Anti-vaccinationists: Competing Interests and Conspiracy Theories

April 13, 2011 at 6:49 pm (Anti-Vaccination) (, , , , , , , )

I’ve written before about the anti-vaccination lobbyists and their obsession with competing interests. John Stone’s big discovery was apparently that Dr Evan Harris’s father was once on a committee. Competing interests by proxy are hardly notable, but anti-vaxxers have sometimes failed harder than that in their conspiracy theorising.

A comment on a recent post by John Stone at Age of Autism attempts to link Adam Rutherford to Brian Deer and Rupert Murdoch. This purported link rests on a line in Adam Rutherford’s bio on his website: “he has also written for Times Higher Education”. A site-specific search shows one article by Adam Rutherford on the THES website. It’s a book review from 2009. For the commentator at AOA, this single article is apparently proof positive that Rutherford is tainted by an association with Murdoch and Deer:

Dr Rutherford has an interesting career. It includes writing articles for The Times Educational Supplement. Murdoch again!! No wonder he was so chummy with Brian Deer on his BBC Radio 4’Science Betrayed’ programme. Two commissioned Murdoch journalists together!! How jolly!!

The only thing is, this single article was written almost four years after News International sold off their education titles (including THES). The Guardian wrote about the deal at the time. It’s mentioned in the 2005 headlines section on the Exponent website and the full story can be found here. As far as I can tell, Rutherford was never a “commissioned Murdoch journalist”.

When I was alerted to this comment by a forum post (hat tip to Journal Checker for spotting the comment and checking on the claim), I attempted to check the facts and verify the account given in the forum post. I searched for articles by Adam Rutherford on the THES website, I looked for confirmation that News International had indeed sold their education titles prior to Adam’s book review, and I contacted Adam to ask him to clarify whether my understanding of the situation was correct.

The commenter on AoA clearly did not attempt to check whether their understanding of the situation was correct. Despite comments on that site being moderated (a post I left on the site in reply to another comment was still in moderation at the time of writing this blog post), the claims regarding Adam Rutherford’s alleged link to Murdoch went through moderation and were published – again, without any fact checking being done. If you’re going to pre-moderate comments, then perhaps you should take some responsibility for fact-checking them…


  1. draust said,

    They see what they want to see. including – or “especially” – when it isn’t there. That’s it.

    I am always reminded, when thinking about the AoA crew, of the psychology research which suggests that a reasonable predictor for:

    “people who are likely to buy into conspiracy theories” is

    “people who themselves would be enthusiastic conspirators given the chance”

  2. jdc325 said,

    @Dr Aust,

    The claims of competing interests that I’ve seen from anti-vaxxers have tended to be either (a) untrue or (b) true, but irrelevant or insignificant. I suspect if I looked at the other claims in the comments there (and in John Stone’s blogpost itself) I’d find the same. I doubt the claims can get much more tenuous than they are at present but I suppose Stone et al might surprise me yet.

  3. jdc325 said,

    PS: I left a comment at AoA earlier and someone has replied by asking if I work for Maxam Neutraceutics. They haven’t addressed any of the points I’ve made – they don’t care about what I’m saying or whether it’s truthful, they care only about who I am. Says it all, really.

    Link: here.

  4. Anthony said,

    Utterly bonkers. There is no reasoning with them.

  5. pv said,

    I’m rather inclined to the view that John Stone’s primary “weapon” is innuendo. He has little else with which to undermine those with whom he chooses to disagree. I think he knows the implausibility, or even impossibility, of his accusations of conflict of interest. I think we can draw our own conclusions about Stone’s motives and even mental state – given how long he’s been going at this and how much of himself he has invested.
    He might well be an odious individual and not particularly acquainted with the facts of the matter, but I think we can add “pitiful” to the list of less complimentary adjectives used to describe him.

  6. dt said,

    One of Stone’s persistent claims is that the chairman of the GMC panel who looked at the Wakefield case was fatally compromised by his holding of shares in GSK.

    But if the chair (Surendar Kumar) had anticipated a rise in the global GSK share price of around say 5% if he was to find Wakefield guilty, then he would have needed to have a GSK shareholding of nearly £10 million just in order to make the same amount as Wakefield made from his antivaccine legal fees (£450k). Totally unfeasible as a possible conflict IMO.

    In addition, Kumar would need to assume that GSK share prices fluctuate according to the fortunes of a single doctor being charged with professional misconduct. This is pretty unlikey, and if one actually looks at the historical GSK share price, one finds it actually went down slightly after the GMC verdict – confirmation that it is quite irrelevant and unconnected with Wakefield [although I am sure John Stone imagines Wakefield is such a huge global figure that multinational pharmaceuticals cower in awe at the mere mention of his name. Nothing could be further from the truth.]

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