Sherlock Holmes had his Professor Moriarty and Austin Powers had his Dr Evil. Both fictional villains had fake academic degrees, and so does the real-life villain whom Cheshire hunts: Richard Maximus Fleming, the US-American quack, antivaxxer, liar, fraudster, debarred doctor, convicted felon, and a former porn actor. And yet Fleming has 32k Twitter followers and acts as authority to many COVID-19 denialists out there, including the fascists of Infowars. More recently, Fleming formed an antivax covidiot alliance with none other but the Nobel Prize winner and homeopathy quack Luc Montagnier, while ridiculing the Holocaust.
Why I believe Richard M Fleming is a charlatan
I’ve written about Dr. Richard Maximus Fleming before, both on Leonid’s blog and in comments on various websites, including George Henderson’s Helpful Geranium blog and on Retraction Watch. I’ve responded to his tweets on Twitter and to his responses on his many PubPeer threads.
Below I compile information from a variety of sources which illustrate why I believe he is not someone whose opinion you should trust about COVID-19 (or much of anything else). I have attempted to provide links to sources that support the facts I present, and with Leonid’s cooperation, I may provide updates to these facts and sources in the future. Almost all of my comments below are taken from publicly available sources and I have attempted to redact personally identifiable information. I encourage corrections of any errors (by Fleming or his supporters) and other feedback in the comments. It would be appreciated if any such corrections were accompanied by links to original sources.
Why worry about Dr. Fleming at all?
Back when I first heard about Dr. Fleming because of this November 2018 Retraction Watch article, he was holding himself out as an expert on diets and had written at least one book and numerous “research” papers, most in lower quality scientific journals. People believing what Fleming wrote seemed gullible to me, but it didn’t seem that people would be severely harmed by following his diet recommendations or buying a book supported by his weak science. Before COVID, Fleming seemed to be an entertaining clown causing little harm, and his acting stint provided fodder for my tweets. Today, however, he’s part of a circle of influencers spreading misinformation on COVID-19 and creating vaccine hesitancy.
In the spring of 2020, Fleming pivoted away from diets, heart disease, and cancer, to focus on COVID. After initially dismissing the virus as no different than other viruses, he seemed to realize that he’d get more attention by stirring up fears. He registered a clinical trial discussed in this May 2020 Retraction Watch article, tweeted frenetically about COVID matters, and started promoting himself on video – some hosted by others, some by himself on YouTube – as an expert on viruses.
Of growing concern for me, however, is he seemed to be using his fake COVID study (phony data table from this study pictured here) to make treatment recommendations for people suffering from COVID-19 and claimed that since effective treatments were available, there was no need for people to get vaccinated with “experimental vaccines.” As the pandemic wore on, he began aligning himself with other people with non-traditional vaccine views including notables Judy Mikovits, Dr. Vladimir “Zev” Zelenko, Joseph Mercola, and Sherri Tenpenny. He’s participated in panel discussions, lectures, and published some books, because of course.
I’ve tried pushing back on the misinformation in small ways. Many, perhaps most, of his Twitter followers are COVID bots so there aren’t too many people on that platform that are getting exposed to his views, but certainly platforms like Rumble aren’t as discerning, and platforms like Infowars’ Free World News and Right Side Broadcasting seem happy to let him spout his opinions to their alarmingly large audiences. I think he’s now banned on Facebook and YouTube for spreading virus misinformation.
Below are some of my accumulated views and sources supporting my view that Fleming is a charlatan.
Summary of the case by Richard G. Kopf, U.S. District Court Judge.
“Fleming is a physician and cardiologist. He also has performed clinical studies as a side business. The underlying criminal case related to both endeavors, that is, the indictment referred to his actions as a practicing cardiologist, and, separately, his actions as a researcher.
Counts 1-10 of the relevant indictment charged Fleming with health care fraud, and counts 11-13 charged wire or mail fraud. The health care fraud related to submitting claims for payment to Medicare or other federal programs using a particular billing code when, in fact, Fleming had not performed the services described in the code… The wire and mail fraud counts alleged that Fleming acted with intent to defraud when he submitted a false report and data suggesting that he had performed a clinical research study regarding soy chips and weight loss when he had not done so. Fleming had been engaged to perform the soy chip study by a private entity.”
Fleming pled guilty:
“[T]he plea agreement called for Fleming to plead guilty to one count of health care fraud (count 4) and one count [omitted] of mail fraud (count 13). Among other things, he also agreed to pay restitution and to be permanently excluded from participating in Medicare and other federal health care programs. In return, the government agreed to recommend a sentence that spared Fleming from prison.”
Fleming has protested that his guilty plea was a “holographic plea” that admitted no crime, but from what I can tell this is a legal term that he just made up (Google “holographic plea” -leia -princess -jedi -skywalker -zombie just for fun). His admission to two felonies is what led to his debarment by the FDA and to his loss of licenses to practice medicine. He has appealed these findings and penalties in multiple venues without success. As a legal matter, he pled guilty and was convicted for his crimes.
Many of the court records are available via PACER or Court Listener and make for interesting reading. Below I share a couple of a contemporaneous emails sent by Fleming to and from his attorney (Mike Hansen). These suggest to me that Fleming is trying to confuse his current audience by mischaracterizing his trial and conviction.
“Only real way to avoid going to prison.”
This first email explains that Hansen believed Fleming knew full well that a guilty plea was necessary for him to avoid jail time and that continuing to claim that he was innocent in the face of the evidence would result in a sentence including jail time. Fleming made this decision while the jury was already deliberating (!), and the trial was over. As I understand it, a plea bargain is the most common result of a federal prosecution, and this one is only unusual in that it occurred at the end of the trial.
Fleming’s “exceptional arrogance and ignorance.”
This second email illustrates my opinion that it was Fleming who destroyed his own defense: His attorney, Hansen, generated a test batch of statistics to check the abilities of their planned expert witness and had her analyze the test batch. Apparently thinking the draft report from the witness was persuasive, Fleming seems to have inexplicably sent this confidential attorney work-product to someone in the federal government who then provided the draft report to the prosecution team. Fleming’s leak of the draft report seems to have allowed the prosecution to impeach the expert witness and ruin her credibility. Fleming has twisted this event into some conspiracy against him by the judge and attorneys, but the records show it was Fleming who derailed his own defense.
Concerns about educational credentials.
I came across Dr. Fleming’s “real” CV online (link here and below). He presented the 46-page monstrosity to Federal court on 9/11/09 as part of his legal flailing after his felony conviction. In it, he provides specific dates and details about his educational credentials, which are at odds with some of his later claims. As this CV was filed in federal court by Fleming himself, I believe that it is a definitive record of his education, professional career, and relevant activities at that time (the granularity is astonishing: e.g., he lists all the dates he spoke to grade school audiences and a record of any time he was mentioned in a news article).
In the CV, he claims to have undergraduate degrees from University of Northern Iowa in General Science, Biology, Psychology, and a minor in Chemistry. He graduated in 1980. He did one year of graduate studies in Psychology under his mentor Dr. Gordon Harrington. He graduated from medical school in 1986 and then tried a cardiology fellowship 1989-92 (it appears he never finished the fellowship and unsuccessfully sued University of Texas over that – see Court Listener link below).
In the CV there is no mention of a PhD in Physics (or any other field) from any institution; instead, there is a high school physics competition in 1973-4, which seems to be the basis of his misrepresentation that he has a PhD in particle physics. His LinkedIn and Amazon bios included claims of degrees in Biology, Psychology, plus Chemistry and Physics, however, his own CV confirms he does not have a degree in Physics, nor in Chemistry. When asked if he can provide the name of the school that awarded his PhD, or other verifiable evidence, he has obfuscated and demurred. Inconsistent with the claim in his CV: the UNI commencement announcement for 1980 shows he received degrees in “Science and Biology A.”
After this CV was generated in 2009, he graduated from an online unaccredited law school: Concord Law School. Concord was later acquired by Purdue University, and subsequently became (only) state-accredited in California. However, as the school was unaccredited when he received his JD, it is a stretch for him to use it as a legal credential, and to my knowledge he’s never sat for a state bar exam (most states require a degree from an ABA-accredited law school in order to sit for the bar, and generally seem uncomfortable issuing licenses to felons). This means when he or others say that he’s an “attorney,” this is inaccurate (just as it would be inaccurate for someone who has a college degree in accounting to be called as “an accountant”).
A couple of minor notes: In the biography he provided to the Stage32 acting network site, he claims past “Intelligence and Police Work,” neither of which is mentioned in his CV. In the biography he provided the “9th Euro Breast Cancer Summit” (Google: scam conference), he also claims he “is considered by many to be the Father of Modern Nuclear Cardiology and Nuclear Medicine,” although this notoriety only appears on biographies that he’s prepared himself. These seem to be further examples of him stretching the truth.
Below is another self-prepared biography from his old website which includes several inconsistencies when compared to the CV provided in federal court.
Oh yeah, then there was the brief moment when he pretended on Twitter that he had a master’s in psychology (while calling his detractors “criminal pedophiles.”)
Concerns about institutional affiliations
The real CV clarifies that the Fleming Heart Health Institute (1999-2004) and the Camelot Foundation (2000-2005) have long been defunct. This means he has been misrepresenting his institutional affiliation in his more recent “research” papers and on the US clinical trial website. Misrepresenting one’s credentials and institutional affiliation is generally considered research misconduct. Knowingly providing false information to the federal government relating to a clinical trial may even be illegal.
Concerns about “studies” and “research”
There are at least three studies published by Dr. Fleming that appear fraudulent. Others seem questionable as well, and these questions are detailed in comments on his papers on PubPeer. He, and the few co-authors who responded on PubPeer, don’t seem to have addressed the reviewers’ concerns. Many (maybe most) of the papers published by Fleming are in journals considered “predatory” or low-quality as they publish papers for a fee with little to no actual peer review.
Below are three that I believe can easily be characterized as fraudulent.
- The soy chip study. His felony conviction included one clinical “study” that he pled guilty to falsifying. Although he has continued to protest that he did not admit to faking the study, the plea agreement shows he did plead guilty to wire and mail fraud. The FBI describes those charges as:
“The mail and wire fraud counts charged Fleming with obtaining payment from a North Carolina soy food company in 2004 for product testing work he had not performed, and more specifically charged him with lying about whether he had performed the services he was paid for, and with creating and submitting false documents in order to cover up the fact that he had not done the work for which he had been paid.“
- Another “study” he performed on diets was retracted, as discussed in the first Retraction Watch article below.
- The paper on his latest “study” of COVID treatments was rejected by a reputable publisher (European Journal of Medical Research) as it was blatantly fabricated, and then self-published in a “predatory” or low-quality journal. This study and others have been widely panned on PubPeer and mentioned on Retraction Watch.
His scientific publications are riddled with transparent errors and extravagant claims like “finding breast cancer before it becomes cancer.”
One such nonsense paper is entitled, “Statistical Demonstration that FMTVDM is Superior to Mammography.” This paper Fleming et al 2019 was published in 2019 by Remedy Publishing’s non-indexed journal Annals of Clinical Radiology, and it purports to demonstrate statistically that Fleming’s proprietary and patented diagnostic test, FMTVDM, “is Superior to Mammography.” Unfortunately, the chi-squared calculation the authors claim to perform instead demonstrates that the authors don’t understand math:
X2 =[(77-111)2 ÷(111)]+[(142-0)2 ÷(0)]+[(34-0)2 ÷(0)]+[(747- 889)2 ÷(889)]=33.10
It contains, not one, but two, division by zero errors. As most middle-schoolers would know, it isn’t possible to divide by zero, yet the authors manage to present a table with results of these calculations.
It might be interesting for readers to note that Fleming has included some other co-authors on this paper, including last author, Dr. William C. Dooley, formerly with Johns Hopkins and now affiliated with Oklahoma University Health Science Center. Dooley appears to have co-authored about a dozen of these “papers” with Fleming, seeming to pad his CV with no apparent shame.
As a practicing breast cancer surgeon, it would be nice to hear more details about how Dooley uses the FMTVDM diagnostic method, given that he claims in this paper that it is a superior tool, and given his alarming inability to perform basic math. Unfortunately, I have thus far not received a response to my inquiry about this.
Readers might also find this PubPeer thread on one of the papers (Fleming et al 2017) co-authored by Fleming and Dooley interesting. In this thread, Dooley seems to respond with an attempt to distance himself from treating patients alongside Fleming, but post #27 notes that Dooley seems to have penned an endorsement of Fleming’s method, and post #31 includes a testimonial of a woman claiming to have been treated by Dooley at the University of Oklahoma using Fleming’s method. As Dooley (which Fleming’s old site called “one of the Best Cancer Surgeons in the USA”) doesn’t seem to have commented on either of those two posts, it is unclear whether Dooley still believes that Fleming’s method will “enable us to ERADICATE cancer,” as the endorsement states.
Note: Fleming’s old website is now offline, but portions seem preserved at the Internet Archive.
Concerns about expertise on COVID, vaccines, and related topics
I have never heard his explanation about why a former cardiologist can magically turn into an expert on virology or epidemiology. He originally studied internal medicine, then seems to have dropped out of his University of Texas cardiology fellowship (where they rated his clinical competence and professional judgment as “unsatisfactory” and his clinical judgment and availability and thoroughness in patient care as “inadequate”), then appears to have practiced cardiology for a bit. Since the early 2000s, he’s tried selling books on cardiac health and fad diets, he’s dabbled in breast cancer “research”, run a couple of apparently fraudulent clinical trials, and now he’s portraying himself as an expert on viruses… but that does not appear to ever have been his field of study.
He lost his licenses to practice medicine after his felony conviction and although in online videos he has claimed to have treated COVID patients, this does not seem likely, or if true, may even be illegal.
Another example of him attempting to confuse his followers by pretending to expertise that he doesn’t have: In many of his papers and talks he mentions the fact that he patented his proprietary measurement method, FMTVDM, as giving further proof of his expertise. That may sound good to a lay person, but the patent office does not test the utility or effectiveness of technologies or systems they issue patents for. Since Fleming has a JD, one can assume he’s aware of this and is assuming his listeners don’t.
Adult Film Actor
In addition to a stunted acting career (see IMDB link here and below), Dr. Fleming also appears to have pursued a career in adult films. Although this may not be a relevant factor to most people, I do wonder whether the religious audiences that Fleming has spoken to are aware of this chapter of his sordid tale, and it is seems an unconventional side gig for a researcher.
Fleming used to have a Twitter profile with the handle of @ExperiencedStud, “Actor and Doctor.” Although he has protested that the handle was a shortened version of “Experienced Student” the postings for this now deleted account suggest that the handle meant what it said and identifies the account as belonging to aspiring porn actor Fleming.
From what I can gather, he was using the @ExperiencedStud account to try to be cast in porn movies in 2016 and then started using the account to get cast in non-porn movies in 2017, while tweeting about his FMTVDM test along the way. He stopped using this Twitter account in 2017 and I stumbled across it by accident. After I brought it to his attention, he deleted the account and also claimed that the @ExperiencedStud account was hacked. While this is a common ploy for people whose past social media posts are now an embarassment, in Fleming’s case it is transparently untrue: the porn posts pre-date the non-porn posts, and the porn posts included Fleming’s real life contact information (not shown in my screen shots below).
Another legal dispute for Fleming apparently began when he responded to an ad for adult entertainers, and he seems to have represented himself as an “adult film actor and model” to these people:
In summary: So what? Does this ad hominem critique by some random internet person matter?
In my opinion, the information I’ve gathered here convincingly demonstrates that this man is simply not credible. He has a history of relentless self-promotion, shoddy science and medical skills, outright fraud, and fictitious credentials. Even if his views on COVID-19 and vaccines are 100% correct, he is just not a person I would believe on any subject, let alone as a reliable source for medical or scientific advice. If a lay person cannot find more credible sources to validate their views on COVID-19 than Dr. Fleming, I respectfully suggest that that person is just another gullible person who Fleming has conned.
Again, I encourage corrections of any errors (by Fleming or his supporters) and other feedback in the comments. It would be appreciated if any such corrections were accompanied by links to original sources. It is my intention to correct the article above as necessary.
- FBI archives: Omaha Division, 2009
- Court Listener: Fleming v United States
- Court Listener: United States v Fleming
- Court Listener: Fleming vs Health Science Ctr https://storage.courtlistener.com/recap/gov.uscourts.txsd.70329/gov.uscourts.txsd.70329.36.0.pdf
- Iowa Medical Board , 2017
- Retraction Watch, Nov 2018 (be sure to see his contributions in the comments)
- Fleming’s CV – redactions to remove personally identifiable information such as email address
- Ozone Therapies Group Predatory Conference (archived version)
- University of Northern Iowa, Spring Commencement Program, May 17, 1980
- University of Northern Iowa, Communique 2017 (archived version)
- Clinical Trials: NCT04349410
- PubPeer, search results (alternate spelling)
- Retraction Watch, May 2020 (see also his contributions in the comments)
- Fleming Heart & Health Institute (archived)
- Court Listener: Fleming v Sims (also here)