What’s Trustworthy?

“Consider the source” is always good advice. In our world of electronic media of head-spinning speed and volume, paying attention to bylines of newspaper articles, the organization funding an opinion-writer, and the quality and credibility of a quoted source is essential. Thanks to Jane Mayer’s book, Dark Money (see the Reference box below), many of us recognize the names in the intricate web of right and far right organizations funded by the Koch brothers donor group, names like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Americans for Prosperity, and the Club For Growth–and we view opinions emanating from those organizations with a recognition of the bias they represent. 

I used to place trust in some other organizations based solely on their names, especially organizations with a medical tone. No longer. Case in point:

The “Association of American Physicians and Surgeons” (see the screenshot above) was mentioned in an article by Judd Legum detailing the Food and Drug Administration’s revocation of its “emergency use authorization” for chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine in the treatment of Covid-19. 

The name, Association of American Physicians and Surgeons” sounds really official. As “physicians and surgeons” the organization must be worthy of trust, right? The AAPS has a flashy website and logo. They’ve been around since 1943 and have “represented physicians of all specialties in all states.”
Fox News thinks the AAPS is a reliable source. Just have a look at the Fox News clip on the Association’s website presentation of their article entitled, “Hydroxychloroquine Has about 90 Percent Chance of Helping COVID-19 Patients.”

I am retired physician, and I am embarrassed to admit that had I not been closely following the story of hydroxychloroquine in Covid-19, I might have glossed over the name “Association of American Physicians and Surgeons” as a reliable source. After all, during my entire career I’ve read position papers by “associations” with the physician specialty names in the title, read them without much question. 

Wikipedia provides a quick, thoroughly referenced orientation to the AAPS. Here’s how that page starts:

The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) is a conservative non-profit association founded in 1943. The group was reported to have about 5,000 members in 2014. The association has promoted a range of scientifically discredited hypotheses, including the belief that HIV does not cause AIDS, that being gay reduces life expectancy, that there is a link between abortion and breast cancer, …and that there is a causal relationship between vaccines and autism. It is opposed to the Affordable Care Act and other forms of universal health insurance.

The AAPS has about 5000 members. In contrast, the American Medical Association has a membership of 240,000. There are approximately 950,000 practicing physicians in the United States. Every profession has its outliers with an ax to grind. The AAPS is the prime example of that phenomenon in the field of medicine. Because it exists, sounds important, and says the right things Fox News touts the AAPS as authoritative.

The AAPS is certainly not the only example of an outlier group with a deceptive name. In researching the article on Referendum 90 I ran across the American College of Pediatricians, purporting to represent the medical profession, and, doubtlessly, accepted as such by many casual readers. In fact, the American College of Pediatricians has a mere 500 members and is classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. Check out “The Religious Right’s Favorite Medical Association Is a Hate Group” at The Daily Beast.

We all need to pay attention, look up the sources, and point them out for what they are. They exist to push the agenda of fringe groups while masquerading to the casual reader as authoritative sources worthy of respect. Beware.

Keep to the high ground,

P.S. Once again my hat is off to Wikipedia, not as the ultimate source, but as an aggregator of useful information. I am indebted to the now deceased wife of an Evangelical preacher, once my high school classmate, for asserting to me that “Wikipedia is not a reliable source,” a statement from her that, with further scrutiny, thoroughly convinced me of Wikipedia’s value.

It seems sometimes that the entire strategy of the Trumpian Republican Party and its mouthpiece and guiding light, Fox News, is to convince its followers of an alternative reality bolstered by alternative expertise.