There are increasing calls to discipline or de-credential doctors who are spreading anti-vaccine, anti-mask, and other pandemic misinformation. While statistics show that 96% of US physicians are vaccinated, a handful repeatedly conduct rallies, give media interviews on major networks, and advise politicians on statewide policies. Misinformation spreads six times faster on Facebook than factual, science-based posts, as it both offers something shocking and aligned with pre-existing beliefs or biases.
As seen with the case of disgraced Andrew Wakefield, even removal of credentials does not prevent someone with medical training from being a leader of anti-vaccine misinformation. Instead, the “martyr” role of being “silenced” or disciplined feeds conspiracy theories of “suppression of the truth” and fuels celebrity status.
Some companies that conduct reputation management also do consulting work to slander and smear rivals or mentee within both academia and medicine. These dynamics make the lay public see science itself as too political to be trustworthy, priming for appeal of misinformation about science or doctors.
A common slogan of those who spread misinformation is, “The data don’t lie,” whereas data can be manipulated or low-quality in a number of ways. A closer look at most misinformation on vaccines or masks shows poor data integrity: misuse of a database, inclusion/exclusion criteria that do not support conclusions drawn or mislabeled or out of proportion axes on graphs. There has also been a rush to publicize studies via preprints as seen with the now retracted study that spread fear about myocarditis.
Dr. Todd Wolynn recently wrote in Nature on the best practices, as a physician, to make progress with hesitant families who are exposed to misinformation. Many families will trust their own family physician. Making your own videos for your own community or working with faith groups can convince those in groups with distrust of government or authority. Those of marginalized identities respond better to in-person outreach from those of their own community. Medical centers with established relationships of trust for serving the marginalized are successful in their use of science communication with joyful, inviting, fun videos of healthcare workers of the communities served. HHS partners with community and faith groups to disseminate factual vaccine information.

Ultimately, the antidote to conspiracy and disinformation is not more data from a scientist nor authoritarian censure via license, but focusing on the trust our patients have in us via humanism and authentic community connections.