U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy has asked social media platforms, health care systems, community organizations, and the public to share data and anecdotes on the scope and impact of misinformation about COVID-19.
“Health misinformation has caused confusion and led people to decline COVID-19 vaccines, reject public health measures such as masking and physical distancing, and use unproven treatments,” states the “Call for Stories and Research on Health Misinformation,” published on Murthy’s official website on March 9.
Lies about the pandemic are a national security threat, according to a National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
“It has also led to harassment of and violence against public health workers, health care workers, airline staff, and other frontline workers,” states Murthy’s request.
‘Believes Common Myths’
Inaccurate information is responsible for hesitancy about getting COVID-19 shots, Murthy told CNN on March 3.
“Misinformation has had a profound impact on COVID-19 and our response,” said Murphy. “Studies have demonstrated that the vast majority of the American public either believes common myths about COVID-19 or thinks those myths might be true. And many of those include myths around the COVID-19 vaccine, so we’ve seen firsthand how misinformation is harming people’s health when it comes to COVID.”
The federal government is interested in effective ways to suppress these myths, says Murthy.
“We’ll be looking forward to whatever information they have to share,” said Murthy. “We’re certainly approaching this with an open mind. Many of the new technology platforms have also been talking about solutions that they are trying to implement, but what we want to understand is what data do they have on whether these solutions are actually working or not.”
‘Now Conventional Wisdom’
Free inquiry is crucial to science and medicine, and simply calling something misinformation does not make it so, says sally C. Pipes, president, and chief executive officer of the Pacific Research Institute.
“Think about how much our understanding of COVID-19 has evolved over the course of the pandemic,” said Pipes. “In March 2020, public health authorities counseled healthy people against wearing masks. Within months, they changed their guidance.
“When the vaccines were first available, some officials expressed anger at people questioning whether the shots could prevent transmission of the coronavirus,” said Pipes. “We subsequently learned that vaccinated people could spread the virus. What was once ‘misinformation’ is now conventional wisdom.”
Murthy alternates between support for suppressing dissent and for public dialogue, says Chad Savage, M.D., president of DPC Action and a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute, which co-publishes Health Care News.
“Surgeon General Murthy recently contradicted himself over the course of several days,” said Savage. “On one day, he called for the de-platforming of purveyors of ill-defined ‘misinformation’ regarding COVID, only to follow up with an impassioned plea for open discourse as the only option to further scientific inquiry when his own opinions were questioned,” said Savage.
“The striking hypocrisy and his efforts to use his office to suppress the opinions of others reconfirms the wisdom of the saying: those who would abuse power should be nowhere near it,” said Savage.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have circulated untruths on a range of medical issues, says Merrill Matthews, Ph.D., resident scholar at the Institute for Policy Innovation.
“And as we’ve seen from the pandemic, the CDC has often been the source of that misinformation,” said Matthews. “However, Dr. Murthy’s plan would open the door for the government, which frequently spreads false information for strictly political purposes, to be the primary and, perhaps, the only arbiter of what is true and false health information. Let’s just say that would be a very unhealthy move for the country.”
Federal health officials like Murthy should be accountable for making false claims, says Jane Orient, M.D., executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons.
“Of course, there is a double standard, and ‘misinformation’ means whatever he, or Big Tech, want,” Orient told Health Care News.
The federal government has been a font of official misinformation, says Linda Gorman, director of the Health Care Policy Center at the Independence Institute.
“If people relied on the federal government to identify ‘health misinformation,’ we would still be blaming eggs and butter for atherosclerosis,” said Gorman. “Given the torrents of bad information that flow from the federal government in health and other spheres of interest, it is the height of hubris to claim that its officials are competent to identify “health misinformation.”
‘Polarize the Nation’
The misinformation in the media is nothing compared to the false statements made by the U.S. government, says Jay Lehr, Ph.D., a senior policy advisor to the International Climate Science Coalition.
“The administration’s truly insane consideration that vaccine deniers are terrorists is not surprising,” said Lehr. “They want to polarize the nation, ending with most scared people siding with them.”
“Their goal is to take over the government, eliminating personal freedom and creating a communist nation,” said Lehr said. “It is scary, but they will not win. The mid-term elections will prove they have gone way too far to enslave us.”
Kenneth Artz (KApublishing@gmx.com) writes from Dallas, Texas.
Office of the Surgeon General, “Call for Stories and Research on Health Misinformation,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, March 18, 2022: https://www.hhs.gov/surgeongeneral/health-misinformation-rfi/index.html
Michael Nedelman and John Bonifield, “Surgeon General Launches Effort to Get to the Bottom of COVID-19 Misinformation,” March 3, 2022: https://www.cnn.com/2022/03/03/health/surgeon-general-misinformation/index.html
“National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin,” The Department of Homeland Security, Feb. 7, 2022: https://www.dhs.gov/ntas/advisory/national-terrorism-advisory-system-bulletin-february-07-2022
Surgeon General, Vivek H. Murthy, “Confronting Health Misinformation: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on Building a Healthy Information Environment,” July 15, 2021: https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/surgeon-general-misinformation-advisory.pdf