If you follow me on Twitter at all, you’ll know that over the last few days I’ve been asking why there are so many horrible people with horrible anti-science and antivaccine views in health care. What led me to ask this question over and over again are examples of physicians saying they never wear masks around their patients as they deny the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic and a nurse posting Tik Tok videos making fun of the shocked reaction they imagine from their colleagues upon their learning that outside of work she doesn’t follow COVID-19 safety guidelines or even wear a mask in public. Of course, my interpretation is that there have always been this many horrible people in medicine and that the pandemic has brought them out of the woodwork and shined a light on them as never before. After all, I’ve been covering such quacks for nearly 16 years, including antivax pediatricians, cancer quacks, and quacks pushing unproven and ineffective treatments against COVID-19 even as others deny that the disease is anything to worry about, as at least one of them has a history of claiming that cysts and endometriosis are in fact caused by people having sex in their dreams with demons and witches. This brings me to someone whom I’ve discussed before, Dr. Jane Orient, who, I learned last night, has been invited to testify before an important Senate committee.
There is only one appropriate reaction to this story:
OK, maybe there’s another:
You get the idea.
Let’s see what the New York Times has to say:
A doctor who is skeptical of coronavirus vaccines and promotes the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a Covid-19 treatment will be the lead witness at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on Tuesday, prompting criticism from Democrats who say Republicans should not give a platform to someone who spreads conspiracy theories.
Dr. Jane M. Orient is the executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, a group that opposes government involvement in medicine and views federal vaccine mandates as a violation of human rights.
“A public health threat is the rationale for the policy on mandatory vaccines. But how much of a threat is required to justify forcing people to accept government-imposed risks?” Dr. Orient wrote in a statement to the Senate last year, calling vaccine mandates “a serious intrusion into individual liberty, autonomy and parental decisions.”
Let me just mention a pet peeve of mine here first. Actually, let me mention two pet peeves. First, the headline of the article very much grates on me, because Dr. Orient is not a scientist. Most physicians are not scientists, but she in particular is most definitely not a scientist. I am happy to note that the headline has apparently been changed to describe her as an “antivaccine doctor,” which is far more accurate, but you can see in the preview of the Tweet that I posted that the original headline called her an “antivaccine scientist” (which is why I cleverly posted that Tweet instead of just linking to the article). Second, the reporter, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, used the word “skeptical” to describe Dr. Orient. As I will show and discuss, Dr. Orient is not a “skeptic.” She is not “skeptical” of coronavirus vaccines or any vaccine for that matter. She is an antivaxxer. In fact, she is more than that. She is an ideologically motivated science denialist who denies climate science, for example, and as well as public health interventions for COVID-19.
To understand why I say these things about Dr. Orient, you need to know that she is the Executive Director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), a right-wing, science denying, conspiracy mongering organization that masquerades as a professional medical society. Quite simply, the AAPS is a science denialist organization that uses its disguise as a legitimate medical professional society to give itself enough of a veneer of medical and scientific credibility that it all too often can slip its crank viewpoints and science denial into mainstream news outlets as though these views were coming from a legitimate reputable medical source. Indeed, I’ve been writing about the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) since I first discovered this far right wing/libertarian crank organization disguised as a legitimate medical society and its crank journal, the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons (JPANDS) in 2006.
At the time, I noted that the group was pretty much a fusion of a John Birch Society-like right wing group with a medical society and that it traffics in the most vile antivaccine misinformation (e.g., from the claim that shaken baby syndrome is a “misdiagnosis” for vaccine injury that I discussed the first time I found the group to Andrew Wakefield’s claim a year ago that the measles vaccine will result in a mass extinction of humans), anti-immigrant fear-mongering, climate science denial, HIV/AIDS denialism, blaming breast cancer on abortion using execrable “science,” and more. The AAPS views doctors as some sort of mythical brave mavericks outside the “herd” (of sheeple, apparently) whose godlike total autonomy must never be infringed by the government, having gone on record about Medicare as stating that “the effect of the law is evil and participation in carrying out its provisions is, in our opinion, immoral.” Basically AAPS rejects any government involvement in medicine, be it Medicare and Medicaid or even state medical boards, as an unacceptable impingement on the absolute autonomy of physicians. It rejects even the concept of a scientific consensus about anything, while rejecting evidence-based guidelines as—you guessed it!—an unacceptable affront to the godlike autonomy of physicians. It last hit the news in a big way four years ago, when it was reported that Donald Trump’s pick to be his first Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, was a member of AAPS. More recently, right before the pandemic overwhelmed all other news, it even sued to protect its “right” to promote antivaccine misinformation.
Let me repeat: Dr. Orient has been the Executive Director for AAPS for a long time now. She is very much a “thought leader” in the organization (if you can call her that).
But what about Dr. Jane Orient herself? She’s featured on this blog on a number of occasions, such as when during the 2016 election cycle she promoted the myth being spread at the time by a number of pro-Trump sources that Hillary Clinton had Parkinson’s disease and peddled antivaccine conspiracy theories around Zika virus. She’s also on record as denying the very concept of a scientific consensus about anything. Since the pandemic hit, she and AAPS have hopped aboard the COVID-19 denying quackery grift train, with Dr. Orient denying that masks work to slow the spread of the disease while embracing unproven Trump-promoted “cures” like hydroxychloroquine and seeking to blame the rapid spread of COVID-19 on illegal immigrants. (Unsurprisingly, Dr. Orient is very much pro-Trump.)
Of course, antivaxxers gonna antivax by spreading antivaccine disinformation, all while denying they are antivax, and Dr. Orient is no different:
In a phone interview on Sunday, Dr. Orient, an internist who received her medical degree from Columbia University in New York, resisted being cast as an “anti-vaxxer” and said she would not get a coronavirus vaccine because she had an autoimmune condition. She added that she opposed the government’s push for all Americans to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, noting that both vaccine candidates — one made by the Pfizer and the other by Moderna — use a new scientific method.
“It seems to me reckless to be pushing people to take risks when you don’t know what the risks are,” Dr. Orient said, adding: “People’s rights should be respected. Where is ‘my body, my choice’ when it comes to this?”
Ah, yes, the “I’m not ‘antivaccine’; I’m…” gambit, in this case, “I’m not ‘antivaccine’; I’m ‘pro-freedom’!” Then, of course, Dr. Orient is claiming she has an autoimmune condition and citing it as a reason why she won’t accept a COVID-19 vaccine for herself, when most autoimmune conditions are not contraindication to vaccination. Indeed, most such conditions make vaccination even more imperative, if there is immune compromise associated with the condition.
If you want evidence of how far down the rabbit hole of COVID-19 and antivaccine conspiracy theories and pseudoscience the Republican Party has gone, look no further than the invitation by Senator Ron Johnson, Chair of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in the Senate, of Dr. Jane Orient to testify on—of all topics!—COVID-19 vaccines and hydroxychloroquine tomorrow. I can only picture the incredible eyeballs that my own senator, Senator Gary Peters, who happens to be the ranking Democratic member of the committee, has likely been engaged in since he learned of Dr. Orient’s invitation to testify.
This sort of tactic by science denialists is, of course, nothing new. The antivaccine movement has been managing to get sympathetic members of Congress to do this sort of thing for years, inviting fake antivaccine “experts” and antivax doctors to testify before various Congressional committees, while inviting CDC officials to testify, all for the purpose of being harangued about nonexistent “risks” of vaccination, such as autism. Who here remembers Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN), who, as a believer in the discredited idea that thimerosal in childhood vaccines caused autism, used his position as the chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in the late 1990s and early 2000s to do just that?
Given how thoroughly President Trump and his conspiracy mongering have completely infested and taken over the Republican Party, it is, sadly, no surprise that Sen. Johnson would invite a crank like Dr. Orient as the lead “expert” witness to testify before his committee about COVID-19 vaccines. Sadly, what he has provided is yet another platform for antivaccine and COVID-19 cranks and conspiracy theorists to spread their disinformation, quackery, and pandemic denial to a large audience. I only hope that reporters covering this hearing don’t go all “both sides” and “false balance” when reporting the scientifically unsupportable nonsense that Dr. Orient will no doubt spew in abundance before the committee. I hope even more that Senators who support science, be they Democrats or Republicans (although, let’s face it, in this case in the waning days of Donald Trump’s Presidency, it will, sadly, almost certainly be just Democrats), will grill her thoroughly when the time comes to ask questions.