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?
h/t: Steve C.