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Cancer Medicine Naturopathy Pseudoscience Quackery

Defend Britt Hermes from a naturopathic cancer quack trying to silence her through legal thuggery

One of the favorite tactics of cranks and quacks to silence criticism from bloggers is to threaten to sue for libel. Ex-naturopath turned science advocate Britt Hermes is currently living this reality, as a naturopathic cancer quack is currently suing her for libel in Germany. Given that Britt is a graduate student in evolutionary biology her means are quite modest and as is no doubt the intent, just defending this lawsuit could ruin her and her husband financially. Fortunately, you can help help her, and I urge you to do so.

If there’s one thing that’s enraged me as a blogger throughout the years, it’s quacks, cranks, and pseudoscientists who, not liking science- and reality-based criticism, decide to try to silence their critics by suing them for libel. My extreme dislike of such antics actually predates this blog, when I learned of Holocaust denier David Irving’s frivolous libel lawsuit against Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt, which is recounted here and in two books, History on Trial: My Day In Court With a Holocaust Denier by Lipstadt herself and Lying About Hitler: History, the Holocaust, and the David Irving Trial, as well as a movie last year, Denial, starring Rachel Weisz.

Over the years, I’ve occasionally been subject to such threats, although as yet no one has ever followed through, but some of my friends and bloggers I admire haven’t been so lucky. For instance, cancer quack Stanislaw Burzynski hired a media manager who issued threats to sue Rhys Morgan over his criticism of Burzynski’s pseudoscience. Fortunately, they backfired. Then there was antivaccine icon Andrew Wakefield’s lawsuit against Brian Deer, the investigative reporter who discovered Wakefield’s fraud and conflicts of interest. It failed. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop it from being the central focus of a recent uncritical documentary. Then, of course, there was antivaccine grande dame Barbara Loe Fisher’s frivolous lawsuit against Paul Offit. It, too, was dismissed. Other quacks and cranks indulging in this behavior include Dr. Joseph Chikelue Obi’s legal threats against Andy Lewis, Rev. Lisa Sykes and Seth Sykes attempt to subpoena Kathleen Seidel, HIV/AIDS denialist Matthias Rath suing Ben Goldacre, quack Andreas Moritz suing a student over a blog criticizing his quackery, and of course the British Chiropractic Association’s lawsuit against Simon Singh. Then, more recently, there was the frivolous lawsuit directed at Steve Novella, which was also lost.

If you’re sensing a theme here, it’s that pretty much all of these lawsuits by cranks and quacks against science communicators and reality-based critics are frivolous. The cranks and quacks almost always lose or see their suits thrown out. However, that doesn’t mean these suits are harmless. Defending them causes extreme anxiety, particularly among those who haven’t been the target of a lawsuit before, and require a lot of time and, above all, money. Defendants of limited means are often faced with a stark choice: Settle and be silenced or risk bankrupting themselves with legal fees. That’s why the lawsuit by naturopath Colleen Huber against ex-naturopath turned science advocate Britt Hermes pisses me off so much. It’s not just that I consider Britt a friend, having met her in person now three times last year (at NECSS, QEDCon, and CSICon) and even gone drinking with her (copiously) in Manchester at QEDCon. Rather, it’s that I’ve come to admire Britt for doing something that is so difficult that very few people can manage to do it. She actually realized that her whole career and self view was rooted in pseudoscience and, instead of doubling down and using motivated reasoning to keep from having to change, actually admitted her error and made a radical change in her life to make things right. Very few of us can do that. I don’t know if I could have done it, were I in her position.

Remember, Britt was a naturopath. She went to Bastyr University, the “Harvard” of naturopathy schools (which ain’t saying much, given that naturopathy is almost pure quackery). She practiced as a naturopath. She believed in naturopathy and really thought she was helping her patients and that her education was as good as that of any MD physician. She even evangelized for naturopathy. She was, as she herself now puts it, a quack.

Then she had a revelation. Well, it wasn’t exactly a revelation. You can hear the detailed account of her return to science in an interview with The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, or you can check out this recent interview with ZDoggMD:

And here she is at CSICon last October explaining why naturopathy is quackery in that way only she can:

She started to realize that things she was doing didn’t jibe with what she knew about science. Then, she observed her then-boss importing an unapproved cancer drug for use in his practice and reported him to Arizona’s (allegedly self-regulating) Naturopathic Regulatory Board where as a result of the Board’s investigation the naturopath in violation received nothing more than a slap on the wrist, a verbal reprimand, before being allowed to go back to his quackery. Ultimately, she renounced naturopathy, applied to graduate school to become a real scientist, and became a naturopath’s worst nightmare, someone shedding light on the pseudo-profession of naturopathy who knows where all the dirt is and where all the bodies are buried. No wonder naturopaths want to silence her at her blog, Naturopathic Diaries.

I remind my regular readers that I discussed back in September how Huber had sent a cease-and-desist letter. Unfortunately, the threat was carried out:

Arizona naturopath Colleen Huber is suing me in Germany for defamation over my opinions about her so-called natural cancer treatments and research. The lawsuit was filed in Kiel, Germany (where I live) on September 17th, 2017. This legal action came four weeks after Huber’s lawyers sent me a cease and desist letter that demanded I remove a blog post about Huber and pay Huber’s legal fees. My lawyer responded that allegations laid out in the letter were not correct and therefore, I would not comply. I believe Huber is attempting to stifle my right to freedom of speech with this SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation).

I am fighting this lawsuit with representation by Dr. Daniel Kötz of Kötz Fusbahn Rechtsanwalte in Düsseldorf. His law firm specializes in copyright and media law and intellectual property. Dr. Kötz is the only European member of the First Amendment Lawyers Association. He was recommended to me by Marc Randazza, a prominent First Amendment attorney in the United States.

This is good. This is very good. From my perspective it’s hard for me not to conclude that Huber is almost certainly doing nothing more here than trying to intimidate Britt to silence with her lawsuit. Given that she is currently a graduate student and therefore by definition of very modest means, Britt is currently facing the stark choice I mentioned above. So Britt needs money. Thankfully, the Australian Skeptics have stepped in to help raise money for a legal defense fund, and they appear to be doing it right. Noting that just what I wrote above, the Australian Skeptics compare Britt’s case to that of Simon Singh, who was successful and pretty well-off when sued:

Skeptics will be familiar with the libel action brought by the British Chiropractic Association against Simon Singh in 2008-2010. Following a judgement that Simon could use a “fair comment” defence, the BCA dropped its case. Nonetheless, Simon was still left with substantial legal costs.

While no-one likes to see anyone suffer punitive costs under such circumstances, Simon is a successful author in his own right and had the support of skeptical groups around the world. Britt is not in a similar financial situation, being a PhD student in evolutionary biology at the University of Kiel, Germany. The current case is being brought against her in a German court, and she is already incurring considerable legal costs in her defence case.

With this in mind, we are managing an international campaign to raise funds to support her financially.

Again, Colleen Huber almost certainly knows this, which is part of the reason why she’s suing. I doubt she’d sue someone with the financial means to defend herself. Here’s how any donations you make will be handled:

  • The funds donated are non-refundable.
  • We cannot guarantee that Britt will win her case.
  • Should more funds be collected than required to cover Britt’s costs, they will be held for a period of up to 12 months to ensure the legal risk to Britt has passed, after which they will be donated to Sense About Science or be put into a generalised Skeptics legal defence fund.
  • No entity linked to the campaign, including Britt, Australian Skeptics Inc (ASI) or any of the collaborators, will receive any funds raised by the campaign.
  • ASI is not a registered charity in Australia and donors should not expect their donation to be tax deductible in Australia or anywhere else (depending on prevailing local regulation).

I don’t know German libel law (obviously), but if I had to guess I’d speculate that it’s probably more plaintiff-friendly than U.S. libel law, given our First Amendment and how difficult it is for a plaintiff to prevail in a libel suit in the U.S. Whatever the case, though, one shared trait of the German and American legal systems is that defending against a lawsuit is expensive. So give till it hurts. Britt deserves the best defense against this lawsuit that can be provided, and this suit has every indication from my perspective of being a SLAPP suit.

As for Colleen Huber, I described in detail hy I think she’s a despicable cancer quack once before and deconstructed her highly misleading claims of excellent survival results treating cancer patients, results that Britt also deconstructed and quite appropriately disparaged. If you don’t believe me, read my analysis, which includes the analysis of Huber’s claimed success rate and why her “evidence” doesn’t support it. Then just peruse the websites of her practice (NatureWorksBest) and her Naturopathic Cancer Society (I shudder just typing that), her Twitter feeds (practice, personal, and NCS), and Facebook pages (practice and NCS). (I can’t help but get a little snarky and say that if nature worked best there would be no cancer.) Let’s just put it this way. Huber believes in Tullio Simoncini’s ridiculous quack idea that cancer is a fungus and the way to treat it is with baking soda.

If anything, in my opinion, Britt probably went too easy on her. So, nerd shield activate! Defend Britt!

Give to her legal defense fund at this link!

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

48 replies on “Defend Britt Hermes from a naturopathic cancer quack trying to silence her through legal thuggery”

I don’t know German libel law (obviously), but if I had to guess I’d speculate that it’s probably more plaintiff-friendly than U.S. libel law

Leonid Schneider can assure you that “truth” is not necessarily a defense in the German legal system.

I don’t usually donate to people or institutions begging for money, mostly because donations more often than not result in hugely more begging, but an exception is absolutely justified here.

nerd shield activate!

Let’s make that ‘anyone of sound mind’, not just nerds. Bullshit and quackery should never prevail over reason, least of all for reasons of money (although the current situation in the US doesn’t exactly make me hopeful in this respect…).

You forgot to mention the extremely lengthy lawsuit against Stephen Barrett of Quackwatch. I thought that thing would never end. The judge seemed to even be sympathetic to the quacks and drug the thing out endlessly. Even the eventual settlement seemed to reek of a heavy dose of false equivalency, all sort of “let’s all make nice and get along”.

It must be nice that Huber makes enough off her quackery to afford to sue someone in another country–that can’t come cheaply.

Oh, yeah. Steve Barrett’s lawsuit must have been left out because I never really blogged about it, much of it stretched back before the time of this blog. That was the Doctors Data lawsuit, if I recall correctly.

Yes, libel laws are more plaintiffs friendly in Germany. It’s been a few years since I taught this, but I remember reputation is considered a constitutional right.

On the other hand, seems like she’s in good hands legally. Here is hoping. And if she wins, under the loser pay principles her attacker may have a higher cost than she expected.

It’s been a few years since I taught this, but I remember reputation is considered a constitutional right.

Does the right apply to noncitizen plaintiffs?

Anyway, I note that Germany still has criminal defamation laws. Yikes. Is the complaint itself linked upstairs? Only on my first cup of coffee.

I was discussing Britt’s situation yesterday with someone, and he asked me if that “lack of ethics committee approval” on the crank study that was mentioned on her blog post was a way for us to go on the offensive on this? Can we bring this to federal agencies? Can we go to the journal on this? I imagine it’s a quack journal, but they might not like a light shining on this.

I’m so tired of reacting to this stuff, we have so few tools for offensive action.

Exactly! A defense only strategy is like wearing a bulletresistant vest to a gun fight* and then trying to run away faster than the bullets fly. You’ll get the same result as with no defense, it just takes a little longer.

@ Denby Royal:

You are to be congratulated for your transformation!

Your post mentions the lack of science based guidelines in your education :
I’ve been watching this stuff for a long time: since the 1990s for New Age and a few years later, alt med-. I’ve seen VERY FEW believers self- correct. I venture that the style of teaching encourages an attitude of authority and immunity as it scathingly attacks SBM. there are little or no checks and balances in most systems of alt med as it is faith based.

I feel that my own education- which included undergrad courses in bio, mathematics and general philosophy as well as graduate work in psychology and statistics/ research design was a major factor in my scepticism which inoculated me against woo.
Alt med just doesn’t provide the basics.

Wow, congrats! It’s Immensely difficult to admit to ourselves that we’ve put time and effort into running down the wrong road. It’s just a built-in feature for most of us, It’s much easier to keep digging then to admit that we’re caked in dirt because we dug our own hole

Critics and bloggers have been sued by Gary Null who maintains a gaggle of lawyers ;
he went after a physicist, Lee Phillips, who wrote a complaint to the Washington DC radio station which broadcasts his show. Eventually, the case was thrown out of court in NY state and the scientist was saved from having to pay 12 million USD. Phillips reports on the affair in his eponymous blog.( G–gle their names together for Phillips’ letters and analysis)

Null also sued wiki-p for 100 million USD because of its erroneous article about him which, like Phillips’, scoffs at the value of his so-called doctorate. This too was also dismissed. HOWEVER the con artist continues to rail against them and threatens more suits- which in reality would go nowhere fast. He continuously threatens to create “class action suits” against various individuals ( especially Barrett), manufacturers and governmental agencies for defaming him and harming the general pubic through their “corrupt science”.

Null himself was sued when one of his products injured several customers and himself: most if the injured settled ( see the Quackwatch article on the woo-meister) .

Threatening to sue critics is a rallying cry for his supporters to show what a tough customer and truth seeker he is: realistically anyone with money and lawyers can sue ( see Trump vs Bill Maher) despite the ludicrous nature of the suit.

Britt Marie Hermes deserves to be sued. She has spouted a plethora of outrageous lies about the naturopathic profession in multiple publications. She was unsuccessful as a naturopathic doctor and has chosen to make money bashing a profession filled with dedicated professionals who help patients every day.

I wouldn’t be alive without naturopathic medicine. You may not want to pursue it yourselves, but Hermes capsign to take it away from those of us who need it is egregious and immoral.

Britt Marie Hermes deserves to be sued. She has spouted a plethora of outrageous lies about the naturopathic profession in multiple publications.

Your failure to specifically identify any is telling.

I also think that Britt deserves to be sued. Calling people names is not scientific and neither is scientific hubris. Baking soda has been shown in mice to reduce tumors. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19276390. Also Cytotoxic T cells are known to not function in the acidic vicinity of a tumor. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26209187 There is basis for hypothesis here. Oral/intravenous baking soda may push the body pH homeostasis slightly alkaline. It is not suggested to swallow large oral amounts of dissolved bicarbonate, which most likely has little benefit and is neutralized by stomach acid but rather to slowly sip bicarbonate and allow it to be absorbed in the mucosal tissues in which immune cells reside. Of course this has not been proven scientifically, but there is enough evidence and low risk for a naturopath to suggest in a clinical setting.

I was hesitant to donate because I’m a little short at the moment, but you’ve helped me to make the decision. It may only be a mite, but it will be something. Thanks for the incentive, although I’m sure that wasn’t your intention.

If you would be so kind as to leave your entire medical history so the readers of this blog can evaluate for themselves, it wo-uld be extremely nice of you. The type of cancer and the treatments (both science based and alternative), biopsies…
Please leave out private information.
On a different note, please reference sources for the supposedly outrageous lies and piles of money Ms. Hermes makes

“has chosen to make money bashing a profession filled with dedicated professionals”

That sounds libelous to me…lord knows grad students like her are rolling in the dough. /s

It’s probably why she needs donations to her legal defense fund. But those dedicated naturopath professionals – they’re not in it for the money, just the pure joy of helping people. (more /s)

So give till it hurts.

Hm, still waiting till it starts hurting … doesn’t seem to work … If anything, I feel better … Maybe I should up the dosage?

Homeopaths would sue for $0.0001 and plan a big vacation for the winnings. Naturopaths, then should be suing for leaves and moss.

She deserves to be sued. This is just another hit job on naturopaths because the Medical Mafia doesn’t like the competition. If you want to go to MD’s who give you 10 minutes of time and then give you a prescription for a drug with a gazillion side effects, like cipro that CRIPPLED me, then have at it. Naturopath work with the body to heal itself. Naturopath are tired of being attacked and will fight back. You people are the ones with no knowledge of science but your too dumb to know it.

Sorry to read about your reaction to an antibiotic. Unfortunately some have side effects, which is why my dad was hospitalized due to a penicillin allergy.

So exactly how does a naturopath treat a bacterial infection?

Naturopath are tired of being attacked and will fight back.

Evidently they prefer to “fight back” by way of bumptious, censorious legal asshattery… rather than by tabling evidence of their superior rate of cures.

Apparently, and perhaps fittingly, they can’t marshal up enough evidence to win their cases, much less prove their treatment works.

This is just another hit job on naturopaths because the Medical Mafia doesn’t like the competition.

How many naturopaths do you know of who’ve been sued for defamation (or Beleidigung) over remarks such as yours? You’d think that the “Medical Mafia” would weild such a tool quite freely, no?

I also had a problem with Cipro. However, even the ankle pain isn’t enough for me to embrace nonsense. Nothing a naturopath could have given me would have killed the bacteria in my kidneys, and I’d like to keep them around as long as possible – won’t be too long because I have CKD, but longer than I’d have with water and magic incantations.

News flash: Tullio Simoncini, one of Colleen Huber’s great examples, just received a 5-year jail sentence for killing a patient with exactly the same useless quack treatment that Colleen Huber offers and promotes to this very day. And oh, this is not the first patient killed by Simoncini in this manner.
If anyone deserves to be sued and banned from practising, it’s Huber.

Yes, naturopathy is based on letting the body heal itself – in the most literal sense, because naturopathy boils down to doing precisely nothing and just hoping that things will be allright. The only real effect that naturopathy has is on that leathery structure known as ‘wallet’.

Orac: “Ultimately, she renounced naturopathy, applied to graduate school to become a real scientist, and became a naturopath’s worst nightmare, someone shedding light on the pseudo-profession of naturopathy who knows where all the dirt is and where all the bodies are buried.”

This is terrific. I applaud it. May she have great success in her campaign. (And have equally great success fighting the lawsuits)!

Now I hope some disgruntled chiropractor will follow her lead and rail against chiropractic! Wouldn’t that be nice?

Only five years prison? For how many years will the boy be dead?
12-year-old knows you can’t cure cancer with baking soda.

[…] A Tempe “naturopath” (a practitioner of pseudoscience) is suing a blogger who called out her bogus claims about healing cancer, which include injecting cancer patients with vitamin C and baking soda, telling them to go sugar-free, and other stuff that won’t work … while also telling them not to undergo chemo or radiation therapy. The lawsuit is clearly a SLAPP attempt, and you can donate to the blogger’s defense fund set up by the Australian Skeptics. Noted debunker Orac calls the naturopath’s suit “legal thuggery.” […]

Brit tried to make it as a doctor but couldn’t hack it. She figured she could make a few $$$ sitting at home on her ass writing a blog instead – Making money rubbishing other peoples careers. She deserves to be sued.

A naturopath is not a doctor. She reported her boss for using an illegally imported drug as a cancer cure. She realized that naturopathy is nonsense.

She is not sitting around, she is getting a real science degree in Germany. You obviously do not know her, especially if you cannot even spell her name. Once is a typo, twice is ignorance.

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