Dr. Bob Sears monetizes fear

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PT Barnum famously said that you can’t go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public and pediatrician Dr. Bob Sears demonstrates the truth of that adage every day.

Like Barnum, Sears depends for his income on the gullibility and lack of sophistication of his target audience. Anti-vaxxers are so naive that they seem to have no awareness that anti-vax is a business, and they’ve been duped into buying an endless array of its useless books and products.

Since Dr. Sears’ followers are having trouble seeing anti-vax for the business that it is, let’s give it a nickname: “Bobsanto.”

Since Dr. Sears’ followers are having trouble seeing anti-vax for the business that it is, perhaps we should identify what he does by giving a nickname to his business. I suggest “Bobsanto.”

Barnum at least had to put on his circus and that costs money. Monsanto at least has to create products that actually do something. “Bobsanto” doesn’t have to create much of anything to rake in the dough. Sears has figured out how to monetize fear, and that’s free, especially when you create it yourself.

I could spend a lot of time debunking Sears’ claims and insinuations one by one, but I know that’s not very effective, because anti-vaxxers lack the knowledge of immunology needed to understand them in the first place. But even those who never learned chemistry should have learned cynicism though. They should be able to recognize a marketing ploy when they see one.

“Bobsanto” is no more committed to your health and wellbeing than Monsanto is. Both are businesses that make money by promoting and selling products. Monstanto sells a range of products some of which have tremendous value, some of which have serious side effects and all of which fill Monsanto’s coffers.

“Bobsanto” is part of the Sears’ family business, involving his father and siblings, that promotes and sells a range of products all of which have no intrinsic value since don’t do anything besides line the Sears’ pockets. They only have value when you’ve been convinced to fear the less expensive, often far more effective, conventional alternative. That’s where Sears’ and his family members’ true brilliance comes in. They know that their claims don’t have to make sense and don’t even have to be true. They are fluent in the language of both performative motherhood and faux “empowerment” that deluded anti-vaxxers think they are mastering.

Bob Sears provides emotional support by sharing fears about vaccines and by affirming mothers’ right to assign her own unique beliefs to vaccines. This service fills is a critical social need in the context of anti-vax advocacy that depends on a shared cultural consensus for its significance. And he and his family charge a bundle for it.

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Monstanto at least gives you a product. Bobsanto merely offers nonsense with a heaping side of self-pity. Dr. Bob imagines portrays himself as persecuted because he has been placed on probabation for violating the standards of medical practice.

Don’t worry, though. Dr. Bob won’t change. He isn’t about to let the his various income streams dry up.

Nothing has changed about the way I practice. I won’t pretend this whole ordeal isn’t stressful. It is. But it has also prompted me to increase my focus and involvement in what really matters to me in this world — giving each and every family I meet complete, objective, and un-doctored informed consent on the topic of vaccination.

What led to his “ordeal”? A recent article in JAMA explains:

The case against Sears, a popular and highly visible California pediatrician known for inventing an alternative vaccine schedule, arose from the 2014 care of a 2-year-old patient. The boy’s mother told Sears that, after previous vaccinations, the boy was unable to defecate or urinate for 24 hours and he went limp “like a ragdoll.” Sears did not take a detailed vaccine-associated history but wrote the boy a medical exemption from all future vaccinations, declaring that his kidneys and intestines had shut down and he had had a so-called severe encephalitis reaction caused by prior vaccinations.

The complaint against him alleged:

…gross negligence, repeated negligent acts in his care for a patient, and failure to maintain appropriate records.

Sears AGREED with all the charges leveled against him so he could continue monetizing the fear he cultivates so assiduously.

Sears can continue practicing medicine but will be required to take an ethics class and 40 hours of medical education courses a year and be monitored by a fellow physician. He also must notify all hospital and medical facilities where he practices about the order …

I suspect it’s going to be a lot harder to get a vaccine exemption from Dr. Sears for the foreseeable future.

Not matter. Anti-vaxxers are utterly oblivious to the fact that Bobsanto, like Monsanto, is an enterprise that exists to create value and profit for its shareholders regardless of whether its products help or harm people.

Proving once again that you can’t go broke by underestimating the intelligence of the American anti-vaxxer.

  • Eater of Worlds

    Thanks everyone for explaining. For whatever reason “didn’t take a detailed history” didn’t click with the specifics of what that meant in my brain today.

  • Sue

    Sears’ justification: “Isn’t it my job to listen to my patients and believe what a parent says happened to her baby? Isn’t that what all doctors do with their patients?” Sears wrote. “After all, I don’t want a child to receive a medical treatment that could cause more harm. I am going to first do no harm, every time.”
    (https://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-ln-sears-license-20180629-story.html)

    Actually, no, your job doesn’t stop at listening – it extends to interpreting what happened and informing yourself on all the details before setting a course of action.

    If a parent says ‘my little johnny has kidney failure and needs dialysis’ do you just write that down and not investigate?

    • demodocus

      When my toddler had a broken leg, they made sure it was an accident. 3.5 years later and he’s fine. I’m getting better…

    • Azuran

      Jesus Christ……that’s how people get away with abusing their kids for years.

    • Sarah

      No, he makes an urgent referral to a naturopath.

  • Sue

    So many examples of this in the anti-science and “alt med” community. They are so ready to call out the conventional medical system for being financially-driven, and yet it is the ‘alt’ providers who directly market the products they recommend.

    Need a ‘de-tox’? Don’t rely on your perfectly healthy liver and kidneys – buy my product!

    And don’t forget about all those exclusive relationships between ‘alt’ providers like naturopaths and specific manufacturing companies, for so-called “practitioner-only products” (don’t just waste money on the unnecessary supplement, you have to pay the person who recommends it too!).

    So much hypocrisy!

  • no longer drinking the koolaid

    Damn! Those classes are really expensive.

    • Sue

      And what’s the point of being ‘certified’ by a body that holds no objective authority?

      • fiftyfifty1

        The point of a “certifying body” that holds no objective authority is to have fancy sounding credentials to scam people. Case in point, the CPM “credential”.

  • Eater of Worlds

    What exactly did Sears do wrong with this kid? I can’t tell from the post.

    • MaineJen

      Exempted him from all vaccines forever after listening to one anecdote from the mother, without looking at a detailed medical history.

      • fiftyfifty1

        And also doing no follow up testing! If a doc believes a child has had a case of “severe encephalitis”, that should prompt in-depth neurologic testing to look for long term damage. If a doc believes that kidneys “shut down” for even a day, that should prompt renal function testing, because an acute kidney insult often leads to chronic kidney dysfunction. I mean, holy shit! Severe encephalitis? No urine x 24 hours? As a doc, I should be shitting my pants here if that’s what I believe.

        The fact that Dr. Sears did NONE of this, and apparently didn’t even order a copy of the child’s records, is proof that he never believed it to begin with. He clearly thinks the mother is a hysterical exaggerator, but he’s glad to take her money anyway.

        • Eater of Worlds

          Ugh, I think he deserved more than the punishment he got.

          Also, if her kid were that sick, why wasn’t he taken to the hospital? Sears definitely didn’t believe it, but he certainly doesn’t care. I can’t understand why doctors feel no vaccinations are a good state for children to be in. I think that all states should enact really stiff vaccination rules. The only exemptions should be medical, and there should be proof of adverse reactions that can’t be managed. I’m not talking about soreness, redness, a bit of fever. That just needs some tylenol and rest and maybe the kid can pre-load with advil before the next shot. I will never understand parents screaming “but that injures my child to have a sore arm!” when not doing it the wails can turn to “my child died of measles! No one told me it could be this bad!”

          • Sue

            “Sears definitely didn’t believe it, but he certainly doesn’t care”

            That’s exactly the point. If a mother gives this sort of history, it’s the responsibility of the treating pediatrician to follow-up on such severe illness: which ICU was the child treated in? What were the long-term complications? What was the pathophysiology of the “reaction”? Has organ function returned to normal? Was it actually a benign febrile convulsion?

            I suspect these pediatricians have to appear to be popular and compliant because they are not confident in their clinical skills.

          • fiftyfifty1

            “I suspect these pediatricians have to appear to be popular and compliant because they are not confident in their clinical skills.”

            You are being too kind. This is not some case of false confidence used to mask low self-esteem. It’s that he is a charlatan. As Bofa has said many times, successful charlatans appear popular and caring because they have to. How successful would a charlatan be if he came across as unpopular and uncaring?

    • Montserrat Blanco

      First of all, if the mother makes that claim you need to document it properly, if you as a physician think that one vaccine caused that you should probably investigate why that happened. If that is not a known side effect of the particular vaccine you should fill a form saying that you have seen an unknown effect of the vaccine and send it to the pharmacology agency in your country ( I have not practiced in the USA but I assume this is the FDA in the USA). The. You might write an exemption for that particular vaccine (the reason should be documented in the patient’s notes). You might want to publish the case on a medical journal so that if that happens again that information is available to other doctors.

  • space_upstairs

    People like this leverage the implicit aspirational class axiom that “small and alternative businesses provide qualitatively and ethically superior products and services” to grab their piece of the pie while they belie the very axiom that brings in their clients. For this reason, such axioms should always be questioned. A business’s ethics cannot be judged accurately by its size or defiance of convention. The latter depends on which conventions it defies and why, and the former depends a lot on luck, history, and market demand.

    • Cartman36

      from what I understand, he based his permanent exemption from all future vaccines entirely on the word of the mother and didn’t bother to check the kids medical records or do any further investigation.

  • fiftyfifty1

    These anti-vax parents flatter themselves that doctors like Sears “really listen” to them and take them seriously. Get a clue, these charlatan docs think you all are hysterical nitwits and don’t believe a word you say. If Dr. Sears really believed that mom when she said her kid’s kidneys and intestines shut down, he would have perused this to the ends of the earth. This would represent a never before described vaccine reaction. If he believed it were true, he would have published it as a case report, and it would forever after be called Sears Syndrome or some such. Think of the publicity! Think of the adulation! At a minimum, if he took it seriously he would have reported it to the vaccine manufacturer and the government vaccine injury compensation program. But he doesn’t believe you. He clearly doesn’t even believe that a vaccine could cause such a reaction. He. is. flattering. you. to. get. your. $.

    • momofone

      I have a friend whose kids see him, or used to*. She has fallen for his BS hook, line, and sinker. And sees it as a great testament to his principles that he doesn’t accept insurance (or didn’t, *as of the last time we discussed it, which was several years ago; it became an agree-to-disagree thing).

      • fiftyfifty1

        “great testament to his principles that he doesn’t accept insurance”
        snort!

      • rational thinker

        He doesn’t accept insurance? That in itself is usually not a good sign.

        • momofone

          Exactly! But don’t you see?! He has nobly opted to deny himself the revenue of dirty insurance reimbursement in favor of charging people through the nose. And they eat. It. Up.

      • Eater of Worlds

        He did accept insurance until he was put on probation. He wrote a letter when Tricare pulled their coverage of him (his office is near a military base so he had a lot of military patients). Turns out many insurances pull their coverage of a certain doctor when they go on probation with the medical board, and they have no way to beg the insurance to continue covering them. They pulled it at the start of October and it was retroactive to the end of July, so everyone from the end of July to start of October wasn’t covered. Sears, however told all those patients not to worry about the bill, they don’t have to pay anything, which is quite a tactic to keep a doctor when you’re already anti-vaxx. “Look, he didn’t make us pay when we didn’t expect we had to, he’s so awesome and he supports my ridiculous views when no one else does!” so I don’t know how many patients he actually lost from Tricare.

        But if he decided to reject all insurance, it would have been from when he went on probation and various insurances pulled out from covering him. That’s normal for insurance to do when a doc goes on probation. I’m sure that there are a bunch of insurance companies who refused to cover him before that because they decided the costs of covering vaccine preventable illnesses wasn’t worth it compared to the cost of vaccines. If a lot of them pulled out, it might not have been worth it anymore for him to do the paperwork for the few companies that continued to cover him.

      • Eater of Worlds

        Argh the system deleted my post as spam. I can’t seem to get it back. All I remember about it is that he used to take some form of Tricare and the rest was cash. I wonder if he uses cash because the things he charges for (like the group autism sessions he used to have and earned nearly 10k a pop for a 2 hour period where every autistic kid’s autonomy is ripped away by discussing their medical needs and treatments in a group setting without them there) would never be covered by insurance anyway. This way he doesn’t have to justify the treatment to get paid by the insurance company. But because he lost his license (and it won’t get reinstated until he finishes the classes/three years of monitoring) which he calls probation Tricare pulled the insurance, which a lot of insurance companies do when a doc is on probation. People could submit their bills to their insurance company on their own and the insurance might or might not pay.