Anti-science vets and COVID-19

Veterinary medicine is ostensibly a science-based profession. The Veterinarian’s Oath taken by veterinary graduates in North America begins, “I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society.”1 The centrality of science and scientific evidence is similarly acknowledged in statements of principles and ethics by veterinary organizations around the world.2–4

Modern veterinary practice relies on science to develop the tests and treatments we use and guide their application. Scientific research has enabled tremendous improvements in human and animal well-being, and it is indisputably the most effective means of understanding the natural world we have. 

Unfortunately, the role of science as a source of knowledge, in healthcare and many other domains, is too often controversial. The scientific approach is sometimes threatening to people committed to other ways of validating their beliefs, whether organized philosophical or religious traditions or simply our individual life experiences. Also, the tools for manipulating nature that scientific knowledge allows us to develop can be misused or harmful, and negative views of some of these tools can lead people to view science and technology in general with suspicion or mistrust. 

Mistrust of science and disdain for scientific expertise, especially when applied to public policy, has become depressingly widespread in our society. Too many people have become convinced that either scientists cannot be trusted or that every individual can become a self-taught expert in any subject with sufficient motivation and an internet connection. As a result, scientific expertise has lost much of its influence in the public sphere. This has grave consequences. 

The resurgence of preventable infectious disease due to declining vaccination has been the most prominent example of this for years.5–11 However, the current COVID-19 pandemic has taken pride of place as the clearest and most brutal example of the consequences of anti-scientific attitudes and behavior. Tens of thousands of people have experience illness and death unnecessarily due to the refusal of their neighbors and their governments to heed the expertise of health scientists and take appropriate measures to prepare, prevent, and respond to a pandemic. Voices expressing doubt and contempt towards science have gone from the fringes to the center of society, with devastating consequences. 

Prominent anti-scientific beliefs that have hampered our ability to deal with COVID-19 include claims that-12–15

  • The virus and pandemic are mere hoaxes
  • The virus was manufactured or released deliberately
  • The morbidity and mortality rates have been intentionally exaggerated
  • Facemasks are useless or even cause harm to one’s health
  • Unproven or disproven treatments can prevent or cure COVID-19, from hydroxychloroquine to oleander extract, homeopathy to herbal remedies

The rejection of the scientific approach to COVID has been so severe that up to 50% of people surveyed in some countries have already decided they will not accept a coronavirus vaccine when one is developed.16–18 Public health officials fighting the pandemic have been threated, and many have had to accept bodyguards or have simply left their jobs.19–21

As members of a scientific profession, veterinarians ought to be somewhat resistant to such anti-scientific views and beliefs. Any sufficiently large group, of course, is bound to have a few outliers—individuals whose commitment to some ideology or belief system another outweighs their scientific training. However, outright anti-scientific views, about COVID-19 and other health issues, should have difficulty taking root in members of a healthcare profession such as ours. Shouldn’t they?

Unfortunately, such views have long been present in veterinary medicine. A small but passionate subset of veterinarians routinely denounce scientific veterinary medicine as worthless or actively harmful and promote alternative approaches for diagnosing and treating disease. (see these articles for all too many examples- 1234567891011) These vets not only rely on untested, unproven, or demonstrably useless methods such as homeopathy, energy medicine, esoteric diets, herbal remedies, and many others, but they promote these by claiming the vaccines, medicine, foods, and other interventions developed and supported by scientific research cause disease more than prevent or treat it.22,23

It is easy to dismiss such claims as mere differences of opinion, or to write off such individuals as outliers. They are not numerous, and even most other proponents of the same alternative therapies don’t go so far in rejecting science and scientific approaches. However, these individuals are one end of a continuum of anti-scientific thinking that has led us to the crisis we face today. 

This is illustrated quite clearly in the promotion of myths and misinformation about COVID-19 by some vets. (see the specific examples quoted below) Members of our profession are publicly calling the pandemic a hoax, suggesting that the rates of illness and death are exaggerated, blaming Wi-Fi or Bill Gates for COVID, and denouncing masks or any potential vaccine while promoting unproven or disproven therapies for COVID-19, including homeopathy, ozone, exotic diets, herbal remedies and others.24–32 Nearly all of these individuals have a history of disparaging science-based veterinary medicine and promoting alternative therapies. The association is not accidental but a reflection of a world view that mistrusts and misconstrues science and that privileges personal experience, historical tradition, intuition, and revelation over empirical research as methods for understanding health and disease and the effects of our interventions.

There is room for plenty of difference of opinion in veterinary medicine. The evidence is far from strong enough to define a clear standard of care for most situations. And novel or untested treatments deserve to be carefully and fairly evaluated scientifically. The use of as yet unproven therapies can be completely appropriate and consistent with a science-based perspective when the evidence is incomplete and the need is great enough. Evidence-based medicine can be a pretty big tent.

However, there is real knowledge, actual facts about the disease we treat and the methods we use, and this comes from science. Personal experience and anecdote are useful as generators of hypotheses and to help us when we have no better source of knowledge, but they are deeply unreliable and prone to bias. When there is high-quality scientific evidence available, we must be prepared to abandon beliefs and practices that contradict that evidence. Clinging to our experiences and intuitions and habits in the face of better sources of knowledge is an abdication of our responsibilities as members of a science-based profession. 

Promoting pseudoscience and attacking real science is not brave or a sign of independence or critical thinking. It is counterproductive and dangerous, as the current COVID crisis illustrates. Anti-scientific views, such as antivaccine ideology and promotion of disproven or pseudoscientific therapies are not mere curiosities or legitimate differences of opinion–they are a direct attack on the scientific approach, and we are now seeing that this has consequences. As a profession based on science, we have a responsibility to resist the encroachment of such views and adhere to the scientific approach, which has more than proven its value. 

In most of these columns, I try to provide practical information and evidence regarding specific tests or treatments. However, I also have the underlying goal of promoting science-based medicine and pushing back against the lowering of standards of evidence and the acceptance of unscientific views and methods. Myths and misinformation about COVID coming from veterinarians who routinely promote these views and methods is a reminder that this work is needed, and that we all have to think critically and carefully about the central role of science in veterinary medicine, now and in more normal times.1

Examples

“While the all cause mortality rate for seniors rose, the normal incidence of child mortality dropped significantly from March 2020 when the lockdown started…’The extreme lockdown response has produced a natural experiment that actually calls into question the very actions—widespread, mandated vaccines for all??that the infectious disease and public health community have been pushing for years.’”  Will Falconer, DVM

“COVID-19: pretty sure I had it. It’s why I’ve been self-isolating for the past two weeks… Oh, and I’m fine, thanks to a very common homeopathic remedy.” Will Falconer, DVM

“Masks don’t work, make things worse with hypoxia, requiring them is faciscm [sic] and mind control. Executive orders mandating mask wearing and encouraging governors to do the same!!!??? Hiding behind the “respectful” or “patriotic” thing for all of us to do??!!! I recall Hitler using the “patriotic” argument , regarding his feelings about eradicating certain races of people!!! What is respectful about agreeing to a mandated act of government that many of us on the other side STRONGLY feel, based on the ACTUAL SCIENCE, that there is NO to MINIMAL benefit in wearing masks, and in fact, more and more clinical experience in the human medical and dental specialties are showing THE HARM in such practices, not to mention MANY studies over many decades?? As well as what I have said that we KNOW that Covid 19 genetic material exposure(whether you call it a virus, exosome, or toxin) in those who crash in the emergency rooms is due to HYPOXIA( or low oxygen concentrations at the level of the lung cells where oxygen is exchanged), and which wearing masks for prolonged periods actually promotes and creates those conditions??!!! Children and other sensitive people are collapsing or dropping dead while wearing mandated or recommended masks while exercising??!!! Respect?? Patriotic?? I think not!!!! Because in my opinion, the “respect” of others or “patriotic” thing to do by succumbing to the fear promoting mandate of mask wearing, is only the dress rehearsal, and will only set you all up for the same arguments used when they want to mandate the unproven and likely unsafe vaccines on the way; Horderves before the main course, when the agenda of “To Serve Man” is finally achieved, where then it may be too late. That is clear as day to me. So the heck with using “respect” and “patriotism” as reasons we should ALL be mandated to wear masks outside our homes. It is SO sad to me that 70 percent of this country supports this type of mandate!! But then again, probably that same percentage believes in yearly vaccinations for your animals, year round heartworm medication and/or flea/tick pesticides on your animals, and will be the first in line to desperately roll up their sleeves when the vaccines come marching in. Fear and brainwashing go a long way when effectively utilized!!!!” Michael Dym, DVM

“SO sad that our disconnected society refused to look back at epidemics of the past, including the Spanish Flu of 1918 , and so many other epidemics where homeopathy outshined all of the allopathic interventions of the day. While the Covid-19 mantra now remains: Wear facial coverings/Social Distancing/ Wash hands, with closing prayer: “We are all in this together”… .. Soon to come as the mantra of outpatient medicine of the near future, at your local “Urgent Care” medical center…: Test, Vaccinate if negative, and chip(trace)…. Next in line please!!… Folks, allopathic veterinary high volume or shelter clinics have already been using this same mantra for decades, relative to Feline Leukemia Virus…, Test, Vaccinate If negative, and Microchip.., Next client please!!.. Maybe they have spoken with their cronies over at MARS and Banfield on how this model has paid off wonders. I wouldn’t be surprised..” Michael Dym, DVM

“The coronavirus pandemic is ramping up as more cases are being found every day. Since there is no vaccine to protect us from the disease and no drugs to treat it, conventional medicine is of little help right now. This is a situation for which we need to turn to holistic health concepts like those found in the Edgar Cayce readings. The readings are full of body, mind, and spirit ideas to optimize a person’s health.” Doug Knueven, DVM

Generally speaking, the Cayce readings recommend a diet that consists of 80% “alkaline-forming” foods and 20% “Acid-forming” foods. To aid assimilation food is to be eaten slowly and chewed well. “Bolting” food, or swallowing it by the use of liquids, is said to be a common cause of dis-ease. Equally important as what and how food is eaten is the consumer’s mood while eating. ‘… NEVER, under strain, when very tired, very excited, very mad, should the body take foods in the system …’ The Cayce readings give us sound advice on healthy eating. The closer we can stay to the Cayce nutrition program, the stronger we can keep our bodies.” Doug Knueven, DVM

“When you see the documentary, you’ll see one of our main subtemes of therapy is intravenous Vitamin-C in high doses,” said Dr. Goldstein. “I’ve been using that since the 1970s. It’s so effective against cancer and many other diseases maladies respond to it. The Shanghai Medical Association has released an expert consensus statement on the comprehensive treatment of Covid-19 where they endorse the use of high doses of intravenous Vitamin-C for the illness. Why aren’t we hearing about this in the United States?… I’ve treated tens of thousands of animals with intravenous vitamin C already and it’s finally but too slowly catching on. If I got infected by the Coronavirus, I’d be on intravenous vitamin C in a second. We usually use vitamin C on almost all our patients, so when they do surgery or any kind of procedure, we’ve always put vitamin C in the intravenous bag… The profession of veterinary medicine is subsidized by the drug companies and the food companies, and neither of them really promote health.” Marty Goldstein, DVM

References

1.        American Veterinary Medical Association. Veterinarian’s Oath. https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/avma-policies/veterinarians-oath. Published 2010. Accessed August 23, 2020.

2.        Federation of Veterinarians of Europe. European Veterinary Code of Conduct. Brussels; 2017. www.quartiergraphique.be. Accessed August 21, 2020.

3.        Australian Veterinary Association. Improving animal welfare. https://www.ava.com.au/policy-advocacy/advocacy/improving-animal-welfare/. Published 2020. Accessed August 23, 2020.

4.        RCVS Knowledge, Sense About Science. EVIDENCE-BASED VETERINARY MEDICINE MATTERS. London; 2019. https://wordpress-398250-1278369.cloudwaysapps.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Evidence-based-veterinary-medicine-matters.pdf. Accessed August 23, 2020.

5.        Wolfe RM, Sharp LK. Anti-vaccinationists past and present. BMJ. 2002;325(7361):430-432. doi:10.1136/BMJ.325.7361.430

6.        Larson HJ, de Figueiredo A, Xiahong Z, et al. The State of Vaccine Confidence 2016: Global Insights Through a 67-Country Survey. EBioMedicine. 2016;12:295-301. doi:10.1016/j.ebiom.2016.08.042

7.        Hussain A, Ali S, Ahmed M, Hussain S. The Anti-vaccination Movement: A Regression in Modern Medicine. Cureus. 2018;10(7):e2919. doi:10.7759/cureus.2919

8.        Lengyel K. Anti-Vaccination Movement Going to the Dogs? Am Vet. August 2017.

9.        Clifton J. Stop the Shots!?: Are Vaccinations Killing Our Pets? New York, NY: Foley Square Books; 2007.

10.      Kluger J. Some Anti-Vaxxers Aren’t Getting Their Pets Vaccinated. Here’s Why That’s So Dangerous. Time.com. March 2019.

11.      Duan N. Inside the World of Pet Anti-Vaxxers. The Awl.com. January 2018.

12.      U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Fraudulent Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Products. https://www.fda.gov/consumers/health-fraud-scams/fraudulent-coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19-products. Published 2020. Accessed August 23, 2020.

13.      Ian Freckelton QC. COVID-19: Fear, quackery, false representations and the law. Int J Law Psychiatry. July 2020:101611. doi:10.1016/j.ijlp.2020.101611

14.      Wikipedia. List of unproven methods against COVID-19. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_unproven_methods_against_COVID-19. Published 2020.

15.      The Coronavirus Collection: Fact-Checking COVID-19. Snopes.com. https://www.snopes.com/collections/new-coronavirus-collection/. Published 2020. Accessed August 23, 2020.

16.      Hern A. Nearly one in six Britons would refuse Covid-19 vaccine – survey. The Guardian. July 6, 2020.

17.      Cornwall W. Just 50% of Americans plan to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Here’s how to win over the rest. Science (80- ). June 2020. doi:10.1126/science.abd6018

18.      Shannon Mullen O’Keefe. One in Three Americans Would Not Get COVID-19 Vaccine. Gallup. https://news.gallup.com/poll/317018/one-three-americans-not-covid-vaccine.aspx. Published 2020. Accessed August 23, 2020.

19.      Jonathan E. Fielding, Public Health Institute. When the truth becomes the threat: Standing in Support of our Public Health Officials. https://www.phi.org/press/when-the-truth-becomes-the-threat-standing-in-support-of-our-public-health-officials/. Published 2020. Accessed August 23, 2020.

20.      Mello MM, Greene JA, Sharfstein JM. Attacks on Public Health Officials During COVID-19. JAMA. August 2020. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.14423

21.      Susan R. Bailey, American Medical Association. AMA statement on intimidation, threats toward public health officials. AMA Web Site. https://www.ama-assn.org/press-center/ama-statements/ama-statement-intimidation-threats-toward-public-health-officials. Published 2020. Accessed August 23, 2020.

22.      SkeptVet.com. CAM Vets Attacking Conventional Veterinary Medicine |. https://skeptvet.com/Blog/2013/12/cam-vets-attacking-conventional-veterinary-medicine/. Published 2013. Accessed August 23, 2020.

23.      SkeptVet.com. Anti-Medicine Vets: Should Rejection of Scientific Medicine Disqualify One from Practicing as a Licensed Veterinarian? |. http://skeptvet.com/Blog/2016/07/anti-medicine-vets-should-rejection-of-scientific-medicine-disqualify-one-from-practicing-as-a-licensed-veterinarian/. Published 2016. Accessed August 23, 2020.

24.      Jordan P. Patricia Jordan Facebook Page. https://www.facebook.com/patricia.jordan.1217

25.      Falconer W. Will Falconer Twitter Account. https://twitter.com/homeovet

26.      Dym M. Michael Dym Facebook Page. 2020. https://www.facebook.com/michael.dym.9

27.      Knueven D. The Coronavirus Pandemic and the Cayce Diet. Edgar Cayce’s A.R.E. https://www.edgarcayce.org/about-us/blog/blog-posts/the-coronavirus-pandemic-and-the-cayce-diet/. Published 2020. Accessed August 23, 2020.

28.      Laffly T. It Just Takes Common Sense: Dr. Marty Goldstein on The Dog Doc. 2020. https://www.rogerebert.com/interviews/it-just-takes-common-sense-dr-marty-goldstein-on-the-dog-doc. Accessed August 23, 2020.

29.      CBSN New York. Dr. Marty Goldstein On Dogs & Coronavirus. https://newyork.cbslocal.com/2020/03/20/dr-marty-goldstein-dogs-coronavirus-interview/. Published 2020. Accessed August 23, 2020.

30.      Falconer W. COVID-19: Remedy of the Pandemic | Vital Animal® § The Natural Path. https://vitalanimal.com/covid-19-remedy-of-the-pandemic/. Published 2020. Accessed August 23, 2020.

31.      U.S> Food and Drug Administration. Court Prohibits Dallas Wellness Center from Touting ‘Ozone Therapy’ as COVID-19 Treatment. https://www.fda.gov/inspections-compliance-enforcement-and-criminal-investigations/press-releases/court-prohibits-dallas-wellness-center-touting-ozone-therapy-covid-19-treatment. Published 2020. Accessed August 23, 2020.

32.      Gellman K, Roman M. COVID-19 – Main Street Animal Services of Hopkinton. http://www.mashvet.com/covid-19.html. Published 2020. Accessed August 23, 2020.

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4 Responses to Anti-science vets and COVID-19

  1. Jen Robinson says:

    Conspiracy theories, especially, merit skepticism, but I suspect there’s a common thread to the anti-science propaganda, and it can be traced back to the tobacco industry’s efforts to discredit the association between smoking and cancer. BBC 4 recently did a fantastic podcast series called “How they made us doubt… everything”.

  2. Thank you for this. I appreciate your work as the owner of two FIV+ cats (because people online are always recommending crazy things to treat their virus/symptoms and “boost” their immune systems) and now I appreciate you even more as an immunosuppressed lupus patient who is terrified in the midst of this pandemic. I am less afraid of the virus itself than I am of the human beings willfully spreading misinformation and/or speaking of vulnerable people like myself as entirely disposable. Thank you for being one of the voices pushing back against it all.

  3. Prerana Patel, MD says:

    I’m so glad I found this site. I’ll tell you, though, that I only found it from a link in a comment (a plea for sanity that was largely ignored, mind you) in a lengthy diatribe favoring alternative med. I’m researching treatment for my dog with newly dx’ed CKD, and was just trying to see which of the current foods/treats I give her will still be okay. The sheer amount of misinformation that dominates the Google feed is terrifying.
    The sheer amount of misinformation that people call ‘news’ and ‘fact’ is even more terrifying. I read the NEJM editorial yesterday and was so glad that, for what I think was the first time in history, the profession of allopathic medicine, or at least some of its trusted leaders, are taking a stand. JAMA ed earlier did similar; AMA actively endorsed a change, too. I’m shocked, but at least it’s a good shock this time.

    When did we decide being lied to about everything that is important was okay?
    The more I’ve read of your stuff (not all yet, but I will), the happier I am that there’s someone who thinks about what’s true and what isn’t via science, not anecdotal hokum. Misinformation is the worst disease of the 21st century, and we’re literally dying from it. It won’t stop until it is no longer rewarded, so… it won’t stop.
    Keep fighting for the truth, and if there’s any way to get you higher in the SEO process so that people find you earlier than the junk from non-qualified bloggers, that will really help.

    Thanks again!!!

  4. skeptvet says:

    Thanks very much! It’s always nice to hear the site is useful.

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