Issue 39 / 8 October 2018

A storm of controversy erupted back in 2016 when the University of Wollongong granted a Doctorate in Philosophy to antivaccination campaigner Judith Wilyman for a thesis entitled A critical examination of the Australian Government’s rationale for its vaccination policy.

The humanities thesis alleged, among other things, various underhand shenanigans by the pharmaceutical industry and global and Australian regulators while making multiple claims about harmful effects of vaccines, including resurrection of the long-discredited link between vaccines and autism.

It was primarily supervised by professor of cultural studies Brian Martin with the assistance of a colleague from sociology, without any apparent scientific oversight.

The thesis was widely claimed to have misrepresented the evidence on immunisation, as scientists and clinicians around the country rallied to defend the practice and criticise the granting of the PhD.

Academic sanction of unscientific claims can have long-lasting consequences.

According to a report in The Australian, within weeks of the PhD being granted, Dr Wilyman was claiming in her newsletter: “This PhD provides evidence that [not all vaccines are safe] and effective and that the combined schedule of vaccines is doing more harm than good in the population through the increase in chronic illness”.

Nothing should be beyond scholarly question, not even immunisation, but it’s beyond me how a doctoral thesis written, supervised and examined by scholars in the humanities could claim to have provided that kind of scientific evidence.

The ramifications continue.

Last month, The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Dr Wilyman had provided an expert witness statement to the Family Court in a dispute between estranged parents over whether their children should be immunised.

Dr Wilyman claimed to be qualified to write the report because she was “an independent person with expertise in public health and the effects of toxins on the human body”.

The government had not provided “hard scientific evidence of safety and efficacy of vaccines because it cannot,” her report said.

If the father was not able to provide such evidence, and the mother did not wish to vaccinate, “then the default position must be not to vaccinate”.

The court may, of course, choose to disregard these “expert” views, relying instead on those of an actual immunisation expert, Professor Peter McIntyre, who has been asked by the children’s father to provide the court with his appraisal of Dr Wilyman’s claims.

Professor McIntyre, the former director of the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, has previously criticised the awarding of the doctorate to Judith Wilyman.

“It is clear from even cursory examination that Wilyman’s thesis, although raising some legitimate questions about gaps in both the process and transparency of immunisation policy development, is based on a highly selective and poorly informed review of the literature, driven by the imperative to support pre-determined conclusions,” he told the Herald.

Wollongong University “must bear the major responsibility for manifestly inadequate supervision,” he said.

I am not suggesting there is anything intrinsically wrong with a doctoral thesis on immunisation policy being supervised and examined by scholars in the humanities.

But when such a thesis draws on the science of immunisation – which it clearly must – somebody needs to be assessing the accuracy and rigour of the scientific analysis provided, during both the supervision and examination process.

Dr Wilyman would not be the world’s first doctoral candidate to have approached her work from an entrenched ideological position, but a PhD thesis is not a 100 000-word opinion piece.

Like any scholar, she should have been expected to provide quality evidence for her conclusions, evidence that should have been subjected to the most rigorous scrutiny by experts in the field.

The consequence of the apparent failure to do that is that Dr Wilyman now has the enhanced platform for her views provided by an academic title and her resulting claim to be an expert in public health.

Let’s hope the courts display some scientific rigour in assessing that.

16 thoughts on “Academic sanction of immunisation claims has lasting consequences

  1. Anonymous says:

    A humanities thesis is not a scientific thesis. So should not be transmuted to a scientific opinion. Can be a social opinion but expert scientific opinion .
    Who takes notice of a Ph.D as denoting an expert??

  2. Peter Bird says:

    The thesis tried to point out that there is a conspiracy between doctors, the government, big pharma and the WHO to vaccinate children.
    The analogy would be arguing there is a conspiracy between aircraft engineers, airlines and the government to make airplanes fly.
    The idiocy of the argument escaped the examiners of the thesis.

  3. Brian Pezzutti says:

    What can I do to bury this “thesis”
    Brian Pezzutti

  4. Dr Paul Nisselle AM, MBBS FRACGP, Craigrossie Clinic, Albert Park, Vic. says:

    When a parent asks, “Can you guarantee me that immunisation is safe”, my standard reply is ” Probably not – but I can guarantee you that NOT immunising is NOT safe.” The psychology could be the unconscious thought that. “If I consent to the injection and something bad happens, that’s my fault; if I don’t agree and something bad happens, that’s God’s will” This is backed up by the belief that the diseases to be prevented are now very rare, but they believe that immunisation complications are common. To suggest that the reason the conditions are now very uncommon, in our society, is because of decades of high levels of immunisation, does not resonate. Through working at Victoria’s infectious disease hospital many years ago, I have seen the often deadly complication of measles, mumps, diphtheria, etc, and as a child in primary school, I saw kids in calipers from polio, also some wearing huge hearing aids because their mother had Rubella in pregnancy,…etc.
    You will understand then why I struggle to be patient with parents who refuse to consent to immunisations.
    I have a favourite quote from Schiller – “Against stupidity, the Gods themselves prevail in vain.”

  5. saul geffen says:

    Failing to immunise is child abuse. It should be sanctioned like other abuse.

  6. Randal Williams says:

    A PhD should not be an opinion piece or New Age ideologies masquerading as science. The University of Wollongong and the supervisors of the PhD should be asked to provide justification for granting it, particularly for not having any scientific scrutiny. It is important that medical writers like Jane McRedie expose this to scientific scrutiny, as she has done here. Send a copy to Brain Martin and the Chancellor of the University of Wollongong.!

  7. John Goss says:

    When you say that Dr Wilyman’s thesis was ‘primarily supervised by professor of cultural studies Brian Martin with the assistance of a colleague from sociology, without any apparent scientific oversight’, it would be fair to also note that Professor Martin’s PhD is in Theoretical Physics from the University of Sydney. One could argue that Brian Martin does not have the right sort of scientific expertise to assess this thesis, but to imply he does not have scientific expertise is incorrect.

  8. Anonymous says:

    The problem with medicine is that it has made modern life safe – there is loss of knowledge what happens without scientific medicine. So the public and the politicians think that health is a consumer item – that is why women now want their babies to be delivered in bizarre positions [now that confinement has been made safe ]. No one has seen polio, tetanus, diphtheria, the complications of Rubella – so the public think they have a consumer’s choice just like a supermarket of health choices.
    Doctors should let them have this choice provided they do not expect society – that includes Medicare and NDIS to pick up the ensuing costs of their stupid decisions. – one or 2 tragic cases would sort out the problem

  9. wayne mccosh says:

    Not one critique here on any facts in her thesis, just one sided fluff. I suggest you get together with those who structure our draconian vaccination NJNP/P policy, the expert immunologist in our country, expects in fundamental human rights, and Dr Wilyman… after all she has requested a scientific debate on Australian health policy with regard to vaccination in Australia for years. According to what i’ve read here Dr Wilyman would come across as a fool, but i’ve read her thesis, and it is clear why she is actively denied the normal academic right of defending in debate. Such censorship is a clear sign the vaccination ‘science’, relating to Australian society does not stand up to scrutiny.

  10. Brian Martin says:

    I was Judy Wilyman’s PhD supervisor, and analysed the attacks on her (and me) that occurred before and after she graduated (http://www.bmartin.cc/pubs/controversy.html#Wilyman). I write here about her thesis, not about what she says in other contexts.
    Her thesis was seriously misrepresented in the media-led attack beginning in January 2016, and it seems few of the critics of her thesis have tried to get beyond the misrepresentations or to gain an understanding of the field in which it was done (science and technology studies). Prior to submission, I sent a draft of her thesis to three vaccine research scientists, and Judy took into account their comments. This does not prove everything in her thesis is correct but it does mean that criticisms about lack of scientific oversight are misplaced. This is all explained in my article “Defending university integrity” published early in 2017 (http://www.bmartin.cc/pubs/17ijei.pdf).
    Peter McIntyre continues to disparage my supervision. He has had over two years to publish a rebuttal or critique of Judy’s thesis, but has not done so. Instead, he continues to rely on the same journalist to broadcast his opinions about the thesis. When comments about a thesis are made only in the mass media, not in academic forums, who are the ones being unscholarly?

  11. Randal Williams says:

    I agree with Anonymous in that vaccination is a victim of its own amazing success, preventing or eliminating diseases that no one sees any more, at least in the Western world. No one who lived through the epidemics of smallpox, poliomyelitis and diphtheria then saw vaccines virtually eliminate them could possibly be anti-vaccination. But we are in a New Age where everything ‘natural’ is good and man made thing are bad ( the paradox is that these infectious disease are “natural”, as are venomous creatures and and poisonous plants.)
    We all recognise that there are occasional adverse reactions to vaccines but personally, I want every vaccine that is appropriate for me, and the same for my family and my patients.

  12. Elizabeth Hart says:

    Interesting that Peter McIntyre acknowledges Judy Wilyman’s thesis raises “some legitimate questions about gaps in both the process and transparency of immunisation policy development…”

    There are some very serious gaps in the process and transparency of what should more properly be called ‘vaccination’ policy development, as ‘immunisation’ is so seldom verified.

    For example, it is a very serious matter that citizens in Australia are often hindered from asking legitimate questions about taxpayer-funded vaccination policy, and that discussion on this subject is often censored.

    Outside Australia there is some movement towards acknowledging citizens’ right to speak about vaccination policy. In this regard it is relevant to post the content of my recent rapid response published on The BMJ in response to an article about Pandemrix and narcolepsy, accessible via this link: https://www.bmj.com/content/362/bmj.k3948/rapid-responses

    I post the content of this rapid response below:

    Vaccination policy is political – citizens are entitled to transparency and accountability

    Tom Jefferson says “As Healy pointed out, openness and clarity are the enemies of vaccine hesitancy. Non response and obfuscation are gifts to those who are ideologically opposed to vaccines and their use.”[1]

    Jefferson’s bald reference to those “who are ideologically opposed to vaccines and their use”, discounts the legitimate concerns of citizens who are alarmed at rapidly increasing vaccination schedules and the arguable over-use of vaccine products.

    Vaccination policy is a serious political issue in our liberal democracies, and citizens are entitled to transparency and accountability for taxpayer-funded vaccination schedules.

    In my experience of questioning vaccination policy, it’s the protagonists who seem to be ideologically driven, treating ‘vaccination’ as a religion that must not be questioned, and refusing to be accountable for individual vaccine products.

    Vaccine products are added without any consultation with the community, and are even being mandated by governments in countries such as Australia, the United States and Italy. It’s astonishing that the move towards mandating the medical intervention of vaccination, and the deleterious impact on the right to ‘informed consent’, has had such little critical analysis. Associate Professor in International Criminology Paddy Rawlinson is one of the few academics to tackle this subject, in her essay Immunity and Impunity: Corruption in the State-Pharma Nexus.[2]

    Transparency and accountability for vaccination policy is seriously lacking. For instance, we need open examination of the committees and groups influencing vaccination policy, including conflicts of interest of participants. The current crisis at Cochrane highlights even further serious problems with conflicts of interest in evaluating medical products, e.g. HPV vaccines.[3]

    We need to seriously look at the quality and objectivity of the data underpinning the effectiveness and safety of the ever-increasing number of vaccine products and revaccinations on vaccination schedules. We desperately need truly independent and objective evaluation of vaccine products.

    It’s extremely difficult for citizens to gain accountability for vaccination policy, with politicians and vaccination bureaucrats blatantly ignoring citizens’ concerns on this matter. It’s also difficult to raise this issue on public forums, where the threat of censorship hovers constantly, and where people hiding behind pseudonyms often try and sabotage debate on mainstream media platforms.

    Meanwhile, more and more lucrative vaccine products and revaccinations are being added to international schedules. We have no idea of the long-term cumulative consequences of this increasing vaccine load.

    Yes, the desire to prevent disease with a ‘magic bullet’ vaccination is understandable. But problems are emerging, not only with Pandemrix, but also with other vaccines, e.g. the pertussis/whooping cough vaccine[4,] including the pressure for repeated revaccination throughout life with this combination vaccine product.[5]

    Citizens are entitled to query whether the over-use of vaccine products could be leading to a disaster even greater than those already unfolding with the over-use of antibiotics, opioids, anti-depressants and other medical products.

    Stop the polarised ‘pro’ / ‘anti’ vaccination war that has hindered scrutiny of the booming international vaccine market, and start having some considered discussion on the proliferation of these products.

    References:
    1. Tom Jefferson provides his interpretation of David Healy’s response. David Healy did not actually use this specific wording in his rapid response on this article.
    2. Paddy Rawlinson. Immunity and Impunity: Corruption in the State-Pharma Nexus. International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy. Vol 6 No 4 (2017).
    3. See my rapid responses on Fiona Godlee’s BMJ article Reinvigorating Cochrane: https://www.bmj.com/content/362/bmj.k3966/rapid-responses and on Nigel Hawkes’ BMJ article HPV vaccine safety: Cochrane launches urgent investigation into review after criticisms: https://www.bmj.com/content/362/bmj.k3472/rapid-responses
    4. Resurgence of Whooping Cough May Owe to Vaccine’s Inability to Prevent Infections, posted on BU School of Public Health, 21 September 2017.
    5. Six doses of pertussis containing vaccines are ‘recommended’ for children now, plus repeated revaccination of women for every pregnancy, healthcare workers, early childhood educators and carers, travellers etc. See Summary and Recommendations, Pertussis (whooping cough) in The Australian Immunisation Handbook.

  13. Rebekah says:

    My two vaccine injured children are proof that vaccines have lasting consequences, dreadful lasting consequences.

  14. Vaccine Injured says:

    When a parent asks, “Can you guarantee me that immunisation is safe”, my standard reply is ” Probably not – but I can guarantee you that NOT immunising is NOT safe.”

    And when it goes wrong, as it so often does, what do you do then?

  15. Dr Antony Sara says:

    I recall as a young child going with my father who was an honorary doctor to a hospital in St Ives in Sydney with multiple wards of children a little older than i and older – and every child had had polio and was bedridden, most were in calipers. It was a salutary lesson both about vaccination and humanity. the argument for me as to vaccination against polio was made and accepted on that day.

  16. Paganic88 says:

    It is of great concern that human rights can be SO eroded, that few seek to analyse the censorship and proliferation of policies such as the “No jab, No play/Pay”.

    If vaccination was so extremely effective, why the need for such extreme censorship measures not usually encountered in a democracy such as Australia?

    Surely parents are entitled to question what s being injected into their child’s bodies? Injections bypass the boy’s natural immune defense system, so it is a normal reaction to ask one’s trusted GP about safety concerns.

    There needs to be room for a little skepticism about vaccine safety, as in recent years some have been “pulled” from the market due to dangerous side effects. What about the proliferation of new vaccines?

    Sure, some vaccines have had time honoured validity i.e polio, as mentioned above. However dubious new ones are riding on the “coat tails” of past successful ones, i.e.why give 3 injections of Hepatitis to all babies, when Hep B is an uncommon outside certain groups. Surely it can be provided on the base of need, among the babies that do warrant such medical intervention.

    Immunisation is a complex issue which does not fit neatly into two opposing pro-vax and anti-vax camps. Like all medical developments, some vaccines are really worthwhile whilst others of dubious quality and value.

    We need openness and public dialogue, not restrictions around discussion of these important issues !

    Consider how the “messengers” of scientific dialogue become figuratively “crucified” (villified) in the media; such as the treatment of Dr William McBride (who discovered links between thalidomide and limb formation) or consider the vicious denigration of Dr Andrew Wakefield*, who never once said that “immunisation causes autism”!
    What he said was “we did not prove an association between measles,mumps, and rubella vaccine and the syndrome described…further investigations are needed”.

    There is a real need for change and open dialogue in the arena of vaccine policy and development.

    *Do not just take my word for it , see:

    https://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet/PIIS0140-6736(97)11096-0.pdf

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