Sometimes blogging topics arise from the strangest places. It’s true. For instance, although references to how tobacco causes cancer and the decades long denialist campaign by tobacco companies are not infrequently referenced in my blogging (particularly from supporters of highly dubious studies alleging a link between cell phone radiation and cancer and the ham-handed misuse of the analogy by antivaccinationists, who seem to think that vaccine companies engage in deceit on a scale similar to the deceptive practices of tobacco companies in “denying” that vaccines cause autism and all the other conditions, diseases, and horrors their fevered imaginations attribute to them), I’ve never really delved particularly deeply into one of the most useful repositories of documents on the topic that exists, namely the UCSF Legacy Tobacco Documents Library. Actually, the reason I started poking around there is not due to tobacco science, but because a fellow blogger mentioned to me that there were some articles and documents about Stanislaw Burzynski there dating back to the late 1970s. My curiosity was piqued.
As I explored, however, I learned that the documents there were not so much about Stanislaw Burzynski per se. In fact, they were more about the state of the underground “alternative cancer cures” industry in the late 1970s, which interested me greatly. The reason is that, when it comes to having delved so deeply into cancer quackery, I’m a relative newbie. Compared to, for example, Wally Sampson, Stephen Barrett, Peter Moran, or even Kimball Atwood, I’m inexperienced, having only noticed this phenomenon in a big way in the Usenet newsgroup misc.health.alternative back around 2001 or so, give or take a year. As a result, I don’t have the shared historical perspective that they do, mainly because I can only learn about that era from reading, studying, and talking to people who were active then. After all, in the late 1970s I was still in high school, and in the 1980s I was in college and medical school. There was no Internet (at least none that I had access to and that contained the wealth of easily accessible information to which we have become accustomed). In any case, in high school I had other interests, and throughout the 1980s I was too focused on getting an education and training to be a surgeon and researcher, a process that extended into the late 1990s. (Yes, it takes that long sometimes, particularly if you are masochistic enough to want to get a PhD, complete a general surgery residency, and do a fellowship in surgical oncology.)
The articles I came across were actually from a rather surprising source: Penthouse magazine. I suppose that, in retrospect, I should not be quite so surprised. Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione was apparently always into dubious cancer cures, later in 1995 having achieved some notoriety by promoting claims that hydrazine sulfate had cured his wife Kathy Keeton of metastatic breast cancer. Ultimately Keeton did go on to die of complications of surgery for upper intestinal obstruction, which sounds as though it was probably due to a recurrence of her cancer. Before her death, Keeton was a journalist and co-founder of Omni and Longevity magazines, the former of which, I’m ashamed to admit, I used to read rather frequently. In any case, she appears to have been a person who survived longer than expected while being treated with conventional therapy (Tamoxifen) and hydrazine sulfate, surviving two years after her diagnosis, which is certainly not outside the expected survival time for metastatic breast cancer in the 1990s, particularly if it was estrogen-receptor positive.
Be that as it may, back in the fall of 1979 I was in high school, and if I got my hands on a copy of Penthouse magazine, you can be sure that I probably wasn’t interested in the articles, with the possible exception of the Penthouse Forum. (What can I say? I was a typical teen in the late 1970s.) In any case, back at that time I would also never have heard of one of the co-authors of this trilogy of articles, namely Gary Null, who is still at it more than 33 years later. The articles appeared in the following issues of Penthouse (click on the cover to go to the direct link to scanned PDF of the article from the UCSF Legacy Tobacco Documents Library (fear not—what’s on the covers is tamer than what you can find in a typical Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue; it’s another way that times have changed over the last three decades):
The Song Remains the Same, although the names do change
The first article in the trilogy, The Great Cancer Fraud by Gary Null and Robert Houston, is as good a place to start as any. It’s the longest of the three and the most comprehensive (if you can call it that) broadside against conventional cancer care that Gary Null can apparently muster. If you leave out a couple of the quackeries that I had never heard of, it’s also completely, utterly, and depressingly familiar to me, so much so that all Null would have to do would be to change some dates, update some figures, and add a couple of newer cancer quackeries, and it could very easily be published today on Null’s website, NaturalNews.com, or Whale.to. If you want evidence that the arguments made by promoters of “alternative cancer cures” are all variations on the same theme, a theme unchanged for decades, you really do need to read this article. It’s also amusing to look at the one ad left in for adult movies offering five Marilyn Chambers hardcore videos on sale for $366, marked down from $525. Who remembered porn was so expensive back in 1979? I just hope people who paid that much didn’t buy the Beta version. Oh, the horror of obsolescence!
But I digress. Sorry about that. I’m like Dug the Dog sometimes, and you never know what sort of thing will affect me like the word “squirrel” affected Dug.
Regular readers of SBM will likely find this article as utterly familiar as I did, with the possible exception of the last section of the article being taken up by touting Laetrile, which is rarely mentioned in SBM because in 2013 even cancer quacks don’t promote it much anymore, because even they seem to have accepted that it doesn’t work and can have nasty side effect of cyanide toxicity. (Whoops! Maybe I spoke too soon.) Indeed, if you read the Quackwatch article on Laetrile and compare it with the version of Laetrile discussed in Null’s article, you’ll wonder if the two are even on the same planet. Probably not. Either way, truly The Great Cancer Fraud is a blast from the past, except that when it was published, Gary Null was a young quackery supporter just building his reputation, and Laetrile was actually new news, having gained some traction in legislation thanks to the efforts of an incipient “health freedom” movement. (Remember, after all, that 1979 was the year that Led Zeppelin released its last album, In Through the Out Door, and The Cars released their second album, Candy-O.) Still, it’s worthwhile to look at some of the arguments and one or two of the “alternative cancer cures” that I hadn’t heard of.
Null began, as is his wont, by discussing what he saw as the skyrocketing incidence of cancer, which at the time was estimated to affect one in four people, meanwhile trotting out what are now tried-and-not-so-true gambits, lamenting the “failure” of the war on cancer (which was not even eight years old when this article was published), ranting about the “suppression” of real cures, and insinuating all sorts of dire conspiracies of the medical establishment and the media, which, to him, were all in collusion, along with the government to push only the “cut-poison-burn” approach to cancer. Actually, according to Null, the combination included the National Cancer Institute, the American Medical Association, “powerful chemical and drug industries,” the American Cancer Society, the Food and Drug Administration, and “many science writers who work for the national media.” This latter part of the conspiracy is particularly interesting to me, because my fellow bloggers and I have often lamented the fall of science writers and science/medical reporters in the “traditional” media. Remember that back then there was no Internet (at least the Internet at the time was restricted to relatively few academic, industrial, and military institutions), and there was no World Wide Web. Nor were there blogs and Twitter and Facebook. Science writers and science journalists were it for disseminating reliable scientific information to the masses in a form that people without scientific training could understand. No wonder Eric Merola, in his propaganda movie for Stanislaw Burzynski, so viciously goes after skeptical bloggers. He’s only doing exactly what Gary Null did 33 years ago when he attacked science and medical writers. As science journalism declined, science and medical blogging rushed in to fill the void as best as it could. So now we’re the new targets of people like Gary Null.
In fact, Null accused the American Cancer Society of, in essence, training journalists:
Let us look at how the cancer establishment influences these reporters — and then see how the reporters go into action to quash new cancer treatments.
The action begins every spring, when the American Cancer Society, one of the largest “charitable” organizations in the world, holds its national Science Writers’ Seminar at a resort locale. Here, selected health reporters from the leading media are soireed and surfeited in poolside luxury — a luxury that bespeaks the $126 million the ACS raised last year from the public — and slipped rah-rah cancer progress stories from acceptable researchers. The American Cancer Society seminars are essentially the spring fashion shows of cancer research, letting health and science reporters know where the big money’s going — although in actuality the expense has yielded almost complete failure at reducing the overall mortality level. There is always a “breakthrough” or two announced, and this right around contribution time, which nearly and coincidentally dovetails with the science writers’ conference.
Who knew the American Cancer Society was so powerful? Who knew it indoctrinated generations of health and science writers like that? What horrible things and dark secrets did the ACS inculcate into the science writers of the 1970s at these conferences? Well, it turns out that the UCSF archive actually has a summary of one of these seminars, the one held in 1975. Let’s take a look. According to the document, the seminar consists of daily morning and afternoon sessions in which noted cancer scientists give presentations followed by Q&A sessions, along with a general discussion after the end of each session. In 1975, there were sessions on genetics, the meaning of “high risk” when it comes to cancer, viruses in cancer (a hot topic even back in the 1970s), immunotherapy, hormones and breast cancer, and treatment advances in cancer. It all sounds so mundane and science-based. Of course, that’s the problem to someone like Null. Teaching journalists the latest in the science of cancer is generally considered a good thing, because journalists with a solid understanding of what they are reporting are more likely to get the science right, which is exactly what Null didn’t want and doesn’t want to this day. To him, it was all a conspiracy to indoctrinate science writers. Elsewhere in the article, Null lauds the rise of “self help” groups and writers as an antidote to that, the same way quacks laud the rise of alt-med bloggers today.
The more things change…
Does ACS still hold its Science Writers’ Seminar? I could see that the ACS was still doing them at least into the late 1990s, but I couldn’t find much after that. Maybe the ACS should resurrect the seminar series and include bloggers as well.
Null also touted a bunch of the usual quackery, such as the Gerson therapy, which is nonsense. One thing that piqued my interest was a treatment called Koch’s Glyoxylide. The reason that this caught my attention was the local connection. Dr. William F. Koch was a Detroit physician, and Null was particularly incensed at how the Wayne County Medical Society wrote a report in 1923 condemning Glyoxylide as worthless:
Koch’s work was judged and condemned to be worthless by the “Cancer Committee” of the Wayne County Medical Society in 1923 — a committee made up for the most part of surgeons and radium or X-ray “experts,” a class of people that assumed cancer to be curable only by these methods. As a result, both Koch and his cancer treatment were suppressed, and the oppression extended to the other doctors who attempted to use his methods in any kind of test.
Good going, Wayne County Medical Society! It apparently correctly identified the issue with glyoxylide, namely that it probably didn’t exist as a chemical and that his methods didn’t appear to do anything for cancer. The story of glyoxylide is actually rather fascinating, and perhaps I’ll revisit it sometime. For now, however, it suffices (to me at least) to say that it doesn’t work.
In that, glyoxylide was a lot like Lincoln’s Bacteriophage Method, which was promoted by Dr. Robert E. Lincoln:
Lincoln identified bacterial strains as contributing factors in hundreds of perplexing disease symptoms plaguing the human body, symptoms ranging from tiredness to leg cramps to mental depression to the common cold — and, ultimately, to cancer. In the late forties, Lincoln isolated two such strains of pathogens and with various diseases achieved a successful cure rate by using certain viruses (bacteriophages) against them. One cured cancer patient was the son of Sen. Charles Tobey, who spread the word about Lincoln’s therapy.
In 1952, after Lincoln was expelled from the Massachusetts Medical Society, Senator Tobey became so incensed that he presented the particulars to Congress: (1) in 1946 the Journal of the American Medical Association rejected Lincoln’s paper on clinical results with his ‘antibiotics”; (2) in 1948 the same paper was rejected by the New England Journal of Medicine; (3) in 1948 the director of a large Boston hospital was “unable to find the time” to review Lincoln’s work, after being invited to do so; and (4) Lincoln’s requests for assistance in publication were ignored by science editors.
So basically, Lincoln used bacteriophages (viruses that attack bacteria that today are commonly used to genetically engineer bacteria) to lyse Staphylococcus aureus. These lysates were either injected subcutaneously, applied intranasally, or administered orally or applied topically. The claim was that these lysates would somehow boost the “defensive mechanisms” of the body, particularly if “ubiquitous staph infection is a complication.” Unfortunately, the investigation of the Massachusetts Medical Society was quite thorough and concluded that there was no scientifically valid or convincing evidence presented that the phage lysates impacted the biology of cancer in any way. No wonder Null liked it.
Of course, the greatest evidence that the ACS was “suppressing” alternative “cancer cures” to Null was the existence of something that I really wish were still in existence today: The ACS list of unproven methods:
The unproven-methods list is in effect a blacklist of remedies that include some of the most promising methods for the control of cancer in the world today, among them many dietary and nutritional programs. Once a treatment gets on the list, it becomes virtually impossible for any of its proponents to continue their research. Grants dry up; doors to publications are closed. The unproven-methods list can be compared to the index of heresy in the Catholic Church in medieval times. It is a fast and efficient way of dealing with new remedies without the fuss and bother of “trials.”
Yes, indeed. Some tropes have been around forever, seemingly, and that applies to the “science is a religion” trope that is trotted out whenever professional societies try to uphold scientific standards against quackery. In fact, these days, the ACS appears not to maintain the dreaded list anymore and even has a “complementary and alternative medicine” section on its website. Maybe it’s a good idea not to segregate treatments into an entire category for “unproven” therapies and just list them in another way but say the same thing about therapies that are, in fact, unproven. I don’t know. But Null sure didn’t like it; so it couldn’t have been all bad.
Stanislaw Burzynski: The Early Years
Part II of the Null trilogy was written by Gary Null only and entitled The Suppression of Cancer Cures, lest you have any misconception where Null is coming from. Although other “brave maverick doctors” were mentioned in it, the article was primarily about Stanislaw Burzynski. In a way, I like to call this article, which is the shortest of the bunch, “Burzynski: The Early Years.” Although at the time the article was published Burzynski had isolated antineoplastons from urine, he hadn’t yet found a way to chemically synthesize them, mainly (apparently) because he hadn’t fully chemically characterized them yet. This meant that he actually was isolating them from gallons and gallons of human urine, all in order to do his experiments and, unfortunately, treat patients, which led to a hilarious analogy from Null:
Although antineoplastons are found in all normal body tissues and fluids, they are most easily extracted from urine. They appear to “normalize” cancer cells without inhibiting the growth of normal cells. Actually, urine therapy has been used as a folk remedy for cancer and other ailments for over 2,000 years. Even within the past 30 years, at least 45.000 injections of urine or urine extract were given in the United States and throughout Europe without any toxic side effects.
I’m guessing that Dr. Burzynski wasn’t too thrilled with that passage. To this day, he gets pretty irate when people refer to antineoplastons as coming from urine, being quick to correct them and tell them that he synthesizes them in a laboratory now. For an example, scroll down to question #3 in Eric Merola’s FAQ about Burzynski and Merola’s movie.
The real point of this article, however, is here:
The list of scientists who have been harassed includes names like Durovic, Ivy, Koch, Lincoln, Gerson—names that are, probably unknown to most people. But they can be compared with such innovators in science as Galileo, Pasteur, Semmelweis, and Jenner, all of whom were practically destroyed in their time by various powerful organizations, such as the Church and the medical establishment.
Today this kind of suppression is reserved not for astronomy, ecology, antisepsis, or vaccinations, but for the most steadily increasing and least understood disease of our time—cancer. The suppression of valuable treatments is the cancer blackout.
And so begins the narrative about Stanislaw Burzynski supposedly having a cure for cancer (or at least some cancers) that is being “suppressed” by mainstream oncology because…well, it’s never quite clear why: Because it interferes with profits; because it’s against the dogma of the time; because doctors and scientists apparently just can’t stand something that’s outside of the mainstream. The reasons why mainstream oncology would want to suppress these alleged cures are ever-morphing, seemingly into endless variants, depending upon the needs of the myth builder of the time spinning the yarn of a Great Man (or Woman) whose work is unappreciated by mere peons, who are either too unimaginative to understand or too threatened by the work ever to accept it. When you come right down to it, it’s not unlike Ayn Rand, and, in fact, reading this article by Null about Burzynski I couldn’t help but shake the image of Hank Rearden in Atlas Shrugged, a man who invented Rearden Metal, the best alloy in the world, and as a result had his competitors plotting against him and spreading lies about its danger. Or maybe he’s John Galt. Whatever. There is the attitude that somehow Stanislaw Burzynski is a Great Man being persecuted by fleas who fear his genius and want to mooch off of it. Null plays up this narrative.
For instance, Burzynski left Communist Poland in the late 1960s, as so many young Polish scientists did. The reason, it is implied, was because he was so much better than that, although it’s not particularly surprising that a man with few opportunities to pursue his dreams in Soviet-controlled Poland would yearn for the freedom of the West. In any case, Burzynski arrived in Houston and secured a job as a Research Associate at the Baylor College of Medicine, which is higher than a technician but not usually a faculty position. Generally, it’s the sort of position that PhDs who are either ineligible for a postdoctoral position or don’t qualify for a tenure-track position take doing research in someone else’s laboratory. He then managed to score an assistant professor position at Baylor, which is good. Clearly, he showed enough promise to compete for and obtain the position. He was even funded by the NCI from 1974 to 1977. According to this article, Burzynski got an NCI grant from 1974 to 1976 to fund his research involving gel filtration techniques to isolate peptides from urine and for testing their ability to inhibit in vitro growth of several types of cultured human cells. Ironically, as Null quotes Burzynski as saying, the NCI actually did fund Burzynski’s discovery of antineoplastons to some extent.
Unfortunately, when Burzynski applied to renew his grant in 1976, he apparently failed, although his funding continued until 1977. Not so coincidentally (to me, at least) 1977 was also the year that Burzynski left Baylor to form his own research institute. I can probably guess what happened. He failed to renew his grant; so he was probably told he would have to shut down his lab and either start seeing patients full time to support his position or find a job in someone else’s lab. Given that he had been there for five years, a common time after which medical researchers go up for tenure, he might have even failed to win tenure and been told to find another position. Whatever happened at Baylor, combine his failure to renew his grant with his being faculty in the Department of Anesthesiology, and what happened next doesn’t seem quite as conspiratorial as Null makes it sound:
Dr. Burzynski presented his startling results to the annual meeting of the Federation of the American Societies for Experimental Biology. When he met with enthusiastic responses, he knew then that it was time to begin human research.
However, soon after this Dr. Burzynski’s funding was decreased: then it was discontinued. His work was channeled into other areas of research, and his superiors discouraged his pursuit of cancer therapy. He couldn’t know at this time that this was only the beginning of his long battle with the medical establishment. Determined to continue, Dr. Burzynski struck out on his own and leased a 2,500-square-foot garage space in Houston, which he turned into an impressive private lab and office despite warnings that the medical establishment would challenge his activities.
Or, it could have been that Burzynski failed to renew his grant, and his Chair, being a Chair of a department of anesthesia and all, didn’t see the point in his continuing to do cancer research, which is more appropriately carried out in an oncology department, biochemistry department, or pharmacology department. Somehow, I doubt that there was any sort of grand conspiracy by The Man to keep Burzynski down. Whatever happened at Baylor, clearly there was some sort of a falling-out between Burzynski and the administration of the department of anesthesia, whether it was from his lack of grant funding or other conflicts. However, Burzynski used what happened to his advantage to construct the myth of the Great Man whose vision forced him to leave to pursue his scientific dream. Perhaps there was a grain of truth to that at the time he left, but over time in retrospect, now that we know what happened and how Burzynski turned out, it’s harder for an objective observer to accept that narrative. After all, why would a department of anesthesia support cancer chemotherapy research—which, let’s face it, Burzynski was doing—particularly if the investigator was losing his NIH funding? My guess, which could be wrong, is that Burzynski chewed through his startup funds between 1972 and 1974, parlaying them into an NIH grant, but was unable to keep the momentum going and renew that grant. Probably his department put up with him because he had achieved NIH funding and every department in a medical school loves an investigator with NIH funding, but was less enthusiastic about it when he lost that funding. In any case, the 1970s were a critical period in the development of the myth that is Burzynski. I’d love to know what really happened in the years leading up to 1977 that led to his leaving Baylor. All we get now are stories designed to make Burzynski look like a “brave maverick doctor” and a scientist on par with Galileo.
That myth-making and legend-building clearly had begun before Null wrote his article, the rest of which follows a script that was new back in 1979 but has become old and tiresome now. Any time anyone or any professional organization investigates Burzynski for unethical conduct, in this case administering his antineoplastons to patients even though (1) they were not approved drugs, (2) he hadn’t done any tests in animal tumor models yet, and (3) he wasn’t doing proper clinical trials, all of which were indications for an investigation, it couldn’t possibly have been because there were legitimate concerns about his activities. Oh, no. To Burzynski and his supporters like Null, it was (and still is) because the medical establishment was closing ranks to suppress a promising new cancer therapy.
Let’s compare and contrast to my situation. (Why not?) When I fail to get a grant or to renew one that I’ve had before, I view it as being because funding has tightened up (which it has), making what was good enough a few years ago no longer good enough, and/or because that time around I just didn’t do a good enough job convincing the reviewers. In other words, I view failure to be funded as being either my failing and/or due to circumstances not directed at me personally (e.g., the really crappy NIH funding situation right now). That wasn’t, however, how Burzynski thought. If he didn’t get a grant, it was obviously because the NCI was plotting against him. If his department discouraged him from pursuing antineoplaston research, it couldn’t possibly have been because Burzynski was losing his NIH funding and was not doing the sort of research that a department of anesthesia would generally take an interest in. Oh, no. It had to be because his department was trying to suppress his work as well, possibly because the government was putting pressure on it. When the AACR doesn’t accept my abstract for its annual meeting, I don’t blame the AACR; I ask myself what I could have done better and try again. Not Burzynski. If his abstract wasn’t accepted, it must have been part of a conspiracy by the “cancer establishment” to suppress his work, just as when Eric Merola recently related the story of Burzynski’s recent attempt to publish in The Lancet being rejected rapidly he not-so-subtly suggested that it must be either groupthink or a conspiracy among journal editors.
In this, Eric Merola is following a well-established script that was developed 30 years before his first movie. His “innovation” (if you can call it that) is to add The Skeptics™ as a new enemy keeping The Great Man down and trying to keep cancer patients from being cured of their cancers.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose
The third installment of Gary Null’s 1979 trilogy of woo was co-written by Anne Pitrone and entitled Alternative Cancer Therapies. It was basically a tour of cancer quackery, circa 1979, combined with—you guessed it!—more conspiracy mongering about suppression of cancer cures and a lot of excuses, such as this:
Many of the clinics where we interviewed are understaffed or don’t have the funds to do important statistical analysis and follow-up of patients that would provide the general public, as well as the scientific community, with some idea of the results they’re getting. Many are so new that the statistics have limited meaning. Records of patient response are sometimes sketchy because of the nature of the treatment, which often involves the patient’s taking responsibility for a complete change of life-style as well as self-medication. Sometimes it is impossible for these clinics and doctors to get proper testing and/or cooperation with the medical community, although this has been changing dramatically as more positive research to support the alternative therapies has been discovered.
Part of the problem in analyzing statistics is that there is no single standard for measuring “positive results” in cancer. For example, when a doctor says he’s getting good results, does it mean that he’s getting objective (measurable) responses, such as tumor stabilization or regression? Or does he mean that he is getting subjective improvements, such as increased appetite, elimination of cachexia (wasting away), overall well-being, or elimination of pain? For some doctors “positive results” means simply that the patient dies in one month rather than in two weeks.
Regrettably, there is an element of vagueness in today’s alternative-therapy network not only because of the nature of the disease (cancer is not limited to one type, organ, or system) and the nature of the treatment (which is often self-administered), but also because there is a lack of long-term statistical observation. There are few doctors that have been able to keep statistically thorough records over a five- or ten-year period. Most clinics have at least some strong subjective results to report.
Null even conceded that, because of this lack of outcomes data, it would be “unwise” to “throw out conventional therapy altogether.”
More than 33 years later, nothing has changed. The same three self-excusing paragraphs could be written by Gary Null, Joe Mercola, Mike Adams, Julian Whitaker, Suzanne Somers, or any of the many apologists for and promoters of “alternative cancer cures” and published in a book or on a website today. Basically, there is no statistical evidence, because alternative cancer clinics are not about rigorous science and tracking of patient outcomes. They are about belief, standing against conventional cancer therapy, and magical thinking.
After that passage laying the groundwork for excuses as to why “alternative cancer clinics” can’t prove that what they do actually helps cancer patients or could do any better than what “conventional” cancer therapy could do at the time, Null then took Penthouse readers on a tour of cancer quackery: Gerson therapy, Linus Pauling’s high dose vitamin C, other high dose vitamin regimens, chelation therapy (yes, chelation therapy for cancer) and, of course Laetrile. The sad thing is, most of these treatments (if you can call them that) are still around and still being used by quacks, just in different combinations. For instance, I could easily find clinics for which a description like this would still apply:
“The main problem is that people wait until it’s too late, and then they want to take Laetrile and expect it to be a miracle for them,” said Dr. Robert Gibson of Ponca City, Okla. Basically using Laetrile in conjunction with a salt-free, high-fiber, and high-vegetable diet very similar to Dr. Gerson’s, Dr. Gibson also makes use of vitamins A, C, and E and enzymes. Formerly involved in a large general practice, Dr. Gibson has treated more than 2,000 cancer patients over the last three years, many of whom have “waited too long.” “For the very ill,” said Dr. Gibson, “we can relieve the pain with Laetrile and the diet and many times extend their lives beyond the expected survival; actually, the use of Laetrile is a little bit unpredictable. But if the medication does work, we’ve been getting very good responses with many different tumors. And with those patients that are in better shape than ‘terminal’ over the past three years, I’d say we’ve been getting about sixty-eight percent positive results.” Dr. Gibson points out that this is not really an adequate statistic, since most data on recovery require a “five-year survival time.”
Ah, yes. The old “If only the patient hadn’t waited too long to come to me” gambit.
Just for the heck of it, I tried to see how many of the clinics mentioned by Null 33 years ago are still around. As you might expect, many of these 1970s-era promoters of “alternative cancer cures,” like Dr. Dean Burk, have since died. (One notes that Dr. Burk was also an anti-fluoridation crackpot who was known for saying that “fluoridation is a form of public mass murder.”) Dr. Ray Evers, a promoter of chelation therapy for everything, including cancer, apparently died in 1990, and his fellow quacks paid tribute to him in 1991. Dr. R. Glen Green was apparently inducted into the Orthomolecular Medicine Hall of Fame in 2007 at age 84 but died in 2010. Nor is the Livingston Clinic still in operation, its not having been able to survive too many years after the death of its founder. In 2004, Dr. Jack Slingluff pled guilty to one count of introducing an unapproved new drug (Laetrile) into interstate commerce. The State Medical Board of Ohio suspended his medical license for a year and permanently revoked it in 2008, and he died in 2011. Similarly Dr. Emmanuel Revici died in the 1990s, but his clinic still exists and is still seeing patients.
In some cases, it’s not always clear whether the clinic is still in operation. For instance, it isn’t clear whether the Gibson Clinic still exists in Ponca City, OK; if it does it doesn’t have a web presence, although it’s listed in Whale.to. It does, however, turn out that one of these “brave maverick doctors” featured by Null is apparently still practicing. I’m referring to Dr. Michael Schachter, who runs the Schacter Center for Complementary Medicine, where he treats cancer using a combination of chelation therapy, various nutritional interventions, detoxification, intravenous H2O2 and/or vitamin C, and other woo. His center’s website even includes a Quack Miranda warning right here.
Oh, and Stanislaw Burzynski, as we all know, is still practicing.
Sadly, however, even though the unavoidable ravages of time have taken their toll on the “brave maverick doctors” profiled in Null’s article, each and every dubious and unproven therapy espoused by them is still being practiced today by someone somewhere. No matter how often the stake of science is driven into their heart (or, if you prefer The Walking Dead, the arrow or katana of science is driven into their brains), they always rise again. What taking this little step back into a time when I was still in high school has shown me is that, as the French say, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, or, as I like to say, there is nothing new under the sun, at least when it comes to “alternative cancer cures.” It’s kind of depressing to think that, not only has nothing really changed much in the last 33 years, but that, if anything, elements of what was once called quackery are more accepted than they were when Gary Null first published his trilogy of woo in Penthouse.