By Peter Weiss
I, like most OB-GYN physicians nationwide, received a very strange email from the Office of the Surgeon General through the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
“The Office of the Surgeon General is seeking input from providers on the impact and prevalence of health-related misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through a ‘Request for Information’ (RFI), the Surgeon General is looking to gather personal experiences related to health misinformation from various stakeholders to further understand its sources and to better prepare for and respond to future public health crises.
“Sincerely, the ACOG Government Relations team.”
Before I begin, you must know that most physicians have received many other strange emails from their hospitals, medical associations, and such. I have even received an email from my chairperson “suggesting” how I should vote on medical issues and who to vote for on the hospital committees. This one is the strangest of them all. It makes one start to wonder what world we live in. What is “health care misinformation” and what is the government’s role? Are we being asked to be informants?
I am going to try my best to be an independent examiner of truth and not disseminate any misinformation in this article.
An article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on April 9, 2021, titled Misinformation in and About Science makes a claim that misinformation undermines the ability to collectively acquire information, filter, and share it.
“Without reliable and accurate sources of information, we cannot hope to halt climate change, make reasoned democratic decisions, or control a global pandemic.”
Bold statements, yet that article gives no scientific supporting data. Instead, it cites editorials and opinion articles as its sources.
Let’s go to the heart of the email I received. Let me be on the record for the hundredth time, COVID-19 is real, was real, will forever be real, and can be deadly. I have been vaccinated twice, boosted once, and still got COVID. I won’t get another booster, since I scientifically believe that I have natural immunity at this point. Others may do as they please.
Medicine is an art. There is no one size fits all. We all know smoking is bad for us and can lead to cancer, yet not everyone who smokes will get cancer. Is that statement misinformation?
What once was wrong may be found to be right and the other way around.
I have always said that cloth masks are useless against COVID, yet in the height of the pandemic, I could have been accused of misinformation. Yet we all know now, yes even Tony Fauci knows, that cloth masks aren’t effective at all in preventing COVID, and may even be harmful. How often did those cloth wearers wash or change those masks? It’s like wearing the same pair of underwear on your face for a month straight! I still wear an N95 mask in the hospital and my medical office because I have to. I can play by the rules. I also don’t have to worry about bad breath anymore.
How do we obtain the facts we use to then determine what is misinformation? We can’t have misinformation if we first don’t define the facts. Winston Churchill said it best, “History is written by victors.” The same can be said about which facts we use. Yes, there can be multiple factual endpoints, it just depends on which article you hold higher than the others. Or as Churchill implies, who is in power.
Dr. John Ioannidis, an absolutely brilliant Stanford scientist, has a magnificent paper, Why Most Published Research Findings are False, published in the Public Library of Science Medicine in 2005.
He states that “the probability that a research claim is true depends on the study power and bias.” This basically means that one can manipulate an outcome by what data or bias one enters. This can be unintentional. He writes that “simulations show that for most study designs and settings, it is more likely for a research claim to be false than true.”
He concludes, “Moreover, for many current scientific fields, claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias.”
So our surgeon general wants to know my thoughts on the prevalence of health-related medical misinformation. So here we go.
I think we both agree that our primary focus is to save lives and do no harm. Saving every life should truly be a mission statement of the Office of the Surgeon General. I am humbly suggesting that we focus on saving the most lives, and if preventing misinformation in any way shape or form can help, well, then count me in.
But let’s be honest. This so-called misinformation from physicians is most simply described as the different opinions among physicians about how to best treat their patients.
I have seen many patients who come to me from another doctor who was just treating them wrong (in my opinion) and putting them at risk. Wrong medications, unnecessary surgeries, and so on. Some physicians are performing malpractice because there are bad physicians, just as there are bad lawyers, teachers, and actors. Questioning whether a 5-year-old should get a vaccine or wear a mask isn’t misinformation. It’s good science to question whether what we are being told is factual, especially when the data we are analyzing is new. Ioannidis is so right. I can probably find an article to support any claim from either side of an argument.
Finally, may I respectfully suggest that our surgeon general focus on the horrific opioid crisis that is destroying and killing thousands of our young people’s lives. Focus on mental health and how depression, anxiety, loneliness, and fear are bringing such sorrow and anguish to so many. Too many people, young and old, are suffering mental health setbacks from COVID lockdowns.
If we could only stop the misinformation coming out of the mouths of our political leaders, we’d probably be much better off.