Debating How to Debate Instead of Actually Debating

Debating How to Debate Instead of Actually Debating

In a previous try I discussed the use of tone-policing by contrarian doctors. I said that by,

Focusing on their critics’ manners, they seek to entertain the spotlight from their repeated underestimation of the virus and successful campaign to ensure tens of millions of children and young adults contracted it before they were vaccinated.

I was reminded of entertained spotlights when I saw an article Drs. Vinay Prasad and John Ioannidis titled “Constructive and Obsessive Criticism in Science“. It lamented harassment and scientific bullying with “ad hominem aspects” saying,

Typical behaviors include: repetitive and persistent comments (including sealing), lengthy comments/tweetorials/responses often longer than the original work, strong degree of moralizing, distortion of the underlying work, argumentum ad populum, calls to suspend/censor/retract the work of the author, guilt by association, reputational tarnishing, large gains in followers specifically through attacks, finding and positing sensitive personal information, anonymity or pseudonymity, social media campaigning, and unusual ratio of criticism to pursuit of one’s research agenda.

They wrote that “Ignoring obsessive critics may be the most effective way to cut their blood line.”

The article was widely discussed on social media, and while no one could disagree with its opposition to personal attacks, many people found its message insufferably ironic coming from these particular authors. Dr. David Gorski wrote a detailed explanation of why this was so.

However, I’d like to point out to Drs. Prasad and Ioannidis, that we at SBM have written criticism that is harsh, but free of personal insults and calls to “suspend/censor/retract” any work. We don’t call vaccine-advocates “off their rocker“, nor do we humiliate and demean our critics in medical journals by calculating their Kardashian index.

I am certainly guilty of writing lengthy counters to baseless claims that frontline doctors killed a large number of patients via premature intubation or filled out death certificates inappropriately. Did I do something wrong? Drs. Prasad and Ioannidis think so. They object to “responses often longer than the original work.” They want critics to be pithy.

Regardless of their length, I hope and believe our critics at SBM are all about substance and science. That’s what really matters, after all. Here’s a sample of some of our disagreements with these two doctors.

  • Did large numbers of people die with COVID-not from covid? No.
  • Is the death toll inflated because doctors were too quick to intubate people at the pandemic’s start? No.
  • Is the death toll inflated because doctors filled out death certificates inappropriately-even fraudulently? No.
  • Did over 100% of NYC residents contract COVID during its first wave? No.
  • Is there evidence masks odd child language development? No.
  • Is the risk of death “completely negligible” for healthy people under age 65? No.
  • Is the flu as bad as COVID for kids? No.
  • Did the pandemic end in 2020? No. Did this pandemic end this spring? No.
  • Will masks and vaccines lead to the next Hitler? No.
  • Is debunking dangerous medical myths a waste of time? No.
  • Did most hospitals maintain largely empty wards? No.
  • Should doctors have mocked people who wanted a booster before Omicron ripped through the population? No.
  • Did the pandemic kill just 10,000 Americans? No. Did the pandemic kill just 40,000 Americans? No.
  • Will vaccinating children kill elderly people? No.
  • Should children remain unvaccinated because COVID kills more older people or because more children die of suicide? No.
  • Should we let babies get COVID? No.
  • Should every public health measure be studied in a massive randomized-controlled trial in the middle of a raging pandemic? No.
  • Were claims that 20%-60% of adults would be infected “substantially exaggerated”? No
  • Is it appropriate for a senior scientist to discuss the physical appearance of a junior scientist who disagrees with him? No.
  • Are vaccine side-effects worse than death for children? No
  • Were we overestimating COVID infections by 50-80 fold at the start of the pandemic? No.
  • Is it acceptable to truncate graphs and omit key information to mislead readers? No and No.

There’s no shortage of thoughtful criticisms of Drs. Prasad and Ioannidis. However, to the best of my knowledge, they have mostly pretended this material doesn’t exist. In their latest article, they didn’t point out any errors they felt their critics may have made. This article was all about the form and style of their critics, not about facts and science. Maybe their next collaboration can be a response to any of the dozens of the substantive criticisms of their work. There’s a first time for everything.

Obviously, no one owes us anything. Drs. Prasad and Ioannidis have every right to ignore the “obsessive critics” at SBM. But this neglect appears to be their policy towards all constructive criticism. They rarely, if ever, engage with anyone who is willing to challenge them on their past statements. Despite their professed love for discussion and debate, they seem only willing to be queried by interviewers- often each other- who lavish them with praise, lob softball questions, and let questionable claims go unchallenged. For example, when Dr. Ioannidis said his “original intuition” about our pandemic response “might have been correct”, I would have asked a few follow-up Questions about the passage below. Dr. Prasad did not.

But notice how the spotlight has been diverted. Drs. Prasad and Ioannidis want their critics on the defensive, a technique known as DARVO. Suddenly, everyone is debating how to debate, instead of actually debating. And every moment spent debating who can say what to whom and how and where they should say it, is time not spent talking about doctors who repeatedly underestimated the virus and successfully campaigned to ensure tens of millions of children and young adults contracted it before they were vaccinated.

I wonder why Drs. Prasad and Ioannidis don’t want to engage with their critics on these topics?

  • Dr. Jonathan Howard is a neurologist and psychiatrist based in New York City who has been interested in vaccines since long before COVID-19.


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