The (not-so-)Beautiful (un)Truth: The “alternative” medicine movement gets an Expelled! to call its very own

The Beautiful Truth

The things I do for my readers.

I’m referring to a movie entitled The Beautiful Truth, links to whose website and trailers several of you have e-mailed to me over the last couple of weeks. Maybe it’s because the movie is only showing in New York and Los Angeles and hasn’t made it out of the media enclaves of those cities out to the rest of us in flyover country, or maybe its release is so limited that I just hadn’t heard of it. Certainly that appears to be the case, as the schedule shown at the website lists it as beginning an engagement in New York tomorrow and running through November 20 at the Quad Cinema on 13th Street and in Los Angeles in from November 26 to December 4. What this movie reminds me of, more than anything else, is Ben Stein’s pseudoscience- and lie-filled bit of “intelligent design” creationism propaganda, Expelled!

It does have a rather slick website, however, not to mention a lot of trailers and clips from the movie.

These trailers and clips make it quite obvious that The Beautiful Truth is nothing less than a paean to cancer quackery in much the same way that Expelled! was a paean to “intelligent design” creationism. Specifically, it’s a paean to the quackery known as the Gerson therapy, mixed in with a veritable cornucopia of woo. If the dozen or so clips on the website and YouTube are any indication, this movie is nothing less than a tour into the dark heart of American quackery led by a credulous guide who has drunk deeply from the Kool Aid on sites like Whale.to, NaturalNews.com, and Mercola.com. Just as Expelled! claims that academics are “suppressing” any criticism of “Darwinism” or research into “intelligent design,” The Beautiful Truth postulates a grand suppression of this “alternative” cure for cancer that “they” don’t want you to know about. The movie is described thusly:

Garrett is a 15-year old boy living in the Alaskan wilderness with a menagerie of orphaned animals. Growing up close with nature has given him a deep understanding of nutritional needs required by diet sensitive animals on the reserve. Unfortunately, the untimely and tragic death of his mother propelled him into a downward spiral and he risked flunking out of school. This led to his father’s decision to home-school Garrett. His first assignment was to study a controversial book written by Dr. Max Gerson.

Geez, doesn’t this sound like a Jack Chick tract? You know, the kind where after a tragedy a troubled youth rejects Jesus and falls into a pit of despair, complete with substance abuse, bad grades, and falling in with the “wrong” crowd. Then, usually, someone shows the troubled youth the Bible and tells him all about Jesus again, and he is saved. This movie sounds exactly like this, except with “alternative” medicine being the savior and Max Gerson providing the “miracles.” This is not surprising, because so much of “alternative” medicine is more like religion than anything else–and a cult religion at that. No amount of evidence or science deters its adherents. But, if you really, believe, the Messiah Max Gerson will cure you–yes, you!–of your cancer, no matter how advanced:

Written over 50 years ago, Dr. Gerson found that diet could, and did, cure cancer. Controversial at the time (and even today), Garrett took on the challenge of researching this amazing therapy, which drew the interest of his neighbors in the small Alaskan community. With the help of Dr. Gerson’s daughter, Charlotte Gerson, and grandson, Howard Strauss, they gave him the ammunition needed to go in search for the truth – a truth that would affect not only him, but his entire Alaskan village – all of whom wanted to know if these claims were true. After a number of cancer patients, who were diagnosed as terminal, shared their stories and their medical records with Garrett, it became abundantly clear that, contrary to the disinformation campaign spear-headed by the multi-billion dollar medical and pharmaceutical industry, a cure for virtually all cancers and chronic diseases does exist – and has existed for over 80 years!

Of course it has. It always has. At least if you listen to people like Mike Adams. I wonder if he had a hand in this movie. According to the press kit, at least, he didn’t. Of course, if you believe purveyors of many, many forms of quackery, there is always a cure for cancer out there that big pharma and the government have been “suppressing” because–well, it’s never entirely clear exactly why they would do this. These cancer “cures” end up being either the world’s most well-kept conspiracy (after all, I’m cancer research and I’ve never heard of such an amazing cure) or the worst kept (after all, filmmakers like Steve Kroschel, writer, producer, and director of The Beautiful Truth, seem to have no problem finding out about it).

None of these claims makes much sense on a strictly logical basis, either. Think about it this way: So many people die of cancer every year that virtually every person in developed countries, doctors and cancer researchers–and, yes, even big pharma executives–included, have known, know, or will know someone with cancer, and many have seen or will see someone they love die of cancer. Certainly I have. In fact, our family is dealing right now with cancer. Indeed, because cancer kills so many people, many of these very same doctors and researchers will end up battling the disease at some point in their lives, and many of them will end up dying of it themselves. I might even end up dying of cancer someday. Does it make any sort of sense logically that every single one of them would dismiss or conspire to suppress (or participate in a conspiracy or even “business as usual” to suppress) such an amazingly effective cure, if it really existed? No, it does not. Someone would talk, probably a lot of people. Again, I happen to have a close family member with cancer right now, and, I assure you, if such a cure existed, I would make damned sure that family member got it, no matter what it was, and if it truly worked as advertised I would make sure everyone else knew about it too.

Garrett’s mission now is to tell the world.

Of course it is. It always is. Because he’s been converted and is now an evangelist.

Let’s review a bit about just what the Gerson therapy is. It’s a so-called “nutritional” therapy for cancer that involves large quantities of fruit and vegetable juices, raw liver, and “detoxification” with frequent coffee enemas. Indeed, the Gerson protocol was a precursor to the more commonly discussed and now more famous Gonzalez protocol (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). Grafted onto the therapy by his daughter Charlotte since Max Gerson’s death are other forms of woo, such as liver extract injections, ozone enemas, “live cell therapy,” thyroid tablets, castor oil enemas, clay packs, laetrile, and “vaccines” made from influenza virus and killed Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. Gerson’s “evidence” in the form of his case series was examined by the National Cancer Institute back in the 1950s, and this is what was found:

In 1947, the NCI reviewed ten cases selected by Dr. Gerson and found his report unconvincing. That same year, a committee appointed by the New York County Medical Society reviewed records of 86 patients, examined ten patients, and found no evidence that the Gerson method had value in treating cancer. An NCI analysis of Dr. Gerson’s book A Cancer Therapy: Results of Fifty Cases concluded in 1959 that most of the cases failed to meet the criteria (such as histologic verification of cancer) for proper evaluation of a cancer case [16]. A recent review of the Gerson treatment rationale concluded: (a) the “poisons” Gerson claimed to be present in processed foods have never been identified, (b) frequent coffee enemas have never been shown to mobilize and remove poisons from the liver and intestines of cancer patients, (c) there is no evidence that any such poisons are related to the onset of cancer, (d) there is no evidence that a “healing” inflammatory reaction exists that can seek out and kill cancer cells [17].

And:

Charlotte Gerson claims that treatment at the clinic has produced high cure rates for many cancers. In 1986, however, investigators learned that patients were not monitored after they left the facility [19]. Although clinic personnel later said they would follow their patients systematically, there is no published evidence that they have done so. A naturopath who visited the Gerson Clinic in 1983 was able to track 21 patients over a 5-year period (or until death) through annual letters or phone calls. At the 5-year mark, only one was still alive (but not cancer-free); the rest had succumbed to their cancer [20].

Which is exactly as would be expected if one followed 21 patients with advanced cancer who were getting zero effective treatment.

Of course, this is where this movie starts out with its conspiracy-mongering. Indeed, here’s its account of what happened to a reporter in the 1940s after reporting on Gerson’s claims:

And an interview with Gerson from 1957 in which he claims so many patients that “you” (meaning doctors) had “sent home to die” whom he “cured”:

Get a load of this trailer as well. It’s got it all, including a question along the lines of, “If your doctor knew of a cure for cancer that didn’t require expensive drugs, he would tell you, wouldn’t he?” In the typical “science has been wrong before” combined with “doctors will say anything if they’re paid enough” gambit, there are also the obligatory excerpts from cigarette ads from the 1940s and 1950s asking “What cigarette do you smoke, doctor?” Then there’s a woman who I assume is Charlotte Gerson ranting about how doctors can’t afford to let patients see “alternative” doctors because they cure people and about how people have been “so brainwashed for so long.” In other words, it’s the same, tired old propaganda that so many quacks have been claiming for so long, propaganda that the esteemed director of this film seems perfectly predisposed to believe, as he appears not to have an ounce of skepticism in him, at least if his Director’s Statement is any indication:

I have worked with injured and orphaned wild animals and have been moved by the rcovery of wildlife from illness and disease by the nutritional therapies that I used. So when I was introduced to the work of Dr. Max Gerson on human nutrition by an associate, I wanted to investigate these amazing claims. I was startled by these discovereds, and, frankly, it has changed my life–especially when I was able to meet the people who should have been dead due to terminal cancer.

Since I am a filmmaker, I wanted to meet Dr. Gerson’s family and do a short film for charity. The fallout from that earlier work was so controversial, far-reaching, yet uplifting; I decided to make a feature length film.

I’ve spoken with hundreds of people about Gerson’s therapy and many people related their recovers, their skepticism and bias–most of which came from the medical community. But what I quickly found out that those who dismissed the therapy did not have conclusive evidence that it didn’t work. In doing more investigation, it quickly became evident that an almost criminal set of priorities has been in play when it comes to treating human disease.

In other words, Steve Kroschel is a credulous woo who hasn’t the slightest clue how to evaluate scientific evidence relating to the efficacy of a cancer therapy (or any therapy, for that matter) and how scientists and doctors determine whether any given therapy has any activity against cancer. He’s a clueless wonder. In fact, he’s so credulous and woo-loving that the Gerson therapy and cancer aren’t enough for him. And, holy guacamole, he descends to the same level as Ben Stein did in Expelled! in an anti-fluoridation segment that’s complete with images of Hitler and his concentration camps, along with claims that Hitler wanted to use sodium fluoride to sterilize people:

Calling Mr. Godwin! Your presence is requested in the movie theater immediately!

Kroschel also delves into full-on dental amalgam quackery. The deconstruction of this particular form of “alt-med” is beyond the scope of this post, but suffice it to say that there is a widespread and paranoid belief that somehow the mercury in dental amalgams is causing all sorts of horrific health problems, much the same way that the mercury militia thinks that mercury in vaccines causes autism:

Oh. My. God.

There’s a segment of the dreaded “smoking tooth” video, which in reality caught nothing more than water vapor. It’s one of the most hilariously, mind-numbingly stupid bits of extravagant quackery that I’ve ever seen and always good for a hearty belly laugh whenever I watch it, but Kroschel actually seems to think that it’s evidence of something more than the video maker’s utter credulity. Truly, the stupid does burn hot enough to vaporize not just amalgam (which it wouldn’t be all that hot to do) but to vaporize whatever wisp of intelligence the viewer might wish to hold onto–the Stupid-O-Meter cranked up to 11 and beyond!

As hilarious as the dreaded “smoking tooth” clip is, my favorite segment is this next clip. Really, if you can, you just have to watch this one. You won’t regret it:

I couldn’t stop laughing after I watched this clip. If the amalgam clip represented the Stupid-O-Meter cranked up to 11, the clip above about how cooked food is “dead” had to have cranked it up to at least 20 or 30. Seriously, look at it. Two pictures are shown, one of cooked and another of uncooked baby carrot. As the narrator says, “The uncooked carrot has a startling line of strong energy” that–surprise, surprise!–the cooked carrot lacks. The conclusion? Pasteurized food is “dead,” apparently just like the parrot in a certain famous Monty Python sketch and Steve Kroschel’s brain. Now, whatever negative nutritional changes that may come about in food from cooking, which may break down some nutrients, this sort of nonsense is simply nothing more than primitive vitalism, a claim that somehow it’s better to eat “live” food, as if we can somehow absorb its life force by eating it. It also looks no different than the hilarious quackery of “aura” cameras for humans.

Unfortunately, there isn’t any information about all the cancer patients “cured” with Gerson therapy, but let me make a prediction. There will be the usual stories of “being sent home to die” by their oncologists, only to be “saved” by Gerson or his daughter. Most importantly, though, in not a single one of the testimonials in the movie will there be sufficient detail or evidence presented to allow one to draw any reliable or convincing conclusions whatsoever regarding whether the Gerson therapy, in fact, cured the patient’s cancer. (There never is.) Key information will be missing from each and every such testimonial. (It always is.) Call me psychic if you want, but I’ve seen enough testimonials to know what to expect without even having to watch the movie. Indeed, one review, although too credulous by far about the claims that Max Gerson cured anyone of cancer, contains a passage that nonetheless strikes me as just right based on the clips I’ve observed:

Actually, it’s Kroschel who seems to be provoking the investigation, using Garrett as a passive prop to push Gerson’s agenda–the nearly mute kid spends most of the film getting talked at by cancer survivors and scientists who tell him how evil the mainstream medical community is. Kroschel positions The Beautiful Truth as a sort of instructional video for young people on the merits of eating healthy, but its creepy messianic vibe is far more toxic than all the pollutants in all the processed food you could ever consume.

So is the sheer quackery evident from just the clips available on the web.

Here’s one good thing, though, for those of you living in New York and L.A. In New York after one show each day, there will be a question-and-answer session with Howard Straus, son of Max Gerson, and the moviemakers. In L.A., it’s even better. After some shows over the Thanksgiving weekend, there will be Howard Straus, Charlotte Gerson, and Polly Emery. The NYC event sure sounds like an event that the NYC Skeptics might want to crash and report back, and if there’s anyone in L.A. who wants to crash the party there, that would be cool, too. Certainly I’ll link to any reports or reviews that any skeptic who’s seen the movie wishes to post. There’s also the movie’s blog (of course!), and it’s soliciting comments. After all, the blog states:

We will ask director Steve Kroschel, his son Garrett (who is featured in the film), Charlotte Gerson (founder of the Gerson Institute), author/publisher Howard Straus and Anita Wilson (Executive Director, Gerson Institute) to help monitor and reply to your comments.

How can you resist?

The more I look at the trailer for the movie and its clips, the more appropriate I think the comparison to Expelled! is. All the elements are there: Pseudoscience. Check. A scientific orthodoxy supposedly so blinded by greed and ideology that they can’t accept that Max Gerson “cured” cancer and treat it as a challenge to their medical hegemony, just as in the eyes of ID creationists those evil “Darwinists” supposedly can’t stand challenges to “Darwinism” and treat them as a challenge to their scientific hegemony. Check. And, of course, we have at least one Godwin-worthy gratuitous comparison to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, possibly more. Check. True, Expelled! has many, but I’ve only seen a few clips of The Beautiful Truth. However, from these clips and the descriptions of the movie on its website, it seems to me that all The Beautiful Truth lacks is Ben Stein in an Angus Young-style British schoolboy shorts walking up to oncologists and hospitals with a bullhorn or, sans schoolboy pants, looking deeply contemplative and horrified at the ruins of Dachau or Auschwitz.

I suppose we can be grateful for that little mercy, at least, although it is profoundly creepy the way that Kroschel uses his son as the vessel into which he pours his agenda.