If you go to social media, you can see a lot of suspect claims about fad diets, unapproved medical devices, therapies, and conspiracy theories. Many of them have names with "Dr." attached.

How is the public to know a "Dr." may be a PhD or an EdD or an osteropath or someone else who didn't go to medical school and become an M.D.? How should physicians respond? From the years 1998 to 2021, coastal states in the US led America in vaccine denial, were doctors supposed to tell their patients they were stupid for believing vaccines cause autism?(1) 

Were the doctors handing out exemptions just frauds, like Joe Mercola? Should ethical doctors have drawn the line and threw out a patient, who then might risk their child by going to someone shady? A new paper sought to find out if doctors had gotten more proactive about misinformation.(2) It is a good time to ask, especially since anti-vaxxers flipped from the far left to the far right, but those are the limitations too. As is using one hashtag (#MedEd - scicomm is my job for 17 years and I have never seen it) on one social media site (Twitter).

They found that from from January of 2012 through December of 2022 there were 4,397,691 posts with the hashtag #MedEd. After the COVID-19 vaccines rolled out, its use doubled, from 692,095 in 2021 to 1,178,647 in 2022.

Does that mean it is all good? That's unknown. Anyone can use a hashtag, even if they are claiming a horse dewormer cures COVID-19.(3) During the anti-vaccine craze in California of 1998-2021, virtually no one on surveys admitted to being anti-vaccine. The issue was framed improperly and it led to its own misinformation; journalists who were more interested in promoting their allies in the Democratic party would trot out surveys claiming that there was no difference in the left of right. Which meant they ignored all of the CDC state vaccine exemption data in favor of...surveys. But people who are anti-vaccine don't admit to being anti-science any more than organic shoppers do. Their thinking is 'needs more study', not 'I will never do it', even if no study can ever be enough.

It is good if doctors are taking this on unless, as in the case of science media, they are only promoting science acceptance on issues where their political allies are on the side of science.


(1) Dr. Andrew Wakelfield's study was published in The Lancet, one of the most prestigious journals in the world; and also one of the most prone to promoting 'science is a corporate conspiracy narratives.' Despite Science 2.0 and other places repeatedly debunking his methodology - it was even more ridiculous than the epidemiology paper that set off the gluten-free diet fad - we had to push for a decade to get a law passed in California to stop arbitrary vaccine denial by parents in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Los Angeles, because ridiculous preventable diseases like Whooping Cough were making a resurgence in kids.

Our efforts worked, California has caught up to states like Mississippi and Alabama in vaccine uptake now, but plenty of wealthy progressive 'Jenny McCarthy believers' got doctors to sign medical waivers.

(2) In the past, doctors have said fighting misinformation is no more in their mandate than judging patients by "asking" if they own a gun. Activists do it, and their agenda is clear, and doctors who said they did it were clearly being cultural evangelists, but it was wedge politics - and many felt the same way about vaccine deniers, who were overwhelmingly on the left then.

(3) It saved as many people as moronic guidance like that you had to flop your mask up and down between sips of water.