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Ad hominem attacks have no role in medical research November 2, 2022

I’ve noticed a pattern. 

It seems almost too coincidental, really. But looking at it in scientific research terms, let’s use  correlation between two variables here. It appears to me that the more an article refers to  “medical misinformation” the less that same article uses actual scientific research to support their own claims. In other words, don’t throw rocks from the porch of your glass house. Additionally, the more an article references “medical misinformation”, the more they refer to ad hominem attacks.  These types of attacks are finding place in the highest levels of medical research academia in some of the most revered institutions in America. And it makes me really nervous, to be honest. 

Ad Hominem attacks basically refers to when one person tears down the character of another person in a debate. Ad hominem attacks are a sure-fire way to tell that those hurling them are losing the scientific debate. When they’ve run out of evidence-based ammunition to support their claims, they make it personal. They attack their opponents by judging them in their worst previous moments. Kill the message by killing the messenger.  Ad hominem attacks are long on barbed insults and self-righteous indignation while being short on actual evidence. 

Here are a couple of examples of ad hominem attacks I’ve found in the online medical community. Take a look: 

  • 1. The chief editor of Science, H. Holden Thorp, in an article entitled, Remember, Do No Harm? Thorpe starts hurling grenades at Joseph Ladapo, Florida’s Surgeon General because of his stance on COVID vaccines and myocarditis in young men. He states, “Ladapo…has continued to spread dangerous misinformation about COVID-19 while his academic colleagues remain shamefully silent”.  He goes on “It was unsurprising that anti-vax DeSantis wanted a surgeon general with anti-science views”. Thorp then quotes a cardiologist who claimed “Ladapo’s dissemination of flawed data that purports a risk of cardiac death among men age 18 to 39 after mRNA vaccines was baseless, reckless, and irresponsible” . When Ladapo tried to talk about the scientific evidence on twitter about the question, Thorpe responded, “This move is from page 1 of the anti-science playbook”. 

Say what? Since when is initiating a multifaceted discussion in an anti-science playbook, let alone page 1?  Even as Thorp admits that “personal attacks are out of bounds”, he at the very same time, ironically paints Dr. Ladapo as an anti-scientific goofball serving as a political pawn of a red-necked science denier Governor Desantis. For all those paying attention, this is a perfect example of ad hominem attack. Notice that he disparages Dr. Ladapo as a shill and a hack, not a competent, accomplished doctor who happens to have views he disagrees with. Also notice the utter dearth of actual scientific evidence Thorp used to actually support his position. Could we also say that quoting  a biased cardiologist who disparages Ladapo can be taken from the same anti-science playbook? Or is it just a one way street with academics in ivy towers? It turns out, no such data exists to give Thorp such unilateral confidence. A recent study out of Europe looks at the risk benefit ratio of vaccinating males between age 12-17 with SARS CoV-2 vaccine which reveals that the risk of heart inflammation increases significantly higher after just one vaccination. Indeed, the risk of vaccinating does seem to outweigh the benefit in young males! Science even came out a few days later to clarify that the science is not clear, nor unilateral on this subject as some would like to believe.  It may be tempting to attack Thorp and demand his removal as chief editor for Science. You know, cancel him.  I think the better route is to leave Thorp alone, let him speak his mind, then watch curiously as he and his echo-chambered colleagues at Science descend gently and definitively into a 3rd class journal.  

  • 2. Robert F. Garry is a professor of virology at Tulane medical school, and one of the  authors of the now controversial paper, The Proximal Origins of SARS CoV-2, published in Nature. In it, the authors state, “Although the evidence shows that SARS-CoV-2 is not a purposefully manipulated virus, it is currently impossible to prove or disprove the other theories of its origin described here.” However, when authors Harrison and Sachs wrote to Proceedings of the National Academy of Science about calling for an independent inquiry into the origins of SARS cov-2, Garry changed his curious tune by emphatically stating, “SARS Cov-2 Furin Cleavage Site Was Not Engerineered”. He charges Harrison and Sachs as conspiracy theorists implying that they’re fools and quacks, when in fact Harrison and Sachs made no such implication of conspiracy at all. Read the article yourself if you don’t believe me.  Ironically, it’s Garry, without anything other than circumstantial evidence, claiming emphatically that the virus came from nature. Then comes the pile on. The “outright ridiculous conspiracy theories” of a lab leak, the “weaponized, manufacturing of uncertainty” regarding lab leak, or the “debunked, conspiracy theory” all serve as ad hominem attacks–aimed at discrediting the people behind the idea without actually providing evidence to refute it. 

Let’s be perfectly clear—the current “natural origin” scientific consensus does not rely much on directly observable actual experimental research. In other words, the consensus scientific community has relied on conjecture and circumstantial evidence to produce “could haves” and “might haves” to establish the wet-market spillover theory to malign, disparage, and discredit those who support the lab leak theory. Just think if the script was flipped? There is plenty of circumstantial evidence to support ivermectin for COVID, but let’s not go there. Hypocrisy kills curiosity. The scientific consensus are using ad hominem attacks to deflect and hide their inability to find answers. And piling on by adding more studies that say nothing new does not make their point more compelling, either. Just more desperate.  Echo chambers reverb just as loudly in ivy towers as they do in small-town USA. 

Since when is science a unilateral field? Since when is the difference between well-reasoned, established insight and scum-sucking, illiterate, barbarism determined by how good you are at circling the wagons and lobbing ad hominem grenades?  Unfortunately, some sort of catastrophic bipolar thinking has injected itself into science in America. Here’s a note to people in science: Just because I don’t agree with you doesn’t mean you’re worthless as a person, nor does it mean that your viewpoint has no merit. It may very well be that SARS-Cov-2 came from the natural world. But we just don’t know yet. A note to the consensus: You can keep going down this road, but trust me, at some point it’s going to come back to bite you in the butt. Big time. Let’s all be a little more humble, and before attacking each other ask ourselves, “what if I’m wrong?”

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