In a lengthy document, The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has been driven to defend itself and its associations in a way that could not have happened before the internet became available as a means to record and disseminate facts and opinion.
Stung by its own history, the PCRM is clearly on the defensive. Their defense consists of much demonization of their critics, and feeble attempts to cloak themselves in the authority of people with positive name recognition, or at least people whose careers or deeds have positive associations attached to them.
They also try to downplay specific criticisms — really historical revelations — of them.
For the present, I'll ignore most of what they've said, but you should definitely read their entire pitch — and see how many rhetorical slights-of-hand you can find. I must admit that my saliva runith over . . .
This is what leapt out at me.
First off, there was the failure of the PCRM to identify themselves as an Animal Rights organization, though they did refer to assisting animal welfare groups, and the naive could be excused for concluding that the PCRM is AW, not AR, on this basis alone. (Those who don't know the difference between AW and AR should go here and here.)
That alone should tell you a ton (or, for my friends in the UK, a tonne). Nor did they mention their close ties to AR groups, those overtly violent or those merely supportive of violence, other than to distance themselves from Jerry Vlasak, one of their former spokesmen (he was the guy who, while a PCRM spokesman, defended the morality of assassination, which got his sorry butt fired from the PCRM [that's hard for a physician to do!]).
The PCRM also tried to explain their non-association with SHAC and SHAC's Kevin Kjonaas, who co-signed a letter with PCRM president Neal Barnard (pdf file). But there's a lot the PCRM didn't explain, as you can appreciate if you read PCRM's deceptive defense.
So here's what really caught my attention:
Industry groups note that non-physicians can join PCRM. Here are the facts: PCRM currently has more than 5,000 physician members. Supporting members include dietitians, psychologists, nurses, other scientific and health professionals, and laypersons who wish to support PCRM’s programs, and currently number more than 100,000. PCRM maintains separate counts for each group.
This is silly on its face.
I don't know of any organization that has criticized the PCRM simply because "non-physicians can join." This is a strawman fallacy — PCRM are unable to answer the real criticism leveled against them, so they redefine it to one they can spin.
The PCRM can be criticized because their very name suggests they enjoy the imprimatur of a broad segment of the physician community. They do nothing to dispel this misimpression, though that is most emphatically not the case. In fact, there are precious few physicans who care to regard themselves as "members" of the PCRM.
In fact the PCRM admits that only 5000 (5%) of their 100,000 members are physicians (and we must take the PCRM's word for that number — I doubt they'd release a list of the names of their physician members).
How many physicians are there? Are 50% of physicians members of the PCRM? How about 20%? Or perhaps 5%?
For sport, let's look at this (for the sake of argument only, I assume that 5000 physicians are members of PCRM). As of Dec. 2003, there were 239 physicians per 100,000 US citizens. Assuming that the population of the US is 350 million, there are 836,500 physicians in the US (350,000,000 ÷ 100,000 = 3,500. 3,500 X 239 = 836,500).
Now — what percentage of 836,500 is 5000? If we divide 5000 by 836,500, we get .006. This tells us that 6 physicians out of a thousand are members of the PCRM. That is, if we believe PCRM's best figures, which I personally don't. (I'd love to see a bar graph of this with PCRM docs represented as a percentage of total US docs . . . ).
For perspective: you're talking about $6 out of $1000, or 60 cents out of $100. Are you impressed?
It gets worse.
Keep in mind my assumptions, which are conservative and likely overestimate the PCRM's representation amongst the physician community.
I've assumed that the number of 5000 refers exclusively to US docs. If 5000 is the best the PCRM can do worldwide, they reveal themselves to be singularly unattractive on a worldwide scale: with literally millions of docs available to join the PCRM, they can only attract 5000, which is a paltry number even when the "total number of docs" is the mere 836,500 in the US.
If you don't restrict yourself to the 836,500 figure, but add to it all the docs in the world (think Canada, all of Europe, Russia, China, Japan, Australia, Indonesia, etc.) how many additional docs should be added to the 836,500 US docs? One million? 1.5 million? More?
And if you do that, how much smaller would the PCRM's proportion of docs be, how much would their fraction of a fraction of a percent drop?
You make the call. From 6/1000 to . . . what . . . 1/10,000?
Given this, why on earth would the PCRM parade their embarassingly small number of 5000 before the world, where those of us who are so inclined can measure them against a standard?
Speaking of which . . . the number 5,000 is itself a nice, round, juicy, easy-to-get-your-head-around number. It's almost too nice . . ..
Are we to believe that there are exactly 5000 physicians in the PCRM? That's unlikely. They almost certainly rounded the actual number up or down to come up with such a catchy, well-remembered number. Did they round up, or down? Any bets?
If they rounded up, it would have been more honest for them to claim something like "the PCRM boasts nearly 5000 physicians as members." If more than 5000 physicians are PCRM members — say 5025 — they'd certainly have said something like ". . . with more than 5000 physician members . . .". Is 5000 an approximate average for several years (". . . we've averaged roughly 5000 physician members over . . .")?
What I want to know is this: what is the precise number of physicians who were members of the PCRM for each of the past 15 years? This information would tell you a lot.
And to finish the numbers game I've played with a snarky flourish, I'd also like to know this: how many of their 5000 physician members attended the PCRM's 20th anniversary last April?
Finally, notice, also, how the PCRM defense craftily shifts away from the number of physicians, and focusses on "dietitians, psychologists, nurses, other scientific and health professionals" and laypersons. The impression one gets is that the bulk of the PCRM membership is of physicians and other credentialed people, the laity filling out a membership otherwise overflowing with pros.
So — with only 5% of PCRM's membership consisting of physicians, on what basis does the PCRM claim to be the physicians committee for responsible medicine?
Why is it not the "Dietitians Committee for Responsible Medicine", the "Psychologists Committee for Responsible Medicine", or the "Laypersons Committee for Responsible Medicine?"
Why would the PCRM name their organization on the basis of only 5% of their membership?
What's the argument against calling this bunch the "Non-physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine?"
Think about that. At best, only 5% of the membership are physicians, and it seems no more morally justifiable to privilege that 5% over the other 95% who are not physicians, than to privilege humans over animals.
Or so I would argue. And so should they, the good folks of the PCRM, from their morally pure, AR, egalitarian perspective . . ..
UPDATE 7/2/05. Edited for style and clarity.