May 15, 2012

Guilt by Association

An association fallacy, more commonly known as "guilt by association," has been used by the Vermont anti-vaxers at the Vermont Coalition for Vaccine Choice (VCVC) in their attempts to smear opponents of their position regarding recent and potentially future bills before the legislature.

The smearing works like this: A legislator proposes legislation inimical to some VCVC member's business interests, like, say, a homeopathy practice that discourages vaccinations and promotes costly, and according to peer reviewed studies, ineffective homeopathic "remedies" and "treatments." One might argue that the homoeopaths have a principled interest, just as one could argue that the legislator, despite his or her associations, has principled interests in the legislation that they have either supported or proposed but to the anti-vaxer what counts is using every "fact," no matter tenuous, to paint the legislator in a negative light, even if the "fact" has no direct connection to the legislator or the legislation.

In the case of the S.199 legislation, anti-vaxers have sought to connect Sen. Kevin Mullin's (R-Rutland) membership in an organization called ALEC to his proposed legislation. Here's how the smear was presented at the VCVC site on Tuesday, May 8:
"S 199 was introduced by State Senator Bill Mullin who just happens to be the Vermont chairperson for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC is a lobbying organization that works for the benefit of Big Business that provides it with its generous funding."

"A complaint was recently filed against ALEC by Common Cause charging that the lobbying organization is evading Federal tax law by posing as a tax exempt charity all the while spending millions of dollars each year lobbying for hundreds of bills in state legislatures all across the United States."

"In keeping with the ALEC modus operandi when pushing pet legislation, S 199 passed with dizzying speed in the Vermont Senate..."
See? No "fact" presented connects the organization, ALEC, which has had an unresolved complaint lodged against it, directly to S.199 or Sen. Mullin's legislative proposal. Just, you know, a collection of dots that are connected for the reader. What the writer for VCVC didn't bother to include amongst the vaguely related "dots," so conveniently arranged for connection, is what Sen. Mullin has said about his work with ALEC just last year:
"Mullin said he doesn’t use ALEC language in his legislative proposals."

“'They create model legislation, and I haven’t found a lot of that real helpful,' Mullin said."

"What he does appreciate is ALEC’s involvement with private sector businesses. 'If you ever want to create jobs and boost the economy, you want to talk to people who do that,' Mullin said."

“'If you want to come to good decisions, you have to hear from all sides. You have to work with people — liberals and conservatives (and others); and come to your own judgment about which way to go…In my case, I listen to constituents, and I go from there.'”

From the August 18, 2011 piece by Ann Galloway at
Not quite the smoking gun (or dots) of collusion, as VCVC's writer would want us to believe. As for the desire to "hear from all sides?" What nefariousness should constituents infer from that, I wonder? I've look high, low and all over the Internet and I can't quite seem to find legislation being proposed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) or anything resembling the vaccine legislation that was proposed or passed here in Vermont, despite the ominous observation that "In keeping with the ALEC modus operandi when pushing pet legislation, S 199 passed with dizzying speed in the Vermont Senate..." Again we're left to wonder, what should be made of that absence of fact?

So, for instance, what then might be made of the fact that an administrator of VCAC also serves as the Vermont State Director for the National Vaccine Information Center, which has as a stated goal to "expand vaccine exemptions?" Or should be made of the fact that the administrator maintains a blog at a website that known segregationists, bigots, racists and politic extremists call home? More on all that in a future post.

Perhaps more troubling is the threat that comes at the end of the VCVC post on the matter. Vermonters have a long history of legislative discussion and thereby searching for common ground in matters of public policy. No so, according to some anti-vaxer activists:
"Will the Vermont legislature have another go at eliminating the philosophical exemption next legislative session? Not likely, say S 199 activists, who promise heated efforts to unseat the bill’s sponsors so that they are not returned to office after the Fall elections."
Periodically, revanchist political efforts are mounted in Vermont. The most recent that had any impact was the anti-civil union fundamentalists who ousted a number of longtime legislative members who themselves had stellar records of representing their constituents. Their replacements didn't do so well, showing a single issue focus and an inability to effectively govern; they were out in one term. A recent similar effort by a secessionist group was remarkable only for its complete lack of success with no appreciable support from Vermont's voters. Perhaps the memory of single issue activists is still too fresh in the minds of most Vermonters. Nevertheless, there never seems to be a shortage of vindictive activists who feel that the politics of payback and personal destruction are appealing to the electorate.

Oh, and apparently the anti-vaxers have yet to read what was passed in S.199. More on that, as I continue to say, in a future post.

Guilt by association? From what I've been finding, if that's to be the standard used by the anti-vaxers, they're going to have a lot to answer for.

(VCVC post here)

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