A Commentary on Countering Faulty Science Wins Award

Michelle Mello and Stanford colleagues win an annual award by the ABIM Foundation for a commentary that argued academics have an obligation to speak out against medical views that are contrary to science.
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A commentary by Stanford Health Policy’s Michelle Mello and colleagues Philip Pizzo and David Spiegel — which argues that physicians and scientists have a professional obligation to respond when their peers misrepresent science — won a 12th annual John A. Benson Jr., MD, Professionalism Article prize by the ABIM Foundation.

The Feb. 4, 2021, JAMA Network viewpoint, “When Physicians Engage in Practices That Threaten the Nation’s Health,” contended the United States was expected to have been a global leader during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“However, a less flattering story emerged about the inadequate U.S. response to COVID-19,” wrote Mello, a professor of health policy and professor of law, and Pizzo, MD, former dean of the School of Medicine and professor of microbiology and immunology, and Spiegel, MD, the associate chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.

“A number of leaders in federal, state, and local government, guided by political exigency and recommendations from a small number of physicians and scientists who ignored or dismissed science, refused to promote sensible, effective policies such as mask wearing and social distancing,” they wrote.

This resulted in the United States having more infections and deaths than other developed nations in proportion to population size, and with disproportionate effects of COVID-19 on already disadvantaged racial and socioeconomic groups.

They argued that one of the key contributors to this U.S. lagging behind other countries was the elevation of academic experts who appeared to have been chosen “because of their willingness to support government officials’ desires to discount the significance of the pandemic.”

While academic freedom “is a core value of the university and public speech is an important pillar of such freedom,” they wrote, universities also have a responsibility to speak out for truth and science in support of public health.

To take the view that respecting freedom of speech requires institutional silence when science is being subverted is to misunderstand the concept.
Michelle Mello, Philip Pizzo and Daniel Spiegel

The annual prizes are awarded to those who have made “outstanding contributions to the literature on medical professionalism.” The ABIM Foundation named the article prize in honor of American Board of International Medicine and ABIM Foundation President Emeritus John A. Benson, Jr., MD. Of the 700 articles that have been considered for the prize over the past 12 years, only 46 articles have won the award.

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