Sometimes Reality Does Win

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
March 18 2014 11:16 AM

More Wins for Reality: Trudeau Headed for Jail; Anti-Vax Group Not a Charity

double rainbow
How I felt reading this news.

Photo by Eric Rolph/Wikipedia

Critical thinking gets a tough rap, and the attacks on science and reality are unending. We have to take our small victories when we can, and when we do it can feel so good. After the Jenny McCarthy come-uppance over the weekend, I wasn’t expecting anything else, so to get two wonderful bits of news is fantastic.

The first is that Kevin Trudeau is going to jail. You probably already know of him; I’ve written about him many times. The ubiquitous late-night infomercial guru was on practically every channel practically all the time, hawking his books (Natural Cures ‘They' Don’t Want You to Know About, for example), weight-loss programs, and medical “cures.” The problem is that his “cures” were pure quackery (like selling coral calcium to cure cancer, in case you think I’m being too hard on him) and he used misleading tactics to sell them. He’s done jail time for fraud before, incidentally, and was found in contempt for avoiding paying a $37 million fine. I have a pretty good overview of his sordid history in the last post I put up about him.

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Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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He was sentenced yesterday, and apparently he tried to play up his remorse (claiming he was a changed man), but the judge, Ronald Guzman, unsurprisingly wasn’t having any of it. Reportedly, the assistant U.S. attorney who tried the case called Trudeau a “habitual liar and fraudster,” and the judge said he was “deceitful to the core.” Huh. Given Trudeau’s actions over the years, that doesn’t sound like too much of a stretch to me.

This conviction and sentencing have been a long, long time coming, and I’m very, very glad to see them.

The second victory took place in the southern hemisphere. I’ve written quite a bit about the blatantly anti-vaccination group that calls itself the Australian Vaccination Network. It's spread false information about vaccines for years and was ordered by the government to change its name since it was misleading (the group now calls itself the Australian Vaccination-Skeptics Network, which is ironic: Their supporters mocked real skeptics for years, especially those who started the wonderful Stop the AVN effort).

The latest bit of joy is that the AVSN has had its charity license revoked. This will prevent the group from fundraising, which in my opinion is great. That should hopefully slow down its ability to spread its anti-science claims. Apparently the reason the license was taken away is because of “irregularities in [AVSN’s] financial statements and its lack of charity work.”

The history of all this is fascinating, because for years the group has had a somewhat dodgy approach to reality. It got on my radar when the (actual) Australian Skeptics told me about the group's then-leader, Meryl Dorey, who made a series of outrageous claims about vaccinations. On a TV talk show she actually said that no one ever dies from pertussis any more … when the show itself was about Dana McCaffery, an infant girl who in 2009 lost her life to pertussis. She was just four weeks old.

The AVSN having its head handed to it once again is a real win for skepticism and reality. Even better, the Fair Trading Minister Stuart Ayres said, “I encourage that you don’t donate to this organisation.” I’m good with that, and I’m glad the ministry will be keeping a watchful eye on the group from here on out as well.

Vaccines are one of the biggest medical success stories in history. They’ve saved hundreds of millions of lives, and the vast majority of claims by the anti-vax movement are simply false. Groups like the AVSN are actively trying to bring us back to the days when measles, pertussis, polio, Hib, and other diseases ran rampant, and we lost thousands of people (including children) every year to them. I have no problem with AVSN’s ability to do so getting curtailed due to its own mishandling of its affairs.

So with this news, all in all, it’s been a pretty good week. I’ll take it.

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