I like to say that in the age of the pandemic everything old is new again, so much so that I realize that it probably irritates some of my readers. It’s true, though. Perhaps one of the best examples of this is the Brownstone Institute. Its various sycophants, toadies, and lackeys serve as useful idiots to promote Brownstone’s Great Barrington Declaration (GBD) “natural herd immunity and antivax propaganda for Jeffrey Tucker—who, as you’ll recall, was instrumental in bringing together the authors of the GBD for the libertarian “free market” think tank American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) and later left to found the Brownstone Institute, the “spiritual child of the GBD”_ but end up sounding not like anything new. Rather, they sound just like the antivaxxers that I first started writing about nearly two decades ago. Take Alan Lash, for example.
I had never heard of Alan Lash before I encountered his writing recently, but apparently he’s a software developer with a Masters degree Physics and a PhD in Mathematics, all of which might be impressive in the context of “building applications that help make your business processes more efficient” and “data visualization delivery platform, business intelligence, approval workflow, systems integration, document management, and systems control” but is not so impressive in the context of discussing medicine and healthcare. In any case, when I saw an article by him at that wretched hive of scum and COVID-19 quackery, the Brownstone Institute website, entitled Can We Still Trust the Doctor? it brought back memories of prepandemic antivax and quack messaging, which sought to portray “conventional” physicians—you know, those pesky docs who insist on practicing science- and evidence-based medicine and, as part of that, promoting vaccination—as untrustworthy and to be ignored.
Indeed, Lash’s article follows a common pattern that I’ve seen in antivax and quack articles attacking evidence-based doctors going back to…the early 2000s at least:
When I was growing up, I learned to trust my doctor. My parents never said that explicitly; I could see it in their actions.
I was in the hospital many times growing up, sometimes for very serious reasons. I have eight siblings, and I’m one of the elders, so I was there on the numerous occasions my mother gave birth. I was also there when my brother split his head open with the claw of a hammer, and of course, I was there for the stitches and broken bones I suffered myself.
Whenever we entered the hospital, we did so with the utmost respect and reverence. As the doctors and nurses busied themselves about with serious and commanding countenance, my father would marvel at the technology and the expertise required to marshal it all for the betterment of humanity.
Whatever the opinion, whatever the diagnosis, my parents would follow the doctor’s advice and prescription, to the letter.
Put succinctly, doctors and nurses were to be trusted, sometimes with our lives.And why might that be, Mr. Lash?
You know what’s coming next just from the opening paragraphs. First, Lash sets up a supposed “golden age” past in which doctors were trustworthy and (usually) correct. They were supposedly treated with the “utmost respect and reverence,” which might or might not have been true, although it is true that physicians were probably more trusted decades ago than they are now. On the other hand, I can’t help but point out that Lash is arguably correct about doctors not being as trustworthy as once thought, but not for the reasons he will claim. After all, the proliferation of doctors who since the pandemic have turned into cranks, quacks, antivaxxers, and grifters should shake your faith in the medical field. Doctors, it turns out, are no less susceptible to errors in reasoning that lead to embracing pseudoscience and conspiracy theories than anyone else. You would think that they should be more resistant to conspiracy theories, but anyone—such as myself and others who have long written about medical quackery and antivax grift—knew that, as a profession, physicians are not.
Of course, that’s not where Lash is heading, as anyone who’s read this blog for a while (or paid attention to Brownstone Institute) could easily predict. I will point out that Lash’s pivot isn’t as fast as it usually is in antivax writings. Instead of going straight for the “I don’t trust doctors anymore because they recommend masking, COVID-19 vaccines, etc.” gambit, he works his way there a bit slowly, telling how he never went to the doctor in the 1980s because he was in his 20s. (That makes him likely within a few years of my age, maybe slightly older.) Lash then introduces his father, who “suffered a heart attack,” “being overweight with high blood pressure,” was “prescribed multiple medications,” because he “trusted the doctor,” leading him to “dutifully” take his pills as instructed.
Lash then uses this observation—finally!—as the setup:
On a few occasions, he had a couple of his medications pulled for newly discovered side effects, and they were quickly replaced with others. This was only mildly concerning. But then in the 2000s we started hearing about the failure of many pharmaceutical drugs, some catastrophically so.
Doctors seemingly trusted the pharmaceutical companies, and we trusted doctors. Millions of people suffered and many died as a result.
Did the doctors question the pharmaceutical products before prescribing them to their patients? I’m sure many did, but unfortunately, it seems many more did not.
My father ultimately died in 2010 from his third heart attack. The surgical stents clearly prolonged his life. But did the medications prolong his life? It’s not clear.
Not knowing the details of his father’s case, it’s hard to comment, but there is little doubt that, for example, controlling hypertension and controlling lipid and cholesterol levels (especially after a myocardial infarction) do, statistically speaking, result in longer life expectancies and decrease the risk of second events. This is not even controversial in cardiology and the medical literature (especially the part about controlling hypertension). While it’s impossible ever to say whether interventions like controlling hypertension prolong the life of an individual patient, it is possible to say that it is quite likely that it does. Also, the very fact that Lash’s father had a second and then a third heart attack tells me very clearly that he had bad progressive disease.
I will also note before moving on that physician capture by pharmaceutical companies has been a problem, but you just know that a nuanced, evidence-based discussion of whether doctors are too fast to prescribe pharmaceutical medication is not what Lash is about. I also can’t help but point out the typical anti-pharma narrative that doctors “never” discuss lifestyle changes and diet with patients like Lash’s father is a massive exaggeration. They surely do, but the current medical model of short patient visits seldom allows adequate time to go into depth about such issues. It’s a systemic problem that hamstrings even the doctors most dedicated to working with patients to achieve a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Inevitably, Lash gets to COVID-19 vaccines, because of course he does. That’s where this was always going:
I went for a check-up in the fall, and the nurse asked me if I was interested in a Covid vaccination. If I had any questions I was to ask the doctor when he arrived. So I did. I asked somewhat searchingly, “What are your feelings about the vaccine with all that’s happened and all we found out in the past year?”
“Well, “ he responded with a straight face, “from all the medical research papers I have read, the vaccines are safe and effective.”
I sat in dumbfounded silence. At a bare minimum, he should know at least not to use that phrase.
Why again are we wearing masks when we are in the doctor’s office? They don’t work.
Then there are the endless emails from my health care provider promoting the vaccine for everyone: adults, children, compromised or not, comorbidities or not. There is no reference to any potential qualifiers. Everyone should get it.
Have they not been paying attention?Actually, we have been paying attention. People like Mr. Lash, in contrast, have been paying selective attention.
It’s interesting to look at the articles linked to in the passage above, both of which come from the Brownstone Institute. For example, the bit on “safe and effective” links to an article by Brownstone flack Thomas Harrington, a Professor Emeritus of Hispanic Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, CT, whose research was “Iberian movements of national identity and contemporary Catalan culture,” which clearly makes him qualified to discuss how “safe and effective” is defined. In the article, he risibly tries to argue that the government has committed fraud by declaring COVID-19 vaccines to be “safe and effective,” without actually showing that (1) the vaccines are not safe and effective and (2) that the government knew that they weren’t.
The second link about masks is from Dr. Paul Alexander, who has gone so far down the conspiracy rabbit hole since his days as a Trump administration advisor who sent an email declaring that “we want them [children, young people] infected” to “establish herd immunity.” Since then, believe it or not, he’s gotten even worse, as a look at his Substack, where he grinds out multiple posts a day in which he sounds like a conspiracy-addled squirrel with ADHD, should tell you how unreliable he is as a source of information about COVID-19. I’ve discussed some examples before; so I will not go into detail here, other than that the article is over a year old and basically cited articles on masks whether they were about COVID or not in a nonsystematic way. I will note, however, that, interestingly, Lash didn’t refer to the deceptive message about the Cochrane meta-analysis published last month which did not show that masks “don’t work” but was relentlessly spun that way by Brownstone, Fox News, and every other antivax, COVID-minimizing propaganda outfit out there.
In fact, I have to give Lash some credit for cleverly embedding his message of distrusting doctors into a plea for doctors to be trustworthy and an admission that nonphysicians can’t do what doctors do. For instance, early in the article, he declares:
By contrast, my parents did not treat other professional activities with the same regard. My father depended on car mechanics at times, but he did so grudgingly. He was always suspicious that the diagnosis was incorrect, and that his own personal research into the issue was warranted before he accepted the conclusion. We had several shop manuals on our shelves in the garage.
Likewise, building contractors were treated with some suspicion. Do-it-yourself was always present as a valid option.
But question a doctor? Never.
I can’t help but snark a bit here that these days people like Lash appear to trust plumbers, mechanics, and contractors way more than they do doctors. They seem to think that they know better how the human body works, how it falls ill, and how to treat the body when it does fall ill. Indeed, Lash himself seems to think that! Just look at his questioning whether drugs prolonged his father’s life after his first heart attack and his bluntly declaring that COVID-19 vaccines are not safe and effective and that masks don’t work, even as his doctors tell him otherwise. He wants to have it both ways.
Cleverly, though, he divides doctors into “good” doctors and “bad” doctors. (Of course, I do the same thing, too, but I exactly reverse the labels that I apply to members of each group compared to how Lash clearly labels them.) He praises the “good” doctors and attacks the “bad,” declaring that “they” have “been burned by the Covid nonsense in the last three years,” that our “loved ones have suffered,” and that “we don’t see common sense from the medical establishment”:
Many of you stood up in the past three years, putting your careers on the line for the truth and the health of your patients. Thank you.
Many of you have laid low, promoted your medical organization’s message, even if you had misgivings. Maybe you trusted the government and Big Pharma too much.
Left out of this equation is how many of those physicians who have “put their careers on the line” did not do it for the “truth and the health” of their patients (although some of them might have thought they did). Rather, they did it because they embraced pseudoscience, quackery, and conspiracy theories. Many of them embraced COVID grift in a huge way. As I like to say, it might be about ideology and belief at first, but very often it soon becomes all about the grift.
To make his attack on doctors seem more credible, Lash actually admits that he can’t figure out pharmaceuticals, which makes his blunt declaration that COVID-19 vaccines are unsafe and don’t work rather risible:
Prescription drugs? Not so easy. The information is there on the Internet, but it’s often contradictory, and sometimes nothing matches what your doctor said. Then there’s the sheer magnitude of prescription drugs available.
Do it yourself? Impossible. Trust the government to police the pharmaceutical companies? Impossible. We’ve seen the incest there.
There is only one solution. It’s the same answer as it was for my father: trust your doctor.
He even declares that our “lives are better when we trust you,” but predictably adds that “right now, many of us are hesitant” and have been “burned by the Covid nonsense in the last three years.” What he asks for next would seem very reasonable if you didn’t know the context in which it was being asked and what, as a Brownstone Institute flack, he really means:
- Critical regard for pharmaceutical products
- Clear and open communication with your patients
- Critical regard for your own medical organization
- Above all, treat your patient as an individual
Who as a doctor doesn’t want to exemplify these things? Of course, for each of these bullet points, I like to quote The Princess Bride: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” And it does not. Lash’s “critical regard for pharmaceutical products” means accepting his fear mongering about COVID-19 vaccines. His desire for doctors engaging in “clear and open communication” and admitting when they don’t know something means that he wants doctors to say that they don’t know whether the “party line” about COVID-19 and vaccines is accurate. “Critical regard for your own medical organization” means, “Don’t agree with them when they promote COVID-19 vaccines (because they are corrupt).”
And “treat your patient as an individual”? That has been the reasonable guideline that quacks have co-opted as a deceptive mantra to justify subjecting their patients to whatever quackery they want going back as long as I can remember and likely to long before I was born. It serves as, when wielded by someone like Lash or one of the quacks he likely admires, a justification to ignore medical evidence and do whatever the quack wants. Don’t believe me? Look at another article by Lash in which cites the pandemic’s wrongest man Alex Berenson and laments:
Last month Alex Berenson provided details of yet another example of a 14-year-old girl named Yulia Hicks. Duke University surgeons took her off of the kidney transplant list because she is not vaccinated. We were horrified in hearing such examples a full year ago, but incredulously they continue.
Lash is “horrified”? Transplant patients are very much part of the one group that Brownstone flacks sometimes admit should probably be vaccinated: the immunosuppressed. If this patient got a kidney, she would need to be on lifelong immunosuppression, which would have made her very high risk for COVID-19. Even if you accept the antivax argument that teens are at such low risk for COVID that they don’t need to be vaccinated (which I do not, but roll with me here a minute), after transplant that teen would then become someone who is at very high risk of death and complications if she were to be infected with COVID-19. It thus makes perfect sense to vaccinate her before she gets a kidney, so that her immune system will be intact and generate the best response to the vaccine, because after she goes on lifelong immunosuppression her response to vaccines will never be as good again. This is the simple reason why it has long generally been a requirement that transplant recipients be up-to-date on their recommended vaccines before being placed on the transplant list. People like Lash almost certainly never questioned the simple requirement (if they knew about it at all) before COVID vaccines.
Funny how Lash never questioned doctors until they said things that clashed with his ideology.
In the end, Lash is a crappy scientist and knows little or nothing about medicine, but he is a very good propagandist, as evidenced by how he slickly packaged very old antivax tropes about not trusting your doctor and accusing doctors of being “captured” by “big pharma” with respect to vaccines. Antivaxxers were doing that in 2005 (and before), and antivaxxers like Lash continue it now for COVID-19 vaccines, repackaging old antivax propaganda in clever new forms.