Et tu, Lance?

Say it ain’t so!

Skeptics’ Circle host from earlier this year Rod Clark informs me that another celebrity has been sucked into maw of antivaccine propagandizing disguised as an autism charity. The one luring these celebrities in, of course, is that tireless, ever-Indigo campaigner against vaccines and for quackery Jenny McCarthy, flexing her D-list celebrity luster and snookering celebrities into supporting her antivaccine cause (unless, of course, that celebrity is Charlie Sheen, who’s already an antivaccine loon and thus requires no deception). First, it was Britney Spears, Hugh Hefner, and the Girls Next Door showing up at a Generation Rescue fundraiser. Next, appropriately enough, it was pro wrestling, with WWE holding a Saturday Night Main Event to raise money for Generation Rescue. After those two events, the next question was obvious: Who would be next to fall for the false packaging of antivaccine activism as doing research about autism?

Answer: Lance Armstrong, who’s hosting a poker tournament Ante Up for Autism with Jenny McCarthy to benefit the equally quack-friendly and antivaccine “autism charity” Talk About Curing Autism (TACA).

The sight of Lance Armstrong, who arguably more than any other celebrity I can think of owes his very life to science and scientific medicine, pairing with a celebrity so dedicated to antiscience and the promotion of antivaccination lies and autism quackery, is a jarring one. After all, Armstrong had stage IV testicular cancer, with metastatic spread to lungs, abdomen and brain. He underwent surgery and chemotherapy, choosing a nonstandard chemotherapy in order to avoid the lung toxicity associated with bleomycin, which is part of what was at the time the standard regimen for testicular cancer. Even though his odds of survival were far less than 50-50, he not only survived but managed to resurrect his cycling career to become one of the most successful cyclists of all time, winning the Tour de France seven times. Science saved him, and gave his will the opportunity to drive him to be a winner again. Without scientific medicine, no seven Tour de France victories, just an athlete tragically cut down in the prime of his life by cancer as testicular cancer is wont to do given that it tends to be more common in younger men.

On the other hand, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, since Armstrong has fallen pretty deeply into supplement and energy drink woo. He’s best known for hawking an “antioxidant energy drink” known as FRS, which appears to be nothing more than what all those other “energy drinks” are: a bunch of supplements and vitamins, including quercetin (an antioxidant) and a whole lot of caffeine. As with virtually all energy drinks, the “science” supporting it is usually vague, based on studies that aren’t really applicable to the claim being made, and, of course, no direct clinical evidence from well-designed clinical trials supporting the claims made. Particularly amusing is this claim in the FAQ about caffeine in FRS that it serves as a “metabolic enhancer to help the body absorb other ingredients.” There’s also the ubiquitous and meaningless claim that it “supports the immune system.” Regardless of the dubiousness of the claims for FRS (and for all “energy drinks,” for that matter), Armstrong’s endorsement has paid big dividends for what was a small startup company.

Come to think of it, maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised that Lance Armstrong would fall for all the woo promoted by Jenny McCarthy and TACA after all.