Physicians and the Death of Free Speech

(Although the imprisonment of Galileo was more complicated than ‘religion is anti-science,’ his story is still something that ‘scientific’ individuals can understand as we discuss the idea of heterodox views.)


I’ve kept my head down for a few months; as a writer, that is.  I have done this for a few reasons. One being, of course, much of what passes for public discourse today is simply rage and puerile attacks on those who differ from one’s own opinion.  Social media is becoming ever more toxic.  It has become clear to me that Twitter and Facebook are fine for entertainment, but that minds are not changed because of links or arguments that occur on those platforms.

They do serve to enrich themselves through advertisements.  But they simultaneously serve to impoverish our lives, our minds, our spirituality and our nation as a whole.  Will the migration to more free speech platforms help?  We’ll see.  I’m not on one of those, but I likely will be.  Although those sites (and I applaud their theory) still serve to separate us all into thought enclaves and increase the distance in the already fractured body politic.

However, I’ve been silent long enough that I simply have to speak a bit.  Not in a publication but for me.  Here. On my site.  Here where I have observed trends in healthcare (particularly emergency medicine) for well over a decade.

My observation today is that I think that the house of medicine stands in some very real danger.  You might assume I’m talking about the real physical dangers of COVID-19.  Fair enough. The disease has attacked, and taken, far too many medical professionals.

But that’s not what I mean.  The danger I’m talking about is the tendency of physicians to shut down discussions.  I see this all too often. It isn’t new.  Medicine is culturally centered in large teaching centers. Large teaching centers, being academic, tend to skew left on political, cultural and economic issues. Which means that they skew left on medical and scientific issues as well.

‘It’s not political, it’s science.’  Hardly.  What I have seen during the pandemic is that any and every study is viewed through the filter of pre-set opinions.  I’m not even trying to stake out a position.  And for what it’s worth I have not, even once, prescribed hydroxychloroquine for COVID, so let’s get that on the table.  I’m just saying that physicians, for all that we love to consider ourselves unbiased scientists, are actually biased human beings.

Our viewpoints are a mixture of science and upbringing, culture and religion (or lack of religion), economics and geography, and in no small part, genetics.  This is why I’ve never been willing to dismiss a friend for being politically different from me.  Sadly, all too many are willing to do just that.  But I digress.

Viewpoint diversity in medicine is fading far behind us, and further every year.  Physicians, especially younger physicians, seem happy to stamp it out.

Recently a well known physician in emergency medicine said, and I paraphrase, that if a physician isn’t seeing a lot of COVID, then that physician isn’t allowed to have an opinion on COVID.  In other words, only one viewpoint is relevant. Only one viewpoint viable.  ‘Agree with me or shut up.’  Of course, that sort of thing does not really advance the cause of inquiry because it eliminates the possibility that there are other data points, other bits of truth to help us put together the puzzles of medical science.

The fact is, while COVID is surging in many places, there are others where it isn’t.  There are small hospitals that are seeing very little of it.  Are they lucky? Are their communities doing something well?  Is it because of genetic factors? Is it because of geography and isolation?  It seems that those experiences would be valuable.  Alas, not so much.  If you aren’t seeing it, shut up and listen to those who are.

I saw this behavior when physicians who favorably discussed hydroxychloroquine were ostracized or threatened with being reported to medical boards.  I see it when a physician asks whether or not we should have more lockdowns, and the consensus is always ‘yes, yes, more yes!’  Even as some physicians say that the economic and even health costs of lockdowns are too high.  Even as the data, good data, seems to confirm that reality.

In light of this, it is no surprise that unorthodox opinions about the pandemic are instantly relegated to the realm of the unscientific, if not to outright lunacy.  It’s as if differing views are not wrong, but heresy.  Medicine, the great religion of so many, has its high priests, its orthodoxies and its heresies to be sure.  But we have a new fundamentalism which expects absolute obedience.

Physicians, particularly those with opinions at variance with the mainstream, are afraid to express their views.  They’re afraid of loss of job (which I assure you, happens in academia in particular).  They’re afraid of being cast out of social circles, or even being unable to find a job at all when someone complains about them.  The creeds must be adhered to or one risks excommunication; social, economic, professional. And with no recourse for repentance and return to ‘the fold’ except (perhaps) endless, groveling apology.

Is this what we want?  Is this healthy?  For our relationships, our careers or our patients?  Let me remind everyone right here that it is not the least bit racist to suggest that the Chinese Communist Party made the pandemic possible through intentional suppression of the insight of physicians at variance with the ‘science’ of the party.  They were warned, and the WHO was warned and the truth was suppressed.  The fact that we didn’t know about human to human transmission in a timely manner led, in no small part, to where we are today.  Speech control in the name of scientific orthodoxy tied to political motivations.

Of course, that comes from a country with a ‘social credit system’ which constantly watches the social media, financial and physical behaviors of its citizens to see who is worthy of promotion or praise and who is deserving of restriction and punishment.  And while we don’t have that sort of thing explicitly, we all know that it’s coming if only indirectly.  If you doubt it, simply watch this:

German police barge into the house of anti-lockdown activist Dr Andreas Noack, arrest him during YouTube livestream: Watch video

Pity, it appears that in the world of Western medicine, social credit is already in Beta testing.  It will take a monumental effort to stop it.  If it’s even possible at all.

For those proud of this, for those excited to silence dissent on scientific or cultural issues, shame on you.  Good science requires many people to contribute.  Remember that the cultural pendulum swings back and forth. Freedom matters because someday, one day, you will be the one worried about your freedom of expression.


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