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HHS nominee Tom Price’s membership in fringe medical group raises troubling questions

Don’t let the group’s name fool you. The AAPS may sound like a respectable medical organization, but as Mother Jones reporter Stephanie Mencimer pointed out in 2009, it is anything but.

Rep. Tom Price is a member of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons.
REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

When I first read that Rep. Tom Price, R-Georgia, Donald Trump’s choice for Secretary of Health and Human Services, is a member of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), I literally gasped. 

I became aware of the AAPS several years ago through the organization’s support of British researcher Andrew Wakefield and his thoroughly discredited, fear-mongering campaign against the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. But, as I researched the AAPS back then, I soon learned that its members held other, even more bizarre beliefs. 

Don’t let the group’s name fool you. The AAPS may sound like a respectable medical organization, but as Mother Jones reporter Stephanie Mencimer pointed out in 2009, it is anything but.

Here’s Mencimer’s description of the group:

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[D]espite the lab coats and the official-sounding name, the docs of the AAPS are hardly part of mainstream medical society. Think Glenn Beck with an MD. The group (which did not return calls for comment for this story) has been around since 1943. Some of its former leaders were John Birchers, and its political philosophy comes straight out of Ayn Rand. Its general counsel is Andrew Schlafly, son of the legendary conservative activist Phyllis. The AAPS statement of principles declares that it is “evil” and “immoral” for physicians to participate in Medicare and Medicaid, and its journal is a repository for quackery. Its website features claims that tobacco taxes harm public health and electronic medical records are a form of “data control” like that employed by the East German secret police. An article on the AAPS website speculated that Barack Obama may have won the presidency by hypnotizing voters, especially cohorts known to be susceptible to “neurolinguistic programming” — that is, according to the writer, young people, educated people, and possibly Jews.

You can see now why I lost my breath when I read that Price, an orthopedic surgeon, was a member.

‘One of those times’

Earlier this week, Dr. David Gorski, a surgical oncologist at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit, devoted one of his “Respectful Insolence” columns on the Science-Based Medicine website (which he edits) to Price’s membership in AAPS.

“I’m always hesitant to write about matters that are more political than scientific or medical, although sometimes the sorts of topics that I blog about inevitably require it,” he writes.

“This is one of those times,” he adds.

Gorski gives Price the benefit of the doubt, acknowledging that, perhaps, the congressman doesn’t subscribe to all the organization’s views, or even to most of them.

But, then, which AAPS views does he subscribe to? Writes Gorski:

Maybe Price was attracted by the AAPS world view that rejects nearly all restrictions on physicians’ practice of medicine, purportedly for the good of the patient; its support of private practice and dislike of government involvement in medicine, either financially or regulatory, and its embrace of an Ayn Rand-style view of doctors as supermen and women whose unfettered judgment results in what’s best for patients and medicine.

Perhaps he was so attracted to the AAPS vision of doctors as special and “outside of the herd” to the point that he ignored its simultaneous promotion of dangerous medical quackery, such as antivaccine pseudoscience blaming vaccines for autism, including a view that is extreme even among antivaccine activists, namely that the “shaken baby syndrome” is a “misdiagnosis” for vaccine injury; its HIV/AIDS denialism; its blaming immigrants for crime and disease; its promotion of the pseudoscience claiming that abortion causes breast cancer using some of the most execrable “science” ever; its rejection of evidence-based guidelines as an unacceptable affront on the godlike autonomy of physicians; or the way the AAPS rejects even the concept of a scientific consensus about anything. 

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Let’s just put it this way. The AAPS has featured publications by antivaccine mercury militia “scientists” Mark and David Geier. Even so, the very fact that Price was attracted enough to this organization and liked it enough to actually join it should raise a number of red flags.

And make you gasp.

FMI: You can read Gorski’s full article about Price and the AAPS on the Science-Based Medicine website. (He blogs there under the pseudonym Orac.) In that article, Gorski also takes a close look at the most recent issue of the association’s journal “to see what the group has been up to, ‘scientifically’ speaking.'” Spoiler alert: He didn’t find much science.