Monthly Archives: June 2012

Why Wollongong’s abdication of responsibility for Wilyman won’t wash

Following some official responses from the University of Wollongong on the Judy Wilyman affair (see my previous post), I’d like to make some further comment.

It’s interesting that when University of Wollongong academic, Matthew Berryman, first approached the university’s ethics committee about anti-vaccination campaigner, Judy Wilyman, they effectively said, “Nothing to do with us!”

Their excuse:

“Unless someone has made an application to carry out research using the HREC review process, this kind of thing isn’t something the committee deals with.”

So, unless one has asked the ethics committee to get involved in their work, there is no ethical overview? Remarkable!

And then, all of those who had written to the U of W started getting the same form letter back:

“Articles and associated comments published by Judy Wilyman on the internet, on vaccination issues, are her own personal views and not those of the University.”

“The University of Wollongong strongly supports the rights of academic freedom for people to openly express their points of view.”

Now, the first comment may be defensible if, say, Wilyman was doing a PhD on Aboriginal artefacts in Central Queensland while making public statements on vaccines. Clearly, the two are unrelated. But Wilyman’s thesis is “A critical analysis of the Australian government’s rationale for its vaccination policy” hardly unrelated to her public comments against vaccination.

But wait, there’s more! Wilyman, herself, associates her public comments on vaccination with her status as a PhD candidate. As Reasonable Hank and I have both pointed out, her letter to the Australian Human Rights Commission is signed, “Judy Wilyman, PhD Candidate”. Why would she add this title if she did not want to send a message to the AHRC that she has ‘expertise’ in the field.

You can see on this website where Wilyman is giving her ‘opinion’ of vaccination, she clearly identifies herself as Judy Wilyman (PhD Candidate Environmental Health Policy at University of Wollongong).

Commenters on that website have a go at her for her habit of using the made up title of “PhD researcher” in order to give more weight to her opinions.

Futher, when Wilyman gave a public anti-vaccination lecture in Perth in 2010, she said:

“If vaccination was based on science then the media would not have to work so hard to suppress the information. You will notice the media reports rely on discrediting individuals and organisations and running fear campaigns to encourage parents to vaccinate. Did they mention in the papers that myself and [redacted] are both PhD researchers?

Her point is that her comments should not be dismissed because of her status as a PhD ‘researcher’. You can hear her making this comment in the first few moments of this MP3 file.

Wilyman clearly makes no distinction between her academic research and her anti-vaccination campaigning. In fact, she takes great effort to conflate them. Although the above comment was made when she was enrolled at Murdoch, not Wollongong, it still speaks to the fact that Wilyman, herself, sees her anti-vaccination stance and her status as a PhD candidate not only as intertwined, but complementary. She shamelessly exploits her status as a PhD candidate in order to give her arguments weight.

While she was enrolled at Murdoch University, Wilyman produced an advertising poster for her anti-vax talk – including the Murdoch logo! You can see her admission here. The university was not pleased at this misuse of their logo, to say the least! A lawyer’s email sent to Dr Rachael Dunlop explained that the university had spent ‘considerable time and energy in having the poster removed from (anti-vaccination websites)” and that they “cannot allow the poster entitled “Coercive and Mandatory Immunisation” bearing the MURDOCH university marks (name and logo)” to remain in public view. What more evidence is needed that Wilyman has a history of harnessing the credibility of the university to which she is attached to bolster her own wacky views?

Wilyman brought Murdoch into disrepute by blurring the line between her PhD candidature and her anti-vaccination advocacy and now she is doing the same at Wollongong with her wild conspiracy theories.

At Wollongong she is supervised by Brian Martin who also seems to have a dog in the anti-vaccination fight. He can be seen here defending the Australian [anti] Vaccination Network, operated by Meryl Dorey.

Martin sees himself as defending ‘whistle-blowers’. But neither the AVN nor Judy Wilyman are legitimate whistle-blowers. They are dangerous conspiracy theorists whose misinformed ideology has real potential to endanger children’s lives.

It is worth noting that Wilyman’s views have no traction whatsoever in the mainstream scientific community. For example, the anti-vaccination views expressed in Perth by Dorey and Wilyman were dismissed by Australia’s ‘most esteemed health professional’, Professor Fiona Stanley as “so misinformed it is scary”, “not fair”, “bizarre” and “absolutely erroneous”.

Whose expertise should Australians trust most?

Academic freedom is important. But the adjective ‘academic’ is a vital part of the equation. Academics should not be free to use their positions to pedal absolute unsubstantiated bullshit. Academics should certainly have the freedom to pursue research where the evidence leads them. But the key word here is evidence, not ideology. Of course, there is a level of interpretation of data in all academic work, but the interpretation must be based on a framework of solid evidence. This is the duty of care academics (and students) have to the public; and universities should enforce that.

Let me pause here for a personal perspective. I began my Honours thesis with the hypothesis that a revival of Celtic identification amongst Australian-born citizens was linked to a young, left-wing, socially radical movement. My research showed exactly the opposite – that it was primarily an older and deeply conservative cohort who were choosing to identify as ‘Celtic’ as a defence against multiculturalism. I had to change my view because that is where the evidence led. There was no point being precious about my grand theory – it simply didn’t stand up! Of course, I was free to make interpretations about why there was a conservative move towards ethnic identification, but the work had to stand on a foundation of reputable evidence. To paraphrase Daniel Patrick Moynihan, I was entitled to my own opinions, but not my own facts!

I would contend that Wilyman’s work, which so clearly conflicts with expert scientific consensus, appears not to be built on any such solid framework. Perhaps if Professor Stanley or Professor Ian Fraser – someone with the appropriate experience and qualifications – said that vaccination was potentially harmful, they could truly be viewed as a ‘whistle-blower’. But Wilyman is not qualified to make this assessment and it seems Professor Martin is not much interested in holding her feet to the fire when it comes to scientific evidence from credible sources or responsible interpretation of the data. American skeptic, Brian Dunning (following Irving Langmuir) has usefully described the approach we see from Wilyman as ‘pathological science‘: ‘research characterized more by obsession than by results.’

Just because someone is doing an Arts degree, doesn’t mean you can just make stuff up! Scientific method must be followed and interpretations must flow from credible source material.

But why is this a matter of public concern? Harking back to my previous analogy, if Wilyman was challenging the scientific community over whether an artefact found in Central Australia was 40,000 or 60,000 years old, it would make little difference to most ordinary Australians. But Wilyman has chosen to challenge a vaccination program which demonstrably saves lives. Moreover, where that vaccination program is undermined it demonstrably costs lives. That makes it crucial that both Wilyman and her university take responsibility for her public pronouncements.

UNICEF estimates that, in 2008, 1.7 million children died from vaccine preventable diseases. They note, further that:

  • Immunization has saved over 20 million lives in the last two decades.
  • More than 100 million infants are immunized each year, saving 2-3 million lives annually.

This is what Wilyman is arguing against – not just in her university thesis, but publicly. Does Wilyman (who does not yet even have a PhD) know more than UNICEF?

Moreover, Wilyman deliberately flaunts her position as a PhD Candidate or, as she likes to style herself ‘PhD researcher’ in order to give weight to what one of Australia’s most prominent medical academics, Fiona Stanley, has termed ‘misinformed’ and ‘bizarre’ theories.

This matters, because Wilyman’s misinformation potentially costs children’s lives.

In continuing her candidature, the University of Wollongong is providing Ms Wilyman with a status which makes her appear plausible to the general public and, as we have seen above, Wilyman exploits that to the ‘nth’ degree.

This is not an argument about academic freedom. It’s an argument about academic responsibility. Wollongong University must act.

If Wilyman’s interminable candidature ever does come to an end and she is awarded a PhD by any Australian university, I pledge that I will obtain a copy of her thesis – even if I have to get on a bus to Wollongong and physically photocopy the UofW library copy. I will then draw on my considerable network of medical, scientific and academic contacts to help me undertake a ‘critical analysis’ of Ms Wilyman’s work and believe me, if it does not meet a reasonable standard of academic evidence I shall be doing all that I can to bring this to the media’s attention as a failure of whatever university she may graduate from. Fair warning.

Chrys Stevenson

See also: On academic freedom and ethics by Dr Matthew Berryman on complexitydaemon

Yet another example of how Wilyman exploits her PhD candidature to peddle her conspiracy theories:  PhD Candidate Exposes Vaccine Horror from The Second Sight

“Ms Wilyman signs herself “PhD Researcher, Murdoch University”. It would seem she wishes to claim the imprimatur of her university enrolment to support her claims. Ms Wilman (PhD Researcher) is also, of course, the cohost of Meryl Dorey’s recent Perth Antivaccination Rally at the State Library.”

A closer look at Professor Brian Martin’s role is usefully provided by Losing in the Lucky Country:  Wollongong Uni, Brian Martin and Judy Wilyman – How far is too far?

An excerpt:

“So now we must ask more about our devotee to suppression of dissent, Dr. Brian Martin, who inserted himself in the defence of the AVN. How far is too far? Why did he attack the real whistleblower, Ken McLeod, and in doing so wrench the hearts of the McCaffery family? The whistle was blown on a cruel charity fraudster, a scam artist, a fear monger and one who had made a long living from donations gathered from members with the promise of urgent action to solve manufactured dissent.

The AVN took in $1.8 million between 2004 and 2010. It’s estimated they owe over $155,000 in unprinted magazines for which they have already been paid the subscription fees. This blog is dotted with the fraud making the AVN many tens of thousands more and numerous scams to keep fear running. Does Brian Martin seriously defend and enable such conduct with the defence of academic neutrality?

Brian Martin publishes using his title at University of Wollongong and his UOW email address. So again, how far is too far for this university to turn a blind eye to sickness, degradation and incredibly the corruption that yields a profit for the AVN? Research and academia at the University of Wollongong appear synonymous with antivaccination schemes.

At what point does dissent become denial? Or rather, why should denial ever be labelled dissent? How can a PhD supervisor support denial and antisocial tactics in the name of education? “ [read more]

Judy Wilyman, PhD candidate, Wollongong University ‘false, dangerous, misleading and disrespectful’

Here is a fact:

At 32 days old, Dana McCaffery died of whooping cough – also known as pertussis.

Here are some more facts:

Dana was born perfectly healthy.

She was not yet old enough to be vaccinated for pertussis.

At the time Dana was admitted to Lismore Base Hospital, Australia was already in the grip of one of the worst whooping cough epidemics on record – the result of vaccination falling well below optimum levels.

Dana’s was not an isolated case. There were an alarming 19,000 cases of whooping cough reported in Australia in the year Dana was born and Dana’s death was the third fatality. As Dana fought for her life in the Lismore Base Hospital, two other babies suffering from the same disease were airlifted to Brisbane for emergency treatment. This was not some rare, seldom seen disease. It was common, well-known, well-documented and rampant.

Dana’s parents watched her die. They were eye-witnesses to the distressing symptoms which killed their daughter. There is no doubt in their minds that Dana died of whooping cough.

Similarly, Dr Chris Ingall, who treated Dana at the Lismore Base Hospital, has no doubt about the cause of Dana’s death. According to Dr Ingall, Dana died of pertussis. No question.

But not everyone believes this. Two women in particular have persistently claimed that Dana did not die of pertussis.

No, they were not in the hospital watching Dana die as her parents were. No, they did not treat Dana as Dr Ingall did. No, they do not have medical degrees, or any qualifications in paediatrics or immunology. Still, these two women believe they know better than Dana’s doctor and her parents. What’s more, they have made the McCaffery’s lives a misery by intrusively and persistently questioning the diagnosis because it doesn’t fit with their unscientific, anti-vaccination ideology. One of these women, Judy Wilyman, is a PhD candidate at the University of Wollongong.

I wonder what unmitigated gall, what inflated sense of importance makes these people think they know better than a specialist paediatrician and a Fellow of the Royal Australian College of Physicians.

Let’s just stop for a moment to consider what’s required to earn the right to add the post nominal FRACP to one’s name.

First, you need to get a medical degree. That takes 4-6 years. After graduation you have to work as an intern for a year, before working as a resident for another year. Vocational training as a registrar takes a further 3-8 years. Then you can apply to study for membership of a college. This will probably involve two stages of examinations (basic and advanced) which you must pass in order to become a ‘fellow’.

I think it should probably go without saying, that for someone with these qualifications, diagnosing a common, well-known, well-charted childhood disease would hardly require the diagnostic gymnastics one sees in an episode of House.

Dana McCaffery died of pertussis. That is an established, unequivocal, indisputable fact.

And now, I will pass you on to my good friend, Reasonable Hank, to take up the story (with some comments from me [CS]):

Judy Wilyman is a PhD student at the University of Wollongong, under the supervision of Professor Brian Martin. [CS: Prior to that, Ms Wilyman studied under the supervision of Dr Peter Dingledo check the link if you haven’t heard of him.]

Last week, Wilyman sent a letter to the Australian Human Rights Commissioner; and, Meryl Dorey published it on the Australian Vaccination Network blog.

[CS: Wilyman signed her letter “Judy Wilyman, PhD candidate” in order, one imagines, to give greater weight to her opinion. In my opinion, this means that her submission was made ‘officially’ in her capacity as a PhD candidate at the University of Wollongong and the university should either take responsibility for its content, or consider disciplinary action.]

Amongst the claims made by Wilyman is that the death of baby Dana McCaffery is “anecdotal evidence” used in the Government’s tainted agenda to immunise children:

These programs have been promoting the whooping cough vaccine on anecdotal evidence (in particular, Dana McCaffery’s death) and the mantra of ‘seeing sick babies gasping for air’.

Pretty ghastly stuff.

[Dana’s father] David McCaffery was again forced to issue a statement in the hope that Dorey and Wilyman would leave them alone, and cease inflicting unnecessary pain on the family, by abusing the memory of their daughter:

Meryl Dorey, you have been asked time after time not to mention our daughter Dana on your website. The recent article by Judy Wilyman is false, dangerous, misleading and disrespectful. She has no expertise in the area of vaccines and has not asked, nor does she have, our permission to discuss our daughter’s death.

Let’s be clear, Dana’s death to whooping cough and the issues related to it, are not anecdotal. How can you and Ms Wilyman be so callous?

Dana died from whooping cough, a vaccine preventable disease. And we mourn her death every day. You and your friends add torture to our pain.

Ms Dorey, you and your group simply do not know us and we ask you to stop discussing Dana’s death. Her tragic death is not something that you can toy with to promote your misleading ideology.

Once again, you and Ms Wilyman are not friends of ours, or medical doctors and know nothing about Dana’s life or death.

BTW – Both of you, do not take this post as an invite to respond in any way. Leave us and our little girl alone!

David McCaffery

In August 2010, [Dana’s mother] Toni McCaffery had previously issued a remarkable take-down of a previous Dorey blog post, in which Dorey again spread misinformation about the circumstances surrounding Dana’s death. How many times do these people need to be told to act honourably?

Toni concludes:

Enough is enough. We just simply ask the AVN and Mrs Dorey to stop spreading false information about our daughter. She caught whooping cough. She died a torturous death. Leave her in peace and stop misleading the public.

Whooping cough is dangerous, and deadly for 1 in 200 babies.

Now after having to deal with these lies, I have to take my children to a birthday party and try to be normal.

Mrs Dorey and the AVN…please leave my family alone.

How many times, indeed.

Today, Wilyman accused the McCaffery family of being beneficiaries of monetary payment, from vaccine “lobby groups”, for their work in ensuring the community receives accurate information about vaccine preventable diseases. In effect, Wilyman used the Pharma Shill Gambit, on a family whose baby daughter died from Whooping Cough:

[CS: Toni McAffery has since responded on Facebook:

Mrs Dorey and Ms Wilyman – you are enabling harrassment. I am writing here because I know you read this. Retract your comments immediately. Dana IS NOT an anecdote. We DO NOT receive money for warning people about whooping cough. That is the most disgusting allegation – one we have tolerated over and over again from your members. The money we received [from] the Australian Skeptics we donated to research to save babies from Pertussis. Government has not ‘used us’ to promote vaccines in recent media stories. We agree to such interviews in our own time without any agenda other than to give people the warning we did not receive. I wish the Government did more – but it has taken 3 years to get a brochure that I would have given anything to receive. We gave permission for Dana’s story to appear on the brochure. We give up our time to support other families. Parents have a right to be warned about whooping cough and given accurate information. We did not get that warning. It is up to parents if they want to vaccinate. It is also up to any parent to go public and speak to media. Do not use us against other families. We are not your toys to play with.

Toni McCaffery

I’m a little lost for words…

Nice friends you have there, Professor Martin.

Please: let all of your friends and colleagues know about these horrid, dangerous people.”

Thanks Hank. Now, I have some questions.

Does Wollongong University condone its PhD students harassing and distressing the parents of a dead child?

Did Ms Wilyman seek the permission of her supervisor or the university before using her PhD candidature at the University of Wollongong to give weight to the pile of absolute crap she peddled to the Australian Human Rights Commissioner?

Does Wollongong University really pay a professor to supervise nonsensical ‘research’ like Wilyman’s; a quixotic and apparently interminably long venture which seems more intent on ignoring credible scientific evidence than collating it?

Has Wollongong University considered how awarding a PhD to Ms Wilyman will bring the university into disrepute and devalue all PhDs awarded by that institution? Surely, if Wilyman can get a PhD for her unscientific bilge, a PhD from Wollongong is not worth the paper it’s written on!

Isn’t it time that Wollongong University had someone other than Professor Martin take a long, hard look at Ms Wilyman’s ‘research’ and determine whether it’s in the best interests of the university for her to continue?

And I have one more, personal question. Why did I recently receive an email from a professor at the University of Western Sydney ‘casually’ inquiring into a remark I made against Meryl Dorey and saying “I understand (from colleagues) that Dorey is often accused in the way you accused/dismissed her but no evidence is provided.”

No evidence? Really? Are professors at the University of Western Sydney not required to know how to google?

And who were these ‘colleagues’ I wondered. Who could they be?

The good professor didn’t divulge their names but it took me, oh, all of three minutes to find by amazing coincidence that her PhD supervisor was also Professor Brian Martin from the University of Wollongong. Yes! The same academic who’s supervising Ms Wilyman’s PhD. Yep! Jinx! Isn’t that just too spooky?

And yes, Wilyman and the despicable Ms Dorey are as thick as thieves.

You don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to connect the dots, do you?

Surely the time has come for Wollongong University to take a long, hard look at Ms Wilyman’s ‘research methods’ and consider whether her ethics are consistent with those required by the university.

Surely it is time for Wollongong University to take a long hard look at Professor Martin and ask what his role is in this whole sorry affair.

And maybe the University of Western Sydney should ask why one of their staff, a former student of Professor Martin’s, seems to be buying Meryl Dorey’s persecution story ‘hook, line and sinker’ without, apparently, possessing even the basic ability to google some scholarly literature on the subject.

Is incompetence and unsubstantiated ‘woo’ becoming an epidemic in NSW universities? And is there a vaccine for it?

Chrys Stevenson

Reasonable Hank’s original blog post: Judy Wilyman and Meryl Dorey: as low as it goes

See also:

Peter Bowditch: Almost unimaginable filth

Update: U of W reins in Wilyman?

and my follow up blog post:  Why Wollongong’s abdication of responsibility for Wilyman won’t wash