Imagine you are new to Idaho. You’ve left your trusted longtime physician behind, and now you need a new primary care doctor.
How are you supposed to judge whether a new doctor is qualified, gives good advice and will take good care of you? So you pick one off of your insurer’s website and hope she’s a good one.
You get to her office for your first appointment. And looking up on her wall, you see a license with “Idaho Board of Medicine” hanging there.
How much should that license mean to you?
Not much, it seems.
After all, Dr. Ryan Cole has the same piece of paper hanging on his wall. And he’s traded on it to make money by selling modern snake oil all around the country and the world, as Audrey Dutton of the Idaho Capital Sun documented this week in the latest of an impeccably reported series of stories focused on Cole.
In March, Dutton reported, Cole made a trip to Tennessee to testify that COVID vaccines were dangerous.
“Cole testified, based on data he misrepresented, that COVID-19 vaccines killed 1,200 people in a single month,” Dutton reported. Cole suggested doctors who recommend the vaccines should be hung.
This is nothing new for Cole, who has used his Idaho Board of Medicine license and his political appointment to the Central Health District Board to emerge from behind his microscope and become a bit of a celebrity — the Alex Jones of pathologists.
His latest shtick, Dutton reported, is to oppose monkeypox vaccines, suggest the outbreak was engineered, and to say that the “k” should be silent — making it “moneypox,” get it? The rigorous, scientific method of proof by pun.
For all of the quackery he’s spreading around, the body that licenses doctors in Washington is investigating and considering whether to discipline him, Dutton reported last month. Idaho’s board doesn’t disclose records to indicate whether it is considering discipline, but if it were, we should have heard about it by now. So it’s rational to believe Cole’s lawyer, who wrote that Idaho “declined to open an investigation of Dr. Cole’s practice or his publicly held opinions.”
It makes sense to allow for a wide range of views within medicine, not to use the board as a cudgel to require that all doctors hold the same opinions. There are instances where minority views have later proven right and become the standard of care.
In the mid-1800s, the Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis tried to convince his colleagues they should wash their hands before delivering a child. In the days before germs were understood, he was ridiculed and mistreated for this belief. You certainly don’t want to repeat that mistake.
But Cole is not a Semmelweis.
As Dutton found, he lifted images from published studies for his presentation. He then misrepresented them by saying they indicate that COVID vaccines are damaging people’s livers — a claim the paper’s author directly refuted.
Semmelweis collected and published a wealth of data to support his handwashing practice. Cole, by contrast, is misusing a public database of adverse events after receiving a vaccine to claim that vaccines have killed hundreds or thousands of people — the kind of claim that anyone taking an introductory statistics class would laugh at.
Many Idaho physicians have provided the Washington licensing board with letters indicating that they’ve seen patients who took ineffective drugs like Ivermectin on Cole’s advice, only to wind up severely ill or dead, Dutton reported in December. They are working to defend their profession and their patients.
As the American Board of Pathology wrote in its letter supporting an investigation of Cole to Washington’s licensing board: “Patients must be able to trust physicians with their lives and health.” It too is working to defend its calling.
Why won’t the Idaho Board of Medicine?
As long as Cole holds one of the board’s licenses, it cannot be taken as a sign of trustworthiness.
And if it’s not good for that, why is it anything more than a random piece of paper?
Bryan Clark is an opinion writer for the Idaho Statesman based in eastern Idaho.