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From deep in the heart of the “organized campaign” against Judy Wilyman’s antivaccine PhD thesis

Politicians and activists know that one of the most effective ways to discredit critics is to try to portray them as (1) being in the pay of someone else, such as a big corporation, or (2) part of an “organized” effort to criticize them, or (3) preferably both. That’s why antivaccine cranks are so fast to deploy the “pharma shill gambit” and cranks like Sharyl Attkisson like to accuse their critics of “astroturfing.” Of course, astroturfing, which is the practice of trying to make a public relations campaign promoting a message appear to originate organically from the grassroots rather than from a controlling source like a political campaign or corporation, does exist and is a problem. If astroturfing didn’t exist, this particular accusation wouldn’t be so effective in persuading believers that criticism of their belief is all one big conspiracy. However, when accusations of “astroturfing” are leveled against bloggers and skeptics criticizing pseudoscience, they’re almost always false.

Sometimes, one doesn’t have to go so far as to make the accusation of “astroturfing.” Sometimes, it’s enough just to accuse those criticizing you of being part of an “organized campaign,” which is basically very similar to an accusation of astroturfing but doesn’t require that there be a paymaster. Then, if you claim that this “organized campaign” originates from a group or organization that you detest (and, presumably, your followers also detest), it’s a powerful tool to keep any valid criticism from entering your followers’ minds and possibly making them think about their beliefs.

I bring this up because those of us who have been critical of the University of Wollongong in Australia for granting a PhD to an antivaccine campaigner named Judy Wilyman, who is affiliated with Meryl Dorey and the Australian Vaccination (Skeptics) Network, have just been subject to such a rhetorical attack from—who else?—Wilyman’s thesis advisor Brian Martin. Recall that in January it was announced that Wilyman’s thesis, A critical analysis of the Australian government’s rationale for its vaccination policy, had been accepted by the University of Wollongong, or, as I put it, that the University of Wollongong had issued a PhD in antivaccine pseudoscience. I did not say that lightly, because I had actually perused Wilyman’s thesis and found many obvious errors in fact and interpretation, many of which were nothing more than warmed over antivaccine talking points with which regular readers of this blog have become well familiar. I wasn’t alone, either. Alison Campbell also agreed that Wilyman’s thesis was lacking in academic rigor. It didn’t take long for Martin to leap to Wilyman’s defense by characterizing criticism of the university for granting Wilyman a PhD as the “suppression of dissent” again and again.

Well, Martin is at it again, with another post on his website, this one entitled An orchestrated attack on a PhD thesis. Yes, the title of his post tells you why I introduced my post the way I did. Another reason that Martin’s article caught my attention is that it used a screenshot of one of my three previous posts on the topic, basically accusing me of being part of the “orchestrated” attack. And who’s orchestrating this attack, in Martin’s view? Take a guess.

That’s right. Martin accuses Australian pro-science group Stop the Australian Vaccination Network (SAVN) of being behind the whole nefariously “orchestrated” attack on Wilyman, the University of Wollongong, and, of course, himself. Hilariously, while doing so Martin posits a false dichotomy:

Judy had been under attack by SAVNers for several years. Therefore, I and others at the University of Wollongong correctly assumed there would be a hostile response to her graduation. Consider two hypotheses for how I and university officials would behave in this situation.

Hypothesis 1. We would push through a sub-standard thesis.

Hypothesis 2. We would take extra care to ensure that the thesis was of requisite quality and that all university processes were followed carefully. This would include sending the thesis to technical experts and choosing external examiners of high standing.

To me, it beggars belief that anyone would believe hypothesis 1, especially given that outsiders lack information about the operation of university processes. Yet in practice it seems that many outsiders, based on limited knowledge, assume that the thesis must be no good, my supervision was inadequate and the university was derelict.

The rush to condemn the thesis and the university can be understood this way: opponents assume it is impossible to undertake a scholarly critique of vaccination policy (or at least impossible for Judy to do so). Therefore, they condemn everyone involved in the process.

Actually, there’s a straw man there, too. No one—and I mean no one, least of all SAVN—claims that it is impossible to undertake a scholarly critique of vaccination policy. No one. Admittedly, SAVN did, of course, seriously question whether it was possible for Wilyman to do so—and with good reason, it turns out, based on the final product that she produced. After all, is it really so unreasonable to question whether someone who has a long history of spewing antivaccine misinformation for years was capable of an objective, scholarly treatment of Australian vaccination policy? Again, it is not, and, based on the finished product produced by Wilyman under Martin’s guidance, the SAVN was quite justified in its concern.

As for the two hypotheses, this is a bit of a false dichotomy. Although it is not unreasonable to wonder whether Martin would push through a substandard thesis—after all, Wilyman’s thesis was, by any reasonable academic standard, very substandard—another hypothesis that could explain what happened was that the University of Wollongong had a system that allowed a substandard thesis like Wilyman’s to slip through. In any event, Hypothesis 2 just cracks me up. Is Martin really claiming that he took extra care to make sure that the thesis was of requisite quality? Based on the finished product, it is to laugh. I suppose he might honestly believe that he did this, but if that’s the case that says more about his cluelessness than anything. Of course, no one is questioning whether all university processes were followed. Unfortunately, it appears that they were. It’s the university processes that allowed such a piece of crap to pass muster that skeptics question, not whether the thesis made it through all the requisite university processes. In fact, the University of Wollongong must agree that there could be something wrong with its processes, as it has undertaken a review of its processes. Unfortunately, that review won’t assess current or past PhDs, which means Wilyman’s thesis is exempt from this review.

Of course, everyone who’s critically read Wilyman’s thesis can’t help but ask: Who were these “technical experts and external examiners of high standing” who signed off on Wilyman’s thesis? Certainly I did. Unfortunately, neither the University, Wilyman, nor Martin is telling. Nor does there appear to be any way to force any of them to reveal who the reviewers were who signed off on this monstrosity. I note that this is in marked contrast to the US, at least where I got my PhD and the two universities at which I’ve been faculty during the course of my career thus far, where the thesis committee signs off on the thesis, which is publicly published. If Martin wants to really convince people that Wilyman’s thesis was critiqued by real experts, he has but to release their names. He does not, and that tells me all I need to know about his claim. It is puffery, nothing more.

In his latest screed, Martin trods a lot of the same ground that he’s trod before. For instance, he regurgitates the same four “tell-tale signs indicating when these [criticisms] are not genuine concerns about quality and probity but instead part of a campaign to denigrate viewpoints they oppose.” I’ve dealt with these twice before and see no need to deal with them again here other than to express exasperation at how Martin keeps repeating them and failing to show that any of them apply in this situation, particularly #2 (“they concentrate on alleged flaws in the work, focusing on small details and ignoring the central points”). No, no, no, no! Critics all pointed out that Wilyman’s central points were bollocks (as my British and Australian friends would say) and a load of fetid dingo’s kidneys (as I like to say). They also explained why. Moreover, these “small details” matter if they are used to support those central points. Getting them so egregiously wrong casts doubt on the central points.

OK, I’ll stop now. I said I wouldn’t cover the same ground again, but that #2 just annoys the hell out of me, as Marin is either deluded or lying when he claims Wilyman’s critics do that. (Take your pick.)

Amusingly, Martin is oh-so-unhappy that Wilyman’s critics have been so academically uncivil as to express their concerns in public. I mean, how very unsporting of them:

When raising concerns about a piece of research, the normal scholarly route is to send them to the author, inviting a reply, not to immediately publicise them via journalists. An alternative is to submit them to a scholarly journal for publication, in which case many editors would invite the author to reply.

Alleging there are errors in a piece of work does not on its own challenge the central arguments in the work. For this, addressing those arguments directly is necessary. Very few of the critics of Judy’s thesis have addressed any of its central themes. (Tell-tale sign 2)

Ack! #2 again! No, no, no, no. Wilyman’s central themes have been addressed. Repeatedly. Moreover, when there are so many basic errors in science and fact in a thesis, naturally the central themes must be called into question. How many times do I have to repeat this?

As for Martin’s indignation that Wilyman’s critics didn’t send their criticisms to the author to invite a reply or publish them in a scholarly journal, I make two observations. First, how does he know that there won’t be submissions to scholarly journals? It’s only been three weeks since the thesis acceptance was announced, which is a mighty short time frame to write any sort of academic paper. Second, why on earth does he think anyone should write to Wilyman (or him) when she (as well as he) has made it abundantly clear how she responds to criticism. No, Martin is just trying to pre-emptively dismiss his critics, as he does here as well:

Many opponents of the thesis and critics of the university have declared this issue is not about academic freedom but about academic standards. This claim would be more convincing if these opponents had ever made scholarly contributions about academic freedom or if they were not making self-interested judgements about their own behaviour. Their actions show their agenda is suppression of dissent.

That’s right. According to Martin, if you haven’t made a scholarly contribution regarding academic freedom, then STFU. Who’s trying to suppress freedom of speech now? This bit is particularly hilarious in light of his wanting to have it both ways:

This is a familiar theme within scientific controversies: critics of the epistemologically dominant view are dismissed because they are not suitably qualified. There is another way to look at policy issues: all citizens should be able to have an input, especially those with a stake in the outcomes. This participatory view about science policy has been well articulated over several decades, but few of those commenting about Australian vaccination policy even seem to recognise it exists.

In other words, expertise doesn’t matter if you’re Wilyman or someone criticizing the “epistemologically dominant view,” because “all citizens should be able to have an input.” Of course, Martin is being disingenuous (quelle surprise!) in that his is a view that applies to public discourse, not to the granting of a PhD thesis and that, when it’s convenient to him, he invokes lack of perceived expertise as a reason to tar his opponents as being ideologically motivated. He does it again here:

The intensive scrutiny of Judy’s thesis on its own does not enable a judgement of its quality, because it is necessary to benchmark against other comparable theses. None of her critics has attempted a similarly intensive scrutiny of any other thesis, much less a set of theses large enough to enable a fair assessment of her work. Experienced examiners have assessed many theses, as supervisors and/or examiners, and are well placed to make the required judgements about quality. This is in stark contrast to outside critics, many of whom lack any experience of thesis supervision or examination. (Tell-tale sign 3)

Well, I have been on several thesis committees; so I do not lack experience of thesis supervision or examination. I know what makes a good thesis. No doubt Martin’s response to that if he sees this (and I suspect he will given that he used a screenshot of one of my previous posts) would be that my expertise is in the sciences, not the humanities. That is true, but irrelevant in this case. Why? It’s because, even not having judged theses from the humanities, I know that, whatever the conclusion of a thesis is, regardless of academic discipline, it should be backed by sound research, a fair and accurate citing of previous work, and logical arguments. Wilyman’s thesis fails egregiously in all of these areas.

Finally, Martin concludes:

It is apparent that academics and universities need to do more to explain what they do and to explain the meaning and significance of academic freedom.

I’d tend to agree. We as academics in particular need to explain that “academic freedom” should not be a cover to promulgate any half-baked conspiracy theory bolstered by pseudoscience that best suits the preconceived beliefs of an academic. Nor should a thesis rooted in these things be considered acceptable by any university anywhere.

Thus endeth my part of the “organized campaign” against Brian Martin and Judy Wilyman. That’s sarcasm, Prof. Martin, in case you don’t realize it.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

71 replies on “From deep in the heart of the “organized campaign” against Judy Wilyman’s antivaccine PhD thesis”

He seems to misunderstand (or more nefariously, misrepresent) “academic freedom” in the same way a lot of people misunderstand freedom of speech – neither means that whatever you put out there for other’s to read/listen to is above any kind of criticism.

People calling you out on your b.s is not trolling. It is not harrasement. It is not stifling your “academic freedom” or freedom of speech.

it is necessary to benchmark against other comparable theses. None of her critics has attempted a similarly intensive scrutiny of any other thesis, much less a set of theses large enough to enable a fair assessment of her work.

“Other theses are equally bad!”

Good ole “I’m not AntiVaxx” Brian Martin

Doubling down on the derp since at least 2012

From his 2012 GiggleFest “Debating Vaccination”
http://avn.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/LW8_debating_vaccination.pdf

The AVN asks an AVN member, Brian Martin, to write an article for the AVN magazine, Living Wisdom :), about the alleged attacks on the AVN from the nasty SAVN

For extra giggles we have:

“Acknowledgements
For valuable comments, I thank Stuart Blume, Kevin Dew,
Meryl Dorey, Don Eldridge, Peter Gibson, Richard Halvorsen,…”

Not to mention:

“References
….14. I thank Judy Wilyman for many suggestions on this topic…”

My son is at UoW. Word on campus is that Martin has screwed the pooch, and will take the Vice-Chancellor with him. Funding is being withdrawn, as has cooperation from other faculties. Wollongong is a Labor town with the Tories in power at State and Federal levels. and it’s major employer (BlueScope Steel) about to collapse. Martin is poison.

Can Martin face any kind of censure for this gross dereliction of duty? Can Wileyman have her doctorate withdrawn? I’m thinking of putting a petition up for the UoW to withdraw her phd.

Thank you for your contribution as discussed at the thesis take-down committee (TTDC) meeting from last week. As always please don’t publish this comment but rest assured your cheque is in the mail.

@GiJoel:

Not sure if what they’re asking for is possible, or right.

From my limited understanding, it is very difficult to revoke a Doctorate because it is so hard to obtain one in the first place, or should be. Unless there is blatant plagiarism or fraud, it is next to impossible. Even when fraud and/or plagiarism is proved, a process has to be followed. However, given the numerous demonstrable factual errors in this PhD, although difficult to do, this PhD could probably be revoked, but I’m not prepared to bet on it.

Hypothesis 1. We would push through a sub-standard thesis.

Hypothesis 2. We would take extra care to ensure that the thesis[…]

It’s funny how people, when confronted with the possibility they did a substand

I don’t know which button of my keyboard I pushed, but I submitted too early and almost twice.
I will finish my sentence and go take a nap.
Or I will pretend it was planned as self-demonstration that everybody can screw up, even with years of experience*.

It’s funny how people, when confronted with the possibility they did a substandard job, answer that they are too professional to ever do a mistake**.

*/** The parallel is assuming both mistakes to be honest ones. Now, if someone is doing a substandard job because of incompetence or ideological bias…

The intensive scrutiny of Judy’s thesis on its own does not enable a judgement of its quality, because it is necessary to benchmark against other comparable theses.

“Compared to other crap PhD theses, Wilyman’s is pretty good!”

I’m sorry, Prof. Martin, but her thesis really ought to stand or fall, first, on its own merits. If it stands on its own, then see how it measures against other comparable theses. Getting basic facts wrong is simply unacceptable in a scholarly work.

The intensive scrutiny of Judy’s thesis on its own does not enable a judgement of its quality, because it is necessary to benchmark against other comparable theses.

Given her “interesting use of stats (as Alison Campbell put it) p.40, I shudder thinking that even worse thesis could exist. And if that’s the case, having a PhD from UoW doesn’t seem anything to gloat about.

I humbly submit Hypothesis #3: Push through a substandard thesis, knowing that a defective review process won’t raise any fuss, and await one of two outcomes: it’ll slip by without notice, or if criticism does raise its ugly head, it can be dismissed as part of an “organized campaign” and used to stoke the fires of antivax martyrdom.

Speaking of which – is there any recorded instance of antivaxers responding to publication of research which they don’t like by sending queries to the author(s), rather than exploding with indignation and bile in blog posts and interviews?

John C Stone has a record of writing Rabid Responses to stuff the BMJ publish (and then claiming he’s been “published in the BMJ”).

It seems as though UofW has made it clear that they stand behind the award of Doctorate to Wileyman. That being the case, why is Brian Martin still whingeing on about this?

AVers are cowardly ***holes, pure and simple. From Wilyman and Martin, who won’t disclose the reviewer names, to Andrew Wakefield yelling at reporters during his pathetic “conspira-sea” cruise, to Jack Wolfson, the AV “paleo cardiologist” who decided late last week to show his cult how he’s lobbying against a bill in Arizona (one merely trying to make schools publicly post vaccination rates), only he couldn’t even get the bill number right and wouldn’t answer when called out on whether he actually lobbied anyone–so instead he deletes his facebook posting because he got caught. They are vile scum for their cowardice and the threats they are to the health of children and public health in general.

Orac asks,

Who were these “technical experts and external examiners of high standing” who signed off on Wilyman’s thesis?

MJD says,

Yes, they need to have skin in the game.

Quote:

A body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody.― Thomas Paine

Something about his assumptions on who believes in community participation in research and science policy just rubs me all the wrong ways.

Yes, community/stakeholder input is important as they have to live with the consequences, but that doesn’t mean that the science is only allowed if it reinforces the beliefs of the community, or worse only one minority opinion from the community.

But perhaps I’m misunderestimating that particular complaint of his.

Many opponents of the thesis and critics of the university have declared this issue is not about academic freedom but about academic standards. This claim would be more convincing if these opponents had ever made scholarly contributions about academic freedom or if they were not making self-interested judgements about their own behaviour.

Martin seems to be channeling Mayor Daley:

They have vilified me, they have crucified me; yes, they have even criticized me.

As for the thesis committee signing off on a Ph.D. thesis: Your memories of your biomedical Ph.D. match mine of a physics Ph.D. If anybody thought my thesis was substandard, they could look it up in the library and see the signatures of the committee that approved the thesis. Given the kabuki that comes with a US thesis defense (if there is any danger that the candidate will not pass, the advisor will not allow the defense to take place), that reassurance is necessary. In Sweden they use a different method: the thesis basically consists of several (typically 5 or so) peer-reviewed papers, and the normal peer review process is taken as an indication of acceptable quality (the process is similar to Australia’s in that outside readers examine the thesis, but they are explicitly not expected to rubber stamp it). If Australia generally, or Wollongong in particular, doesn’t have this kind of explicit quality control, it’s a problem.

To add to the many inconsistencies in Martin’s position that Orac already highlighted, if he believes it takes subject matter expertise to evaluate and supervise a thesis, why does he supervise a thesis that does also make claims on matters of science? Has he published in the area?

When I published a paper criticizing the standard paradigm of arithmetic in which I claimed that 2+2=5 there was an outcry. That the responses were immediate, widespread and agreed in its main points is clear evidence of an organized campaign against me and my research findings.

@rs (#22)–you can find “arguments” that 2+2=5 (http://math.stackexchange.com/questions/775273/contradiction-prove-22-5). They look convincing if you don’t understand higher level (like squares and square roots) math.

The infuriating part about Wilyman and her thesis is that we know the “experts” who reviewed her thesis are either (1) not experts and/or (2) are the duplicitous types who would try to foist (for vaccines) a “2+2=5” proof upon us. The cowardice of Martin in not disclosing these experts and hiding behind the facade of U-woo-long-gone is very apparent.

Martin’s got a neat little rhetorical trick there with those two hypotheses. He doesn’t claim he did go the extra mile to insure the quality of the thesis, or that he did send it to external reviewers “of high standing”, only that would seem more logical for him to have done so. In my experience, this gambit is a dodge as often as not.

I’m still considering Hypothesis 3:

Judy had been under attack by SAVNers for several years. Therefore, I speculated there could be a hostile response to her graduation. Since such a response would give me a platform to bleat about dissent, i engineered Judy into a thesis that would gain minimal acceptance from the reviewers I picked, and maximum hostility from the SAVN and it allies. In order to bait them into repressing Judy, it was necessary to generate a thesis that would not merely draw harsh critique to it’s substance, but actual calls for censorship, including withdrawal of the thesis and degree, calls for my dismissal, and so on.

Science Mom wonders why Martin is “still whingeing on about this?” even though UoW is standing behind him and the degree. Well, that could change, but I’m more persuaded that getting his whingeing into the public eye was the point of the whole exercise.

I suspect it comes down to the ‘straw man’ Orac identifies. I suspect Martin’s thesis all along has been: ‘opponents assume it is impossible to undertake a scholarly critique of vaccination policy, therefore, they will condemn everyone involved in the process.’ Thus, Wilyman’s thesis proves his point, to him anyway.

To be fair, I wonder if Orac’s reply to the 2 Hypotheses gambit is flipping part of the dodge back at Martin: ‘No one claims that it is impossible to undertake a scholarly critique of vaccination policy’. Not ‘impossible’ maybe, but highly improbable that any scholarly critique of vax policy would get raked over the coals to some degree? I have a hard time imagining what a dissertation that wouldn’t get this sort of ire up would look like.

I CAN imagine a scholarly critique of vax policy that would draw hellfire from sbm advocates, BUT be considered good work within generally accepted standards in the humanities. However, Wilyman’s thesis seems to be quite the opposite: faux science smuggled under a humanities rubric, with minimal cover language, and no actual humanities substance at all….

…I only have so much time/energy to follow this… Has anyone in academia outside of UoW come to Wilyman’s or Martin’s defense at all? More importantly, has any scholar in ‘science studies’ / history-of-science / philosophy-of-science etc., offered any assessment, pro or con, of the merit of Wilyman’s dis? Usually, by now, people would be taking sides.

If all you get are Academic Freedom defenses, then you know everybody thinks the thesis is garbage. That would be telling, since the humanities don’t have anything like the degree of consensus in the sciences, and a wildly varying spectrum of positions will all have their champions, if ‘done well’. If you can’t get anybody to defend you on substance, then you don’t have any. (By ‘defend on substance’, I don’t mean scholars who would agree with Wilyman’s conclusions, but just consider something like ‘valid questions raised’, supported with enough evidence and argument to make them worthy of consideration in the debate…)

I wrote previously that Brian Martin isn’t exactly wrong in some of his claims about the reaction to Wilyman. This a true of his new post as well. But others are just CT-esque hyperbole. I mean, “an orchestrated attack”? Sheesh, I’ve been hanging around skeptic-land long enough to to know organizing a campaign amongst this bunch would be like herding cats. The folks jumping on Wliyman and Martin certainly aren’t coordinating a calculated strategic assault. They’re just somewhat like-minded folks reacting mostly reflexively in somewhat similar ways when a ‘hot button’ topic floats into their field of view via the media.

Of course, Martin provides no evidence whatsoever of any orchestration, organizing or anything. Who’s the conductor of this supposed symphony? Where are the conspiratorial links? Martin can’t even muster a Glenn Beck of Mike Adams ‘connect the dots’.

I’m starting to REALLY dislike Martin, as he’s doing a really crappy job of what he claims to be doing:

The original reason I became involved in the Australian vaccination debate is that I saw SAVN’s agenda as dangerous to free speech. If adopted more widely, SAVN’s approach would stifle discussion on a range of issues.

Without going into details, there’s a way to make a valid argument here, and Martin’s taking bits of it and veering off into crapola, which is just giving the disciplines he claims to represent a black-eye, and damaging other scholars who would make some similar points (not about vax, but a more general critique of ideology), but do them well.

So it goes, I suppose. Scientists too probably suffer from their outlier cowboy lamers getting more publicity than the rank-and-file who do their work well, with high integrity and stay inside their own domain of journals, conferences, books, etc. Not that I’m against pot-stirring. It’s one thing to stir, and another to kick it so badly a boiling mess falls on good people’s heads.

LouV @13:

because it is necessary to benchmark against other comparable theses.
…I shudder thinking that even worse thesis could exist.

Don’t forget ‘The Devil Undone: The Role of Scientific. Ignorance and Politics in the Struggle to Save the Tasmanian Devil’ (J.V. Warren, UoW, 2013).

23: “you can find “arguments” that 2+2=5”

You can in fact find arguments for any nonsensical proposition you can imagine. However most are uninteresting, some require thought, while others deserve only derision (or insolence).

25: “It is well known that 2 + 2 = 5 for sufficiently large values of 2.”

Pfft! My thesis is regarding sufficiently small values of 5.

Oh good gracious.

He is actually saying (but probably won’t admit it, even to himself) that the proper way to evaluate her thesis is something like this:
* Is Wollongong a prestigious institution?
* Prestigious institutions don’t do bad things, therefore it is good.

Actually evaluating the content of her thesis doesn’t even enter into it.

The real *facepalm* moment of it is the fact that he’s basically saying he wants us to take her thesis as valid purely on the basis of the argument from authority — but the general thrust of her thesis is to tell us not to trust authority on the subject of vaccination. He seems oblivious to this contradiction.

The more he argues, the more convinced I become that he is totally incompetent.

Considering what rhwombat reports from the actual university, his new protestations that “surely our institution would NEVER be so incompetent, how can you possibly think that?” will make the situation even worse there, since he’s basically inviting people to stop looking at Wilyman and him and start looking at the university. Would they push through a substandard thesis? Well, what an interesting question he’s posing so loudly that it cannot be ignored.

Todd W:

I’m sorry, Prof. Martin, but her thesis really ought to stand or fall, first, on its own merits. If it stands on its own, then see how it measures against other comparable theses. Getting basic facts wrong is simply unacceptable in a scholarly work.

I wonder, does he think PhD theses should be graded on a bell curve?

Eric Lund:

[email protected]: It is well known that 2 + 2 = 5 for sufficiently large values of 2.

2.4 + 2.4 = 4.8, and if all those values are stored as floats but displayed as ints, it may appear on the screen as 2 + 2 = 5. This is nonsense mathematically speaking, but is a common cautionary tale in computer programming; the values you see on the screen are not necessarily accurate representations of what the computer is working with inside. Be careful when you apply rounding, and when you cast variables into other types.

@Calli Arcale, I remember that 2.4 + 2.4 example from college MANY years ago. A physics class IIRC. discussing significant digits. The computer lesson came much later but was not so clear because of the type casting.

Be careful … when you cast variables into other types.

And when you cast PERL before swine.

It is well known that 2 + 2 = 5 for sufficiently large values of 2.

A perfectly acceptable approximation for the common masses — Less so, for the purpose of aiming of missiles.

Presumably Martin is against post-publication peer review (if he even knows what it is), mobile telephony, html hyperlinks, and other advances in academic discourse.

Oooh, no, people are picking on us. And in public.

What he wants is a cover up: of the thesis, its author, the reviewers and anything else that is likely to embarrass him and the sorry institution that lets him and Judy get away with this crap.

OT but it’s late in the day etc

I just saw that one of Orac’s frequent subjects had a really outrageous hiv/ aids quack from Oz, Samir Chachua
see Frontiers Media ” Bill Maher Gives AIDS Quack Air Time to Talk about ‘Curing’ Charlie Sheen” with video

also article by Andy Towleroad with video

“…does he think PhD theses should be graded on a bell curve?”

I honestly believe that he believes with enough conviction any thesis can be acceptable for a PhD. Call it grading on earnestness.

Orac, I guess you weren’t kidding about sleep deprivation being a productivity tool. Your last several posts have been in the dead of night.

Martin has deliberately traduced the academic reputation and integrity of the University of Wollongong, and all who contribute to it, for personal notoriety. He has burned down his own house to get attention in the twilight of his career. He is wilfully poisoning the Wollongong well. Apparently the UoW Vice Chancellor and some other members of the Law & Arts Faculty have also entered into this suicide pact. Formal statements of repudiation have been organised by the Health Sciences, Medicine and Science Faculties, and student and staff picketing is currently being organised, though it will not really ramp up until the beginning of the Academic year at the end of Feb. This will end with Martin’s resignation. The question is how many will he take with him.

Martin appears to be demanding dubious “credentials” neither he nor Wilyman has, as regards academic freedom. I googled “scholarly journal on academic freedom” and found one online journal, published by the AAUP. Neither of them has been published in this journal.

That’s letting him move the goalposts from “is this thesis remotely up to the standards of a Ph.D.” to “is it okay to criticize me or my student because you aren’t impressed by her work?” But even by the odd rule book he wants to use, he isn’t qualified to say “this is an academic freedom” issue.

Since I have been a persistent and vocal critic of Wilyman, Martin and UoW since this thesis became mainstream news, I can only assume he is talking about me as one of the organised suppressors of dissent; Allow me to offer you a competing narrative Brian, one seen outside the framework of dissent suppression on which you appear to have built both career and cognition upon. The Wilyman thesis is not fit for purpose. You made it happen. UoW let it happen. You are endangering the lives of the most vulnerable members of our community to support your pet theory. These people happen to be my patients. No organised campaign here Brian, just one very, very angry doctor who still believes in right and wrong and is prepared to fight for it.

@Kristin Boyle…it took me 4 readings before I realized you weren’t addressing Brian Deer in your comment. I’d totally blocked out of memory that the man’s name is Brian Martin! (hides head in shame).

Guess the lack of sleep is catching up on me.

@Not a Troll,

posts are scheduled to go live at 3am but they can be written at other, more convenient, times 🙂

Dr Boyle,

Pleased to meet you. Wish I could be in Australia to help you out.

Alain

@Alain

Haha! Yes, of course. Coincidently, I used to deploy web content at all odd hours of the night. Even though automated, guess who got to perform online checkout right after go-live? I lost a lot of sleep in those days, and I guess I still am being that I’m usually awake to see Orac’s brand new posts.

Thanks for the info.

Don’t forget ‘The Devil Undone: The Role of Scientific. Ignorance and Politics in the Struggle to Save the Tasmanian Devil’ (J.V. Warren, UoW, 2013)

Endured 179 pages before I felt like “maybe this isn’t just GERD from the chili, maybe it’s angina and you should stop reading now.”

posts are scheduled to go live at 3am but they can be written at other, more convenient, times 🙂

True. 3AM seems to be a “sweet spot” that allows posts to appear in the morning in Europe and be there as the East Coast is waking up, while at the same time not being at a time when our readers in Australia are asleep, but rather being in the evening there. I don’t always achieve that time, though.

@ HDB
You are right, Warren’s thesis is much worse. I work both in oncology and immunology and I can tell that the advantage is for Wilyman. And nobody asked for withdrawal or resignation. So Martin has “demonstrated” what he wanted. Not really scientific, but for Humanities… Art is a matter of taste.

You are right, Warren’s thesis is much worse.

She faced the additional problem that her topic — alternative etiologies of facial cancer in tasmanian devils — doesn’t fit so well into a narrative of Mainstream Science versus Paradigm-Shifting Heresy. It was hard to write a sociology of “Mechanisms by which Science Suppresses Threats”, partly because
(1) if there is a Paradigm-Shifting Heresy in the facial-cancer issue, it is the “transmissible cancer” theory which Warren is opposing; and
(2) no-one is fighting against Warren’s own preferred theory of “carcinogenic pesticide”, they’re just ignoring it, because of the evidence.

So Warren couldn’t pretend to present a disinterested sociological analysis of a debate, she had to stoop to the level of *evidence* and make a case that “transmissible cancer is wrong” and “carcinogenic pesticide is right. But to do that, she had to be wilfully ignorant of facts. Factually challenged, to use parliamentary terms.

Thus her thesis became more obviously stupid.

Vicki @38

I have to say I’m not quite sure where Martin gets off demanding certain “academic credentials” of critics: I have a BSc and a nursing qualification and a counselling qualification, the first of which especially, and the other 2 to a lesser extent, gave me a thorough grounding in reading scientific papers and assessing if they are any good. I don’t need a doctorate to do that…

Wilyman’s thesis (well as much of it as I could bear to read before I started screaming at the screen) is utter pish, and I have read some appalling medical, psychotherapy and psychology papers over the years…As well as being very badly written.

Isn’t his demand for credentials essentailly a thinly-veiled appeal to authority-fallacy? I mean, not really but sort of the opposite: instead of using someone else’s authority to strengthen your position, you are using the lack of authority of someone else in an attempt to weaken their’s.

@ HDB
In addition, Wilyman is much closer to experimental science. As a referee, she would be the one asking for a randomized trial with 10 000 children in each arm (vaccinated or not) and a follow up of 50 years before accepting the manuscript. A “skeptic” like we unfortunately encounter so often in science.
For Warren, additional evidence would be meaningless.
Thus, as it is both scientifically weaker and closer to orthodoxy, Warren’s thesis is the perfect control in Martin’s argumentation.

I felt compelled to look up Brian Martin’s CV which was interesting. Seems that he started out in physics before moving to the Humanities and yet the subsample of his publications that I looked at only seemed to debate the sociology and frames of scientific dissent without any evaluation of whether the science is sound. I guess on that basis the PhD probably was valid but it seems a strange approach to me. Surely there is value in knowing whether objections to technologies are reasonable and fact-based?

Anyway, if anyone else wants to peruse it his publication list with links to articles is here: http://www.bmartin.cc/pubs/controversy.html

There’s a particularly woolly piece on vaccination but then it was published in the journal of the AVN http://www.bmartin.cc/pubs/11LivingWisdom.html

“Isn’t his demand for credentials essentially a thinly-veiled appeal to authority-fallacy?”

Of course it is – as well as a way of trying to shut up intelligent people with critical thinking capacity who don’t have doctorates.

Wooists commonly pose this interesting duality – on the one hand expert consensus can be freely ignored since mommy anecdotes are far more compelling. On the other hand, conjure up a handul of “experts” with letters after their name (Suzanne Humphries, Tetyana Obukhanych etc.) and their nonsense is unassailable.

*Loon Update: the intrepid “citizen journalists” at NaturalNews are busy blaming the release of genetically modified mosquitoes for the Zika virus outbreak, and also suggesting vaccines are the cause of increased microcephaly among Brazilian infants. I’m just surprised they haven’t yet pointed the finger at antidepressants.

Ooooh pray do tell: what for were these mosquitoes altered according to Natural News? Bio-Organic Weaponry that have escaped their handlers á la Resident Evil?

@ “Wooists commonly pose this interesting duality-..” says the Dangerous One.

Certainly.
Amongst the loons I survey, this tendency is demonstrated by a nearly simultaneous presentation of Brave Mavericks Boldly Opposing the Man ™ with citations of various credentials ( Herbert of HARVARD, Seneff of MIT, Duesberg of BERKELEY etc). One of the funniest I’ve heard was citing the BMJ about some vitamin/ food woo or suchlike after previously excoriating its esteemed editor frequently because she described AJW and his work accurately.

Similarly, Mikey Adams parades his “science degree”** from a “major university in the Midwest” ( unnamed, but I assume Kansas) whilst constantly berating the corrupt system inherent in universities, research, media, government and just about everything else except for his cherished projects.

There’s lots more.

-btw- it appears that Mercola has his own magazine available in so-called healthy grocery stores.

** in writing- although his writing is rather abysmal even if you discount the woo, lies and grandstanding idiocy.

Amethyst,

Nothing so exciting*. The GM mosquitoes were released to help control dengue fever. Also, this rumor didn’t originate at NaturalNews but from a commentor on a Reddit conspiracy thread.

*Resident Evil 4 – the best video game of its time.

“Isn’t his demand for credentials essentially a thinly-veiled appeal to authority-fallacy?”
Of course it is – as well as a way of trying to shut up intelligent people with critical thinking capacity who don’t have doctorates.

It’s more narrow than that; Martin insists that people have a history of researching and publishing in the sociology of academic freedom as the subject of inquiry, for their criticisms to have any validity. Not just “philosophy of science” or anything so accessible.

Coincidentally, the only person specialising in “academic freedom” as a topic of inquiry turns out to be one Dr Greg Martin.

@Ametyst
As a followup to Not a Troll
http://www.oxitec.com

Reddit or NaturalNew probably got the idea as the head of Oxitec has suggested using their GM mossies as a method of local control for the Zika carrying mosquitoes. I heard a CBC interview with him two or three days ago.

Isn’t his demand for credentials essentially a thinly-veiled appeal to authority-fallacy?

More precisely, I’d categorize it as a version of the Courtier’s Reply: you’re not qualified to call me out on my bullsh!t unless you have a pHD in bullsh!tery.

What gets me is that he’s using an appeal to authority to defend a piece that challenges authority. And is totally oblivious to the irony.

DW @56

Similarly, Mikey Adams parades his “science degree”** from a “major university in the Midwest”

Does he have a girlfriend in Canada as well?

My, now retired, father was a career university academic in the bio medical sciences. He has a bachelor degree, a masters degree and a PhD. He supervised many a PhD candidate in his time – later in his career he became involved in industrial relations and was an elected representative in the australian university teachers union.

He was completely unaware of this current fiasco until I asked him if he had ever had anything to do with Brian Martin over the years- his response was: “Brian Martin ? University of Wollongong? He hasn’t met a conspiracy theory yet that he hasn’t liked.”

Nuff said I think .

“Hypothesis 2. We would take extra care to ensure that the thesis was of requisite quality and that all university processes were followed carefully. This would include sending the thesis to technical experts and choosing external examiners of high standing.”

hahahahaha
But seriously, really? It doesn’t match the ‘requisite quality’ of any of the theses I’ve seen. And I’d really really like to know just who the “external examiners of high standing” were.

“None of her critics has attempted a similarly intensive scrutiny of any other thesis, much less a set of theses large enough to enable a fair assessment of her work. Experienced examiners have assessed many theses, as supervisors and/or examiners, and are well placed to make the required judgements about quality. This is in stark contrast to outside critics, many of whom lack any experience of thesis supervision or examination.”

Not me, sorry. As our esteemed host has said, a fair number of those critiquing this thesis, including some of my colleagues over at sciblogs.co.nz, have goodly experience in supervising &/or examining theses. Methinks Prof Martin doth protest too much.

BM: “It is apparent that academics and universities need to do more to explain what they do.. ”

XX: “So will you tell us who assessed this paper?”

BM: “No”.

__________

“It’s psychotic! People keep coming up with new ways to celebrate mediocrity,…” [Bob Parr (Mr Incredible)]

There is an update in this case. Apparently the investigation is completed and the committee found some indication of academic misconduct – but nothing was ever done about it.

Also too:
Professor Alison Campbell, an associate dean and biological sciences lecturer at the University of Waikato, produced a blistering analysis criticising the use of out-of-date references as well as pointing out numerous scientific errors in Wilyman’s master’s work, including calling the unexplained exclusion of two of four types of vaccine components “an alarming omission for a paper on immunisation”.[22]

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