You would think the circus is in town with all the clowns headed to Opryland Resort and Convention Center. But no, it’s just a gathering of anti-vaxxers and like-minded proponents of alternative medical facts. The Truth About Cancer convention will descend on the convention center from Oct. 22 to 24, and you can bet speakers will spread just about everything but accurate information — that's a guarantee when Eric Trump and Roger Stone are two of your keynote speakers.
Preeminent quacks on the lineup include Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, who promoted the whole “COVID vaccine makes you magnetic” theory, and raw-food-advocate-turned-conspiracy-theorist David “Avocado” Wolfe, whose page you have probably muted on Facebook by now. Plus Randy Jackson of the Jackson 5 will perform.
It’s hard to take this Snake Oil Symposium seriously. The event website calls the COVID-19 outbreak a “plandemic,” features a lot of all-caps words and for some reason uses scare-quotes when describing their panelists and attendees as “natural health gurus” and “health enthusiasts” — either the copywriter has a poor grasp of how sarcasm and punctuation interact, or there’s a saboteur at the keyboard.
The convention series was started by Sumner County’s Tyler and Charlene Bollinger, who sadly lost loved ones to cancer — a story that’s all too relatable. Unfortunately, after that trying experience they kicked off a crusade to platform some of the leading names in pseudoscience as well as the hard right. Tyler Bollinger has said that treatments like chemotherapy were actually what killed his father, and has since branched into anti-vaccination schemes and the pro-Trump Stop the Steal movement/conspiracy. The Bollingers even spoke at and helped organize the rally that preceded the Jan. 6 insurrection.
The Bollingers aren’t the only locals on the bill. State Sen. Mark Pody (R-Lebanon) and Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles will be there. Future also-ran Robby Starbuck, a Republican mounting a challenge to Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Nashville), is on the speakers’ list too.
It’s easy to point at the health care hucksters and laugh, but as several proverbs suggest, comedy and tragedy are often linked. In this case, they aren’t just praying on wealthy science-deniers but also desperate people who are looking for anything to help them or their loved ones survive. We’re talking about vulnerable people, physically and financially.
A 2019 report from the Centers for Disease Control found that women and uninsured adults were more likely to seek alternative treatments to lower prescription costs. Other studies suggest more women engage with alternative medicine as both practitioners and consumers. To that point, bioethicist Arianne Shahvisi argues in a 2019 article that neglect and a lack of autonomy in science-based treatment may lead to women seeking alternative health care. Unfortunately, she notes, “autonomy in healthcare requires informed consent; informed consent is not possible for [alternative medicine] therapies since mechanisms are either not known or not plausible, and there is no evidence base.” People need access to good health care, not whatever scam the "health care freedom" crowd is pushing.
When it comes to science, we don’t need to take the placebo peddlers seriously at all. But when it comes to the harm these grifters perpetuate, the laughter fades.