As I sat down to write this, I realized that this weekend (tomorrow, actually) is my 18th blogiversary. Yes, it will be 18 years ago tomorrow since I first sat down in front of my computer on a gray, cold December Saturday afternoon to write my first ever post for this blog. True, the blog was then on Blogspot—does anyone remember that or still use it?—and I didn’t know what I was doing, but that was the start. So perhaps it’s appropriate that the post I noticed yesterday that I wanted to write about involved a massive case of projection by an old “friend,” über-quack Joe Mercola, doctor who started out selling “natural health” and then became a “pioneer” selling quackery on the Internet in the late 1990s, which led to him becoming fabulously wealthy, to the tune of a net worth upwards of $100 million. Naturally, with the arrival of the pandemic, Mercola pivoted to the even more profitable selling of COVID-19 disinformation. So it’s not surprising that he’d now publish an exercise in projection that combines old antivax tropes with newer COVID-19 disinformation, all with the help of a doctor who’s recently gone from “soft antivax” to totally antivax, Dr. Aseem Malhotra.
I’m on Mercola’s mailing list; so I saw this article first yesterday under the email subject header of “This Is Why Doctors Are Turning a Blind Eye to the Truth,” which led me to read an email that claimed:
Stop seeing your doctor as an authority. They’re stuck in this mind trap in order to feel secure, avoid conflict, reduce anxiety, protect prestige and, in some cases, protect their precious, fragile egos. Make no mistake, we’re facing a pandemic of misinformed doctors.
Again, projection, thy name is Joe Mercola (and, as you will see, Aseem Malhotra)!
It’s frequently been pointed out that the goal of disinformation is not so much to get you to believe specific conspiracy theories, but rather to lead you to doubt everything, to view the conspiracy theories as potentially plausible, as plausible, even, as what anything authorities tell you. The idea is to confuse you so much that you don’t know (and can’t tell) what the truth is. That’s what Mercola has done all these years, although since the pandemic hit he’s been more blatant about it.
In any case, this is obviously projection. Mercola is, ironically, quite correct that we are facing a pandemic of misinformed doctors. Unfortunately, those misinformed doctors tend to be misinformed because of ideology that leads them to prize the characteristics of the “brave maverick doctor” (no matter how wrong) to the point of embracing unproven and later disproven “cures” for COVID-19 such as hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin and even outright antivax misinformation and conspiracy theories. My more reasonable colleagues sometimes express disbelief to me that so many of their colleagues have been prone to “going antivax,” and I point out again and again that they shouldn’t have been surprised at how many doctors have been susceptible to antivax propaganda and how many have been “behaving badly.” They should have known. If they’d been paying attention, they would have known. But they weren’t. They were “shruggies,” who looked at quackery and antivax disinformation, concluding that they were so ridiculous that there’s no way anyone would believe it. They were wrong.
Worse than that, physicians like UCSF oncologist Dr. Vinay Prasad, who before the pandemic used to ooze contempt for those of us who had been combatting quackery and antivax misinformation for years, thinking the task so “easy” as to be completely beneath him, has become one of the foremost useful idiots spreading false COVID-19 minimization, as well as conspiracy theories and antivax disinformation, parroting old antivax tropes like describing fear of a deadly disease as “irrational anxiety” and likening public health interventions to incipient fascism, all while using the same arguments that antivaxxers used to invoke to arguing against vaccinating against measles to argue against vaccinating children against COVID-19.
But back to Mercola and Malhotra and Mercola’s article, Has Big Pharma Hijacked Evidence-Based Medicine? It’s based on a talk that he gave last month in London after he’d gone full antivax. Let me preface my discussion by noting that questioning whether big pharma has had undue influence on evidence-based medicine (EBM). A number of reasonable critics have long done that, and, before he embraced conspiracy theories, Dr. Prasad even made some reasonable points on this score with respect to oncology clinical trials. The difference here is that through Malhotra Mercola weaponizes and exaggerates reasonable criticisms about the capture of EBM by big pharma to spread disinformation about COVID-19 vaccines; i.e., to cast doubt on their efficacy and safety and, above all, undermine confidence in the public health and medical authorities recommending vaccination.
After Malhotra cited the fear that gripped the world in early 2020, as the novel coronavirus that had ravaged Wuhan, China started to spread to become a pandemic, he then engaged in the rawest of projection:
Willful blindness is another phenomenon to be aware of. It’s when people turn a blind eye to the truth. Also known as conscious avoidance, this tactic has historically been used in legal trials to avoid criminal liability by ignoring or purposely staying unaware of key facts.
However, Malhotra notes, people also engage in willful blindness in order to feel safe, avoid conflict, reduce anxiety and to protect prestige or, in some cases, “precious, fragile egos.”1
Malhotra quoted the late Stephen Hawking, who stated, “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.”2 In terms of health care, evidence-based medicine has been hijacked by Big Pharma; it’s now an illusion. There’s also an illusion that we’re at the forefront of medicine, with prestigious organizations leading the helm, when in reality multiple health crises are upon us.
See what I mean about the projection? One can’t help but note that Malhotra’s turn to COVID-19 crankery could easily have been a way of reducing anxiety and “protecting” his massive “precious, fragile, ego.” Mercola, it should be noted, appears to be an out-and-out grifter, having pivoted from true belief to grift a long time ago. Malhotra appears to be still at least somewhat in the true belief stage, although he is rapidly discovering the benefits of the grift to himself.
Going back to 2020, the first time I encountered Malhotra was when he made a name for himself attacking the Royal Free London NHS Trust for having accepted a gift of 1,500 Krispy Kreme donuts given in gratitude to NHS frontline workers for what they had endured in March and April, after having been known for naming sugar as “enemy number one in the western diet.” Of course, at the time, there were as yet no vaccines against COVID-19, candidate vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech being in clinical trials to determine if they were safe and effective. Also not coincidentally, Dr. Malhotra was clearly working on a book that was published a few months later claiming that you could “optimize” your metabolism to protect you against COVID-19—and that you could do it in 21 days, hence the name of the book, The 21-Day Immunity Plan: How to Rapidly Improve Your Metabolic Health and Resilience to Fight Infection.
What seemed to “turn” Dr. Malhotra from the sort of “soft antivaxxer” of the sort whom I’ve long been running into, the sort who claims that diet and “metabolic health” are as good as vaccines to protect you against infectious disease, to full-on antivax seems to be the tragic death of his father from acute coronary syndrome in 2021. Dr. Malhotra blamed his father’s death on COVID-19 vaccines, after expressing disbelief that a healthy-seeming septuagenerian could just drop dead from heart disease after apparently having shown no symptoms before:
But his post-mortem findings are what I found particularly shocking and inexplicable. Two of his three major arteries had severe blockages: 90% blockage in his left anterior descending artery and a 75% blockage in his right coronary. Given that he was an extremely fit and active 73-year-old man, having walked an average of 10–15 000 steps/day during the whole of lockdown, this was a shock to everyone who knew him, but most of all to me. I knew his medical history and lifestyle habits in great detail. My father who had been a keen sportsman all his life, was fitter than the overwhelming majority of men his age. Since the previous heart scans (a few years earlier, which had revealed no significant problems with perfect blood flow throughout his arteries and only mild furring), he had quit sugar, lost belly fat, reduced the dose of his blood pressure pills, started regular meditation, reversed his prediabetes and even massively dropped his blood triglycerides, significantly improving his cholesterol profile.
I didn’t note at the time that the left anterior descending (LAD) article has long famously been called the “widow maker,” because the LAD supplies a large amount of heart muscle and sudden occlusion is often fatal without rapid treatment to relieve the blockage. I also wonder which “heart scans” that his father had undergone. Only an angiogram can accurately show the actual percent blockage of coronary arteries. I’m guessing that the heart scan was a CT scan that looks for calcium deposits in the coronary arteries to identify atherosclerotic plaques. Not all plaques have calcium in them, and, famously, blood flow can be close to normal until high degrees of occlusion are reached.
Be that as it may, even as much as I might feel empathy for Dr. Malhotra for the loss of his father, as I pointed out before his pivot to blaming COVID-19 vaccines for his father’s death likely involved lessening his own anxiety produced by cognitive dissonance. That cognitive dissonance likely resulted from seeing his father, whom he loved and emulated and who had, as Dr. Malhotra had pointed out, been (seemingly) far more “healthy” than the vast majority of men in their 70s, die suddenly of heart disease after seemingly having had no symptoms and no evidence of coronary artery occlusion and having lived what he had viewed as a supremely “healthy” lifestyle that Dr. Malhotra had made his name (and identity) promoting. As a cardiologist, Dr. Malhotra should have known that, sadly, it is not uncommon for the first symptom of heart disease to be sudden death. It’s a fact about which most people are ignorant, leading to the antivax propaganda about people “dying suddenly” due to COVID-19 vaccines, along with the misappropriation of non-atherosclerotic “sudden arrythmic death syndrome” (SADS) as “sudden adult death syndrome” also being caused by vaccines. As much as I might feel for Dr. Malhotra’s grief, I cannot forgive his projection.
That’s not all the projection, though. There’s also the bit about the “illusion of knowledge.” I’ve long referred to the “arrogance of ignorance,” in which it is the ignorant who are most certain about their misunderstanding-based beliefs, not actual experts. Dr. Malhotra’s bit about the “illusion of knowledge” is an excellent term for where the arrogance of ignorance leads. Yes, it’s more projection.
I’m not going to go into every detail about Dr. Malhotra’s claims, because a fellow cardiologist named Dr. Frank Han did that for me. He too pointed out that Dr. Malhotra’s lecture was far more about promoting a narrative—one that I note to be pure projection—than it was about promoting science. He also pointed out that Dr. Malhotra’s comparison of Dr. John Ioannidis, who has destroyed his reputation as a defender of rigorous science to someone who, either through ignorance or deception, has weaponized a satirical publication index to attack his critics as “science Kardashians” (and did not react well at all to criticism for his having done that) to late physicist Stephen Hawking, is misleading to the point of ridiculousness. Rather, I’m concentrating on the message and his use of techniques of disinformation, rather than digging into all the numerous errors of fact and science he makes, many clearly misrepresentations.
Basically, in his projection, Dr. Malhotra recycles all the old antivax tropes. As I like to say, no one claims that big pharma doesn’t sometimes engage in underhanded business practices to promote its products as safer and more effective than they are. No one claims that big pharma isn’t out to make profits. Of course it is! Pharmaceutical companies are corporations, most publicly traded. Their purpose is to make money selling their products. That’s why we have regulatory agencies like the FDA in the US, Health Canada, the Therapeutic Goods Administration in Australia, the EMA for the EU, and the MHRA in the UK to oversee pharma and require demonstration that its products work and are safe and effective. Again, no one says it’s a perfect system, but prior scandals over drug safety do not imply that COVID-19 vaccines don’t work. We have to examine each claim on its own merits, and, if you watch the video, you’ll see that Dr. Malhotra recycles all sorts of antivax talking points about COVID-19 vaccines, including citing Peter Doshi, Goop doctor Steve Gundry’s awful PULS study, and Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo‘s deceptive antivax disinformation disguised as a study.
The bottom line is simple. Antivaxxers engage in projection. They always have and always will. This article by Joe Mercola citing Aseem Malhotra is just another example of projection used to promote disinformation.