Despite Social Media Ban, This Doctor Continues to Mislead People
Despite a social media ban, his followers and staff ensure his false claims reaches people on all the platforms.
Despite having his pages and profiles removed by Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, internet doctor Dr Biswaroop Roy Chowdhury continues to spread false and misleading claims on COVID-19, diabetes and vaccines on all the social media platforms.
Online fact-checker, Debabrata Paul started a change.org petition in June 2020 and flagged the virality of Dr Chowdhury’s claims around COVID-19. Shortly after that, Dr Chowdhury’s official social media handles were either suspended or taken down, but that didn’t stop him from getting his message across to his followers.
In December 2020, Dr Biswaroop Roy Chowdhury published a book on COVID-19 - called COVID1981, Virus and the Vaccine, which contained several debunked claims about COVID-19 and vaccines in general. He used hyperlocal “news” channels to publicise his book. He was also seen giving interviews on various YouTube channels and Facebook pages.
Social networking giant Facebook on Monday, 8 February announced that it will increase its efforts in curbing misinformation around COVID-19 and will remove all vaccine misinformation on its platform.
YouTube and Pinterest have also previously said that they will take steps to remove vaccine misinformation. However, despite the efforts of the social media giants, it seems Dr Chowdhury has been spreading misinformation on the platforms.
From COVID-19 to Vaccine Misinformation
Dr Chowdhury started dismissing COVID-19 as a serious disease and made several claims against the advice given by the World Health Organisation. He spoke against the government’s decision of imposing a lockdown and making masks mandatory.
His book COVID1981 begins with a “Rs 1 lakh vaccine challenge”, where he says he will pay people the money if they can prove that “vaccines have ever helped anyone in any way (except for financial gains).”
He also claims to have “cured 50,000 COVID-19 patients and other patients suffering from infectious/communicable diseases (including smallpox, typhoid, tuberculosis) with zero medicine/money/mortality.”
The book goes on to compare COVID-19 with HIV-AIDS (Human Immunodeficiency Virus, Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome), both of which he claims are “imaginary diseases”. The book talks about different vaccines used in the past and claims that they were not effective in curing diseases. The second half of the book lists 56 anti-vaccination claims, which are supposedly backed by research paper excerpts.
CLAIM 1: RTPCR test is not approved by FDA/manufacturer and even the inventor of PCR-Test
One of the fundamental arguments that Dr Chowdhury uses against COVID-19 in the book is that the tests for detecting the virus - Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test - is flawed. He says that the US Food and Drug Administration has not approved the test and the inventor of the method used to test for COVID-19 didn’t say it can’t be used in virus detection.
According to the doctor, the high number of cases is because the test gives false positives.
This same claim was also shared on Facebook.
WHAT WE FOUND OUT
A simple Google search on the approval of the RT-PCR test shows that the FDA approved RT-PCR test back on 4 February 2020. The FDA issued an emergency use authorisation in February and later in July, it reissued the approval and included two new uses - “testing for people who do not have COVID-19 symptoms or who have no reason to suspect COVID-19 infection.”
The second part of the claim said that the inventor of the test said that it will detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus. However, we found that the inventor of the test, Dr Kary B Mullis, died in August 2019, much before the COVID-19 pandemic started.
The social media posts seem to be referring to an article published by John Lauritsen in December 1996 about HIV and AIDS, not COVID-19. In the article, Dr Mullis does not say that PCR test will not identify the virus, instead, he says that the PCR tests identify substances qualitatively not quantitatively.
“PCR is intended to identify substances qualitatively, but by its very nature is unsuited for estimating numbers,” he said.
An RT PCR test can throw up false positives or negatives, but they remain the 'gold standard' in detecting COVID-19.
We also took a look at the first two claims on side-effects of vaccine, in the interest of this story, and found that both of the claims were not true.
CLAIM 2: Vaccines cause Autism
The claim read, “Infants who received 37.5 mcg of mercury from thimerosal-containing hepatitis B vaccines within the first six months of life were 3 times more likely to have subsequently been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) compared to those who received mercury-free hepatitis B vaccines.”
It said that the claim was based on a paper published in 2013 by Translational Neurodegeneration.
WHAT WE FOUND OUT
According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Thimerosal is a mercury-based preservative that has been used for decades in the United States in multi-dose vials (vials containing more than one dose) of medicines and vaccines.” It prevents the growth of bacteria in the vaccines.
The CDC states that Thermisol has been tested several times and has been declared safe for human beings as it can be discarded by the human body easily.
Despite the studies, Thimerosal was taken out of childhood vaccines in the United States in 2001 because of the debate about it causing autism. However, it was found that the rate of autism continued to grow despite removing Thimerosal.
The paper mentioned in the claim studied people who took the vaccine from 1998 - 2000, before Thimerosal was removed from the jabs. Additionally, the paper also mentioned that further studies were required to analyse other sources of mercury consumption.
Therefore to declare that all vaccines cause autism is not correct.
CLAIM 3: More vaccine is directly proportional to more emergency care
The claim in the book reads, “Children who were under-vaccinated the most had the greatest reductions in outpatient visits”.
The statements tried to imply that children who were fully vaccinated needed more outpatient visits and emergency care.
WHAT WE FOUND OUT
We went through the paper that was used to make this claim. The paper published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) was titled, “A Population-Based Cohort Study of Under-Vaccination in 8 Managed Care Organisations Across the United States”.
The objective of the study was “To examine patterns and trends of under-vaccination in children aged 2 to 24 months and to compare health care utilisation rates between under-vaccinated and age-appropriately vaccinated children.”
The paper mentioned in the book also clearly states that “parents who choose not to have their children vaccinated are less likely to trust health care professionals and more likely to use complementary/alternative medicine providers than parents who have their children fully vaccinated.”
Therefore, it does not mean that under-vaccinated children required fewer outpatient visits. It basically means that people who under-vaccinated their children were less likely to trust healthcare professionals and hence make fewer visits to the hospitals.
The book contains many other claims that have either been debunked or are misleading.
Another claim that he has made in the book is that the COVID-19 vaccine will not work since there have been several mutations of the virus. However, researchers have said that the mutations in a virus are a regular phenomenon and vaccines are developed while keeping that in mind. Hence, the vaccine will still be effective against the virus.
COVID-19 Conspiracy Claims and Social Media Ban?
Dr Chowdhury, in multiple videos, has claimed that COVID-19 is an elaborate conspiracy by the rich and powerful people. He also met the Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan in March 2020 to give him a book he had written and also to offer “his services to help cure COVID-19”.
Although his Facebook, YouTube and Twitter accounts are suspended, new ones keep coming up. Some of these channels host the doctor regularly and those videos garner several thousand views. His audience and reach have expanded substantially because of the hosts’ followers.
We reached out to Google for a response on the steps they will be taken against such accounts which help Dr Chowdhury propagate misinformation about COVID-19 and its vaccines but didn’t get any response.
A simple search on Facebook also leads to multiple groups, pages and profiles claiming to be Dr Chowdhury. While some of the accounts do not post regularly, a few carry his interviews on different online channels.
We reached out to Facebook with a list of misinformation still viral on the platform and a Facebook spokesperson said, “We will continue to remove misinformation about COVID-19 that could lead to imminent physical harm and direct people to our COVID information Center. In December 2020, we began removing false claims about COVID-19 vaccines and will regularly update the claims we remove over the coming months. For content we don’t remove, we work with independent fact-checkers to place warning labels to help people make more informed choices about what they read and share.”
Who is Dr Chowdhury?
Dr Chowdhury is not new to the world of misinformation. According to a report, he has been peddling misinformation about various cures since 2010. Despite having no medical qualification, he claims to be an expert in diabetes. His website says that he has an honorary PhD in diabetes studies from a now deregistered university in Zambia.
In 2018, the Advertising Standards Council of India banned a newspaper advertisement that carried details of his diabetes workshop.
He has made several claims around curing diabetes with a fruit-based diet in 72 hours. A claim that was debunked by FIT’s WebQoof team.
A website called Bad Science, founded by Paul, lists several other false claims made by the doctor about himself and in the field of medicine. The website says that the doctor has previously done production engineering and has acted in a Bollywood movie called Yaad Rakhenge Aap in 2005.
Dr Chowdhury is not the only one, several other “doctors” have gained prominence amid the pandemic and have managed to reach millions of people using several social media platforms.
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