Categories
Cancer Medicine Pseudoscience Quackery

True believers and scammers in alternative medicine

In the online echo chamber promoting alternative medicine, there are varying degrees of deception. There are true believers (who are often victims), entrepreneurs (who are often true believers who found a profitable business), and scammers. The categories are not mutually exclusive.

Long ago, when there was no Internet outside of the military and some colleges, where the average person had no access and even if they did there was no world wide web, dinosaurs roamed the earth, and I remember encountering quackery. Back then, unlike now, it came mainly in the form of books, magazines, newsletters, or quacks giving talks, and it is true that all of those things still exist today. However, they have been relegated very much to secondary (or even tertiary) status by the existence of the Internet, the web, and, above all else, social media. Back when I started my hobby of writing about medicine and quackery, blogs and websites were the main media from which quackery flowed. Now, these, too, tend to be secondary, with Facebook, podcasts, and especially YouTube becoming the major places in social media where quackery is promoted.

In fact, video seems to rule these days, and no self-respecting quack would be without a YouTube channel, complete with videos that he could also post on his Facebook page. The more “complete” quacks even have documentaries around which they build their brand, an excellent example of which is the antivaccine propaganda film masquerading as a documentary entitled VAXXED: From Cover-up to Catastrophe. Not only is there the movie, but there’s a popular antivaccine Facebook page and YouTube channel to which the film’s producers Del Bigtree and Polly Tommey, antivaccine activists both, regularly post videos, which range from them ranting about vaccines to them showing interviews with parents who mistakenly believe that their children were “vaccine-injured.” Occasionally, even Andrew Wakefield himself deigns to show up!

Oddly enough, I got the idea for this post from a place that I normally wouldn’t have expected, an article on Babe.net, “A YouTuber who claimed being vegan cured her cancer has died from cancer,” which reminded me of another article I saw on the very same source, “This vlogger says you can cure cancer with happy thoughts and juice — and she’s making money doing it.” Basically, the reason is that these posts, particularly the latter one, show how not only do YouTube and social media provide the means for quacks to spread misinformation in a far more effective and targeted manner than was ever possible before, but how lucrative they can be. That led me to—of course—think about the man who is perhaps the ultimate example of how to monetize quackery through social media, Mike Adams, given that his NaturalNews.com empire was the subject of an article last week by Jonathan Jarry of the McGill Office for Science and Society. These “alternate realities” harm medicine and vulnerable patients every bit as much as the “alternate realities.”

I like to divide these sorts of promoters of quackery into three categories: True believers, entrepreneurs, and scammers. There is, of course, considerable overlap, and it’s possible for one source to be all three at the same time, but usually one category predominates

Mari Lopez: A true believer killed by alternative medicine

Let’s start with one of the most common kinds of alternative reality social medial presences, that of patients with cancer who provide “testimonials” of how they “cured” their cancers. I’ve written about such testimonials more times than I can remember going back to the very beginnings of this blog. In most cases it’s pretty easy to see the mistake in attribution that led the patient to believe that whatever quackery he was using cured him (I’m talking to you, Chris Wark!), but sometimes you can’t really know for sure until after the person giving the testimonial dies of her cancer, as in the case of Kim Tinkham.

Let’s take a look at her story, because even as she promoted alternative medicine for cancer she became its victim:

A YouTuber who said that eating a raw vegan diet, drinking juice and praying to God cured her cancer has passed away.

Mari Lopez, one half of the vlogging duo Liz & Mari, succumbed to an aggressive terminal cancer that spread to her blood, liver and lungs.

She was known for posting viral videos about how she was able to cure her stage four diagnosis through faith in God and following a strict diet of raw vegetables.

Liz Johnson, it turns out, is Mari Lopez’s niece. Here are the videos that started it all, first part 1:

And then part 2:

It doesn’t take long into the first video to discover one of Mari Lopez’s other claims:

Mari referred to how she was able to cure her cancer in 90 days by drinking juice. She said her renewed faith and diet even pushed her to renounce her lesbian sexuality.

“I was healed by God and faith and used to live a gay lifestyle,” she explained in one video.

So, according to Mari and Liz, not only did her vegan diet, prayer, and juicer cure her of cancer, but it “cured” her of homosexuality as well. In this lengthy video, we learn a lot more about her “journey”:

First, we learn in her interview with her niece Liz Johnson that thirteen years before, Mari Lopez had stage II breast cancer at age 37, which means either that it was large and without positive lymph nodes or that the tumor had spread to three or fewer lymph nodes under the arm. She underwent a mastectomy and chemotherapy and radiation. Basically, her treatment sounded appropriate for her disease, and I suspected that her cancer was estrogen receptor-positive because estrogen receptor negative cancers, if they recur, usually don’t recur so late; estrogen-responsive tumors do, sometimes even 20 years later. In any event, she stopped taking the pill early. Later thirteen years after her original treatment, Lopez’s cancer recurred in her lungs and liver and “everywhere,” as she put it in the video.

Now, in retrospect, I can explain why she did so well for so long, given that the first videos are from the summer of 2016. Lopez’s tumor was relatively indolent (as many estrogen receptor-positive tumors are, even after they metastasize), and she describes being offered an anti-estrogen treatment after her metastatic diagnosis, which she took for 30 days and then stopped because she “didn’t feel it” in her spirit. She could easily have done fairly well for a couple of years without any effective treatment before she started feeling sick last summer as her tumor progressed.

Particularly telling is her answer to this question: “Can you prove your healing with medical records? Are you completely cancer free?” You’ll note that she says she’s cancer-free, but studiously avoids the question about whether she could prove it with medical records, saying that it’s “over and done with” and that she “feels it in her spirit” that she’s “healed.” She even goes on to say, “I really don’t care if nobody believes me,” continuing, “Will I go to a doctor? Yeah, if I have to, if I feel the need, if God leads me to going in that direction, I have no problem going and getting checked.”

To this, Liz Johnson replies, “A lot of the evidence is in just seeing how you are now.”

It turns out that the diet that Mari Lopez was promoting was typical “alkaline diet” quackery, only not from Robert O. Young, but from a quack I hadn’t heard of before, Dr. Sebi (real name Alfredo Bowman, which should tell you something right there that this herbalist adopted a pseudonym to sell his products), who represents his diet as an “African approach” to curing cancer that he dubbed Dr. Sebi’s Cell Food. It sounds similar to Robert O. Young’s “pH Miracle Living” program, but that’s because all these diets are very similar: Vegan, lots of vegetable juices, lots of supplements ± coffee enemas. There is no good evidence that such diets impact the course of cancer. Lopez’s use of them was the same as not treating her cancer, only she spent a lot of money and effort.

In the Babe.net story, we also see something very disturbing but all too common in alternative cancer cure testimonials where the patient ends up dying:

Speaking to babe from Houston, Texas, Liz explained her aunt was pushed by her sister (Liz’s mom) to start radiotherapy and chemotherapy, which she thinks disrupted her diet of juicing.

Liz refers to this as “inconsistencies,” which she thinks pushed Mari to her death. Liz’s mom favored conventional medicine while Mari wanted to follow alternative treatment.

“She was following a raw vegan style [diet],” Liz explained. “My family is not familiar with that style of living… What happened was, as Mari was living with my mom, my mom started to tell her that she needed to eat meat now. She said it was OK to use things that she didn’t want to use. My aunt was very against the microwave because of cancer-causing issues with that, and my mom would cook her things using the microwave.”

I can’t recall how many times I’ve heard variants of this sort of blaming of the victim or someone urging the victim to undergo conventional therapy. The beginning of the end of the narrative often begins when the believer can no longer deny that she is getting sicker, that her cancer is progressing, and decides, either because of family pressure or on her own, to undergo conventional therapy near the end. Inevitably, the believers will claim that the chemotherapy or the radiation or whatever conventional therapy the cancer victim decided to undertake is what kept the quackery from working. Basically, they blame the victim for not being faithful enough. In this case, Johnson is despicably blaming Lopez’s mother for pushing the evil microwaved food on her and blaming Lopez’s sister (Johnson’s mother) to undergo chemotherapy. Yes, she blames her mother and grandmother for her beloved aunt’s death! I wonder how that goes over at family gatherings.

In his post about this case, Steve Novella makes the point that this aunt-niece team conflated faith healing, in which Lopez believed that God healed her, with the alternative cancer treatment Lopez chose, saying:

Both, in fact, are manifestations of faith. Alternative medicine is often a mixture of pseudoscience and faith healing, blended seamlessly together.

The faith claims have a significant problem with logic and consistency. I don’t begrudge anyone their personal faith, but I do think it is counterproductive to depend for anything important on a mythical being you just hope exists. What I always find intriguing is those who claim that God cured them of a disease, but not really. In this case Liz believes that God cured Mari of her cancer, but Mari wavered, so the cancer came back and killed her. Really?

Noting:

This is another absolutely typical part of the faith healing narrative, borrowed heavily by the alternative medicine narrative. Failures are always blamed on the patient. It is a convenient rationalization – they lacked sufficient faith in the case of the former, and they did not adhere fanatically enough to the regimen, for the latter.

Precisely. Worse, the faith that drove Mari Lopez and Liz Johnson to such absolute certainty makes their videos that much more convincing to non-physicians, many of whom wouldn’t even notice how Lopez tap danced around the question of whether she’s ever been demonstrated by imaging studies to be cancer-free. They might not even care about how ultimately the duo started to monetize their faith by offering premium Vimeo clips. So confident does Liz Johnson remain in the faith healing and “alkaline diet” that she vows to leave all the YouTube videos up and make the premium Vimeo videos free. She even did this against her aunt’s wishes, as near the end of her life her aunt asked her to take the videos down:

Liz explained that towards the end of her life, Mari had asked her to take down the videos proclaiming the healing powers of the vegan diet. Liz said she would keep the videos up, genuinely believing they could give cancer patients help. She even called the experience a “test of faith.”

“She didn’t want anybody listening to her, which I understood because I knew that she was depressed,” Liz explained. “She was upset because her cancer had come back. I can understand how maybe she didn’t want to give people false hope. I had to pray a lot about it, because I could feel her pain. But in my own relationship with God, I knew it could still help people, it could still make a difference in people’s lives, it could still give hope.”

As Mark Crislip would say, I got nothing. So I’m going to move on to an entrepreneur, Brittany Auerbach.

Brittany Auerbach, a.k.a. MontrealHealthyGirl: Quack entrepreneur

One thing I’ll say about Harry Shukman’s Babe.net articles, he doesn’t pull any punches. In this one where he discusses Brittany Auerbach’s vlog, he leaves nothing to the imagination:

Few diseases are scarier than cancer, as anyone who’s had it will tell you – nerve-racking days in waiting rooms, sleepless nights weighing up the odds of your death. It’s only human that at your most vulnerable, you’ll go online to research any advice on how to handle your diagnosis.

Which is why you’d have to be a real piece of shit like Brittany Auerbach to try and profit off of cancer patients looking for a shred of hope. Auerbach is a prominent health vlogger with over a hundred thousand followers on her YouTube channel, MontrealHealthyGirl. Posting videos looking like your typical internet personality, she rakes in millions of views from desperate people by peddling pure, utter bullshit.

I also notice on her Instagram account that she’s a naturopath. She describes herself thusly on her blog:

Hi! My name is Brittany and I am a certified Naturopath and passionate Health Coach who gets the honor of assisting people all over the world in reclaiming their health naturally!

A 3-year battle with Interstitial Cystitis, IBS, severe acne, thyroid disease and cardiac arrhythmia… and the eventual healing of my body has led me to begin this blog! My health struggles inspired me to pursue a career in the alternative health field as well as to create several e-books such as Fully healed, fully guilt-free, The smoothie Challenge, The candida cleanser and Fully Nourished in the hopes of sharing accessible, convenient and affordable healthy alternatives and natural disease-fighting information with the world!

I note that she sells a three-month program of “personalized treatment” for whatever ails you that she will not begin until payment in full of $395 is received via PayPal. Her book describing her three-day Candida juice cleanse costs $55 (as do all of her books) and a package of her e-books (of which there are only four books, by the way) costs $197, a whopping discount of $23 off the price of purchasing them all separately!

“Not-a-Doctor” Auerbach also lays on the quackery heavily in her YouTube videos, “Heal Your Cancer Overnight: You absolutely can reverse this!”

In it, she claims that if you are still alive, it’s not too late no matter how far along your cancer is and that you can definitely extend your life or even reverse your cancer with her methods. Here, she advertises her “Best Stage 4 cancer reversal protocol: Do this immediately to heal terminal cancer quickly!”

And here she tells you how to heal all viruses, including HIV, herpes, Epstein-Barr, and Ebola, “naturally”:

Early in the video, we learn that she’s an antivaxer too, as she says that if you’re dealing with viral issues you should stay far away from vaccinations, noting the amount of “heavy metals” in vaccines, the “toxins,” and the additional “viral load” put “directly in the bloodstream” (yes, she uses that old antivaccine trope) is serious and will make your health worse.

As for cancer, she appears to be pushing a variant of the same old “alkaline diet” cancer quackery:

Overnight you can stop new cancer cells from growing. It’s important that people realize how quickly this really happens. Once you start flooding your body with alkaline minerals, enough water, the right nutrition, loads of rest, peaceful, loving thoughts. Surround yourself with people that love you. Do activities that you enjoy. Feel hopeful and excited. Live the life that you’ve wanted to live your whole life and haven’t. Let go of those negative emotions. Do what you can. All of those tools can be adopted right now, and guess what, they will change your internal chemistry overnight.

That’s right. You can reverse cancer just by thinking happy thoughts. Truly, she is repeating the central dogma of alternative medicine, in which wishing and thinking make it so, all the while rattling off easily refuted alternative medicine canards about chemotherapy and cancer-causing foods. She is also full of the arrogance of ignorance; she is the Dunning-Kruger effect personified:

I don’t tell you these things for fun. I don’t tell you these things because I’m guessing. I tell you these things because I know. I’m super educated about the workings of the body. And I really understand chemistry, and everything that I do, every single healing modality that I use, is based on rebalancing body chemistry to trigger inner healing, faster cell birth, and changing the state of your body so that disease cannot continue…I’m a chemist. I can physically balance your chemistry.

It turns out that Auerbach was, at the time the story was being put together, at the Hippocrates Health Institute in Florida, which has been a frequent topic here because its owner Brian Clement preyed on First Nations girls with cancer in Canada with his phony cancer cures and because HHI represents an utter failure of regulating health care.

Clearly, Brittany Auerbach is a true believer, but she is further along on the believer to scammer scale. She believes she’s healed herself of a variety of chronic diseases, but she’s also become a naturopath and now makes her living selling the same quackery she believes in. However, to see the next stage in evolution, we need to consider the case of Mike Adams.

Mike Adams: In a category all his own

I assume that nearly all regular readers here know who Mike Adams (a.k.a. The Health Ranger) is, namely the man responsible for one of the largest, if not the largest, repositories of quackery on the entire web, NaturalNews.com Unfortunately, he’s managed to poison my Google reputation rather handily with at least three dozen posts over the last couple of years claiming that I worked with cancer chemotherapy fraudster Dr. Farid Fata (I did not and never met the guy, who was never on the faculty of my cancer center), that he reported me to the FBI and Michigan Attorney General (if he has, two years later I have yet to hear from either of them), and even tried to insinuate that I was a pedophile, while leaving plausible deniability.

Adams has a long and ignominious history online, having started out (as best as I can tell) selling Y2K scams. From the beginning, Adams was talented. He saw the possibilities in web marketing to drive traffic to his sites and use that to monetize them very early on. In this, we can see him honing his early techniques. Indeed, he took it far beyond just that, mastering the dark arts of using “black hat” search engine optimization, running link farms, and using those skills to drive traffic back to his site. It turns out that the skill set that made Adams so talented at crafting mass e-mail marketing campaigns that actually persuaded the marks to give up their money is the same skill set that he later honed to become an expert at SEO. He also has a history of selling software to be used for spamming, back when email spam was a huge concern, and used to boast about his software’s ability to evade antispam software. And, of course, before Google cracked down on the practice for purposes of increasing a website’s Google ranking, Adams used to run a huge server farm, with hundreds of different domain names (Internet sites) providing thousands of web links back to Natural News. He’s very big in the world of online alternative medicine and, in the era of Donald Trump, has aligned himself with Trump and the alt right. He’s even been punished more recently for trying to game Google to his advantage, with NaturalNews.com being briefly delisted from Google, which led predictably to his usual overblown hysterics.

Even now, though, when such crude methods of increasing one’s Google juice have largely been neutralized by search engine software coders, Adams still has his ways. I was reminded of this last week by an article by Jonathan Jarry published on the McGill Office for Science and Society entitled “Mike Adams Is Building an Alternate Reality Online.” What Adams is doing now is basically an extension of what he’s been doing all along, all to make money:

Much has been written recently about online “echo chambers”: the idea that we are catered to on the Internet with sites and recommendations that reinforce our preexisting beliefs. If you watch a lot of science videos on YouTube, follow many scientists on Twitter, and regularly search for scientific questions on Google, your online experience will shift away from neutrality, as search results, post sorting, and recommendations will be tailored to your pro-science stance. This is an echo chamber because, in due time, you only hear your beliefs repeated back at you and stop seeing what’s happening on the other side.

Echo chambers for the pseudoscience crowd exist as well, though Mike Adams’ online bubble is so vast and self-sufficient, it warrants the term “ecosystem”.

The ecosystem consists of:

A bit of online sleuthing revealed that Mike Adams owns over 50 websites. The topics they cover go beyond alternative medicine and help shape an entire worldview: fear of medicine and science (gmo.news, medicine.news, vaccines.news), anti-Left and pro-freedom hype (campusinsanity.com, libtards.news, freedom.news), and doomsday prep advice (survival.news, collapse.news).

But Adams’ ecosystem goes beyond just a bunch of websites that all extensively link to one another. In fact, he explicitly designs tools to try to keep you in his ecosystem:

To help bring you back within the confines of this online ecosystem, Mike Adams offers you a toolbar for web browsers so that, regardless of which website you visit, NaturalNews.com is never more than a click away. If you were thinking of searching Wikipedia for a particular food or nutrient, stop. Mike Adams owns NaturalPedia, which offers biased health information such as his page on naturopathy. On it, you will “learn” that it can treat irritable bowel syndrome and ulcers. At the bottom of the page, you will see ads for iodine, magnesium, and colloidal silver because, like the denouement you predict halfway through watching a bad movie, you will have inferred by now that Adams has a store.

Jarry forgot TruthWiki, which is also owned by Adams. (Actually, no he didn’t. He just did here; it’s mentioned later in the article.) He also has a search engine:

Mike Adams has a search engine. If you’re looking for a replacement to Google that “filters out corporate propaganda and government disinformation”, Adams suggests you use Good Gopher. Searching for “Washington Post”, for example, I was not shown the actual website of the Washington Post; instead, I was sent to TruthWiki, RealInvestigations.News, Disinfo.news, and a whole alternate reality in which the newspaper churns out fake news and is beholden to Monsanto. Some of the “independent news websites” that Good Gopher sticks to and that aren’t owned by Mike Adams include far-right website Breitbart.com and Alex Jones’ conspiracy epicentre Infowars.com.

Of course, Mike Adams used to have a show on Infowars.com. Why he and Alex Jones parted ways is unclear, although I’ve always suspected that it might have had something to do with Jones’ decision to become a competitor selling his own line of supplements.

Adams even has his own social network. Jarry is puzzled by one aspect of Adams’ online empire, namely his PubMed search engine, and it does sound puzzling initially. Jarry quite rightly suspected some sort of biased search algorithm, but a friend of his couldn’t find any clear evidence of bias. Personally, my guess is that Adams is probably just monitoring what topics people are interested in and where the IP addresses come from, something he wouldn’t get otherwise. There might be other reasons as well. For instance, if you look at his search engine, there are icons representing various topics, such as “Harmful Toxins,” “Heavy Metals,” “Healing Therapies,” “Harmful Therapies,” “Nutritional Supplements,” “Superfoods,” and more. If you click on any of them, a list comes up, complete with links to PubMed searches on them, and to the right a list of related articles from one of Adams’ websites conveniently appears. I suspect that’s the reason right there, to try to keep people in his ecosystem.

Jarry even provides a nice infographic listing many of Mike Adams sites in his online empire of disinformation:

Mike Adams' Online Empire
Mike Adams’ Online Empire

Near the end, Jarry also notes:

Raising awareness of this “alternate reality” online is important since the world of alternative medicine can seem, to the casual observer, quite benign. Behind the curtain of empathy and so-called holistic care, however, often lies a darker notion: that modern medicine cannot be trusted. Few alternative medicine proponents reach the near-operatic heights of Mike Adams, but his empire of misinformation has major ramifications. In the age of the digital echo chamber, his voice can be heard even if you don’t go searching for it.

And it’s true. Adams’ empire is so ubiquitous now that it’s hard to avoid it even if you are trying to avoid it. Inevitably someone you know will share a link from it with you on Facebook. You’ll see links posted on Twitter and other social networks. You’ll see articles from Natural News shared by e-mail. They’re everywhere.

Believer, entrepreneur, or scammer

As I said at the beginning, I believe that in the world of online alternative medicine promotion, there is a spectrum that goes from the believer to the scammer. None of the three categories are mutually exclusive and it is possible—common, even—for one person to have elements of one or more. For example, clearly Brittany Auerbach is a true believer, but she’s risen to the level of entrepreneur because of how much she shills for her own products. Her online persona is designed mainly to sell her product. In contrast, Mari Lopez and Liz Johnson were clearly true believers, but their primary purpose was not to sell product. They did sell some subscriptions to their premium Vimeo videos, but little else. Their main motivation was to spread their message of faith and quackery.

Adams is a trickier case. He’s clearly gone beyond the level of entrepreneur, having been selling things online, including many dubious things, at least since the late 1990s. I’ve always tended to lean towards his being more purely a scammer, but it’s hard to say. There could be an element of true belief there. However, his behavior, his tendency to attack his enemies, the sheer magnitude and complexity of his business model, and his attempts to rope people into his ecosystem and keep them there, the better to sell them alt right paranoia, supplements, disaster prepper gear, and conspiracy theories, makes me lean towards characterizing him as a scammer. This opinion is bolstered by his risible attempts to slap a scientific veneer on his fear mongering and quackery.

Another case worth considering is that of Belle Gibson, who was also in the news again recently. She was a darling of the wellness movement, a lifestyle philosophy promoted by largely white, largely female social media mavens, a prime example of which is Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop. Lots of New Age mysticism is usually involved, along with trendy diets and exercise plus a heaping helping of quackery. Gibson had a lucrative business going in this industry based on her claim to have cured herself of cancer without doctors. Ultimately, investigative journalists started looking into her claims, including claims of donating money from her products to various charities (which she did not), and her whole story started falling apart. Basically, Gibson was revealed to have been lying about having had cancer.

Therein is the dark side of the wellness industry that makes it ripe for scammers like Gibson and Adams:

…I think what’s happened in the last two years is that Belle Gibson has become the face of the dark side of the wellness movement. The wellness movement has been around for decades.

It was born out of the New Age revolution, and it was always meant as an adjunct to conventional medicine. It wasn’t meant as a replacement of conventional medicine.

What’s happened in more recent years with insurance companies and chiropractic clinics and big business co-opting the word, is that that meaning is being lost.

Then on Instagram people have almost medicalised the term so they’re using wellness as a way of treating different ailments. Then to go further than that, which is what Belle Gibson did, they then promote this distrust in conventional medicine as well.

Combine people like Mike Adams (and even Brittany Auerbach) and the power of social media, and this dark side will continue to do harm.

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]

62 replies on “True believers and scammers in alternative medicine”

In principle, it should be easy to draw a line between entrepreneurs and scammers. The former sincerely (if erroneously) believe that what they are selling will help their customers. The latter know, or should know, that they are selling the equivalent of snake oil.

In practice, drawing that line requires an inference about someone’s mental state, which is hard to do without evidence. Not everybody has the resources to do investigative journalism. In cases like Adams’ and Gibson’s, the evidence is there to call them scammers. But since IANAL, I hesitate to apply the scammer label to someone who might themselves be deluded. Yes, I know, getting high on one’s own supply is one of the classic blunders, almost as well known as starting a land war in Asia.

There’s at least one class of ‘scammers’ that exhibit a duality of persona. It’s not exactly schizophrenia or MPD, but it’s not exactly ‘normal’ either. They both know they’re selling snake oil AND believe it will help their customers, and just are have erected some mental mechanism to bury the contradiction. As Harold Hill tells Winthrop, “I always think there’s a band, kid.” You see a not dissimilar sort of thing in the advertising business. I’d guess this especially applies to cancer scammers, as it’s hard to imagine they’d be able to live with themselves if they had the pure cynicism of ‘classic’ grifters, who are after your money, but not your life, with ‘The Spanish Prisoner’ or other common financial cons.

So, while I don’t think there’s a bright line between ‘scammers’ and ‘entrepreneurs’, I’m more inclined to just eliminate the ‘entrepreneur’ category. If we have to have it, I’d suggest someone like Jess Ainscough as a paradigm, as she was definitely promoting her woo, but certainly believed in it until perhaps the end. Her schtick had a feel of authenticy that Auerbach’s does not. All I see above is blatant PR flacking. And I’m not willing to grant anyone who hangs with Brian Clement as having any significant degree of innocence of mind.

There’s at least one class of ‘scammers’ that exhibit a duality of persona. It’s not exactly schizophrenia or MPD, but it’s not exactly ‘normal’ either. They both know they’re selling snake oil AND believe it will help their customers, and just are have erected some mental mechanism to bury the contradiction.

The word you’re looking for comes from Nineteen Eighty-Four: doublethink. In fact, Nineteen-Eighty Four describes much of the world we live in today, but instead of a single totalitarian party with a single all-encompassing vision of fake reality, we have a what amounts to a distributed collective solipsism, and we in the reality-based community are fighting a vicious battle to maintain sanity in a world that is collectively retreating into their own little bubbles of alternative reality. Instead of one all-encompassing Big Brother as Orwell envisioned, we have many Little Brothers like Mike Adams who carve out their own particular regions of insanity.

I’m unwilling to grant any innocence of mind to someone who can use the words “healing modality” without giggling or retching.

I have some kind of visceral revulsion to someone who refers to themself as “super educated.” there’s something Unnatural about it.

Back through the mists of time to the age of dinosaurs…

Orac describes how woo was spread by books, newsletters and magazines- I have had the dubious pleasure of exploring the world of this paleo-woo ( not the present day diet) because I had copies of books from the 1960s to 1990s, chief amongst them being a compilation of articles by Rodale. Interestingly enough, this tome was supplemented by one of my cousins who worked for the founder’s daughter and her husband albeit in another industry HOWEVER they were still believers to a certain degree.

The founder of this empire had the audacity to die of a heart attack on live television although he wasn’t that elderly Similarly, his son then ran the company for a while until his own death. Since that time his wife and then, daughter helmed the company which publishes Prevention magazine, shills the South Beach Diet ( low carb) and various other endeavors including an organic farm started by her grandfather and a website bringing their woo into the 21st century. These people make a lot of money.

If you look into 1960s woo, you’ll find topics that would fit right into present day nonsense like organic food ( although they don’t always call it that), pure water, supplementation. vegetables as panacea, near magical ingredients etc.

Hi Denice – Did you run across the 1970s rants against preservatives? BHA & BHT were supposed to cause all kinds of diseases and would even prevent your corpse from decomposing “naturally.” To this day one has to search actively to find foods at the supermarket that do have preservatives (and you have to know the euphemisms used for them now), unless either a) you like your food with black and green mold or b) you can eat it so fast it doesn’t have time to go bad (mmm, excess calories!). The anti-preservative paranoia has probably contributed to vast amounts of food making their way to landfills, that might otherwise have stayed edible.

BTW did you see the “study” reported in BBC, saying that sugar and starch were evil but “artisan” breads and similar products were “better for you” than their “manufactured” competitors. Speaking of “apple pie” plus “cow pie,” while it’s true that excessive sugars & starches aren’t good (calories, weight gain, diabetes), the whole “artisan” vs. “manufactured” thing is just so much cow pie, pure magical thinking.

Oh goodness, that’s like the “uncured” bacon you see at Trader Joe’s. It’s not actually not-cured (that would be meat), it’s that the manufacturer substitutes celery juice for the sodium nitrate. Which works because celery has a relatively high concentration of nitrates.

So the only real difference is the price, and how very annoyed it makes me.

@ Gray Squirrel:

Of course. After all, they’re evil chemicals.

Around here, various Eastern European shops carry lovely breads that get moldy very quickly. It is a waste when you buy a large Lithuanian or Russian bread and have to throw most of it away.

Russians, in fact, are freaked out by the fact that American bread “doesn’t mold.” (Of course it does eventually.)

But a loaf of bread doesn’t last long enough to mold in a Russian household very often, any way; they buy bread frequently and eat it with every meal.

My opinion of Mike Adams is that he is all three: scammer, entrepreneur and true believer.
Why I include the last is because I believe that like Null, he follows his own advice when it comes to diet, supplements and exercise whilst avoiding SBM at all costs.

Earlier on, his rants were more focused upon medicine rather than socialists, snowflakes and liberals. So much involved purity
of food and water avoiding vaccines, even hightailing it to Ecuador for a few years. His bio ( health ranger) discusses how family members died at the hands of doctors and he himself was overweight and developing diabetes UNTIL his conversion and self-taught education in natural health.

Although Mike believes himself to be expert in many fields- like Null- his foundation will always be a protest against SBM and a rebuke to those who “killed” his family members much like autism parents who blame the condition on doctors and pharmaceutical products. Both of these creatures lack the fundamental ability to critique their own work: how can ANYONE purport to be right about several FIELDS of research despite minuscule education in any?

To an in-expert audience, either of these idiots sound as if they know something even when they mispronounce common terminology or create malapropisms frequently. Their appeal is to people who don’t know better.

To be a successful entrepreneur in this area, it certainly helps to be a true believer.

The successful scammer only has to be able to simulate being a true believer. In Mike’s case, the steps he takes to trap people in his network of web sites suggests to me that he’s only simulating being a true believer. An actual true believer would be so convinced of the rightness of his position that he would not feel the need to take such measures–the correctness of his position is so self-evidently obvious (to him) that he expects readers to be convinced. That Mike does take such measures is what we call a “tell”.

Eric, I beg to differ!

I agree that he goes to extremes to trap readers into his web of deceit and I doubt that he is as rabidly alt right/ survivalist as he pretends to be BUT I think that he is honest about his hatred of SBM and his crusade to get followers to leave it behind. Like Null, who also pads his shows and network with political claptrap to expand his audience, I think that his own inclination is being a rebel against medical authority. The vehemence and repetition in his earlier work seems to be one thing that I can believe about him- otherwise, I wouldn’t trust as far as I could throw him which wouldn’t be very far being that he is a rather large wanker.

Perhaps at one point he imagined himself as a researcher or medical professional and never made the grade/s and thus wound up with an unrelated and easier degree ( writing or such like although he waves the Bachelor of Science around like a flag at healthranger.com never saying what it was in- I know from his other writing about being poor in Taiwan when he admits it) and he’s been holding a grudge against professionals ever since.

To an in-expert audience, either of these idiots sound as if they know something even when they mispronounce common terminology

The eptiome of epitopey, artichokey?

Denice Walter has made 4/8 (50%) of the comments so far. Vinu was recently placed in auto-moderation for over contributing as such.

@ Orac,

Please, please put Denice Walter in auto-moderation based on these REAL numbers!

Contributing….MJD must have a different definition of the word as compared to mine.

auto-mod request: picture me as a deer blinded by the sun with a distance of 1KM between deer and the sun (if it wasn’t for the heat and lack of atmosphere that is). Mouth agap.

Al

MJD, you have contributed nothing to the conversation. Please take this balloon as a consolation prize and go away.

Of course Orac and his followers would never resort to ad hominem attacks, oh no. And as for the “dark side”, of course orthodox medicine has no dark side. I mean, if it had, Orac would have told us about it, wouldn’t he?

We need a law along the lines of Godwin’s Law or Scopie’s Law about the indiscriminate, sloppy or just plain incorrect invocation of “ad hominem”.

All things human have a dark side. Just be certain not to inflate those out of proportion to whatever benefits or realities exist on the opposite side of the coin. For certain, not every doctor is Larry Nassar. Same thing is true about Mike Adams: are you ignoring his dark side?

“every single healing modality that I use, is based on rebalancing body chemistry to…faster cell birth”
Yep, faster cell birth is exactly what I need if I have cancer. Isn’t it?

Gotta love how it would be more expensive for big cancer and the likes to hide the truth rather than make a working cure. But in the minds of conspiracy nuts, lack of evidence is the most powerfull piece of evidence.

DW: “I believe that like Null, he follows his own advice when it comes to diet, supplements and exercise whilst avoiding SBM at all costs.”

How would we know this? Actual medical professionals wouldn’t reveal visits by woo promoters, since that would violate patient privacy standards. Wooists on the other hand could crow about physicians seeking their services, but there typically is dead silence on that subject, since real docs are overwhelmingly too smart to jeopardize their health by using quackery.

Oh Dangerous One- the hoary old woo-meister DOES crow about how real docs come to him for help or to learn his woo.

Regular listeners are regaled with tales ( from the darkside) about how as a tenured research fellow ( at a place that probably doesn’t exist- see C0nc0rdance’s takedown of Null) he made discoveries on a near daily basis, about his breakthroughs with hiv/aids patients at his clinic in the 1980s, his research studies and the great transformations that occur at his health retreats.

Recently, he claims that physicians attend his health resort in Texas to observe and study his methods. Over the years, many doctors have begged him to help them or their families when serious illness strikes. Amongst the tens of thousands he has counselled are doctors, professors and celebrities. This is his mystique: saving those whom SBM abandons or loses.

Of course, I don’t believe a word of it but his enraptured followers probably do. One of the ways charlatans like him or Mike capture the imaginations of followers is by providing frequent and repeated material to cement woo-ish beliefs into place. They treat them like preachers might act with new converts at a revival meeting: make sure that they hear the gospel everyday and get them to attend meetings to keep them in the flock. You’ll notice that he creates 5 or 6 shows a week and Mike writes several and also makes audios.
Then there are films and books. Although these scammers know little about psychology they DO know enough about how to make converts and make them recall their (dis)information as well as selling them products.

One flaw in this line of reasoning is that once in a while somebody will start off as a legitimate doctor or medical researcher and subsequently turn to the dark side, pushing their woo. Dr. Oz and Stan Burzynski are two examples of this phenomenon that come to mind. Dr. Oz seems to be primarily an entrepreneur, having noticed that a certain fraction of the general public are willing to buy into woo and developed a way to monetize it via his TV show. Burzynski may have been a True Believer at one time, but has since morphed into a scammer (if he wasn’t one all along)–I say this because whatever he may have done as a legitimate researcher decades ago, he now behaves more or less as I would if I were selling his therapy as a scam.

The reverse transition, from woo pusher to skeptic, is much rarer, because it’s much less lucrative. Britt Hermes is the only example I can think of offhand.

Re. Dangerous Bacon, “How would we know this?” The trick is to catch them breaking their own rules beyond the point of plausible deniability.

For example someone should post a cash reward for a credible video of Mike Adams buying or smoking cigarettes. Any such video would go viral and at least make a dent in his empire. (Between now and then, spread the meme, “What brand does Mike Adams smoke?”)

Recordings (check your state laws, keyword search “two party consent laws”) of these guys while they’re drunk or high, would probably yield some clues and some potentially-viral moments and quotes.

Rewards for information, offered to their current and former employees, might be productive.

Most of these True-Believer/Entrepreneurs/Scammers have a strong streak of conspiracy theorist to them. Anyone who’s not 100% behind them must in fact be working for “The Man.” Well, Orac, I didn’t see you at the last New World Order meeting. didn’t you get the memo ? The High Command will be angry if you miss another such.

As an aside – articles like this one help convince me that Orac is truly in the pocket of Big Pharma.

When one sees giant photos of Mike Adams, Andrew Wakefield or certain other woorific personalities whose images are seriously nausea-inducing, it’s obvious there must be a kickback from the makers of Compazine and similar drugs.

In other possibly nausea-inducing news….

( I sometimes look at anti-vaxxers’ tweets to see what’s up)

According to Tim Welch ( @ tannersdadtim) Wakefield no longer lives in Texas ( tweeted yesterday with blue wakandian/ wakefieldian image)

So I don’t know if that’s good or bad:
maybe he’s shuffled off to live quietly in the South Pacific never to be heard from again-
on the other hand, he could have moved ‘down the street’ from me, settling next door to Dr Oz.

@ beckyfisseux:

Thanks for that article. I suppose it is that to which Welch is referring.
He says how could AJW be affecting elections in Texas when he doesn’t live there now?

AFAIK Welch is one of the faithful and probably knows something.

Maybe Andy moved to LA or NY being that he is now a film maker and that’s where they cluster.**

-btw- my two options for his possible relocations are purely jokes although Dr Oz does live nearby in a ridiculous mansion on a great cliff overlooking the river and The Bridge and the South Pacific is very very far away.

** however he could do damage with his misinformation campaign wherever he lives.

What’s the South Pacific done to deserve that?

Wakefield heard about Godzilla and the other Kaiju.
They all suffer from mood swings, projectile vomiting, flashy neon tongue pigmentation… Classical symptoms of measles gut enterocolitis. So he is gone to interview the Kaiju on their vaccine uptake.

Just a note: In case anyone wonders why there’s been no new material since Monday, I have a major grant deadline Friday. I’ll try to post an announcement later today that will also serve as an open thread. I might also post a “rerun” or two, just for fun, as long as it’s something that takes minimal editing. (It’s amazing how many links break over the years.) I’ll be back at full strength next week.

Good luck with your grant. I had a job in college doing number crunching for Ryan White grants. I now have a permanent twitch in response to the word “grant.”

Orac writes,

I have a major grant deadline Friday.

MJD says,

Good luck with trying to get the money!

Isn’t it amazing how the pursuit of money drives the grant writers and the “believers”..

Both hope what they do is helpful, although, if they fail there’s no refund.

Two peas in a pod?

“Both hope what they do is helpful, although, if they fail there’s no refund.”

More’s the pity; we’re still finding altie codswallop that my mother was using to self-“treat” her cancer. She believed in aaaaalll the things.

I use the past tense intentionally, and not to imply that she thought better of it.

Bonne chance. We were hoping for an HHS to fund a disaster mental health conference next year but just found out we didn’t get it. Bummers. Oh, and Doucheniak can go sit on his thumb and rotate.

Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these (courtesy of AoA): “JB Handley is writing a book”.

(It’s about the aluminums, which were added to vaccines as a replacement for mercury). More books from similarly best-selling authors will no doubt follow, on the perils of other vaccine ingredients such as formaldehyde, antifreeze, monkey kidney cells, aborted fetuses, glyphosate, yoga mats, GMOs, BHA, BHT, sucrose and filthy disease germs.*

*there’s a sign in the CDC bathroom that says “All scientists must wash their hands before going out and making toxic vaccines”, but no one pays attention. 🙁

(Deviation from topic a little bit)

Paging Chris, I remember in a comment thread some time ago that you wrote about Unstrange Mind, the book from Roy Richard Grinker. I went tonight at the national library (a government build huge library here in town) and rented it as well as NeuroTribes.

I was saddened they also Lyons-Weiler’s (junk?) book in that same area. Next time, I’ll look carefully for other antivax junk.

Alain

Here’s an ominous story – CDC worker disappears without a trace, leaving all his belongings and IDs behind:

http://abcnews.go.com/US/missing-cdc-employee-fall-lives/story?id=53422388

” “Dr. Cunningham’s colleagues and friends at CDC hope that he is safe,” the CDC said. “We want him to return to his loved ones and his work — doing what he does best as a CDC disease detective — protecting people’s health.”

Maybe he was about the reveal further details of the Secret Vaccine Coverup. Or worse – wooists killed him to thwart the CDC’s lifesaving mission, part of a series of Allopathic Doctor Murders that Erin of Health Nut News will never tell you about.

“There is also no evidence of foul play, police said.”

Of course_ they’d_ say that, but we know better. 🙁

I got in a huge Facebook fight with my idiot brother about cooking up conspiracy theories about this poor man. My brother and his stupid friends were all “the government got him!” or “the CDC is cooking up a new virus” and even “everyone who went to Harvard has plenty of money”.
I tried to explain why it’s not cool to do that and I got some incoherent text-speak and swearing from someone who hadn’t even heard of the Russian bots.

From more reliable sources on Twitter this researcher worked on COPD and smoking cessation.

I hope hope hope he comes home safe and sound, but I fear it isn’t likely.

I think we are dumping all alternative medicine into the same basket. Cancer is a good example. A juice and warm thoughts treatment modality above sounds awful. But there are is some data to suggest fasting may be useful for cancer prevention and treatment. Neither are supported by double blind placebo studies but one appears to the insane while the other has a least some sound science behind it that may be worth a try.

Most of the people responding to this article and the article itself is full of shit. I bet noone here is a nutritionist, dietition or scientist. Have absolutely no idea about the subject they are writing/commenting about. I’m vegan and feel great… better than I have in years. I have been using some of the products and protocols they recommend and they have worked with great effect. This article is full of shit.

Well, the author of this article is a surgical oncologist who has a PhD in cellular physiology, along with an undergraduate degree in chemistry (from LinkedIn). So you lost that bet.

Please provide verifiable citations in the form of PubMed indexed studies by reputable qualified researchers that a vegan cancer can cure cancer without any other medical intervention.

Do the same with the claim that praying to a deity can also cure cancer.

I understand you don’t like the article. But I have yet to see evidence that these special diets really work to cure cancer. If they had worked for my sister-in-law, we would be planning to celebrate her birthday this month.

And the author of this blog is a scientist researching how to cure cancer.

Comments are closed.