One of the most annoying anti-vaccine activists is Peter Doshi. He is bothersome not because he a noteworthy scientist or physician, it’s because he somehow scored a position as an editor at the respected medical journal, BMJ (formerly known as the British Medical Journal).
BMJ is not a hotbed of anti-vaccine pseudoscience, except for the presence of Peter Doshi. For example, they published a series of articles, written by Brian Deer, about Andrew Wakefield’s despicable deceit, you can read about it here, here, and here. Deer has also written a powerful book about Wakefield’s fraud. I wonder what Mr. Deer thinks of Peter Doshi as an editor at the acclaimed medical journal.
Doshi occasionally uses BMJ as his personal bully pulpit to push anti-vaccine rhetoric that can lead the casual observer to think that he is some respected authority figure with vaccines. He isn’t.
Peter Doshi has just posted an anti-vaccine blog post on BMJ attacking the clinical trials for the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. His opinion piece needs to be critiqued because his attacks can add to the vast number of anti-COVID-19 vaccine myths that are being spread across the internet.
During the 2009-10 flu season, public health officials across the world were concerned about a flu pandemic caused by the H1N1 influenza virus. In response to the dangerous new flu, these same public health officials made certain to protect their citizens with new a new H1N1 flu vaccine that would protect individuals from the pandemic H1N1 flu virus.
There have been two H1N1 flu pandemics in recent history. The first, the 1918 pandemic, also called the Spanish Flu, infected over 500 million people worldwide (when the planet only had about 2.5 billion humans) and killed between 50-100 million. And no, it didn’t target babies and the elderly, it killed everyone targeting healthy young adults.
No wonder the world’s public health authorities made sure the H1N1 flu vaccine was widely available. I cannot imagine what those numbers would have been without it – possibly millions of deaths worldwide.
The bloviating Peter Doshi, who loves all things anti-vaccine, filed a lawsuit against Health Canada, essentially, the Ministry of Health for the country and the ministry that regulates medications and vaccines for Canada, to retrieve all of the clinical trial data for HPV vaccines that was used to get approval for the vaccines in the country (see Note 1). He recently won that lawsuit, and, unless Health Canada appeals the ruling, so we can assume he will receive mountains of data to “analyze.”
According to an article in the CBC, the ruling gives Doshi access to clinical trial data submitted to Health Canada by the manufacturers of HPV vaccines, Gardasil, Gardasil9, and Cervarix, and of anti-viral flu medications. Doshi wants to do a “systematic review” of the findings, although I don’t think that’s what a systematic review is, we’ll discuss that below. Health Canada argued that the data was confidential, and they would only hand over the data if he signed a non-disclosure agreement. Doshi refused, and he prevailed in the lawsuit.
You may have read all of this and wondered who is this Peter Doshi and why do I dislike him so. Well, most of you know of Doshi. And then you wonder why I care at all that he gets this data. I actually don’t care, but I should talk about it anyway.
For the handful of you who don’t know him, Mr. Andrew Wakefieldfraudulently alleged a connection between the MMR vaccine, for measles, mumps and rubella) and autism – this has had the effect of suppressing vaccination rates in many countries. His claims were published in a now retracted paper published in the Lancet, a mostly respected medical journal who seemed to have forgotten how to do proper peer review back in the late 1990’s. This is a quick review of the Andrew Wakefield fraud.
Anti-vaccine activists constantly look for any science that seems to support their beliefs about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. Lately, they have gravitated to the writings of Peter Doshi, who has made a career talking about vaccines. Although Doshi lacks the credentials in any area of science related to vaccines – immunology, microbiology, virology, public health, epidemiology – the anti-vaccine forces embrace him like he’s a Nobel Prize winning scientist. Which he is not.
I am not a fan of Peter Doshi, one of the go-to “authorities” for the anti-vaccine crowd. He has no credentials that would indicate that he is an expert in vaccines, yet one of his opinion pieces (not real science lacking data and evidence) is used as “proof” that flu vaccines don’t work. And of course, like all zombie memes of the anti-vaccine universe, it comes around every year or so, requiring a new debunking.
Actually, it’s not so annual, cause this is the first time I’ve done it, more or less.
I started this blog in January 2012. Just three years ago. I really didn’t know what subjects would be my focus, but it was science generally. I kind of wandered around for the first few months, before I think I hit my stride with vaccines, junk medicine, evolution (though I really need to move back into that area), and other things that captured my interest.
In January 2012, I had precisely 262 page views. For the whole month. I really thought “why bother.” For 2012, I had 184,000 page views, which still made me wonder if the effort was worth it.
In November 2014, I had over 278,000 unique page views, meaning I did more in November than I did in all of 2012. For 2014, I had nearly 1.2 million unique page views, which meant this website is ranked 278,000th in the world. OK, that sounds terrible, except that there’s 1,200,000,000 (1.2 billion if you hate counting zeroes) websites on the interwebs as of this moment. So this blog ranks in the top 0.023% of all websites on the internet. It’s no Facebook or Amazon, but then again, I have reach goals for this blog, and those aren’t it!
My goal is to provide scientific evidence for science and medicine, while doing the same against pseudoscientific myths and memes that are popular on the social networks. I do it with my style–take no prisoners, and use the highest standards of evidence. I refuse to accept a cherry-picked study that supports an a priori conclusion, when the scientific consensus, based on a mountainous body of evidence, is a formidable fortress of knowledge.
But some people refuse the flu vaccine because of adherence to easily debunked myths and misinformation. If you are on the fence about the flu vaccine, read Tara Haelle’s It’s Baaaaack! 33 Flu Vaccine Myths You Don’t Need to Fear. She worked hard to put that list together, so if you’re on the fence about the flu vaccine, read it before the flu season takes off. You won’t be sorry.
OK, what is your flu vaccination status? And if you have any comments, just drop them into the Disqus comments below. We’d especially like to hear from people on the fence, maybe we can give you some gentle persuasion to get the vaccine!
Updated 4 November 2014 to add some ironic analysis of Doshi’s “not-an-epidemiologist” background.
A few months ago, I wrote an article about Peter Doshi, a Ph.D. who is doing some postdoctoral work at Johns Hopkins University, one of the leading institutions of higher learning in the USA. Doshi is truly not very notable in science, except last year, he wrote an article about flu vaccines, basically employing the Nirvana Fallacy that because flu vaccines aren’t 100% effective they are worthless. Since vaccines are fundamentally a medical procedure to mitigate risk with a very low risk of adverse events, even 50% effectiveness will save thousands of lives. But we’ll get back to that.
The article he wrote is not actually based on real research, but appears to be an opinion paper–kind of like the opinion papers written by creationists who want to convince anyone who will listen that dinosaurs lived with humans. Doshi denies that most flu’s are even caused by the influenza virus. I guess the CDC’s high tech diagnostic tests for influenza are all wrong. But then again Doshi presents no evidence.
In evaluating a scientific claim made by anyone, the only thing that matters is the quality and quantity of evidence. It does matter who is making the claim, it does not matter if you believe their claim, and it does not matter if they make a powerful emotional argument–absent real evidence, it is nothing but words.
When discussing the validity of a scientific or medical claim, some people accept that there is a hierarchy of scientific sources, from nearly worthless (that would be anything from Mercola or Natural News) to scientifically significant systematic reviews. But a lot of people think that if it is published, without any regards to where or how it was peer-reviewed, it signifies the scientific consensus, period, end of discussion. Some will abuse PubMed, the US National Library of Medicine’s powerful search engine, searching for the one article that supports their “beliefs,” while ignoring the 1000 other articles that don’t.
Or how some individuals will use the obscure cell culture study to support their claim that XYZ prevents cancer, while completely ignoring all other evidence that cell culture studies are just an early phase of research, and until it’s confirmed in a large clinical trial with human subjects, the cell culture study barely ranks above conjecture or speculation. Continue reading “Not all scientific articles are equal in science”