The COVID-19 pandemic has been notable for the widespread dissemination of misinformation regarding the virus and appropriate treatment. The objective of this study was to quantify the prevalence of non–evidence-based treatment for COVID-19 in the US and the association between such treatment and endorsement of misinformation as well as lack of trust in physicians and scientists.
This single-wave, population-based, nonprobability internet survey study was conducted between December 22, 2022, and January 16, 2023, in US residents 18 years or older who reported prior COVID-19 infection.
Self-reported use of ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine, endorsing false statements related to COVID-19 vaccination, self-reported trust in various institutions, conspiratorial thinking measured by the American Conspiracy Thinking Scale, and news sources.
A total of 13 438 individuals (mean [SD] age, 42.7 [16.1] years; 9150 [68.1%] female and 4288 [31.9%] male) who reported prior COVID-19 infection were included in this study. In this cohort, 799 (5.9%) reported prior use of hydroxychloroquine (527 [3.9%]) or ivermectin (440 [3.3%]). In regression models including sociodemographic features as well as political affiliation, those who endorsed at least 1 item of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation were more likely to receive non–evidence-based medication (adjusted odds ratio [OR], 2.86; 95% CI, 2.28-3.58). Those reporting trust in physicians and hospitals (adjusted OR, 0.74; 95% CI, 0.56-0.98) and in scientists (adjusted OR, 0.63; 95% CI, 0.51-0.79) were less likely to receive non–evidence-based medication. Respondents reporting trust in social media (adjusted OR, 2.39; 95% CI, 2.00-2.87) and in Donald Trump (adjusted OR, 2.97; 95% CI, 2.34-3.78) were more likely to have taken non–evidence-based medication. Individuals with greater scores on the American Conspiracy Thinking Scale were more likely to have received non–evidence-based medications (unadjusted OR, 1.09; 95% CI, 1.06-1.11; adjusted OR, 1.10; 95% CI, 1.07-1.13).
The authors concluded that, in this survey study of US adults, endorsement of misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic, lack of trust in physicians or scientists, conspiracy-mindedness, and the nature of news sources were associated with receiving non–evidence-based treatment for COVID-19. These results suggest that the potential harms of misinformation may extend to the use of ineffective and potentially toxic treatments in addition to avoidance of health-promoting behaviors.
This study made me wonder to what extend a lack of trust in physicians or scientists, and conspiracy-mindedness are also linked to the use of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) for treatning COVID infections. As I have often discussed, such associations have been reported regularly, e.g.:
- Homeopathy as an Adjuvant to Standard Care in Moderate and Severe Cases of COVID-19
- Arrests in Germany of healthcare professionals who issued fake COVID certificates
- Classical homeopathy worsens the prognosis of patients infected with COVID-19.
- “No jabby-jabby for me! Praise GOD!” But now this antivaxer has died of COVID-related pneumonia
- Homeopathy for COVID: opinions expressed on Twitter
- Efficacy of Persian barley water on clinical outcomes of hospitalized moderate-severity COVID-19 patients
- Effectiveness of Homeopathic Arsenicum album 30C in the Prevention of COVID-19
- Homoeopathy in the Prophylaxis and Symptomatic Management of COVID-19
- Is aromatherapy the answer to long-COVID? I fear not!
- Anthroposophical hospital defies COVID-19 regulations
- An Ayurvedic medication is effective for patients suffering from mild to moderate COVID-19 – true or false?
- Homeopathy for COVID-19: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial shows that it does not work
- Micronutrient supplements for patients with COVID-19 infection
- A new trial of homeopathy for preventing COVID-19 infections
- Homeopathy and other SCAMs for long-COVID: WHERE IS THE EVIDENCE?
- Upper Bavaria is struggling with COVID-19, not least due to so-called alternative medicine
- And again: is vitamin C the solution for COVID-19 infections?
- Parents’ Willingness to Vaccinate with a COVID-19 Vaccine: strongly influenced by homeopathy
- A new study of homeopathy for the prevention of COVID-19 infections
- Homeopathic Treatment for COVID-19: a case of scientific misconduct and/or irresponsible behavior?
- The ‘AYUSH COVID-19 Helpline’: have they gone bonkers?
- Adjunctive homeopathic treatment of hospitalized COVID-19 patients. A case study of homeopathic delusion
- US Chiropractor in court for making false claims related to COVID-19
- Chinese Herbal Medicine for COVID-19? The evidence remains unconvincing
- Vitamin C and/or zinc for managing COVID patients?
- An RCT on the efficacy of ayurvedic treatment on asymptomatic COVID-19 patients
- Herbal solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic?
The authors point out that the endorsement of misinformation related to COVID-19 has been shown to decrease the intention to vaccinate against COVID-19, to decrease the belief that it is required for herd immunity, and to correlate with forgoing various COVID-19 prevention behaviors. Such false information is largely spread online and often originates as disinformation intentionally spread by political actors and media sources, as well as illicit actors who profit from touting supposed cures for COVID-19. A substantial minority of the public endorses false information related to COVID-19, although certain subgroups are more likely to do so, including those who are more religious, who distrust scientists, and who hold stronger political affiliations. Cultivating and maintaining trust is a crucial factor in encouraging the public to engage in prosocial health behaviors. The extent to which addressing conspiratorial thinking could represent a strategy to address obstacles to public health merits further investigation.
The Skeptic reported that a cardiologist and one of the UK’s most influential critics of the COVID-19 vaccine, Dr Aseem Malhotra, has been named the 2023 recipient of the “Rusty Razor” award, the prize given by The Skeptic to the year’s worst promoters of pseudoscience.
Dr Malhotra has made a name for himself over the last decade as a cardiologist who advocates strongly against the broad use of statins. He has described the drugs as a multi-billion dollar “con” by the pharmaceutical industry, saying that his critics have “received millions in research funding from the pharmaceutical industry”. He has described the link between heart disease and saturated fat as a “myth”, drawing criticism from the British Heart Foundation.
In 2017, his book The Pioppi Diet put forward a diet that he claimed could prevent 20 million deaths per year from cardiovascular disease. The book was named by the British Dietetic Association as one of the celebrity diets to most avoid – with the BDA highlighting his apparently Mediterranean diet excluded pasta and bread, but included coconuts.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Malhotra has been a prolific and powerful voice spreading narratives that run contrary to the best available evidence. In 2021, his book The 21-Day Immunity Plan included a diet claimed to improve the immune system and help fight off infections – claims that drew criticism from medical professionals.
In 2022, Dr Malhotra released a paper claiming that COVID-19 mRNA vaccines posed a serious risk to cardiovascular health and that the vaccines were “at best a reckless gamble”. The paper was published in the Journal of Insulin Resistance – where Dr Malhotra sits on the editorial board.
Dr Malhotra and his campaign against the COVID-19 vaccine was subsequently praised in Parliament by Andrew Bridgen MP as part of the reasoning behind his ongoing anti-vaccine crusade. In January of this year, Dr Malhotra used a BBC interview about statins to claim that deaths from coronary artery disease were actually complications from the vaccine, prompting a slew of complaints, and an apology from the broadcaster.
The Skeptic Editor Michael Marshall said: “In our opinion, Dr Malhotra has been an incredibly prolific promoter of pseudoscience throughout the pandemic, including spreading the false notion that vaccines are responsible for thousands of excess deaths.
“Dr Malhotra’s media career has given him a very large platform, from which he spreads misinformation that undermines confidence in a health intervention that has saved the lives of countless people across the world. In doing so, he stokes the flames of conspiracy, paranoia and mistrust of medical consensus.
“For anyone with so large a platform to do this would be concerning enough, but Dr Malhotra shares these pseudoscientific messages as a registered medical professional whose opinions have influenced at least one current member of parliament.
“All of this, we feel, makes Dr Aseem Malhotra a highly deserving winner of the 2023 Rusty Razor award”
The ‘Rusty Razor’ award was announced as part of The Skeptic’s annual Ockham Awards at a ceremony that took place during Saturday’s QED conference on science and skepticism, in Manchester. Also recognised during the event was the Knowledge Fight podcast, who won the 2023 award for Skeptical Activism.
I agree, Malhortra is a deserverd winner. The prize raises, in my view, an important question:
WHAT ON EARTH IS THE GENERAL MEDICIN COUNCIL (GMC) DOING ABOUT THIS GUY?
Malhotra’s activities have been compared to the case of Andrew Wakefield who falsely claimed that the MMR vaccine was linked to autism. While Wakefield was ultimately struck off by the GMC in 2010, the regulator has so far rebuffed repeated pleas to investigate Dr Malhotra.
The BMJ recently reported that Dr. Matt Kneale, who had previously complained to the GMC about the conduct of Aseem Malhotra, was told that the GMC would not be investigating Malhotra because his statements were not sufficiently “egregious” to merit action and he had a right to “freedom of speech.” Kneale’s appeal against this decision in 2023 was also turned down.
Kneale has now filed a claim with the High Court, arguing that the GMC should consider not only whether a doctor’s behaviour could harm individual patients but also whether their actions undermined public trust in medicine. He said that this was particularly important when examining statements relating to vaccines, where doctors with a high profile on social media could potentially cause great harm.
The US ‘Public Citizen‘ is an American non-profit, progressive consumer rights advocacy group, and think tank based in Washington, D.C. They recently published an article entitled “FDA Guidance on Homeopathic Drugs: An Ongoing Public Health Failure“. Here are a few excerpts:
In December 2022, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued new guidance on homeopathic drug products. The guidance states that the agency now “intends to apply a risk-based enforcement approach to the manufacturing, distribution and marketing of homeopathic drug products.”
Under this new risk-based approach, the agency plans to target its enforcement actions against homeopathic drug products marketed without FDA approval that fall within the following limited categories:
- products with reports of injury that, after evaluation, raise potential safety concerns
- products containing or purportedly containing ingredients associated with potentially significant safety concerns (for example, infectious agents or controlled substances)
- products that are not administered orally or topically (for example, injectable drug products and ophthalmic drug products)
- products intended to be used to prevent or treat serious or life-threatening diseases
- products for vulnerable populations, such as immunocompromised individuals, infants and the elderly
- products with significant quality issues (for example, products that are contaminated with foreign materials or objectionable microorganisms)
But this new FDA guidance fails to adequately address the public health threat posed by the agency’s decades-long permissive approach to these illegal drug products.
Under FDA regulations, prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) homeopathic products are considered drugs and are supposed to be subject to the same review and approval requirements as all other prescription and OTC medications. However, under a flawed enforcement policy issued in 1988, the FDA has allowed these drug products to be marketed in the U.S. without agency review or approval. Thus, all products labeled as homeopathic are being marketed without the FDA having evaluated their safety, effectiveness or quality…
… there is no plausible physiologic or medical basis to support the theory underlying homeopathy, nor is there evidence from well-designed, rigorous clinical trials showing that homeopathic drugs are safe and effective.
The FDA should declare unequivocally that all unapproved homeopathic drug products are illegal and direct all manufacturers to immediately remove such products from the market. In the meantime, as we have recommended for many years, consumers should not use homeopathic products. At best, the products are a waste of money, given the lack of any evidence that they are effective. At worst, they could cause serious harm because of the lack of FDA oversight to ensure safety.
I fully agree with these sentiments. The harm caused by homeopathy is considerable and multi-facetted. Many previous posts have discudded these problems, e.g.:
- Nine cases of severe homeopathy-induced liver injuries
- Another death by homeopathy
- HOMEOPATHY – “It is not just irresponsible, it’s downright dangerous.”
- Adverse effects of homeopathy and aggravations at NAFKAM
- Homeopathy: it’s time to stop the double standards
- Homeopathy can cause serious harm – and finally, the NHS England has realised it
- Vidatox, homeopathy’s answer to cancer or outright fraud?
- Another child has died because of homeopathy
- Doctor homeopaths violate fundamental rules of ethics when practising homeopathy
- ‘Best homeopathy doctor in Delhi’ offers treatment for HIV/AIDS
- DIY-Homeopathy: how to kill your entire family
- The risks of homeopathy?
- The FDA has warned 4 manufacturers of unapproved injectable homeopathic drugs
- Is this the crown of the Corona-idiocy? Nosodes In Prevention And Management Of COVID -19
- The FDA has sent more warning letters to homeopathic manufacturers
- Walmart is being sued for selling homeopathic products
- Homoeopathic remedies may be safe, but do all homeopaths merit this attribute?
- Recommending homeoprophylaxis is unethical, irresponsible and possibly even criminal
- FDA: homeopathic teething remedies were toxic
- “Homeoprophylaxis, the homeopathic vaccine alternative, prevents disease through nosodes.”
- A truly dangerous homeopath
- The scandalous attitude of some homeopaths and their supporters towards immunisations
- Oh yes, let’s have homeopaths as primary care practitioners! But only in a parallel universe,please.
Having warned about the dangers of homeopathy for decades, I feel it is high time for regulators across the world to take appropriate action.
It has been reported that two London councils have written to parents to warn that children who are not vaccinated against measles may need to self-isolate for 21 days if a classmate is infected with the disease. It comes after modelling by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) warned that up to 160,000 cases could occur in the capital alone as a result of low vaccination rates. Just three-quarters of London children have received the two required doses of the MMR jab, which protects against measles. This is 10 per cent lower than the national average.
Barnet Council wrote to parents on July 20 warning that any unvaccinated child identified as a close contact of a measles case could be asked to self-isolate for up to 21 days. “Measles is of serious concern in London due to low childhood vaccination rates. Currently we are seeing an increase in measles cases circulating in neighbouring London boroughs, so now is a good time to check that your child’s MMR vaccination – which not only protects your child against measles but also mumps and rubella – is up to date,” the letter reads. “Children who are vaccinated do not need to be excluded from school or childcare,” the letter added.
Neighbouring Haringey Council also warned that children without both MMR doses may be asked to quarantine for 21 days. Just over two-thirds (67.9 per cent) of children in the area had received both doses by the age of five. The councils stated that they had sent the letters based on guidance by the UKHSA, but the agency said that headteachers should consider “excluding” unvaccinated pupils who become infected with measles rather than instructing them to self-isolate.
Data published by the UKHSA showed that 128 cases of measles were recorded between January 1 and June 30 this year, compared to 54 cases in the whole of 2022. Two-thirds of the cases were detected in London. The agency have said that there is a high risk of cases linked to overseas travel leading to outbreaks in specific population groups such as young people and under-vaccinated communities.
Dr Vanessa Saliba, a consultant epidemiologist at UKHSA, said: “When there are measles cases or outbreaks in nurseries or schools, the UKHSA health protection team will assess the situation, together with the school and other local partners, and provide advice for staff and pupils. “Those who are not up to date with their MMR vaccinations will be asked to catch up urgently to help stop the outbreak and minimise disruption in schools.”
Measles is a significant concern with approximately 10 million people infected annually causing over 100,000 deaths worldwide. In the US before use of the measles vaccine, there were estimated to be 3 to 4 million people infected with measles annually, causing 400 to 500 deaths. Complications of measles include otitis media, diarrhea, pneumonia, and acute encephalitis. Measles is a leading cause of blindness in the developing world, especially in those who are vitamin A deficient. Malnourished children with measles are also at higher risk of developing noma (or cancrum oris), a rapidly progressive gangrenous infection of the mouth and face. Most deaths due to measles are caused by pneumonia, diarrhea, or neurological complications in young children, severely malnourished or immunocompromised individuals, and pregnant women. A rare sequela of measles is subacute sclerosing panencephalitis.
Back in 2003, we investigated what advice UK homeopaths, chiropractors and general practitioners give on measles, mumps and rubella vaccination programme (MMR) vaccination via the Internet. Online referral directories listing e-mail addresses of UK homeopaths, chiropractors and general practitioners and private websites were visited. All addresses thus located received a letter of a (fictitious) patient asking for advice about the MMR vaccination. After sending a follow-up letter explaining the nature and aim of this project and offering the option of withdrawal, 26% of all respondents withdrew their answers. Homeopaths yielded a final response rate (53%, n = 77) compared to chiropractors (32%, n = 16). GPs unanimously refused to give advice over the Internet. No homeopath and only one chiropractor advised in favour of the MMR vaccination. Two homeopaths and three chiropractors indirectly advised in favour of MMR. More chiropractors than homeopaths displayed a positive attitude towards the MMR vaccination. We concluded that some complementary and alternative medicine providers have a negative attitude towards immunisation and means of changing this should be considered.
The problem is by no means confined to the UK. German researchers, for instance, showed that belief in homeopathy and other parental attitudes indicating lack of knowledge about the importance of vaccinations significantly influenced an early immunisation. Moreover, being a German homeopath has been independently associated with lower own vaccination behavior. Data from France paint a similar picture.
Some homeopaths, of course, claim that ‘homeopathic vaccinations’ are effective and preferable. My advice is: DON’T BELIEVE THESE CHARLATANS! A recent study demonstrated that homeopathic vaccines do not evoke antibody responses and produce a response that is similar to placebo. In contrast, conventional vaccines provide a robust antibody response in the majority of those vaccinated.
Many community pharmacies in Switzerland provide so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) approaches in addition to providing biomedical services, and a few pharmacies specialise in SCAM. A common perception is that SCAM providers are sceptical towards, or opposed to, vaccination.
The key objectives of this study were to examine the potential roles of biomedically oriented and SCAM-specialised pharmacists regarding vaccine counselling and to better understand the association between vaccine hesitancy and SCAM. The researchers thus conducted semistructured, qualitative interviews. Transcripts were coded and analysed using thematic analysis. Interview questions were related to:
- type of pharmaceutical care practised,
- views on SCAM and biomedicine,
- perspectives on vaccination,
- descriptions of vaccination consultations in community pharmacies,
- and views on vaccination rates.
Qualitative interviews in three language regions of Switzerland (German, French and Italian). A total of 18 pharmacists (N=11 biomedically oriented, N=7 SCAM specialised) were invited.
Pharmacist participants expressed generally positive attitudes towards vaccination. Biomedically oriented pharmacists mainly advised customers to follow official vaccination recommendations but rarely counselled vaccine-hesitant customers. SCAM-specialised pharmacists were not as enthusiastic advocates of the Swiss vaccination recommendations as the biomedically oriented pharmacists. Rather, they considered that each customer should receive individualised, nuanced vaccination advice so that customers can reach their own decisions. SCAM-specialised pharmacists described how mothers in particular preferred getting a second opinion when they felt insufficiently advised by biomedically oriented paediatricians.
The authors concluded that vaccination counselling in community pharmacies represents an additional option to customers who have unmet vaccination consultation needs and who seek reassurance from healthcare professionals (HCPs) other than physicians. By providing individualised vaccination counselling to vaccine-hesitant customers, SCAM-specialised pharmacists are likely meeting specific needs of vaccine-hesitant customers. As such, research and implementation efforts should more systematically involve pharmacists as important actors in vaccination provision. SCAM-specialised pharmacists particularly should not be neglected as they are important HCPs who counsel vaccine-hesitant customers.
I must say that I find these conclusions odd, perhaps even wrong. Here are my reasons:
- Pharmacists are well-trained healthcare professionals.
- As such, they have ethical obligations towards their customers.
- These obligations include behaving in a way that is optimal for the health of their customers and follows the rules of evidence-based practice.
- This includes explaining to vaccine-hesitant customers why the recommended vaccinations make sense and advising them to follow the official vaccination guidelines.
- SCAM-specialised pharmacist should ask themselves whether offering SCAM is in line with their ethical obligation to provide optimal care and advice to their customers.
I fear that this paper suggests that SCAM-specialised pharmacists might be a danger to the health of their customers. If that is confirmed, they should consider re-training, in my view.
Swedish researchers examined the relationship between cognitive ability and prompt COVID-19 vaccination using individual-level data on more than 700,000 individuals in Sweden.
The analyses were based on individual-level data from several administrative registers in Sweden. The study population consisted of all men and women who enlisted for military service in Sweden between 1979 and 1997. During this period, enlistment was mandatory for men the year they turned 18 or 19. Women could not enlist for military service before 1980 but were then allowed to do so on a voluntary basis.
The study population thus covered almost the entire population of Swedish men born between 1962 and 1979, in total 750,381, as well as the sample of women who enlisted during the period of 1980–1997, in total 2703. In addressing the role of confounders, the researchers analyzed the sub-sample of 6750 twin brothers (3375 twin-pairs) in the enlistment records (identified by shared biological mother and year and month of birth).
The results show a strong positive association between cognitive ability and swift vaccination, which remained even after controlling for confounding variables with a twin-design. Consistent with this, the researchers showed that simplifying the vaccination decision through pre-booked vaccination appointments alleviates almost all of the inequality in vaccination behavior.
The authors concluded that the complexity of the vaccination decision may make it difficult for individuals with lower cognitive abilities to understand the benefits of vaccination.
On this blog, we have repeatedly discussed similar or related findings, e.g.:
- What are the reasons for opposing COVID vaccinations?
- Intelligence, Religiosity, SCAM, Vaccination Hesitancy – are there links?
- COVID-19 vaccinations: Prof Walach wants to “dampen the enthusiasm by sober facts”
- Thoughts on the bigotry of vaccination opponents
- More information on homeopaths’ and anthroposophic doctors’ attitude towards vaccinations
- The ‘Trump-Effect’ on vaccination attitudes
- The anti-vaccination movement is financed by the dietary supplement industry
- Andrew Wakefield, Donald Trump, SCAM, and the anti-vaccination cult
I know, it would be politically incorrect, unkind, unhelpful, etc. but is anyone not tempted to simplify the issue by assuming that people who are against (COVID) vaccinations are intellectually challenged?
The KFF provides reliable, accurate, and non-partisan information to help inform health policy in the US. The KFF has just released its ‘Health Misinformation Tracking Poll Pilot‘ examining the public’s media use and trust in sources of health information and measuring the reach of specific false and inaccurate claims surrounding three health-related topics: COVID-19 and vaccines, reproductive health, and gun violence. It makes grimm reading indeed. Here are but a few excerpts pertaining to health/vaccination:
Health misinformation is widespread in the US with 96% of adults saying they have heard at least one of the ten items of health-related misinformation asked about in the survey. The most widespread misinformation items included in the survey were related to COVID-19 and vaccines, including that the COVID-19 vaccines have caused thousands of deaths in otherwise healthy people (65% say they have heard or read this) and that the MMR vaccines have been proven to cause autism in children (65%).
Regardless of whether they have heard or read specific items of misinformation, the survey also asked people whether they think each claim is definitely true, probably true, probably false, or definitely false. For most of the misinformation items included in the survey, between one-fifth and one-third of the public say they are “definitely” or “probably true.” The most frequently heard claims are related to COVID-19 and vaccines.
Uncertainty is high when it comes to health misinformation. While fewer than one in five adults say each of the misinformation claims examined in the survey are “definitely true,” larger shares are open to believing them, saying they are “probably true.” Many lean towards the correct answer but also express uncertainty, saying each claim is “probably false.” Fewer tend to be certain that each claim is false, with the exception of the claim that more people have died from the COVID-19 vaccines than from the virus itself, which nearly half the public (47%) recognizes as definitely false.
Across the five COVID-19 and vaccine related misinformation items, adults without a college degree are more likely than college graduates to say these claims are definitely or probably true. Notably, Black adults are at least ten percentage points more likely than White adults to believe some items of vaccine misinformation, including that the COVID-19 vaccines have caused thousands of sudden deaths in otherwise healthy people, and that the MMR vaccines have been proven to cause autism in children. Black (29%) and Hispanic (24%) adults are both more likely than White adults (17%) to say that the false claim that “more people have died from the COVID-19 vaccine than have died from the COVID-19 virus” is definitely or probably true. Those who identify as Republicans or lean towards the Republican Party and pure independents stand out as being more likely than Democratic leaning adults to say each of these items is probably or definitely true. Across community types, rural residents are more likely than their urban and suburban counterparts to say that some false claims related to COVID vaccines are probably or definitely true, including that the vaccines have been proven to cause infertility and that more people have died from the vaccine than from the virus.
Educational attainment appears to play a particularly important role when it comes to susceptibility to COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation. Six in ten adults with college degrees say none of the five false COVID-19 and vaccine claims are probably or definitely true, compared to less than four in ten adults without a degree. Concerningly, about one in five rural residents (19%), adults with a high school education or less (18%), Black adults (18%), Republicans (20%), and independents (18%) say four or five of the false COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation items included in the survey are probably or definitely true.
If you have followed some of the comments on this blog, you might find it hard to be surprised!
I do encourage you to read the full article.
The autum seems to be the season for awards. I recently mentioned the ‘Gloden Plank‘ and now The Skeptic announced the Ockham Awards – the annual awards celebrating the very best work from within the skeptical community. The awards draw attention to people who work hard to promote skepticism. The Ockhams honour outstanding campaigns, activism, blogs, podcasts, and other contributors to the skeptical cause.
Nominations for the 2023 Ockham Awards are now open! Simply complete the nomination form to submit your nominations.
The Rusty Razor is an entirely different award. It recognises individuals or organisations who have been prominent promoters of unscientific ideas within the last year. Last year’s Rusty Razor went to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, set up in 2009 by climate change denier Nigel Lawson. The Foundation has published several reports downplaying the threat of climate change.
Previous Rusty Razor winners included
- Dr Mike Yeadon for his anti-vaccination BS,
- Dr Didier Raoult for his promotion of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19,
- Andrew Wakefield for his ongoing promotion of anti-vaxx misinformation,
- Gwyneth Paltrow for her pseudoscience-peddling wellness empire, Goop.
The awards are, as always, based on the nominations received from the skeptical community. This is your chance to see your skeptic hero and your most prolific charlatan regognised.
The “Golden Plank in Front of the Head” is a satirical negative prize awarded since many years by the Vienna Sceptics. It is given to people and organisations who seek money, fame or influence with scientifically refuted theories, although they should have known better long ago. From miracle healers to divining rods – the world of esoteric nonsense is large and wide. At the “Golden Plank” award ceremony, the year’s highlights are presented and the most outstanding of them is chosen.
It is goof fun – I remember that once even Charles Windsor had been nominated – and have reported about this award before; e.g.:
- German association of doctor-homeopaths receive prestigious award
- The most preposterous piece of pseudoscientific piffle of the year
- Professor Harald Walach, pseudo-scientist of the year
An Austrian paper just reported the good news that, after the interruption due to the pandemic, the previously yearly event is happening again:
The years of the pandemic and Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine have led to even the most nonsensical counterfactual and anti-scientific theories finding an audience. Often enough, these claims themselves came along in the white cloak of science – but in doing so, they twisted the findings of scientific studies or referred to those that were highly questionable.
The list of possible candidates is correspondingly long … some of the masterminds of the anti-vaccination and anti-pandemic movement such as the doctor Maria Hubmer-Mogg, her colleague Andreas Sönnichsen, who called the Covid vaccinations “the biggest medical scandal of all time”, and the psychiatrist Raphael Bonelli.
Political scientist Ulrike Guérot qualified as a candidate on several occasions – both with her claims during the pandemic and on the Russian war against Ukraine (“thus it becomes clear that Ukraine was given the role of starting a war with Russia on behalf of the West”).
But also former science journalists like Peter F. Mayer, who continues to twist scientific studies at will on a daily basis with his tkp blog, and Bert Ehgartner have made their sweary contributions to vaccination scepticism in Austria, which now also affects many other life-saving vaccinations. The role of some media and their representatives in the recent dissemination of anti-scientific nonsense and conspiracy ideologies, which are sometimes themselves more or less cleverly disguised as satire, should not be underestimated.
Finally, in recent months, one or the other politician – keyword: “Science is one thing, facts are another” – has manoeuvred himself into a promising position. Among the parties, the MFG, which has made anti-science part of its programme, comes to the fore. But the climate change small talkers of the ÖVP and FPÖ would also deserve a censuring mention – as well as that Austrian ruling party that has its own anti-nuclear spokesperson.
We don’t want to prejudge your favourites here, however, and look forward to receiving as many suggestions and reasons as possible. There is a separate page to officially nominate them. From all online submissions, a jury will select three finalists and finally this year’s winner. In addition, as is tradition, a “Golden Board for Lifetime Achievement” will also be awarded.
The awards ceremony will take place on 5 October 2023 in the Vienna Stadtsaal. This year, for the first time, there will also be an audience award, which will be decided live by the guests. Martin Puntigam from the Science Busters and Andre Wolf from Mimikama will host the evening. The laudations will be given by medical historian Daniela Angetter-Pfeiffer, psychiatrist and neurologist Heidi Kastner and health scientist and epidemiologist Gerald Gartlehner. According to the organisers, it will be an evening to learn, to laugh and to shake one’s head.
If you want to nominate someone of your choice (I believe they consider international charlatans as well), you can do it here: Das Goldene Brett 2023 – Der Negativpreis 🏆 (goldenesbrett.guru)
This study aimed to clarify the psychological mechanism by which individuals accept health misinformation from social media and how health misperceptions affect subsequent unhealthy behavior in the context of dewormer use.
An online survey was conducted with 307 South Korean adults exposed to dewormer use information on social media. The positive association between the respondents’ uncertainty about their health and factual misbeliefs about dewormer use was moderated by their pre-existing attitude toward so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) vs. standard treatments, suggesting that individuals who are uncertain but more favorable toward SCAM tend to accept factual misbeliefs more easily. Individuals’ uncertainty about their health and treatment for the health management was positively associated with conspiracy beliefs. Factual misbeliefs were the key mediator in the association between the interaction of uncertainty and pre-existing attitude toward SCAM vs. standard treatments and dewormer-taking intention.
This is a subject that we have discussed many times before. See, for instance, here:
- How can we reduce the belief in conspiracy theories?
- Conspiracy Beliefs Predict Health Behavior and Well-being during the Pandemic
- Coronavirus conspiracy beliefs, mistrust, and compliance with government guidelines
- Mistrust + Misinformation —> CONSPIRACY THEORY
- Conspiracy theories and dangerous recommendations via YouTube videos
- “The cancer industry is a medical conspiracy against humanity” (The Turmeric story)
- Conspiracy theories, assumptions, opinions, evidence and scientific facts
- A conspiracy theory seems to be driving the popularity of alternative medicine
In my view, it is hugely important. Consumers who are uncertain, easily misled, convinced that ‘the establishment’ is against them, or prone to other conspiracy theories tend to be the ones that also fall easily for the lies of SCAM promoters. Indeed, I have previously suggested that SCAM itself is a conspiracy theory in disguise. Anyone who has been following the comment sections on this blog will find more evidence for this theory than he had ever needed, I fear.
It is clear to me that misinformation undermines not just evidence-based medicine but – much more dangerous -rationality in general. It would be thus urgent to do something about it.
In my view, the answer is to promote critical thinking. This, of course, is what I am aiming at with my blog. But my effort is merely a drop in the ocean. What we need is a systematic promotion of critial thinking on a much larger scale. It has to start at school and should be followed through to post-graduate education and beyond.
Such a strategy would require a very broad backing, not least on the political levels. And this is where the concept runs into insurmountable difficulties: politcians might not want us to be critical thinkers! This could enable the public to realize what often dismally poor jobs they might be up to.