[Editor’s note: This is a revised and largely expanded version (twice the length) of a previous post three weeks ago.]
Sometimes, a topic appeals to me because I think it would be fun to write about, even if there are other stories in the news or studies recently published that might be more serious or perhaps more interesting to more of our readers. Sometimes a topic demands to be discussed simply because I feel as though it is my responsibility or duty to do so. Sometimes, on uncommon occasions, a topic falls into both categories. So it is this week, because Gary Null has been attacking science-based medicine in general and even naming names, including Steve Novella and myself, among others. Since Steve appears to have declined to pick up the gauntlet (and might even be wise to have done so), I have a hard time letting something like this pass without a response, because, I guess, that’s just who I am.
Who is Gary Null?
Oddly enough, we haven’t really mentioned Gary Null much on SBM over the years, at least not compared to other media promoters of quackery and pseudoscience. I say “oddly enough” because Null has been doing what he does a very long time. You might recall (or not) that five years ago I featured Gary Null because back in the late 1970s he was publishing articles promoting alternative cancer cures in, of all places, Penthouse. Since then, he’s been pretty much continuously doing the same thing, publishing articles and books promoting alternative medicine and bashing conventional medicine, and, more recently, running a radio network, the Progressive Radio Network (PRN.FM), where his bio describes him thusly:
An internationally renowned expert in the field of health and nutrition, Gary Null, Ph.D is the author of over 70 best-selling books on healthy living and the director of over 100 critically acclaimed full-feature documentary films on natural health, self-empowerment and the environment. He is the host of The Progressive Commentary Hour and The Gary Null Show, the country’s longest running nationally syndicated health radio talk show which can be heard daily on here on the Progressive Radio Network.
Throughout his career, Gary Null has made hundreds of radio and television broadcasts throughout the country as an environmentalist, consumer advocate, investigative reporter and nutrition educator. More than 28 different Gary Null television specials have appeared on PBS stations throughout the nation, inspiring and motivating millions of viewers. He originated and completed more than one hundred major investigations on health issues resulting in the use of material by 20/20 and 60 Minutes. Dr. Null started this network to provide his followers with a media outlet for health and advocacy. For more of Dr. Null’s Work visit the Gary Null’s Work Section or Blog.GaryNull.com In addition to the Progressive Radio Network, Dr. Null has a full line of all-natural home and healthcare products that can be purchased at his Online Store.
Because of course they can and of course Null sells lots of supplements. Amusingly (and so ironically) back in 2010, Null actually poisoned himself with his own supplements. Actually, it’s only funny in retrospect because we know Gary Null recovered and has been fine, but it’s hard not to note that own supplements almost killed him through a vitamin D overdose. In any event, for over 40 years, Gary Null has been a force in alternative medicine, antivaccine pseudoscience, and, since the AIDS epidemic, HIV/AIDS denialism (although of late he’s been backpedaling a bit seven years after his denialist propaganda movie AIDS, Inc.). In recent years, we’ve taken note of him for his articles, books, and “documentaries” with titles like Death by Medicine (movie on YouTube), Seeds of Death: Unveiling The Lies of GMO’s (because of course Null is anti-GMO), The Law of Attraction (because of course he believes in The Secret), Preventing and Reversing Cancer Naturally, Autism: Made in the USA (because of course he believes vaccines cause autism), and many more.
As is the case for many quacks and advocates of quackery like coffee enemas, Null’s PhD appears to be of questionable provenance. He received a PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies from Union Institute & University, which is a correspondence college accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and schools, but only for the humanities. Steve Barrett provided a detailed look at Null’s education on Quackwatch, which led to Null threatening a libel suit. (Yes, like many supporters of quackery, Null is notably litigious.) Sometimes, though, he just likes to counterattack using his media sources, such as the time that Gary Null and Sayer Ji spent much of Ji’s appearance on Null’s radio show attacking science-based medicine and myself.
However, I’ve never seen Null take three or four episodes of his radio show to attack his enemies, which is what he did recently.
Gary Null attacks
One of the first things one learns perusing the PRN.FM website for its recent content is that he really, really doesn’t like Wikipedia. In fact, he features a really long letter to the Wikimedia Foundation from his lawyer Neal S. Greenfield demanding that Wikipedia alter its entry on Null because, according to Null, it uses unreliable “skeptic” sources and characterizes him as a crank. I can’t help but post a couple of excerpts from the article that are quite hilarious to anyone familiar with Null:
The TIME article, “The New Mister Natural” does not include any language indicating that Gary Null denied that HIV causes AIDS. The article does state that Gary believes that, “traditional therapies are ineffective [because] it has never been proved that HIV plays as great a role in the disease as scientists believe.”
The clause, “denies that HIV causes AIDS” is a lie, as the cited TIME magazine does not support the claim.
So Null basically said that he didn’t think HIV plays a central role in the pathogenesis of AIDS, but that calling him an HIV/AIDS denialist is a lie. I’m sorry, Mr. Null, but the very definition of an HIV/AIDS denialist is someone who downplays beyond what any science will support or even outright denies that HIV causes AIDS, which is what you did. Even in the denial he cites, he waffles:
Because I challenged the safety and efficacy of AZT and called into question the science behind conventional AIDS treatment, I was personally attacked as an AIDS denialist, which I categorically deny. There is no debate that HIV exists and that it attacks the immune system. What is still up for debate is whether pharmaceutical drugs are the complete answer. Back then and still today, there is no opportunity for questioning, you are either on board or thrown overboard and then attacked.
Notice how Null only admitted that HIV “exists” and “attacks the immune system.” He doesn’t say categorically that HIV causes AIDS. Then he pivots into a rant about not being able to “question” the HIV/AIDS paradigm. In the letter, this continues:
Here, as in the other parts of the BLP, the authors/editors show malice aforethought and intent to defame. They do so behind a curtain of anonymity, relying on false names and the perceived impossibility of being sued for their libelous statements. These statements were made and reinforced over a period of time by similarly minded people, conspiring with each other, as a Cabal. The question then arises, “why?” Certainly not to report facts or employ truth or fairness.
Yes, to Null it’s all a big conspiracy among skeptics and supporters of science, not individuals encountering his pseudoscience and being appropriately appalled. Leading the conspiracy, according to Null, appear to be two people with whom SBM readers should be acquainted: Stephen Barrett, MD (whom Null really, really, really hates) and Susan Gerbic, with a lesser role played by our fearless leader Steve Novella and yours truly.
Null vs. Steve Barrett
There is an article by two authors listed only as “S.L. and R.A.” entitled, Stephen Barrett and Medical McCarthyism. In it, Null’s flunkies show that Dr. Barrett and his Quackwatch website must be very effective indeed, because Null has been attacking Barrett at least since 2005. The authors basically admit as much in the introduction, while hilariously discussing how they will counterattack using…reason and science:
He has authored reports on many of the most accomplished practitioners and experts in the alternative health movement and in doing so, has generated a fair amount of controversy and mixed media attention. So much, in fact, that the reports on his site have come to dominate web search engine results, and in effect, preemptively tainting the reputations of hundreds of legitimate, well credentialed alternative health practitioners. Upon discovering this, my curiosity was piqued and I felt compelled to conduct some independent research on the matter, and hopefully, reach a conclusion as to whether Barrett was, indeed, an expert, or guilty of what Dr. Eng describes as “medical McCarthyism”.
My focus would be the history and relationship between Barrett and Dr. Gary Null. Null is arguably the most respected, prolific advocate and high-profile voice in the alternative heath movement, influencing a massively wide spectrum of people throughout a varied host of philanthropic efforts and causes. The purpose of this paper is to not to bring direct challenge to Barrett’s work or ideology, but rather to present facts and convey reasoned, journalistic interrogation into the heart of this debate. To that end, we can look to Null’s extensive work and research on the negative effects of fluoride, mercury, vaccines, sugar and caffeine, all of which, Barrett has called in to question. Research will demonstrate that science firmly supports all of Null’s conclusions and solutions on these topics. Fact checking and research is the cornerstone of the journalistic process, yet, Barrett and those media outlets who would employ his subjective opinion as scientific fact, quite simply, have not done their homework here.
Yes, indeed. Null’s toadies appear to be basically admitting that Null is unhappy with Barrett because his articles about Null rank high on Google searches. They also don’t like how media outlets not infrequently seek out Dr. Barrett for interviews when researching stories on alternative medicine:
CNN, The New York Times, and other traditional, highly esteemed news outlets frequently cite Stephen Barrett as an expert in the discussion of the effectiveness and validity of Alternative Health, be it acupuncture, homeopathy, nutritional support, or chiropractic. Barrett’s primary strategy in his campaign is to attack, and in certain cases, bring suit against, key members and pillars of the alternative health movement. One such target is Dr. Gary Null. Barrett’s claims that Null “promotes hundreds of ideas that are inaccurate, unscientific, and/or unproven….” are plainly false. Amongst those ideas are that the intake of Fluoride is harmful and potentially deadly, and that mercury in dental fillings can have serious neurotoxic effects. Dr. Null has also consistently warned of the harmful impact of sugar and the negative effects of caffeine. All of his observations and conclusions are supported by extensive, peer reviewed research and hard-won scientific scholarship. This approach stands in stark contrast to Barrett’s own fast and loose, “things don’t need to be tested [because] they simply don’t make any sense” methodology.
I couldn’t help but laugh at the characterization here. A better way to put it would be, just as quacks, antivaxers, and pseudoscientists do, Null cherry picks the literature to find dubious studies that support his preconceived notions.
As for that last part about “things don’t need to be tested [because] they simply don’t make any sense,” that’s clearly a straw man version of the main precept of science-based medicine. Basically, Null mischaracterizes the SBM view about, for example, homeopathy as being that it doesn’t warrant further scientific testing because it “doesn’t make sense.” While that is the argument—although it would have been more accurate to say, “doesn’t make sense scientifically“—it is an intentionally incomplete statement of the SBM argument that makes it sound as though skeptics dismiss pseudoscience like homeopathy out of hand just because it “doesn’t make sense.” In actuality, the correct argument is that homeopathy’s precepts, particularly the law of infinitesimals, which states that diluting a homeopathic remedy makes it stronger, violate multiple longstanding well-supported laws and theories of science. As I like to say, for homeopathy to “work,” not only would much of what we know about physics, chemistry, and biology have to be wrong, it would have to be spectacularly wrong. As a consequence, the prior probability, from a Bayesian perspective, that homeopathy can work, is so small as to be, well, homeopathic. The burden of evidence thus falls on homeopaths and believers in homeopathy (like, as you will soon see, Gary Null) to provide evidence from the basic sciences that show that homeopathy could actually work, something they as yet have failed to do.
I also couldn’t help but laugh out loud when I read the conclusion:
I can conclude that with absolute proof of an outstanding educational background, and his extensive clinical experience, that Gary Null is being attacked for what he represents: a viable challenge to the existing medical paradigm.
You know, that last line makes me wonder whether Gary Null actually wrote this article. It doesn’t matter. He wouldn’t have published it if he didn’t support its conclusions.
Gary Null vs. Susan Gerbic
More recently, Null has been very unhappy about Wikipedia, a taste of which I provided above from his lawyer’s letter to the Wikimedia Foundation. The result has been a two part screed, Wikipedia: Our New Technological McCarthyism, Part 1 and Part 2. It’s primarily in Part 2 where he lashes out at Gerbic.
It’s not at all surprising that Null would not appreciate Gerbic’s efforts, 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 Gerbic 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 Susan Gerbic. 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.
I can’t help but point out here that there was a previous version of this article in which this paragraph read a bit differently:
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.
Why was the change made? I can’t know for sure, but about a week and a half ago my not-so-super-secret other blog noted many errors of fact in Null’s articles. As a result, the articles mysteriously disappeared for a couple of days, and when they reappeared they had been…edited. Also, Null appears to have removed several mentions of my name, perhaps because he was embarrassed, perhaps because he was ticked off. For instance, in the original version of Part 1, Null claimed that I was based at Wake Forest University. Truly, I take what I view to be as deserved credit for “helping” Null improve his accuracy, although I will likely point out more of his errors of fact before this post is done. For instance, one error that didn’t get corrected was that the World Wikipedia Project only existed from 2012-2014 and was merged into GSoW.
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.” 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 says that as though it were 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 from 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.”
Apparently the scientific evidence was insufficient to pass Wikipedia’s administration review. The page still defines Energy Medicine as a “pseudo-scientific belief.”
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 also blames it all on “militant atheism”:
The Center for Inquiry (CFI), 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.” 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.
The latter publishes the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine, founded by Skeptics at Stanford University and the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. The publication makes the narcissistic claim of being the only journal that properly analyses alternative medical claims.
I do love how out of date Null’s information is. For instance, the James Randi Educational Foundation has basically gone into hibernation. Sure, it still exists, and supposedly has converted itself into a grant-making foundation, but I haven’t heard much of anything about such grants being awarded since the JREF made that change. Indeed, its website appears not to have changed much two and a half years, the sole recent 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.” Susan confirmed this award to me, and it cheered me up a bit to learn that JREF isn’t completely moribund.
As for the rest, does Null not know that the Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health unfortunately 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. That doesn’t stop Null from attacking them as though they were still relevant.
Gary Null versus SBM on behalf of homeopathy
If there’s one thing that seems to tick off Gary Null, it seems to be the opposition to homeopathy by supporters of science. He mentions it on multiple occasions in his “McCarthyism” articles and most recently published an article co-authored with Richard Gale (the Executive Producer of the PRN.FM) entitled Slaying Homeopathy and Americans’ Freedom of Health Choices. It begins, as many of Null’s articles begin, with an attack on the medical profession as being against—of course!—freedom:
A fundamental foundation of American democracy is our freedom of choice. We have the legitimate right to pursue a career, decide where to live, what to read or watch, the freedom to vote or not, and decide who to marry or live with. Americans hold this these freedoms sacred, at least in theory.
However, during the past decades, an ethos has arisen, associated with the American Medical Association, the pharmaceutical industry, professional organizations, medical publications, media health reporters and legislators largely benefitting from the largess of private drug companies adamantly pushing to limit our medical choices. This medical regime wants to choose and dictate the types of medicines available and enforce how we are diagnosed for mental conditions. They have mastered the art of pathologizing life. We have little choice in having access to public water without fluoridation or the right to vaccinate our children or not. To illustrate this point, the Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) and FDA curtailing all positive information about homeopathy and making efforts to eliminate it altogether. This is accomplished under the misinformed ruse that it is unproven and has not undergone the rigor of conventional medical science. Therefore, homeopathy should be banned.
Yes, it is true that the FDA and FTC have of late made promising moves towards regulating homeopathy and its advertising just like other over-the-counter drugs. Yes, to those of us supporting SBM, this is a good thing, although I personally think that the FDA and FTC haven’t gone far enough.
Naturally, Null doesn’t like skeptics:
If we listen solely to the Skeptics – a quasi-rationalist movement of scientific idolatry — and the advocates of Science-Based Medicine (SBM), and now increasingly government health officials, homeopathy’s explanation is always the same. Homeopathy is only water. It is foolish and unscientific. Worse, we are told it is dangerous and even life-threatening. Homeopathy, so the Skeptics believe, fails to meet the standards of modern evidence-based medicine and should therefore be avoided. That is the end of the story.
Would that it were true that government health officials are increasingly viewing homeopathy as The One Quackery To Rule Them All, which it is! Sadly, despite promising moves here in the US and across the pond in the UK, in a lot of other countries homeopathy is almost as accepted as real medicine. For instance, recently in France a group of physicians has been harassed with complaints to French medical authorities for daring to speak out against the government’s support of homeopathy. Meanwhile, Agnès Buzyn, ministre des Solidarités et de la Santé (Minister of Solidarity and Health), stated her support for homeopathy, specifically, “If it continues to be beneficial, without being harmful, it will continue to be reimbursed.” This is a pretty damned irresponsible thing for any minister of health in any country to say. Don’t believe me? Check this out:
— RMC (@RMCinfo) April 12, 2018
In Germany, homeopathy remains popular as well. Ditto India and a lot of other countries. Even though homeopathy is no longer supported by the NHS the way it was, the royal family still uses it, and Prince Charles is its champion. Indeed, Null uses the popularity of homeopathy in other countries to claim that it must have some validity.
Predictably next up, likening SBM to a religion:
The priests in this Citadel who serve the scientific and technological elite of postmodernity, namely federal health agencies and the pharmaceutical industrial complex, in fact properly speak their truths about homeopathy and other non-conventional medicine. But their truths only exist within a very specified, narrow, and limited context or field from which they criticize science they either don’t or refuse to understand or are incapable of accurately explaining. For this reason they are easy to criticize because in fact they are the self-anointed spokespersons for the dire failings of modern scientific culture, conventional medicine and repressive government health policies.
Dr. Steven Novella, the acknowledged founder of Science-Based Medicine describes homeopathy as;
“a prescientific philosophy-based system on magical thinking…. Essentially, homeopathy uses fanciful treatments that are based on silly ideas, such as the personality of the patient, but also “sympathetic magic.” The belief is that homeopathic remedies contain the magical essence of symptoms and can be used to cure those same symptoms.”
Another spokesperson for the SBM movement is oncologist and breast cancer surgeon Dr. David Gorski (aka ORAC). Gorski writes, “Homeopathy is the perfect quackery. The reason that homeopathy is so perfect as a form of quackery is because it is quite literally nothing.” But are the Skeptics perhaps accurate in their assessment about homeopathy? Is over-diluting a substance in water whereby the atoms are no longer detectable any more bioactive than plain water? Yes, we need to ask these questions. But it is also wise to parallel this inquiry and ask whether most conventional drug therapies safely work and properly improve and save lives.
Yes, these are all familiar tropes. Medicine is a religion, and, oh, by the way, conventional medicine doesn’t work. After this follows a litany of all the clinical trials of homeopathy that have “proven” that homeopathy is safe and effective. Naturally, none of them are convincing if you really look at them with a skeptical eye. How often have we here dissected various clinical trials of homeopathy and shown that they do not show what adherents think they show? Null also ignores that one has to examine the totality of the scientific evidence, basic, preclinical, and clinical. After all, by their very nature, clinical trials occasionally produce false positive results, which means that homeopaths and their supporters (like Null) can always manage to cherry pick some studies with weak statistically significant results.
Elsewhere, in part 2, Null actually claims that skeptics do not understand homeopathy. Indeed, 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.
And, in Slaying Homeopathy:
We have identified several possible reasons. First, American physicians, and notably the Skeptics, who oppose homeopathy and other scientifically proven alternative medical modalities, are not intellectually capable of understanding the principles of homeopathy and hormesis. Skeptics are victims of their own “strange loops” — a term coined by Douglas Hofstadter, the Pulitzer Prize winning professor of cognitive science and mathematics.
“Strange loops” can account for the paradoxical “irrational rationality” so prevalent in Skeptics’ faulty reason when ranting in their comic diatribes against homeopathy, acupuncture, CAM, etc. Skeptics are victims of scientific ignorance and exist within a local tribal tunnel-reality of their own creation.
Second, and alternatively, SBM advocates are fully aware of the scientific literature supporting homeopathy but have been institutionally conditioned to be biased against it. And third, they are fully aware but homeopathy competes with their own preferred conventional therapies. The first possibility is undoubtedly true for Skeptic organizations, such as the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and its advocates. The second and third rationales are likely the case for the medical professionals who follow Science-Based Medicine, and Skeptics like Craig Pearcey who have a very sound grasp of many of homeopathy’s underlying principles as well as quantum mechanics. Allowing SBM’s spokespersons the benefit of the doubt that their blogs and guerrilla tactics are not directly receiving funds from Big Pharma and other private or professional medical interests, nevertheless they all summarily choose to deny any scientific evidence to support homeopathy’s value.
Shout out to Craig! I also “thank” Null for admitting the possibility that we SBM skeptics aren’t all pharma shills, although one can’t help but note that he certainly implies it while “giving us the benefit of the doubt.”
Actually, it is because SBM-supporting physicians do 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 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: SBM is attacking “botanical medicine”!
Homeopathy might well be The One Quackery To Rule Them All, and even Null gives the air of realization of just how ridiculous and scientifically indefensible homeopathy is even as he’s defending it against skeptics. However, when he lands on herbal medicine, he seems initially on firmer ground. The problem is that he attacks a straw man of the science-based medicine position on herbal medicine, which he refers to as “botanical medicine.” He demonstrates this in yet another post, entitled Wikipedia’s Skeptical Assault on Botanical Medicine. In this article, he conflates those of us defending and promoting science-based medicine with Wikipedia editors. Oddly, enough, he seems to recognize that pharmacognosy (the study of natural products with medicinal properties) is a distinct specialty in pharmacology.
Let’s take a look:
Of course, Skeptics do not claim to have any expertise in naturopathy, Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, nor the medicinal use of herbs. Nor are they well-educated about botanical photochemistry and the use of botanical medicines for treating illnesses for centuries, even millennia, in traditional settings. Skeptics’ claims against botanicals are specious; they ignore the well-known fact that approximately 40 percent of drugs prescribed by conventional medical physicians are derived from botanicals that have been used for centuries. Furthermore, most of the top 20 drugs sold in the US today, including aspirin, are based upon a plant phytochemicals. So are some common anti-cancer drugs such as Taxol (from a northwest pacific conifer/yew tree) — often given as a first line of treatment for certain breast cancers, the anti-leukemia drug Vinblastine or Vincristine (from an African periwinkle) and the anti-tumor drug Lapachol (from the Hawaiian trumpet tree).
This is, of course, a total distortion of how supporters of science-based medicine evaluate treatments. Time and time again, we point out how pharmacology has long sought natural products and studied them as potential medicines. We also point out how many existing pharmaceuticals are derived from natural products (like Taxol or digoxin), and how herbal medicines, when they have physiologic activity that can be used therapeutically, are not magical, but rather heavily contaminated drugs with high lot-to-lot variability. There’s a reason why scientists try to isolate and purify the active molecules from plants; it’s for reliability and safety. When Null invokes the name of Norman Farnsworth, a pharmacologist, founding member of the American Society of Pharmacognosy in 1959, and creator of NAPralert (acronym for Natural Products Alert) Database at UIC, the world’s first computerized database of ethnobotany, chemistry, pharmacology, toxicology, and clinical trials on medicinal plants, I laugh. Professor Farnsworth was everything Null was not, a towering scientist who used his skills and knowledge to identify plants with medicinal properties and isolate the active compounds from those plants, something he did for many decades.
Yes, Null can rattle off a list of natural products that might have medicinal properties and cherry pick studies to back up his claims. For instance, he’s really big on curcumin, which is one that I’ve discussed before. Basically, many of the biological effects of curcumin observed in the laboratory could well be artifacts. (Google “curcumin” and “PAINS” if you don’t believe me, or just read my summary—or Derek Lowe’s summary.) Besides, curcumin has terrible bioavailability. Null, of course, considers none of these issues, settling for simplistic cheerleading for “natural” medicine.
Gary Null and Tom Jefferson
Another hilarious bit from Null is his defense of Tom Jefferson, the Cochane Collaboration editor who frequently does his best to argue that the flu vaccine is worthless at preventing influenza. I’ve written about Jefferson multiple times before. Basically, he, like many Cochrane mavens, frequently engages in methodolatry. Not surprisingly, alternative medicine boosters like null hold him up as an example of a Brave Maverick Scientist Daring To Speak The Truth. Indeed, Jefferson even once made an appearance on Null’s radio show, an act that earned him a bit of not-so-Respectful Insolence. Null didn’t acknowledge that, but he was unhappy that my friend Mark Crislip also took Jefferson to task:
Skeptics and SBM followers also criticize Cochrane reviews whenever their conclusions are contrary to their ideological mission to stamp out alternative medicine. Our own experience has included a backlash from Mark Crislip on the SBM blog after the lead author of a Cochrane review confirming the influenza vaccine’s ineffectiveness, Dr. Thomas Jefferson, appeared on my broadcast. The SBM community and Skeptics are staunchly pro-vaccine and categorically deny any research that puts a light on vaccinations’ dark side.
After sharing Crislip’s denouncement of Dr. Jefferson for appearing on my radio program, Jefferson wrote back about the Skeptics, “My only comment is that they should read our reviews before writing their thoughts on paper. I have been subjected to this kind of thing before and in my experience it is not worth answering.”
Actually, I have read Jefferson’s reviews, and I know Mark has too. In those instances, I noted how what Jefferson says in public diverges from what he says in his reviews, probably because peer reviewers wouldn’t let him say such things. Basically, he is a lot more critical of the flu vaccine in his public appearances than he is in his reviews. I view him as antivaccine-adjacent or antivaccine-sympathetic, if not outright anti-flu vaccine himself. I do like his blithe “criticisms are not worth responding to.” It’s some serious arrogance, in which he is so sure of himself that he can’t believe anyone would criticize The Great Man.
The Null hypothesis
Although his star has been eclipsed by younger interlopers such as Mike Adams, having been at his chosen profession for well over 40 years now, Gary Null nonetheless remains influential among proponents of quackery, even though his methods are very old school (articles, radio shows and podcasts, and movies) and his voice, whenever I dare try to listen to his radio show, makes an excellent nonpharmacological insomnia aid, which no doubt Null would approve of over something like Ambien. For as long as I’ve paid attention to him (about a decade now), his M.O. has been basically the same and consists mainly of:
- Attacking conventional medicine as dangerous and unscientific.
- Cherry picking bad studies of alternative medicine to
- Crying persecution by government and the medical profession due to his preferred quackery representing a “viable” alternative to medicine.
- Conspiracy mongering.
- Ad hominem attacks against his critics as being in the thrall of big pharma or ideologically biased against alternative medicine.
- Portraying conventional medicine as a religion.
Which brings us to Null’s conclusions.
From part 2 of his McCarthyism article:
Wikipedia is embedded skeptic groups that 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 the wiki matrix. Objectivists, as The Economist article notes, functions best when social conditions reinforce a bee-hive mentality. This is what enables Skeptic leaders to cling to their perceptions of intellectual superiority. In the meantime we have a compliant nation, a population obedient and only buying.
Project much, Mr. Null? 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 for Truth, Justice, and the American Way:
To win the war on medical truth, Skepticism needs to be called out for what it genuinely is, an aberrant form of destructive skepticism masquerading as the arbiters of authentic science. Only by exposing these individuals and organizations, the flaws in their “irrational rationalities,” and the regressive system of healthcare they represent that threatens the well-being of the public, will homeopathy have a chance of gaining the wider acceptance it deserves.
Say the duo who claim that skepticism is a “curious mix of Orwellian fascism and a quirky technological totalitarianism” and the “darker side of Liberalism, with noticeable parallels to Ayn Rand’s Objectivist and autocratic absolutism.” Yes, I do think that they project.
Of course, in the end, the “freedom” that Null and Gale espouse is freedom from the shackles of the pesky science that demonstrates homeopathy (as well as the other varieties of quackery that they both support) to be ineffective. The reason Null and Gale attack Wikipedia and skeptics is not out of some love of The Truth, but because we get in the way of selling their products.