Orac basks in the adoration of Gary Null

One of the great rewards of doing what I do, having done it for over 13 years, and achieving some level of notoriety is basking in the adulation of my fans. I mean that in two ways, of course. The first way, as you might expect, is literal. it is rewarding to know that I’ve made a difference among those who are confused about medicine and various quack remedies, including antivaccine pseudoscience. Then there’s the other way, which consists mainly of the various hate mail that I receive. Particularly gratifying is when a high profile quack or supporter of quackery takes notice of my humble efforts. I will admit that there is definitely a downside to this latter adulation. After all, Mike Adams, a.k.a. the Health Ranger, has permanently poisoned my Google reputation with a two year campaign of defamation against me. On the other hand, the effort he and his minions took tells me that I’ve been effective. The same is true of Gary Null. Think of Gary Null as Mike Adams before there was a Mike Adams; indeed, his most hilarious screwup was when he accidentally poisoned himself with his own supplements.

Null’s been around since the 1970s, having cut his teeth publishing laudatory articles about cancer quacks like Stanislaw Burzynski. Null knows who I am, and he likes me. He’s said so by providing me with the quack adulation of an attack. Now, I’m informed, he’s doing it again. On his radio network, I find Wikipedia: Our New Technological McCarthyism, Part Two (partial transcript here). Yes, it’s part two, but it interests me more than part one because it mentions projects with which I’m intimately familiar and people with whom I work. For instance, he really, really doesn’t like science-based medicine:

Due to EBM’s shortcomings, an group who earlier advocated for EBM emerged. The Society for Science Based Medicine, founded by Yale neuroscientist Skeptic Steven Novella, was launched to advocate for a reductionist scientific rationality, founded upon Skepticism’s principles and militant propaganda strategies. In 2009, the Society launched its Institute for Science in Medicine, a non-profit organization with a mission to influence public health policies and establish standards based upon its medical determinism at the exclusion of other medical options that the Institute criticizes. High on both the Society’s and Institute’s priority list is the condemnation of Complementary-Alternative Medicine (CAM), which is today offered in most university medical schools. It also accuses naturopathy, homeopathy, massage, chiropractic medicine, nutritional medicine including supplements, and all faith-based and Mind-Body healing modalities of quackery.[7] Practitioners of these non-drug based therapies are categorically labeled as irrational, charlatans, conspiracy theorists or quacks. Followers of SBM operate solely in the state of its absolute authority, hyper-diligence and ultra- orthodoxy. Medical research favoring conventional medicine is framed as unwavering facts, which leave no room for open discussion and debate.

Null doesn’t know what he’s talking about here. The Institute for Science in Medicine (ISM) was not founded by the Society for Science-Based Medicine (SfSBM); it preceded SfSBM. There is some overlap in membership (including myself), but SfSBM flowed more out of a desire of some members of ISM to open another front in the battle for science and against quackery. On the other hand, Null is correct that one characteristic that both organizations share is is labeling quackery as quackery. I can’t speak for ISM any more, but I can say that SBM does not “categorically label” practitioners of CAM as “irrational, charlatans, conspiracy theorists or quacks.” We do, however, call out the charlatans, conspiracy theorists, and quacks among CAM practitioners. Regarding the rest, we not infrequently delve deeply into potential reasons why physicians might embrace CAM. As for framing medical research favoring conventional medicine as “unwavering facts,” there’s only one way to characterize such a statement: As the bullshit that it is. Has Null ever read some of the posts on mammography, for instance, that I’ve written? They are anything but framing studies as “unwavering facts.” Indeed, Null should take a look at this post in particular, where I point out how difficult that it is to determine whether mammography saves lives, and, if so, how many it saves.

It’s also not surprising that Null pulls the “academics” trope:

SBM is strictly a community of university professors and medical doctors. Very few have the luxury to spend hours day and night to survey the internet for people and groups to endlessly attack on blogs or monitor Wikipedia edits they disapprove of. Nor do most of them have the technological computer skills. To succeed in promulgating its ideology, they have recruited their admirers in the Skeptic organizations listed in our earlier segment to this series.

Except that it’s not. Harriet Hall, for instance, is not and never was an academic physician. She was an Air Force physician, now retired. Jann Bellamy is a lawyer. In fact, only some of the regulars at SBM are academic physicians. While it’s true that SBM founder Steve Novella is an academic neurologist at Yale, although for some reason Gary Null seems to think that the SBM editor comes from Wake Forest (see the first part of the series), which is yet another example of the very sloppy “research” that he did for his rant.

It isn’t long, of course (actually, it only took until part one) for Null to invoke the spectre of “militant atheism“:

The Center for Inquiry (SFI), the umbrella organization that serves as the mother chapel for the Skeptic movement, fully embraces Dawkins’ atheistic Scientism. In 2016, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science merged with CFI. Its stated mission is to “foster a secular society based upon reason, science, freedom of inquiry and humanist values.”[14] Laudable words, but the Center fails horribly to tolerate, let alone respect, the freedom of others to their beliefs and the freedom to choose a medical intervention of their choice. Any discipline of inquiry that is performed outsides the Center’s narrow interpretation of science is condemned as heresy, exposed and publicly maligned. Everything that deals with religion and spirituality, the paranormal, unexplained phenomena, and alternative and natural medical modalities are accused of con-artistry. Other leading major Skeptic groups are the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, the Council of Secular Humanism, the James Randi Educational Foundation and the SBM-related Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health.

I do love how out of date Null’s information is. For instance, the James Randi Educational Foundation has basically folded. Sure, it still exists, and supposedly has converted itself into a grant-making foundation, but I haven’t heard anything about such grants being awarded since the JREF made that change. Indeed, its website appears not to have changed in two and a half years, the sole announcement since 2015 being in January, in which JREF announced that Susan Gerbic received the 2017 award from the JREF, saying that the award “is given to the person or organization that best represents the spirit of the foundation by encouraging critical questions and seeking unbiased, fact-based answers.” Whether any cash was associated with that award, I’ll have to ask Susan.

As for the rest, does Null not know that the Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health has been moribund for years. The most recent articles on its website are from 2005, for cryin’ out loud! The most recent issue of Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice (SRMHP) was published in 2007. The most recent issue of the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine (SRAM) was published in 2002. It’s sad, yes, very sad, and I do know that every now and then someone brings up the idea of trying to resurrect SRAM and SRMHP, but in reality they are probably no longer necessary given the rise of blogs and online publications.

Speaking of Susan Gerbic, Null really, really doesn’t like her. That’s not surprising, given that she’s created an organization, Guerilla Skepticism on Wikipedia (GSoW) dedicated to making sure that Wikipedia articles on topics with which skeptics concern themselves are scientifically accurate and that promoters of pseudoscience and quackery don’t manage to bias Wikipedia articles in favor of nonsense. Her group filled a definite need, and she answered the call. Indeed, the slogan of GSoW is, “The mission of the Guerrilla Skepticism editing team is to improve skeptical content of Wikipedia. We do this by improving pages of our skeptic spokespeople, providing noteworthy citations, and removing the unsourced claims from paranormal and pseudoscientific pages. Why? Because evidence is cool. We train – We mentor – Join us.” Of course, this is exactly the sort of thing that quacks cannot abide, which is why they’ve attacked Susan before. For instance, five years ago, Deepak Chopra was very upset at the GSoW treatment of woo-meister Rupert Sheldrake. As I pointed out at the time, there is indeed a movement afoot to correct scientific misinformation and try to keep the entries in Wikipedia scientifically accurate. Chopra complained about this as though it were a bad thing, which to him it was, because Susan’s activism keeps entries that have anything to do with the sorts of quackery and pseudoscience he believes in from being transformed by quacks to glorify and promote those selfsame forms of quackery and pseudoscience—or at least from presenting them as though they were true or even just as scientifically valid points of view.

So what does Null think of Gerbic and her activities? He’s not a fan:

One group that has received Wikipedia’s full support and swallowed Dawkin’s “militant atheism” whole with steroids is Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia (GSoW). Founded by a woman who owns a small portrait gallery in Monterrey, Susan Gerbic is a close friend of SBM guru David Gorski who fully endorses her organization’s internet militancy. GSoW actively seeks out and trains recruits to serve as an army of a Skeptic editors to wage wiki wars against those who research or advocate alternative medical treatment modalities. These are the most active of Wikipedia’s independent advocates editing alternative medicine content and pages critical of conventional drugs. To further proselytize her extreme Skepticism globally, Gerbic later founded the World Wikipedia Project to reproduce her successes on foreign language Wikipedias.

And:

On her personal Wikipedia biographical entry, Gerbic is quoted as saying, “We rewrite Wikipedia, and proof the pages, we remove citations that are not noteworthy, we add citations, we do just about everything in Wikipedia to improve content.”[12] Of course, the majority of their “notable citations” reference back to Skeptic and SBM sources, such as Gorski’s ScienceBasedMedicine blog. “Improvements” are solely aligned with Skepticism’s doctrine. Gerbic’s other organization Skeptic Action is another stealth guerilla operation to disseminate cyber tasks for Skeptic trolls on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ to rapidly rate pages such as books listed on Amazon that question vaccination, homeopathy, and natural cancer treatments. Skeptic Action also utilizes a community drive system, which enables members to receive rapid alerts to rebut content posted on the internet.

Gee, Null thinks this is a bad thing. That’s not surprising, because Wikipedia would be a great marketing tool for quacks, and a team of skeptics preventing pseudoscience and dubious references being inserted into Wikipedia entries is a major buzzkill when it comes to shiny happy propaganda about alternative medicine. Indeed, Null even inadvertently provides an example:

In this particular case, Debby Vajda, President for the Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology (ACEP), provided 51 peer-reviewed articles and studies, 18 which were randomized controlled studies, appearing in professional journals, including the American Psychological Association, the Journal of Clinical Psychology, the Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases, Psychotherapy Theory Research and Practice and others showing positive statistical results outside the range of chance. She commented on Change.org, “Every edit to the energy psychology Wikipedia page that attempts to reference findings from these well-respected, scientific journals is summarily deleted… The American Psychological Association does not think we are ‘lunatic charlatans.’ Neither does the Association of Social Work Boards, the National Board of Certified Counselors, or the National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors, all of which approve ACEP to provide continuing education to their professional members for the study of energy psychology. The Wikipedia page is out of step with existing peer-reviewed research on this topic, and opinionated, self-described “skeptic” editors are resisting any change.”[21]

Apparently the scientific evidence was insufficient to pass Wikipedia’s administration review. The page still defines Energy Medicine as a “pseudo-scientific belief.”[22]

See? Energy medicine “quacks” are trying to promote their quackery with the usual dubious pseudoscientific studies. Fortunately, Wikipedia is quite correct to define energy medicine as pseudoscience. As I like to say about reiki, for instance, it’s faith healing substituting Eastern mystical religious beliefs for the Christian beliefs usually used to justify faith healing. A list of the sorts of articles ACEP promotes as “rigorous” include the usual nonsense about Emotional Freedom Technique, acupuncture, thought field therapy, “Wholistic Hybrid Derived from Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and Emotional Freedom Technique,” and the like. (EFT, which is pure wishful thinking quackery, seems to be very big among this group.)

Null is also very, very upset that skeptics are so hostile to The One Quackery To Rule Them All, homeopathy, whose principles violate multiple laws of physics. He views homeopathy as an example of what’s wrong with skepticism:

Homeopathy is an excellent example of Skepticism’s unsound and frequently unsubstantiated criticisms. Simply because SBM physicians may not understand biophysics, quantum energy, and physical properties of water should not close the door on homeopathy as mere quackery. Surely Skeptics will embrace the value of nanotechnology without understanding the physics of spatial quantum confinement behind it. Nanomedince is rapidly becoming part of conventional medicine’s drug arsenals. Safety studies for nano-drugs are weak at best. Yet there are analogous features to nanotechnology and homeopathic theory in terms of spatial physics and force. Furthermore, in Europe, homeopathy is a preferred alternative treatment modality among doctors. In India, where it is most popular, 62% of homeopathic users have never tried conventional drugs, and 82% of those in an AC Nielsen survey said they would not switch to allopathic treatments. In France, 94% of surveyed pharmacists acknowledged they recommend pregnant women to use homeopathic remedies instead of pharmaceutical drugs. Homeopathy is also taught in 21 of 24 French pharmacology schools. Seventy percent of French physicians approve of the discipline.[25]

Actually, it is because SBM physicians have an understanding of biophysics, quantum energy, and physical properties of water that we reject homeopathy as pseudoscience. It is because quacks like Null do not understand these things and are unduly impressed by the shiny, happy pseudoscience and mysticism invoking quantum physics as though it were magic. Also, one more time, homeopathy has nothing to do with nanoparticles, and appealing to homeopathy’s popularity is meaningless. You can be sure that Null won’t mention that homeopathy is big business in France (Boiron, anybody) and that powerful forces actually suppress criticism of homeopathy by SBM physicians. Yes, in France, criticizing homeopathy too vigorously can land you in a world of hurt, including complaints against you and even lawsuit, and the the Minister of Solidarity and Health fully supports homeopathy. In France, homeopathy is mainstream. To SBM, that’s a problem. To Null, it’s a good thing.

Null concludes:

Wikipedia is embedded with the frontline sychophants to attack those who would tell us the truth, the guardians of the social media galaxy. We are brainwashed 24-7 without warning. No trepidation. No open debate. We are solely passive consumers in Wales’ wiki matrix. Objectivists, as The Economist article notes, functions best when social conditions reinforce a bee-hive mentality. This is what enables Skeptic leaders such as Wales, Novella and Gorski to cling to their perceptions of intellectual superiority. In the meantime we have a compliant nation, a population obedient and only buying.

Project much? The people who would most benefit from a compliant nation, a population obedient and only buying, would be Gary Null, Mike Adams, and his fellow quacks. Certainly they’d benefit far more than any SBM proponent would. We have our pesky dedication to science that keeps us from taking full advantage of the free market. That’s why financially we’re always at a disadvantage—and not by a little. Null can never admit that, though, because his very business model depends on him portraying himself as an underdog fighting the system.

I can hardly wait for part three.