A preparation made from shark liver oil called Ecomer is touted as a cancer remedy. Promoters claim that it inhibits tumor growth and strengthens the immune system. Research done in Sweden is usually cited as evidence for Ecomer's value. Correspondence with the Karolinska Institute reveals that tumor inhibition reported earlier has not been confirmed and that permission of the National Swedish Board of Health and Welfare to use Ecomer as a "natural product" has been withdrawn due to a suspicion on negative effects of the treatment.
Multiple sclerosis sufferers are informed in the summer, 1991, issue of Inside MS that mercury amalgam dental fillings do not threaten their health. The article explains how MS sufferers who gave testimonials could have been misled into believing that amalgam replacement had been of value to them. It is also revealed that CBS's 60 Minutes was sent a letter by Accuracy in the Media, Inc., a news media watchdog group, expressing its concern over the lack of balance in its report on dental mercury in December, 1990.
"Junk science in the courtroom," (Forbes 7/8/91) describes the problem of judges allowing cranks and quacks to pollute the legal process by appearing as "expert witnesses." Citing cases in which information lacking a true basis has been permitted as scientific testimony, the author points to billions of dollars that are being wasted. Many of the instances cited are familiar to NCAHF. The self-proclaimed psychic who claimed that she lost her psychic powers after a hit on the head. Numerous cases involve "clinical ecologists" who help get big dollar settlements for people complaining of injury by industrial contaminants. The campaign by Scientologists against Prozac is mentioned as a situation in which Scientologists are at war with all conventional forms of psychotherapy because they offer a competing program called "Dianetics." Some cases involve alleged auto defects such as the mysteriously accelerating Audi 5000s, but the principle is the same. The media play a major role in the problem by boosting the stories. The author argues for the need to differentiate between the idiosyncratic opinions of individuals and the consensus of science on an issue. Of course, it is no simple matter to decide how to differentiate between science and pseudoscience, but the author offers some help. One solution is to require professional publications to support a viewpoint. Also, governmental agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control, Surgeon General's office, or FDA can serve as authoritative sources. The historical problem of the abuse of authority is less today than in the prescientific past. He says that it is possible to differentiate between fact and opinion, tentative findings and that which is reasonably established. This is an important discussion that would be of interest to people concerned either about the impact of pseudoscience on the justice system, or how to separate truth and fiction.
In the July-August, 1990 NCAHF Newsletter we reported the death of 17-month-old Lorie Atikian, a Canadian child who succumbed to malnutrition and pneumonia because her mother became enthralled with the teachings and practices of an herbalist. The parents were convicted of failing to provide the necessities of life and sentenced to more than two years in prison. We opined at that time that justice would have been better served if the herbalist had been charged with "murder for words alone" because it was his cult-like influence which caused the parents to act as they did. The parents were recently retried after an appellate overturned their original conviction. Their defense attorney argued that the "wrong man" was in the defendant's box in this case. Defense attorney David McCombs said in his summation that Mr. Hanswille, the herbalist, was "able to persuade, bully, frighten and threaten hundreds of people." "People were made to feel stupid. They became frightened. It was part of a slow and insidious process that is ultimately so powerful." Others testified about Hanswille's influence. A diabetic woman nearly died when Hanswille convinced her to stop taking insulin. She dropped from 130 to 88 lbs before being hospitalized. Another told of her cancer patient father who maintained his faith in Hanswille as his condition worsened. Hanswille convinced him that the discharge from his cancerous lesion was merely "the radiation coming out." The jury could not decide a verdict and the couple will most likely be tried a third time in this sad affair. NCAHF has provided assistance to the defense because we believe that the real crime in this case involved quackery by the herbalist, and that the primary victims were the parents. Poor little Lorie was a casualty of the crime. (Information taken from reports in The Globe and Mail, 9/9/91).
On Sept. 2, a Brownsville, Texas, jury found Jimmy Keller guilty of 11 counts of wire fraud in connection with his activities while operating a cancer clinic in Matamoros, Mexico for nine months in 1983. Keller had fled prosecution following his 1984 indictment and ended up in Tijuana where he operated St. Judes Clinic for seven years. Keller was arrested in March when Mexico police turned him over to U.S. authorities. Keller's trial contained the theatrics typical of those of the purveyors of quackery:
Doublespeak. Keller insists that he never used the word "cure" while witnesses testified that he claimed an 80% cure rate.
Pseudoscience. Two professors, Lance Bruner a music teacher from the University of Kentucky and William Tiller of Stanford testified about the possible validity of radionics, a theory that subtle vibrations can be read for diagnosis and energies transmitted for healing by electronic devices and pendulums. The profs speculate about quantum physics and how Galileo was misunderstood in the past. The claim that the subtle energies are alleged to be present on photographs which may be used to send treatments over distance must have been too much for the jury to swallow.
Testimonials. A few former patients praised Keller for having saved their lives. Others claimed that his cure would have worked but they didn't comply with all of Keller's instructions. An FBI investigation of patients who have given testimonials for Keller in the past found that 47% were dead, and 30% never had cancer or were not actually treated by Keller. Of the 24% still alive, all had received conventional treatment or still had their diseases but were surviving. Cancer testimonials are always selective -- those who beat the odds may credit whatever they please for their good fortune. It is not surprising to find them crediting a quack because of the ability they have of instilling confidence. Keller is to be sentenced on Oct. 9.
Comment: The Keller case reveals a more effective way to prosecute quackery, namely by employing statutes against wire fraud. Cancer quackery is now the most highly organized and sophisticated application of the social vice yet seen. Referral agencies in the U.S. which pose as patient advocate groups lobbying for "freedom of choice" are the point-men for the quack clinics. The agencies hide behind freedom of speech as they spread their lies and promote quackery. However, the framers of the Constitution did not intend that freedom of speech become a license to steal and kill. People can be prosecuted for making false claims using interstate communications. Organized cancer quackery is currently engaging in fraud against insurance companies as well as individuals in its well organized operations. Hopefully, law enforcers will take notice and use anti-fraud statutes to bring to justice the purveyors of quackery.
Just about all that is known about CFS is reported in a review by Shafran in The American Journal of Medicine, June, 1991 (90:730-739). The article presents a historical perspective, what is known about the pathogenesis (infection, immunologic considerations, psychologic considerations, myopathy, and physical deconditioning), relationship to other disorders, epidemiology, diagnosis, treatment, prognosis and future directions. CFS is commonly misdiagnosed and sufferers are often the targets of quackery. This article is an excellent primer on CFS. (Due to its length, readers who want a photocopy should double-stamp their SSAE's and send $2 for handling).`
An evaluation of 51 controlled clinical studies of the effectiveness of acupuncture in chronic pain using a list of 18 predefined methodological criteria (ie, meta-analysis) came up with findings which are consistent with NCAHF's position on the topic. Researchers stated: "The quality of even the better studies proved to be mediocre. No study earned more than 62% of the maximum score. The results from better studies are highly contradictory. The efficacy of acupuncture in the treatment of chronic pain remains doubtful." (J Clin Epidemiology. 43:1191-99, 1990).
According to a SAIF Corporation Interoffice Memo (5/20/91), the impact of its reforms have been dramatic -- 42% fewer services were billed and 11% less was paid out; further, had established trends continued they could have expected a substantial increase without reforms. Most remarkable was the decrease in chiropractic costs: 63% decrease in the number of services billed, and a 60.7% in dollar charges. Physical therapist savings were next greatest (26% and 21.3% respectively). MD & DO costs changed the least (9%/4.7% & 2%/6.8%). These and other data are reported in Workers' Compensation Reform Comparisons, a 4-page report available from NCAHF; send $3 and SSAE.
Comment: The NCAHF Task Force on Chiropractic finds these figures extremely interesting. The only area in which chiropractors (DCs) have documented some measurable performance is in workmen's compensation. Readers will see advertising in national magazines by DC groups boasting of their superiority in this field. However, the studies cited are not only highly selective, they tend to be old studies (they also are not controlled which allows for important inequities). Newer studies have often found DCs more expensive. DCs often overtreat, and some practices have strongly suggested fraud. Oregon become fed up with DC abuses and instituted reforms in 1989. The savings reported in the above memo may pose a fundamental problem for the DC guild. With workmen's compensation a major source of DC income, a reduction would reduce the number of DCs the marketplace can support; this would impact chiropractic's proprietary education system, and its political clout. Despite pragmatic evidence of clinical value, many feel that DCs overtreat and would like to control costs. Oregon's reforms may have far-reaching effects greater than anything in recent history.
A hearing was held on July 18 on "Problems with FDA's Regulation of the Dietary Supplement L-Tryptophan" by the Human Resources and Intergovernmental Relations Subcommittee of the House Committee on Government Operations. In his opening remarks, Chairman Ted Weiss said, "Millions of Americans have used the dietary supplement L-tryptophan to treat a variety of conditions, including insomnia, depression, and premenstrual syndrome. These consumers were led to assume that L-tryptophan was both legal and safe. They were misled." Weiss described the appearance of Eosinophilia-Myalgia Syndrome (EMS) and the "dozens of deaths and thousands of injuries" it has caused. He said, "As early as 1973, FDA knew there were serious risks associated with L-tryptophan, including growth retardation and organ degeneration. Although FDA ruled the product illegal, it did little to thwart the growing sales and promotion of L-tryptophan as a dietary supplement." He pointed out that in 1985 Canada made L-tryptophan available only as a prescription drug. Consequently, there were only 11 EMS cases there, and 10 of them bought the product in the US. The moving accounts of how EMS has impacted their personal lives were given by 3 sufferers. These were followed by expert testimony on the substance and EMS. The report may be obtained from the Committee which is located in Room B-372, Rayburn House Bldg, Washington, DC 20515.
One of history's pivotal events, the 1917 Russian revolution, led to the growth of Marxism worldwide. A prime cause of that revolution involved a case of hemophilia and the activities of a faith healing quack. Nicholas II and Alexandra Romanov, Russia's last royal couple, had lost close relatives to hemophilia. Alexandra was desperate for the safety of Alexis, her only son, for the smallest bump could induce fatal bleeding. She put him in padded suits and padded the trees in places where he played. After seeing the boy on death's doorstep many times, Alexandra lost faith in doctors and turned to faith healers. When Alexis suffered a particularly bad case of internal bleeding, Alexandra sent for a Siberian peasant rumored to have miraculous powers, Gregory Rasputin. Reportedly, Rasputin came to the sick boy's bedside and prayed. Shortly thereafter, the bleeding stopped. After that, whenever Alexis became ill, Rasputin was summoned to pray and lay hands upon him. It is said that Rasputin once "cured" the boy from a distance by sending a telegram and praying so fervently that he almost passed out. Some court observers thought the peasant healer stopped Alexis' bleeding through hypnosis. It has also been noted that Rasputin's healing visits always came a few days after Alexis' injuries, so the bleeding may have stopped on its own. In any case, Alexandra firmly believed that her son's life rested in Rasputin's hands.
Rasputin also talked Nicholas out of his terrible headaches--often over the telephone. Whatever his methods, Rasputin completely ingratiated himself with Russia's ruling couple and became a royal confidant. Eventually, Nicholas and Alexandra insisted upon Rasputin's help with affairs of state. In 1905, a partial revolution had resulted in the Duma, a parliament, but during World War I, the royal family, goaded on by Rasputin, refused to establish another Duma. Worse, Rasputin had an immense sexual appetite and was said to have seduced cooks, maids and other workers at court. Eventually, a rumor circulated that Rasputin had taken up with the Queen and was the power ruling Russia. Citizens were outraged and more encouraged to overthrow the monarchy. In 1916, a few desperate nobles assassinated Rasputin but the damage had been done. The scandal helped fuel the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. Alexander Kerensky, a Russian politician of the era, observed: "If there had been no Rasputin, there would have been no Lenin."
On Sept. 16, TV viewers in the Los Angeles area were assailed by an exceptional presentation of health and nutrition misinformation on KCET, the PBS channel--which I have dubbed "Chicken Little Broadcasting, Inc." because of its penchant for airing apocalyptic environmentalism shows. The program was an infomercial for vegetarian evangelist John Robbins. Video cassettes of the show were advertised for $19.95. Don't be surprised if some of them end up in classrooms across the country. A rather underfed-looking Robbins was shown preaching his gospel to a group of devotees. He described his rejection of the family fortune (Baskin-Robbins) and his 8-year hippie-like existence on a British Columbia island where he found his new consciousness. His story sounded like a classic case of "gagging on one's inborn silver spoon," a condition characterized by a feeling of low-esteem borne from a realization that one's privileged life is unearned. Such people have an admirable need to make their own mark in life. It is less admirable that such people have a need to succeed beyond their forbearers which sometimes leads them to messianic missions. Robbins' self-imposed mission is to remake America according to a set of values that combines radical vegetarianism, animal rights activism, and environmental extremism.
The program presented more distortions than limited space can cover. But, for instance, Dr. Klapper, an anesthesiologist, who also looked underfed to me, showed a blood sample of a pre-surgical patient and claimed that the phospholipids in the test tube were the fats derived from a cheeseburger and milkshake eaten that night. In fact, the blood of a genetically hypercholesterolemic vegetarian would have had the same appearance. Klapper was shown in a schoolroom presenting discredited theories on the greater efficiency of eating feed-grains rather than using them to raise food-animals. In reality, even in underdeveloped nations animals are part of efficient food production. They graze on pasturelands unsuitable for agriculture and eat plant-parts that humans cannot (see Spitzer. No Need For Hunger, Danville, IL: Interstate, 1981). Developed nations enjoy such land surpluses and production abilities that the food-raising efficiency espoused by Klapper would be an exercise in self-denial.
John McDougall, MD, who revealed his radical vegetarian views in his book The McDougall Plan for Super Health and Life-Long Weight Loss, unfairly attacked the USDA 4-Basic Food Group nutrition guide (4BFG) as responsible for the plight of overindulgent people who eat bacon and eggs for breakfast, hamburgers for lunch and steak for supper. In truth, such eating patterns are inconsistent with the 4BFG guidelines and would be discouraged by any preventive medicine specialist. Further, the 4BFG guide provides for vegetarian diets. The so-called "meat" group is actually a protein group that includes vegetable sources.
Colin Campbell, PhD, who did a survey of Chinese dietary intakes, also appeared. I have long questioned Campbell's objectivity when it comes to the importance of diet and disease, and predicted that his China data would simply be used to support his known biases. He didn't disappoint me. Campbell focused on the low rates of certain diseases found in the USA without pointing out that the more important statistic of life expectancy in China is only 66 years compared to the USA's 75 years (Population Reference Bureau, 1988). Campbell's pictures showing throngs of Chinese walking everywhere, and others with a small truck load of goods on the bicycles they were peddling, betrayed his emphasis on diet as the factor mostly responsible for lower heart disease rates. Campbell is a spokesman for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine discussed by Victor Herbert in the July-August, 1991, NCAHF Newsletter. Campbell was Scientific Director of the American Institute for Cancer Research which has been criticized for it fund-raising methods, a dubious diet and breast cancer survey, and for funding questionable cancer projects.
The broadcast not only misrepresented worst-case scenarios as the norm, but exploited popular, albeit unwarranted, fears about antibiotic and pesticide residues in foods. This distorted picture was driven by emotional pleas about calves raised for veal and chickens crowded together in cages. Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of this overstatement is that some of the issues addressed have merit -- sensible vegetarianism is a sound way to eat (as I myself largely do); many people do overeat to the detriment of their health, and would benefit from a moderate diet, but this does not mean that everyone has to become vegetarians; society does need to be vigilant about the mistreatment of animals; and, agriculture needs to continue its efforts at properly managing the environment; but, just as zealots discredited vegetarianism in the 19th Century, this approach may stigmatize these worthwhile issues as inseparable from radicalism. Many worthy ideas have suffered more from the zealotry of their supporters than from their detractors.