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Peter Gøtzsche and the antivaxers

Recently, it was noted that Peter Gøtzsche, formerly of Cochrane Nordic, was featured on the speaker list for an antivaccine quackfest. Two days later, he announced that he would not be speaking there. So what happened and why did Prof. Gøtzsche agree to speak at an antivax conference in the first place?

I almost didn’t write about today’s topic because, like many Twitter kerfuffles, it’s something that happened one day and was seemingly resolved two days later—and that two days ago is now a week past. On the other hand, this saga gives me the opportunity to discuss, at least as much as I can based on what I know, a bit about the saga of Prof. Peter Gøtzsche, former director of the Nordic Cochrane Collaborative and someone who’s known for being quite outspoken. He’s also someone who’s flirted with some rather dubious ideas, up to and including antivaccine ideas about the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine. It is also a story that allows me to discuss an antivaccine group that I’ve been meaning to discuss for a long time, namely Physicians for Informed Consent (PIC), having encountered one of its members six months ago. Also, even though this event seemed to have been resolved a week ago, as you will see, it’s not really, as I will explain at the end in an update describing what’s happened over he last week.

Here’s how it began the Friday before last:

Here is how the PIC website appeared last weekend, with the full lineup:

As you might expect, a Twitter storm erupted over this. Note the list of other speakers, a veritable rogues’ gallery of antivaccine “luminaries”, including Robert F. Kennedy, Jr, Mary Holland, and Toni Bark (more on each of them later). Note that the organizer of the workshop is Physicians for Informed Consent, an antivaccine group of physicians that specializes in discouraging vaccination under the guise of promoting “informed consent”. It is, of course, in actuality misinformed consent that PIC promotes, as I will discuss. Unfortunately, however, PIC is influential because it is made up of physicians and medical professionals, much as the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) is influential even though it is in reality an Ayn Rand-worshiping political group masquerading as a medical professional society. Because I happened to be out sick that Friday (don’t ask), I myself had time to contribute a rather long thread about why it would be a horrible idea for Prof. Gøtzsche to speak at this conference:

Ultimately, on Sunday morning, Prof. Gøtzsche Tweeted that he was not going to be speaking at the conference:

Notice the rather strange phrasing of the last sentence.Also notice how Prof. Gøtzsche didn’t say that was withdrawing from the conference as a speaker and make an excuse, such as that he didn’t know the nature of the workshop when he agreed to appear. He just said, “I am not speaking at this event.” I found that rather odd as well. What does that mean? He did, after all, appear to have been the conference headliner, based on his prominent position at the top of the bill.

So what happened? How could Prof. Gøtzsche, who by any stretch of the imagination has been a very eminent voice for evidence-based medicine even counting his recent travails, have agreed to speak for an antivaccine group? And, no, I don’t think PIC lied about him being on its lineup for its conference, as I have seen a few of Prof. Gøtzsche’s defenders claim. That would have been stupid and self-destructive in the extreme, as having someone like Prof. Gøtzsche say that PIC lied about his having agreed to speak would have been a public relations disaster even worse than the PR disaster of him pulling out of the conference.

Let’s look at the conference first. Then we’ll look at Prof. Gøtzsche’s recent history. Finally, I’ll describe why I consider PIC an antivaccine group, although the conference lineup itself is probably reason enough to conclude that PIC is antivaccine.

PIC Workshop and Luncheon 2019

The PIC Workshop and Luncheon is scheduled for March 17, 2019 in Costa Mesa, California, and Peter C. Gøtzsche is the headliner. The title of his talk was to be How Mandatory Vaccination Violates Medical Ethics, which is not an auspicious-sounding title. In fact, it’s a title that antivaxers would love because they frequently make the unfounded claim that “forced” or “mandatory” vaccination is the moral equivalent of what the Nazi doctors on trial at Nuremberg did. Indeed, some explicitly claim that school vaccine mandates are against the Nuremberg code. It’s a frequent antivaccine talking point. For example, the grand dame of the antivaccine movement herself, Barbara Loe Fisher, the founder of one of the oldest American antivaccine groups, the National Vaccine Information Center, once did a video entitled “From Nuremberg to California: Why Informed Consent Matters in the 21st Century“, a video that I deconstructed elsewhere in my usual inimitable fashion. Let’s just say that her video featured Nazi analogies. Lots of Nazi analogies, and that antivaxers like to liken vaccine mandates to the Holocaust.

In any event, Prof. Gøtzsche should have known that this is a favorite antivaccine talking point and chosen a less provocative, less antivaccine-sounding title. (If he didn’t, then he was painfully ignorant of antivaccine tactics.) Now, there is nothing wrong with discussing the ethics of vaccine mandates. However, appearing with antivaccine “luminaries” at an antivaccine conference organized by an antivaccine group is not a good look, particularly when the title of your talk echoes a favorite antivaccine talking point.

And who are these antivaccine luminaries? They include:

  • Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. What is there to say about RFK, Jr. that I haven’t already said many times? I first encountered his antivaccine stylings in 2005, when he wrote “Deadly Immunity”, a joint publication of and Rolling Stone, to the eternal shame of both publications. It was basically the recounting of an antivaccine conspiracy theory. Later, I encountered him arguing that if you criticize women who are antivaccine you must hate mothers. More recently, RFK Jr. has teamed up with antivaccine reporter Sharyl Attkisson to promote what I like to call a “new-old conspiracy theory” of the “the CDC knew how bad vaccines are” variety. It’s nonsense, of course, as all of Sharyl Attkisson’s conspiracy theories are, and is rooted in the claims of a useful idiot named Dr. Robert Zimmermann. The title of his talk is “Mandatory Vaccines & Public Health”. Notice how the speakers at his conference fetishize the word “mandatory”.
  • Toni Bark, MD. Dr. Bark is a “holistic” doctor who became a naturopath and also, as many naturopaths do, practices homeopathy. Hilariously, she was a speaker, along with Andrew Wakefield, on the Conspira-Sea Cruise, a cruise for conspiracy theory lovers. She was also a panelist for an antivaccine panel discussion called One Conversation, where she laid down some serious antivaccine misinformation. She’s a member of an embarrassing (to me) group of antivaccine physicians, although given that she’s become a naturopath I have a hard time considering her a physician any more. Unfortunately, Bark’s quackiness has not prevented her from being allowed to testify in vaccine cases, including, alas, one that happened in my neck of the woods a year ago. I was, however, amused at how Bark didn’t exactly cover herself in glory at that trial. No wonder she has her own entry in the Encyclopedia of American Loons. Still, she represents herself as an “expert witness” in “vaccine injury”.
  • Mary Holland. Mary Holland is a lawyer and faculty at, of all places, NYU, and she too has her own entry in the aforementioned Encyclopedia of American Loons. Basically, she tries to use the courts and authoring books to promote the scientifically discredited idea that vaccines cause autism. She also uses her status to find ways to brief congressional aides about the Vaccine Court and let misinformation flow. She’s also not above flouting clinical trial ethics by doing crappy human subjects research without IRB approval.
  • Rick Jaffe. Rick Jaffe is best known as the lawyer of cancer quack Stanislaw Burzynski, although the two had a falling out over unpaid legal fees. Basically, he’s one of those “health freedom” lawyers who specializes in defending quacks who get in trouble with the FDA or the law. These days, he spends his time railing against efforts to eliminate CME credit for courses in “integrative medicine” quackery and defending the owners of quack stem cell clinics, although in fairness, their quackery seems occasionally to be too much for even him to defend.

So what will the workshop include? Here’s PIC’s own description of it:

The PIC Workshop & Luncheon will include world-renowned speakers and collaborative discussions on medical ethics, public health, mandatory vaccination, medical exemptions, infectious diseases and law. Attendees will experience both an educational and think-tank environment, network with medical experts and top lawyers, and connect with their colleagues. In addition, attendees will participate in workgroup sessions where they will learn best practices in recommending a medical exemption to vaccination that will enable them to protect at-risk children from vaccine injuries.

Topics will include:

  • Mandatory vaccination and medical ethics
  • Practical tools and best practices for protecting at-risk children from vaccine injuries and elevating patient health outcomes
  • Educational materials to help assess the risks of an infectious disease versus the risks of the corresponding vaccine
  • Current and historical infectious disease data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Center for Health Statistics
  • Existing scientific research on complications that can result from vaccine adverse events and medical circumstances that increase the risk of vaccine side effects
  • The enactment of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act (NCVIA) of 1986
  • The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) and the limitations of passive surveillance systems (e.g., as few as 1% of serious side effects from medical products are reported to passive surveillance systems)
  • The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP), vaccine adverse events listed on the VICP Table of Injuries, and the compensation of $4 billion for severe vaccine injury cases

I see…much antivaccine material in this. There are a lot of antivaccine tropes in this list, and the NCVIA is a favorite bogeyman of the antivaccine movement. For instance, that bit about the “current and historical infectious disease data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Center for Health Statistics” strongly suggests to me the “vaccines didn’t save us,” a favorite gambit parroted by antivaxers ranging from Julian Whitaker to J.B. Handley to Dr. David Brownstein to Dr. Gary G. Kohls.

There are also some other featured speakers/panelists at this antivaccine quackfest. For instance, there’s Greg Glaser, the general counsel for PIC; Jacques Simon, another lawyer; and Brad Hakala, still another lawyer. Let’s take a look at them in turn. For instance, here’s the PIC description of Greg Glaser, and here’s a direct quote from him featured on the PIC website:

Like most Americans, I just assumed vaccines were harmless. After my daughter’s first round of injections, the experience forced me to open my eyes and actually research the matter. I found a suspicious list of vaccine ingredients, and an absolute certainty of widespread, under-reported vaccine injury across our population. Seeing my nephew suffer after the MMR vaccine also prompted me to research holistic ways to detox from vaccine injury.

Yep, Greg Glaser is clearly antivaccine, and he believes that quack “detox” methods can heal “vaccine injury”. But what about Jacques Simon? One area of law he likes, apparently, is advising doctors on how to write medical exemptions in California without getting into trouble:

This legal panel of attorneys will examine SB277, the new California law that mandates all children receive a one-size-fits-all vaccine prescription in order to attend both public and private schools. These experts will discuss best practices for physicians writing medical exemptions, as well as the legal standards for alternative methods in diagnosis and treatment and their application in the vaccine field.

Not surprisingly, there will be similar panel at the 2019 PIC quackfest entitled “Best Practices for Physicians Recommending a Medical Exemption to Vaccination”. Clearly, the idea is to instruct physicians on how to write medical exemptions without being sanctioned by the California Board of Medicine, the way “Dr. Bob” Sears was. In other words, the idea is to continue the gravy train of selling bogus “medical exemptions” to the California school vaccine mandate without getting into legal trouble. And, make no mistake, it is a lucrative business for antivaccine doctors and quacks.

Meanwhile, Brad Hakala is known for filing dubious lawsuits against SB 277, the California law that eliminated nonmedical exemptions to school vaccine mandates.

Yes, this is an antivaccine confab. It’s more lawyers than quacks (Toni Bark being the only definite antivaccine quack), but calling it a quackfest is not an exaggeration.

Physicians for Informed Consent: Antivaccine to the core

In all the Twitter kerfuffle over Prof. Gøtzsche’s involvement with PIC, whoever runs the PIC Twitter feed was not at all pleased and felt obligated to deny most vociferously that PIC is antivaccine:

Of course, what PIC is really for is most definitely not informed consent, but rather what I like to refer to as “misinformed consent.” Also, get a load of the groups with which PIC has associated itself in a coalition:

  • Alliance for Natural Health
  • National Vaccine Information Center
  • Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS)
  • Oregonians for Medical Freedom
  • IPAK (This is Jeffrey Lyons-Weiler’s group, and he’s antivaccine.)
  • Vermont Coalition for Vaccine Choice
  • Informed Choice WA
  • Immunity Education Group
  • Michigan for Vaccine Choice
  • SANE Vax

And more. All of these are antivaccine groups. It’s not even a close call whether they are or not, and notice how many of them include the word “choice” in their titles. “Vaccine choice” is code for antivaccine.

As for PIC itself, it is a radical antivaccine group, as our good friend Skeptical Raptor has pointed out. For instance, look at its “leadership team” and some examples of who’s on it. Besides being loaded with “holistic” quacks, the PIC leadership team includes:

As I said before, if PIC is not antivaccine, as an organization it sure has a funny way of showing it. I mean, look at how it misrepresents the risks of the measles vaccine.

But what about Peter Gøtzsche?

So we’ve established that the conference that Peter Gøtzsche was apparently scheduled to headline is an antivaccine conference organized by an antivaccine group featuring some prominent antivaxers. So whatever possessed Gøtzsche to agree to appear at this antivax quackfest? PIC must have viewed it as a major coup to land someone with a reputation like his to speak, even better to get him to speak about how he thinks that vaccine mandates are unethical, a message that antivaxers will eat up. How on earth could one of the founders of the Cochrane Collaboration and the former director of Cochrane Nordic be so clueless as not to know that PIC is an antivaccine group and RFK Jr. is a leader of the antivaccine movement? Again, I repeat that I don’t believe the claims of some of Gøtzsche’s followers that he was never going to speak at PIC. A group like PIC wouldn’t advertise the appearance of someone like Peter Gøtzsche if it didn’t have at least an email from him committing to appear at its conference.

The problem, I think, is that something’s happened to Peter Gøtzsche over the last few years. Let’s just put it this way. I used to be an admirer. Indeed, over the last few years I’ve tried very hard to give him the benefit of the doubt, but have been having a harder and harder time doing so. However, his rhetoric has been becoming more and more radical, referring to big pharma as organized crime. He’s also been becoming more and more anti-psychiatry, to the point where his rhetoric sometimes sounds uncomfortably like Scientology.

Then there are vaccines. Basically, Gøtzsche and his colleagues at Cochrane Nordic wrote a poorly reasoned critique of a Cochrane meta-analysis of the HPV vaccine criticizing the original Cochrane article for being biased and ignoring evidence. It was widely agreed that Gøtzsche and colleagues (including Tom Jefferson, whom we’ve criticized before) had vastly overplayed its hand and massively overstated problems with the review. The end result of the kerfuffle was that Gøtzsche was removed from the board of directors of the Cochrane Collaboration, with some leaving with him. From my perspective, basically, Gøtzsche has become a bit of a crank on some issues, including psychiatry, the HPV vaccine, and, arguably, mammographic screening.

So why did Gøtzsche do it? There’s no doubt that it’s a good thing that he publicly announced that he won’t be speaking at the PIC antivax quackfest. That would have been a major victory for antivaxers, with Gøtzsche lending his prestige to PIC, exactly what the antivaccine cranks who run the organization wanted. Indeed, check out PIC’s press release announcing the conference, dated the day before the Twitterstorm erupted:

As part of a full day of scientific and legal sessions, the PIC Workshop & Luncheon will include a lecture by Professor Peter C. Gøtzsche entitled “How Mandatory Vaccination Violates Medical Ethics.” Professor Gøtzsche is a physician and specialist in internal medicine; the founder and former director of Nordic Cochrane Center, Copenhagen, Denmark; and cofounder of the Cochrane Collaboration. He has published more than 70 papers in “the big five” (BMJ, Lancet, JAMA, Annals of Internal Medicine, and New England Journal of Medicine), and his scientific works have been cited more than 40,000 times.

So, yes, whatever Gøtzsche has said, PIC sure thought he was going to speak.

Here’s what, at the time, I suspected to have happened. PIC invited Gøtzsche to give a talk on the ethics of vaccine mandates with an appeal that played to his ego and suspicion of big pharma. Likely Gøtzsche didn’t know the true nature of PIC, and now that he’s learned it he’s backed out, disingenuously representing antivaccine sentiments as being ideologically opposed to vaccination (something almost no antivaxer ever says). Sure, I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am. Barring Gøtzsche issuing a more complete explanation than his cryptic Tweet above, we’ll never know. Whatever happened, I hope Gøtzsche has learned a lesson.

It turns out that I was more right than wrong about this, but that I probably gave Gøtzsche too much of the benefit of the doubt.

What really happened?

If you’re looking for an explanation of what happened, you’re going to have a hard time finding it…at least in English. Fortunately, readers pointed me to an article in Danish that included an interview with Prof. Gøtzsche about the incident:

The article is in Danish and behind a paywall, but, again, readers helped me out by providing me the text. I did Google Translate and cleaned up the result grammatically a bit to make it less awkward:

Professor Peter Gøtzsche canceled his presentation at a workshop for vaccine-skeptical organization, after his participation became the subject of massive criticism. Grotesque, says the protagonist himself.

»Hvordan obligatoriske vacciner krænker medicinsk etik.«

Something like that is the Danish translation of the title of the speech Professor Peter Gøtzsche was to hold at Physicians for Informed Consents (PIC) workshop in California until March. This is stated in the organization’s website.

But even though Gøtzsche would like to make the argument that vaccines should not be mandatory, he has nevertheless chosen to cancel his participation at the conference, where several stated vaccine opponents appear on the list of speakers.

“It sounded interesting to take over, because I have the same basic point of view that they have in terms of not having to be compulsory or something you are forced to do. Then we are almost over in psychiatry – this is the only place you force people to do something against their will. I believe that coercion in psychiatry clearly does more harm than good, “says the professor, who at the same time emphasizes that he was not aware that there would be speakers with such extreme views on the vaccine issue, as is the case when he agreed to appear.

I can see why PIC likes Prof. Gøtzsche so much; although he doesn’t realize it, he definitely talks the antivax talk, at least with respect to “informed consent,” as well as any antivaxer. I realize that it’s because he’s too clueless to realize that what antivaxers consider “informed consent” is not what he, doctors, and ethicists consider informed consent, rather than because he is antivaccine, but, again, his appearance at PIC’s conference would have supported antivaccine misinformed consent.

As for vaccines being “forced,” that, too, is straight from the antivaccine playbook and his characterization of vaccination as “forced” reveals, at the very least, a profound lack of understanding of vaccine mandates in the US. No one is “forcing” children to be vaccinated. There are no vaccine stormtroopers kicking in the doors of vaccine-hesitant parents in the middle of the night and forcibly vaccinating their children. Instead, we have a very simple requirement. To go to school or daycare, a child must have had a certain minimal set of vaccinations, based on the CDC recommendations with each state setting its own requirements, unless there is a medical contraindication to receiving them. Moreover, in all but three states (West Virginia, Mississippi, and, since SB 277, California) it’s laughably easy to get a nonmedical exemption based on religious or personal beliefs to school vaccine mandates.

Gøtzsche is also either deluded or arrogant—or both. He seems to think that by appearing at an event like PIC he can change antivaxers’ minds:

Peter Gøtzsche finds it difficult to understand why the “street parliament”, which he calls the high-spirited forces on social media, finds his participation in an event such as PIC’s problematic, because if one cannot speak to the skeptics, one cannot push them into the right direction either, he believes.

“I am still considering how to spread some light in the anti-vaccine darkness without even ending up in the gab,” says Gøtzsche.

Again, this attitude seems on the surface so very high-minded—and maybe it is—but it’s also so very, very out of touch with reality. These are not vaccine-averse parents attending this meeting. The speakers are all antivaccine activists, highly invested in the antivaccine ideology, and the vast majority, if not all, of the attendees will be hard core antivaxers. These are not people who are going to be persuaded by a single lecture, even by someone as eminent as Prof. Gøtzsche. Moreover, what would have come out of the conference would have been videos and pictures of antivaxers like RFK Jr. shaking hands with Prof. Gøtzsche and appearing with him on stage, thus appearing to give Prof. Gøtzsche’s imprimatur on the proceedings, which is exactly what antivaccine groups want when they try to entice someone like Prof. Gøtzsche to speak at their events. It’s what they want when they try to hold public debates with scientists, physicians, and science advocates, to elevate their crank viewpoint through proximity to real scientists and their giving the appearance that there is an actual scientific debate. Elsewhere in the article Prof. Gøtzsche says that he wanted to explain why PIC founder Shira Miller is so wrong about the measles vaccine and that Miller wanted him to. Of course she did! Having an eminent scientist go to the trouble of publicly refuting your antivaccine pseudoscience gives the false appearance that there is a real scientific debate! It would have been a win for Miller if Gøtzsche did this, because she’d instantly be elevated.

Fortunately, Stinus Lindgreen (RV), a bioinformatics expert from the University of Copenhagen who sits in the regional council of the Capital and is active advocating for vaccines, gets it:

But although Stinus Lindgreen shares Peter Gøtzsche’s view that vaccines should not be mandatory, he is far from agreeing that the way to “fight” the growing vaccine resistance is to speak somewhere like PIC’s workshop.

“The people who attend are not in doubt. They are opponents, and their attitude, I do not think you can make much sense of,” he says.

On the other hand, there is a risk that you will be used as a form of advertisement for the organisation’s attitudes, he believes. Because even though Peter Gøtzsche was planning to criticize Shira Miller’s skepticism towards the measles vaccine when he took the stage, it would only be those attending who would get that part of Gøtzsche’s talk.

What would remain would still be a picture of Peter Gøtzsche next to Robert Kennedy Jr. under the title: “How compulsory vaccines violate medical ethics.”

Exactly. Gøtzsche might be really pissed off because I referred to him as having gone “full antivax,” but I regret nothing else in terms of criticizing him for letting himself be used as a tool of an antivaccine organization, especially since, as of yesterday, he is still featured on the PIC webpage touting the conference, and a PIC representative was responding to inquiries with this:


Quite a bit. Shira Miller (PIC-Pins) has told me that they are doing what they can to get Gøtzsche to speak anyway. So maybe because they still hope? But yes, not fat if you buy the ticket because of Gøtzsche!


So, will Gøtzsche be speaking at the PIC conference? He publicly announced that he would not be, but PIC representatives are apparently jerking around potential attendees by leaving his picture on the conference webpage and telling them that they still hope that he will speak.

I assume that Gøtzsche meant what he said when he declared that he would no longer be speaking at the PIC conference, but, even so, I’m done giving him the benefit of the doubt. He no longer deserves it, as far as I’m concerned.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

87 replies on “Peter Gøtzsche and the antivaxers”

A simple analysis of Orac’s post on Peter Gøtzsche shows the word “antivaccine” was used sixty-six (66) times and the word “provaccine” was used zero (0) times. The word “antivaccine” is not clearly defined so this analysis has very little meaning.

@ Orac,

Peter Gøtzsche et al. research findings indicate that placebo has surprisingly little effect, therefore, not a champion of alternative medicine.

A simple analysis of MJD’s writings has shown he has said something intelligent 0 times and something pant-on-head moronic 127 times. This being the case, his posting of material has very little meaning.

MJD he doesn’t define basic words because we are all expected to be able to understand simple English. Only the more esoteric words and phrases are in need of defining.

I expect Gøtzsche’s next step will be to establish a “Centre For Research, Knowledge And Purity Of Essence Untainted by Organized Pharma Crime” (following in the sanctified footsteps of Toni Bark and James Lyons-Weiler).
That way he has a much better chance of recognition as a Brave Maverick, aiding in the harvest of speaking fees and book sales.

Peter Breggin is as anti-psychiatry as any Scientologist, although he denies and affiliation. Paul Thacker is ant-GMO. I’m not familiar with most of the rest.

“Peter Breggin is as anti-psychiatry as any Scientologist”

He’s mostly anti-drug.

Wikipedia says: “In his books, he advocates replacing psychiatry’s use of drugs and electroconvulsive therapy with psychotherapy, education, empathy, love, and broader human services.”

I do not see the difference between that stance and the stance of many psychiatrists. To me, that hardly qualifies as “antipsychiatry”, quite the contrary: he just wants an alternate form of psychiatry. It’s not going to address the concerns of the real “antipsychiatry” crowd, who’d wish that we’d at least drop the BS with “education”, “empathy” and “love”, of which they’ve had more than enough.

He’s mostly anti-drug.

Um, have you seen his “hypothesis” regarding ADHD? I’m not comfortable with the polarised factions regarding psychiatric drugs. There are a lot of problems with them for certain but they also help and save lives and provide quality of life. Nothing constructive will get done if these divisions exist.

Yep. Also, in psychiatry “anti-drug” tends to be associated with a lot of pseudoscience and a distressing tendency to conflate problems with psychiatric medicines to claims that they do no good at all.

“have you seen his “hypothesis” regarding ADHD?”

The “DADD” “hypothesis”?


Mimi writes,


MJD says,

You connect singular (Anti-vaccine) to plural (AGAINST VACCINES). With your statement, there is an inherent danger of “if you’re not completely with us, your against us.” Thus, your definition of “anti-vaccine” blindly encompasses “vaccine safety advocate”, thereafter, affecting vaccine continuous improvement. A vaccine safety advocate is defined herein as a vaccinated person opposed to at least one vaccine based on its efficacy and/or safety wherein said person places their criticism in the public domain.

@ Orac,

Can you bring clarity to the word “anti-vaccine” in a similar fashion to MJD’s definition of “vaccine safety advocate?” Please advise.

@ Orac,

How can I earn an invitation to write a guest post at Respectful Insolence?

If Dr. Gøtzsche was so interested in attending in order to “correct” the anti-vaxxers’ wrong-headed ideas about vaccines, then why offer a presentation that feeds right into their paranoia and anti-vaxx activities? Between that, his flaccid remonstration of PIC and the continued appearance of his speakership, I’m calling bollocks. He should be engaged in rehabbing his reputation, not wallowing in the gutter with anti-vaxx “thought leaders”. As a bit of a side bar, it’s easy to get high and mighty about vaccine mandates when you operate in a large geographic area consisting of multiple countries that enjoy high voluntary vaccine uptake and low anti-vaxx activities.

There is enough anti-vaxx activities in Europe and there are defenitly places where vaccine uptake can be rather on the low side.

Absolutely Renate, but Denmark, Sweden, Finland, etc. do have very high voluntary vaccine uptake. There are anti-vaxx pockets but you have to admit, it’s not nearly at the level it is in France, UK, and the U.S. e.g. So my point is, is that it’s easy to be against mandates when you’re biased by your personal experience that vaccine mandates aren’t necessary for high vaccine uptake.

I suppose Scandinavian, or nordic countries have perhaps less anti-vaccine activities. I live in the Netherlands and here vaccine-uptake seems to be dropping and anti-vaxxers oftencan bring their stories in the media. So it may be a rather small part of Europe that have still a very high voluntary uptake.
Besides part of our lower vaccine-uptake is concentrated in something called the bible-belt, where people don’t vaccinate for religious reasons.

Excellent points all. I think Gøtzsche might be trying to salvage his reputation after having been caught agreeing to give a talk to an antivaccine group on the ethics of compulsory vaccination that the antivaxers attending the conference would eat up. So now he says that he ALSO wanted to confront Shira Miller about her anti-MMR claims. Yet, at the same time he disingenuously claims that he had no idea there would be antivaccine “extremists” in attendance, even though he must have known that PIC’s founder Shira Miller was an “extremist,” given that he knew about her anti-MMR pseudoscience. You’re right. I’m smelling more and more BS.

In addition, there’s a bit of a tension between saying “I didn’t know they were anti-vaccine” and saying “I hoped to publicly correct their anti-vaccine beliefs through dialogue”.

Not complete tension, because he could think they’re vaccine skeptics but not as extreme. But still.

Indeed. The more I think about it, the more self-contradictory Gøtzsche’s excuses sound. First, he says he agreed to speak on how unethical mandatory vaccination is because he shares that view with PIC, saying he didn’t know there would be antivax “extremists” like RFK Jr. there. Then he says he wanted to refute Shira Miller’s anti-MMR pseudoscience. Wait. He knew Shira Miller, the founder of the damned organization, is antivaccine and spreading misinformation about MMR, and he’s shocked—shocked, I say!—to find that PIC is antivaccine and its Workshop features famous antivaccine “extremists.”

It doesn’t add up.

Also, how was he going to shoehorn a defense of the MMR vaccine into a talk about how mandatory vaccination is unethical? I smell more and more bullshit In his claims.

It could also be that he really doesn’t know his own reasons – his thinking is a confused amalgam of these not-quite contradictory statements. This would not make him stupid or bad, but simply the same as most people. Though some of us meanies might think that people should speak on issues when they understand their own motivations rather than when they are confused about what they want. That is – people who speak on important issues publically have a responsibility to know what they are about.

So tired of the term “forced vaccination” which is a complete lie. Doubly tired because here in Arizona a bill that would allow parents to exempt their child from vaccines for religious reasons without even needing to sign a form (you know the form that lets schools track the unvaccinated kids in case of an outbreak so those children can be kept at home to keep them from catching a VPD) will now go before the AZ state legislature, having made it out of committee last week–all the while with AVers here falsely claiming it’s about “forced vaccination”. No it’s f***ng not you liars. Not when you already had an easy personal belief exempt for AZ to start with. But AVers are lying liars who lie and PIC is another group of them and a rather scary one at that because they are proof of the utter spinelessness of state medical boards in taking out these anti-vax physicians who do far more damage than other anti-vaxxers when it comes to convincing parents not to vaccinate.

Yeah. PIC is an embarrassment to the medical profession. I’m going to keep more of an eye on their activities from here on out.

It’s like people who whine about “free speech” when they are faced with consequences for being vocal racists. They think the world should be molded to their needs and their needs alone.

Re “Forced”, I would also add that when it comes to children, “forced” is strange. Children are forced to do a lot of things, and getting appropriate medical care is one of them. They don’t have a choice either way. It’s just as fair to say that unvaccinated children are forced to bear a risk of diphtheria and measles.

I assume that they mean the parents are being forced to let their kids be vaccinated. Most of these people don’t actually really seem to care about kids’ rights or autonomy.

To anti-vaxxers, “forced” means the jack-booted government thugs their delusional minds dredge up. But whatever the parents want to force on their children is just fine, including not vaccinating and then forcing the child to endure a horrifying painful death from infection, eg Ezekiel Stephan who was forced to die by his parents of meningitis because it’s their “right” to do this.

To anti-vaxxers, “forced” means the jack-booted government thugs their delusional minds dredge up.

Time for the mutant N-zis from An American Werewolf in London?

It’s simple enough as a principle: Children are people that parents hold in trust, not possessions..

I have read a couple of Peter’s books, and I find much to admire. If you read his books he actually makes a very valid point for why he considers the pharmaceutical industry like organised crime. Some of the recent court cases involving pharmaceutical companies and the fines that were given tell their own story. Likewise, his argument against anti-depressants is based on much research. I tend to believe it. And yes, he had concerns about the HPV vaccination. But again, he mentions specific concerns, and it is with that vaccine only. He is a strong supporter of vaccinations otherwise, so I don’t believe he has gone to the dark side. Also, what happened in Cochrane looks to be a bit complex. Cochrane is in his eyes rolling back on vital values. For example, he would have insisted that people researching a topic in Cochrane should not have any vested interests. Cochrane changed that to no more than 50% of the people investigating a topic should have vested financial interests. The fact that 4 other members of the board chose to leave indicates to me that Cochrane has a problem, not Peter. I am baffled by the PIC thing, but currently would consider it an outlier. But the man has basically sacrificed his career by not wanting to compromise and by speaking the truth as he sees it. That earns him my respect.

In my view, Gøtzsche seems to be increasingly pissed off by the mentality of the medical profession. He’s made many statements over the years showing his distrust of medical decisions, likely because he rightly identifies biases and cognitive shortcuts in the way doctors think. Seems like that is making him lose track of the big picture of things, as his alleged belief that he could change PIC’s minds shows.

And yes, he had concerns about the HPV vaccination. But again, he mentions specific concerns, and it is with that vaccine only.

Were you aware that he gave a Skype talk about HPV to the International Federation of Injured Children and Adults (IFICA), an anti-vaccine (mainly anti-HPV) group about a year ago?

Also, his criticism of the Cochrane HPV meta-analysis was way off, using at least one antivax trope, specifically the claim that there were no “proper controls” in the HPV clinical (something I’ve discussed before in the context of antivaxers making the same claim). It was downright embarrassing to read.

Prof. Gøtzsche has some reason to be suspicious of some clinical results

It seems weird to progress from “suspicious of pharmacology claims that aren’t based on reliable evidence” to “getting into bed with a homeopath”.

“Likewise, his argument against anti-depressants is based on much research. I tend to believe it.”
I have not done the research or seen his, but at the age of 50 and taking one for the first time, I was able to say, “Maybe this is what it feels like to be normal.” It was a great feeling, and various antidepressants have continued to serve me well a substantial number of years later.
I know that this is anecdotal, and I usually scoff at such anecdotes, but I still can’t deny the evidence as experienced by me.

Do any US states still have mandatory quarantine laws? Strict house arrest for any family with a member with a highly contagious disease might have an interesting effect on vaccination rates in the long term.

Good question. 100 years ago, it was perfectly legal for health authorities to quarantine whole communities & throw violators in prison. I don’t believe laws have changed – but those policies have taken a back seat, since vaccines allow these outbreaks to be contained without the need to enforced quarantines.

Now, if there ever was a serious pandemic, especially with a disease which there was no vaccine or effective treatment (I’m thinking of the many bat-borne viruses which are starting to crop up in humans in Asia), you can bet that those regulations would be dusted off and enacted.

Was it? I thought it might have been something like that….a few researcher friends of mine are quite terrified of what they’ve seen in India. A number of people infected with these viruses which they have no treatments & extremely high mortality rates.

I think that such laws are still on the books in some states. I also expect that any attempt to enforce these laws will be met with strenuous objection, if not outright defiance, from the usual libertarian suspects.

I recall an incident from the 2014 Ebola outbreak which suggests that the libertarians’ fears of such statutes being abused isn’t completely irrational. There was a nurse in Maine who had just returned from Africa, but had never been within 2000 km of the part of Africa that was affected by the Ebola outbreak. (The affected countries included Liberia and Sierra Leone in western Africa; she’d been in eastern Africa and traveled via Nairobi.) Then Governor Paul LePage tried to enforce quarantine laws against this nurse. It was a frivolous, politically motivated use of the law (LePage was in the midst of his reelection campaign at the time), and the nurse was entirely right to protest.

The only one I remember recently was a man with active, antibiotic resistant TB who refused to take his meds, refused to wear a mask and refused to stay away from vulnerable populations. He was eventually locked up in the jail unit of an Arizona hospital. (This was back in 2007.)

It was national news, mostly because it’s so rare to have to do that.

I believe most of the states if not all do. However, they’re rarely utilized because that kind of outbreak is so rare.

However, there was a case in Philadelphia when a judge ordered anti vax families who all belonged to a church that disdained modern medicine for faith healing to vaccinate their children during a measles outbreak. That was in the mid 90’s IIRC. Unfortunately it came too late to do much; the outbreak was already subsiding and only a few of those kids actually got vaccinated.

9 kids died, six from that church.

@ Orac,

The image of Prof. Peter Gøtzsche at the beginning of your post gives the impression he is in a futuristic setting in outer-space. What’s the significance? Are we seeing more and more delusional BS? Alternatively, the futuristic theme associated with the Respectful Insolence blog is based on sarcasm. Correct? Where can I find medical scientists grounded in reality? Please advise.

“Where can I find medical scientists grounded in reality?”
You can find them in those places that have the word ‘hospital” in their name, or alternatively, “medical center”. If you can’t find one, do a search online for “physicians”.
The dochniak just keeps on distimming those doshes.

Wow … he is a nutter on psychiatry as organized crime. Contra Gøtzsche, in the US at least, accidents, not medicinal drugs, are the No. 3 cause of death. The CDC doesn’t even list them in the top 10. Other stats show that all death causes outside the top 15 combined would only make it to No. 3. Maybe it’s part of the conspiracy?

Yeah, he buys into the “medicine as the third leading cause of death” bullshit that so many subscribe to. He’s also in bed with Peter Breggin, who is as anti-psychiatry as any Scientologist, although he denies being associated with the Church of Scientology. In fact, Breggin is helping him form his new “Institute for Scientific Freedom.”

Shouldn’t that be Institute for Freedom FROM Science?

I looked at his ISF website and Tom Jefferson is listed on Staff.


@ Christopher Hickie,I agree state medical boards,or whatever the corresponding bodies are in other countries,ought to revoke the licences of openly antivax doctors to practice medicine,but doesn’t a doctor have to do something really extreme,like having multiple patients die,from incompetence or negligence,to have their licences revoked?If I recall correctly,there are also minor penalties,like fines a doctor can pay,and still keep their licences.

@jrkrideau Quarantine laws are complicated,and can vary by state,see here

“Whatever happened, I hope Gøtzsche has learned a lesson.”

The medical establishment and those in its pocket like Orac show us Orwell’s 1984 is here at least if a person question vaccines or vaccine theory. Those topics are never to be discussed or even thought of in a derogatory manner. If you do, you will learn your lesson. Think of giving a speech….. We will label you, discredit you and the speech contents before we even know what the contents are. ….This practice I’m sure this leads to stellar products for vaccine manufactures. You unethical tactics are why people questioning the products you produce more than anything but I’m sure you can’t stop now. Its ingrained big time.

Again, I ask you: Do please explain why it is better to let a baby get chicken pox, rather than protecting them by maintaining community immunity with a varicella vaccine. What is “good” about an infant suffering from dozens of itchy open wounds that are susceptible to bacterial infections, or the possibility of stroke:

Just support your answer with PMID authored by reputable qualified researchers.

Those topics are never to be discussed or even thought of in a derogatory manner. If you do, you will learn your lesson.

Poor David Ball, if only you had a way to figure out that thousands of peer-refereed studies on vaccine safety and adverse effects existed or that numerous global databases existed to track vaccine safety and efficacy or that numerous scientific conferences are held annually for scientist and physicians to learn about and discuss vaccine safety. If only…

You don’t go to a rubbish, bogus “conference” to disseminate your ideas if you are a serious and credible expert. That is what is being discussed so do try to keep up.

So, David, are there any vaccines that you would get for yourself, as an adult?
If you stepped on a rusty nail in the barn of a horse farm, would you get a tetanus shot?
Why or why not?

Or if he encounters a bat, which is how rabies is often transmitted in the USA. Apparently folks don’t like any vaccines using certain cell lines by Ian Plotkin. Who just so happens to have been part of developing the modern rabies vaccine in the 1960s.

The book The Vaccine Race by Meredith Wadman has quite a bit on Wistar, Hayflick and Plotkin.

Perhaps you should read 1984 ? Not visiting a congress was not exactly the point of the book. You actually show why Orac was right, by not being amenable to rational discussion. Give some arguments against “vaccine theory”.

Somewhat OT,but in response to Chris above,when I was growing up,in the 1970s,my mother and I lived in a rural area of Maryland,that is now developed as a bedroom neighborhood of Baltimore.Our neighbor had horses,and bats lived her barn,a lot of bats.We had a ridiculous amount of insects at night,like lightning bugs,and mosquitos,but that was not enough food for them.The bats would eat fruits and vegetables from trees and gardens,my mother and my neighbor had.My mother had the idea of putting out fruit and vegetables from the store for the bats to eat,both bought,and fished out of dumpsters.The bats became semi-tame.While they avoided other humans,they were not afraid of my mother and I.After a while,we could briefly pet them,but not pick the bats up,like you see on the internet.

Once again, someone who doesn’t understand what theory means in science.

Science is all about asking questions, and then answering them. The body of knowledge we have developed on vaccines showing their safety and efficacy is so vast that the matter is essentially settled. That’s what theory means in science. So questioning vaccine theory is like questioning the effects of the Law of Gravity. Yeah you can jump off that bridge if you want to but questioning gravity isn’t going to stop you from falling to your death.

People who want to question vaccines as a whole haven’t a leg to stand on. You look foolish and stupid and because you’re so bloody obnoxious, you get laughed out of the room. I don’t feel sorry for you or anyone who damages their own reputations by being stupid and obnoxious.

Someone who had a concern about a specific vaccine and could back it up with data will be listened to. The matter will be investigated. That’s what happened with the DTP scare in the 80’s. That’s what happened after Wakefield’s paper, before we knew it was fraudulent. Vaccines can and do get withdrawn from the market and replaced with newer vaccines that are safer. That’s what happened with the rotovirus vaccine.

So if you continue to insist on behaving like an obnoxious fool, expect to be treated like one.

“show us Orwell’s 1984 is here”. The US does not have a Ministry of Love, so this is not true. Less flippantly, no antivaxxers are not treated like the citizens in 1984 – not remotely. Who got arrested for advocating against vaccines? Nobody.

Did you read this book? It’s really quite dissimilar to the issue under discussion.

The end result of the kerfuffle was that Gøtzsche was removed from the board of directors of the Cochrane Collaboration, with some leaving with him.

But he was not voted off the board in retaliation for criticizing the Cochrane report on HPV vaccines, or for using the Cochrane name when voicing his own opinion. There seem to have been repeated issues with Gøtzsche’s behaviour, repeated breaches of policy (though for legal reasons, and to be fair to everyone, the Cochrane people have remained coy on details).

“But he was not voted off the board in retaliation for criticizing the Cochrane report on HPV vaccines, or for using the Cochrane name when voicing his own opinion.”

I find that unlikely. There has been, for instance, a rather violent spat between E. Fuller Torrey and Gotzsche that related to Cochrane’s letterheads and Gotzsche’s criticism of psychiatric drugs. And alleged violations of Cochrane speaking policy. This likely took a toll.øtzsche-suggested-replies-to-Fuller-Torrey-and-Pottegaard-18-March.pdf

And alleged violations of Cochrane’s speaking policy. This likely took a toll.

Lots of references to the controversy can be found on this article (in French)

@[email protected]
t’m guessing you’re right, that Gøtzsche has some legit critiques about some medical issues, but has gone off-track in how/where he makes his case. IOW, he may not be an anti-vaxer, but he sure comes off as cranky, egotisical, and blindered. I Googled him and found an interview where he presents his anti-pharma screed… on RT, of all places. It’s on RT’s Youtube channel, but I actually found it embeded in a post from over a year ago on an antivax site. So he’s been on their radar as someone they can use to their own ends, and unless he’s clueless about his own fan club, he’s probably aware of that.

So he’s not exactly picky about where he appears. Any chance to get an audience, i bet. But maybe it’s more than just not caring. Maybe he actually wants to goad the ‘establishment’, show some maverick chutzpah by being willing to appear in disreputable locales. I’m wondering if he’s kind of a Euro version of Bill Thompson, willing to get into bed with anti-vaxers as part of some larger more personal agenda. That is, I wonder if he just doesn’t worry about anti-vax pseudoscience or Russkie propaganda, thinks they’re trivial in comparison to his ‘mission’ to fight against perceived political/economic/moral flaws in the medical establishment. thinks he’s using the ‘clowns’ for his own (higher) purpose.

” On RT, of all places”

You would be surprised how much altie stuff shows up on RT, e,g, the anti-Wikipedia “journalist” on PRN

“That is, I wonder if he just doesn’t worry about anti-vax pseudoscience or Russkie propaganda, thinks they’re trivial in comparison to his ‘mission’ to fight against perceived political/economic/moral flaws in the medical establishment.”

That’s my perception.

If true, that makes him dangerous to medicine. He’s an ideologue who doesn’t care what damage he does pursuing his own personal bogeyman, and I also think he’s now on a vendetta.

He’s right there with Celia Farber, David Crowe ( hiv/aids denialists), trend forecaster Gerald Celente, former RT talker, Abby Martin; Louise Kuo Habakus had a show, Fearless Parent, but its archive doesn’t seem to have any updated shows.
Quite a treasure trove!

Center for Disease Prevention and Reversal? Didn’t we use to call those “hospitals”?

“Center for Disease Prevention and Reversal? Didn’t we use to call those “hospitals”?”

Toni Bark has nothing on James Lyons-Weiler when it comes to ego-boosting names/titles.

L-W not only heads the “Institute for Pure and Applied Knowledge, he styles himself as a “lifebiomedguru”. He is currently proclaiming that the real threat of measles transmission is the vaccinated, since the MMR only works to suppress measles symptoms, not contagion.

His level of lunacy seems only to have increased since he got attacked over at AoA for appearing to accept some form of vaccine mandates (now he’s trying to prove he’s a Pure and Applied Antivaxer, it would seem).

He is currently proclaiming that the real threat of measles transmission is the vaccinated, since the MMR only works to suppress measles symptoms, not contagion.

Ah. The “self-made Mary Typhoid” gambit. Sort of.
There have been recently repeated comments in online French newspapers about how measles vaccines are not the solution because vaccinated people keep “shedding” the virus.
It’s an exaggerated claim based on not-exact premises and modeled from a real side-effect of the live polio vaccine, AFAICS. If one overlook the fact that with the polio vaccine, the virus being shed is the one from the live vaccine. Here, as you said, the claim is that the wild virus gets in vaccinated people, replicate and gets out to infect more people. It’s far from proven, to say the least. Even the virus in the vaccine is not shedding.
Not to mention that contagious “healthy carriers” like Typhoid Mary are very uncommon, not a general case.
Not the first time I saw this argument (if I can call this that), but it’s again in fashion. I guess, if I was to try to track it back, I may end up with some quote from Lyons-Weiler.

Here, as you said, the claim is that the wild virus gets in vaccinated people, replicate and gets out to infect more people.

Well, if this were true, it would get out to vaccinate more people.

The “truth about vaccines” seems to refer to Gøtzsche’s HPV paper, as far as can be inferred from Breggin’s formulation. So it should not be made to mean more than it means.

On the other hand, Breggin is braggin’ about Gotsche being a heroic figure who “comes under attack for telling the truth about such subjects as psychiatry and vaccines”.

“Vaccines”, not just the HPV vaccine.

Also in the lineup is Peter Aaby, co-author of a study suggesting that the DTP vaccine increased mortality among a group of children in Guinea (Aaby will tackle the WHO’s perceived failings on immunization policy).

Ought to be fascinating. Breggin in particular appears to be a real piece of work.

Gotsche may have not completely gone down the rabbit hole, but he’s digging.

Also in the lineup is Peter Aaby, co-author of a study suggesting that the DTP vaccine increased mortality among a group of children in Guinea

That’s Guinea-Bissau, the former Portuguese colony, and not Guinea, the former French colony, if I remember Aaby’s stuff correctly, but I’ve been traveling all day and am fried.

A Toronto antivaccine-billboard campaign seems to have gone south quickly, but as I greatly appreciate the First Amendment down here, I need to look further into whether it was ultimately state or private action when I’m not about to fall asleep.

The quoted “Health Choice Canada leader, Ted Kuntz is professing outrage.

“Kuntz took to his Facebook page on Wednesday morning to lament the characterization of his group and its billboard messages as “anti-vaccine.”

“Unfortunately, the mainstream media can’t tell the difference between “anti-vaccine” and “vaccine risk aware,” wrote Kuntz.”

The MSM has a pretty good idea by now that when people (i.e. Kuntz) promote the idea of measles as a “benign illness”,and blame vaccines for asthma, ADHD, seizure disorder and mental illness, they’re not “vaccine risk aware” – they’re full-blown antivaxers.


Following the announcement that the billboard ads would be removed, Vaccine Choice Canada vice-president Ted Kuntz said the campaign had nonetheless been successful. “We got a week of viewing which was about a million hits,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

Yah, but Ted, those impressions generated enough public complaints for the company to pull the billboards, even if they were funnelled through the city council. It’s a novel definition of ‘success’.

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