First and foremost, I want to thank everyone for a great 2014 in the world of fighting back against pseudoscience. While the Douchebag of the Year award was created to ridicule the worst of the worst in the anti-science world, I want to take a minute or two to thank everyone who did their part, however small, to fight the quacks, hacks, and scammers. Here are some honorable mentions, in no particular order:
- “lilady” – Her commenting work and ability to raise the “bat signal” when something needs countered is priceless. Knowing her background as a public health nurse gives me the security of knowing that when she flags something for us to look at, she does so knowing that it is indeed something that needs to be refuted. She’s our eyes and ears on the web.
- Orac – His blog posts dissecting claims by many tricksters out there are worth reading each and every single time. Many of them have served as jump-off points for posts on this blog and others. His followers and commenters are knowledgeable people who have uncovered a wealth of information about quacks who want to remain in the shadows. Orac and “his minions” have brought light to those shadows.
- Dorit – Her tireless work addressing anti-vaccine claims has been steady, unwavering. She doesn’t give in to threats of all kinds, and she responds with reason to some very nasty, hateful comments aimed at her. I wish I could keep my cool like that woman does.
- Skeptical Raptor – His blog, like Orac’s, is also a wealth of information on psudoscience and how to counter it.
- Matt Carey – His blog has been a steady source of information on what autism is and isn’t. As a parent of an autistic child, Matt has worked hard (online and off) to make sure that autistic people of any age get the help they need and the opportunities they deserve. Very few people I know have done as much as he has, and I am proud to call him a friend.
Again, these are just a few of the people who deserve an honorable mention. I wish I could take the time to thank all of you who read and comment on this blog, but the year is ending and our Douche needs to be honored.
THE CASE AGAINST “DR. BOB”
Dr. Robert Sears, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician living and practicing pediatric medicine in Southern California, is a special kind of douchebag. For this award, we define “douchebag” as someone who thinks he knows more than he really does, and who continues to make an ass out of himself when his mistakes are pointed out to him. He is a special kind of douchebag because he should know better than the pseudoscientific bullshit he pills. He went to medical school, passed all the required courses and all the required tests to become a licensed physician in this country, which is no easy task. He then did his residency, and he is accredited by the American Academy of Pediatrics, hence the “FAAP” after his name. However, like another pediatrician we all know, “Dr. Bob” (as his minions call him) seems clueless when it comes to the science of immunization. More than that, we are convinced that he is anti-vaccine.
The first evidence of his anti-vaccine ways is the book that Dr. Bob authored “The Vaccine Book: Making the Right Decision for Your Child.” The book offers Dr. Bob’s
patented suggested “alternative” vaccination schedule for people who want to vaccinate but are afraid of the “too many too soon” claims by anti-vaccine people (like Dr. Bob). As John Snyder of Sciencebasedmedicine.org explains, Dr. Bob is cashing in on fear:
“In the final chapter of his book (entitled “What should you do now?”), after reinforcing the common vaccine myths of the day, Dr. Sears presents his readers with “Dr. Bob’s Alternative Vaccine Schedule.” He places this side-by-side with the schedule recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. He then explains why his schedule is a safer choice for parents who chose to vaccinate their children. Without a doubt, the alternative vaccine schedule is among the more damaging aspects of this book. It’s the part that gets brought along to the pediatrician’s office and presented as the the plan going forward for many parents today. But the book is also dangerous in the way in which it validates the pervasive myths that are currently scaring parents into making ill-informed decisions for their children. Dr. Sears discusses these now common parental concerns, but instead of countering them with sound science, he lets them stand on their own as valid. He points out that most doctors are ill-equipped to discuss vaccines with parents, being poorly trained in the science of vaccine risks and benefits. He then claims to be a newly self-taught vaccine expert, a laughable conceit given the degree to which he misunderstands the science he purports to have read, and in the way he downplays the true dangers of the vaccine-preventable diseases he discusses in his book. He then provides parents with what he views as rational alternatives to the recommended vaccination schedule, a schedule designed by the country’s true authorities on vaccinology, childhood infectious disease, and epidemiology.”
John Snyder is not the only one to point out the dangers of Dr. Bob’s alternative schedule. Dr. Paul Offit and Charlote Moser wrote an opinion piece for the journal Pediatrics on why the alternative schedule is a problem:
“At the back of the book, Sears includes “Dr Bob’s Alternative Vaccine Schedule,” a formula by which parents can delay, withhold, separate, or space out vaccines. Pediatricians now confront many parents who insist that their children receive vaccines according to Sears’ schedule, rather than that recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Academy of Family Physicians. This article examines the reasons for the popularity of Sears’ book, deconstructs the logic and rationale behind its recommendations, and describes how Sears’ misrepresentation of vaccine science misinforms parents trying to make the right decisions for their children.”
If you place Dr. Bob’s and Dr. Offit’s resumes side-by-side and black-out the names, you would probably be inclined to go with Dr. Offit when it comes to vaccines. After all, he designed and took to market a vaccine that is saving thousands of lives and preventing thousands of episodes of life-threatening diarrhea here in the US and the rest of the world. Dr. Bob? There isn’t anything in the information that is publicly available on him to suggest that he is knowledgeable on epidemiology, infectious diseases, immunology, virology, microbiology, or vaccinology. He might be, but we cannot find evidence of it. All we have is the opinions of himself and his devoted followers that he knows what he is talking about. And all of this might explain his apparent professional envy of Dr. Offit.
The second, and probably most damming evidence of Dr. Bob being an anti-vaccine douchebag comes from his activity on Facebook. We must clarify that anyone can post under anyone else’s name on Facebook if they have the proper access to that anyone else’s profile. It might very well be that Dr. Bob’s public relations team is responsible for his anti-vaccine and anti-scientific rants on Facebook. Either way, the buck stops with Dr. Bob when something is written under his profile, something as stupid as this:
“DR. BOB’S DAILY:
A HUG A DAY KEEPS THE FLU AWAY
Although I rarely get the baby kisses that I love, I do get a fair number of hugs. But they always surprise me. Kids are supposed to fear the doctor. We are almost as mean as the dentist, but not nearly as scary as mall Santa.
During a checkup the other day, the three year old walks up to me and lifts his arms up toward me. I give him a hug, and he turns around in my lap and wants to sit there. Sure, why not? I can write with one hand as I take notes on what mom and I are discussing. No one’s going to be able to read the writing anyway, so a little bit messier won’t matter.
Plus, the physical contact will do us both some good, according to a new study in Psychological Science. Hugs and the perception that one has social support from others can help protect against infection. It’s like an immunization, only a lot less painful. Check out the story below.
So maybe I’ll start hugging all my patients. Imagine that. You take your kid into the doctor. You both hug the receptionist. You hug the nurse. You hug the doctor. You hug other patients in the office. I’m sure the world would be a better place. Although that would be nice, I have a hard enough time getting the little kids to let me examine them and to talk to me so I can assess language and social skills. Throwing an uninvited hug in there might be a little too much. But I’ll certainly never turn one down.
That’s right, hugging is better than anything to keep the flu away. He is writing this based on an article on Fox News about how social support maintains your immune system at a healthy level:
“Hugging, like maintaining a healthy diet and exercise regimen, may boost the body’s immune system and protect from infection, Carnegie Mellon University researchers have found.
Previous studies have shown that people who have unresolved conflicts in their relationships are less able to fight off cold viruses, and that people who receive social support are partly protected from the effects of stress on psychological states like depression and anxiety. Study authors hypothesized that hugging may also offer these health benefits because it is a form of social support.”
If you know how the human immune system works, this should not surprise you at all. If you are stressed often and continuously enough, your body releases enough “stress hormones” like cortisol to possibly subdue your immune system. It’s the body’s way of keeping a balance between how vigorously your immune system should respond to threats and how much damage it can do to your own body if left to run amok. To say that social support, like hugging, keeps the flu away is very irresponsible. It’s downright quackery because there is no scientific way that getting lots of hugs somehow will protect you. If anything, getting lots of hugs increases your chances of being exposed and infected with influenza. But Dr. Bob is probably catering to his anti-vaccine crowd. “Hey, if you don’t get the flu shot, make sure to have lots of social support, lots of hugs” he seems to say. “You’re going to need it when you come down with it and can’t pay the bills because you can’t work,” we’d like to add.
Even most damming for Dr. Bob are his relationships on Facebook. There is a group of anti-vaccine advocates who communicates through Facebook, but they do under the cover of pseudonyms and private profiles. They also use private groups and are somewhat careful as to whom they let into those groups. Not long ago, we managed to get a spy in and take this screenshot:
You can see that Dr. Bob is included in a private group with other anti-vaccine luminaries. The authenticity of this group cannot be established independently (i.e. linked to) because our mole on the inside is not there anymore. But you can go to Dr. Bob’s Facebook profile and see what he likes and dislikes, and who he is friends with. In case you don’t have access to Facebook, here is a list of his friends:
- John Stone, the weirdo from Age of Autism
- Anne Dachel, the other weirdo from Age of Autism
- Andrew Wakefield, the posh British doctor living large in Texas after giving children unnecessary and invasive tests in order to get some cash and launch his own measles vaccine back in the late 1990s
- Mark Blaxill, also of Age of Autism
- Lisa Marks-Smith, who swears she was paralyzed for four years due to a flu vaccine and has now become a vocal anti-vaccine activist
- Curt Linderman, Sr., who has threatened a writer from this blog for their pro-autism support stance
The list goes on and on. While we are not big fans of “guilt by association,” Dr. Bob’s associations online and in person are troubling when it comes to his view on immunization and medicine. For example, here he is preventing Andrew Jeremy Wakefield from getting the flu:
Finally, Dr. Bob sears just doesn’t get it when it comes to how serious his anti-vaccine views can be. In 2008, in San Diego, an unvaccinated child returned from Switzerland with measles. That child kicked-off an outbreak of measles which cost a lot of money to be contained. The child was Dr. Bob’s patient. These are facts laid out in an episode of NPR’s “This American Life” and written about in the media. However, when confronted with these inconvenient facts, Dr. Bob seems to be more concerned with his public image than with the facts:
The facts are as follows, from Seth Mnookin, the “some journalist” with whom Bob has “ever even spoken” to:
“Now, there are a number of odd things about Sears’s comment. First, he denies something that I’ve never accused him of—not in my book, not in an interview, not in a speech: letting a patient infected with measles sit in his office. Then, he misspells my name, which is either an illustration of how little he cares about getting things right or of his deviousness (or both)—because while I assume it’s true he’s never spoken to Seth Minooken, he most definitely has spoken to Seth Mnookin. You don’t need to take my word for it; as you can hear here, I actually taped the interview. That interview was just one part of a long series of back and forths I had with Sears and various staff members in his office. I think they’re revealing—and, in light of Sears’s claim that he’s never spoken to me (or someone whose name sounds an awful lot like mine), they’re worth discussing.”
Somehow, we are expected to believe that Dr. Bob Sears forgot that one of his patients kicked off a measles outbreak in San Diego, in 2008, nine years after measles was declared eliminated from the United States. We are expected to believe that he didn’t know about any of it, that public health never contacted him about the index case, or that he didn’t read about it in the news in his hometown, or that the parents of said child never followed-up with him for measles. If Dr. Bob Sears expects us to believe all that, then he must think we’re idiots — or have an even lower opinion of all of us, including his minions.
SO SAY US ALL
In light of Dr. Bob Sears’ self-proclamation as some sort of an expert in vaccination, of his associations online and in person with notable anti-vaccine activists, of his proclamations against vaccine recommendations, of his professional envy toward people who really have made a difference in public health through the use of science and reason, and of his feeble attempts at trying to sound educated and knowledgeable even when faced with specific facts, and because of the voting that took place on this blog, we find Dr. Robert Sears, MD, FAAP, (aka Dr. Bob Sears), 2014’s Douchebag of the Year.
A $50 donation will be made in his name to the Autism Science Foundation. We encourage Dr. Bob to match or best our donation in order to fund science that will benefit us all through finding better ways of helping autistics of any age be healthy, happy, and as productive as they can be while allowing them their proper place in our society, free of stigma or abuse by institutions and individuals. If he matches or bests our donation, he will be only slightly less of a douchebag, and that ain’t no bad thing.
(The donation will be made anonymously and verified via trusted friends of this blog. Hey, we have to maintain some sort of privacy, right?)
Thanks again to all who voted. From all of us at “The Poxes”, have a great and productive 2015, and we’ll see you on the other side.
(In case you’re curious, Dr. Bob won with 26% of the vote [62 votes total], followed by Brian S. “BS” Hooker with 19%, Andrew Jeremy Wakefield with 16%, and Cynthia “CIA” Parker with 8%.)