Whatever happened to Dr. Daniel Neides, a year after he was forced to leave the Cleveland Clinic because of his antivaccine rant?

About a year ago, there was an uproar in the medical and skeptical blogosphere (and even in the mainstream media) to a blog post by Daniel Neides, Daniel Neides, MD, MBA, who was at the time Acting Medical Director of the Tanya I. Edwards Center for Integrative Medicine, Vice Chair and Chief Operating Officer of Cleveland Clinic Wellness, as well as the Associate Director of Clinical Education for The Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine (CCLCM), where he oversaw all clinical activities during years three through five of the medical school. What so horrified and appalled me was Dr. Neide’s post, Make 2017 the year to avoid toxins (good luck) and master your domain, published on the website of a local Cleveland newspaper, was basically an antivaccine rant. Now, a year later, the exact details aren’t important. Suffice to say that Dr. Neide’s post indicated that he clearly believes that vaccine probably cause autism and are loaded with evil “toxins” that cause all sorts of health problems. Ultimately, Dr. Neides was forced out of his leadership positions, and I was wondering recently what happened to him.

I found out, but before I let you know what Dr. Neides is up to now let me recap what happened a year ago. Before my recap, though, I’ll let loose a most unsurprising spoiler: Let’s just say that Dr. Neides has dropped even the pretense of not being antivaccine. For instance, as you will soon see, he recently gave a speech to Ohio Advocates for Medical Freedom, an antivaccine group hiding behind the “health freedom” and “informed consent” fallacies beloved by advocates of quackery and antivaccine pseudoscience.

The reaction to Dr. Neides’ post a year ago was swift and harsh on Science-Based Medicine, Skeptical Raptor, and Tara Haelle’s blog, while ZDoggMD posted an epic rant to Facebook. At the time, I couldn’t help but note that Dr. Neides was not just any doctor at the Cleveland Clinic. He was in a leadership position, having been faculty there for quite a few years before his moment of infamy. He had been running the Clinic’s wellness center and was acting director of the integrative medicine program there. In “integrative medicine” parlance, Dr. Neides was about as mainstream and “evidence-based” as “integrative medicine” gets. Yet he still managed to lay down an epic antivaccine rant. In fact, even though the many antivaccine tropes he laid down were well covered in the blog posts linked to above, I can’t help but quote a sample, just in case you don’t believe me when I tell you how bad his post was:

Slight detour. Why do I mention autism now twice in this article. Because we have to wake up out of our trance and stop following bad advice. Does the vaccine burden – as has been debated for years – cause autism? I don’t know and will not debate that here. What I will stand up and scream is that newborns without intact immune systems and detoxification systems are being over-burdened with PRESERVATIVES AND ADJUVANTS IN THE VACCINES.

The adjuvants, like aluminum – used to stimulate the immune system to create antibodies – can be incredibly harmful to the developing nervous system. Some of the vaccines have helped reduce the incidence of childhood communicable diseases, like meningitis and pneumonia. That is great news. But not at the expense of neurologic diseases like autism and ADHD increasing at alarming rates.

That’s about as antivaccine as it gets, an example of the classic “toxins gambit,” complete with the false equivalence beloved of antivaxers: “Yes, I concede that vaccines do good, but look at the horrible price! Autism! The horror. The horror…” Never mind that the “horrible price” exists only in the imaginations of antivaxers.

My point, of course, is that Dr. Neides’ antivaccine rant is the sort of thing that happens when you let other quackery and pseudoscience take hold at an institution. Dr. Neides had embraced pseudoscience in his practice, particularly the idea that unnamed “toxins” cause disease and that “detoxification” is necessary to restore and maintain health. Therefore, it should not be surprising that the sort of “thinking” (if you can call Dr. Neides’ nonsense thinking) that leads an institution to embrace naturopathy, homeopathy, traditional Chinese medicine, reiki, functional medicine, and nearly all manner of unproven, disproven, and mystical pseudoscience, as the Cleveland Clinic has embraced over the last 20 years can also lead to antivaccine views. After all, once you think that the body needs a lot of help to remove unnamed “toxins” and thus “detoxify,” then antivaccine pseudoscience is must a short hop away, and unfortunately Dr. Neides made that hop.

The administration of the Cleveland Clinic, not surprisingly, was not pleased at the unfavorable attention that Dr. Neides had brought upon it. His post made national news, resulting in harsh and well-deserved criticism that brought a tsunami of bad publicity bearing down the institution. A harsh light was shone on the Clinic’s increasing embrace of pseudoscience. For instance, it was noted that the Cleveland Clinic sold The One Quackery To Rule Them All (homeopathy) from its website. Even as Dr. Toby Cosgrove, longtime CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, tried to emphasize that his institution was pro-vaccine and used only evidence-based treatments, he couldn’t resist doubling down on the Clinic’s commitment to “wellness,” which was the portal through which all the quackery and pseudoscience had entered. Indeed, I couldn’t help but point out that Dr. Cosgrove’s hiring of Dr. Mark Hyman to establish a “functional medicine” clinic put the lie to his oh-so-pious denial that there was no antivaccine sentiment at the institution he ran, reminding my readers that at the time of his hiring in 2014 Dr. Hyman had very recently co-authored a book with antivaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. entitled Thimerosal: Let the Science Speak: Mercury Toxicity in Vaccines and the Political, Regulatory, and Media Failures That Continue to Threaten Public Health. Not surprisingly, the book demonized the thimerosal preservative that some antivaxers point to as the cause of the “autism epidemic.” Ten days before his hiring by the Cleveland Clinic was announced, Mark Hyman even appeared on The Dr. Oz Show to promote the book. There’s no way Dr. Cosgrove didn’t know about that. Still, Dr. Neides had to go, and go he did. Sadly, despite that, the embrace of quackery has been “wildly successful” at the Cleveland Clinic.

So what’s happened to Dr. Neides?

I found his new practice website the other day, Inspire Wellness, which he co-founded with Dr. Jessica Hutchins. I thought I’d start with her because Dr. Neides’ choice of her as his partner in this practice definitely puts the lie to his denial that he was antivaccine:

Jessica’s story is an incredible one. She grew up in Cleveland, received her MD from CWRU and trained as an OBGYN at University Hospitals. Her trajectory was forever changed when her oldest son, Josh, was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in 2004 at the age of three. Demanding to uncover the answers to the cause and treatment of ASD, Jessica began her educational journey in the field of Functional Medicine. This area of medicine focuses on reversing chronic disease by understanding the complexity of the body at an energetic and cellular level. Through those efforts, Josh recovered no longer has an ASD diagnosis. Although Josh was the catalyst for this passion of disease reversal, she also draws much inspiration from her children Emily, Michael, Tori, and Gabe to make their world a safer place.

She moved back to Cleveland in 2015 from Northern California where for the first time she was able to practice functional medicine 100% of the time (of course missing those middle of the night deliveries)! In 2016, she became an Institute of Functional Medicine Certified Practitioner, and is one of a handful of doctors in the world who are both board certified in OBGYN and certified in Functional Medicine.

Translation: Dr. Hutchins is an autism biomed quack and almost certainly blames vaccines for her child’s autism. I can’t help but note that, in his infamous post that lost him his job, Dr. Neides actually cited an article by Dr. Hutchins from 2015 published in U.S. News & World Report. An excerpt:

Given the lack of any nutritional value and lack of true safety data for these chemicals, what is the harm in demanding better quality nourishment for our kids? We cannot assume that if our government allows these chemicals to be put in our “foods” that they must be safe. When we vote with our dollars by choosing to buy products that are sustainably produced and chemical free, we actively shape the market place. Help change the way our kids nourish their precious bodies, starting with yourself as an example. Every one of us is so unique and biochemically different, sometimes the best research data to listen to is the testimonial of your own child’s health. For more info on eating toxin-free food and pushing food manufacturers to stop using these ingredients, check out foodbabe.com.

“Chemical-free” food? What does that even mean? Vacuum? Every food is made up of chemicals! In any case, the fact that she referred to Vani Hari, a.k.a. The Food Babe, as a good source of information on anything related to food tells you all you need to know about her. Hari is, after all, the one who said that there “is just no acceptable level of any chemical to ingest, ever” and regularly lays down the most pseudoscientific and ignorance-inspired misinformation about “chemicals” in food imaginable. It’s not for nothing that I’ve said that Vani Hari (“The Food Babe”) is to food what Jenny McCarthy is to vaccines.

Actually, Dr. Hutchins is clearly antivaccine as well. I found some testimony attributed to her regarding Ohio House Bill 193, which, if passed, would prohibit penalties for employees of hospitals and health care systems who refuse the influenza vaccine. In it, Dr. Hutchins claims she received no training in medical school on vaccine safety research and recounts some antivaccine greatest hits.

None of this should be surprising, given that Dr. Hutchins is also a functional medicine practitioner. I’ve described many times why functional medicine is utter quackery. It’s the worst form of “make it up as you go along” medicine that combines the worst aspects of conventional medicine (massive overtesting) with copious quackery, particularly of the “detoxification” variety.

But what about Dr. Neides? Well, he is Dr. Hutchin’s partner now. More importantly, his and Dr. Hutchins’ practice offers a wide variety of quackery, ranging from functional medicine (of course!) to the quackery of an infrared sauna, to intravenous nutrition, which is touted for “heavy metal and chemical toxicity,” migraines, asthma, chronic fatigue syndrome, and other conditions. The practice even offers something Drs. Hutchins and Neides call the Inspire Wellness Personalized Membership. It’s basically a concierge service, although neither doctor has admitting privileges at any hospital. Neither take Medicare, Medicaid, or any other form of health insurance, the reason being how little of what the practice does is reimbursed by insurance.

So, yes, Dr. Neides is a quack, and he’s definitely let his antivaccine freak flag fly high since leaving the Cleveland Clinic. Don’t believe me? Check out this video posted to Facebook two days ago of him giving a talk to the Ohio Advocates for Medical Freedom. It’s a group that is clearly also antivaccine, with its website chock full of antivaccine misinformation, such as this page attempting to “debunk” the well-established science failing to find a link between vaccines and autism and another page of antivaccine fear mongering. I won’t go into detail debunking the nonsense because of length considerations and because I’ve done it so many times before, but OAMF should not rest easy. If any of their members challenges me to demonstrate the group is antivaccine, my response to hin would be, “Be careful what you wish for. You might just get it.”

Here’s the video:

The beginning of the tape shows Dr. Neides going on about how at age 51 he’s not the same person he was at 31 or even two years ago. (Neither am I, but that’s besides the point.) After that, he launchea into a discussion of “that article” (i.e., the article he wrote a year ago that got him booted from the Cleveland Clinic) and attempts (unsuccessfully) to joke about how he had thought before he wrote it in December 2016 that very few people read his column. He discusses how in his column he had taken on the food industry, the chemical industry, and a bunch of other industries without any reaction from his employer, but then he took on vaccine industry…

Yeah, it’s the “vaccines are a sacred cow” gambit.

Throughout the talk, Dr. Neides tears up as easily as former Speaker of the House John Boehner. He tears up as he described how on January 13, 2017, he was relieved of his position as director of the Cleveland Clinic’s wellness institute after having been a loyal “soldier” for 20 years, lamenting that, although he could still practice medicine there as faculty, his career at the Clinic was effectively over, his leadership and administrative positions gone.

It was at this point that I marveled. Before his firing, Dr. Neides had worked for the Cleveland Clinic for over 20 years, despite his embrace of quackery and pseudoscience! That tells me a lot about the Cleveland Clinic. I also learned from Dr. Neides’ talk that in September the Clinic had dissolved his clinical area, in essence letting him know that its wellness institute would close at the end of 2016, meaning that he would have to find another practice. (Too bad the functional medicine institute and traditional Chinese medicine clinics appear to be still going strong.)

It isn’t very deep into the talk that Dr. Neides goes full bore antivax. For example, he, like Dr. Hutchins, claims there is “no education” about vaccine ingredients or the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. Of course, given his antivax proclivities, I’m guessing that what Dr. Neides is really objecting to is that medical school and residency don’t teach antivaccine pseudoscience about “toxins” and “vaccine injuries” that aren’t. He rattles off tropes about vaccine injury claims, claims of “conflicts of interest” among pro-vaccine advocates, complaints about patients being dismissed from practices because of refusing to vaccinate. He’s particularly upset about employers “forcing” employees to receive the flu vaccine, and even buys into the common antivaccine claim that there is no “informed consent,” tearing up yet again as he confesses that he was once “one of those doctors” who didn’t give adequate informed consent about vaccines. Indeed, my Boehner remark might have been too mild. In fact, Dr. Neides tears up a lot during this talk in a most maudlin fashion, even going so far as to tell his audience not to feel sorry for him. (Don’t worry. I won’t. I’m sure Dr. Neides will profit mightily from his new “integrative” practice.)

What Dr. Neides is really referring to, from my perspective, is what I like to refer to “misinformed consent,” where risks of vaccines are massively overstated and benefits massively understated. He even brings up the “placebo gambit” regarding vaccine studies. And, yes, he buys into blaming the “autism epidemic” on vaccines and basically implies not-so-subtly that vaccines might be responsible for an “epidemic” of chronic disease.

He also goes where all too many antivaccine activists go as well: Nazi analogies. Yes, he invoked the Nuremberg Code and Geneva Convention. Why he brought up the Geneva convention, I have no idea. The Geneva Conventions have very little to do with informed consent or medical experimentation. Rather, they are international agreements that define the basic rights of wartime prisoners, establish protections for the wounded and sick, and establish protections for civilians in war zones. Yet this doesn’t stop Dr. Neides from asking, “Why are we not protected under the Geneva Convention?” Actually, the Geneva Conventions do encompass medical experiments. Indeed, it is considered a grave breech of the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions to subject prisoners or civilians to willful killing, torture or inhumane treatment, including biological experiments. Still, Dr. Neides seems to be conflating the Geneva Conventions with the Nuremberg Code, which was delivered in 1947 as part of the verdict against Nazi doctors who had conducted horrific medical experiments on Jews and other prisoners and remains one of the foundations of medical ethics with respect to human subjects research. Some of the ten points of the code include the requirement for informed consent, the requirement that there be strong preclinical data (in vitro and animal experiments) to support the hypothesis being tested, that physical and mental suffering must be avoided or minimized, and several other principles that we accept today. So, yes, involuntary biomedical experiments are against the Geneva Conventions, but the Geneva Conventions are not primarily about forcing people to undergo human experimentation. The Nuremberg Code is.

I do have to give Dr. Neides credit, though. He can really bring the stupid in the form of ridiculous “slippery slope” arguments, asking:

  • “Are women going to be forced to undergo mammograms or Pap smears in order to keep their jobs?”
  • “Are men going to be dismissed from medical practices because the refuse a digital rectal exam or PSA for prostate cancer screening or colonoscopy at age 50 for colon cancer screening?”

Exercise for the reader: How are these interventions not like vaccines?

Again, let us not forget that Dr. Neides was employed by the Cleveland Clinic for over 20 years. He rose through the ranks to a leadership position. He was in charge of teaching medical students. He ran its wellness institute. He was popular and trusted. If he hadn’t let his freak flag fly with respect to his antivaccine views a year ago and been unfortunate enough to have drawn national attention to it, he would almost certainly still hold all the positions of influence in the Cleveland Clinic organization that he held a year ago and still be administering woo to patients under the Cleveland Clinic brand.

The Cleveland Clinic administration wants to convince you that Dr. Neides is an anomaly in its institution, but I fear that he is not. Once an institution embraces pseudoscience, whether because of philosophy or as a marketing strategy to attract patients with more money than critical thinking skills, it’s much harder than the administration thinks to keep out other forms of pseudoscience, including antivaccine views. I’d be willing to bet that there are other antivaxers at the Clinic, ones who are smarter than Dr. Neides and don’t announce their antivaccine views to the world.