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Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Credentialed Crackpots and COVID

  In The Politics of Autism, I write:

Many articles and blog posts arguing for the vaccine-autism link have the trappings of genuine academic research: tables, graphs, citations, and scientific jargon. Some of the authors have credentials such as M.D. or Ph.D. degrees. None of these things is a guarantee of scientific value, as the history of science is full of crackpot theories (e.g., AIDS denialism) that are the heavily-footnoted products of people with letters after their names. But most people will not be able to spot the scientific weaknesses of such work. Outside of academia, few understand concepts such as peer review. Jordynn Jack describes one dubious article that appeared in a non-peer-reviewed publication: “Regardless of the scientific validity of the article, though, the writers perform the writing style quite effectively. It would be difficult for the layperson to distinguish this article from any other scientific research paper, especially if one did not investigate the nature of the journal … or of the scientific response to the article.”

The credentialed crackpots are making the most of COVID.

Kiera Butler at Mother Jones:

America’s Frontline Doctors, a far-right group of physicians, has been cashing in on the pandemic since the beginning. In addition to advocating against vaccines and masks, the group has run its own network of doctors who, for a fee, will prescribe ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine, and other unproven—and, in some cases, potentially dangerous—Covid remedies. The group also has offered full-throated endorsements of the anti-vaccine convoys wreaking havoc in Ottawa. A headline on the group’s website on Monday claimed that “Canadian PM Trudeau’s grip on power is slipping.”

The Frontline Critical Care Alliance, a group of scientists and physicians that runs a service connecting people with providers willing to prescribe the same unproven medicines, also supports the convoys. In a tweet on Monday, the group urged its 190,000 followers to take part in a California convoy.

Another notable convoy cheerleader is the group that orchestrated the Great Barrington Declaration, an October 2020 document that sought to remove most public health restrictions under the premise that most Americans would develop Covid immunity through infection. The document was highly influential—Trump adviser Scott Atlas tried to convince the administration to adopt the approach. It was the authors’ elite credentials that gave the declaration an air of scientific gravitas: The lead signatories are faculty members from Harvard, Stanford, and Oxford, though these institutions never endorsed the extreme herd-immunity strategy, and practically all public health agencies opposed it. What few people realized was that the Great Barrington Declaration was, in fact, a project of the American Institute for Economic Resources, a libertarian think tank.