vaccination is a gigantic fraud deliberately perpetuated for the sake of gain… The opposition to vaccination … still retains the ‘all or none’ quality of primitive behaviour and, like many emotional reactions, is supported by a wealth of argument which the person reacting honestly believes to be the logical foundation of his behaviour.”

The anti-immunisation brigade is still at it, yet giant strides have nevertheless been made in protecting public health. There is no such luxury in the case of climate change, and it is the anti-environmental paranoia of men like Abbott and Newman, and Andrew Bolt and George Pell, that endangers the health of our planet.

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  1. James Jenkin

    EFL Teacher Trainer

    'The anti-immunisation brigade is still at it, yet giant strides have nevertheless been made in protecting public health. There is no such luxury in the case of climate change ...'

    Can anyone explain - what does this mean exactly? The need for climate action is so urgent that there's no time to win over public opinion?

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    1. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to James Jenkin

      We can see what paper Jenkin reads. This is how the shock jocks like Andrew Bolt do verballing. He is obviously learning from the master.

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  2. David Arthur

    resistance gnome

    Should anyone have morbid interest enough to seek examples of such obstinacy, there's dialogue between myself and one 'Jim Inglis' that makes up much of the commented discussion after Gawel, Lahmann & Strunz's "Scrapping EU renewable targets after 2020 makes no sense" (https://theconversation.com/scrapping-eu-renewable-targets-after-2020-makes-no-sense-22284).

    While it is best left to the reader to decide which of myself and Mr Inglis demonstrates the greater obstinacy, the position of only one of us is supported by all available evidence.

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    1. alfred venison

      records manager (public sector)

      In reply to David Arthur

      yes, i've followed the link and read the dialog & congratulations, well done! i won't comment on obstinacy, but i'll say i'm grateful for guys like you, because i just don't have the pluck for it anymore, i jam in despair. the day is fast slipping away when it mattered whether one argument is "right" or another is "wrong". today we are witness to it becoming all about whether or not you are "one of us". marshall mcluhan was right - there is a new tribalism afoot coincident with speed of light communication and every global village has its global village idiots. -a.v.

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    1. In reply to Ken Swanson

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    2. In reply to Ken Swanson

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    3. In reply to Ken Swanson

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    4. In reply to Ken Swanson

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    5. In reply to Ken Swanson

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    6. In reply to Mike Hansen

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  4. Yoron Hamber

    Thinking

    It's a wonder how many unemphatic personalities that seems to find themselves at home as politicians? Anyone ever done a study on personality traits versus ones ability of acting as a politician? It would be a interesting read :)

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    1. Phil Dolan

      Viticulturist

      In reply to Yoron Hamber

      Jeremy Paxman, The Political Animal: An Anatomy (2003). A very good read.

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  5. Steven Crook

    Programmer and software designer at Currently resting

    Can't help feeling that this sort of article is art of the problem not part of the solution.

    There's no end of positive coverage in the media. The BBC positively gushes with support as do the Guardian and Independent and any government or opposition representative. Even so, rates of disbelief are high. Indeed, at a record high.

    Perhaps a little more honesty about what is and is not known might have been more appropriate. Perhaps a little less "Our children may grow up never having seen snow…

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    1. Jarad Richardson

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Steven Crook

      The problem is the people who disbelieve aren't accessing the media you cite - they read the Herald Sun, The Courier Mail, perhaps the Australian - they watch mainstream commercial television channels etc. It is difficult to get the message out when these media outlets are largely in the denialist camp.

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    2. Steven Crook

      Programmer and software designer at Currently resting

      In reply to Jarad Richardson

      Can't agree. There's a recent UK survey that shows it's the educated middle classes that don't believe or seriously doubt. Apparently the poorer the education, the more likely people are to just accept what they've been told. Using poor educational background as an explanation for 'denialism' won't wash.

      I'm convinced the problem has been the alarmist approach that has failed. It's been followed by trying characterise those who dissent from the consensus in *any way* as deniers, anti-science, quacks, conspiracy nuts or religious loons (thank you Lewandowsky).

      I think the refusal to debate has been a massive mistake. I ask you, pretend you're sceptical or undecided go to YouTube to watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V96k4BO2sBw.

      Schmidt turns up but won't sit next to Spencer or talk to him? It doesn't look good, it really doesn't. It just makes it look like Schmidt has conceded the argument.

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    3. Steve Hindle

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Steven Crook

      I agree, self righteous tone and the comparison of climate change scepticism to anti vaccination activists is only going to entrench opinions, not change them.
      There is also the possibility of this type of vilification spreading into the legitimate debate on the extent of climate change. Is anyone not supporting the worst case scenario going to be denounced as a "denier"?
      The debate should be about the extent of climate change and the best way of reducing it and living with it. This sort of article just stirs people up and has little value.

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    4. Victor Jones

      Freelance

      In reply to Steven Crook

      It has to a fair bit to do with motivated reasoning. Maybe people seek out simpleton media, like Murdoch rags, to confirm their beliefs.
      Education does have a part play - most of the climate denial is amongst older people (surprise, surprise, also right wing voters). It's accepted amongst the youth.

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    5. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Steven Crook

      Steven, 'refusal to debate'?

      Which planet have you been living on for the last few decades?

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    6. Steven Crook

      Programmer and software designer at Currently resting

      In reply to Felix MacNeill

      @Felix
      It just looks bad. I agree that, for the scientists, it's tedious and time consuming having to come out and say the same things and counter the same arguments time after time.

      As I pointed out somewhere further up, it's not the uneducated who form the bulk of the sceptics and 'deniers'. If you want to win people round to your line of argument you don't insult them. You don't insult the people who publicly represent their point of view either.

      Sceptics and deniers vote. If there are…

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    7. Steven Crook

      Programmer and software designer at Currently resting

      In reply to Brad Farrant

      Sorry poor choice of word. I meant better rather than higher, which implies a degree.

      Even so, you'd have to admit that 29% of degree holders not accepting AGW theory is pretty stunning...

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    8. Steven Crook

      Programmer and software designer at Currently resting

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      The trouble is that it seems on many occasions 'denier' is used for anyone who questions any aspect of either the science or policy.

      If you question policy in the wrong way then, by implication you're denying the serious nature of climate change. If you're doing that, then you must be denying the science...

      Both camps are hopelessly polarised. Depressing given it's such an important issue.

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    9. Brad Farrant

      Adjunct Research Fellow in Early Childhood Development at University of Western Australia

      In reply to Steven Crook

      How do we judge "better" education if not via the extent of formal education?

      The 59%/29% split for those with degrees is substantially better than to 51%/39% for the population as a whole so it is very clear that education plays a part here.

      Nevertheless, if you look at the breakdown by voting intention it is extremely clear who is denying the science - 61% of coalition voters deny the science versus 22% Labor and 10% Greens voters. As has been identified in numerous scientific studies, many people deny the science when it conflicts with their ideology and/or world view.

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    1. In reply to Ken Swanson

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    2. In reply to Ken Swanson

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  6. Alex Cannara

    logged in via LinkedIn

    Very simple: same technique works for any counter-factual individual or group, whether anti-vaccine, anti--nuclear, or anti-reality... relentless reporting of facts.

    This works in a discussion environment, as here, because eventually the denier figures out that others listening in are getting facts they would not have been aware of if the denier had simply shut up. So, like those complaining about being unable to communicate (see Tom Lehrer), the deniers eventually shut up.
    ;]

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    1. In reply to Ken Swanson

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    2. In reply to Ken Swanson

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    3. In reply to Colin Cook

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    4. In reply to Ken Swanson

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  7. Meryl Dorey

    logged in via Facebook

    I made the following comment on the AVN's Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/avn.living.wisdom) this morning and then, read this article. I think my words are very appropriate for this page:

    Parents have the right to access and be given ALL available information on every medical procedure that is being recommended for their children. Right now, some influential members of the government and the medical community are intentionally withholding or suppressing information of a material nature…

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    1. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Meryl Dorey

      Meryl, I've decided that asprin causes AIDS. I haven't got around to publishing the research yet, but thought I'd give you the scoop on it.

      I presume you'll be publishing this information on your website in the interest of parents enjoying 'the right to access and be given ALL the available information on every medical procedure that is being recommended for their children.'

      Taking aspirin is a medical procedure that is being recommended to children.
      My comment that it causes aIDS is information.
      therefore, under your own principles, you must publish it. I look forward to seeing this on your website soon.

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    2. Meryl Dorey

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Felix MacNeill

      Felix, more power to you! And though I've yet to see any evidence whatsoever that aspirin DOES cause AIDS, I would never try to stop you from making that claim. I wouldn't believe it, of course, unless you showed me the evidence. And there might be some gullible individuals out there who would take what you say sight unseen. But we are each responsible for ourselves and if they are foolish enough to believe you, that's their problem - nothing to do with me.

      So publish away wherever you can. I…

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    3. Meryl Dorey

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Kate Squires

      Katie - who made you the arbiter of what is and is not reputable? Who said that you are entitled to make that decision for others? You disagree with the information the AVN has on its website. I get that. But does disagreeing with it entitle you to try and prevent others from accessing it?

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    4. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Meryl Dorey

      Nice projection about democracy, there, Meryl, since I never said anything about your personal rights. But, on the foolish assumption that your final question was something other than rhetorical, I'd like to live in a democracy that was based on truth and evidence, rather than hearsay.

      But it's a shame you completely evaded my main point.

      On what basis have you decided that my claim is baseless (which it very obviously is) but concluded that the entirely discredited pseudo-evidence against vaccination (which, though slightly less obviously baseless than my hypothetical, is nonetheless demonstrably false) is valid and should be published?

      What I'm asking about is the standard of proof you require to decide to publish information i norder to inform people. Surely that's a simple and reasonable question.

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    5. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Colin Cook

      Bloody hell, Colin, that is, as Dame Edna would say, 'spooky'!

      I swear I simply pulled that one out of thin air...must be something in the ether...

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    6. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Meryl Dorey

      Does Meryl's idea of free speech mean that I'm allowed to shout "there is a bomb" in a crowded theatre?

      Does she approve if I write that a cure for aids is to have sex with a proven virgin such as a very young child or baby?

      Is it good for society for someone to be allowed to advise parents of underweight children to spread some lead powder on their food as this will help them gain weight? And is it ok to dress this advice up as if it is the latest medical research and is totally safe?

      It's not as simple as just promoting free speech.

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    7. Steve Hindle

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Meryl Dorey

      For those thinking that peer reviewed evidence carefully gathered over decades can change the opinion of people who have locked themselves into a firm belief based on anecdotes, Meryl's post shows what you are up against.

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    8. Mark Amey

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Meryl Dorey

      'There has NEVER been one study comparing the overall health of the fully vaccinated as compared with the fully unvaccinated.'

      Google Salk Study. 1958, Nearly quarter of a million children in the treatment group, nearly half a million in the placebo arm, and over half a million non-treated children who were also followed up. Largest trial in the history of Western medicine.

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    9. Meryl Dorey

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Mark Amey

      Hi Mark,

      Actually, I don't think you read what I wrote. We need (and have been asking for years) for a study comparing the overall health of the FULLY vaccinated vs the FULLY unvaccinated. Not comparing children or adults who get one vaccine and all the other shots compared with people who just get all the other shots.

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    10. Christopher Webber

      IT Guy

      In reply to Meryl Dorey

      "on the grounds that they consider our healthy unvaccinated children to be placing their fully vaccinated peers at risk." Have you asked yourself why those unvaccinated children are healthy and not subject to childhood diseases that used to kill or maim the majority of children? Why is Ok to have only one or two children now when you used to have up to ten unvaccinated children to ensure some of them survived? Are you recommending that parents also have huge families just in case you are wrong…

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    11. Steven Crook

      Programmer and software designer at Currently resting

      In reply to Steve Hindle

      It can, but it has to be delivered by someone or some organisation they trust.

      That person probably won't belong to a government, corporation or NGO because as we're told, day in day out, none are trustworthy.

      You may not like what Meryl Dorey says, but you won't stand *any* chance of changing her mind if you piss her off. So it's a choice between very little or none at all. I know which I'd choose.

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    12. Meryl Dorey

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Steven Crook

      Thanks Steven Crook. And it is my personal opinion - after 5 years of observing the way in which vaccine sceptics are attacked, that people are far less interested in changing our minds. What they really want to do is to force us to stop speaking. And that, my friend, they will never do.

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    13. In reply to Meryl Dorey

      Comment removed by moderator.

    14. Luke Weston

      Physicist / electronic engineer

      In reply to Steven Crook

      "It can, but it has to be delivered by someone or some organisation they trust."

      But you have to remember that in the minds of your anti-vaccination fanatics, or anti-biotechnology fanatics or anti-nuclear fanatics or whatever, all the journalists, all the scientists, all the organisations, all the governments, all the academic journals and everything that does not fully buy into the cult belief is immediately dismissed as being a part of the big bad global conspiracy.

      To them, anybody who…

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    15. In reply to Meryl Dorey

      Comment removed by moderator.

    16. John Cunningham

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Meryl Dorey

      Excuse me Meryl while I exercise my free speech and indicate to all that you have absolutely no grasp of the science behind immunology, vaccination and public health. That's my right to free speech right there, Meryl, in contrast to the strict censorship policy that you run on the AVN blog and Facebook page.

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    17. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Meryl Dorey

      "....And it is my personal opinion - after 5 years of observing the way in which vaccine sceptics are attacked, that people are far less interested in changing our minds...."

      You're right Meryl, it is your personal opinion. And you are entitled to hold any opinion you like - you are just not entitled to make up your own facts.

      Oh, and please stop calling people like yourself 'vaccine sceptics'. You aren't sceptical at all - you are an ideological denier. If you were the least but sceptical…

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    18. Steven Crook

      Programmer and software designer at Currently resting

      In reply to Meryl Dorey

      I see no reason to believe that vaccines are dangerous.

      Even *if* they do cause some harm to, or even kill a very small percentage of those who receive them, compared to the unmitigated disaster of diphtheria, smallpox, whooping cough, mumps it's a sacrifice worth making.

      You and I live in a largely vaccinated society. It's easy to forget just how many children were killed and maimed every year by these diseases.

      I think anti vaccine campaigns are a threat to public safety because they run the risk of destroying herd immunity and threatening the well-being of millions.

      My reasons for being polite are not that I expect to change *your* views, but, by being polite to you and using reasoned argument there's a chance that someone else who might otherwise come to agree with you will look at what I say and think "there's a reasonable guy, he's probably right". Rather than prevent you from saying what you want to say, I want people to discount your arguments...

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    19. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Meryl Dorey

      Perhaps, just to be sure, we should have a study comparing what happens when those with AIDs have unprotected sex with people and compare this with those who have protected sex.

      Of course this would be highly unethical because the science is so certain that HIV is passed by a virus during unprotected sex that this study would be condemning half the participants to getting AIDS.

      Equally, the benefits of vaccination are so well known that it would be unethical to try to get a large group of people to not have any vaccinations.

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    20. John Cunningham

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Meryl Dorey

      So far every large study that has been performed like this have shown only one thing: that is, there is a higher rate of vaccine preventable diseases amongst the unvaccinated. What do you expect your subtle change on the methodology and selection criteria prove? What plausible and realistic finding would you expect to obtain after spending the dosh on that study?

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    21. In reply to Meryl Dorey

      Comment removed by moderator.

    22. bill parker

      editor

      In reply to Meryl Dorey

      That is borderline impossible M Dorey. Let's look at what is needed. Take two populations of 5000 living in separate but climatically identical locations. Narrow it to the under fives. Continue with normal vaccination programs for one town, stop all vaccinations for the other. Monitor both populations for at least five years, use sentinel chickens to monitor for say mosquito borne viral diseases. Monitor all subjects for a wide range of infectious diseases. Compare the sero-positivity of both groups for the diseases and collect general health records of both groups for infectious diseases.

      Then you just might begin to establish a pattern. Of course we would have tolerate the deaths due to things like Whooping Cough and many more.

      Highly UNethcial.

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    23. Steven Crook

      Programmer and software designer at Currently resting

      In reply to Luke Weston

      It's like drug addiction. The best way to cure an addict is to not have them start. No different. Once hooked they're difficult to cure.

      Best way to prevent people from taking it seriously is engagement and reasoned argument. Otherwise you risk pushing people further away.

      IMO, part of the reason the whole MMR thing took off was that the doctor concerned was vilified in the press. It looked like what it was, a concerted campaign to discredit him and shut him up.

      It made some people think that, perhaps, there was something being covered up. It actually made them ignore the evidence it was safe and accept something that was little more than personal anecdote.

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    24. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Meryl Dorey

      I note that you have ignored my posts on what limits there should be on promoting dangerous views.

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    25. Meryl Dorey

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Steven Crook

      And that's fine, Steven. I know that there are many out there who disagree with those who question the safety and effectiveness of vaccines and that is great! Because in disagreement, there is conversation. And with conversation comes the sharing of ideas and knowledge and potentially, improvements in both science and health.

      I don't expect people to agree with me - but I do expect to be treated with respect, not to be attacked, not to suffer from abuse or threats or the forwarding of pornography…

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    26. Meryl Dorey

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to John Cunningham

      So John - are you claiming that there are studies which have compared fully vaccinated vs fully unvaccinated cohort which have shown a higher rate of disease amongst the fully unvaccinated? That is interesting. Can you please cite these studies?

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  8. john tons

    retired redundant

    Yet another piece highlighting the problems with rational debate over issues like climate change. Most people who are well informed about the issue have given up engaging in the debate simply because it is a waste of time - the deniers are not to be convinced the more puzzling question is why they too do not walk away from the debate?
    The one point I would take issue with is the statement: “there’s no Asian way of looking at physics”. If that statement means that the laws of thermodynamics are culturally neutral then there is no problem but there is an other, equally important aspect to the question. If one reads Needham's Science and Civilisation in China (browse is probably a more realistic expectation.) then one begins to appreciate the rather serendipitous way discoveries and insights are made and that these can well depend on culture.

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    1. Geoffrey Binder

      Casual tutor/lecturer in ESD, Planning and Social Sciences at University of Melbourne

      In reply to john tons

      The problem is that people are assuming that the world works according to 'rational', 'proof', 'prediction' etc. It does not. At base, humans are political. Parents do not want to risk harm to their kids, even if the chance is infinitesimal or non-existent (stranger danger anyone?). Climate 'deniers' do not want to risk changing the current economic system that 'works' so well. No amount of social and physical exploitation will convince them that we radically need to reduce our impact on this space ship.

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    2. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Geoffrey Binder

      Geoffrey, I think people in general would be perfectly willing to take action if they had not been subjected to systematic propaganda.

      Things like deliberative people's parliaments and similar processes indicate that, if given an honest summary of something like scientific evidence - even if it is complex and cannot go from probability to certainty - the average person is capable of weighing things up sensibly and understanding that it's best to go with the odds - particularly if the risk is so great. This is pretty much why most of us pay for insurance.

      So I don't believe it is inevitable that people will resist change - sure there's a tendency (and a sensible one at that) to default to a kind of 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' conservatism - but people can and do change and even make significant sacrifices in the short term for longer term benefits.

      The only reason that can explain the extent and stubborness of the resistance to reality is a major program of propaganda.

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    3. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Felix MacNeill

      Propaganda is another huge difference between rational discussion and being a denier.

      If I have an alternative view to something and feel that my concern is real, the starting point of my changing someone's mind using reason is to fully acknowledge their views and the logic behind them. Not only is there no need to deliberately distort the other sides views, but this would be a very bad strategy if I wanted to change someone's mind.

      Almost all the posts by climate change deniers are deliberately distorting what those who accept climate change think and have said.

      Ask a denier who has posted over 1,000 comments here "what would the other side say about this?" and they won't do it - they are unwilling to prove that they have listened to any of the replies to their 1,000 or more posts.

      Most of what the deniers write is propaganda - not aimed at reaching truth but aimed at misleading.

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    4. Geoffrey Binder

      Casual tutor/lecturer in ESD, Planning and Social Sciences at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Propaganda is a problem, but not THE problem. Peoples beliefs are fundamentally a function of their practices - the things they do on a daily basis without active deliberation. A threat to such a practice creates a defensive response unless it is perceived as being beneficial. BUT, there is never any certainty that the change will be beneficial. The social world is not causal, it is relational and, as such, not easily predicted.

      Furthermore, people filter ideas - we are receptive to ideas that conform to or support our practices and reject those that do not.

      In the final analysis, ideas are important but only if they motivate political action. What we need to do is NOT try to win an unwinnable argument but harness the political clout necessary to force the change that we believe is needed.

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    1. Michael Shand
      Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Tester

      In reply to Chris Harries

      So we keep pushing this idea that beliefs are not important

      when in reality beliefs inform actions, actions have consequences and consequences have more consequences.

      Belief should be apportioned to the evidence

      As soon as you start telling people it doesn't matter what they believe - why are we suprised as a society when people believe crazy nonsense

      You can't encourage people to treat faith (Belief without evidence) as a virtue and then be upset when they do just that

      lets try to be consistent

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    2. Chris Harries

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Michael Shand

      Michael, you've misunderstood what I was saying. Beliefs are important but the consequences of what we believe differ profoundly from case to case. I was pointing out that denial is rife across many issues and throughout history, but the consequences of climate denial are catastrophic.

      It would be very difficult to eliminate all irrational thought and I believe a certain amount of cognitive dissonance is the human norm. Good luck to you if you can change human nature all the same.

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    3. Michael Shand
      Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Tester

      In reply to Chris Harries

      "It would be very difficult to eliminate all irrational thought and I believe a certain amount of cognitive dissonance is the human norm"

      Maybe we could start but not telling everyone that faith is a virtue?

      if you want to reduce irrationality, this might be a good starting place - no one expects utopia, making rape illegal and educating children about the rights of women doesn't prevent all rape but that doesn't mean we throw our hands up in the air and give up.

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    4. Chris Harries

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Michael Shand

      If we think of climate denialists as being our arch enemy then we will get nowhere fast. Understanding the psychology of denial is a first step to understanding how to deal with it. For the most part those in denial are acting out what we should absolutely expect, a resistance to accept a difficult truth.

      The second stage of that psychology is manifested as anger. Just returning anger is not all that helpful. Most climate denialists will come around in time as their brains sort out the information. Our dilemma is we don't have the luxury of time-on-our-side.

      I can empathise fully with Clive, there appears to be no short cut to overcoming this dilemma.

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    5. Michael Shand
      Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Tester

      In reply to Chris Harries

      "If we think of climate denialists as being our arch enemy then we will get nowhere fast"

      You may have responded to the wrong person here, I have not said anything about hatred or arch enemies, I simply suggested that promoting belief without evidence as a virtue is a bad idea.

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    6. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Chris Harries

      There is no need to change the views of climate deniers. There are very few who have such extreme views.

      Rather sites like The Conversation should aim at informing the bulk of the population - showing why the views of the Australian are wrong and why we need to act soon to prevent climate change.

      And politically it is not about trying to convert the most hard line politicians. Rather a fully informed public will vote these people out of office.

      So have a spot, maybe even at The Conversation where denier can debate science. But have the majority of the articles denier free - and then lets enjoy debating the real issues and in a respectful and friendly way educating the bulk of the population.

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    7. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      I had some initial concerns with this proposal Michael - of effectively excluding denialist comments. Bit 'undemocratic" on the face of it,

      However given the inability of the Conversation's editors to effectively moderate comments on this matter I'm coming around to agreeing with the idea of a blanket ban ... the current limp-wristed moderating simply gives the ilusion of a debate or scientific argument - worse it gives the impression that these folks are in fact remotely interested in the science or have anything rational to contribute to it.

      I would sadly go even further. I would stop any and all commentary on climate change articles. To conduct a serious discussion on this most politicised and polarised of issues requires a maturity and sense of purpose which I'm afraid are well beyond TC's rather shallow principles and codes of niceness.

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    1. Colin Cook

      Scientist At Large

      In reply to George Sawyer

      “We would all like to vote for the best man but he is never a candidate.” Kin Hubbard

      "People never react to what's real. They react to what they want to believe. To what they believe they see or to what they want to see. What's real doesn't matter unless it coincides with their beliefs." L. E Modesitt Jr; The Hammer of Darkness

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  9. Michael Ashley

    Professor of Astrophysics at UNSW Australia

    Very nice article Clive. It is interesting how anti-vaccination hasn't moved on since 1927.

    To me the most fascinating aspect of the story you tell is how Maurice Newman's complete disconnect from reality and logic hasn't been an impediment to him having an apparently successful career as Chairman of the Australian Stock Exchange, Chancellor of Macquarie University, Chairman of the ABC, and now Chairman of the Prime Minister's Business Advisory Council.

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    1. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Michael Ashley

      I think the disconnect between reality is now fairly common in politics and business.

      For example, most government IT projects of recent years seem to be spectacular failures - Myki in Melbourne, the new police computer system which failed so badly it didn't get into service, and I'm sure that those from outside Victoria can point to there own examples. I think the reason for these failures is the disconnection from reality of those at the top of all these projects.

      Labor, Liberal and business…

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    2. Michael Shand
      Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Tester

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Most of these IT projects are designed in such a way that failure or delay is a given.

      It's the classic case of privitised profits and socialised losses, there are no real consequences for not delivering on time or on budget.

      If I want to build a house - I pay a company to deliver the results - if they don't I can sue them or refuse to pay, I don't personally try to manage the project, I don't hire an architect, labourers, source the material cos I am likely to screw it up. however I do inspect the site and the progress and get independent inspection by another team of professionals

      Likewise if the government want to build an IT system - pay IBM or another software company to do it, make sure they are meeting their deliverables but the government shouldn't try to manage the project themselves, it should be an independent company that we can sue or refuse to pay if they do not deliver.

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    3. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Michael Shand

      You are right Michael Shand - a huge problem is that lots of people make huge amounts of money even when a project fails.

      But I think another problem is that government is no longer capable of providing proper specifications. For example Myki is a specification failure as much as a cost overrun and delay failure.

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  10. Robert Edwin White

    Professor Emeritus

    Clive Hamilton is drawing a long bow when he links 'climate change deniers' to the anti-vaccination brigade. It is true that the anti-vaccinationists deny much credible evidence about the overall benefits of vaccination to the community. But with respect to climate change there are many (and despite what Hamilton alleges, Newman is one of them) who acknowledge that the planet has warmed over the past century, most particularly in the last 50 years of the 20th century, but who doubt the certainty…

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    1. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Robert Edwin White

      It's not surprising that the comments here are full of climate change deniers trying to justify their views.

      When the Airbus 380 first flew all that they had to go on was modelling. Climate change modelling isn't as precise as this of course, so the other bit of propaganda spread by Robert is his claiming that Clive is talking about certainty - yet as the IPCC reports make very clear, the forecasts talk about probability.

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    2. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Robert Edwin White

      Robert, the moment you put out a PRATT like 'the pause in global surface temperatures since 1998' you discredit anything you're saying. So it's no surprise you conclude with cant jargon like 'the climate change industry'.

      Go ask the WMO about your nonsense. I can't be bothered explaining so idiotic a canard as this.

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    3. Michael Hassett

      Retired

      In reply to Robert Edwin White

      Robert,
      The problem with waiting "to see the results of objective analysis of climate trends" is that by the time you are convinced, it will be too late to act. Not a very prudent approach, I suggest.

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    4. Steven Crook

      Programmer and software designer at Currently resting

      In reply to Felix MacNeill

      Pretty much everyone has accepted that surface temps haven't moved in a statistically significant way since 1999.

      That's why the discussion has moved to what's going on in the deep ocean where Trenberth and others think the heat has gone.

      There have been many recent statements from climate scientists and media in general saying that surface temps aren't the be-all and end-all of detecting warming.

      For years all we heard about was surface temps. Now, inconveniently, they're largely static and we're being told about the deep ocean. For some, already sceptical, this will sound like smoke and mirrors.

      Then, going on to talk about the pause being due to the natural effects of the PDO, sun etc. leads people to ask (not unreasonably) well, if it's hiding the warming now, couldn't it have exacerbated it during the 90s? Again, a reasonable question to ask.

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    5. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Robert Edwin White

      "....The projection of future trends is based entirely on climate modelling...."

      Ummmmmmm Robert, you do know that ALL projections of future trends are based on modelling, right?

      "....one of them being the ability to account for the pause in global surface temperatures since 1998...."

      You probably should read more science. There was a very nice study conducted recently which showed that this wasn't the case at all. Here is the study, and as science isn't your thing apparently, a newspaper article as well:

      http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/qj.2297/pdf

      http://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2013/nov/13/global-warming-underestimated-by-half

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  11. Geoffrey Sherrington

    Surveyor

    The science behind vaccines can be tested, for example by taking two groups of people, one vaccinated and the other not, and making deductions from observations.
    Climate observations can seldom be replicated in a similar way.
    It is therefore quite misleading to compare scepticism about vaccination observations with scepticism about climate observations.
    It follows that fraudulence with vaccination work is far harder than fraudulence with climate work.
    Fraudulent misrepresentation of data is a particular problem when authors refuse to make data freely available for audit.
    The authors of this essay should acknowledge this fundamental mismatch and the invalidity of the comparison.

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    1. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Geoffrey Sherrington

      Because most of the reasons for doubting climate change are both nonsense and non-science, it is pretty easy to show that most deniers are as irrational as those against vaccination.

      And Geoffrey writes as if climate change is yet to happen - so we can't prove anything yet. But the climate in Australia has already changed so significantly that the BoM has said that past weather can no longer be used to predict future events.

      And as with most deniers, Geoffrey acts as if he hasn't read the articles on climate change at The Conversation. One important article pointed out that the last heat wave was something that it takes climate change to explain.

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    1. Alice Kelly
      Alice Kelly is a Friend of The Conversation.

      sole parent

      In reply to Alice Kelly

      Thanks Geoffrey, I was wondering when statements about academic fraud would pop up. Timely!
      And yes accusations of academic fraud will be tested in a case brought by Michael Mann against the National Review and Mark Steyne (friend of Andrew Bolt). I don't know what Steyne will do though, he seems to want the case thrown out of court, but has lost his legal council, they have also withdrawn as council for the National Review.
      Such a pity, he (Steyne) and others seem to want accountability, but…

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    2. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Alice Kelly

      And the second worst thing Ms Alice would be to believe that the activist anti-science brigade - the Shed DIY climate sciency sort - are at all interested or constrained by some sort of polite scientifically-based discussion.

      This denialism and disinformation is not a seminar... this is political manipulation - always was. These folks all just "knew" climate change was bunkum before they'd even read Jo Nova or Jenny Marohasy... it's how they see the world - full of plots and conspiracies about stuff they don't really understand but "know" is wrong and evil.

      We are not dealing with rational folks here.

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    3. Alice Kelly
      Alice Kelly is a Friend of The Conversation.

      sole parent

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      No, I've ventured onto Jo Nova's abhorrent site in the last couple of days for the first time and got into a slanging match with the woman herself. What is it with these conservative semi-beautiful women who want to play their persona, in order to have a hoard of adoring white men fawn over every word. There are a few in the media, particularly at News Corp. I mean, these temptress misinformers of science wouldn't want to meet any of their audience, unwashed the lot of them.

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    4. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      One way to tell the difference between a genuine climate change denier and someone lobbying for the vested interests is to move up from the details to the very big picture.

      In his favour, Maurice Newman does talk about the huge conspiracies. He is wrong - but he really believes it.

      But ask some of the regular deniers here to talk about the big picture and they refuse to say why so many scientists have got it so wrong. Someone who genuinely believes this stuff -as shown by Maurice, doesn't hold back. So why do some of our regular deniers refuse to talk about these issues?

      My view is that some of them don't really believe all that they are writing - they are lobbying, and they are doing it very well.

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  12. bill parker

    editor

    Should we vaccinate? Anyone who has been to East Timor or Bali may have contracted a potentially serious diesase such as Dengue or perhaps Chikungunya. The former can be life threatening. There are no vaccines for either as far as I know. However, work is and has been underway to develop vaccines.

    Australia faces a threat of mosquito borne diseases , made more potent because because we travel extensively in South East Asia. The endemic diseases of that region may well become endemic here…

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  13. Paul Reader

    independent researcher

    It is a nice theory that climate change deniers and anti-vaccinationists are of the same ilk, but I don't believe the numbers would stack up. The typology of the climate change activist is also that of the anti-vaccination social movement.
    One doesn't need to be a fanatic to dissent from vaccination, or support the right to dissent, which is at the heart of the movement. The techniques are not the same. As other articles in the Conversation have shown Climate Denial is basically a service industry…

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  14. Luke Weston

    Physicist / electronic engineer

    We could certainly also include anti-fluoridation activists, anti-biotechnology activists and anti-nuclear-energy activists firmly in the same science denier category, with exactly the same behavior and exactly the same strategies, including low-quality "research" from conspiracy blogs, deliberate avoidance of scientific literacy on the subject, and conspiracy theories.

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    1. In reply to Luke Weston

      Comment removed by moderator.

    2. In reply to cara letho

      Comment removed by moderator.

    3. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Luke Weston

      There are good reasons for being anti-nuclear.

      Just because many people present poor reasons doesn't mean that good reasons don't exist.

      Though I've read thousands of posts by those against climate change on this forum I've yet to find anything that casts reasonable doubt on the IPCC and Garnaut reports.

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    4. In reply to cara letho

      Comment removed by moderator.

    5. In reply to Meryl Dorey

      Comment removed by moderator.

    6. In reply to cara letho

      Comment removed by moderator.

    7. In reply to Colin Cook

      Comment removed by moderator.

  15. George Takacs

    Physicist

    Thanks Clive. You raise some important questions, and I have another. How do I find out if my super fund invests in any companies with which Maurice Newman is involved? Mind you, any potential influence he may have on my financial future is dwarfed by the scary prospect of having people such as him influencing our economic and environmental futures.

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  16. MItchell Lennard

    Researcher - Distributed Energy Systems

    Thanks Clive,

    It is interesting to compare the public responses to these two issues informed by science.

    While there will always be individuals with views on the extremities ( do they have to contribute on these pages so often?) what is interesting is why these people's opinions gain traction in the wider community. I would propose several effects may be at play.

    Generally people do not understand risk and the mathematics of risk. If you approach Global Warming from a risk assessment perspective…

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    1. Alice Kelly
      Alice Kelly is a Friend of The Conversation.

      sole parent

      In reply to MItchell Lennard

      Autism is not caused by the MMRV.Yes Mitchell it's as much the community who is at risk. Many can cope reasonably well with these diseases, but those with poor immune systems can die if exposed to unvaccinated who pass on an illness. I made sure my son got chicken pox early, rather than not at all.
      It's weird though, because some denier activists use "public good", as a reason to propagate crap.

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  17. Dale Bloom

    Analyst

    I can't see a connection between not believing in vaccinations and not believing in global warming.

    For example, Tony Abbot is a strong advocate for vaccinations, and his government wants a “No Jab, No Play” campaign to get all children enrolled in childcare centres vaccinated.

    http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/tony-abbott-backs-no-jab-no-play-campaign/story-e6freuy9-1226640023112

    However, Tony Abbott doesn’t believe in global warming.

    So it is more to the point of science having to convince Tony Abbott that global warming does exist.

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  18. Michael Broer

    logged in via Facebook

    I agree with Geoffrey Sherrington in that comparing vaccine science to climate science is a poor comparison. Identifying people as "pro-" or "anti-vaccine" is a gross oversimplification of the spectrum of opinion ("expert" and otherwise) regarding vaccination. There is a genuine lack of consensus within the medical profession over the value of seasonal influenza vaccines. Also, recent studies of the acellular pertussis vaccine have shown it to be lacking both in its ability to prevent whooping cough in vaccine recipients and its ability to prevent the spread of disease via herd immunity. The anthropomorphic climate change "debate" seems to be much more polarised ie either you believe in it or you don't.

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  19. Bruce Tabor

    blogger

    Thanks Clive, I hope you read these comments.

    I frequently hear from leaders in the battle to stop climate change that we just need to "explain ourselves more clearly": if climate scientists could just explain the science and the risks more clearly then people would listen and we'd get rapid action to stop dangerous climate change.

    You've touched on the main problem with this view; that climate change deniers will not be convinced no matter how strong the evidence or how clearly it is explained. The problem is ideological and psychological and will defy the best science communication possible. Climate scientists and their advocates are whipping themselves for no reason and different tactics are needed.

    I would like to see you address this issue.

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  20. alfred venison

    records manager (public sector)

    since we're talking about communication & the splintering of authority & the inability of rational argument to persuade, i offer this short excerpt from an interview with marshall mcluhan - "rock" is a metaphor.

    >> everyone in this room is being subjected to a new form of oral education. literacy is still officially the educational establishment but unofficially the oral forms are coming up very fast.

    this is the meaning of rock, it is a kind of education based upon oral traditions, an acoustic experience which is strangely remote from literacy. rock is a kind of central oral form of education which threatens the whole educational establishment.

    if homer was wiped out by literacy, literacy can be wiped out by rock.

    we're playing the old story backwards, but you should know what the stakes are. the stakes are our civilisation versus tribalism and groupism, private identity versus corporate identity, and private responsibility versus the group or tribal mandate. <<

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