One Conversation: Three legitimate medical authorities ensnared in the trap of appearing on a panel with antivaxers

About a month ago, I wrote about an invitation I received to be a panelist on something called “One Conversation.” The invitation was to participate as part of a panel discussing vaccines. That, of course, immediately sent up a number of red flags, particularly given that a quick Googling of the women inviting me, Shannon Kroner and Britney Valas, were antivaccine activists. For example, Dr. Kroner spoke at the Children’s March for Humanity in June 2017:

As I discussed at the time, her antivaccine views weren’t even subtle, and it didn’t help that antivaccine stalwarts from the crew that brought us the antivaccine propaganda film disguised as a documentary (VAXXED), Del Bigtree and Joshua Coleman, also spoke at this march. As for Britney Valas? She was involved in organizing the Children’s March for Humanity, and her appearance on a podcast with Del Bigtree told me that she is antivaccine, too. However, her social media footprint that reveals her antivaccine views is not nearly as large as Kroner’s, although there is this other podcast appearance:

In 2013, Britney began questioning vaccines even though her oldest child experienced a serious illness after a flu shot in 2009. Through inspiration by God, Britney felt the energy shift and knew it was time for a national march promoting parental rights with medical freedom and exposing the true state of health for America’s youth by initiating the Children’s March for Humanity.

Yes, she’s definitely antivaccine.

One Conversation: The panel is revealed

Given that the organizers of One Conversation are clearly antivaccine, I was…leery. So I engaged in a long correspondence with the organizers. I wanted to know who was on the panel. There were enough clues to lead me to guess the identities of at least some of the One Conversation panelists—correctly in some cases, as it turned out. Indeed, the list of panelists has finally been revealed a mere four weeks before the event. The list and descriptions will both sound familiar (for several) and alarming, given how many rabid antivaccine activists are on a panel with, apparently, some real scientists and doctors who no doubt have zero idea what they are in for or the level of pseudoscience they will encounter. Here are the names and descriptions of the participants, as described on the One Conversation website:

  • Dr. Jubilee Brown, MD, FACOG: Professor and Associate Director of Gynecologic Oncology Oncology, Levine Cancer Institute, Atrium Health Charlotte, North Carolina. Dr. Brown is a board certified gynecologic oncologist with 16 years of experience treating women with gynecologic cancers. She has published over 80 peer-reviewed articles, 22 book chapters, has edited a textbook, and has lectured and taught on 5 continents. She will serve as the President of the AAGL in 2020, and her goal is to help eradicate cancer in women.
  • Catherine M. Roe, PhD: Principal Investigator and Associate Professor, Knight Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center Department of Neurology. Dr. Catherine Roe is currently an associate professor at the Knight Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center in the Department of Neurology. She completed her Bachelor’s in Psychology at Purdue and a Master’s and Ph.D at Southern Illinois University in Psychology. Her research interests are in the use of biomarkers for detection of preclinical and symptomatic Alzheimer’s disease (AD); in the prediction of AD-associated outcomes on an individual basis, and in associations between AD biomarkers and “non-cognitive” outcomes such as driving. Dr. Roe is also interested in how brain and cognitive reserve, mood, physical decline and neuropsychological factors impact both persons who are cognitively normal and persons with symptomatic AD. She is the PI of an NIH/NIA grant investigating preclinical AD and driving performance as well as other grants that examine naturalistic driving outcomes.
  • Dr. Toni Bark, MD, MHEM, LEED, AP: Founder and Medical Director for The Center for Disease Prevention & Reversal. Dr. Bark earned her Doctor of Medicine degree from Rush Medical College in 1986. She completed her Pediatric internship at NYU and Pediatric residency at University of Illinois. She trained in rehab medicine and has a Masters Degree in Medical Disaster Preparedness and Response from Boston University Medical School. She is a former Director of the Pediatric Emergency Room at Michael Reese Hospital. Dr. Bark has worked as an expert witness in the federal vaccine court and as an adverse event expert in family courts. She has been in private practice in Chicago, Illinois since 1994.
  • Dr. H. Gene Stringer, Jr., MD: Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine (Infectious Diseases), Department of Medicine, Co-Investigator Georgia AIDS Education and Training Center. Dr. Harold Stringer is an infectious disease specialist in Atlanta, Georgia and is affiliated with multiple hospitals in the area, including Grady Memorial Hospital and Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center. He received his medical degree from University of Mississippi School of Medicine and has been in practice for more than 20 years. He is one of 35 doctors at Grady Memorial Hospital and one of 5 at Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center who specialize in Infectious Disease.
  • Dr. Mahin Khatami, Ph.D: Retired, National Institute of Health. Mahin Khatami received her Ph.D. in Molecular Biology from University of Pennsylvania (UPA, 1980), after receiving her MA in Biochemistry (SUNY, Buffalo, NY), BS and MS (Chemistry and Science Education, Iran). Her postdoctoral trainings were in physiology, protein chemistry and immunology at UPA, U VA and Fox Chase Cancer Inst. As a Research Faculty (Dept. Ophthalmology at UPA) she was involved in two major projects, diabetes complications and experimental models of acute and chronic inflammatory diseases. In the first decade of her research career at UPA, by publishing 39 scientific articles and 60 abstracts in conference proceedings, she became the most productive scientist in the USA. In 1998, she joined NCI/NIH as a Program Director, involved in major clinical trials (PLCO). Dr. Khatami’s relentless efforts for promoting the important role of inflammation in cancer research paid off in the last few years as significantly funded projects are currently devoted to various aspects of inflammation within and outside NCI/NIH. Her last position before retirement at the professor level was Program Dir., Innovative Molecular Imaging Technologies, (IMAT) and Assistant Director, Technology Program Development, Office of Director, NCI/NIH. She is currently Associate Editor for Cell Biochem. Biophy, Editor and author of books on inflammatory diseases and cancer.
  • Dr. Christopher A. Shaw, Ph.D: Neuroscientist, Professor, Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences. Christopher A. Shaw, Ph.D is a professor in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the University of British Columbia, with cross appointments to the Department of Pathology and the Programs in Experimental Medicine and Neuroscience. He has served as a member of ALS Canada research committee and was a member of the scientific advisory board of the Public Health Agency of Canada on neurological diseases. He is the author of over 300 articles, reviews, and abstracts. He is the author of a book on the nature of neurological diseases, Neural Dynamics of Neurological Disease (Wiley 2017). Ongoing projects in his laboratory focus on potential therapeutics for ALS, on models of the Guamanian neurological disorder, ALS-PDC, and on the role of aluminum in neurological disorders across the lifespan. In recent years, his group has investigated the impact of aluminum adjuvants in animal models of ALS and autism spectrum disorder. Chris served as a front line medic with a Canadian NGO during the liberation of Mosul, Iraq, in 2017.
  • Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, DO, AOBNMM, ABIHM: Founder of Tenpenny Integrative Medical Center, Founder of Mastering Vaccine Info Boot Camp and Educational Portals, Former Director of the Emergency Department at Blanchard Valley Regional Hospital Center. Prior to her career in alternative medicine, Dr. Tenpenny served as Director of the Emergency Department at Blanchard Valley Regional Hospital Center in Findlay, Ohio, from 1987 to 1995. In 1994, she and a partner opened OsteoMed, a medical practice in Findlay limited to the specialty of osteopathic manipulative medicine. In 1996, Dr. Tenpenny moved to Strongsville, Ohio, expanding her practice to include traditional, complementary and preventive medicine. Dr. Tenpenny is board certified in three medical specialties. She was boarded in Emergency Medicine from 1995 to 2006. She chose to not re-certify in Emergency Medicine – a time consuming and expensive undertaking – because she never plans to work again within Emergency Medicine. She has been board certified in Osteopathic Neuromusculoskeletal Medicine (AOBNMM) since 1995 and became board certified in Integrative and Holistic Medicine in 2012 (ABIHM). Dr. Tenpenny`s special interest is chronic pain and a unique approach to chronic diseases and cancer. She has taken advanced studies in women`s health, breast thermography, bio-identical hormone use and thyroid-adrenal balancing. She is excited about developing The Breast Health Center at TIMC, using MammaCare® technology and thermography to improve the health of breasts in women of all ages.
  • Del Bigtree: Medical Journalist, Founder, ICAN Host and Producer of the Highwire. Del Bigtree is one of the preeminent voices of the vaccine risk awareness movement around the world. He is the founder of the non-profit, Informed Consent Action Network, and host of a rapidly growing internet talk show The HighWire, boasting over 33 million views to date. Del’s multi-pronged approach incorporates legal, legislative, and media actions to expose the fraud, lies, and conflicts of interest that have allowed the pharmaceutical industry to evade standardized safety testing for vaccines. Del’s foray into the vaccine issue was anything but intentional. After spending a decade celebrating great doctors, cutting edge surgeries and medical breakthroughs as a producer on The Dr. Phil Show and the CBS medical talk show, The Doctors, it was a routine investigation into the story of a whistleblower at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that catapulted Del into the vaccine debate. Del put his career on the line and left network television to make one of the most controversial documentaries in history: Vaxxed: From Cover-Up To Catastrophe. Del is now one of the most sought after public speakers in the natural health arena, often gathering audiences in the thousands who travel from around the world to be inspired by his unique blend of passion, wit, and scientific expertise. He has worked directly with the likes of Robert Kennedy Jr., Robert DeNiro, and Jenny McCarthy, and was an official member of the 2017 Kennedy Vaccine Safety Delegation at the National Institute of Health arranged by President Trump. He is the recipient of multiple awards including an Emmy Award as a producer on The Doctors, Best Drama at the New York Television Festival, and the Health Freedom Hero Award from the National Health Freedom Federation, the oldest natural health organization in America. He has appeared on several primetime news networks including ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX and has been interviewed by countless radio and Internet personalities ranging from Tom Hartman to David Knight of Infowars.

As you can see, there’s a mixture of antivaccine activists, antivaccine cranks (in my opinion), and what appear to be real scientists having this “One Conversation.”

One Conversation: First, the cranks

Del Bigtree, of course, is the producer of the antivaccine propaganda film VAXXED, a film by the guru of the antivaccine movement, Andrew Wakefield, that I once described as so over-the-top and unsubtle in its fear mongering that even Leni Reifenstahl, were she still alive to see it, would say it was too much. It was so full of antivaccine misinformation and conspiracies (particularly the “CDC whistleblower” conspiracy) as to have caused me pain to watch it and try to count and deconstruct all the examples of misinformation. Notice how there is no mention of Andrew Wakefield in One Conversation’s description of Bigtree. I’d be willing to be that the members of the panel who are not antivaccine cranks have no idea how close Bigtree and Wakefield are. They’re tight. They’re bros. One can easily predict that Bigtree will try to restrain his usual—shall we say?—ebullient nature in which he goes on about how he’s ready to die for vaccine freedom and appear to be a rational vaccine “skeptic.” It well might work.

To me, Sherri Tenpenny, of course, is an antivaccine crank. I’ve written about her on multiple occasions, but I must admit that the bit in her bio above about promoting the unproven imaging modality of thermography for breast cancer is something new that I hadn’t known about her before. If you want to get an idea of how quacky Tenpenny is, consider this epic rant by her in which she claims that vaccines are “contaminating” human DNA in the name of transhumanism. It doesn’t get much more hilariously quacky than this. No wonder she was featured on the conspiracy-fest “Conspira-Sea Cruise” with Andrew Wakefield. One wonders if she’ll regale the audience with tales of vaccines “contaminating” human DNA beyond repair. She is an extreme crackpot.

Then there’s Christopher Shaw. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve written about his execrably bad science churned out in the name of demonstrating that aluminum adjuvants in vaccines—particularly HPV vaccines—are hopelessly dangerous. He blames them for death. He tries to show that aluminum causes behavioral problems. His papers on vaccines are so bad that retraction occurs for image manipulation, which he blamed on a researcher who, conveniently enough, had left the lab. He teams up with collaborators who demonize HPV vaccines.

Toni Bark, of course, is also a “holistic” doctor. As I documented before, she’s an actual MD, but she’s also into “integrating” naturopathy and homeopathy, the latter of which is what I like to refer to as “The One Quackery To Rule Them All,” into her practice. Not surprisingly, she was also featured as a speaker on the Conspira-Sea Cruise. She’s the main narrator for much of the movie Bought, a movie combining antivaccine fear mongering about vaccines causing autism plus GMO pseudoscience.

Before I get to the doctors and scientists who appear not to be cranks, I can’t help but note that there were some…cancellations. Dr. Wilber Chen, for instance, is an infectious disease doctor and Chief of the Adult Clinical Studies section within the Center for Vaccine Development and Director of the UMB Travel Medicine Practice. I’m guessing he figured out what he was in for. Ditto R. Lee Mosley, PhD, a real immunologist who does real research into Parkinson’s disease. Then there’s David Hawkes, Ph. D, an Australian HPV researcher. Again, he figured out what he was in for. I also can’t help but note that, after I turned Kroner down, I became aware of several other doctors who had been contacted and invited to be on the panel. I also found out that J.B. Handley was going to be on the panel, but for some reason he’s not on the final list. He’s probably too busy selling his new antivaccine book.

One Conversation: Who are the scientists?

I will credit Kroner and Valas with persistence. I know they were rejected by a large number of pro-science, pro-vaccine doctors and scientists just from my communications with those who were contacted by them. I have no idea how many others they might have contacted. Unfortunately, they appear to have managed to persuade some non-cranks to agree. For instance, Dr. Jubilee Brown is a real, honest-to-goodness gynecological oncologist, which means that she treats the cervical cancer that HPV can cause and the HPV vaccine prevents. She describes herself thusly, “I am a gynecologic oncologist with expertise in minimally invasive surgery, rare tumors, and care of the patient at high risk for gynecologic malignancies.” I also note that she had been faculty at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center for 17 years before her current appointment at the Levine Cancer Center, and she’s definitely a supporter of vaccinating against HPV.

I was curious why someone like Catherine M. Roe, PhD would be invited to be on the panel. She is, after all, an Alzheimer’s disease researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, who describes her research thusly:

Under the direction of Catherine M. Roe, PhD, the Roe Lab is working to characterize functional outcomes impacted by preclinical Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Our main area of focus is on how individuals with and without preclinical AD maintain driving abilities.

This is an important public health issue, without a doubt, but what does it have to to with vaccines? Dr. Roe is not a vaccine activist, as far as I can tell. One could just as well ask why Kroner would have asked a breast surgeon to be on her panel, but I have a long history of opposing antivaccine pseudoscience publicly. I can’t find that sort of history with Dr. Roe. My best guess is that they want her to discuss aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease, given that Christopher Shaw is on the panel and it’s an antivaccine myth that the aluminum adjuvant in the flu vaccine and other adult vaccines that contributes to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. I hope she’s up on that, but I bet that she isn’t.

H. G. Stringer, MD is somewhat less puzzling entry. He’s an associate professor of medicine and infectious disease specialist at Morehouse School of Medicine whose research interests are HIV/AIDs and tuberculosis. On the other hand, even though he’s an infectious disease specialist, he’s not a pediatric infectious disease specialist, and the vast majority of the objections to vaccines are to childhood vaccines. Of course, once the names of the other panelists were finally revealed by Kroner and Valas, every pediatric infectious disease specialist out there approached probably heard the name Del Bigtree or did some Googling of other panel members and ran screaming away, as well they should. Ditto anyone active in combatting antivaccine pseudoscience, any of whom would be likely to recognize at least three of the names of the panel participants. Sadly, Dr. Stringer is likely unprepared for the onslaught of Gish galloping that he will encounter. If he is, there’s no indication findable by Google that he’s familiar with antivaccine tropes and prepared to deal with the onslaught he’s likely to be subjected to, however politely.

A surprise in One Conversation

I thought at first that Mahin Khatami, PhD, who is indeed a retired scientist from the National Cancer Institute, fell into the category of non-cranks, but I soon learned otherwise. It is true that at the time of her retirement Khatami was Assistant Director for Technology Program Development, Office of Technology and Industrial Relations and Program Director-IMAT, Office of Director, NCI, although before that she was Program Director-HAS. quickly revealed why she was chosen for the panel. High up on my Google search results is an article NIH scientist – Dr. Mahin Khatami exposes corruption in cancer and vaccine industries, which touts an article she wrote for Clinical and Translational Medicine entitled, Safety concerns and hidden agenda behind HPV vaccines: another generation of drug-dependent society? It’s a rant against both vaccines and cancer, chock full of conspiracy mongering, easily refutable tropes about cancer, and antivaccine rhetoric. For example:

Formation of a highly ordered and sophisticated medical hierarchy (establishment) in the nineteenth/twentieth century within higher education institutions (e.g., medical schools, organizations) was supported by businessmen and philanthropists with motives to profit from the sale of drugs (reviewed in 1). The power of establishment grew since 1955 when public was intentionally inoculated with million doses of virus-contaminated polio vaccines, which sharply increased the deadly cancer incidence in the current ‘baby boomers’ generation, particularly in America. In addition to increased cancer incidence and mortality, numerous other disabling acute or chronic illnesses [e.g., poliomyelitis, vasculitis, autoimmune and neurodegenerative diseases or vaccine-associated paralytic polio (VAPP)] are reported as the results of public vaccination with virus-contaminated polio vaccines that made American health status at the bottom of other healthy nations [1, 2, 3].1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 The abusive power of establishment intensified since 1971, when the Cancer Act, signed by President Nixon, increased cancer research funding of National Cancer Institute (NCI)/NIH to 1.6 B, so that cancer problem be solved in 8 years! The establishment has been successful in collecting/spending several trillions of dollars from public and private resources ($1.6 trillion spent in 2008 alone on research, drug development, clinical trials and care) with claims of ‘targeted’ therapy, ‘precision’ or ‘personalized’ medicine, including the recent failed attempts for ‘immunotherapy’ [1].

And:

Therefore, there is no surprise that outcomes of such illogical approaches (‘medical/scientific ponzi schemes’) have failure rates of 90% (±5) for solid tumors [1, 4, 5].

Yes, she’s invoking the claim that SV40 in polio viruses is responsible for an epidemic of cancer today, 50+ years later. It’s what I like to refer to as a “zombie meme,” because, no matter how many times it’s refuted, it always comes back. There are so many alternative medicine tropes about cancer and anti-HPV antivaccine talking points in this article that it might almost be worth a full blog post to deconstruct them all. Let’s just put it this way, although Skeptical Raptor has already been there. She cites an article from the rabidly anti-HPV group SaneVax in the references. In case you don’t remember, SaneVax is a foremost antivaccine group of the anti-HPV variety that specializes in trying to scare parents with stories of Gardasil contaminating patient DNA and causing brain injury using a dodgy pathologist. The antivaccine ideologues at SaneVax also promote the idea that Gardasil kills. In any event, Khatami also supported the formation of a “vaccine safety commission” with longtime antivaccine crank Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. as the chair.

Oh, and she’s also written a book, Cancer research and therapy: Scam of Century-Promote Immunity, which looks as though it were probably self-published. It features chapters with titles like:

  • Creation of a Cancer-Stricken Society for Huge Profit: Unthinkable Population Control By Drugs [Poisons] That Kill Patients while Charging the Victims! Molecular False Flags on Fraud Foundations-outcome failure rates of 90%
  • Cancer Incidence and Mortality: Health Status of Baby Boomers: Hidden Agenda: Creation of a “Magical Reality” for a Drug-Dependent Sick Society in America
  • Closer Look at Cancer Dilemma: Shared Biological Features of Potent Pathogens and Current Cancer Treatment Options: Induction of Immune Tsunami Toxicities That Kill Patients – Biological Key to Answer to Cancer: Understanding Inflammation in Health and Diseases

Hilariously, in the Dedications and Acknowledgments, Khatami writes:

For the record, aspects of this book were submitted to a scientific journal and a book publisher. However, title of the book and sections on political views of the cancer establishment were not permitted to be published.

Gee, I wonder why.

Clearly, Khatami was once a legitimate scientist at the NCI. However, sometime since her retirement (or perhaps before her retirement, leading her to be demoted from a program director), she became an antivaccine anti-oncology crank.

One Conversation: Cranks crave legitimacy

When I first discussed my invitation to One Conversation, I noted that pseudoscience-promoting cranks, like antivaccine pseudoscience, cancer quackery, alternative medicine believers (particularly homeopaths), “9/11 Truth,” creationism, Holocaust denial, the moon landing “hoax,” climate science denialists who reject anthropogenic global climate change, and all manner of conspiracy theories, crave legitimacy. As a means of attaining at least the illusion of legitimacy, they crave public “debate” with real experts in the fields whose conclusions they deny. I’ve seen it time and time again. The reason, of course, is that just by appearing on the same stage as an expert in a seemingly neutral venue, the crank wins. His appearance side by side with a real expert on the same stage gives his ideas the appearance of, if not outright legitimacy, at least sufficient seriousness as to warrant a debate. Worse, most real experts and scientists are not debaters in the sense that they are used to using facts, science, research, and reason to win the day, rather than rhetoric. Also, they are often unfamiliar with the fallacious attacks on their specialty’s findings made by cranks and thus ill-prepared to counter them; the “Gish gallop” plus rhetorical displays of a skilled debater can all too often leave them flummoxed and on defense, even though they are the experts. This is why I have a policy of not appearing with cranks, either for a debate or as part of a “discussion,” as such events are almost always weighted in favor of the cranks and I don’t wish to lend whatever small legitimacy I have to, for instance, antivaccine ideas. That’s why I refused my invitation.

One Conversation is an example of exactly what I was talking about. This panel is highly weighted towards antivaccine cranks, with two real doctors (Drs. Brown and Stringer) and one real scientist (Dr. Roe) against six antivaccine cranks, including one of the crankiest of antivaccine cranks (Del Bigtree), a retired scientists who has at some point become an antivaccine crank (Dr. Khatami), two antivaccine crank doctors (Sherri Tenpenny and Toni Bark), and an antivaccine “scientist” (Christopher Shaw) who was once a legitimate scientist but now spends a lot of time doing bad science trying to implicate aluminum as a cause of autism and death. Worse, these three legitimate medical authorities, as far as I can tell (with the possible exception of Drs. Stringer), do not have the requisite knowledge of antivaccine pseudoscience, misinformation, and lies to be able to effectively counter the message that I know the antivaccine cranks will be communicating. It’s not enough to know your science. Dr. Brown might well know the science of HPV and cervical cancer and how HPV vaccines prevent cervical cancer, but unless she’s delved into the deepest recesses of the antivaccine crankosphere I guarantee you that she will be unprepared for the Gish gallop of ant-HPV propaganda that panelists like Bigtree, Khatami, Tenpenny, Shaw, and Bark will lay down. Dr. Roe might well be an expert on Alzheimer’s disease, but I virtually guarantee you that she will not be prepared for the pseudoscience, misinformation, and lies about vaccines (particularly the flu vaccine) and Alzheimer’s that the antivaccine panelists will be likely to lay down.

If there’s one thing about cranks that I’ve noticed over the years, it’s that they believe in an adage that I like to call “all truth comes from public debate.” That’s because, just by appearing on the same stage as legitimate medical authorities, the cranks win by achieving the illusion of legitimacy, or at least of there being enough evidence on their side to warrant a serious debate. This is especially true if the “debate” is held in front of a sympathetic audience, which One Conversation will be. Remember, there is an antivaccine rally at the CDC scheduled for the day before called CDC Shutdown 2018 and sponsored by Vaccine Justice or Else:

So, yes, the audience will be full of antivaxers. Even if there weren’t a rally before One Conversation, antivaxers tend to be the ones interested in “debates” like this because those who accept the safety and efficacy of vaccines recognize such debates for what they are: Antivaccine propaganda.

Here’s hoping that Drs. Brown, Stringer, and Roe do some investigating and come to this realization. Otherwise, their appearance at this antivaccine “panel,” no matter how well-intentioned (and I have no doubt Drs. Brown and Roe are well-intentioned), will serve no other purpose than to allow antivaxers to bask in their reflected scientific legitimacy.