Archives for posts with tag: quackery


A BBC news report today reported that a woman in the US died from an attack of the measles. While the measles does not normally kill, a small percentage of people who get it can die; others will be left with serious health problems for the rest of their lives. If you are a rational person, measles is not something that you and your children should ever have to deal with.

Measles is one of the three diseases, along with Mumps and Rubella, that the MMR vaccine is effective in preventing. Vaccines like MMR act by priming the immune system with a weakened version of the virus. This allows your body to create antibodies, so that when the real disease comes around, the body is ready to defend itself. The mechanics of how vaccination works is not new: it was pretty much understood by the 1940s, and as the graph above shows, it has proven itself over and over again to be highly effective against the types of diseases that destroyed the lives of so many people throughout history.

The woman who died was immunocompromised, which means she was unable to take any vaccines because of a health condition. Small babies and people like this woman depend on vaccinated people to stay free from these diseases.

The choice to remain unvaccinated is therefore not a simple personal choice. If you or your children do not take vaccines, you put people such as this woman at greater risk of being exposed to the measles. While measles might be unpleasant for you, you could be directly harming their lives. This goes beyond personal choice. It makes you a menace to public health. Expect lawsuits to arise in this case against the people who put this woman’s life at risk by not vaccinating. If they had been more responsible, she would be alive today.

You will see a lot of websites, alternative practitioners and some celebrities preaching the benefits of not taking vaccinations. They are wrong. The studies they use to support their beliefs are poorly thought out, incomplete, and in a few high profile cases: fraudulent. They have confused the idea of personal choice with what is good for society at large. They condemn “big pharma” and the “sickness industry” while forgetting that executives and employees of these organisations get sick too. They talk about poisons while conveniently forgetting that almost everything is a poison – it’s the dosage that matters. They cherrypick from anecdotal information and they exaggerate the dangers in order to frighten parents of small children. Not one major medical organisation agrees with them. Not one. They are manifestly wrong and they are putting lives at risk.

Ultimately, vaccines are a lot safer than the diseases they prevent. Less than a hundred years ago, people used to die, routinely, from smallpox, tuberculosis, bubonic plague, cholera, polio, tetanus and diphteria to mention just a few. Nowadays nobody does, or at least they shouldn’t. The reason is vaccines. While there can be side-effects to taking vaccines, they are usually minor and transient.

If I could recommend one link to take a look at, it’s this one: it shows clearly the difference that vaccines made when they were introduced. The evidence could not be clearer than this.

Source: Wall Street Journal

Source: Wall Street Journal

The bottom line: if you are scared by all the scare stories out there, talk to your doctor. Vaccines are safe, effective and help save lives; not just yours, but others who need vaccinated people like you to keep them alive.

Other resources:

Lets’s face it. Cancer is shit. It makes its appearance at a random time in many people’s lives, turning normal lives into chaos, destroying families, cutting people off in their prime. It is no respecter of religion, IQ, gentility, accent or nationality. It just happens, and the result is devastation. No one is immune. Doctors, Pharmaceutical executives, Health gurus, Herbalists; all have suffered from it. The most powerful people in the world, the great executives, presidents and ministers: cancer sufferers and victims come from their ranks too.

It is the great problem of our age. Nobody yet has cracked all its codes. Progress towards cures have been painfully slow. The drugs used can have terrible side effects. Treatment can be drawn out, painful and dreadfully uncertain. People continue to die – in their millions. Its existence and intractability has motivated many a young person to pursue a career trying to do something about it. Theirs is a thankless, frustrating, yet honourable, life.

If you are there for people, giving freely of your time, offering words of kindness, love and encouragement, easing the burden however small, then I salute you. It’s these acts of humanity that inspire us all.

If, however, you declare that you have a cure, when it flies in the face of common knowledge; if you put peoples lives in your hands, manipulating their hopes with your sweet empty words; if you drain them of money while adopting the mantle of bruised martyr then the word ‘scumbag’ is yours to keep. You are truly beneath contempt.

Cancer is shit. It is too serious for words. Modern treatment is like a frontline battle in a war we continue to lose. Sufferers need patience, care and compassion, not some fly-by-night magic potion bereft of substance. Pretending that you have a cure and building a career off this pretence is practically the worst deceit imaginable. My wishes for such people? May your roads all contain potholes. May the wind punch you in the face. May you die roaring.

Today I came across a website dedicated to a young Irishwoman who has been fighting cancer throughout 2011. Hannah Bradley was diagnosed with brain cancer earlier this year, and since then she has been in and out of hospital, undergoing surgery and radiotherapy in an effort to keep the tumour at bay. It has truly been a terrible time for everyone involved.

Honestly, I cannot imagine how I would react if I were in such a position. When treatment options are limited, people are motivated to help as much as they can. There is clearly a strong desire to keep her alive, to not lose hope, and for this they must be commended. 

On Hannah’s website, the desired course of action is the clinic of Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski in Houston, Texas. Burzynski advertises treatments involving “antineoplastons”. These are molecules, so the claim goes, that attack cancerous cells, leaving healthy cells alone. Unfortunately, there is no proper scientific evidence that these treatments work, and Burzynski has not shared the data with the wider medical community in order for the treatments to be validated. Furthermore, his treatments have not been approved by US regulators. Burzynski is getting around this by presenting the treatments as experimental. This would possibly be ok, except for the surprisingly and stupendously high cost of such an experimental approach. The bottom line is that his clinic exists on the fringes of the medical world. Instead of working with scientists and oncologists to prove for once and for all whether his course of treatment is scientifically valid, he has rejected it all in favour of direct approaches to patients and the use of slick marketing and testimonials. Burzynski presents himself as the lone genius who has challenged the might of the medical establishment. This would be fine if he had properly controlled, peer reviewed evidence, but so far, he has not been able to provide this. The burden of proof clearly rests on his shoulders.

Over the past few weeks, challenges to Burzynski’s methods have been met by a barrage of legal threats from an individual who appears to be associated in some way with the clinic, including a personalised attack on a 17 year old blogger that beggars belief. This is not the right way to meet such challenges. The right way would be to provide the facts, and to let these facts speak for themselves.   

Hannah’s friends have clearly decided that Dr. Burzynski holds the keys to her recovery. Data is emerging throughout the Internet each day that this is not the case. I understand that Hannah’s team will feel that they have invested themselves on a course of action – that perhaps it is too late to change course – but for Hannah’s sake, they need to take this new information into account. It will make for very uncomfortable reading and there will be a natural tendency to rationalise it away as the product of some very mean and nasty individuals. The people who are presenting this information are not bad people. Many of them work closely with cancer sufferers, and many of them will have lost family and close friends to cancer. If Team Hannah were to reach out to some of these critics, I expect they would be listened to sympathetically and provided with second and third opinions. The question “what would you do?” can always be asked.

I know that the medical establishment can sometimes appear cold and arrogant. I know that there are limits to what is known and that doctors can sometimes give patients a message that they never want to hear. It is heartbreaking to have someone say “We can’t do any more”. The natural inclination is to say that they are not trying hard enough. Sometimes, perhaps they aren’t. But, no matter how inadequate doctors may seem, there is a world of a difference – a universe of a difference – between medical science and outright quackery. 

Cancer is shit. Real shit. It’s the plague of our times. Some day, hopefully, our children or grand children might look back on the world today and ask how we managed through it at all. The hard, thankless work of medical researchers will continue to push the frontiers forward. They have already accomplished wonders, but much more needs to be done. Given time, there will be enormous advances. Unfortunately for some, time is running out.

I wish Hannah the very best. I hope she can get through this nightmare of a year and emerge with this awful thing in remission. If her doctors can still help her, I hope they are doing everything within their powers to give her the best possible chances. I don’t know from her blog if the cancer has metastasised, whether chemotherapy has been tried or even if it is effective against such a cancer. If options within the medical literature are still available, then I expect they have already been seriously considered by all concerned. If options no longer seem to exist then yes, it’s heartbreaking. Being there, at such a time, possibly trumps doing something. I wish her the very best.


a) The False Hope of the Burzynski Clinic (Andy Lewis)

b) Stanislaw Burzynski: Bad medicine, a bad movie, and bad P.R. (David Gorski)

c) Antineoplastons (Skeptical Health)

d) Burzynski The Movie: Hitting you over the head with pseudoscience (Orac)

Matthias Rath is the kind of person you want to punch in the face.

goldacre-rathOver the past two decades, Rath has made it his business to play down the importance of anti-viral medication used in the treatment of HIV and AIDS and to promote the sale of his own vitamin pills instead. 

He has been very successful pushing this view. The government of South Africa listened to him and his ilk, and as a result, hundreds of thousands of people died because they did not get access to the right drugs. Hundreds of thousands of entirely preventable deaths. It’s sickening. 

Not only that, but this guy went after everyone who might think of criticising him: AIDS researchers, grassroots healthcare organisations in South Africa and, most recently, Ben Goldacre, the journalist behind the “Bad Science” column in the Guardian newspaper in the UK. 

Goldacre’s eponymous book “Bad Science” could not be published in full until the legal proceedings against him were out of the way. Now that the case has been settled with Rath withdrawing all charges, Goldacre has published the missing chapter, in full, for free, on the Internet. Have a read. It will make you sick to your stomach at what these people were up to.

%d bloggers like this: