The Quack Doctrine
The real focus of misinformation spreaders: themselves
There are many credible websites and social media feeds that you can use to track scientific research. Between journals, science-devoted websites, and aggregated press release feeds, staying informed about what’s happening in the world of research might need better curation, but definitely not more channels.
So I’m always a bit bummed when I come across important new studies via misinformation spreaders. In this case: a misinformation-spreading doctor shares a study about the dangerous impact of…misinformation-spreading doctors.
I came across Dr. Høeg last year, when she was not-so-humblebragging about being an ultramarathon runner who never takes NSAIDs for pain management. A weird flex, though one that fits snugly into the anti-vax worldview: I’m so healthy, if you need silly things like pharmaceuticals, there must be something wrong with you.
And so X’s broken algorithm fed me Høeg once again. As David Gorski has pointed out about her work:
We last met Dr. Høeg when she coauthored a really bad manuscript that was published as a preprint and represented a dumpster dive into the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) database and was widely criticized, including right here on SBM, thus doing the same thing that antivaxxers have done with VAERS going back at least two decades, misunderstanding and misusing it to claim or exaggerate horrible harms from vaccines, this time myocarditis. More recently, Dr. Høeg has been most associated with an effort that has big GBD [Great Barrington Declaration] vibes, namely the “Urgency of Normal.” Basically, “Urgency of Normal” is an effort that is an offshoot of the antimask “open up the schools”—and damn the consequences!—movement.
Unsurprisingly, Høeg also shares a preprint in the X thread above, flexing on her collaborations with fellow anti-vaxxer, Vinay Prasad, one of the more egregious misinformation spreaders and COVID minimizers. And—surprise!—Prasad also took to X to denounce the investigation.
After getting caught up in the whirlwind of conspiracies that is X, I finally had a moment to sit and read “Communication of COVID-19 Misinformation on Social Media by Physicians in the US.” Written by six public health researchers from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, this original investigation dives into misinformation shared on major social media networks, including Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook.
The team specifically addresses physicians who spread Covid-19 misinformation:
In this mixed-methods study of US physician propagation of COVID-19 misinformation on social media, results suggest widespread, inaccurate, and potentially harmful assertions made by physicians across the country who represented a range of subspecialties.
While misinformation comes from many sources, it’s especially egregious when spread by doctors. They often take the tone of “we’re inside the system, and we’re here to tell you how messed up it is.” This appeals to a skeptical fraction of the public, who likewise want to feel like they’re getting insider information with a side of fuck-it-all rebelliousness.