New California law seeks to punish Doctors for Spreading Misinformation

This post is about a new California law seeking to limit misinformation.

California’s Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 2098 into law on Friday. The new law allows the Medical Board of California to punish health care providers for spreading misinformation.  The law does this by adding the act of spreading misinformation to the definition of “unprofessional conduct” used by the Medical Board of California.  Unprofessional conduct is punishable in California by up to the suspension or loss of a license to perform medicine.

The law defines “misinformation” as “false information that is contradicted by contemporary scientific consensus contrary to the standard of care.”

There are many, many examples of ideas in science and medicine that were opposed by the scientific consensus and later accepted as true.  There are so many examples of this, that it should be considered as a normal part of the scientific process.  Examples include:

  • The Earth revolves around the Sun
  • Not cleaning surgical tools between operations can lead to increased mortality in patients
  • Ulcers are caused by the bacteria H. pylori, not by spicy food
  • Viruses can cause cancer
  • Cells produce energy by passing electrons through a membrane
  • The universe began at a discrete moment, and then expanded to its current form, creating both space and time in the process
  • The SARS-2 virus was created in a laboratory in Wuhan*

The idea that misinformation can reasonably be defined as an idea that is contradicted by scientific consensus is itself contradicted by centuries of scientific practice.

Scientific ideas come to be seen as true not merely by achieving consensus, but also by surviving challenge by new ideas.  No scientific idea is immune to this process. Science is not a set of facts set in stone, but a constantly changing set of ideas guided by the scientific process, a process which includes debate among scientists.  Requiring that new ideas achieve consensus immediately would freeze the advance of science in place, the current, and often wrong, ideas remaining dominant forever.

Of course, I have not yet addressed the obvious First Amendment violation this new law creates.  The First Amendment clearly allows freedom of speech, a cornerstone of American life.  This law will quickly be challenged by First Amendment advocates and will almost certainly be struck down.

As I’ve stated before, freedom of speech is not the cause of misinformation. It is the antidote.  Only if we allow the free flow of ideas can these 3 things happen:

All ideas to be aired
Good ideas to be confirmed and adopted
Bad ideas to be discredited

The correct way to battle misinformation is clear and persuasive communication, not censorship.

Dr. Mobeen Syed points out several other negative impacts this law will have:

  • Doctors will be suspicious of their patients, compromising the doctor/patient relationship.
  • Doctors will only give consensus advice, making going to the doctor more like going to a call center.
  • Laws will expand to include other kinds of “misinformation” further compromising the exchange of ideas.
  • Law will be used unequally to silence only certain kinds of speech.
  • Doctors may choose not to practice in California.

If I’m being too subtle, I’ll just say that this is a bad, unconstitutional law and should simply be ignored.

Don’t fear, but be smart,

* I’m taking a little liberty on this one.  This idea was rejected totally early in the pandemic.  It is not yet universally recognized as true, but many scientists, including me, see it as most likely to be true.

Another excellent video by Dr. Christy Risinger.


2 thoughts on “New California law seeks to punish Doctors for Spreading Misinformation

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