“Opposing views”: Cancer quackery versus…HIV/AIDS denialism

Since when did Opposing Views become NaturalNews.com?

Anyone who’s read this blog for a while knows that NaturalNews.com is one of the wretchedest hives of scum and quackery anywhere on the Internet, surpassing even The Huffington Post. Indeed, so full of misinformation, pseudoscience, quackery, and outright lies, all spiced up with a heapin’ helpin’ of pure New World Order, Alex Jones-style winguttery is NaturalNews.com that I’m hard-pressed to think of a website that is more of a black hole of utter nonsense. Whale.to, maybe.

So why do I compare Opposing Views to NaturalNews.com? Is that just a bit of Orac-style hyperbole used for dramatic effect? Maybe just a little in this case, but maybe not, as you’ll see once I apply my particular brand of not-so-Respectful Insolence to an article that appeared on Opposing Views just the other day. Opposing Views is all about what you probably think it it is about:

Founded in 2008 and based in Los Angeles, Opposing Views is a multi-dimensional media site that publishes original journalism and opinion along with work from experts around the world. OV also encourages its user base to publish work and engage in discussing the topics of the day.

The goal behind OV is simple and straightforward: Give everyone — no matter their political leaning — a chance to be heard on the issues they care deeply about. Since its first day of operations, Opposing Views has grown in size and scope.

From the very beginning, I never much liked OV. The reason, as you might imagine, is that it is a website that is founded upon the concept of “balance.” Now, balance is a perfectly fine concept–admirable, even–when applied to politics and other topics primarily about ideology or opinion. For such issues, it’s a noble thing to have an even-sided debate. Unfortunately, OV also applies that very same philosophy to science and medicine. That is not to say that debates don’t happen in science and medicine or that it’s not a useful exercise to have such debates. It can be when the the two sides have a roughly similar base of data and experimentation to support them.

However, there are some issues in science where the answer has, for all intents and purposes, been settled. Evolution is one example. Although there are lots of controversies about how evolution happens, what mechanisms regulate it and in what proportion (natural selection versus drift versus sexual selection, etc.), as Steve Novella put it, there is a mountain of evidence from paleontology, developmental biology, genetics, anatomy, biochemistry and other disciplines that support the core fact of evolution, namely common descent. Nor is there a competing scientific theory that even comes close to the explanatory and predictive power of evolution. There are other examples as well. For instance, the evidence supporting the safety and efficacy of vaccines is overwhelming, as is the evidence that is consistent with no correlation between vaccination and autism. Some other examples of areas where the current scientific consensus is supported by overwhelming evidence include anthropogenic global warming, the theory of relativity, and large areas of biology. OV, unfortunately, apparently doesn’t understand that, which is why some howlers of articles have appeared there, up to and including “debates” over whether vaccines cause autism.

One such area is cancer. While it is true that there is much that we do not know and that cures for various cancers are frustratingly lacking, we do know a lot about the biology of cancer, so much so that I know that an article that appeared in OV, Other Ways to Treat Cancer Besides Chemotherapy & Radiation is a pair of stinking, slimy, fetid dingo’s kidneys, starting right after an introductory quote:

Cancer is a most unnecessary disease that is not created by Nature but my man. Since modern medicine does not offer much hope for incurable diseases, it is time that we take back our power over disease, chart our own course, and take responsibility for our destiny. Where there’s life, there’s hope and much can be done to save the living from death and thereby extend life.

Just a brief digression here. What the heck does Noreen Martin mean when she writes “modern medicine does not offer much hope for incurable diseases”? It has to be one of the dumbest sentences I’ve ever seen. After all, the definition of an incurable disease is that we cannot cure it; so of course modern medicine doesn’t offer much hope for incurable diseases. If it did, they wouldn’t be incurable! Such is the level of “debate” in this installment of OV. Knowing that, you can take the opening volley claiming that cancer isn’t created by nature but by man for what it is: A black hole of pseudoscientific stupid. What does Martin think cancer is, if not part of nature? Does she think cancer somehow stands outside of nature? It’s the naturalistic fallacy writ large. After all, even if cancer was human-caused, it would still be natural because humans are part of nature.

Be that as it may, while it is true that there is a major environmental component to cancer, with a recent review article suggesting that roughly half of all cancer is preventable. Specifically, approximately one-third of all cancer in the US can be attributed to smoking, and it’s estimated that at least 75% of all lung cancer cases could be prevented if no one smoked. Of course, it’s hard not to point out that tobacco is a natural product. So is obesity in that it is a natural reaction of the body to taking in too many calories and not exercising enough, all filtered through genetics, which can make some people more susceptible to becoming obese than others. I digress, however. Actual science is not what Ms. Martin is about, not by a long shot. Rather, she’s all about–well, guess what she’s all about.

Yes, indeed. It’s the “toxins”:

A century ago, 1 in 33 developed cancer. Now, 1 in 3 persons will develop cancer in one’s lifetime. What has changed to cause this significant increase? The main answer can be stated in one word, toxins, pure and simple. Although, our technology has drastically increased over the past 100 years, so have all the toxins that we are exposed to on a daily basis. This increase causes a toxic load or body burden which can’t be overcome. Since we don’t live in The Garden of Eden, we must do everything humanly possible to prevent and eliminate toxins.

Uh, no. In fact, Martin is so wrong she’s not even wrong. The reason why cancer is more prevalent now is very simple: Medicine has improved, and people are living longer–much longer–than they did in 1900. It’s instructive to look at this article on health statistics published by the State of New Jersey. It compares the most common causes of death in New Jersey in 1900 to the most common causes of death in 2000. The report points out that in 1900 acute illnesses and communicable diseases such as acute lung disease, consumption (respiratory tuberculosis), and diarrheal diseases of children were the leading causes of death. Compare that to today, when chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and stroke are the leading causes of death. Why the huge shift? One reason, of course, is antibiotics and vaccines, which brought under control many infectious diseases that used to kill huge numbers of people at a young age. Another reason, is that medicine has improved to the point where it is possible to live much longer, even with chronic disease, and most cancers are diseases of aging. Childhood cancers are relatively rare; most cancers increase in incidence with age, particularly the common ones, such as prostate cancer, colon cancer, breast cancer, and the like.

Indeed, the NJ report addresses the very question of cancer:

The increase in cancer cases and deaths over the century is due primarily to two factors. First, there is now a wide variety of technology available to aid in the diagnosis of cancer. Many cancer cases and deaths were not diagnosed properly in 1900 and were attributed to other causes. For example, some consumption cases may have actually been lung cancer not tuberculosis. Second, because most communicable diseases are now under better control, people rarely die from them at an early age (with the exception of HIV disease), therefore, they live long enough to develop chronic diseases such as cancer.

Think of it this way. In 1900 there were no X-ray devices in common use, and diagnostic tools boiled down to essentially the history and physical examination and a relatively few diagnostic tests and laboratory measurements that could be performed at the time. As I’ve pointed out before, even the measurement of blood pressure did not become routine until the early 1900s. Even then physicians didn’t routinely measure diastolic blood pressure until the Russian physician Nikolai Korotkov popularized the use of the device able to do that. That’s right. The systolic/diastolic blood pressure ratio that we’re all familiar with didn’t become routine medical practice in the U.S. until the 1920s. Given how primitive a lot of the diagnostic tools available to physicians were back then, many deaths that were attributed to something else could well have been due to cancer. For instance, if a patient became ill and started wasting away, the death might have been labeled as being due to “consumption,” when in fact it might well have been advanced cancer. There was no good way to tell otherwise in many cases.

It’s rather funny, however, that the NJ report mentions HIV. The reason is that it relates directly to Ms. Martin. Not having heard of her before, I Googled her with the word “cancer” to see what I could find out. It didn’t take me long to find out that she is an HIV/AIDS denialist who has been publishing on various woo topics for a while, commenting on HIV/AIDS denialist blogs. Her story is told here in the form of a testimonial. Apparently, Ms. Martin had cancer in the past and more recently was diagnosed as HIV positive after having suffered a number of health issues, including diarrhea. It’s rather a vague testimonial, in which Ms. Martin suffers a number of complaints, gets worked up for cancer and is found to be anemic but with no cancer found. In any case, hers appears to be the classic testimonial in which she used a lot of quackery to treat herself plus some science-based medicine. Indeed, Martin admits that she took antiretrovirals for a fairly long period of time before discontinuing them, blaming doctors for “pressuring her” to do it, and states that she was diagnosed with AIDS in 2003 but has only been off antiretrovirals for six years. Of course, Martin attributes her recovery not to antiretrovirals and luck but rather to all the quackery she used, up to and including chelation therapy. These days, she seems to be a big advocate of low dose naltrexone, which, while it might be useful for some conditions, is being touted as a cure-all by a lot of dubious websites.

Not surprisingly, Martin thinks that current chemotherapy regimens are just as horrible and ineffective as she thinks that current HIV therapy is. Her arguments and citations supporting her viewpoint are about as convincing, too. For instance, she recycles what I like to call the 2% gambit, citing an atrocious paper that claims that only 2% of cancer survival rates can be attributed to the use of chemotherapy. I actually looked for one paper that she cites as having been published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology (a high impact journal, by the way, commonly called JCO in the biz), The Contribution of Cytotoxic Chemotherapy to The Management of Cancer, in 2004. I searched PubMed on each author’s name. Guess what? There is no such article in JCO. There is, however, a letter in response to the review article at the heart of the “2% gambit” by this group of authors. It’s not in JCO. It’s in Clin Oncol (R Coll Radiol). In any case, I’ve deconstructed this article on more than one occasion. I’ve also deconstructed the “Ulrich Abel” gambit as well, which Martin cheerfully repeats. As I’ve pointed out on at least two occasions, this article doesn’t support the claim that chemotherapy doesn’t work, and it’s not even in The Lancet, as Martin and others claim.

The rest of Martin’s article is a host of hoary old tropes beloved by cancer quacks. Hardin Jones’ quote from the 1950s about how “patients are as well or better off untreated”? Yes, it’s there. It’s also a statement that might have been not unreasonable in the 1950s but is totally irrelevant to the 2010s. So are a number of other “old favorites,” including this claim:

The only legal way to treat cancer in this country is to burn it with radiation, poison it with chemotherapy and cut out body parts by surgery. How would trying natural or alternative treatments fare any worse? To reiterate what John Lauritsen stated about AIDS and I think that it would apply to cancer too; recovery will come from strengthening the body and not poisoning it.

This is, of course, a misstatement of the law. The FDA requires evidence of efficacy and safety before it will approve a treatment. That’s it. It doesn’t mandate that that treatment must be surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy. What Martin doesn’t like is that her preferred forms of quackery haven’t passed muster scientifically. There’s no scientific reason to think that most of it will ever pass muster in clinical trials; i.e., no prior plausibility, particularly many of the quack cancer treatments listed, which include bioelectric medicine, orgone energy, the Budwig protocol, “hexagonal” water, alkalinization, liver flushes, aluminum-free deodorants (to prevent that nasty deodorant from causing breast cancer, apparently, and (of course!) low dose naltrexone. It’s as though Martin sucked up the NaturalNews.com and Mercola.com websites, put them in a blender, and then filtered the slurry through a cancer filter to catch the cancer quackery, drank it in, and then regurgitated it up onto OV. I am, however, surprised that she didn’t mention Stanislaw Burzynski. Probably too “chemotherapy-like” for her. I’m also surprised that she didn’t mention my favorite cancer quacks, Tullio “Cancer is a fungus” Simoncini. She did, however, mention cancer quack Andrea Moritz, the same guy who claims that cancer is not a disease but rather the “body’s wisdom” and who also tried to intimidate critics by threatening them with libel law suits.

So what we have here now on OV is a woo-friendly HIV/AIDS denialist named Noreen Martin (is there any other kind?) who also believes in a whole slew of quack cancer therapies. Worse, OV allows Martin to post about all sorts of nonsense, including this, thermography (which is not a validated screening test for breast cancer), low dose naltrexone for diseases for which there’s no scientific reason to think it should work, and, of course, HIV/AIDS denialism.

It turns out that Martin has two self-published books coming out in April. One is called AIDS: They Suckered Us. The other is called Get A Life – Free From Toxins and Disease. Martin’s cancer post on OV is described as an excerpt from this latter book. Oh, joy. Apparently OV has gotten much worse than I remember it. Before, it only posted false “balance,” in which one side would argue quackery and there would be another side arguing real science. Apparently OV has now abandoned all pretense of that. Truly, I was wise not to have accepted an offer made a few years ago by the OV editor to be one of its experts. It didn’t take prescience such as my namesake from an old British SF TV series used to demonstrate to see this coming.