UPDATE: The Queensland Health Minister has released a statement regarding this issue. The full text can be found here.
UPDATE: News Editor Rick Morton just spoke to Festival Executive Director Bill Hauritz about the decision to bring Meryl Dorey into speak.
Q: Does the Festival feel it appropriate to give a platform to a woman who has been officially discredited as any type of vaccination expert?
Bill: Look, I’m not going to get into that. There are a lot of discredited artists and talkers and singers and songwriters at the Festival and we’re about giving a voice to a diverse range … something like 400 artists there.
Q: But surely if a singer/songwriter is discredited, that doesn’t pose a public health risk does it?
Bill: Who says it is dangerous? There are a lot of people out there who believe this whole vaccination thing is not an open and shut case. Is anybody willing to say that all vaccinations are 100% safe?
Q: I don’t think even doctors say that, Bill. Is Meryl billed as an expert for her talk?
Bill: I suppose she would regard herself as an expert, yes. Look, when this issue hit the floor yesterday I typed into Google ‘doctors against vaccinations’ and there are page and pages and pages of results of information. I wonder about the tactics of the science lobby.
Q: Why do you call it a lobby? That seems fairly indicative of your personal views don’t you think?
Bill: I didn’t mean to call it a lobby. I just get wary when people are trying to sell stuff on the Internet.
Q: I don’t think scientists necessarily want to sell anything?
Bill: Look, it doesn’t make a difference. We’ve already entered into contracts with Meryl Dorey and we cannot break those contracts now. We’re 10 days away from opening the gates to the festival. The damage is already done.
Q: Is Meryl Dorey being paid for her appearance?
Bill: I honestly haven’t seen the contracts. I’d say she isn’t.
Q: Can you understand the backlash you have received? You know it isn’t about diverse views. It’s about spruiking information that has been officially debunked. Do you understand the issue many have with Dorey is that she is not a statistician, a researcher, a scientist and has no level of expertise as found by the Health Care Complaints Commission which ordered her to be upfront about her anti-vaccination stance?
Bill: Everyone has a right to their opinion.
Q: But surely not to their own facts? Are you worried people will boycott the festival now?
Bill: Let them, they have every right to.
The Woodford Folk Festival sounds like a quaint, fringe music festival. It’s not. With more than 130,000 people attending the 2010/2011 event in Queensland it is one of the largest cultural events of its kind in Australia. Which makes it all the more troubling known anti-vaccine campaigner Meryl Dorey has been invited – again – to speak there. Mamamia finds it troubling because of this post we ran debunking the most common vaccination myths, the ones that Dorey and her misleadingly titled Australian Vaccination Network continue to willfully propagate. It’s one of the most popular posts we have ever run on the site. So while Dorey has been given a platform to speak, despite having been discredited by major health agencies, it is a platform paid for by major sponsors. Including the local council and Queensland Government. So, why? Peter Bowditch writes…..
In 2010, Meryl Dorey, once (and maybe still) President of the Australian Vaccination Network, appeared as a speaker at the Woodford Folk Festival in Queensland. I wondered at the time why a festival devoted to community spirit and enjoyment should provide a platform for someone to preach a philosophy that can only cause harm to children, and I wrote to the organisers with my concern.
I didn’t receive an answer, but Ms Dorey wasn’t pleased that I had written and in her usual ‘just missing the truth’ style she claimed that I had asked them not to let her speak. I had done nothing of the sort, just said that I didn’t think that what she would inevitably say was the sort of thing I would expect to hear at a folk festival. She can say what she likes where she lies as long as people are aware of her agenda.
She didn’t appear at the 2011 festival, but she is booked in to give two talks at the 2012 event in January. I suppose this means the festival organisers aren’t concerned about her message, and the presence of various other practitioners of weird science and ideas on the same stage just confirms this impression. I have no idea why anyone would associate folk music with the sort of things one would expect to see at a Mind Body Spirit Festival or even why there would be an overlap of audiences, but maybe things have changed since my Kings Cross troubadour days. Or, as someone once said, the answers are blowing in the wind.
What makes this Woodford Festival a little different is the range of event sponsors whom you would think would run away very quickly from any association with anyone opposing vaccination. And make no mistake, for all Ms Dorey’s claims that she is not opposed to vaccination and just wants it to be safe she has never once in the more than a decade I’ve been dealing with her ever allowed that any vaccine is either safe or beneficial. She is not opposed to vaccines provided that they are never given to any person of any age to protect against any disease.
She has described measles (the disease which has killed more children than any other in the history of the world) as “benign;” she suggested the slogan “Shaken Maybe Syndrome” as a way of implying that Shaken Baby Syndrome does not exist but is always damage caused by vaccines; she provided strong support to a man imprisoned in the US for the murder of a ten-week-old boy, her support being based on the idea that the dreadful injuries to the child had to be the effects of a vaccine, not the actions of a violent man; she is on record as an AIDS denier; she said on television that “whooping cough didn’t kill us thirty years ago and it’s not kill anybody today”. If she isn’t implacably opposed to vaccinations then she hides any other position well.
In 2009 the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission took the unprecedented step of issuing a public warning about Ms Dorey and the AVN. This followed her refusal to agree to a request to display a notice on the AVN’s web site saying that the organisation did not give medical advice, that it was opposed to vaccination, and that parents should get advice about vaccination from a competent medical practitioner. Ms Dorey is currently taking the HCCC to court over the matter. She needs to do this because the NSW Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing has withdrawn the AVN’s charity status and banned them from recruiting new members or accepting donations. The OLG&R took the HCCC’s public warning into account when making its rulings.
But back to the sponsors of the Woodford Folk Festival. One significant sponsor is the local Moreton Bay Regional Council. The Council has quite clear policies supporting vaccination and other public health initiatives, and Ms Dorey’s message is diametrically opposed to these. In fact, if too many locals listen to her and believe what she says then the Council’s public health activities could be severely undermined.
Another sponsor is the local ABC radio station. I know for a fact that the ABC has been told about Ms Dorey and her activities, so it is doubly distressing to see public money contributing to giving her a platform to spread harmful misinformation. The Queensland Government is also a sponsor, and again public money is being spent to encourage ideas which are in direct contradiction to the vaccination programs and policies of a government.
I don’t want Ms Dorey silenced (to want that would be to follow the “principles” that she applies to any public forum that she controls, where the slightest dissent results in banning). I just want people to know that she is not a reliable authority on matters of public health and vaccination. She can say what she likes as long as others can point to her and say “Dangerous, uninformed, unscientific nonsense”.
If you doubt the terrible consequences of a lack of vaccination, take the time watch Mia’s heartbreaking interview with Toni and Dave McCaffrey whose daughter Dana died as a result of whooping cough. She lived in one of the least vaccinated areas in the country. The interview starts at 12:52.
If you are concerned by this turn of events, you can email the Woodford Folk Festival organisers on firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a message on their FB Wall here, email Moreton Bay Regional Council here or email the Queensland Government here.
Peter Bowditch has been around skepticism and rational thinking for many years. He writes for several skeptical and scientific publications and runs the web site at www.ratbags.com which features the weekly Millenium Project online magazine and Radio Ratbags podcast. In real life he is married with two daughters, lives in the Blue Mountains and pays the bills by being an IT consultant and TAFE teacher.