Meryl Dorey and the AVN win 2009 Bent Spoon

The Australian Skeptics Bent Spoon Award was presented last night at the annual Skeptics’ Convention at the University of Queensland in Brisbane. The Bent Spoon is awarded annually for the perpetrator of the most preposterous piece of paranormal or pseudo-scientific piffle and is chosen from a list of public nominations submitted to the Australian Sceptics.

The winners were Meryl Dorey and the Australian Vaccination Network, who have campaigned tirelessly to ensure that parents shun vaccination to the detriment of not only their own children’s health but that of others. Testament to the efforts of the AVN are the significantly low vaccination rates on the North Coast of NSW where the AVN is located, which corresponded with a 2008 whooping cough epidemic. Measles outbreaks in QLD and whooping cough epidemics in South Australia have also been attributed to a loss of herd immunity as a direct result of the reduction in the take-up of childhood vaccination.

Dr Rachael Dunlop and Richard Saunders with the Bent Spoon
Dr Rachael Dunlop presents the Bent Spoon Award with Richard Saunders holding up the spoon itself.

It’s been a tough year for Dorey who has received considerable mainstream criticism for her campaign of scaremongering and misinformation regarding the safety and efficacy of vaccines. Of note are her continuing false claims that vaccines contain toxic levels of elemental mercury, vaccines cause autism, shaken baby syndrome, SIDS and brain damage, and that vaccines are not responsible for a reduction in communicable disease, rather this is a product of increased sanitation and good food. In August 2009, Dorey and the AVN were the target of a national newspaper advertising campaign, financed by entrepreneur Dick Smith warning parents of Australia not to listen to the false claims of the AVN. In publicity surrounding the publication, Smith criticised the organisation for portraying a public face of “pro-choice” when privately being unequivocally anti-vaccination. In a statement Smith said; “They should put on every bit of their material that they are anti-vaccination in great big words”.

Dorey has been heavily criticised for her misuse of scientific evidence, in particular her habit of “cherry picking” data to suit her agenda whilst publicly insisting she only cites peer reviewed studies from medical journals. Dorey was made to look particularly insensitive earlier this year when appearing in a story about the death of a 4 week old girl from whooping cough she said, “You didn’t die from it 30 years ago and you’re not going to die from it now”. In reference to her own family, she referred to whooping cough as “nothing more than a bad cough” and declared she treated her own family with homeopathy (ie, placebo).

Dorey is also known as an “HIV denier” meaning she does not believe that HIV is the cause of AIDS. HIV deniers are a dangerous group of individuals, whose influence on Thabo Mbeki historically contributed to the unnecessary deaths of over 300,000 Africans as a result of delayed roll-out of anti-retroviral drugs.

Dorey may have had a sense of the impending award when she told her followers that “we are already seen as rapid idiotic fringe dwellers by the mainstream…” when referring to conspiracy theories. Despite advising her followers not to publicise their belief in such theories, she later published a link to a conspiracy blog describing H1N1 (swine flu) as being manufactured by a group of drug cartels for the express purpose of extinguishing a large percentage of the world via compulsory vaccination, aerosol exposure via chem-trails and the implantation of mind control chips. The original story was attributed to (but not credited by Dorey) the world famous conspiracy theorist David Icke.

Mrs. Dorey and the AVN are currently the subject of an investigation submitted to the Health Care Complaints Commission of NSW alleging the group represents a serious danger to public health. Dorey issued a media release acknowledging her acceptance of the award saying; “I could almost wish that an honourary membership to the Skeptics came along with the award. But then again, I don’t feel that I have the necessary unquestioning, single-minded zealotry such membership requires.”