One of the hazards of being a blogger, particularly a blogger writing about medical pseudoscience and quackery, is that you will face online attacks from the very quacks whose quackery you deconstruct. The more effective you are, the higher your public profile becomes, the more outrageous the attacks will become. Another thing you will soon realize is that the quacks, cranks, and pseudoscientists who attack you are not particularly concerned with accuracy, science, or reason. At the very least, they are careless and unconcerned with whether their attacks have a basis in reality. At the very worse, they lie shamelessly. This brings us to Gary G. Kohls, MD, a retired quack who decided to attack a hero of mine, Dr. Paul Offit, and me in a lazily written attack piece that relies on an old misattribution. The article appeared in The Duluth Reader entitled Internet Trolls, Disinformation Agents and Big Vaccine. Of course, Dr. Kohls, being the lazy quack that he is, helpfully mentions that “This article contains extensive excerpts from a Duty to Warn column that was published on the Global Research website on May 11, 2016.”
It doesn’t take long to figure out where Dr. Kohls is coming from. In fact, he lays out his intention very early in his article, and that intention is to smear critics of antivaxers as either “pharma shills” or “disinformation agents”:
A disinformation agent publishes or otherwise provides false information that is intended to mislead. Disinformation is called propaganda when issued by government organizations, and it is called advertising when issued by corporations.
Guess whom Dr. Kohls is about to label as a “disinformation agent.” I know; it’s too easy. It’s going to be Dr. Paul Offit and me. But let’s see where our quacky friend Dr. Kohls is going first:
But Big Vaccine companies, in their devious efforts to deter activists whose children have been sickened or killed by vaccines also hire internet trolls that cunningly infiltrate websites and chat rooms to cripple the efforts of the activists to spread “unwelcome truths” about vaccines. Two common tactics are ad hominem attacks. And the derogatory label “anti-vaxxers” when the reality is that vaccine critics are actually “anti-over-vaccination” activists.
I’d be willing to bet that Dr. Kohls can’t define “over-vaccination.” Or, if he can, I bet that his definition will have nothing to do with science, reason, or evidence. My guess is that, basically, to Dr. Kohls “over-vaccination” means more vaccines than he happens to like, whatever that number is. Certainly, Dr. Kohls appears to be quite antivaccine, given that he’s up to part 10 of a series he’s entitled Trying to Refute, with Real Vaccine Science and Documentable Facts, the Big Pharma Propaganda/Lie that all Vaccines are Safe and Effective.
Of course, his “real vaccine science” is anything but. Let’s just put it this way. He actually cites Dr. Suzanne Humphries, an antivaccine quack about whom I’ve written on a number of occasions. Dr. Kohls is even gullible enough to spout the “vaccines didn’t save us” gambit beloved of antivaxers. Basically, this intellectually dishonest—downright deceptive, actually—tactic involves pointing out that mortality was falling from a given infectious disease before a vaccine for it was introduced. In this case, it was measles and a few other diseases. The implication that antivaccinationists want people to draw is that hygiene, sanitation, and the like were the “real” causes of the decrease. The long version of the rebuttal this gambit is here. The short version is that disease incidence does not equal mortality and that measles incidence plummeted after the introduction of the vaccine. The reason mortality was falling before the vaccine was for other reasons. Medical care was getting better, and a smaller percentage of people who got the disease died from it.
If Dr. Kohls thinks that’s a valid argument against vaccines, he’s dumber than he appears. After all, if an antivaxer like J.B. Handley likes this particular gambit, you know it’s intellectually dishonest.
This leads to the classic “pharma shill gambit,” something I’ve been writing about since 2005 and have continued to write about on this blog until five years ago and this very day. Not being concerned with facts, evidence, truth, or accuracy, Dr. Kohls can’t resist going into full slime mode:
Besides naively trusting the CDC, the author of last week’s “Local View” article extensively quoted an infamous and very arrogant internet troll named Robert Gorski, whose reputation and tactics are widely discredited among knowledgeable, unbiased scientists and physicians.
I’m not sure where this idiot—yes, Dr. Kohls, I’m calling you an idiot—got the idea that my name is Robert. Maybe he was just careless. Clearly the Duluth Reader‘s copy checking leaves much to be desired. Be that as it may, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud when I read Dr. Kohls refer to my critics who’ve supposedly “discredited” me as “knowledgeable, unbiased scientists and physicians.” Yes, that was definitely a hoot to read, given that my critics tend to consist primarily of quacks, pseudoscientists, and antivaxers.
In any event, Dr. Kohls’ antivaccine misinformation isn’t really what caught my attention. As antivaxers go, he’s really quite unimaginative and not particularly clever. If you don’t believe me, read his article A Letter to a Young Health Journalist (in Response to her Recent Article about the Possibility of Big Pharma Developing a Universal Influenza Vaccine). Here’s a taste:
The following lists of potentially iatrogenic diseases (which mainly occur in the fully-vaccinated, by the way) include such vaccine-associated or vaccine-induced diseases that includes Autism, Asperger’s, ADHD, Asthma, Allergies and the fairly new, quite commonly-mis-diagnosed syndrome: ASIA (the “Autoimmune/inflammatory Syndrome Induced by Adjuvants). The ASIA syndrome includes a large number of iatrogenic diseases that are caused by vaccine adjuvants and therefore commonly mis-diagnosed. One of the most important is the newly-recognized syndrome, the debilitating post-vaccination disorder called macrophagic myofasciitis (MMF).
What actually caught my attention is how Dr. Kohls spread a libelous lie about me. There is no question about whether the information Dr. Kohls spread about me is incorrect. It is not a matter of opinion, judgment, or interpretation. Dr. Kohl has, quite simply, misattributed statements to me in such a way as to portray me as a troll advocating dishonest tactics to attack antivaxers. Whether it is though carelessness or dishonesty (or both) that Dr. Kohls did this, I do not know. The best that can be said about Dr. Kohls is that he demonstrates a reckless disregard for the truth when he characterizes my views on Internet trolling with two quotes that he has misattributed to me. That’s the best. Alternatively, he is lying.
First, he quotes me as having written this passage:
“Go in there and “agree with them” and then say things that appear thoroughly delusional, overtly nuts, blatantly and obviously wrong even to nincompoops, etc. Occasional spelling and grammar errors are also useful but don’t over-do. The point of this exercise is to create an impression that drives away undecideds who may come in to check out these sites. It helps to do this as a group effort and begin gradually, so the sites appear to be “going downhill slowly.” – David Gorski, one of many well-hidden Big Pharma shills who specialize in trolling “safe vaccine” websites of distressed or angry parents whose children have been unequivocally injured or killed by vaccines.
I never wrote anything of the sort. The above passage was taken from an anonymous comment left on my blog on April 20, 2012 by a commenter using the ‘nym g724. Here is the link.
Next, Dr. Kohls claims that I wrote this:
“The way to do it is to first set up a fictitious email address. Speaking from experience working on research on extremist groups…Create a totally fictitious name and then an address that reflects that name e.g. John Doe and [email protected] Second, get an address on a free service provider such as Yahoo or Hotmail or whatever. Since most of these ask for your “other” email address as proof of identity, give them the one on your broadband provider. They will send a confirmation email to that address giving you your starting password. Third, after about a week of using your new fictitious address in various places that let you sign up for comments, you can be sure it’s working, so then go in and delete the address you created on your broadband service. Typically they deactivate the address immediately and then take a month to free up that slot for re-use. This step ensures that your Yahoo or Hotmail address becomes un-traceable back to your broadband provider. Forth, wait a month for the original fictitious name to completely purge from your broadband provider. Fifth: Now you’re home free to get onto the anti-vax boards and any other objectionable boards you want to go after and make all manner of noise to make them look ridiculous and drive away the undecideds. Yeee-hawww, round ‘em up!” – David Gorski, infamous pro-vaccine disinformation agent and surgeon who is on the faculty of Wayne State University. His two pseudonyms are “Orac” and “Respectful Insolence”). Gorski publishes on a blogsite that he has deceptively named “Science-Based Medicine”.
First of all, Dr. Kohls really isn’t very bright, is he? I never go by the ‘nym “Respectful Insolence.” (For some bizarre reason, Dr. Kohls also seems to think that Paul Offit Skeptical Raptor. He is not. I know who the Raptor is and consider him a friend, just as much as Dr. Offit, but Offit is not Skeptical Raptor. He also seems to think that Dr. Offit is a “dominating moderator on Wikipedia.” He is not.) More importantly, though, I’ve never written anything of the sort. Again, the quoted passage was written by the same anonymous commenter using the ‘nym g724 in a comment posted on April 25, 2012. Here is the link. In both cases, Dr. Kohls misattributed comments on my blog to me. Someone ought to teach him how blogs and blog comments work.
Even worse, Dr. Kohls’ source is Truth Library, a site maintained by Mike Adams of NaturalNews.com, arguably the quackiest site on the Internet. Adams, of course, has been waging a one-man smear campaign against me for nearly three years. He’s accused me of various crimes and even implied that I’m a pedophile. Nice sources that Dr. Kohls relies on there!
So who is Dr. Gary G. Kohls? I had never heard of him before I came across this article. According to his website, he is a retired physician who practiced “holistic” medicine during the last decade or so of his practice, from which he retired in 2008. He started out as a psychiatrist, but sometime around 2000 he went woo:
In 2000, Dr. Kohls began his independent practice of medicine. His special area of interest was in helping people recognize the connections between physical and emotional symptoms, psychological trauma, brain malnutrition and neurotransmitter/brain chemical depletions. Understanding and teaching the concepts of brain nutrition was critical to his success in helping patients with mental health conditions. For several years, in addition to his private practice, Dr. Kohls taught an upper division course in the Psychology Department at the University of Minnesota Duluth, titled The Science and Psychology of the Mind Body Connection. He was also instrumental in starting a Duluth chapter of the international group MindFreedom.
As a physician, Dr. Kohls was known as a thorough, compassionate physician who always spent ample time with his patients. His interest was in discovering the root causes of his patient’s symptoms, working towards prevention and risk reduction. In the past 15 years he immersed himself in the study of the effects of trauma, violence and stress on physical and mental well-being. He studied the links between neurotransmitter depletions and such conditions as depression, insomnia, addictive disorders, eating disorders and fibromyalgia. The toxicity and frequent loss of effectiveness of many anti-depressant drugs led him to new methods of treatment, including the use of more natural and well tolerated amino acids, prescribed on an individualized basis, which replenish the brain’s natural anti-depressants. He took seriously the oath that all physicians take: to First Do No Harm.
I looked at the MindFreedom website. It doesn’t take much to figure out that MindFreedom International is very much anti-psychiatry. Indeed, the splash page of its website advertises a protest planned for the meting of the American Psychiatric Association in San Francisco in May. The whole group has a very Scientology-like air about it, its “methinks he doth protest too much” denial notwithstanding. Indeed, it appears to believe that mental illness does not exist and that psychiatry is torture, just like the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR), a Scientology off-shoot whose purpose is to attack psychiatry.
It’s not clear whether MindFreedom International is affiliated with the Church of Scientology, the way CCHR is. Certainly, MFI is quite extravagant in its denial that it is, so much so that it makes me suspect that it is, in fact affiliated with CCHR. Certainly, there is evidence that MFI might well be affiliated with CCHR. Certainly, at least one former MFI member claims that there are links. Whether MFI is affiliated with Scientology or not probably doesn’t really matter much; its belief system is virtually identical to that of Scientology.
In a way, I must “thank” Gary G. Kohls, MD for giving me an opportunity to do something that I’ve been meaning to do for a long time, which is to address these quotes misattributed to me, originally by Mike Adams, at least as far as I can tell. He’s also made me aware of a virtual treasure trove of antivaccine misinformation that he’s published that I can keep in my back pocket for times when not much is going on and blogging material is scarce. He’s also got a bunch of videos that can be mined, like this one:
Yes, Dr. Kohls fully buys into the discredited notion that mercury in the thimerosal preservative that used to be used in childhood vaccines caused an “autism epidemic.”
So, yes, from my perspective, Dr. Kohls is an antivaccine quack, and like antivaccine quacks, he’s not too concerned about accuracy, good science, or good medicine. Now, thanks to his error- and misinformation-filled attack on Paul Offit and me, he’s draw attention to himself that I suspect he will find to be unwelcome. I suppose that I should also thank Peter Johnson as well. It was, after all, his article refuting Dr. Kohls’ antivax nonsense that provoked Kohls to attack me.