The Conversation – a marketing arm for the university and research sector?

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????The university and CSIRO-funded The Conversation website(1) publishes articles promoting vaccination, but appears reluctant to provide critical analysis on the worth of individual vaccine products. Indeed critical analysis of vaccines seems to be limited to comments on articles, often by members of the general public.

The dearth of critical analysis of individual vaccines is a major failing on The Conversation website(2), particularly as the university and research sector has a vested interest in promoting lucrative vaccine products, e.g. the controversial HPV vaccine(3).  This lack of objectivity undermines trust in The Conversation(4).

The Conversation claims to be “an independent source of news and views, sourced from the academic and research community” introducing “new protocols and controls to help rebuild trust in journalism”, and believing in “open access and the free-flow of information.(4) The Conversation states: “We only allow authors to write on a subject on which they have proven expertise, which they must disclose alongside their article. Authors’ funding and potential conflicts of interest must be disclosed. Failure to do so carries a risk of being banned from contributing to the site.”(4)

Given its promise to be “an independent source of news and views, sourced from the academic and research community”(4)The Conversation’s support of the Stop the Australian (Anti) Vaccination Network (SAVN)(5) bears investigation.   The SAVN is a stalwart defender of mandated vaccination and will brook no dissent.  While the SAVN’s raison d’etre is ostensibly to oppose the controversial Australian Vaccination Network(6) and its spokesperson Meryl Dorey, in practice SAVN supporters have taken it upon themselves to stifle and patronise anybody who dares to question vaccination practice in any way, as can be seen in The Conversation discussion threads listed below.(7)

Rachael Dunlop is an administrator of the SAVN Facebook page(8), and Vice President of Australian Skeptics Inc(9).  Her articles on vaccination are published on The Conversation.  Contrary to The Conversation’s assurance that “we only allow authors to write on a subject on which they have proven expertise”(4), Rachael Dunlop’s profile on The Conversation website(10) provides no indication that she has “proven expertise” in the wide range of vaccine products on the Australian National Immunisation Program Schedule(11).  While Rachael Dunlop is given carte blanche to publish her opinions on vaccination on The Conversation(12), others of us relegated to the comments section are intimidated by the threat of censorship.  For instance two of my comments were censored on Rachael Dunlop’s article A view on: vaccination myths(13).

In his support for The Conversation, Professor Peter Doherty, Nobel Laureate, says: “The whole motivation behind this was to open communication between people in our universities and institutes of higher education and the general public…None of us want to live in an ivory tower, we all want to be part of society.  So how do we do that?  It has been difficult to do that in conventional newspaper and media formats because they have their own priorities.  So we started The Conversation…”(14)

Given The Conversation’s general reluctance to critically analyse individual vaccine products, cynics might wonder if The Conversation has its own priorities’, principally to do with selling the products of the university and research sector?   Is The Conversation merely a marketing arm for the university and research sector?

Vaccines of questionable value are being added to national vaccination schedules.  Mass populations of children are being vaccinated against diseases which may never pose a serious threat for them, e.g. human papillomavirus(15).  It is questionable whether ‘informed consent’ is being properly obtained before these medical interventions.

Vaccine products are being developed for more and more diseases e.g. novovirus(16), chlamydia(17), skin cancer(18), herpes(19), HIV(20), malaria(21) etc, etc, yet nobody has any idea of the long term cumulative effect of all these medical interventions, or ‘unintended consequences’ for disease development, consider for example the possible implications of genotype replacement with HPV vaccination(22); vaccine-related reassortment of rotavirus(23); HBV S protein mutations after vaccination(24); and increasing selection among the B. pertussis population in Australia in favor of strains carrying prn2 andptxP3 under the pressure of acellular vaccine–induced immunity(25).

Aggressive marketing by the pharmaceutical industry and industry-affiliated ‘experts’, including lobbying for compulsory vaccination with vaccines of dubious value, is threatening citizens’ autonomy.  It seems we are now expected to meekly accept every vaccine product manufactured by the vaccine industry.  

The increasingly lucrative vaccine industry benefits from the oppressive climate that has developed on the subject of vaccination.

The potential conflicts of interests of academics working in the areas of vaccine development and promotion, and the influence of these academics on government policy, needs to be examined.  It’s time there was an investigation into the relationships between governments, the vaccine industry, and the industry’s handmaidens in the scientific/medical establishment, but who can we trust to do that?  The mainstream media has generally been completely useless on this matter, and incapable of providing critical analysis, merely supporting the status quo(26), likewise The Conversation.

Citizens must be allowed to have a rational debate on this important subject to ensure public confidence in vaccination practice.  All vaccination recommendations must be transparently evidence-based.

It’s time for The Conversation to lift its game on this subject and provide some objective critical analysis of individual vaccine products, and the lucrative international vaccine market.

For discussion on controversial vaccine products see:  

I have provided critical comment(27*) on a number of The Conversation’s articles pertinent to vaccination, see list below:  

References: (Links current as at 12 November 2013.)

1. Partners and funders of The Conversation:

2. Our charter – The Conversation:

3. Also refer to Ian Frazer. Catch cancer? No thanks, I’d rather have a shot! The Conversation 10 July 2012:

4. Who we are – The Conversation:

5. Stop the Australian (Anti) Vaccination Network Facebook page:

6. Australian Vaccination Network:

7. This has been my personal experience – see responses to Elizabeth Hart on The Conversation discussion threads listed above.  As far as I am aware, editors at The Conversation have done little to address concerns about vaccines of questionable value such as the controversial HPV vaccinethe arbitrary second dose of the measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) live vaccineannual flu vaccination and controversial ‘gain of function research’; or pertussis ‘boosters’ of the existing vaccine against the new strain.

8. The disclosure statement on Rachael Dunlop’s article “A view on: vaccination myths” on The Conversation, 28 May 2013, notes that she is “an administrator of the Stop the AVN Facebook page”:

9. Australian Skeptics:

10. Rachael Dunlop’s profile on The Conversation website

11. Australian National Immunisation Program Schedule:

12. Rachael Dunlop. Six myths about vaccination – and why they’re wrong. The Conversation, 26 April 2013:

13. Rachael Dunlop. A view on: vaccination myths. The Conversation, 28 May 2013:

14. Peter Doherty: Why I support The Conversation. Video on Who we are – The Conversation, quote starting at 0.30:

15. In an article on the university and CSIRO-funded The Conversation website, titled “Catch cancer? No thanks, I’d rather have a shot!”, Professor Ian Frazer states: “Through sexual activity, most of us will get infected with the genital papillomaviruses that can cause cancer. Fortunately, most of us get rid of them between 12 months to five years later without even knowing we’ve had the infection. Even if the infection persists, only a few individuals accumulate enough genetic mistakes in the virus-infected cell for these to acquire the properties of cancer cells”.  If only a few individuals accumulate enough genetic mistakes in the virus-infected cell for these to acquire the properties of cancer cells”, is it really justifiable to coerce mass populations of children to have HPV vaccination, particularly as the long-term consequences of the HPV vaccine are unknown?  Refer to this link for further background:

16. Takeda’s norovirus vaccine misses endpoint in early-phase trial. FierceVaccines, 7 October 2013:

17. Igietseme JU, Eko FO, Black CM. Chlamydia vaccines: recent developments and the role of adjuvants in future formulations. Expert Rev Vaccines. 2011 Nov;10(11):1585-96:

18. Professor Ian Frazer close to creating skin cancer vaccine., 31 July 2011:

19. Allied Healthcare’s herpes simplex vaccine trial under way. 17 October 2013:

20. Breakthrough in hunt for HIV vaccine as scientists capture ENV protein., 2 November 2013:

21. New malaria vaccine has its flaws, but it’s better than nothing. The Conversation, 9 October 2013:

22. Pons-Salort M et al. Exploring individual HPV coinfections is essential to predict HPV-vaccination impact on genotype distribution: a model-based approach. Vaccine. 2013 Feb 6;31(8):1238-45:

23. Tatiana Lundgren Rose et al. Evidence of vaccine-related reassortment of rotavirus, Brazil, 2008-2010. Emerging Infectious Diseases. Volume 19, Number 11 – November 2013:

24. Bian T et al. Change in hepatitis B virus large surface antigen variant prevalence 13 years after implementation of a universal vaccination program in China. J. Virol. 2013 Nov;87(22):12196-206:

25. Sophie Octavia et al. Newly emerging clones of Bordetella pertussis carrying prn2 and ptx3 alleles implicated in Australian pertussis epidemic in 2008-2010. J Infect Dis. (2012) 205 (8): 1220-1224:

26. For example, the Murdoch media’s aggressive “No Jab, No Play” campaign contributes to the oppressive climate surrounding vaccination – “Big win for No Jab, No Play as NSW state cabinet approves tough new vaccination laws”. The Telegraph, 29 May 2013. In this climate it is difficult to raise legitimate questions about vaccination practice, e.g. questioning arbitrary revaccination of all children with the live measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccine, as most children are likely to be immune after age appropriate vaccination with an effective first dose of this vaccine.

27. Elizabeth Hart, Independent Vaccine Investigator.  Comments on The Conversation:  (*Edited to include additional articles 24 June 2014.)