For faithful readers of this blog, you know I try to keep focus on a small field of science – vaccines, GMOs, alternative medicine, and whatever strikes my fancy. I get all excited when a couple of my interests intersect, like GMO vaccines. Then I read a blog post from some writer, Jon Rappoport, who started out with criticism of Donald Trump and what he might do with the FDA. That got me excited.
Now a lot of us are worried about what Donald Trump might do with the FDA. The cantankerous Orac summed up many of our thoughts about Trump and the FDA thusly:
Obviously, though, I don’t like either of the two candidates under consideration by the Trump transition team to become FDA Commissioner. Basically, you have to pick your poison: Do you want the libertarian who doesn’t think that the FDA should have to require the demonstration of efficacy before approving drugs or the bona-fide, honest-to-goodness pharma shill, someone who’s pharma shill to a level that most pharma shills only dream of? It’s basically Sophie’s choice.
But Jon Rappoport quickly went off the rails by attacking the FDA and claiming GMOs are dangerous (and the FDA should regulate them). Here we go.
WTF is Jon Rappoport?
Let’s start at the top, or bottom, depending on your perspective. Rappoport is a certified American Loon – he’s a germ theory denier, an HIV-denier, and a vaccine denier. His germ theory denial is as funny as it is crazy – Rappoport believes that contagious diseases are not caused by germs, but by “IMMUNE SYSTEMS THAT ARE TOO WEAK TO FIGHT OFF THOSE GERMS.” Yeah, he wrote it in all caps, which is the personification of a good troll.
He writes about medical issues on Infowars, Donald Trump’s favorite news site for accurate news about the country. I’ve criticized Mike Adams of NaturalNews on numerous occasions, but Rappoport may be on a whole new level of science denialism.
Rappoport apparently wraps his arms around just about any conspiracy theory regarding medicine. Earlier this year, the crusty Orac enlightened us with Rappoport’s ramblings on the Zika virus. He believes that Zika doesn’t exist, and this outbreak is merely a tactic to force vaccinate people with a Zika vaccine. Seems like a bit of complicated way to get people vaccinated. In fact, according to Orac, Rappoport ticks off all the anti-science conspiracies on the anti-science BINGO card:
Rappoport has made a meta-conspiracy theory, claiming the increase in microcephaly is caused not by Zika, but by a combination of pesticide use and manufacturing, the Tdap and GMO mosquitoes mentioned above, mosquito sprays, and poverty/sanitation/malnutrition (the boogeymen of every anti-vaccine advocate).
So, if you care anything about science, which I assume any reader here does, you’d know to ignore anything Jon Rappoport says. Except, sometimes you just can’t.
WTF did Jon Rappoport say now?
He starts his blog post with a an attack on Donald Trump. Now this is amusing and ironic, given Rappoport’s connections to Infowars, but I’ve run out of irony meters to care any more. He says, “Warning to Trump: don’t approve GMO, pesticide, FDA horror show. You are incompetent on these vital subjects.” Well, I agree that Trump is incompetent on these issues, I don’t agree that GMOs are dangerous or that the FDA is a horror show. Rappoport continues,
I think Trump favors jobs, all jobs, and will go to extremes to create them…He’ll find ways to allow the FDA to license new drugs more quickly, thus maiming and killing more Americans. He’ll cast a blind eye toward big corporate toxic GMOs/pesticides.
Again, Rappoport is half-way there. But then he goes all in with the lunatic ramblings.
Let’s start with GMOs. The scientific consensus, made up of the best and brightest scientists in the world, have clearly stated that GMOs are safe to humans, animals and the environment. The AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Sciences), one of the leading scientific societies on the planet, released a statement regarding a GMO scientific consensus (pdf):
The science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe … The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and every other respected organization that has examined the evidence has come to the same conclusion: consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.
Rappoport pushes the science denialism found by many climate change deniers – ignore evidence that doesn’t fit one’s preconceived conclusions. He also conflates pesticide use with GMOs. Sure, in some cases they’re interrelated, but the GMO crop itself isn’t the issue. Moreover, Rappoport’s claims about pesticides is vastly overrated, especially if you have even the most basic knowledge of toxicology. But even if you want to believe, at the most basic level, that pesticides are dangerous, that has nothing to do with genetic modification of foods. There’s nothing there.
Now on to the FDA. Rappoport pushes the trope that “…the FDA isn’t being too careful in their drug approval process, as Trump team members suggest. It’s the opposite. The FDA is in the pocket of pharmaceutical companies.” Let’s let the evidence speak for itself. Only about 11.8% of drugs that enter the initial stages of clinical trials ever get FDA approval. Think about that – 88.2% of all drugs that enter the FDA regulatory process fail to gain approval. If the FDA is in the pocket of Big Pharma, its pockets are filled with lint.
Now, I don’t think the FDA is perfect. They are understaffed and overworked. There is an over reliance on suspect data, although review panels, made up of top researchers, are more cognizant of bad research, and have flunked out hundreds of drugs from regulatory approval.
The basic credo of the FDA is that a drug must have a benefit (both cost and medical effectiveness) that exceeds the risks. Sometimes that’s a very narrow ratio, especially for more serious diseases. But mostly, it’s a slam dunk, one way or another.
Rappoport seems to think that all medicine should be 100% perfect, something that he inherits from his alternative medicine pseudoscience. Treating cancer is not simplistic, it’s complicated and can be dangerous, because the oncologist is trying to destroy cancer cells that look just like regular cells. I’m sure Rappoport thinks cancer is some conspiracy, or something.
He also claims that “…FDA-approved medical drugs kill 106,000 Americans a year. That would be 1.06 MILLION deaths per decade.” This statistic is based on a meta review from 18 years ago which analyzed adverse drug reactions in Americans. The authors admit to some bias in the results plus trying to merge data from heterogenous studies, but let’s just take that 106,000 as fairly accurate. But look at the number in context with the number of hospitalizations, which shows the absolute risk. There were 34.2 million hospital visits in 1997 (close enough to the 1999 date of the article) – in other words, the absolute risk of a deadly adverse reaction from drugs was about 0.3%. Yes, that’s too high, but if you take into account bad medical records (where a patient’s allergies are unknown), the relative health of the patient in the hospital (some may not tolerate even minimal adverse reactions), and numerous other issues, it’s difficult to see if this is a huge problem.
Again, the expectation that all medical procedures, including consumption of medication, should be 100% perfect is simply outside of the realm of possibility. The FDA strives to weed out deadly drugs, although it has to embrace some medications that have clear benefits to the patient. Clinical trials generally only have 2-3 thousand patients. What if it takes 10 thousand patients to observe a rare event – that’s why the FDA demands post-marketing surveillance of all drugs. Sometimes a very rare risk is identified, and the pharmaceutical company changes its package insert to reflect the risk.
But there’s more recent data that might indicate even the rare risk of a deadly adverse drug reaction is smaller than once thought. In a 2012 study, researchers found that the actual risk of a deadly adverse drug reaction was closer to “ranged from 0.08/100,000 to 0.12/100,000.” This is about 1/10,000th the level that Rappoport uses from an older study (although the methodologies were different). Again, we could argue that even that level of serious adverse drug reaction is too high, but I think perfection, especially given the the serious health concerns of many patients who receive these drugs, ignores the basic benefit to risk analysis. Unless you believe that all medicine is perfect.
The TL;DR version
Jon Rappoport is a certifiable science denier on almost all of the key science issues of our day – HIV, germs, vaccines. I was going to write that he does get a pass for his climate change beliefs, then I found out he was actually a climate change denier. Wait, this guy criticizes Donald Trump? He is, in fact, more in line with Donald Trump with respect to science than just about anyone about whom I’ve written.
I hope if any of you run into this guy while wandering the internet, you realize he has some serious scientific deficiencies. And based on the high ranking of his website, he apparently has a lot of acolytes who buy into his ideas. Sigh.
- Lazarou J, Pomeranz BH, Corey PN. Incidence of adverse drug reactions in hospitalized patients: a meta-analysis of prospective studies. JAMA. 1998 Apr 15;279(15):1200-5. PubMed PMID: 9555760.
- Shepherd G, Mohorn P, Yacoub K, May DW. Adverse drug reaction deaths reported in United States vital statistics, 1999-2006.Ann Pharmacother. 2012 Feb;46(2):169-75. doi: 10.1345/aph.1P592. PubMed PMID: 22253191.