One of the least reliable sources of veterinary information the internet, Dr. Karen Becker, is at it again.
In a recent FB post, she implies that my criticism of her anti-science claims, her promotion of unscientific, unproven, and ineffective therapies, and her spreading myths about mainstream, science-based veterinary medicine, are “attacks” equivalent to the activity of “hate groups.” Along with this comment, she reposts the absurd video produced by Rodney Habib suggesting that my work promoting science-based pet health is contributing to the problem of suicide in the veterinary profession.
There is tremendous (unrecognized) irony in this comment. Proponents of alternative therapies base much of their argument on the idea that conventional, scientific medicine is unsafe or ineffective, and this is a standard approach for Dr. Becker (e.g. 1, 2, 3). Claiming that vaccines and drugs are harmful and that scientific medicine treats only symptoms and ignores the “root”real” causes of disease is commonplace. And while she doesn’t usually go as far as her sponsor Joseph Mercola, perhaps the most prominent and aggressive anti-science disinformation providers on the planet, her long association with him shows how comfortable she is with these sorts of attacks on mainstreams science and medicine, and those of us who provide it.
Her plea for “inclusion, acceptance, or tolerance” is simply a way of saying that when she makes claims like these, or tells pet owners to use useless therapies like homeopathy or unproven, potentially harmful treatment such as Chinese herbal remedies, the rest of the profession should let her do so freely, without criticism or challenge. Want she wants is the freedom to say and do what she believes in, whether it is actually true or really helps pets or not, and not be criticized for it. Her attacks on scientific medicine are, apparently, fair play, but pushing back against her claims with logic and evidence are being mean. This is a typical double standard employed by the CAVM community (e.g. 1, 2)
Refraining from warning pet owners about the unproven and potentially dangerous nature of Dr. Becker’s approach is not being “nice” or inclusive. This is simply ignoring misinformation even when it does harm. I believe people should be treated kindly, but ideas deserve no respect other than what they earn through their logical foundations and supporting evidence.
I will say of Dr. Becker, as I say of most of the proponents of pseudoscience and anti-science misinformation, that I have little doubt she is sincere and has the best interests of her patients at heart. I also believe she is very often wrong, and her approach is dangerous and misguided. As I too have the best interests of veterinary patients at heart, I have just as much responsibility to push back against her claims as she feels she has to challenge the practices of scientific medicine. Neither of us is obliged to ignore what we see as false or dangerous claims and practices, and the standards of civility, just like the standards of evidence, should be the same for both of our positions.
I can, of course, sympathize with how frustrating and demoralizing it can be to be attacked publicly. I have no doubt the personal attacks I receive, including Mr. Habib’s ridiculous video, are as numerous and at least as harsh as any Dr. Becker experiences. My chronicles of the hate mail I receive are evidence of this. I don’t see Dr. Becker expressing any sympathy or compassion for skeptics who are attacked in this way, even when it is done in her name or defense:
This article made my blood boil because Dr.Karen Becker has more balls than any of you tiny brainwashed humans coming out of vetschool… if your veterinarian is anything like this quak continue searching for another…I LEGIT HATE u whoever u are.
I have made great efforts to focus my criticism on ideas rather than persons, and while I admit that I can understand why referring to Dr. Becker as a proponent of misinformation and anti-science nonsense might be upsetting to her, these are descriptions of her behavior supported by a great deal of evidence, not attacks on her person. That she expresses her objection to this by reposting a video that literally demonizes me through visual and audio effects and accuses me of contributing to the suicide of fellow veterinarians is pretty stark hypocrisy.
I’m sure Dr. Becker and I would agree on some things, including the tremendous challenges vets face, financially and psychologically, and the real harm of personal online attacks. However, these serious issues should not be used as an excuse to claim an exemption from criticism, or as a distraction from the equally real danger of misinformation and anti-science ideas to veterinary and human patients.