The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association Want the Government to Censor Americans
In an alarming brief filed with the Supreme Court, top medical organizations argue in favor of preventing free speech by American citizens.
Late last month, without fanfare, and zero media coverage, a striking document that suggests the federal government should be able to censor the speech of Americans—in violation of the First Amendment—was authored by several of our nation’s top medical associations.
The document—by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and three other medical organizations—came in the form of a legal brief filed in relation to Missouri v Biden, a free speech case that will be heard by the Supreme Court this spring. The case centers on a suit by three doctors and two other citizens who have thus far successfully argued in lower courts that the federal government coerced social media platforms to censor them, in violation of their first amendment rights, because they attempted to post content that was disfavored by the authorities. In advance of the court date, numerous amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) briefs—among them the one from the medical associations—have been submitted to the court by various groups, advocating for one interest or another relevant to the case, hoping to inform and influence the justices.
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If the AAP et al’s position is adopted by the court the implications are profound. It would mean that the government alone will be the ultimate decider about what is true, and should citizens or parties have a differing view it could be considered “misinformation,” and lawfully subject to suppression.
The crux of the brief’s argument is that the government has a “compelling interest” in combating “vaccine misinformation.”
Two paragraphs from the opening of the brief are excerpted below:
The brief goes on to argue, at considerable length, that vaccines reduce mortality, the prevalence of severe illness, and the burden on the medical system. Covid-19 vaccines, specifically, are referred to repeatedly.
The brief then asserts that “misinformation about vaccines meaningfully interferes with their lifesaving role.” And that conspiracy theories that the vaccines contain microchips or that they can magnetize people, among other false claims on social media, lead to “declining vaccination uptake by the public.”
While the brief does not explicitly call for censorship, its argument can only be read through that lens. Deep into the document, after some 40 pages, begins its final section, titled: “Combatting vaccine misinformation after its acceptance is not reliably effective and diverts resources from clinical care.” (Italics added.) Seven pages are devoted to this claim, where it’s noted that “post hoc efforts to mitigate the harm from vaccine misinformation are less effective at preserving public health than reducing the spread of misinformation in the first place.”
Outlandish claims about microchips and so on are easy to sneer at. But whether all of the above assertions are true or not is irrelevant. Though the medical organizations’ and the government’s desire to save lives is noble, that goal does not empower the authorities to be the determiner of what is or is not misinformation, and to usurp citizens’ freedom of speech. This is for good reason.
As we all experienced during the pandemic, numerous claims were made by health authorities and politicians about vaccines and other Covid-related matters that were not true. The brief itself displays a troublesome—and odd—lack of awareness of this fact. It states:
Amici refer to ‘misinformation’ throughout this brief, and mean it to refer to all incorrect information about vaccines.
If that is the definition of misinformation then the government would need to censor itself. In July 2021, President Biden said, “If you’re vaccinated, you’re not going to be hospitalized, you’re not going to be in the IC unit, and you’re not going to die.” He also said in the same Town Hall, “You’re not going to get COVID if you have these vaccinations.”
In March 2021, then head of the CDC, Rochelle Walensky, said, “Our data from CDC today suggest that vaccinated people do not carry the virus, don’t get sick.”
In May 2021, Anthony Fauci said when you are vaccinated “you become a dead end to the virus.”
(Beyond vaccines, among numerous other examples of dubious claims by Fauci and other officials was the supposed effectiveness of mask mandates. This led to masks being required in innumerable contexts throughout American life for years, including in schools for millions of children. Yet in April 2023, Fauci conceded that at the population level masks only “work at the margins.”)
There is lawyerly wiggle room in some of the above claims. Still, for all intents and purposes—and in Biden’s case, unequivocally—these were not correct statements.
Moreover, it’s important to note that in many instances authorities in the United States interpreted “The Science” very differently from many of their European peers—from suggesting that masking young children was effective, to vaccine policies that pushed boosters on the entire population.
Lastly, I will not spend time going through all the studies cited in the brief’s text to support its assertions about vaccines. But it is worth highlighting the following claim in the brief because it exemplifies the problem with the government being the decider of what is or is not “misinformation.”
The brief claims that myocarditis risk “is more than seven times higher in people who were infected with SARS-CoV-2” than it is from the Covid vaccine. While this may be true on a population level, (a debatable point outside the scope of this column), this claim does not address the risk to young males, the cohort with far and away the highest incidence of vaccine-related myocarditis. In the literature cited to support the brief’s claim, the median age of people studied was 49—this obscures the significantly less favorable odds for young males. (Indeed, an analysis published in BMJ found that Covid boosters for young adults were a net harm.)
One other claim jumped out at me, and it’s perhaps the most salient for displaying the foolishness of the AAP’s argument. As an example of vaccine misinformation, the brief cited a belief by some patients that the “Covid-19 vaccine will damage testicles.” While I am not aware of evidence to support this belief, a study published in the journal Andrology found “Covid-19 vaccination temporarily impairs semen concentration and total motile count among semen donors.” I only know about this study because I included it in my exposé of censorship at Twitter. As part of my Twitter Files investigation, I showed that Dr. Andrew Bostom, a Rhode Island physician, got his account suspended for tweeting the above peer-reviewed study.
Impaired semen concentration may not be exactly the same as damaged testicles, nor does it indicate permanent sterility, as some may have feared or claimed, but it certainly suggests a gray area beyond the binary certainty of “misinformation.”
The brief’s argument is profoundly misguided, and it is of grave concern that prestigious medical associations, whom much of the public trust, are trying to advance this position. For certain, there has been and will always be an amount of nonsense and conspiracy theories related to public health information. While wanting to protect citizens from false and dangerous medical claims is a worthy mission of the authorities, the avenue for that pursuit should be for the government to present what it believes to be true information, and be candid when there is uncertainty. It should not be to suppress information that the government decides is not allowable. Contrary to what the AAP and AMA argue, the government should never be the final arbiter of “truth.”
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