Dying to Believe

This is being cross-posted from  the Skeptical Analysis blog.

This is old stuff. Nearly 25 years ago medical charlatan Charlotte Gerson came to town, peddling what was then called “the Gerson cancer cure.” The North Texas Skeptics newsletter reported on it at the time:

Max Gerson seems to have been a very self-reliant man. At an early age he found he could cure his own migraine headaches by controlling his diet, and as a medical doctor he found diet to be a cure for a multitude of other complaints. The list is impressive. According to the flier distributed by the Gerson Institute, the Gerson Therapy can cure or prevent: cancer, heart disease, strokes, diabetes, arthritis and “other diseases of civilization that kill and cripple us.” Just wait until the AMA hears about this.

Max’s daughter, Charlotte Gerson, is living proof of the effectiveness of the Therapy. At age seventy, she looks the picture of perfect health. Slim and vigorous and very neat looking with white hair and wearing white sandals and slacks with a blue blouse and a string of pearls. She looks the way you would like your grandmother to look (or the way you would hope your wife looks at that age). You would never believe that 58 years ago her father cured her of “incurable” bone tuberculosis. Indeed, the only sign of malady she exhibited (that could not be attributed to seventy years) was a “Band-Aid” patch on the middle finger of her right hand.

Charlotte’s free lecture was presented at the Unity Church of Dallas on Forest Lane.

And there was more.

Anyhow, run the tape forward 12 years, and the Gerson therapy was still alive and well, this time with the moral support of high royalty:

Now Charles backs coffee cure for cancer

Angry doctors warn of dangers as Prince of Wales lends support to controversial alternative treatment. Health Editor Jo Revill reports

Prince Charles has never made a secret of his love affair with alternative medicine. Now he has infuriated the medical profession by backing a controversial cancer treatment which involves taking daily coffee enemas and drinking litres of fruit juice instead of using drugs. Charles gave an enthusiastic endorsement last week to the Gerson Therapy, which eschews chemotherapy in favour of 13 fruit juices a day, coffee enemas and weekly injections of vitamins.

Cancer specialists have told The Observer that there is no scientific basis for the theory and that it can be dangerous because patients who are seriously ill often come off their normal treatment to try something unproven which may leave them badly dehydrated.

The problem with scams like the Gerson cure is threefold: They don’t work. They entice patients to avoid therapies that do work. They are expensive beyond all reason and worth. For any and all of these reasons, avoidable death can be a consequence.

The Guardian article by Jo Revill notes, “An estimated 1,000 people are following it worldwide, but the cost of the injections – more than £20,000 a year – means many cannot afford the treatment.” Tragedy reaches to the highest levels of society:

Another of Charles’s associates, the hereditary peer and crossbencher Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, went to the Tijuana clinic in 1996 when his wife Sally was seriously ill with breast cancer. She spent eight weeks at the clinic, followed by another two years of using the regime at home. Her disease recurred and she died three years ago.

Dying to Believe

This is being reposted from Skeptical Analysis.

altmed-cinnamonhoneycncercure

Every con job it requires two to complete the deal. A con artist may be devious of mind and sharp of tongue, but if the mark does not perform his part, the thing falls through. Fortunately for this page that does not happen often enough to starve me of weekly material. It’s Tuesday again:

Six years ago, [James Arthur] Ray wouldn’t run out of a kitchen unless it was to speak to thousands of people—or the audience had paid four figures each for the privilege. After being featured in the book and movie of self-help sensation The Secret in 2006, Ray was propelled onto the national stage. At the time, he was touted as the latest in a long line of prominent self-help gurus who claimed to hold the keys to living a happy and successful life. Two appearances on Oprah followed, as well as his 2008 New York Times best seller Harmonic Wealth: The Secret of Attracting the Life You Want. The price of joining Ray’s World Wealth Society—a program of one-to-one mentoring—peaked at $90,000, and he bought a luxurious home in Beverly Hills. A glowing profile in Fortune magazine dubbed him heir to Tony Robbins’s motivational-speaker throne.

Then, in October of 2009, three of Ray’s followers died.

The good news, depending on how you define “good,” is that in 2013 the resilient Mr. Ray was released from prison, having served his two-year sentence for negligent homicide. On that fatal day in 2009 two people died immediately from heat stroke and another died nine days later of “organ failure.” The victims were among approximately 75 people who offered themselves to Ray’s cure, submitting to temperatures of 200 F inside a tent heated by rocks.

Back in business (as of March last year), Ray continues peddling “harmonic wealth.” It’s “the idea of energy fields attracting similar energy fields.” He will be successful so long as his dupes perform as scripted. He should not require much help.

Dying to Believe

This is being cross-posted from Skeptical Analysis:

Some more of the same

religion-faithhealinghealthrobbers

It’s Tuesday again, the day we commemorate those who have died or suffered through the consequences of belief. This topic typically, but not always, touches on faith healing, the reliance on prayer over science-based medicine. Searching for something of significance, I came across this:

Mary Vonderscher of Burbank, California, thought faith healing worked. She felt cured of cancer of the spine, she said, even though doctors had thought her case was hopeless. Appearing on an Oral Roberts TV spectacular in mid- 1955, Mrs. Vonderscher gave a glowing testimonial. In January, 1956, relatives of hers in Indiana saw a re-run of this program-just three days before traveling to California for her funeral. Wanda Beach, another believer, was a thirty-seven-year-old diabetic from Detroit. In 1959, after telephoning her mother that Roberts had “completely pletely cured” her, she threw away her insulin. And died.

Stephen Barrett. The Health Robbers: A Close Look at Quackery in America (Consumer Health Library) (Kindle Locations 4488-4491). Kindle Edition.

Those are the opening paragraphs of Chapter 24 of a book by Stephen Barrett and William T. Jarvis. It’s titled The Health Robbers: A Close Look at Quackery in America, and I obtained a copy of the Kindle edition.

I had the good fortune to meet Dr. Barrett 21 years ago when he was in Dallas to  participate in the taping of a TV special on supernatural stuff. It’s one of the topics of interest to The North Texas Skeptics. One of the NTS technical  advisors is Tim Gorski, M.D., at the time head of the DFW Council Against Health Fraud. Stephen Barrett is founder of the national organization, and Jarvis is the current president.

I will be reviewing the book later this year, but in the meantime this column will carry some interesting case studies from Chapter 24.

Stupidity Writ Large

This was a topic for discussion at the January meeting on Saturday. I had previously posted the following on the Skeptical Analysis blog, and I’m re-posting it here for NTS members.

– John Blanton

AntiVaccine-03

Thursday I caught a bit of Erin Burnett Outfront on CNN. She had an interview with Doctors Armand Dorian and Jack Wolfson. The conversation turned into a shouting match about the measles vaccine, or lack thereof.

Owing to a number of people declining to be vaccinated for measles there’s been a recent outbreak of measles, particularly in areas rich with anti-vaccine sentiment. See the map.

AntiVaccine-02

California is rife with vaccine craziness, which, unlike a lot of lame brain thinking, seems to cross liberal-conservative boundaries. Wolfson, out of Phoenix, Arizona, seems to be one of those who refuse to recognize the heavier benefit of vaccination. His attitude, at least in this sector, seems to be for letting nature run its course.

AntiVaccine-01

Jack Wolfson, M.D.

Dorian was aboard to counter a lot of Wolfson’s nonsense, but his wisdom generally got lost in the back and forth. I’m just going to highlight Wolfson’s comments, because stupid stuff is what this blog is all about. I transcribed the following from the video. There are likely mistakes in the transcription, but the gist is captured accurately. First, Burnett asks a question. Then, Wolfson responds. Burnett’s comments are in bold.

Why are you opposed to the vaccine?

What I’m opposed to is the fact that we’re injecting chemicals into our children. This aluminum, mercury, sometimes aborted fetal proteins. There’s antibiotics in there. We’re doing something that is totally foreign, that is totally unnatural to our children. We’re experimenting on our children. Our children have the right to get infections. We have immune systems for that purpose.

As the doctor previously said, there were millions of cases, and rarely did anybody die from this. These are typically benign childhood conditions. We cannot sterilize the body. We cannot sterilize our society. We need to be affected by these viruses, bacteria.

He states that he is a board-certified cardiologist.

Whether it’s chicken pox, it’s measles, it’s mumps, rubella. Listen, there’s 70 people who have it right now. 80, whatever the number is. They’re not dying. These are benign childhood conditions that, once the child gets it, they will be immune forever.

You are artificially injecting chemicals to try and stimulate the immune system. That’s not the same thing. We all had chicken pox as children, and we’re all fine because of this. It is our right, and we’re not going to inject chemicals…

[Burnett mentions pneumonia, lifelong brain damage, deafness and death.]

Bad things can happen to anybody. We can be in a car accident. We can be in a toaster fire…

My view: Breath-taking inanity.

So, I’m thinking, “What do we need a doctor for?” You got a bad heart? Maybe it’s nature’s telling you that it’s time to die.

There’s obviously more to be said on this. Here’s something from the Washington Post:

It’s 6:30 p.m. in eastern Arizona, and an energetic doctor who has gained notice due to his disdain for vaccinations has just gotten home. It’s been a busy day. He’s already spoken to USA Today. He just did a segment on CNN. And he’s closely monitored his Facebook page, which has collected 4,000 “likes” in the span of 48 hours. But Jack Wolfson always has time to discuss vaccinations — his hatred of them and his abhorrence of the parents who defend them.

“Don’t be mad at me for speaking the truth about vaccines,” Wolfson said in a telephone interview with The Washington Post. “Be mad at yourself, because you’re, frankly, a bad mother. You didn’t ask once about those vaccines. You didn’t ask about the chemicals in them. You didn’t ask about all the harmful things in those vaccines…. People need to learn the facts.”

Not inclined to being mean-spirited, it is not my wish that Doctor Wolfson ever comes down with the measles.