My last post was about how the antivaccine movement has so easily allied itself with the network of COVID-19 deniers, antimaskers, and even QAnon conspiracy theorists, which makes it appropriate, albeit depressing, to take note of an event occurring in my own state that reflects that confluence. It’s called Into the Light: Vaccine Injury Awareness Walk 2020, and it’s taking place in Grand Rapids on Saturday morning. Its speaker lineup is a veritable who’s who of the antivaccine movement in Michigan:
This led a Michigan resident to note, thus setting me off:
As I perused the list of speakers for Into the Light, there were names I recognized, and names that I did not. For example, the keynote speaker is Dr. David Brownstein, whom I’ve discussed a number of times, beginning in 2016 when he tussled online with Dr. Peter Lipson, an internist and primary care doctor in the area who used to be on ScienceBlogs with me back in the day. Dr. Brownstein’s complaint? It was the announcement of age-appropriate vaccine requirements by a Jewish sleepover summer camp in Michigan stating, ““No child, camper, staff, artist in residence, volunteer, doctor, nurse, and their families will be allowed to come to camp without documentation of complete immunization according to the policy.” That requirement set Dr. Brownstein off, and he laid down a heapin’ helpin’ of antivaccine misinformation, including the “toxins gambit” in response, leading to Dr. Lipson to call him out on it.
I next encountered Dr. Brownstein throwing a temper tantrum at how difficult it was to recertify for his family practice boards. Basically, he was very unhappy about how it was all about “drugs, drugs, and more drugs” (and vaccines), all the while complaining about how none of the questions were about “nutritional therapies,” “natural treatments,” or the rest of the sort of quackery that he offers, such as acupuncture, emotional freedom technique, intravenous vitamin and minerals, elimination diets, and more. After that, it was off to the races, with Dr. Brownstein spewing all sorts of antivaccine misinformation about the shingles vaccine, keynoting antivaccine conferences around Michigan, and attacking the New York Times for a pro-vaccine editorial. So, basically, Dr. Brownstein is the Michigan equivalent of antivaccine physicians like Drs. Lawrence Palevsky, Sherri Tenpenny, Andrew Wakefield, and Dr. Mark Geier. He’s basically the Big Kahuna of antivaxxers in southeast Michigan, maybe of the whole state.
Unsurprisingly, like so many antivaxxers, of late Dr. Brownstein has pivoted to COVID-19 pseudoscience and quackery. Indeed, back in May he was warned by the FTC (here’s the warning letter) to stop advertising his “treatment protocols of Vitamins A, C & D, as well as nutritional IV’s, iodine, ozone and nebulization to support the immune system with respect to Coronavirus Diseases 2019 (COVID-19).” As a result, he’s been discussing his “Plan B,” which was removed from his website, and now is moving on to “Plan C.” Basically, it’s some sort of “study” that was clearly put together in order to get past the part of the letter that warned:
It is unlawful under the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. § 41 et seq., to advertise that a product or service can prevent, treat, or cure human disease unless you possess competent and reliable scientific evidence, including, when appropriate, well-controlled human clinical studies, substantiating that the claims are true at the time they are made. For COVID-19, no such study is currently known to exist for the products or services identified above. Thus, any Coronavirus-related prevention or treatment claims regarding such products or services are not supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence. You must immediately cease making all such claims.
Apparently, he managed to get a crappy observational study published in a journal:
The abstract itself is singularly unimpressive and, in fact, isn’t even a study but rather published as an editorial citing an article by antivaccine “scientist” James Lyons-Weiler. (No wonder I couldn’t find an entry for the study on ClinicalTrials.gov!) The study was retrospective, not randomized, not blinded (much less double blinded), and involved all manner of quackery, including oral vitamins A, C, D, and iodine given to 107 subjects (99%), with intravenous solutions of hydrogen peroxide and Vitamin C were given to 32 (30%) and 37 (35%) subjects, 37 patients (35%) of the cohort receiving intramuscular ozone, and a nebulized hydrogen peroxide/saline mixture, with Lugol’s iodine used by 91 (85%). This is about as quacky as it gets. Brownstein claims that 100% of the 107 patients treated recovered, with a high degree of rapid symptomatic improvement. This is the very definition of an utterly uninformative study, even less informative that Didier Raoult’s awful studies.
The speaker who also caught my eye is Katherine Henry. As noted above, Henry is a lawyer who argued a a case brought before the Michigan Supreme Court against Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s use of emergency powers to enforce mask mandates, shut down or restrict businesses at high risk of spreading COVID-19, and a range of other mitigation measures enforced in the name of public health. Unfortunately, the suit was successful, and on Friday the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that Gov. Whitmer’s use of emergency powers had exceeded the Michigan constitution. I’m not going to comment on the legality of the ruling, although it’s hard not to point out that in Michigan Supreme Court Justices are elected and that the ruling was 4-3 along partisan lines and that the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services still has powers to make sure that at least some of the mitigation measures ordered by Gov. Whitmer don’t lapse when the ruling goes into effect on October 23.
The point is that Henry, who will be speaking in front of antivaxxers at the Into the Light rally, is a died-in-the-wool COVID-19 denier and crank. Indeed, after the ruling, immediately did this:
The attorney who fought Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s emergency orders before the Michigan Supreme Court is urging residents to “burn your masks.”
Despite overwhelming evidence that masks help curtail the spread of the deadly and highly contagious coronavirus, attorney Katherine Henry is encouraging Michigan residents to destroy their masks and ignore social-distancing measures, despite mounting death tolls.
The court’s decision on Friday “means burn your masks right now if you didn’t already,” she said.
“Open your gym and movie theater and open whatever business you have,” Henry told Fox 2. “Go and frequent whatever business you like to go to. If you have a church that’s limited your services because of how you’re reading the (executive orders), forget that. All of those executive orders, based on COVID-19 circumstances, from 2020, they’re out, they’re gone, they’re done.”
To say that such statements are irresponsible is a massive understatement Although it is unclear just how antivaccine Katherine Henry is, what is clear is that she is fine addressing an antivaccine rally about her COVID-19 crankery claiming that masks don’t work and mask mandates are an affront to freedom. Also, one can’t help that she lists prominent antivaccine organizations in this entry, including Michigan for Vaccine Choice and Physicians for Informed Consent or that the latter organization features a link to her website on its website as part of their Coalition for Informed Consent. If Katherine Henry isn’t antivax herself (it’s not entirely clear if she is), she obviously falsely conflates the antivaccine movement with a movement for “freedom,” which is the way that antivaxxers camouflage their antiscience leanings under the guise of “freedom” and “choice.” So she’s speaking at Into the Light.
What’s depressing, of course, is that the Michigan Republican Party and Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey know full well with whom they’re getting in bed:
As I’ve mentioned in various places, the Michigan Republican Party has been playing footsie with anti-lockdown protesters (including the ones who brought firearms into the statehouse in April, although in fairness Sen. Shirkey later denounced them), antimaskers like Katherine Henry, COVID-19 cranks, denialisms, and grifters, and, yes, antivaxxers (including Del Bigtree).
I’m not familiar with as many of the other Into the Light speakers, but one caught my attention, someone named Christina Parks, PhD. She’s listed as a molecular and cellular biologist who received her PhD from my alma mater, the University of Michigan, in 1999. It says nothing about her more recent research, but notes that her graduate work was carried out studying cytokine signaling. Of note, I don’t see any mention of where she works now, whether she is faculty anywhere or what she is doing, and, because her name is not uncommon, I had a bit of trouble finding out much about her using Google. Clearly, her profile as an antivaxxer isn’t that high. However, it’s clear from the blurb about her that she is:
Dr. Parks has been in the spotlight recently for her outspoken resistance to the “racial bias” narrative being pushed by Michigan’s Governor Whitmer and her Executive Branch. She advocates for doctors to focus on known epigenetic differences in the African American population that are causing them to be more susceptible to COVID-19. Dr. Parks is a passionate advocate for scientific and medical freedom. She has called out the media for their concerted misinformation campaign regarding hydroxychloroquine and its use to prevent and treat COVID-19, as well as their silencing of doctors and scientists who have dared tell the truth. Dr. Parks has been closely following the science around the world on the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 as well as on the development of fast-tracked SARS-CoV-2 vaccine.
So many code words here: “medical freedom,” “scientific freedom,” the “origin” of SARS-CoV-2, the last of which implies that she buys into the conspiracy theory that coronavirus was either engineered in a laboratory or intentionally released as part of a “plandemic.” Also, she clearly clings to the now discredited drug hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19, which is truly the Black Knight of COVID-19 treatments. This amuses me given how it’s become quite clear that the drug doesn’t work, no matter how much astroturf groups try to claim the it does, and, even more amusingly, how President Trump hasn’t even taken the drug to treat his COVID-19, leading to hilarity on Twitter, as Dr. Stella Immanuel, she of the “demon sperm” as a cause of disease fame, was quite unhappy:
So what has Dr. Parks been doing? All I could find this, which suggests that the answer is: Not much. To quote a bit:
Hello, my name is Christina Parks. I received my Ph.D. in Cellular and Molecular Biology from University of Michigan in 1999. During my years in graduate school, I realized that I had a passion for education and working with young people. At that time, I decided that I would rather pursue a career in education rather than continue on in research. After a short stint editing High School Biology textbooks in Texas, I got married and was coaxed back to Michigan. In 2003, I went back to school and received my Teaching Certification from Grand Valley University (2004). I taught a variety of Biology and Chemistry courses at Hesperia High School for 5 years while enjoying gardening, horse-back riding and skydiving with my husband. In 2009, we adopted a brother-sister pair from Ethiopia and I came home to care for and homeschool them. Although I still grow a large garden, my children are my primary “hobby” now! My son Sam is now 18 and is preparing to go to college. Wow! Where did the time go? Over the last 11 years, our family has been challenged by my daughter Tess’ special needs and blessed by her sweet, ebullient personality. She is now 11 years old and is attending public school. She currently communicates using sign language.
As a teacher, I am extremely passionate about opening the eyes of my students to the intricacy and majesty of God’s creation. Hopefully, with a little encouragement, your student will be as excited about learning science as I am about teaching it.
So she’s a high school teacher, who hasn’t done any research in over 20 years. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that! It’d be great if more PhD scientists went into teaching science, as it is indeed a noble calling. However, I also can’t help but note that Dr. Parks (and Into the Light) are clearly using her PhD to imply that she is a molecular biologist. So she was—twenty years ago—and she isn’t even a teacher any more, having left her job to do homeschooling. Basically, hers is an appeal to false authority. Does her training two decades ago make her more knowledgeable than the average Joe about molecular biology and science? Sure. However, her knowledge is likely highly out of date. Molecular biology in 1999 was very different than it is in 2020, and I can say from personal experience that it’s very hard to stay abreast of the developments even as a scientist doing research in the field, much less after having been out of the field a long time and not even in a high school.
So what we have here in Michigan is yet another example of how the antivaccine movement has so easily become part of the broader conspiracy movement that includes, most prominently right now, COVID-19 conspiracy theorists and pseudoscientists, anti-lockdown protesters, and antimaskers—even QAnon cranks. It’s sad to see it happening in my state in this Into the Light antivaccine event, but it’s not surprising. This sort of alliance is happening everywhere, because, as I’ve said many times before, antivaccine views are based on variations of a conspiracy theory.