Federal government to anti-vacc parents: No childcare payments

In a proposal supported by the incumbent and opposition governments in Australia, parents who opt out of vaccinating their children will no longer receive federal payments for childcare and family tax.

“Parents who vaccinate their children should have confidence that they can take their children to childcare without the fear that their children will be at risk of contracting a serious or potentially life-threatening illness because of the conscientious objections of others,” Mr Abbott said. […]

The change will need to be approved by Parliament.

There is, fortunately, bipartisan agreement with the facts in this issue.

Under the policy which the coalition took to the last election, and which is supported by Labor, “conscientious objection” would no longer be allowed for parents who refuse to vaccinate their children but still want to receive child care payments and family tax benefit supplements.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said it was a sensible step.

“We believe fundamentally in the science of vaccinations and we fundamentally believe that policy should be made by the best evidence and the best science,” he said.

“And we would say to the Liberal Government, we’re pleased that you’re agreeing with our position and yes we will cooperate to make sure that the safety of our children is what is paramount in public policy.”

As skeptics we should highly applaud the proposal. Parents who through ignorance, whether innocent or wilful, endanger the health of their children and those around them, should not receive public child support funding until they acknowledge the scientific facts of how disease works.

New CSIRO head wants to make water divining easier for farmers

The incoming leader of our top scientific research organisation is promoting water-dowsing to Australian farmers.

The CSIRO has a new leader, Dr. Larry Marshall, who will take the reins in 2014-12.

Currently the managing director of the California-based Southern Cross Venture Partners, an outfit specialising in creating and growing Australian technology companies, Dr Marshall holds a doctorate in physics from Macquarie University. He has 20 patents to his name and has co-founded six companies.

The 52-year-old, who admits he hasn’t applied for a job in 25 years, suspects it was this combination of science and business that got him the CSIRO’s top job following a competitive global search.

“I started as a scientist, became an entrepreneur and learnt a lot about business the hard way,” he said.

[…]
Innovation Minister Ian Macfarlane, whose portfolio takes in science, welcomed Dr Marshall’s appointment.

Highlighting his commercial background, Mr Macfarlane said Dr Marshall’s arrival came at a time when the agency was embarking on a “significant new phase” in which the CSIRO would play an increasingly important role in the economy. This included strengthening links between business and science, he said.

The leader of CSIRO is chiefly welcomed by Australia’s Innovation Minister? What about our Science Minister? Oh that’s right, Australia’s current government has scrapped the ministry for science. Instead, our Prime Minister has appointed himself the head of a Science Council, with no minister responsible for science — and CSIRO left to the mercies of the “industry” portfolio.

So our federal government’s appointed head of CSIRO, Larry Marshall, himself seems to place much more emphasis on what is financially profitable than what is scientifically sound. He’s not been working as a scientist for a very long time; the past 25 years was spent as a venture capitalist.

And now, on the basis that charlatans can fool him, he wants to use his new position as head of CSIRO to fund research for water dowsing.

He’d like to see the development of technology that would make it easier for farmers to dowse or divine for water on their properties.

“I’ve seen people do this with close to 80 per cent accuracy and I’ve no idea how they do it,” he said.

“When I see that as a scientist, it makes me question, ‘is there instrumentality that we could create that would enable a machine to find that water?’

“I’ve always wondered whether there’s something in the electromagentic field, or gravitation anomaly.”

Dr Marshall believes the CSIRO can ‘push the envelope’ with such projects and contribute to improving agricultural productivity.

Really? Shouldn’t we reserve funding for technologies whose claimed phenomenon can pass a simple blinded controlled objective study, rather than assuming Larry Marshall has seen it and he can’t be fooled? (The Victorian Skeptics has a guide to dowsing among other educational materials.)

In an age when all of climate science shows that we are in for, among other catastrophic results, devastating drought unless we act now to reverse our damaging activities, Australia’s leading government science body will spend its precious attention on pseudoscience and fakery.

We are under the rule of one of the worst governments in Australian history, in terms of the scientific soundness of policy.

The harm of “traditional remedies”: Rhino horn for a hangover

A rhinoceros killed by poachers in Karbi hills, near India’s Kaziranga National Park. (AP Photo)

Via MSN, we learn that one of the most iconic African species is under additional threat of extinction, because of uncritical Vietnamese customers purchasing rhinoceros horn for magical cures for anything from cancer to hangovers:

What happened in 2008 to prompt a resurgence in demand? The closest guess is a rumor that swept Vietnam in the mid-2000s that imbibing rhino horn powder had cured a Vietnamese politician’s cancer. That rumor persists to this day. And note that this has nothing to do with traditional Chinese medicine. As Huijun Shen, the president of the UK Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine explained to Nature magazine, there’s no record of using rhino horn to treat cancer in nearly two millennia worth of Chinese medical texts (p.23).

In Vietnam, however, at least some respected doctors vouch for rhino horn’s cancer-curing properties. One woman who purchased $2,000 worth of horn powder on her doctors’ advice.

There will never be a shortage of devastation of our natural world, until the demand for that devastation is ended. Fighting against magical thinking, and marginalising ludicrous “traditional remedy” claims, is a key element and a worthy aim for skeptics.