Caught in the vaccination wars (part 3)

Brian Martin

The Australian Vaccination Network (AVN) has come under sustained attack by supporters of vaccination. My defence of the AVN's right to free speech led to criticisms of my work. Here I respond to several of these.

Go to part 1 for additional background. See also part 2.



Key issues

Final comment



In September 2012, an article of mine, "Dealing with dilemmas in health campaigning", was published in Health Promotion International. In the article, I use vaccination examples to illustrate several of the dilemmas discussed. I sent copies of the article to several figures in Stop the Australian Vaccination Network (SAVN), two of whom wrote blogs attacking me and my article.

Paul Gallagher wrote "Dealing with the Brian Martin dilemma" in his blog Losing in the Lucky Country. He declined to post any response from me.

Peter Tierney wrote "Of publication, and sleights of hand" in his blog reasonablehank. I contributed to the commentary following this blog, until he refused to publish any further comment from me. My final comment, removed from the blog, is given below.

Key issues

Readers can judge for themselves the evidence and arguments presented in my article, the two blogs and subsequent commentary. Here are what I think are key issues.

1. Peter Tierney criticised four statements about SAVN made in one sentence in my article. I defended the statements (see below).

2. Peter Tierney and Paul Gallagher declined my offer to have our respective statements about conspiracy theories to be assessed by experts on conspiracy theories.

3. Peter Tierney claimed that in my article I was defending the AVN, but failed to provide any evidence to back this up.

4. Several commenters made statements about conflicts of interest and declaring them, but failed to provide evidence that editors use the criteria they propose.

My final comment, removed from the reasonablehank blog

Thank you all for your comments.

Let me return to Hank's original blog, in which he said his purpose was to address claims about SAVN made in my article "Dealing with dilemmas in health campaigning". I introduced SAVN in the article for the purpose of illustrating dilemmas.

Hank addressed four claims.

1. AVN belief in a global conspiracy. Hank devoted most space to this one, saying I was wrong.

2. Derogatory comments about AVN members. Hank said "This is undeniable."

3. Making complaints to government bodies. Hank accepted my claim, saying "So what?"

4. Posting information about AVN advertisers (inviting harassment). Hank contested my framing of the issue.

When I drew attention to the aims of my article, Hank and others referred back to his focus on one sentence. They have continued to focus on the global-conspiracy claim. Hank now points out that SAVN has changed its description of the AVN. Fair enough.

But at this point I need to return to the purpose of my article, namely to point out health campaigning dilemmas. My statements about SAVN and the AVN need to be understood within the context of the article. For my purposes, the earlier conspiracy-theory claim was quite appropriate, because it was used to illustrate one of the dilemmas.

Hank now says he finds it amusing that I "continue to focus on this single point". The reason is that he brought it up and continued to argue it until confronted with an opportunity to adjudicate our differences by seeking the opinion of independent conspiracy-theory scholars.

In summary, Hank started out wanting to address my claims about SAVN, taking them out of context. The only claim he continued to contest was the one about conspiracies. However, Hank now avoids agreeing to independent assessment, instead saying the claim "was not completely accurate". Thank you.


This text is my responsibility and does not necessarily represent the views, policies or opinions of the University of Wollongong. This applies to all my research and writing, and should go without saying, but it seems necessary to spell it out given complaints made to university officials.

Go to

Brian Martin's publications on scientific controversies

Brian Martin's publications on suppression of dissent

Brian Martin's website

Last updated 23 October 2012