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Trump’s HHS pick belongs to fringe group of anti-vax ‘Tea Party’ doctors who believe Obama hypnotized voters

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Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) is President-elect Trump's choice for Secretary of Health and Human Services (Brookings Inst. Flickr)

The man who President-elect Donald Trump has named as his pick for Secretary of Health and Human Services is a right-wing true believer with a track record of virulent antigay and anti-women’s rights views.

According to MSNBC’s Steve Benen, Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) is about as toxic a choice as the former reality TV star could name to the post, which was announced on Tuesday.

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“I’ve been following Price’s career for years, and it’s hard to overstate just how conservative he is on, well, practically everything,” Benen wrote. “The Georgia congressman, for example, is virulently anti-gay; during the BP oil spill, Price sided with the oil giant; and in 2011, he helped create Congress’ Tea Party Caucus. (A year later, Price seemed confused about the meaning of the word ‘compromise.’)”

Surgeon turned science and medical blogger “Orac” posted about Price at the blog Respectful Insolence, but first issued a caveat about taking on political topics.

“I’m always hesitant to write about matters that are more political than scientific or medical, although sometimes the sorts of topics that I blog about inevitably require it,” said Orac. “This is one of those times.”

Not only is Price a dyed-in-the-wool regressive conservative, he’s a member of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS).

“That told me a lot about him,” Orac wrote, “and none of it good.”

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The AAPS is a fringe group of Tea Party-affiliated doctors which espouses a number of ridiculous and farcical claims — including the charge that Pres. Barack Obama used hypnosis and mind control techniques to win the White House — all of which revolve around an ultra-conservative agenda.

Stephanie Mencimer wrote in her article, “The Tea Party’s Favorite Doctors”:

Yet despite the lab coats and the official-sounding name, the docs of the AAPS are hardly part of mainstream medical society. Think Glenn Beck with an MD. The group (which did not return calls for comment for this story) has been around since 1943. Some of its former leaders were John Birchers, and its political philosophy comes straight out of Ayn Rand. Its general counsel is Andrew Schlafly, son of the legendary conservative activist Phyllis. The AAPS statement of principles declares that it is “evil” and “immoral” for physicians to participate in Medicare and Medicaid, and its journal is a repository for quackery. Its website features claims that tobacco taxes harm public health and electronic medical records are a form of “data control” like that employed by the East German secret police. An article on the AAPS website speculated that Barack Obama may have won the presidency by hypnotizing voters, especially cohorts known to be susceptible to “neurolinguistic programming”—that is, according to the writer, young people, educated people, and possibly Jews.

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The AAPS, Orac said, is somehow never held accountable for its “dangerous medical quackery, such as antivaccine pseudoscience blaming vaccines for autism, including a view that is extreme even among antivaccine activists, namely that the ‘shaken baby syndrome’ is a ‘misdiagnosis’ for vaccine injury; its HIV/AIDS denialism; its blaming immigrants for crime and disease; its promotion of the pseudoscience claiming that abortion causes breast cancer using some of the most execrable ‘science’ ever; its rejection of evidence-based guidelines as an unacceptable affront on the godlike autonomy of physicians; or the way the AAPS rejects even the concept of a scientific consensus about anything.”

The organization’s journal, Orac said, is a propaganda pamphlet disguised as a scholarly publication. Its latest number includes a slew of anti-vaccine essays, diatribes against the end of “fee-for-service” medicine and a polemic by Hermann W. Børg, M.D. against the rise of “evidence-based” healthcare treatment and policy.

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Scientific evidence, Børg argues, is being given too much credence and anecdotal evidence is being given short shrift.

“Single observations may be extremely important, even if not statistically significant in the context of a large trial. Say, for example, a rare, otherwise unexplained event follows a medical intervention: a patient takes a drug and inexplicably goes blind. It might be a coincidence, or it might be a side effect of the drug. One cannot rule out a causal relationship based on lack of a statistically significant difference in this occurrence between the drug and placebo groups in a trial of insufficient power to detect a rare event. One is obligated to investigate further,” wrote Børg.

Orac called this “a straw man so massive that, were it real, the astronauts living on the International Space Station could see it from orbit.”

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“EBM (and science-based medicine) recognize the importance of anecdotes, but as hypothesis-generating observations, not hypothesis-confirming observations,” he said. Børg has it exactly backwards.

“Basically, Dr. Børg, again consistent with the AAPS view of the physician as supreme, wants the freedom to be able to use clinical observation in any way he wants without restriction by those pesky EBM guidelines and to interpret medical evidence any way he wants, even if it conflicts with how the vast majority of the field interprets it,” he explained.

For Price to belong to a group that is so fundamentally misinformed about how data is obtained and used and the actual role of medicine in society is ominous.

“By joining the AAPS, Price has shown that he is clearly attracted to a pre-Medicare vision of a golden era of absolute physician autonomy with minimal or no government interference or programs like Medicare, as well as a hostility towards evidence that conflicts with that vision,” Orac said.

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“There is no arguing this, as these are beliefs that are baked into the DNA of the AAPS; they are central to the organization. Attraction to such beliefs is not a good trait for a Secretary of HHS to be attracted to, and I haven’t even really gotten into Price’s fundamentalist antiabortion beliefs, and his implacable opposition to gun control. It’s going to be a long four years when it comes to health policy,” he concluded.


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