A couple of cranks: Compare and contrast

It was a busy day yesterday, and I had less time than usual to attend to the blog, but that’s OK. This random thought popped into my head after spending the last three days writing about Stanislaw Burzynski, first reviewing Eric Merola’s hagiography and infomercial about him, then seeing how well the BBC did in its news series Panorama in covering the patient-endangering phenomenon that is the Burzynski Clinic, and, finally, noting that what Burzynski said about his clinical trials doesn’t necessarily jibe with what his SEC filings about his research institute say about them. Looking to move on to another topic, I happened to come across this gem about everybody’s favorite antivaccinationist, Andrew Wakefield, describing the latest round in his Captain Ahab-like pursuit of the great white whale that is Brian Deer, the investigative journalist that led to his downfall by publishing exposes about his having been bought and paid for by trial lawyers before he published his infamous case series that claimed to have found a link between the MMR and “autistic enterocolitis,” his lack of research ethics, and his “Piltdown medicine.” Wakefield’s attempts to rehabilitate his image have gotten increasingly ridiculous, in particular his series of videos “challenging” Dr. David Salisbury to a “debate.”

As a result, Wakefield sued Brian Deer, the BMJ (which published the “Piltdown medicine” article, and Fiona Godlee, the editor of the BMJ. It was a transparent attempt at retribution using legal thuggery to sue for libel that appeared doomed from the start. And so it was. Yet for some reason Wakefield appealed, and yesterday his chief propaganda organ, the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism, published a hilariously off-base description of a hearing in Wakefield’s appeal, in which Wakefield, with no self-awareness whatsoever, was quoted as saying during his testimony:

“Anti-SLAPP is a new law and a good law,” explained Andy. “It was passed to protect free speech. Say you’re a blogger telling inconvenient truths about the pharmaceutical industry. Pharma can afford to hire a stable of attorneys who will file lawsuits they probably can’t win, but it doesn’t matter much. Their goal is to shut you up. They can bully you forever unless you file an Anti-SLAPP motion. That’s why it’s there: to protect the little guy. But here’s the twist. In my case, BMJ seek to apply the law perversely — to give the big guys a club to beat us with. So does the anti-SLAPP law protect free speech and promote justice, or does it do the opposite? There’s a lot at stake here for Texas. Not so much with the hurdle today, which is procedural, but for future hurdles that BMJ have planned.”

I laughed, but I also thought of something. I thought of Stanislaw Burzynski, and I saw a resemblance between Burzynski and Wakefield. Think about it. Both think they are scientists. Both published dubious science in order to forward their own agendas. both view the scientific community as corrupt and out to get them. Moreover, the more I learn about Burzynski’s early years (which I will write about in a future post), the more I see even more uncanny resemblances. For instance, Andrew Wakefield is justly (in)famous for a child’s birthday party at which he offered children money to let him draw their blood. Burzynski was equally (in)famous (at least in the Houston area), for going to great lengths to procure first human blood and then later human urine to make his antineoplastons, even going to prisons to collect gallons of urine. True, he doesn’t isolate antineoplastons from urine anymore (he synthesizes them chemically now), but the traits are very similar, particularly the willingness to use people and the love of publicity, and the martyr complex, in which his downfall is everybody’s fault but his own.

The main difference between the two that I can think of is that Burzynski is apparently much better at it all. After all, Wakefield only had a few years of fame before Brian Deer published his first expose revealing Wakefield’s undeclared conflicts of interest, which started Wakefield’s downfall, culminating his being “struck off” (losing his medical license). In contrast, Burzynski has managed to keep doing what he’s been doing with antineoplastons for 36 years. We can only hope that the recent attentions of the FDA and now the media will lead Stan to the same fate as Wakefield. Still, that leaves the question of why Wakefield flamed out so fast (relatively speaking), sinking to a pathetic crank suing his critics as he no longer has even that much juice even in the antivaccine movement while Burzynski continues to rule the cancer cranks and dodge everything the FDA throws at him. One reason might be that there hasn’t been the definitive expose of Burzynski’s activities, as there has been with Wakefield, thanks to Brian Deer. One wonders if anyone could get Deer interested into looking into the Burzynski Clinic.