Rise of the quacks

This week, Trump announced that he is taking hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria medication that he has been hyping as a potential treatment for COVID-19.

TRUMP: And a lot of good things have come out about the hydroxy.  A lot of good things have come out.  You’d be surprised at how many people are taking it, especially the frontline workers — before you catch it.

The frontline workers — many, many are taking it.  I happen to be taking it.  I happen to be taking it.

Q: You’re taking hydroxychloroquine?

TRUMP:  I’m taking it — hydroxychloroquine.

Q: Right now?

TRUMP:  Right now. Yeah. A couple of weeks ago, I started taking it.

As Popular Information previously reported, the most comprehensive study of hydroxychloroquine, involving 368 veterans, found the drug was an ineffective treatment and associated with higher death rates. On April 24, the FDA "issued an alert warning doctors against prescribing the drug for COVID-19 outside of hospitals and research settings because of the risks of serious side effects and death." Earlier this month, the NIH began a clinical trial.

Trump struggled to explain why he was currently taking hydroxychloroquine as a prophylactic. 

Q: Can you explain, sir, though, you — what is the evidence that it has a preventative effect?

TRUMP: Here we go. Are you ready? Here’s my evidence. I get a lot of positive calls about it.

Brad Parscale, Trump's campaign manager, tried to clean up the mess with a tweet.

Who can argue with the conclusions of the Association of American Physicians & Surgeons (AAPS)? Well, despite the official-sounding name, the AAPS is a fringe group that frequently pushes scientifically-discredited views in pursuit of an ideological agenda. It has pushed dangerous misinformation about AIDS, abortion, and vaccines, among other issues. Its data on hydroxychloroquine is complete bunk.

Out of roughly a million doctors in the United States, about 2500 are dues-paying members of the AAPS. The American Medical Association has more than 228,000 members. 

Is Trump actually taking hydroxychloroquine? It's hard to say. Regardless, the fact that Trump and his team are promoting the AAPS in the midst of a deadly pandemic is extremely dangerous. 

AAPS' worthless data on hydroxychloroquine

The AAPS claims that 90% of COVID-19 patients treated with hydroxychloroquine recover successfully. This claim is not supported by any credible study. 

Rather, the AAPS has created a spreadsheet where it aggregates and interprets various studies and observations from doctors. As The Dispatch reported, "at least 1,411 of the 3,868 patients included in the most recent update of the table come from studies performed by Dr. Didier Raoult." On April 3, the International Society of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy (ISAC), which initially published the study, distanced itself from Raoult's work because it "does not meet the Society’s expected standard." A week later, the ISAC released another statement saying there were concerns "regarding the content, the ethical approval of the trial and the process that this paper underwent." 

Another "1,554 of the patients" are based on claims by Dr. Vladimir Zelenko. But Zelenko has "published no data, described no study design, and reported no analysis."

The AAPS also includes individual observations about hydroxychloroquine from individual doctors. For example, Mehmet Oz — known better as Dr. Oz — says he has treated two patients, and both are fine. 

In other cases, the AAPS misrepresents studies. For example, with regards to the study of veterans referenced earlier, the AAPS "table states that 158 out of the 210 patients treated with hydroxychloroquine improved." But the organization fails to mention that participants in the study who received hydroxychloroquine "died at a higher rate than those who did not receive drugs."

AAPS: HIV might not cause AIDS

Since 1988, the National Academy of Sciences has "asserted that the evidence linking AIDS and HIV is 'scientifically conclusive.'" But the AAPS is unconvinced. In 2007, the organization published a paper questioning the connection. 

For more than two decades, dissenters from the assertion that HIV = AIDS have published books and articles and maintained a presence on the Internet, but major media have paid little if any attention; thus most people seem unaware that there are any serious doubts about the matter...

The HIV = AIDS believers insist that the mainstream consensus is so overwhelming that dissenters must be wrong. History of science is not kind to this argument. As scientific understanding has advanced, sooner or later the most firmly held mainstream views have been modified, indeed often overturned completely.

Jane Orient, the executive director of the AAPS, defended the article as recently as 2015. She said the article "raises the issue of whether the costly drug cocktail given HIV/AIDS patients" is effective. But that treatment has saved millions of lives

AAPS: Obama tricked Jews into voting for him through hypnosis

In 2008, the AAPS published an article suggesting Obama convinced Jews to vote for him through covert hypnosis. 

Is Barack Obama a brilliant orator, captivating millions through his eloquence? Or is he deliberately using the techniques of neurolinguistic programming (NLP), a covert form of hypnosis…

Techniques of trance induction include extra slow speech, rhythm, tonalities, vagueness, visual imagery, metaphor, and raising of emotion. Hypnotists often have patients count. In a speech after the primaries closed, Obama said: “Sixteen months have passed (paused)…Thousands (pause) of miles…(pause)…Millions of voices….”

Obama is clearly having a powerful effect on people, especially young people and highly educated people—both considered to be especially susceptible to hypnosis. It is also interesting that many Jews are supporting [Obama]...

The author also notes that Obama's campaign logo "resembles a crystal ball, a favorite of hypnotists." 

AAPS: Nicotine isn't addictive

Another paper published by the AAPS suggests that nicotine is not addictive, and the myth makes it harder for smokers to quit. 

Repeating the message that nicotine is habit-forming convinces some smokers that their habit is not their fault and that they would be silly to attempt to quit on their own.

The paper, authored by Michael L. Marlow, criticizes "government efforts to encourage people to stop smoking as costly and ineffective." His research was financed by Philip Morris.

AAPS: Abortion causes cancer

The AAPS material claims, "there is overwhelming and convincing evidence that abortion and breast cancer are linked." A 2002 letter claims that it "amounts to child abuse to take a teenager in a crisis pregnancy for an abortion" because "at best, it will give her a 30% risk of breast cancer in her lifetime." Both "the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society say there is no such link."

AAPS promotes anti-vaccine conspiracy theories

The AAPS has also repeatedly pushed discredited theories about the dangers of vaccines. Asked earlier this year if vaccines cause autism, Orient said "the definitive research has not been done." But the "overwhelming scientific consensus is that vaccines do not cause autism."

After a 2015 measles outbreak at Disneyland in Florida, the AAPS "issued a news release opposing mandatory vaccination and raising questions about vaccine safety." The release "makes a link between autism and the measles vaccine." The group's work was condemned by public health officials. 

The Trump campaign is now citing the AAPS as an authoritative source during a deadly pandemic. Life may only return to normal with the widespread adoption of a vaccine. 

Photo credit: Getty Images

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