Antivaccine nonsense Medicine Quackery

A female physician responds to hack journalist Paul Thacker

After being forced through legal threats to “apologize” by a bunch of quacks and attacked by a hack journalist, Dr. Allison Neitzel tells her side of the story with respect to the hack. It’s a sad story, but I would much rather have her in my profession than the quacks who threatened her.

Earlier this month, I deconstructed a particularly vicious, yet at the same time profoundly silly, hit piece targeting a young female physician named Dr. Allison Neitzel. I call it vicious, because it was clearly planned to target Dr. Neitzel and encourage a pile-on to bury this young physician (which it did), but it’s also profoundly silly in that it relies nearly entirely on a cherry picked, legalistic definition of what a “physician” is. The perpetrator was a journalist named Paul Thacker, who had long ago become far more of an ideologically motivated conspiracy mongering hack than anything resembling an actual “investigative journalist,” although the latter is what he calls himself. If you don’t believe me, I was reminded of a rather amusing Tweet (back when the hellscape that is now X was the less hellish hellscape known as Twitter) by Amy Harmon in response to a humorous thread on what we should call a group of trolls:

I had forgotten about this, but a “Thacker” of trolls is a perfect name for a bunch of science-denying trolls.
If this were to happen, truly it would be the only positive contribution to humanity to come from Thacker.

Note the year: 2015. Thacker has been a bad, bad “journalist” for a long time, and he has had a tendency to target women, particularly younger women, dating back at least that far. True, he once targeted Keith Kloor and Kevin Folta. He even (briefly) targeted Steve Novella and me, but he seems to have reserved his most vicious attacks for women, such as Amy Harmon and Dr. Neitzel.

It’s against this background that I was pointed to Dr. Neitzel’s response to Thacker, Just a Physician, with the title obviously taking head-on Thacker’s main false claim that she wasn’t a physician because she hadn’t done residency training and as a result was not licensed to practice in Wisconsin. Indeed, right off the bat, I can’t help but quote Dr. Neitzel’s mentioning something that a lot of us who’ve criticized Thacker for using an artificially narrow definition of “physician” to proclaim that she wasn’t one:

As others have pointed out, Thacker et al’s brief obsession with my not pursuing medical training beyond medical school is deeply ironic given his working relationship with Great Barrington Declaration signer, DeSantis Public Health Integrity Committee member, Norfolk Group member, and college friend of Peter Thiel, Dr. Jay Bhattacharya

Like me, Bhattacharya graduated from medical school with an MD and pursued a non-clinical career. It’s just that he did that a whole 24 years before I did and has presumably never been in a COVID-19 ICU room like I have.

Allison Neitzel

Having graduated with my MD from an accredited medical school, I meet the American Medical Association’s definition of a physician and have been called one in my very few mentions in the media. Having similarly graduated with his MD, Bhattacharya — who is listed as a physician on his contributor page at the Brownstone Institute — also meets this definition. Neither of us is a licensed physician and I’ve never misrepresented myself as one.

This is, of course, a most excellent burn, for which Thacker will no doubt need at least Silvadene, if not split-thickness skin grafts.

As amusing an aside as Dr. Neitzel’s direct response was, what interested me more were two things. The first was her description of her relationship with her mother, a radiologist, who had been captured by pandemic-related conspiracy theories and then widened to include all manner of right wing conspiracy theories, such as QAnon, Stop the Steal, and the many racist conspiracy theories aimed at the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, using her mother’s story as a narrative tool to balance against her story of how she became so passionate about writing and debunking the misinformation in medical conspiracy theories related to COVID-19. Her mother’s story is truly tragic, too, as she sank deeper into alcohol use disorder and angry racism:

Despite being a brilliant radiologist with an impressive first generation college graduate, farm-to-fortune story, she was deeply insecure — almost to a childlike degree. Decades into her quest for validation and frustrated that all her hard work hadn’t yielded her a happy life, she started mouthing off online, making sure people knew that she had had a hard life which also mattered. 

She got plenty of pushback from people my age, particularly my friends of color. I tried to explain to her offline why her posts were offensive and why this moment was a time to listen. I shared with her journal articles and opinion pieces on systemic racism – a focus of the public health research I was involved in as a student – as well as songs like “Sweeter” by Leon Bridges, “I Can’t Breathe” by H.E.R., “Mississippi Goddam” by Nina Simone, and “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday.

It did nothing, as she was singularly focused on exacting revenge on those who dared accuse her, the good doctor, of any form of racism and I was really angry with her. As ever, pride went before the fall and, boy, did she fall. She lashed out at people, including the biracial daughter of her best friend, with a viciousness few knew to be inside her. I was well acquainted with this side of her, of course, as her eldest daughter who frequently called her out on her bad behavior while I was growing up.

To the above list of songs, I would now add José James’ song about the murder of George Floyd by police, 38th & Chicago, named for the intersection in Minneapolis where the killing occurred in 2020.

Her mother died in 2022 at the young age of 62 of liver and kidney failure.

Her passion for writing and debunking the sort of misinformation and conspiracy theories that had estranged her mother from her was a passion that got Dr. Neitzel into trouble, not so much because she deserved it, but because she made a couple of rookie mistakes in a few of her social media posts that provided an opening for legal threats from the targets of her well-justified criticism. I’m referring, of course, to what I consider to be a despicable bunch of ivermectin-grifting COVID-19 antivax quacks, the Frontline COVID-19 Critical Care (FLCCC) Alliance, founded by two of what I consider to be mong the quackiest of quacks whom I’ve ever encountered, Drs. Pierre Kory and Paul Marik. (Speaking of Dr. Marik, he no longer has a medical license either. Does that mean he’s no longer a “physician”? Inquiring minds want to know.)

Dr. Neitzel attributes some of what happened to her understandable rage:

This grief consumed me whole and while I had felt isolated screaming into the void before October 2022, the isolation of late 2022 and 2023 is something I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemies (and I have collected more than a few of those). The reason I got through it is because of the small group of healthcare workers and independent writers I had formed a chat group with to discuss how to counter misinformation and disinformation. 

While MisinformationKills has still been my unfunded passion/masochism project and I do my own stunts, having a team around me brought the quality of the output to a level where it got minor recognition by journalists in the disinformation space. Meanwhile, my little team, which has become its own sort of family to me, has known exactly how fucked up I’ve been, has let me cry and rage, and has fiercely looked out for me.

This brings me back to Thacker, the FLCCC, and quacks like Drs. Kory and Marik, who from my perspective observing the attacks from afar all appear to have attacked Dr. Neitzel because she is young and, more relevantly, because she is female. As I’ve said before, yes, these quacks will try to intimidate males like me (and the aforementioned Drs. Folta and Keith Kloor, as well as Dr. Steve Novella and myself), it’s hard not to notice a difference. Sure, Thacker, for instance, harassed Drs. Folta and Kloor online and wrote a hit piece only slightly less sillybut still very silly indeed—about Dr. Novella and myself. Occasionally, they’ll even threaten to sue us. However, one notes that when COVID-19 quacks wanted to threaten, for instance, Dr. Nick Sawyer, they emailed him. When they wanted to threaten Dr. Neitzel, they sent a process server to her apartment.

Let’s put it this way. I’m an old white dude. I’m established. Although I’m not in private practice, I’m still reasonably affluent, as even academic surgeons generally fall in the group of people in the top ten percent for income. While it’s true that, even so, my level of affluence is not so great that I don’t view the possibility of having to defend a lawsuit without a great deal of trepidation due to the possibility of financial ruin, I am nonetheless in a considerably better position than someone like Dr. Neitzel. In contrast, Dr. Neitzel was fresh out of medical school, likely not particularly affluent, and not practicing medicine. As her own post indicates, with the increasing estrangement from her mother and after her mother’s death, she was undergoing a very rough patch emotionally. I have little doubt that Drs. Marik and Kory sensed that and went for maximal impact by sending an actual process server to her.

To me this is all the more amusing given that these are two men whose fanbois have drawn these cartoons portraying them as superheroes:

I suppose that they think these are funny, but the only reaction I felt was to cringe with embarrassment that these are fellow physicians. Imagine being portrayed this way and actually not just being proud of it but trying to make money selling swag with these images on them!

In addition, I think that Dr. Neitzel nails it here:

And I’ve had to laugh at how much I’ve clearly scared some very powerful people and how they resort to questioning my status as a physician as a pretty pathetic means to discredit me. Frankly, I don’t really even feel comfortable referring to myself as a physician because I never should have become one and wish I hadn’t. But I went to medical school and I’m the one on the hook for that debt, so…sorry?

If they are so afraid of my female rage then good, they should be. Honestly, I’m also afraid of it. But what they should be even more afraid of is my capacity for vulnerability. I am painfully human. I make missteps and I learn from them. I am an open book who wears her broken heart on her sleeve (quite literally, see tattoo above) and I have always been this way. Because I am, first and foremost, a musician — and I far prefer the insanity of art to the insanity of medicine.

That’s exactly it, I believe. They do fear female rage, and they should.So dweebs like Drs. Kory and Marik react the way that bully boys do when embarrassed by a woman. They look for weakness and then use it to bully because they can’t feel as though they are “winning” any other way, and feeling like a winner is incredibly important to them. It’s the same reason why back in the day antivaxxers like J. B. Handley used to launch misogynistic attacks on female journalists.

There’s one for sure, however. I’d much rather have Dr. Neitzel in my profession than Drs. Kory and Marik and all the other quacks and antivaxxers unmasked by the pandemic. As for Thacker, I’m going to resurrect the 2015 suggestion that we call a group of trolls a Thacker of trolls. It’s appropriate.

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]

8 replies on “A female physician responds to hack journalist Paul Thacker”

So this must be where McCullough’s $750K he conned people out of on GiveSendGo for “legal defense” went to–harassing young women.

These folks like bullying and harassing women. The accosting of the CA Medical Board in a parking garage by AFLD thugs along with Kirsch harassing a vaccine committee member by showing up at her front door and being so incessant she had to call the police.

Yeah, what a bunch of scumbags.

A lot of antivaxxers seem to enjoy harassing women in particular. One guy who used to post his dribblings here (one of the few Orac has actually banned (a decision that is Fore the Best)) was really deeply into fantasies about women who were smarter than him (i.e. about all women), but he was such a coward that even in his fantasies he had to be armed and the woman had to be restrained beFore he felt safe.

A. Thank you for not including, in the cringe pictures, the Pierre Kory bikini picture (for those who really, really want to cringe, here.

B. Thacker likely has more right to describe himself as a journalist than, say, Steve Kirsch, since he was one and sometimes still publishes in legitimate outlets, but he’s certainly stepped away from the core of the profession.

C. Dr. Neitzel showed quite a bit of class in this piece.

At least you know who to stay away from if you are in the swimmingpool or on the beach. That bikini is a sure warning sign, to look for another swimmingpool or beach.

Want to respond to Orac? Here's your chance. Leave a reply! Just make sure that you've read the Comment Policy (link located in the main menu in the upper right hand corner of the page) first if you're new here!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading