Anti-vaxer denied visa to Australia because his message is “dangerous”

August 31, 2017 • 12:00 pm

One could, I suppose, make a case that an anti-vaxer speaking in public is more dangerous than a Nazi or white supremacist speaking in public. After all, it’s clear that anti-vaxers have been able to persuade even reasonably intelligent people to stop vaccinating their kids, whereas someone of that ilk hearing a Nazi wouldn’t become another Nazi.  And the danger of antivaxxers accrues not just to those who are converted, but to other kids as well because of the threshold phenomenon of “herd immunity.”

But even though I’d be much more likely to protest an anti-vaxer speaker than a Nazi speaker, I don’t think either should be censored or banned from speaking. After all, anti-vaxers do publish their stuff, where I suspect most people drink that Kool-Aid, and we need the opportunity for counter-speech and protest, which you can get only when someone like this speaks. And in the U.S. it’s not a violation of freedom of speech to talk about the bogus dangers of vaccination. If we ban anti-vaxers, shouldn’t we also ban homeopaths or chiropractors, who themselves could do (and have done) serious damage.

But in Australia it seems to be okay to censor someone like this. Or so reports the Sunshine Coast Daily, which reports that Kent Heckenlively, a prominent American anti-vaxer (see his books here, and Orac’s takedowns here), has been denied a visa to give a lecture tour of Australia:

THE self-prescribed “world’s number one anti-vaxxer”, Kent Heckenlively, has been denied permission to enter Australia.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said Mr Heckenlively would not be able to come to Australia for a planned lecture in December.

“Kent has not got any travel plans to Australia because we are not going to allow him to come here, we are not going to issue a visa for this particular individual,” Mr Dutton told Sydney radio station 2GB.

“These people who are telling parents their kids shouldn’t be vaccinated are dangerous people and we have been very clear in having a look right through this particular case and it is clear to me that it is not in our national interest that he should come here.”

The Turnbull government was under pressure from Labor to stop the American science teacher from coming to Australia.

Labor wrote to immigration minister Peter Dutton earlier this month demanding a travel ban on Mr Heckenlively after it was revealed his department had the anti-vaxxer under watch.

Mr Heckenlively was planning a lecture tour of Australia in December to spread his dangerous and incorrect message that vaccines are bad.

As part of his “Dangerous Science” tour he was planning to call for a five-year moratorium on childhood vaccinations.

Here’s the reason (I can’t access the letter referenced):

“Labor is alarmed that Mr Heckenlively may be allowed to promote this dangerous nonsense in Australia,” Ms King said in the letter obtained exclusively by News Corp Australia.

“While our immunisation program has historically been effective, there is growing evidence that anti-vaccination advocates and their political allies like Pauline Hanson are now undermining our success – as shown by the doubling of measles cases between 2013 and 2014.

“I write to urge you to deny entry to Australia to the dangerous anti-vaccination zealot Kent Heckenlively.”

And it worked.  But just as I urge free speech for Nazis, even if they’re promoting mass extermination of Jews, so I urge free speech for anti-vaxers, as well as homeopaths, naturopaths, chiropractors, crystal healers, and other quacks whose nostrums are either ineffective or dangerous.  Without the freedom to combat these ideas, they go underground and remain largely unopposed. Of course Heckenlively’s speech poses possible dangers, but it can also open a dialogue about how dangerous vaccinations are (answer: they’re not). I think it’s a bad move to ban the guy from Australia, and I wonder if they’ll ban other speakers who say things about health that, if followed, pose dangers.

Do you agree with the government, realizing that this is banning speech? And if so, would you prefer to see Heckenlively banned over a Nazi?

Kent Heckenlively

h/t: Steve C.

93 thoughts on “Anti-vaxer denied visa to Australia because his message is “dangerous”

  1. I would not ban his visa nor his talk, but the government should officially condemn anti-vax propaganda.

    Even if one is a racist, KKK antics are an embarassment because everyone knows overt racism is callous. But there are many nursery going moms who still think anti-vax is reasonable and this is tangibly more dangerous than any kind of hate speech.

      1. Hearing or listening to anti-vax propaganda is not dangerous. Eliminating vaccinations from a child’s life can be a serious risk and mothers and fathers who do not vaccinate their children should be educated. And if they choose to be inflexible they should be admonished.

  2. I’m not sure I really care or consider this solely a free speech issue.

    Immigration (I understand it’s just a tour) is something that is almost entirely separate from freedom of speech and as far as I’m concerned, the country’s government can bar whoever they want for whatever reason they want. At least the anti-vaxxer message is tangible risk and therefore denying their visa imo is wholly justified but up to the discretion of the government.

    If I’m not mistaken, in the US the executive branch has full say over who gets in or not, and I’m not sure it even matters what their reason is…

        1. Would you feel the same about someone who was prevented from entering because of speech you approve of — let’s say, if a speaker were banned due to his or her religious views from entering to attend an atheists’ conference?

          1. Conferences are not at all similar to immigration, but even conferences have control over who is invited to speak or not..

            My main problems comes with people 1) misrepresenting someone’s beliefs in order to disbar them or 2) disinviting people (after things are set up), especially as the result of 1).

            If it turns out that some conferences are bigoted then don’t support them, and spread the word that they are bigoted and how they are bigoted. I don’t see the problem with this hypothetical

          2. My question wasn’t about conferences per se, but about a country refusing to admit a foreigner so he can participate in such a conference (as Australia is banning Heckenlively from entering to participate in the “Dangerous Science” tour).

          3. I personally have no issue with a country refusing access to anyone for any reason. Now, I’d prefer people weren’t barred for things that didn’t have tangible risk, but I do believe anti-vaxxers provide tangible risk.

          4. I think religious / ideological beliefs are a different category. The antivaxx issue is about specific verifiable “facts about the world” and it is clear as can be what the facts are.

            I’m not sure what I think the best position on this issue is, just opining that I don’t think your examples are similar enough to assume they are equivalent ethical problems.

          5. I understand the distinction you’re drawing (although I’m not sure how easily it’s applied, or how well it would hold up in practice). But if the executive branch has absolute discretion in this field (as Travis asserts), then your distinction doesn’t matter, does it?

          6. Every resolved fact of the world has never proven anything about religion. Granted there are no facts that refute religion, but there are no facts that support religion. And religion, like anti-vax, supports wildly irrational and unsafe practices in the real world.

            On the measure of functional poisoning of society, religion has done a great deal more harm to people’s lives than the anti-vax movement. And religion’s power is greater because it is immune from refutation, unlike anti-vax.

          7. “And religion’s power is greater because it is immune from refutation, unlike anti-vax.”

            That was sort of my point. Anti-vax isn’t like religion. Anti-vax is a specific claim of fact that has been demonstrated by much evidence to be wrong. It is not the same category of thing as religion.

          8. I agree – I actually think the govt was right to ban this speaker from visiting – we have actual evidence that vaccinations for measles are declining. In parts of Europe there have been major outbreaks of measles because of this sort of thing. This is not a political debate kind of issue that doesnt affect the quality of our political fabric. This is fact that violence is being done and that there is actually overwhelming scientific evidence that it is wrong. The fact is this mans entry to australia would have been likely to encourage further the anti vax attitude by fringe groups on both sides of politics whether religious fundamentalist or anti technology fanatics in parts of the left and the attitude is spreading to people who are just generally disenchanted with the current state of things. Sometimes publicity just does trump measured debate – quite a few people are not easily plugged into the scientific mindset which in right circumstances they dump and this is just too dangerous to play with with whats at stake. The man is after all is not from Australia and proposes to visit for a publicity tour. His views are available for those who look for them. He should just not be able to do a great big publicity tour of them

        2. Sorry. I misunderstood what you wrote. Everyone who like you is writing about the difference between a citizen and someone from outside has a good point.

      1. The US government gives also plenty of refusals to people who just want to visit, with no explanation provided. (Usually, a person is refused permission to enter if the authorities fear he might stay.)

    1. In the US, the executive branch has broad discretion when it comes to admitting foreigners into the country, but that discretion cannot be exercised in a manner that offends the First Amendment. That’s what the litigation over Trump’s Muslim ban is all about.

    2. Under Teddy Roosevelt polygamists as well as those supporting polygamy (ie. basically all Muslims) were barred from entering the USA…..
      Maybe some European countries should heed that example? It is difficult to remain tolerant when tolerance is exploited as a weakness.

  3. I do not agree with the government though, to be honest, if I was forced to choose I would ban Heckenlively before a Nazi only because his nonsense could have immediate and deadly consequences.

  4. I’m …hesitantly… on the side of the Australian government with this. If someone is asking to enter your country to do something that will clearly and inevitably endanger the lives of children, I think the guy can stay home instead.

    1. I agree.

      Note that if the guy had e.g a conviction for smoking marijuana he probably wouldn’t get a visa either. Now which is more dangerous?


  5. I think there is a difference between a government not letting someone visit their country and preventing someone who is already there from speaking. The US is no exception to this policy. The consular officer has absolute discretion and can deny your visa application because he/she thought you looked at him funny. Look at the questions on the visa application (DS-160):

    Note if you are entering the US on a visa waiver, the ICE officer has absolute power over whether or not to admit you.

    1. Agree, as you note these things are pretty broad

      Security and Background, Pt.1
      “Do you have a mental or physical disorder that poses or is likely to pose a threat to the safety or welfare of yourself or others”

      That should cover antivaxers 🙂

      They also want to know if you are a Taliban member (which may indicate redundancy in the questions)

      The US used to, and probably still does, ask if you are or were a communist or a member of the Nazi party. So they can get you any way they want.

  6. I agree free speech protections should be extended to all citizens, even to those espousing odious ideas. I think the question here is whether that right should be extended to foreigners seeking entry as well.

    1. I don’t know about Australia, but in the US constitutional protections extend to all persons in the country, even those here illegally. On occasion, they extend to those out of the country (Guantanamo, for instance.)

      1. So they should, since the inmates at Guantanamo didn’t choose to be there and were prisoners of the US.

        But that’s a different issue from persons seeking to visit the country (which of course the Guantanamo inmates were not).


  7. I can’t think of anything more vile than a person going around trying to make children ill or dead. In a sense, this sorry excuse for a human being is advocating extreme violence, which is forbidden under any reasonable policy. I’d like to see the UN put him on a small leaky boat in the middle of the ocean and make an agreement between all nations not to allow him on any nation’s soil.

    1. They aren’t “trying” to make children ill or dead. That’s a byproduct of their beliefs and behaviors (most of which are misinformed and some of which are just so ideologically opposed to it for other reasons) but I don’t think it’s fair to paint anti-vaxxers as wanting children ill or dead.

      1. “I don’t think it’s fair to paint anti-vaxxers as wanting children ill or dead.”

        Wow! That’s an understatement if I ever heard one. It’s totally unfair. Overall, anti-vaxxers are acting out of a desire to keep their children healthy, and they believe avoiding vaccines is one way to do this. They need to be educated, not demonized.

        1. I have trouble believing they are all just ignorant of the facts. It seems to me there’s a good chance many of the promoters are more interested in selling their books and building their brand. How could they hold the opinions they do while looking at the data on the effectiveness of immunization over the years? They’d have to be idiots, not just ignorant. They must have been instructed in the research many times, but to no avail. No, I think for many of these people it’s simply a career choice. They are sociopaths building an income stream. The illness and death of children is not something they worry about.

          1. “They are sociopaths building an income stream. The illness and death of children is not something they worry about.”

            I’ve developed a good deal of respect for this site and for the intelligence of the people who post here, but that’s got to be one of the most ignorant statements I’ve ever come across. I can only hope someone else responds to it, because I’m speechless.

          2. So, you think they can only be unread? It would be very hard not to be aware of the fact that Polio is no longer something we worry our children will risk getting every summer. Smallpox was completely eradicated, Malaria is now isolated. Yellow fever is on the ropes. Measles, mumps, rubella, are targeted for extinction. Annual flu outbreaks are much reduced due to immunization(I already got my shot this year). Nasties like swine flu are held in check. This knowledge is not being hidden from the public. Ignorance, it seems to me is hard to believe. Something very ugly is perpetuating the myths these frauds spread. What do you think it is? Or are you speechless?

          3. “Something very ugly is perpetuating the myths these frauds spread. What do you think it is? Or are you speechless?”

            First off, I never said anti-vaxxers were ignorant of the facts; you did. As you say, they’d have to be idiots not to know the scientific concensus, and, for the most part, I don’t think they’re either ignorant or stupid. Typical anti-vaxxers are wealthy, upper-class, mostly white, highly educated people who share a deep distrust of government, the medical establishment, and Big Pharma, all of which they perceive to be manipulating science for financial or political ends, and all of which—let’s face it—are eminently worthy of mistrust. They are part of a cultural trend that reinforces shared values and opinions largely through social networks. In some cases—as often happens with people who adopt a cause—they are parents reacting emotionally to a personal tragedy involving a child of their own; they need someone to blame.

            Have you ever met an anti-vaxxer? I have, and in almost all cases, their motive has to do with genuine concern for their children’s health, which, however misdirected it might be, is not what I would categorize as “something very ugly.” They may be selfish, but the notion that “money stream” is a motivating factor on the side of the anti-vaxxers rather than of Big Pharma is ludicrous.

            To educate such people, we need to understand where they’re coming from and how they think. Throwing data at them is clearly not working, and calling them “psycopaths” is hardly productive. They’ve heard the facts; they just don’t trust the source.

            Just my two cents, now that I have my speech back.

          4. That all makes sense. My concern above is with the leaders and promoters rather than those victims who get taken in by the propaganda. I agree that the task is to detach these people from their delusions, but any real success in doing so will only be undercut by the promoters who will continue to recruit new victims.

            I’m thinking about Andrew Wakefield, Jenny McCarthy and others on the lecture circuit and book tours taking advantage of the suffering of others. The talk show hosts who invite them to hawk their books on TV. What’s Wakefield’s excuse for continuing to push a connection between MMR and autism for decades even after many studies refuting his initial speculations. I simply cannot muster any sympathy at all for the likes of him.


          5. “My concern above is with the leaders and promoters rather than those victims who get taken in by the propaganda.”

            To blame the increase in anti-vaxxers on the “promoters” is not unlike blaming autism on vaccinations—the fact that the two happen sequentially doesn’t mean that there’s a causal connection. I think it’s part of a much broader “cultural trend” toward mistrusting experts of any kind, coupled with a jaded view of the institutions I mentioned. But I understand your concern.

  8. We recently had a US anti-vaxxer touring NZ and there was some evidence of people listening to him. Many people were very concerned about the effect of letting him speak, even though they recognized his right to speak freely.

    It may be that this had some affect on the decision in Australia. We often watch each other in such matters.

    I would be more inclined to ban an anti-vaxxer than a Nazi. Nazis hurt feelings. Anti-vaxxers talk results in severe injury or death, and not just for those they persuade. Those that don’t vaccinate also put herd immunity at risk.

  9. It’s not as if by keeping him out, they are keeping his ideas out. If anything, they are now experiencing the Streisand Effect, and drawing more attention to them. And even if they were keeping his ideas out, is that for the government to decide? He’s not inciting violence, and, while his ideas are dangerous, are they any more dangerous than all the other pseudo-science nonsense that Australia has undoubtedly already been exposed to? This is a good reminder, though, that not all democracies are the same, and the members of the Commonwealth do not enjoy the same freedom of speech protections as Americans do.

    1. “It’s not as if by keeping him out, they are keeping his ideas out.”

      Exactly. In the Internet age it’s very difficult to keep ideas out. And by making a case out of it the banners are only drawing more attention to it.

      For the quadrillionth time, the answer to bad speech is good speech. In this case, the answer to fraudulent info is not suppression, it is science.

      1. I disagree. As a practical matter the impact of a well-publicised tour by a sponsored rabble-rouser is likely to be considerably more locally than any number of Internet posts.

        It’s not a matter of the ban-ners drawing attention to it, the sponsoring group would likely make sure they drew at least as much and probably more attention to it by any means possible.


        1. But IRL you can also have significant counter-demonstrators getting the other side of the issue out there. Online you can cocoon yourself in only the websites you agree with.

          In the antivaxxer case–the Australian government could appreciate the threat that the spread of such misinformation represents and do a lot to counter it via education, legislation, etc.

          1. It could. But what legislation? – compulsory vaccination? How is that better from a ‘free choice’ point of view?

            And what you’re suggesting could also cost a lot of money – money which would be better spent on supplying health services than arguing the toss.

            And as I’m sure you know, the ‘antis’ are usually far more motivated than the ‘pros’ on any issue. How many kids would have to die from measles before public opinion got sufficiently aroused to demand, say, compulsory vaccination for everybody? (because these issues invariably lurch from one side to the other).

            So in practical terms I absolutely agree with banning the bugger. Even though I am in principle opposed to the arbitrary exercise of authority over people, but since – in the case of visitors visas – it universally exists and isn’t going away, it might as well be used for a good objective.


  10. I’m not sure that a Visa denial even requires a reason and anything can be used for an excuse. Under Trump rule you can deny entry for all kinds of reasons, including being a foreigner.

    Although the real reason for denial is going to be to avoid this guy going there and spreading his harmful ideas I don’t think visas and the first amendment ever go together in court.

    1. Visas and the First Amendment (albeit the religion clauses) crossed paths with regard to Trump’s Muslim travel ban. The ban’s violation of the First Amendment served as the primary basis for the courts’ staying the ban’s enforcement.

      1. The ban might fail for those with green cards etc, for whom the ban represents an interruption or denial of due process. It will survive more broadly for people for whom that is not an issue.

        1. That could be the way it shakes out. Of course, there’s a vast difference between saying something is constitutional and saying it constitutes sensible public policy.

          In any event, Trump is making no friends among the federal judiciary: calling the Chief Justice a “disaster” during the campaign, saying judge Curiel was unfit to sit on his case because he’s Mexican, calling anyone who’s ruled against him on the travel ban a “so-called judge,” threatening to “break-up” the Ninth Circuit (as though he’s baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis and they’re the 1919 Blacksox).

          Federal judges won’t rule against Trump just because they hate him, but Trump better hope he never needs a discretionary call from the federal courts to help him hang onto his office.

          1. Ken, I was only referring to the free speech part of the first Amendment because that is what this posting is about. There is nothing in it regarding Religious Freedom. The post talks about Nazi’s and free speech next to this Anti Vax-vaxer.

    2. Entries were denied to foreigners for all kind of reasons, and actually without any cited reasons before none needs to be cited, long before Trump. I am amazed that this fact seems unknown. Trump just suggested this to become standard practice toward a group known to be problematic, instead of being just quietly leveled upon nice people from all groups.

    1. This is an interesting point, and one with increasing relevance in today’s digital world.

      I do feel that a country should have the right to admit or deny non-citizens at their discretion, within reason. I’m reminded of the Canadian government denying entry to Westboro Baptist church members (American citizens!) who were crossing the border explicitly to sling their slime at a funeral in Manitoba a few years ago. This is certainly an abridgement of free speech, but I agree with the government’s actions.

      As long as we live in a world with nation-states, I think a nation’s first responsibility is towards its citizens. Protecting offensive, “hate” speech coming from citizens is critical, but why should a country grant access to non-citizens to promulgate the same? In the Westboro Baptist case, this was the explicit goal.

      I also think that the case of Heckenlively is a bit different in that I view it more as a public health issue, rather than a free speech one. Allowing a noncitizen access to a country for the purpose of compromising their public health seems foolish to me.

      1. Would the same principle allow the government to deny a visa to Richard Dawkins to attend an atheist conference, on the ground that he engages in “hate” speech against religion, or that his speech could endanger the local citizens’ immortal souls?

        There’s a distinction there that’s meaningful to you and me, no doubt, but is it viable as a legal standard?

        1. In principle, I think I would say yes, a government should reserve that right. Of course, we wouldn’t expect a liberal democratic nation to bar Dawkins (for sake of argument), as we should expect and demand that our governments be able to distinguish between critical speech and pure vitriol, as with the Westboro Baptists. Context matters here too. If the Westboro Baptists were coming to Canada to attend some religious function, then they should be allowed in. But their explicitly claimed purpose of travel was to picket the funeral in their now trademark style.

          Undoubtedly, it’s a very grey area. I’m not sure I could write down an explicit formula for when someone should be granted a visa and when not. Citizens need to hold their governments accountable too. If they are barring people from entry due to liberally unacceptable reasons, then that should be called out.

          1. It is not a grey area, it is a dangerous area. Letting the government decide what is critical speech and what is vitriol is an invitation to suppression. Can’t you see that Trump thinks criticism of him is vitriol? Do you think Canada is somehow exempt from such dangers? If so, the US is not the only country under the illusion of exceptionalism.

          2. I can certainly see what you’re saying. But I don’t think that non-citizens should automatically assume that they are entitled to be treated like citizens.

            When it comes to protecting freedom of expression in a country for its own citizens, then I am pretty much an absolutist. There shouldn’t be any restrictions. But I don’t think it is necessary that a country admit a non-citizen into its borders when their express and only purpose is to stir up discontent. Every case is different, so this should not be construed as some proposition to bar “hate speakers”. That’s not what I’m saying.

            In the case of the Westboro Baptists, the context was clear: there was no other goal than to picket a funeral. That is reasonable grounds to deny entry in my opinion. In the context of Heckenlively, I already said that I think it is more an issue of public health rather than free expression, and so I agree with the Australian government’s decision to not grant him entry. If the Westboro Baptists were Canadian, or if Heckenlively was Australian, then I would not support the decisions. I’m not willing to make any broader claims than that.

          3. An extreme example of a case of foreign involvement(meddling) would be during war or even a cold war. It would be unwise to provide support for enemy propagandists under the free-speech premise.

  11. Similar to the way that vaccinations strengthen the body’s immune response, fringe science types help science avoid complacency and authoritarianism.

  12. I haven’t come across it specifically in print, but I imagine that Kent Heckenlively was banned from ever receiving a working visa to visit Australia.

    If he was planning on speaking at anti-vaxxer conferences and being paid speaking fees (or having his travel costs covered, even partially), then he needs a working visa, not a tourist visa.

    Someone coming to Australia on a tourist visa, and then working, is breaking the law (not that there’s much chance of being caught if they’re sufficiently low profile).

    David Irving, holocaust denier, was banned from entering Australia for similar reasons and was refused a working visa.

    In Australia, we have a minor party One Nation led by Pauline (‘burqa’) Hanson, who controls 4 senate votes in the Senate, which the government desperately needs.

    One Nation has pretty fringe ideas, including AGW denial and anti-vaxxer views. I imagine if it ever gets into the head of Pauline Hanson to ever ask for yet another quid pro quo for agreeing to support government legislation in the Senate, Peter Dutton will somehow have a rethink and decide that Kent Heckenlively is really a splendid fellow and deserving of a visa.

    1. I have the impression that One Nation is pretty much “White nation and f*ck minorities”, but that could be wrong?


  13. The danger here is the planting of doubt which if he is an effective speaker is fairly easy to do. Q and A isn’t effective because you can’t argue against an hour long speech with a short question which the speaker has heard before and has a prepared answer. I doubt that Australia has to import bad science as they probably have plenty of domestic suppliers. I would ban him as his visit is much more likely to harm government policies than to improve them and he isn’t necessary to be present for his positions to be heard.

  14. As a non-Ozzie he has no *right* to be admitted to Oz. I’d let him in, because I think banning him just gives him a megaphone and in some quarters credibility.

    1. From 12k miles away…yes to this. What’s he going to be doing, anyway? If he sounds off in any public forum, I would expect the good sense of the Oz people and media to nail his nonsense the moment it comes out of his mouth. C’mon chaps: if you can’t stand up to and refute this charlatan, what are you going to do when the Pope visits?

      Having said that, I would be reluctant to let someone called Heckenlively a passport, let alone an entry visa.

      1. “the good sense of the Oz people and media”

        You are really serious, are you?

        (In saying that, I am *not* slagging off Aussies, you could substitute any other ethnicity for ‘Oz’ or just delete it and my comment would be exactly the same.)


    2. But you can’t win wrt credibility.
      If he’s allowed in, some people will take that as a sign of government endorsement.

  15. In this case, I’m going to side with the visa deniers. There are more than enough (one is too fucking many!) anti-vaxers in Oz already. Let them spew their nonsense. No need to import more of their ilk.

  16. I agree with everything Jerry says here. But far more insidious than denying anti-vaxers a public podium is the systematic squelching of scientific studies on the grounds that they might give comfort or fuel to anti-vaxers. I saw more than a few examples of this during the 20 years that I was a scientific editor at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland, OR. Most of them involved studies funded by the CDC, for which—unlike those funded by, say, pharmaceutical companies—the CDC retained veto power over what findings would ever see the light of day.

    This is understandable given that the CDC’s mission is to protect public health: the overwhelming evidence is that vaccination is beneficial rather harmful for the great majority of children. This is simple scientific fact, acknowledged as such even by many “anti-vaxers.” But it is no excuse for suppressing or discrediting studies that find contrary results for small cohorts of children,* nor is it any consolation to the parents of such children. No children should be considered collateral damage as a means to insuring the health of other children, regardless of the statistical spread.

    This is more than a question of free speech; it goes to the heart of scientific integrity. I have enough trust in science and scientists to believe that the trend I’m talking about will self-correct. But in the meantime, we need to be vigilant about not sacrificing the health of individual children on the altar of sound public policy, however well-intentioned.


    1. Of course, children are and should be considered collateral damage. My elder son was given an older generation polio vaccine that was known to cause paralysis in a small proportion of vaccinated children. Even today, BCG vaccine that can kill infants with cell-mediated immunity deficiency is used in my country. It is about balance of risks.

      I of course should not judge the linked study without reading the actual text, but from what I read in your link, it is pure junk. Vaccines causing or triggering anorexia, OCD, ADHD? And that guy recalling the trauma caused by injecting a needle into his arm? Give me a break! Studies revealing adverse effects of vaccines should be published, but only if they are of sifficiently good quality. We still cannot recover from the Lancet’s decision to publish Wakefield’s junk.

  17. When Little Timmy went to school
    And mastered one to nine,
    He thought the other kids were cool,
    And every class divine.
    He painted shapes in red and blue,
    And drew in curves and bends –
    And by the time the day was through,
    He’d made a hundred friends!
    ‘I’m pals with Pete, and Mike, and Max!’
    He told his pa with pride.
    But Timmy’s folks were anti-vax.
    And Timmy fucking died.

  18. The biggest problem here is that the Minister gets to decide. In this case the minister responsible is the odious Peter Dutton (who also happens to be my local federal member of parliament), given half a chance he’d ban all sorts of people, especially those on the left, from coming to give talks.

    There’s a ‘thin end of the wedge’ argument to be made here. I don’t think that one man should have the power to say who can and cannot come into our country.

  19. This is absurd. I’m not surprised Australia did it — simply because I know what they do with speech over there — but it’s alarming all the same. Next, will they ban websites with this message? What about other messages the government deems a danger to the public? How far can one take this?

    That’s always the problem: the very slippery slope of banning speech. Yes, anti-vaxxer speech can indeed be tangibly dangerous to people’s health, but people are now making arguments that certain merely offensive speech is dangerous to people’s mental health. And can this be extended to philosophies and ideologies that have, in the past, led to revolts? Because nearly every one has led to violence at some point in some society.

    1. I comprehend your argument but every country (US included) is already on a slippery slope. As soon as you ban *any* form of expression, no matter how patently offensive or dangerous (e.g. kiddie porn, or incitement to riot) you’re drawing a line somewhere and there is judgement required over where on the slope the line should be.

      Also, of course, visa entry is a different region from domestic free speech, countries reserve the right to refuse visa entry for any reason (and they may not even state what those reasons are). This happens all the time.


  20. First, no one has a right to a visa and I think anti-vaxers fall closer to active promotion of violence than simple free speech. If it only affected their ignorant converts, I would agree that he should be allowed to speak. In practice, it causes outbreaks that affect other innocent people. The most recent case in the US is the outbreak of measles in the Somali community in Minneapolis, MN. These people were successfully targeted for conversion by anti-vaxers. You don’t have to admit people to your country who will cause more sickness and death and anti-vaxers do just that. Rational argument about vaccination doesn’t dissuade some of the ignorant. Save the arguments for citizen anti-vaxers who have the right to free speech.

  21. I think that there should be laws to enable prosecution of people who deliberately lie or mislead, in the same way that company directors get prosecuted for misleading shareholders etc on the state of the company’s financial “health”. This would apply especially to people in positions of influence who conduct speaking tours, and politicians, for example those who knowingly used fraudulent statistics to mislead the public about Brexit (red bus NHS claim: I’m looking at you!), Trump campaigners etc.

    1. Agreed, if you can prove it. Though the bar would need to be set quite high to avoid the appearance of political suppression of ‘free speech’.

      The thing is, speech can have consequences for third parties. Free speech is predicated on the idea that the audience can rationally assess the credibility of what they are told and make rational decisions weighing all factors.

      And then elect Trump. Umm.


      1. “Free speech is predicated on the idea that the audience can rationally assess the credibility of what they are told and make rational decisions weighing all factors.”

        I’m not so sure about this—i.e., I don’t think that rationality is at the core of free speech protection. It seems to me that free speech is premised not on faith in the power of reason, but faith in the power of the truth. There’s a difference. Both Milton and Mill argue that protecting speech, even speech in error, is necessary to the eventual ascertainment of the truth through conflict of viewpoints in the marketplace. They were aware, however, that conflict of viewpoints in the marketplace involves, among other things, emotions, extenuating circumstances, and conflicting values (e.g., mercy vs justice) as much as rational arguments. I would go so far as to say that inherent in this view is a certain skepticism about our ability to arrive at truth by reason alone.

        1. But the truth has no power at all except insofar as people believe it. And if a Big Lie appears more credible, then too bad for the truth.

          I have considerable scepticism about our ability to arrive at the truth of many situations.


          1. “And if a Big Lie appears more credible, then too bad for the truth.”

            Milton would argue (did argue) that a Big Lie can’t appear more credible–at least not in the long run. His whole point was that, if given free play in the marketplace of ideas, truth will always out, rather like the survival of the fittest. This is an idealistic notion to be sure, but I’m inclined to agree with it.

            Then again, Milton’s “marketplace of ideas” didn’t include the likes of Twitter, that place where truth, along with grammar, goes to die.

  22. If he was coming on a visitor visa then that may not have been appropriate for a paid lecture tour.

    The US routinely denies visitors who smell like they’re working or looking for work.

  23. I respectfully disagree with PCC(E) on this. A country with it’s laws is entirely free to deny the person a visa for their declared reason for entry.

    This is different from de-platforming as a form of censorship, as Australia as a country wasn’t the one who invited him.

    So he still has all his first ammendment rights, and he hasn’t been driven underground, it’s just that his freedom of speech doesn’t garentee him entry to a foreign country to exercise it in person.

  24. Anti-vaxxers test the limits of free speech, just like those advocating violence in a more or less ‘imminent’ way test it.
    Personally I’m more of the persuasion of what our host applies in ‘Da Roolz’, than what the ‘official’ position is. However, I do understand there are problems there, the reference to say ‘McCarthyism’ being a case in point.
    Anti-vaxx is kinda ‘imminent’ in my humble opinion, for Dog’s sake, children die due to it.

  25. If the guy is coming to work (including paid speaker at a conference), then granted the current arrangement, I think I’m ok with it being denied. (Would you issue a work visa to someone coming to work as a pimp or an assassin?) Otherwise, likely should let him in to “vacation”.

  26. I don’t think it’s anything to do with free speech. The anti-vaccination movement KILLS PEOPLE. That, I believe is sufficient reason to ban him. The first responsibility of a government is the health and welfare of the people. Allowing this person to spout his dangerous rubbish is not fulfilling that responsibility.

    1. Yes, again the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights balances rights.

      “Article 29

      (2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.”

      [ ]

      This is not only allowed but encouraged. The US Constitution is extreme considering the balance, but I guess still adhering to the UNDHR.

      1. I think that respect to the rights of Australians, and particularly of Australian children, requires their government to keep out a foreign-born antivaxer speaker.

        Personally, I’d wish visa refusals for all foreign quacks wishing to come and lecture in my country. Well, EU quacks enjoy freedom of movement and have the right to work. Nothing can be done here. However, I fail to see why a couple of US quack doctors were let in to tell how autism could be cured by piercing the child’s intestine. The results of such visits are disastrous; and I do not understand why quacks must be given a tribune abroad while mothers are banned from visiting their emigrant children because, say, some embassy official finds them too poor.

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