An Advocacy of Dunces

To ensure that the denial of scientific evidence does not put the wider community at risk, advocacy groups must be held responsible for their messages. Australia's government recently did just that, rescinding an anti-vaccination advocacy group's tax-exempt status and forcing it to change its name.

CONCORD, MASSACHUSETTS – Imagine that a group of advocates tried to alert the public to a danger that they perceived, only the evidence showed that the danger was not real, and that by spreading their fears, this group was causing people to behave in ways that put the wider public – and you – at risk. What would you do? What should the government do?

The government of Australia has answered that question in a dramatic way. It has revoked the tax-exempt charity status of an anti-vaccination advocacy group, on the grounds that their fear-mongering misinformation about the danger of vaccines threatens public health, especially the health of children.

The government has also required the group to change its name, from the Australian Vaccination Network to the Australian Vaccination-Skeptics Network, in order to make the advocate’s perspective clear. “We will continue to ensure that they present themselves as an anti-vaccination advocacy,” said New South Wales Fair Trading Minister Stuart Ayres. “We want to make sure that they don’t ever promote misleading information.”

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