Episode 5: The Webworm Podcast - Covid madness

I'm doing a Webworm podcast for you. Also - some updates on Dr Dan

  
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Hi,

I’ve decided to launch a Webworm podcast, and I wanted you to be the first to know about it.

God, how many times that phrase been uttered: “I’ve decided to launch a podcast.” Good Lord.

Okay — so let me explain the “Episode 5” thing.

When Webworm started, I experimented with four podcast episodes last year. I’ll list those at the end, as they’re all available along with today’s episode.

But as of today I formally, officially and excitedly launch the audio component to Webworm! I’m going to use it to complement the written content here when it feels appropriate. When it feels exciting. When it feels — not to get too pretentious — worthy.

And so I did a long read of Jez Brown’s heartfelt, horrifying and somehow hilarious essay on having Long Covid. I wanted to see how it would be in audio form. I want Jez’s story to have fresh legs, so people can listen in their cars or while they clean the house. It’s an experiment, and I want to see how you feel about it.

You can listen to this episode in this email — it’s embedded in this newsletter — or you should be able to find it on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

I’ve been enjoying Armchaired and Dangerous so much with Dax and Monica (see below for details of our upcoming live show), so I figure Webworm can have a little podcast life, too.

As a subscriber you will always get it in your inbox first.

An extra thanks to paying subscribers (seriously, dear God, thank you!) who give me the resources and time to build this thing.

I’d love to take your feedback in the comments below. Webworm will always be a written thing — I want you to be able to read it on your phone while you’re in bed or on the bus or at the beach — but I figure audio will be fun to play with. Some stories and interviews may even work better in audio form.

Here are the previous episodes from last year:

Episode #1: a week of conspiratorial madness
Episode #2: The Sloppy Nonsense of conspiracy theories
Episode #3: “Make up something fucking new, so that I can actually give a shit!”
Episode #4: I love The Boys because it features a psychopath with strong hints of Trump

So welcome to the Webworm podcast. Big thanks to Aaron Short for doing the theme music. You’re great and your love of dogs is eternal and awesome.


Armchaired and Dangerous: Live

While we’re talking podcasts — we’re doing a live Armchaired and Dangerous in Salt Lake City on Thursday September 16th.

Tickets go on sale tomorrow. You’ll be able to get them here.

Dax, Monica and I will see you then, Utah!

And if you’re in LA on Sunday August 22nd, I’ll be making a brief appearance on stage with Chuck Tingle at his show. You can find details here. It’s sort of a secret that I am popping up, but I am telling you because I want to. If you’re in LA come say hi! Keep it a secret, okay!


An update on Dr Dan - and some some reader feedback

Earlier this week I wrote about Dr Dan, a medical professional who since January has been talking a lot about hydrogen peroxide, hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin as potential Covid treatments on his Facebook and Instagram pages.

He also looked nearly identical to Jason Schwartzman which is kinda cool.

After that piece — his Facebook account already disabled — he shut down his Instagram account as well:

As I mentioned in my piece, I wrote to the New Zealand Medical Council enquiring about the statements and studies he’d posted on his social media.

They sent back this comment, attributed to Dr Curtis Walker, Chair, Medical Council of New Zealand:

Council takes it very seriously when it becomes aware of any doctor who spreads medical misinformation, which includes anti-vaccination messages. Council notes that the information is no longer publicly available on Dr Quistorff’s social media platforms.

The Medical Council recognises that the expert medical advice and scientific evidence strongly support that the COVID-19 vaccination is safe, effective, and necessary to overcome the global pandemic.

Our role is to protect public safety and for that reason we have released a joint statement alongside the Dental and Paramedic Councils expectations of doctors, dentists and paramedics. As regulators we respect an individual’s right to have their own opinions, but it is our view that there is no place for anti-vaccination messages in professional health practice, nor any promotion of anti-vaccination claims including on social media and advertising by health practitioners: Expectations for COVID-19 vaccination released for doctors and dentists.

I’d note that at no time did I observe this doctor spreading specific anti-vaccination messages. For all I know, he’s very pro-vaxx in person— and some of his patients wrote to me telling me as much. I choose to trust them.

I would note however that talking at length about alternate Covid treatments on social media can act as muddying the water in regards to the very clear message to “get vaccinated”.

In simply sharing “fresh research” (that’s a favourable take) of alternative Covid treatments willy nilly, Dr Dan may well have been unwittingly aiding the anti-vaxx movement:

And reading comments online about my piece, you can sort of see the ripple effect Dr Dan’s posts can have:

I’d argue “looking outside the square of vaccines” isn’t a great train of thought during a pandemic, when we are trying to get people vaccinated. The square is a very good place to be.

Insults kept flying in on my social media. Some of my favourites:

This “expose” is a cheap shot smear piece
Perhaps you should stick to acting
What are your credentials in investigative reporting anyway?

With that in mind, Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz has just written a really great piece summing up the issues with ivermectin. Gideon’s an epidemiologist working in chronic disease in Sydney, Australia — and he talks about ivermectin at length on his Twitter.

Ivermectin was the latest alternate Covid treatment Dr Dan was posting about, before he took his accounts offline. After I mentioned it in my newsletter, and on social media, I got plenty of comments endlessly going on about how it’s a valid treatment and to leave the poor doctor alone.

Which is why I wanted to share Gideon’s piece:

Ivermectin for Covid-19 — An Update

Ivermectin is a horse dewormer and anti-parasitic medication that has been promoted across the world for the treatment of Covid-19. It has been in the news a lot recently, because a large portion of the evidence-base for the drug appears to have been based on fraudulent research, which as scientific rigor goes is usually considered to be a bit of an issue.

But we’ve held out hope that the drug works for Covid-19, because despite the foundations of the research being cracked, there were still a number of positive trials and some of them were really well-done. Yes, fraud is bad, but we can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater just because one study may never have happened at all.

Until today. The results from a very large new study were just released, showing absolutely no benefit for ivermectin when compared to a placebo pill. It now seems depressingly likely that ivermectin is probably not useful for treating Covid-19.

You can read his whole piece here, but basically:

This trial has already demonstrated that hydroxychloroquine and lopinavir/ritonavir are unlikely to be beneficial treatments for people with Covid-19 in outpatient settings, and because of the hype around ivermectin had included the drug in a treatment arm to see if it worked. The results from this part of the trial, including over 1,300 patients, were released in summary form late this afternoon.

They showed no benefit for ivermectin in the treatment of Covid-19.

None whatsoever.

It’s a bit like when Dr Dan posted about hydroxychloroquine in June. Despite clinical trials confirming hydroxychloroquine didn’t prevent illness or death from Covid 19 — his post remained up. As did his posts about hydrogen peroxide and ivermectin.

Until he took all his accounts offline this week after my piece.

And that, in my opinion, is a good thing. Because people trust doctors, and some of those visiting his page would trust the (not defunct) information he’d posted.


Some reader feedback:

Thanks to all of you for reading the piece, and thanks for the doctor and medical student who also got in touch.

They agreed to let me publish their emails as long as I didn’t identify them. For that reason, I’ve changed their names.

E-mail #1: Dr. “Sarah”

“I am a doctor. I just started my specialist training in palliative care, but up until now have spent a lot of time rotating around various medical specialties in the hospital.

Reading your newsletter made me say “oh no no no no no no”. The ivermectin thing has been bizarre. I suggest you look into Brett Weinstein — a smart but flawed guy who is using a big podcast platform to promote very inaccurate and skewed statistics around the same topic. He is very vaccine hesitant.

I just want to say after listening to the Armchaired and Dangerous episode about medicine and reading this, that I feel a bit sad about your distrust of our profession.

I can understand it though — your experiences have been bizarre.

But just know that the Dr Dans are such a small proportion of us. Actually there are so many thousands or millions of us just constantly trying to make an assessment of recent data and interpret its value while balancing it against the patients’ expectations, and everyone I know in this job is just motivated to help people.

This guy is definitely misrepresenting his profession, but being an “Integrative and Functional Medicine Specialist” is already a red flag.

It’s worth also noting that everyone I know who is a doctor is anxiety-ridden.

Ultimately, we are just a bunch of humans so we get things wrong a lot, and sometimes when I don’t think things through properly or carefully enough, my patients can have bad things happen to them or can die. That’s an insane amount of pressure. But everyone I’ve met has just been a good person trying their best to get their patients to feel better while the healthcare system falls apart around us.

Absolutely love your work. For whatever reason just felt compelled today to add my thoughts. It would be great if this guy could face some consequences of his idiotic views.”


“It’s worth also noting that everyone I know who is a doctor is anxiety-ridden.”


E-mail #2: Medical student “Adam”

“I’m a medical student and over the past few years I’ve been placed in various medical specialities to learn about them. Unfortunately, I’m not surprised to learn about Dr Dan because there are lots of Dr Dans around.

Most of them are just aren’t on social media. 

On one of my placements I had two separate doctors tell me and the other students that we should take ivermectin instead of getting the vaccine. One of them would regularly bring alternative articles/guidelines into the hospital to try and convince us.

He actually had one of the other students really worried about the vaccine for a while, but once she learned more she did get the jab. 

I was also warned off getting the vaccine by both a surgeon and an oncologist. Both for alternative conspiracy type reasons. 

The number of conspiracy believing, anti-vaxx doctors is pretty scary. If the average member of the public was warned by multiple doctors not to get vaccinated I don’t think they would. And these were just the ones bold enough to push their views on the med students.

To be clear — I’ve met a huge number of doctors and these ones are still a small minority among them. But enough that it’s concerning. 

It just goes to show that doctors aren’t immune to misinformation. We have the same mental circuitry as everyone else and we fall prey to the same tricks and mental traps.

That said — I never heard any of them express these views to their patients, it’s just been talk among the other medical professionals and students. The fact that Dr Dan is publicly putting all of this out there on social media makes it a different situation.

He’s not only influencing the people around him, but also anyone who stumbles across his instagram.”


“It just goes to show that doctors aren’t immune to misinformation. We have the same mental circuitry as everyone else and we fall prey to the same tricks and mental traps.”


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Okay, David here again.

I really appreciated hearing from those two — and hearing from all of you, too. A lot of you came forward with other stories and tips about this story, and others.

Please know I have them all on file and hope to follow them up. You can always reach me in the comments, or if it’s something more confidential you can get me at davidfarrier@protonmail.com. You can contact me there with any information you have about any story, for that matter.

A bunch of non-Webworm readers also found my social media and wrote to tell me off for “cancelling” a doctor. To those people: I haven’t cancelled a doctor. A doctor very publicly posted a bunch of stuff, and I wrote some context around that stuff.

I’m okay with that.

And with all that in mind — let me know what you think of the podcast and what sorts of things you’d like to hear in the comments below. I’ll most likely just chase my gut, but I’d really like your input.

Yours,

David.