MD, PhD, MAE, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

Since about two years, I am regularly trying to warn people of charlatans of all types who mislead the public on COVID-related subjects. In this context, a recent paper in JAMA is noteworthy. Allow me to quote just a few passages from it:

COVID-19 misinformation and disinformation flood the public discourse; physicians are not the only source. But their words and actions “may well be the most egregious of all because they undermine the trust at the center of the patient-physician relationship, and because they are directly responsible for people’s health,” Pawleys Island, South Carolina, family medicine physician Gerald E. Harmon, MD, president of the American Medical Association (AMA), (which publishes JAMA)wrote recently. In November, the AMA House of Delegates adopted a new policy to counteract disinformation by health care professionals.

… Few physicians have been disciplined so far, even though the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB), representing the state and territorial boards that license and discipline physicians, and, in some cases, other health care professionals, and the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), consisting of the boards that determine whether physicians can be board-certified, have issued statements cautioning against spreading false COVID-19 claims.

In July 2021, the FSMB warned that spreading COVID-19 misinformation could put a physician’s license at risk. The organization said it was responding “to a dramatic increase in the dissemination of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation and disinformation by physicians and other health care professionals.”

The ABMS released a statement in September 2021. “The spread of misinformation and the misapplication of medical science by physicians and other medical professionals is especially harmful as it threatens the health and well being of our communities and at the same time undermines public trust in the profession and established best practices in care,” the ABMS said.

In an annual survey of its 70 member boards conducted in fall 2021, the FSMB asked about complaints and disciplinary actions related to COVID-19. Of the 58 boards that responded, 67% said they had seen an uptick in complaints about licensees spreading false or misleading COVID-19 misinformation, according to results released in December 2021. But only 12 (21%) of the 58 boards said they’d taken disciplinary action against a physician for that reason…

__________________
There is no question, misinformation by physicians is lamentable, particularly during a health crisis. The fact that only so few of the wrong-doers get caught and punished for it is depressing, in my view. What seems nevertheless encouraging is that the proportion of physicians who misinform their patients about COVID is small.
How does that compare to non-medically trained practitioners of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM)?
  • What percentage of lay-homeopaths misinform their patients?
  • What percentage of chiropractors misinform their patients?
  • What percentage of energy healers misinform their patients?
  • What percentage of naturopaths misinform their patients?
  • What percentage of acupuncturists misinform their patients?
  • etc., etc.

As the total number of SCAM practitioners might, in some parts of the world, easily outnumber doctors, these questions are highly relevant. Yet, I am not aware of any reliable data on these issues. Judging from what I have observed (and written about) during the pandemic, I guess that the percentages are likely to be substantial and way higher than those for doctors. To me, this suggests that we ought to focus much more on SCAM practitioners if, in future health crises, we want to prevent the confusion and harm that misinformation inevitably causes.

40 Responses to COVID-19 misinformation and disinformation flood the public discourse

  • What percentage of the statements of Dr Anthony Fauci misinformed the public?
    No early treatments for Covid19, so stay home until your lips turn blue then come in to the hospital to die on a ventilator comes to mind. And the rest need to wait for an experimental treatment while wearing (cloth) masks and quarantining the healthy also come to mind.
    I think at the very least his cushy 400k salary and maybe his freedom should be at risk right now.

    • if you don’t provide any evidence for your allegations, you look just daft.
      and please consider that the evidence evolved rapidly.

      • “No early treatments for Covid19”! This could be the worst of all of his statements. How can he be sure of that?
        In Italy, scores of family doctors have helped people to survive and avoid hospital admittance with the usual drugs used which have been for flu since long. Thay have saved thousands of covid patients (tested), even those with multiple illnesses, upto 100% of patients, with very rare exceptions. No need to collect the evidence with experimental designs.

    • @Stan

      What percentage of the statements of Dr Anthony Fauci misinformed the public?

      None that I know of.

      No early treatments for Covid19

      Indeed, there were no effective early treatments for Covid-19. Avoiding infection was the only way to prevent illness and death, especially in the first six months or so. Later on, dexamethasone was found to mitigate the worst problems in seriously ill people, but there was still no effective treatment of Covid-19 cases in general.
      Only with the advent of vaccines could the disease be prevented in any effective way.

      I think at the very least his cushy 400k salary and maybe his freedom should be at risk right now.

      Why? The man has done an absolutely great job in the most difficult of circumstances – and by the latter I don’t mean the pandemic (which is bad enough as it is), but having to deal with a bullshitting psychopath as a boss and his right-wing sycophants in high government posts who were openly fighting any measures that were intended to protect the public.

  • In the USA Anthony Fauci is the enemy No.1 for all corona deniers and anti-vaxxers. In Germany it is Lothar Wieler and Christian Drosten, who have to deal with unfair and disgusting attacks for the past 2 years.

    I am not familiar with the other European countries, but I think that prominent experts and representatives of the authorities there have to struggle with similar difficulties.

  • The alt practitioners are certainly a big part of the Covid misinformation and antivax ecosystem.
    But, in the USA at least, they have their own regulatory bodies, made up of … alt practitioners.
    A naturopath in Seattle actually seems to have killed someone.
    In 2016, her license was suspended for 5 years by the board of naturopathy.
    But she’s practicing now, in Kirkland Washington.
    If an alt practitioner doesn’t lose their license for killing people, they aren’t likely to lose it for spreading Covid disinformation.

    • What an awful thing to have happened and the article you link raises all sorts of questions.
      What on earth is a naturopath doing being a primary care physician? I really hope that family were given enough information to make an informed (if disastrously wrong) decision to have a naturopath in that role.
      The completely different accounts of the phone call by the naturopath and the mother are very telling as is the fact the naturopath has publicly described the mother’s account as ‘bullshit’!
      What an attitude!

  • Thanks.Timely article. In case your interested I’m a retired GP and have written a series of articles on misinformation at https://drbannonsblog.aprendo.co.uk/drbannonsblog_wp/

    I read don’t think enough is being done to counter the unbelievable amount of nonsense being disseminated by some very dubious doctors.
    Keep up the good work.

  • That alt practitioners would tend to be anti-vax is weird on their basic principles.
    They like natural, gentle treatments – and vaccines are a natural, gentle way of stimulating the immune system.
    They advocate for prevention, and accuse mainstream medicine of treating the symptoms rather than the causes. But vaccines are a brilliant kind of prevention – and of serious diseases.
    They advocate against medications. But if someone gets one of those serious diseases, they are going to be on heavy-duty medications. Often they would be hospitalized, where they would get some decidedly ungentle treatments.
    Being on a ventilator for Covid is NOT a natural, gentle experience. Patients often have to be sedated, partly so they can tolerate it.

    • “…vaccines are a natural, gentle way of stimulating the immune system…”
      Really? Injecting/forcing something past the innate immune system which normally addresses any antigens first, is gentle?
      Preventing a perhaps mild childhood disease, and possibly setting someone up for a lifetime of chronic health issues, is the concern.
      Not all vaccines are equal. Each is a separate drug. Some more or less safe and effective than others. Requiring/enforcing them for all children at the same ages so they can attend school, irrespective of their health history, is problematic and unethical.
      If someone’s realistic Absolute Risk Reduction from a vax is much less than 1%, why should they be mandated/black-mailed into taking it. That is not a natural, gentle experience either..

  • Correct Lucio

    If you go back nine months ago when vaccine distribution was in full swing in most Western Nations, the freedom to suggest publicly that the vaccines would not stop transmission and infection of the virus would get you kicked off many a social media platforms. Today it’s accepted and verified fact that the vaccines could not produce that effect. So that tells up how easily “misinformation” becomes common information in only a short time.
    Fauci himself responsible for much misinformation as anybody.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPZ2kpA9m5s

    “According to a new report by the New York Times, the CDC has also been collecting much more detailed data about Covid infections that breaks down by age, race, and vaccination status. The critical information would go a long way towards figuring out an end to the pandemic, but the agency has purposefully suppressed the information from the public over fears that it would be “misinterpreted” and cause “vaccine hesitancy. In other words, the ‘experts’ in the US public health regime believe the plebs aren’t capable enough to interpret something themselves. Within the data that has been withheld by the CDC are detailed information about breakthrough cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, which the agency has been collecting since the beginning of the vaccine rollout, according to officials who spoke to the NYT.
    So much for the bogus lie that has been pushed by public health officials for months, claiming that breakthrough infections weren’t being tracked at all. The medical elites just decided to hide the data because it didn’t fit the approved narrative, and, naturally, blamed the potential for ‘misinformation’ as justification for the coverup.”

    How much misinformation is the CDC responsible for ?
    https://truthpress.news/news/cdc-officials-admit-agency-has-withheld-critical-covid-information-from-the-public/

    • nine months ago … the freedom to suggest publicly that the vaccines would not stop transmission and infection of the virus would get you kicked off many a social media platforms. Today it’s accepted and verified fact that the vaccines could not produce that effect.

      But the situation with Covid changes over time, as the number of people infected changes; as their vaccination status changes; as new variants emerge …
      Now that Omicron has developed and spread incredibly quickly, being so infectious, it’s easy to believe that vaccinating can’t stop it.
      But this isn’t an argument against getting vaccinated. The most important way future variants can be prevented is to develop herd immunity through mass vaccination.

    • @concerned misinformation spreader

      truthpress = fake news, just for the trash can
      Kim Iversen = Putin fan girl, who is spreading fake news and conspiracy theories

      You must be very desperate by now, because your sources are getting more and more pathetic.

  • @RPGNo1 & R Daneel

    lol…. you idiots really should stop attacking the news sources that you don’t approve of, or you should learn how to do an internet search for yourselves. I informed you previously that much of the real news is difficult to find in the main stream press, thank to the TNI (Trusted News Initiative)

    I give you New York Times….. read and weep…. you fools.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/20/health/the-cdc-isnt-publishing-large-portions-of-the-covid-data-it-collects.html

    • @concerned patient misinformed and delusional antivaxxer troll

      If you had made an effort to read past the first two paragraphs in the NYT article you will find the following reason as to why they withheld.

      Kristen Nordlund, a spokeswoman for the C.D.C., said the agency has been slow to release the different streams of data “because basically, at the end of the day, it’s not yet ready for prime time.” She said the agency’s “priority when gathering any data is to ensure that it’s accurate and actionable.”

      Another reason is fear that the information might be misinterpreted, Ms. Nordlund said

      Emphasis mine.

      So, it appears one of the reasons CDC is withholding the data is that there is a danger of it being misinterpreted, just like what we have seen with VAERS and DMED data recently. Antivaxxer loons are the problem that CDC is trying to avoid and made a misstep and they in-turn get criticized by the same loons.

      The bigger picture here is that outright misrepresentation of data by antivaxxers loons like Kirsch, Mercola etc. and spreading of that misinformation by troll like you is causing a chilling effect on public health agencies like CDC and FDA.

      Regardless, truthpress is one for the dumpster.

    • Oh dear.

      It’s a shame when facts contradict your fantasies isn’t it. The TNI rips to shreds the demented rantings of the loons who, obviously, don’t like it and kick back with their ongoing circle-jerk of mutual bullshitting.

      Meanwhile, the real world, with the real scientists and journalists who know how to check facts and not just seek out and garbage which they believe supports their delusions, continues to turn.

    • From your link

      When the C.D.C. published the first significant data on the effectiveness of boosters in adults younger than 65 two weeks ago, it left out the numbers for a huge portion of that population: 18- to 49-year-olds, the group the data showed was least likely to benefit from extra shots, because the first two doses already left them well-protected.

      If true, this would be good news about the mRNA Covid vaccines: they’re very effective for younger adults. It would argue for the unvaccinated people to get vaccinated ASAP, and to concentrate resources on them. And it would argue for prioritizing older adults for booster shots and making them more easily available to them.
      This is something on which experts seem to disagree. Last November, there was an opinion piece in the Washington Post, saying

      The case for boosters for healthy younger adults is not strong — and those shots would do more good elsewhere

      Co-authored by Paul Offit, and he’s certainly not an anti-vaxxer 🙂
      The best anti-vaxxers are the scientists who develop vaccines, such as Paul Offit. They reject lots of vaccines while developing them, for not being safe enough. And the regulatory agencies sometimes act as good anti-vaxxers too, as when the Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine was temporarily suspended because of a very rare but serious side effect.
      It also shows that you can find criticism of government agencies in good media sources. And it’s less slanted than your quote from that truthpress.news site, and it gives some idea of the other side of the story. The good media sources also have an incentive to dig up things that might make government agencies look bad, because such news sells. But they’re a lot more responsible in their reporting than truthpress.news seems to be.
      If the CDC did deliberately suppress data because some people will misinterpret it, it may be reasonable to say that in the interest of transparency, they shouldn’t. It doesn’t seem horribly shocking, because people who aren’t experts should be following the CDC’s recommendations anyway, not trying to make judgements themselves from the raw data. Science is full of caveats and “let’s see what the other side of the story is”.

      • @ Laura

        ” It doesn’t seem horribly shocking, because people who aren’t experts should be following the CDC’s recommendations anyway”

        lol… exactly, I’ve had the CDC on “mute” for years now. Thanks for the permission to ignore them completely.
        Laura, are you an “expert” ?

        • What I said was

          people who aren’t experts should be following the CDC’s recommendations
          anyway

          .

          You seem to have misread.

          I’ve had the CDC on “mute” for years now.

          That’s unfortunate. People not listening to the public health recommendations of the CDC and similar agencies in other countries have caused a huge amount of unnecessary suffering and death in this pandemic.
          When Covid came along, it exposed a huge vulnerability in many countries, previously unsuspected by most people: the popularity of anti-vaccine attitudes.
          Dr. David Gorski has always concentrated a lot of his commentary on anti-vaxxers, and he’s looking very prescient.

    • …idiots…

      Oh, you have taken a look in the mirror? 😀

  • Misinformation and Disinformation are vague words without any scientific evidence, please list those information’s that you think they are wrong, to be able to answer you, accusing fellows that they are ignorant and you are smart is not acceptable because a lot of time people who think themselves smart agree on a common mistake to discover later that people who was aware of “the mistake” was right.

    • read the article again and perhaps you discover that I mostly report the evidence generated by the study of other researchers and then ask a few relevant questions. Yet, I guess the mis/disinformation mainly relates to the following arguments:
      1. It’s only a flew
      2. The vaccination is worse than the disease
      3. Alternative treatments are effective.

      • That’s true the vaccination are worse then the disease itself because all the vaccines are made from modified virus such as the adenovirus present in wild species such as Makkak,… ( We have seen that in Astrazeneca, Johnson & Johnson who have stopped the production ) or from parts of the wild species virus the spikes Sars-Cov-1&2 present in Bats, Donkey, Mules,… which is present in all the Mrna Vaccines and the new protein vaccine so healthy people who refuse to get vaccinated not because they are not afraid from catching the virus but from catching a modified virus in their bodies from those vaccines, what ever your science is saying nobody like at the bottom line a modified virus vaccine or not to get in his body, getting sick, mild sick or having blood clotting, organs inflammation or unknown secondary effects yet .

        • because all the vaccines are made from modified virus

          Nope, see Moderna, BioNTech/Pfizer, Sinovac, Turkovac ….

          Astrazeneca, Johnson & Johnson who have stopped the production

          Nope.

          from parts of the wild species virus the spikes Sars-Cov-1&2 present in Bats, Donkey, Mules

          Complete nonsense.

          nobody like at the bottom line a modified virus vaccine or not to get in his body, getting sick, mild sick or having blood clotting, organs inflammation or unknown secondary effects yet

          No.

          Please go back to Telegram and try there again.

    • “Misinformation and Disinformation are vague words”

      No, they are not vague words.
      QUOTE [my formatting for clarity]

      Misinformation is incorrect or misleading information presented as fact, either intentionally or unintentionally.

      Disinformation is a subset of misinformation, that which is deliberately deceptive.

      https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misinformation
      END of QUOTE

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