When public health debates become abusive

Brian Martin


Ideally, public health debates are conducted civilly and focus on the evidence and the public good. In practice, many debates deviate markedly from this approach, for example with personal denigration of opponents. To help assess methods used in public health debates, a classificatory system of ideal types is introduced, with the categories of deliberative democracy, marketplace of ideas, marketplace of abusive comment, dominant orthodoxy, authoritarianism, and totalitarianism. To illustrate how methods can be fitted into these ideal types, instances of opposition to the Australian Vaccination Network are examined. Being able to identify the types of methods used in particular debates provides public health advocates with opportunities to reflect on the impact of different methods deployed and how they relate to public participation and free speech.


public health, controversies, free speech, debates, vaccination

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