By Bob Dwyer
To understand the threat posed by “Friends of Science in Medicine”, you need to understand where they’ve come from, who they are and what drives them.
In the Age of Science, with its associated rejection of traditional beliefs, the modern Skeptic movement can only be understood as a Religious movement. It has practising fundamentalist groups and even more extreme sects. It’s no accident that there’s a high-crossover between atheist, rationalist and skeptic communities and that the Professions with the highest rate of acknowledged atheists are overly represented. There are a lot of doctors in the Australian Skeptic movement; and I.T. people too. The Australian Skeptics is an alliance of groups around Australia that was founded in 1980 by Dick Smith . They claim on their website that they ” investigate paranormal and pseudo-scientific claims from a responsible scientific viewpoint” . However their main focus over the last few years has been to campaign for the government’s immunisation policy and to label all individuals questioning vaccines as “anti-vaxxers”. The Skeptics have a well organised presence on social media and conduct cyber bullying campaigns to intimidate and vilify those who dare question vaccines. The Friends of Science in medicine established by Australian Academics is supported by the Skeptics and focused on obliterating natural therapies in Australia and lodging complaints against natural health professionals.
Journalist Sarah Schwagger asked this question in her ABC article titled War Against natural medicine” about the Friends in Science and Medicine back in 2012
” Why is a group of prestigious doctors and scientists who have the backing of the most profitable industry in the world according to Fortune 500 – the pharmaceutical industry – targeting a few poorly-funded natural medicine courses”
In the only Skeptic legal action in Australia, the judge castigated the complainant as “a self-appointed guardian of the Public Interest”. This doesn’t do justice, however, to the prejudice, bigotry and judgemental attitude they embody. In other times, they’d be toxic village gossips, constantly interfering, judging and tearing people down.
Apart from a shared belief system, an anointed elite of priests, heroes, apostles & our Great Leader, and a catechism and texts, their language is intolerant, venomous and pejorative in the extreme. Despite the meaning of sceptic – to “doubt” but requiring strong evidence, rather than mere assertion, belief or opinion – the Skeptics are a remarkably fixed, closed-minded, uncritical and compliant group of followers. More interesting is how diligently they defend against all criticism and unpalatable truths; try to change their Wikipedia page and they’ll come at you within minutes, rejecting any and all evidence, including official government records.
The Skeptics are not open-minded and “seeking evidence”. There is no culture of independent investigation and verification of “facts” and claims. Neither do they support Open, Honest and Transparent administration and general good governance.
Their operations are marked by secrecy, non-disclosure, and the wildest manipulations of the facts, such as the 30 year-old deception that magazine subscribers are members of the Association. There are sixteen claimed on the official returns, but never publicly identified. The Skeptics, however they started, have become a Fundamentalist Religion dedicated to Scientism, the “Friends of Science in Medicine” (FoSiM) are a splinter group driven by the most fanatical and obsessed focussing on “One True Medicine”.
They haven’t come from a vacuum; they’re a local ‘mini-me’ of Steven Novella & Harriet Hall’s “Institute of Science in Medicine” (ISM), seen clearly in the website address of both:“scienceinmedicine”, “.org” and “.org.au”.The ISM is a Fundamentalist Flexner-ism group, their sacred text being the 1910 report into the US Medical profession by a failed school headmaster, Flexner, proposing a new system modelled on the UK and European system of medical education, examination and accreditation. That Australia’s Medical system was derived from the UK’s and was never in need of the major reforms required in the “Free Market” USA, seems to have escaped ‘The Friends’. It’s also doubtful many, even of the inner circle have ever read the original report.
It doesn’t nearly say what ISM claims. The report was commissioned by the US AMA and paid for by the Carnegie Foundation. Unsurprisingly, it describes all health/medical systems (excepts the AMA’s own) as “cults”, reserving special opprobrium and bile for Chiropractic. Osteopaths cut a deal with Flexner and were deemed acceptable, but the special hatred of Chiropractic has continued ever since.
The most curious situation is in Australia where most schools qualify students in both Chiropractic and Osteopathy, but FoSiM still regurgitate all the US doctrine against Chiropractors, yet never speak a word against Osteopaths. The irony, self-contradiction and hypocrisy is entirely lost on them. This blindness could be successfully used against them.
Who are the Friends of Science of Medicine?
FoSiM has the same “closed membership” structure as Australian Skeptics Inc. They are just 5 or 6 members in an Association, yet they publish on-line the names of 1,000 or more “Friends”. FoSiM is centred around just two long-term Skeptics: John Dwyer and Loretta Marron. Google reports 59,000 hits for (“john dwyer” skeptics) with an involvement on-record of more than 20 years in the Skeptic movement. He’s a retired academic and medical specialist/researcher with considerable political reach in NSW.
Marron is a comparative recent arrival after her retirement following surgery for breast cancer. She devoted herself with considerable energy to exposing “quackery” and lodging many formal complaints with health authorities. She caused enough mischief and mayhem to, like Dwyer in 2000, gain the Skeptic of the Year award, not once, but twice, a feat never before accomplished. The “ego”, recognition/status and self-aggrandisement driving Dwyer is fully encapsulated in his title: “President and first Principal”.
Marron has self-described on-line as a “Scientist”, based on once earning a BSc, but belied by having spent her working life in I.T., most of it apparently in Insurance. She does appear as a co-author on a single paper and has completed a short course on the basics of research with one of the only Skeptics in Academia, Martin Bridgstock.
This contradiction – the failure to appeal to real scientists and researchers – is also lost on Skeptics. If professional Skeptics had anything of real scientific value to contribute, you’d expect a string of peer-reviewed papers, many formal courses and a lot of practising scientists and researchers as members. Yet that’s not what we see. After 35 years in Australia, if this were going to happen, it would have by now, demonstrating they’re not engaged in Science, but Scientism.
These Skeptics-cum-“Friends”, Dywer and Marron, are very dangerous people because of their strong negative emotional drives, lack of good judgement and fanatical ideological base. However they do have extreme weaknesses as well. There is only a very small community of active “Skeptics”, but they use the Internet to organise, communicate and plan. They are constantly on-line and very opportunistic. They specialise in “hit and run” tactics; they’ll drop a bomb and then retreat into invisibility. Like all good conspiracies, terrorists and guerrillas, their cells are small and secret.
A strong characteristic of the Skeptics is their complete disregard for all rules of behaviour; they disregard any and all laws and willingly, even gleefully, engage in immoral and unethical behaviour and attacks, most often secretly. This was shown by them gaming a Fairfax poll and hacking those systems.
Part of their power & influence is their (secret) networks, they have a number of media personalities who are sympathetic or outright believers. This is not a stretch as two of the three “Great Founders” – Philip Adams and Richard Carleton – were media personalities.
Dick Smith, the other founder, had money and a strong moral core. “Choice” magazine is a strong supporter as well.
The weaknesses of these Professional Skeptics are simple and profound:
• they are very few in number,
• they are ideological fanatics, with poor judgement and a complete lack of clarity around those issues,
• they don’t have deep pockets or access to substantial resources,
• their strong emotional drive, fuelled by deficit needs, means they must keep escalating their behaviours.
If effective action isn’t taken, they will persist and continue relentless persecution of identified targets. The extended pursuit of the AVN (including attacking/victimising Meryl Dorey personally) is proof of their intents and ability to organise and act. The publicly anonymous hate group, “Stop the AVN”, is a new weapon in their armoury. Without identified members or office bearers, just a facebook page, they can defame and impugn reputations with impunity – there’s nobody to sue or hold accountable.
There is an exemplary Case Study in dealing with Skeptics: the Ian Plimer court case. Plimer, a well known academic, acted wholly irrationally, seemingly driven by uncontrolled moral outrage and a sense of absolute righteousness.
There was no group behind this; it was Plimer alone, though the case was closely followed and widely reported within Skeptic circles. Plimer ended up with a bill of $400k-$500k, causing him to sell his house, lose his marriage, change jobs and move from Melbourne to Adelaide. The Australian Skeptics Science and Education Foundation, after a lot of pressure, contributed $200k towards Plimer’s costs. The Skeptics don’t rally to support their own and are never generous or forthcoming with their own money. The Whalley Bequest of $1.27M was astronomic in their circles.
Plimer never had a good case and the Trade Practices Act was a very poor choice causeof action. The judge also queried why so much had been spent on legal fees for the case.
It seemed excessive to him, even wildly so.In the end there was a sole judgement of Copyright infringement against the Creationist: a single diagram had been used without a license or acknowledgement. Plimer was blinded by his fanatical belief and absolute confidence in his own ‘rightness’, embarking on a crusade every bit as righteous and fanatical as those of the Middle Ages.
The way to shut down “Friends” is simple: draw Marron into a court case; preferably multiple simultaneous actions. As she’s based in non-urban Queensland, issuing writs in multiple courts in different cities would make further demands on her time and resources. Marron is both the sole “worker drone” of FoSiM and exhibits the poorest judgement. She is the least informed and knowledgeable in the field, her sole source of information being the highly-skewed ISM doctrine “papers”. Her ignorance and blindness lead directly to arrogant self-confidence and overweening self-belief.
A two-step strategy would probably work with her: a small “teaser” event with an easy victory to draw her in, then an escalation to a larger, more expensive court case shecouldn’t win. This needs expert legal advice to consider and plan.
This will have two outcomes:
– immediate and direct: it will consume her time and energies, diverting it from her current activities, effectively shutting down the “Friends” website, their mouthpiece, as happens when she’s gone on holiday , and
– longer-term, when, not if, she loses a court case, she won’t have the money to continue operating.
For extra credit, take on other actors in her orbit. The most obvious, and most damaging psychologically and emotionally to them, are the “cradle” of Dwyer/Marron’s Beliefs: Australian Skeptics. Like a three-old child throwing tantrums and always getting their own way, Marron has never suffered a serious setback or consequence for her escalating behaviours, worse they’ve been applauded and she’s been awarded accolades.
There is one off-record report that after her outrageous attack on Blackmore’s, Dwyer required Marron to submit all articles to him for approval. That may be the only time she’s had good feedback. I’m not sure if she still does a radio show. If she does, some carefully crafted callers or letters would lead her to shaky ground.
Dwyer is a lot more canny than Marron or Plimer, He’s a very well connected and skilled political player, with many successful campaigns already under his belt. He’s unlikely to overstep himself and routinely organises others to press his attacks, but being driven by ego, status and recognition, is not immune to his own weaknesses.
Marron could probably be drawn out on an anti-Chiropractic case, believing she can cite Simon Singh’s win over the BCA.
Singh won the libel action because he was judged a ’scientist’ and his book, for the general public – not an academic paper – was judged part of “the scientific debate” where,in the UK, free speech is guaranteed. Singh initially had his costs guaranteed by the Guardian newspaper, but later organised public donations to fund his costs. Marron probably over-estimates the public financial support she might get, starting with the 1,000 ‘Friends’, and would no doubt approach Dick Smith as he’s given, or guaranteed, $100,000 in the past for the Skeptics. He funded the 2009 pro-vaccination advertisement and guaranteed the $100,000 prize offered for proof of the paranormal and another test of water diviners.
Australia does not have the US First Amendment right to Free Speech, probably assumed in the ISM materials, nor the same Defamation laws as the UK. Marron cannot credibly claim to be a ‘scientist’ (Dwyer can) nor support that she’s engaged in “scientific debate”. These are legal niceties she’s unlikely to be aware of. The way to the Friends is through Marron’s conceit, ignorance and arrogance and the way to her is by exposing the Skeptics and taking them down. The Skeptics have a long history of illegal action and behaviour, acting against them should be possible.