The Ugly Face of Science - David Robert Grimes, Steven Novella, David Gorski
THE UGLY AND UNACCEPTABLE FACE OF SCIENCE
David Robert Grimes / Steven Novella / David Gorski
The long read: an in-depth analysis of the problem
Author biography: I studied Biological Sciences at Oxford University, and I live in Vancouver, Canada.
CONTENTS OF ARTICLE
Part 1 – Introduction
Part 2 – Introduction to DRG and Cancer Research
Part 3 – ‘Six Stubborn myths about Cancer’, revisited
Part 4 – Critique of DRG’s follow-up article on Cancer
Part 5 – Summary of inaccuracies and logical errors of Grimes, Novella, and Gorski
Part 1 – Introduction
Part 2 – Introduction to DRG and Cancer Research
Part 3 – ‘Six Stubborn myths about Cancer’, revisited
Part 4 – Critique of DRG’s follow-up article on Cancer
Part 5 – Summary of inaccuracies and logical errors of Grimes, Novella, and Gorski
David Robert Grimes receives funding from Wellcome Trust, and is endorsed by "Sense About Science". Wellcome Trust has deep connections to the pharmaceutical industry - both in its origins and today. "Sense About Science" has been funded by the pharmaceutical industry and by Coca-Cola - yet fails to disclose these conflicts of interest, as reported in The Times. David Gorski has received funding from Bayer Pharmaceuticals.On March 8th 2019, David Robert Grimes wrote an article for the Irish Times in which he states:
''Fish oil too remains popular, despite the Cochrane Collaboration last year finding NO EVIDENCE of benefit associated with it''. (See article: https://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/most-health-supplements-have-no-health-value-and-should-be-taxed-1.3817879)
However, on November 15th, 2018, the Cochrane Collaboration had released a statement saying, ''New research finds omega-3 fatty acids (i.e. fish oil!) reduce the risk of premature birth'', going on to say how ''premature birth is the leading cause of death for children under 5 years old worldwide, accounting for close to one million deaths annually''.
(see article: https://www.cochrane.org/news/new-research-finds-omega-3-fatty-acids-reduce-risk-premature-birth).
So, Dr Grimes, is there really ''no evidence'' of benefit associated with fish oil?
This claim by Grimes was false - and false health claims endanger public health. To date, Grimes hasn't corrected or retracted his false statement.
Grimes, Gorski, and Novella are what The Ethical Skeptic would call fake skeptics and authority credulists. They represent an Orwellian inversion of true science and real skepticism - part of what Nassim Taleb terms the 'intellectual yet idiot' (IYI) class of the establishment elite. They are endorsed by - and beholden to - corporate and industry interests (whilst proclaiming and virtue signalling the exact opposite), lodged within - and incentivized by - what Eric Weinstein calls the Gated Institutional Narrative.
They enact a weaponised type of skepticism that - whether or not they are cognizant of it - has been exploited by the propaganda arm of corporations, industry lobby groups, and astroturfing think tanks.
This has amplified their voice and outreach in a way that is incommensurate with their overall contribution to deep and sustainable public health strategy - and they pollute the Information Ecosystem by parroting the flagrant representation bias of the biomedical / corporate model of medicine (i.e. perpetrating the distortion that absence of evidence is evidence of absence: e.g. patentable drugs and interventions are far more likely to receive the funding necessary to achieve the threshold for clinical evidence) - and by failing to balance their skepticism by seriously addressing the glaring flaws and systemic corruption / collusion in mainstream medicine. This creates what Daniel Schmachtenberger calls distortion bubbles that, over time, corrode public trust in science whilst having made people increasingly dependent on biomedical solutions to chronic health issues rather than being encouraged to take responsibility - and to feel empowered - to optimise their own health.
Together with representation bias, they misappropriate both the origin and meaning of the dictum "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" - first derived from Pierre-Simon de Laplace - and then adopted by Marcello Truzzi - before Carl Sagan popularised it. This dictum was supposed to be used to guard against the fantastical and unfalsifiable, as analogised by Bertrand Russell's teapot. There's nothing extraordinary about the idea that diet and lifestyle changes could prevent, manage, or even reverse disease. In fact, what is extraordinary is the suggestion that they couldn't.
They are masters in sophistry - pumping out clever arguments yet which, ultimately, turn out to be epistemologically false, misleading, or dumb rhetoric. This includes their fixed-false belief that "burden of proof always lies with the person making a claim". This is erroneous because burden of proof depends on the scientific plausibility of a claim - not on who makes it. So, for example, the onus is on the Agrochemical Industry to prove that the long-term, systemic and synergistic effects of chemicals used are safe. The onus is not on those who doubt the safety of such products. And, of course, in law, industries and corporations must be at least implicitly stating products as safe when brought to market - so these skeptics wrongly place the onus even according to their very own conception of burden of proof.
Sophistry has no place in medicine or public health journalism.
This isn't just an affront to true science and real skepticism -- it is a danger to public health, social harmony, the spirit of free society, and to finding pragmatic and genuinely sustainable solutions to the problems facing people and the Earth.
It has been said that ‘tyranny is the deliberate removal of nuance’. I would go a step further and say that it is both: (1) the deliberate removal of nuance when nuance is sorely needed; and (2) the deliberate piling on of nuance to obfuscate and distract from the ratification of a likely truth, a simple fact, or a simple principle. Scientists who use nuance to keep society trapped in endless, pointless, and unhelpful rounds of ‘proof-seeking’ are playing ‘God of the Gaps’.
To illustrate the danger to society of drawing things out Ad nauseam, consider the reticence of Grimes, Novella, and Gorski to promulgate on the importance of good food for health – and their absolute denialism when considering the specific role nutrition can have in preventing and treating serious diseases like cancer. They would say, ‘’we are just holding out for solid evidence’’. But, when will we get unequivocal evidence, if ever? 20 years? 30 years?
Whilst we wait for solid experimental evidence, we can use evidence from logic and first principles in biology to reach provisional – yet plausible – conclusions, and these can be used to inform public health policy. This approach is what’s known as the Precautionary Principle, and it would be adopted by any sane and intelligent person who genuinely cares about peoples’ health – not just how many glossy academic papers they can publish, or how they can advance their careers, on the back of sickness and misery.
Tragically, the thinking of public scientists and journalists like Grimes, Novella, and Gorski doesn’t abide by the Precautionary Principle. It is for this reason – a deceptively simple yet catastrophically profound difference in how they approach medicine – that they are a danger to public health. They don't understand a basic aspect of logic, and ethics, which implores us to place the burden of proof according to the scientific plausibility of a claim. If something is scientifically plausible - e.g. that chronic exposure to pesticides and other agrochemicals (and their synergistic effect) is harmful to humans - the burden of proof is NOT on the claimant, but on the manufacturers and scientists who champion the use of such chemicals. Erroneously, and incredulously, Grimes, Novella, and Gorski think in the opposite direction. It's irresponsible, and grossly negligent.
Whether such dogmatic skeptics appeal to nuance within a given topic, or whether they appeal to the simplicity in said topic, depends on the argument they’re trying to support or negate. They are forever virtue-signalling reason, logic and evidence – but their actions reveal an obvious inconsistency and bias which renders them untrustworthy and intellectually-deceitful.
Dogmatists like Grimes, Novella, and Gorski are Merchants of Doubt, rather than harbingers of truth. They obfuscate, rather than clarify. Instead of seeking solutions, they waste inordinate amounts of time, and their privileged media platforms, on intellectual one-upmanship, which, given their paucity of intellectual rigour, can only be achieved by picking the low-hanging fruit and by focusing on fringe topics – the proponents of which are already castigated and ridiculed by the masses in society.
Dogmatic skeptics are loath to risk being exposed for their shoddy reasoning skills, and so they simply avoid debating bright people. And, they also stay clear of challenging orthodox positions in science, e.g. the deeply troubling problems within mainstream medicine and Big Pharma. They stay clear of these issues, even though they deserve orders of magnitude more scrutiny and overhaul than anything swirling around in the alt-med camp.
Yes, the erroneous logic and quackery surrounding homeopathy is a problem. But the hundreds of thousands of people dying from iatrogenic medicine and the correct use of pharmaceutical drugs is a much, much, bigger problem.
Grimes has spent vast amounts of time, and media space, on homeopathy. But he hasn’t touched the tragic issues within mainstream medicine.
To reiterate, dogmatic skepticism is insidsuous and dangerous to public health because it stalls the implementation of reasonable health measures - i.e., the frivolity of intellectualising ‘’skepticism’’ becomes seen as more important than the much-needed and down-to-earth pragmatism of the precautionary principle. Also, and ironically, it paves the way for scientists to become lazy thinkers, even unscientific. This is because the knee-jerk and incessant ‘call for evidence’ encourages skeptics to focus on whether something is true or not, rather than how it could be true. It inculcates a lack of critical thinking and, more importantly, it works against fostering a systems-thinking approach to complex epidemiological questions in medicine. Grimes, Novella and Gorski are stuck in immature black-and-white thinking, in part due to their aversion to logical evidence and first principles and their compulsive, unquestioning, appeal to an intransigent and limiting definition of 'evidence' - and due to their obsequious worshipping of the high priesthood of science at the altar of the orthodoxy. They accept pro-industry consensus positions in medicine uncritically, even though many of those consensus positions have a relatively poor evidence base, and even though they have been reached on the back of decades of wrangling, corruption, and propagandising [via media 'Astroturfing' (see main article)] by Big Industry interests - as highlighted by Peter Gotzsche of the Nordic Cochrane Collaboration. In other words, they accept consensus positions as best evidence, even when they are repudiated by higher authorities in science, such as the Cochrane Collaboration. Yes, believe it or not, ''consensus'' in medicine, and the views of the Cochrane Collaboration, are often at odds. As I discuss in the main article, ''consensus'' in mainstream medicine / academia is regularly conflated with best practice - whereas, in truth, and often, ''consensus'' positions in medicine reflect the monopolisation of treatment - as prescribed and lobbied for (using tyrannical authority) by the Medical-Industrial-Complex (see main article) - rather than what really constitutes the best overall systems-approach for treating (and preventing) chronic disease.
These skeptics will tell you they’re in it for the public good and – bizarrely – they will use their lauds and prizes received from Big Industry interests to try to convince you of this! Gorski has been funded by Bayer (a major pharmaceutical company), and Grimes’s John Maddox award for ‘standing up for science’ came from Sense About Science (SAS) – which receives funding from pharmaceutical interests.
The prize would more accurately be called ‘standing up for corporate science’.
Given that Grimes, Novella and Gorski tirelessly slogan ‘’evidence’’, it’s deeply ironic that they have zero evidence that their promulgations help society, or science for that matter. Grimes was awarded the prize by SAS on the back of zero evidence that his style of journalism actually helps anyone other than pro-industry interests.
We must all be skeptical of dogmatic skeptics. What are their true motivations for behaving in the way they do? It can be argued that dogmatic skepticsm (as exhibited by Grimes, Novella and Gorski) is just as pathological as conspiratorial ideation (which is, ironically, Grimes’s hobbyhorse).
As will become clear in this article, Grimes, Novella, and Gorski are an affront to good medicine.
PART 1 INTRODUCTION
I was heartened to see John Horgan – a well-respected figure within the scientific establishment – take on the absurdity of the dogmatic skeptics of science in his 2016 article for the Scientific American: Dear ‘’Skeptics’’, Bash Homeopathy and Bigfoot Less, Mammograms and War More. It should be noted here at the beginning of this article that this call for action for ''skeptics'' to focus on critical issues - rather than relatively trivial and clickbait topics - has been around for at least a decade. For example, Dan Hind for The Guardian wrote this brilliant piece back in 2007, titled The Real Enemies of Reason.
Horgan and Hind were speaking out against the implicit bias of supposed ‘’skeptics’’ in science (the quotation marks are his) who are highly selectively critical of certain ideas (e.g. alternative approaches to standard medicine) but who remain bizarrely uncritical of other ideas - ideas which deserve a lot more attention and scrutiny (e.g. iatrogenic death or injury as a direct result of medical practice – as highlighted by Peter Gotzsche of the Nordic Cochrane Centre – and the paradoxically poor evidence base for a lot of modern medicine, as also documented by the Cochrane Collaboration).
Skepticism has become one big STRAW MAN. Following the publication of Richard Dawkin’s The God Delusion, many people in academia gleefully jumped on the skepticism bandwagon – and it can be understood why, because skepticism makes one feel intelligent, rational, immune to delusion and able to levy some control over the world. All this is true for true skepticism, but for dogmatic skepticism is certainly not.
Two scientists who fall foul of Horgan’s criticisms are doctors Steven Novella and David Gorski – because they exhibit false balance and severe bias in their scepticism; to the extent that their ‘’scepticism’’ is very much at odds with the true scepticism of a good scientist. This type of rabid scepticism could be called dogmatic scepticism, false scepticism, or – as Nobel Laureate Brian Josephson refers to it – pathological scepticism. If Horgan had lived in the UK, another scientist would stand out for his bias and unbalanced polemics: Irish scientist David Robert Grimes, who has - in terms of medicine - built his writing career on selectively debunking ideas such as: homeopathy, diet and alternative approaches to medicine, the health controversy surrounding Wi-Fi, and the ghosts and spirits of séance. Dogmatic sceptics pick the low-hanging fruit, but exhibit an avoidant and obsequious blind-spot to the major problems within mainstream medicine.
The core message of this article can be summarised by this nuanced and intelligent TED talk on the topic of ‘’Astroturf and manipulation of media messages’’ by Sharyl Attkisson – see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-bYAQ-ZZtEU. I encourage readers of this article to watch this short video clip first. Grimes, Novella, and Gorski epitomize the harmful ‘Astroturfers’’ which Attkisson speaks of in this video, in part due to their incessant use of – often oxymoronic – doublespeak, and inflammatory and propagandising language, such as ‘’false hope’’, ‘’pseudoscience’’, ‘’anti-science’’, ‘’quack’’, ‘’cost lives’’, ‘’charlatan’’, ‘’fraud’’, ‘’no evidence’’… the list goes on. When reading this article, you’ll understand why these slogans are so misguided and damaging to public discourse on health; and you’ll see why the Modus operandi of Grimes, Novella, and Gorski is characterised by these 5 key traits:
1. False balance
2. Confirmation bias
3. Errors attributable to the Dunning-Kruger effect
4. Straw Man arguments
5. Splitter black/white thinking – causing harmful, artificially-constructed, division and polarisation on health topics.
Furthermore – and this is one of the most important points of all – Grimes, Novella, and Gorski fail to differentiate between CONSENSUS and MONOPILIZATION OF IDEAS. In other words, ‘consensus’ positions in some branches of science, especially medicine, can be formed and perpetuated by the systematic monopolization of ideas (e.g. thought-policing which ideas are deemed ‘reasonable’), and this becomes more fully engrained by the simple and seemingly inescapable rules of economics which incentivize patent medicine and intellectual property rights. Thus, ‘consensus’ in medicine is not always the same thing as best practice – something dogmatists fail to understand.
In medicine, we are now faced with a culture of scientific scepticism which, as Horgan alludes to, is dogged by ideological bias (and cyber-tribalistic virtue-signalling of ‘logic’ and ‘reason’) – and this manifests itself as the paradoxical disparity between demands for evidence; - demanding exceptional levels of evidence for claims that are reasonable and logically plausible (e.g. chronic, low level pesticide exposure is bad for your health), but relaxing standards for ideas which are, in truth, far more contentious and logically dubious, e.g. the biomedical approach of treating diseases of lifestyle with drugs and the exceptionalism of many of these drugs to strict evidence thresholds (e.g. many chemotherapy drugs are exempt from placebo control in clinical trials). Apparently, placebo control is far too ‘ethically dubious’ in chemotherapy trials, as is the head-to-head testing of chemotherapy drugs with alternative treatments in outcome-based trials.
And, given their utter lack of scepticism and scrutiny on the topic of iatrogenic death in medicine, apparently the fact that hundreds of thousands of people die annually from correctly-prescribed pharmaceutical drugs is undeserving of criticism. This pandemic of collateral damage from orthodox medicine is given a free pass by dogmatic sceptics – who, like I have alluded to, almost without exception are aligned with the biomedical approach to healthcare.
Basically, scientists like Grimes, Gorski and Novella fundamentally misunderstand the relationship between burden of proof and scientific plausibility. As the plausibility of a claim increases, at some point this switches the side where burden of proof should rest. For example, dogmatic sceptics demand evidence for the effect of chronic exposure of pesticides on health - but this is a logically erroneous position. Because the plausibility is high, the burden of proof rests on them to prove pesticides are safe – not the other way around. What public health needs is less dogmatism and more pragmatism.
Given their poor understanding of the how burden of proof relates to scientific plausibility, these authors often show a reckless indifference to the precautionary principle. This is compounded by their seeming inability to spot logical evidence alongside narratives of epidemiological complexity. For example, they would concede that lung cancer can be directly caused by lifestyle, i.e. smoking. But, what is the reason we can be so sure smoking causes lung cancer? Is it because smoking is an especially nasty lifestyle habit and because smoke is carcinogenic? Surprisingly, the answer is no – remember that there are many carcinogenic compounds in the environment. The reason we can be so sure that smoking causes lung cancer is because smokers and non-smokers are reliably distinguishable by only 1 outstanding variable: smoking. This makes the epidemiological analysis to disentangle the effects of smoking on cancer relatively straightforward – even if many other factors contribute to lung cancer. How about cancers where there isn’t an outstanding variable, but hundreds of even thousands of contributory variables of lifestyle? Here, as these authors would claim, we can’t be so sure that cancer is driven by lifestyle – but this is a false conclusion rooted in bad logic. Other cancers can be caused by factors of lifestyle just as much as smoking is, but the key difference is that for most cancers there are thousands of variables – not one.
Thus, it would be closer to the truth to say – for most cancers – ‘’we know we can be confident cancer is caused by lifestyle and environmental factors, even if we couldn’t ever precisely know what those factors are’’, rather than to say (as dogmatic sceptics do), ‘’we can’t ever be sure that cancer is caused by lifestyle and environmental factors because the confounding variables are too complex’’. Complexity of variables does NOT affect the likelihood that cancer, in general, is driven by factors of lifestyles and environment – just as being hit by a bullet and having the smoking gun is no more evidence that a gun was used than if you had a bullet wound but no smoking gun.
For whatever reason, dogmatic sceptics seem to subscribe to the ‘bad-luck’ theory of cancer causation – which resurfaced again in a paper in Science in 2017 after having been robustly debunked by a paper in Nature in 2015 showing that cells are naturally highly resistant to becoming cancerous and need environmental triggers to turn cancerous in at least 70-90% of cases (see: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v529/n7584/full/nature16166.html). In a way, the fact that many people – even most people – can catastrophically abuse their lungs for decades with smoking and still not get lung cancer provides strong circumstantial evidence that cells are naturally highly resistance to becoming cancerous.
The paper in Science, like its predecessor, was misleading and flawed, and some of the criticisms are mentioned in this article by Scientific American - https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/most-cancer-cases-arise-from-bad-luck/. And, for a summary of the debate, see this article in Nature: http://www.nature.com/news/cancer-studies-clash-over-mechanisms-of-malignancy-1.19026. Dr Rhonda Patrick debunks the falsehoods and dangerous portrayal, by both the media and authors of the ‘bad-luck’ hypothesis study - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iiH4m7NvV98&t=116s. Similarly, the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer sent out a press release condemning the way the 2015 Science article was conveyed by the authors and promulgated by the media to the public - https://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/pr/2015/pdfs/pr231_E.pdf. Even if mutations are random and non-deterministic, extrinsic factors are still needed to ensure that enough mutations take place in a cell to push the cell ‘over the edge’ to become cancerous.
Even IF it were true that cancer is mainly due to bad luck – and it certainly isn’t true – the uncritical fervour with which journalists like Grimes promulgate this idea (but not the idea that cancer is driven by environmental and lifestyle factors) betrays their bias for a position. Not only is this bias unscientific, it’s also dangerous to public health because it reinforces the notion that we aren’t largely responsible for our own health. Perhaps this is why Grimes feels it’s OK to so-frequently share his passion for drinking alcohol on Twitter, even though alcohol has been proved to be a causative agent in at least 7 types of cancer. Odd behaviour, given Grimes is ostensibly interested in protecting the public from the scourge of cancer. This is clearly irresponsible – and this irresponsibility arises in part from his acquiescence to the flawed notion of cancer being bad luck or genetically determined. Regardless of the nature of the link between lifestyle and cancer, the benefit of a healthy lifestyle should, surely, never be trivialised, simply because it’s an unequivocal fact that bad lifestyle is responsible for the surge in myriad other diseases at the population level – diseases which are just as deadly as cancer.
The cat is out of the bag regarding the direct link between heart disease and lifestyle, meaning that Big Pharma and the medical-industrial-complex can’t justly continue to persuade patients to turn to drugs when healthy lifestyle is a far better option for preventing, and even reversing, heart disease. It’s simply an economic reality that Big Pharma wants to keep a monopoly on cancer treatment, and ways to do this have become normalised within our medical system – right the way up from medical school – from university selection to syllabuses being influenced by industry money, which is especially true in the USA. The attempt of the medical-industrial-complex to have a monopoly grip on cancer treatment dates to the Cancer Act of 1939, which, ostensibly, sought to protect the public from bogus cancer treatments. However, famous cases in law from the time revealed a darker side to the story, where agents of mainstream medicine actively tried to eliminate and suppress competition from alternative practitioners, regardless of their efficacy. Modern medicine has a long and ignoble history of such power games.
The realisation and acceptance that cancer is a preventable disease would be a deathblow to Big Industry’s monopoly of cancer treatment – not because cancer incidence would go down necessarily, but because the aversion of medicine to emphasise prevention would become ethically untenable. Perhaps this is one reason why the ‘bad luck’ theory is so popular with Big Pharma (and, as Scientific American alludes to, with giant chemical companies who don’t want to face further restrictions on their ability to pour billions of pounds of toxic waste into the environment daily).
See this article about the bioaccumulation of toxins in Orcas - https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/may/02/uk-killer-whale-died-extreme-levels-toxic-pollutants.
The call for evidence is usually the hallmark of good science but, for dogmatic sceptics, the demand for evidence is often used to obfuscate and deflect claims. The demand for evidence can be cast Ad infinitum in myriad and ever-increasingly stringent ways – e.g. ‘’more studies needed’’, ‘’problems with this study’’, ‘’not conducted on humans’’ – or, when a study unequivocally shows positive effect, there’s always the ‘’it’s significant but has a small effect size’’. These criticisms would be fine if they were apportioned in a balanced way across all studies – both from mainstream medicine and alternative approaches – but they’re not. You can spot a dogmatic sceptic by the way they apply their scepticism in a highly selective (i.e. biased) manner – thus contributing to the poorly balanced nature of media reporting – and they use the ‘call for evidence’ in a manipulative and coercive way to safeguard their own ideological beliefs. Furthermore, dogmatic sceptics are prone to use the ‘conspiracy theorist’ label in an Ad hominin pejorative and dismissive way to unfairly taint the credibility of those with a different point of view, with the aim to obfuscate their scientific counterarguments being made. David Robert Grimes even published a paper on conspiracy theories in the pay-to-publish journal PLOSone. This paper was deeply flawed on many levels, and was widely and independently debunked by many scientists.
Why engage with someone’s arguments when it’s easier to pathologize them and banish them to the conspiratorial fringe? Such is an example of the type of vitriolic thinking that has grown out of dogmatic scepticism. And, besides, it isn’t obvious to me that conspiratorial ideation is any more of an indication of psychological pathology than dogmatic scepticism – since both extremes represent a lack of footing in reality. Dogmatic scepticism in science is, however, useful to the corporate model of the medical-industrial-complex, and it is perhaps for this principle reason why people like Novella, Grimes, and Gorski are not only tolerated, but actively welcomed, within the pro-establishment sanctum.
[Grimes has never shown due scepticism toward the failings and inadequacies of modern medicine in any robust way. But this is not the only reason to lump Grimes in with Novella and Gorski. Another reason is the fact that these 3 scientists are familiar with one another, and actually support and regularly reference each other’s work like peas in an echo chamber pod of confirmation bias].
The falsely-balanced nature of Grimes’s scepticism can, by way of principle, be encapsulated in this example: he has written 2 articles debunking the quackery surrounding autism treatment, but in neither of those articles did he mention natural approaches which do work, e.g. sulforaphane from broccoli sprouts has been shown in clinical trial to have a significant, positive effect on symptoms for some individuals with autism. This study even appears on the NHS website, but Grimes didn’t mention it – and if he’s ignorant of it, he shouldn’t be. Similarly, Novella has debunked the potential benefit of antioxidant supplements in health, making the wild claim that ‘’there’s not a lick of evidence to show that antioxidant (supplements) are good for anything… not a lick of scientific evidence to support any claims for any antioxidant product’’ [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6kRRq3GWwtg]. Firstly, this statement is demonstrably false, as a look on Google Scholar will reveal. Secondly, Novella conveniently fails to distinguish between antioxidants and hormetic compounds (such as sulforaphane) - which have a strong and growing evidence base of efficacy for myriad conditions. Thirdly, Novella makes a logical oversight when saying that increased exogenous antioxidants could do harm – because, whilst this as a standalone statement might be true, it’s also true that there is a need to compensate for the highly elevated pro-oxidant effect of pollutants in our modern lifestyle, as compared to pre-industrial eras. Dr Rhonda Patrick discusses the fallacious nature of the anti-vitamin diatribe - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0u8UdZeOhc. And - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgiZufI0oS8&t=332s.
It's easy to see how many people believe that, by the way Grimes, Novella, and Gorski act, these characters are funded by Big Pharma. But, paradoxically, what makes their breed of scepticism so pernicious and insidious is precisely the fact that – to the best of my knowledge – they are NOT funded by Big Industry, at least not directly. Big Industry must love scientists like Novella, Grimes and Gorski, since they have a cloak of credibility. Since they cannot fund them directly – because that would be a conflict of interest – Big Industry must find other ways to validate and affirm the position of public scientists who stand in support of their model of medicine. For example, they award prizes such as Sense About Science’s ‘Standing up for Science’. SAS is funded by pharmaceutical companies and other Big Industry interests – and so the prize should more accurately be called ‘Standing up for Corporate Science and Big Industry’. If you look at the list of past winners of SAS’s prize, you will see that not one of them says anything to ruffle the feathers of Big Industry or the Medical-Industrial Complex – not even David Nutt (who I admire greatly) was saying anything that Big Pharma wouldn’t want to hear when he spoke out against the absurdity of drug laws in the UK. Big Pharma’s biggest dream would be to monopolise the recreational drug market if laws were changed to legalise drugs.
[In short, Grimes is happy to ‘stand up for science’ unless what he’s standing up for is: un-PC; or against ‘consensus’; or if it risks his funding or his career; or if it goes against Big Industry or the pro-establishment view; or if it grates against the prevailing bias and ideology of the scientific orthodoxy. In fact, it doesn’t sound like he risks anything at all. It sounds like the diametric-opposite to bravery. He gets lauded for ‘’shooting up’’, but in reality he spends his journalistic space shooting down on the lay public, and on fringe and relatively small and disempowered organisations].
When I say that such scientists are not directly funded, this must not obfuscate the fact that the deepest and most powerful influences on people can come through indirect means. For example, the aversion to anything ‘alternative’ and the implicit bias toward orthodoxy is instilled in medical training, and this is obviously true when we consider how Big Industry interests fund medical school programs (including shaping syllabuses) and, of course, most of the academic research which constructs and buttresses up narratives and the knowledge base in medicine. Thus, paradigms of thinking and implicit bias have become cemented and institutionalised in medicine – they have become normalised. As George Orwell understood all too well, nothing is as dangerous as ideas which have become normalised.
Big Pharma must be counting their lucky stars that an era of dogmatic scepticism has ‘’independently’’ emerged at the same time that they have become the biggest industry on earth – bigger now than even Big Oil. The medical industrial complex is a trillion-dollar industry.
But, is it purely coincidental, or are public scientists like Novella, Grimes and Gorski examples of brainwashed puppets – whose brand of dogmatic scepticism is inevitably to be rewarded and validated by a corporately-driven medical system and mainstream media. In other words, it’s easy to build up a career when standing on the shoulders of corporate giants. And, of course highly-qualified scientists are going to be awarded recognition and prizes when they write articles promoting a strict adherence to the biomedical approach, whilst instilling in the public imagination a severe suspicion of anything alternative. I wonder whether someone like Grimes realises that the lauds he receives for journalism are in direct proportion to the servile nature of his ‘opinions’ to the interests of Big Industry.
Contrary to what they say, characters like Novella, Gorski and Grimes are an affront to science and reason, not ambassadors for it, and even though notions of the perniciousness and insidiousness of false balance and dogmatic scepticism have been around for some time (e.g. see below the Guardian piece The Real Enemies of Reason) it obviously hasn’t been enough to help modify their ideological biases.
Novella, Grimes and Gorski all suffer the delusion of thinking that they receive hostility from members of the dissenting public because those individuals who dissent are ‘anti-science’. This is largely a false conclusion to reach and, as I explain in more detail later, this false conclusion is the very premise on which these scientists themselves justify their hostility, condescension and bullish attitude toward people who strongly resist their worldview.
In this way, scepticism of the sort exhibited by these 3 scientists is divisive and toxic to scientific discourse. As previous editor-in-chief of Skeptic Magazine said, true scientific scepticism is NOT the knee-jerk dismissal of claims in a haughty and cynical manner. True sceptics are moderate and humble, and are more likely to welcome something being true than hoping it isn’t. For example, a medical claim that ‘herb ‘x’ can help to treat condition ‘y’’ would invoke interest in a true skeptic – they would say something like, ‘’that’s interesting. It would be great if such herb ‘x’ could do that in place of pharmaceutical drugs because it would mean patients wouldn’t have to suffer invasive treatments or significant side effects. Let’s look at the best studies to weigh up the evidence’’. Such a sentiment is the hallmark of a true skeptic – it doesn’t represent a proclivity for confirmation bias, but rather, it represents an openness to evidence and the more nuanced position of counterbalancing drug benefits with side effects. Dogmatic skeptics, on the other hand – who almost always have an aversion to any type of medicine which isn’t part of the biomedical model of the Medical-Industrial-Complex – they would be dismissive of claims, and would immediately raise the ‘where’s the evidence’’ meme as a dismission, instead of as a precaution. In this way, dogmatic skeptics fall prey to confirmation bias, and this effects their ability to think in nuanced ways. For example, they seemingly find it impossible to view specific remedies and the accompanying overarching philosophy of medicine as things to be considered independently. For example, specific treatments in Ayurvedic medicine or Chinese medicine might well prove ineffective in clinical trial – but this would not justify the derision of entire philosophical principles – principles which might be invaluable to preventative medicine, though difficult to prove in an RCT, such as the notion in Chinese medicine that disease in the body can be present and asymptomatic for a long time, i.e. what western medicine considers the start of a disease (e.g. cancer detection), traditional medicine practitioners might consider very late stage disease. This notion is logically-solid, especially when we consider the linguistic root of the word disease (i.e. not at ease). It is both logically-solid and a very helpful and mature way of looking at disease.
Western medicine fails because it wins the battles but loses the war, and traditional medicine can teach us a great deal because it much better understands the multi-factorial nature of chronic, lifestyle disease. To use a chess analogy, modern medicine has great iterative power, but philosophies in traditional medicine and healing practices have far greater depth of vision.
PART 2 INTRODUCTION TO DRG AND CANCER RESEARCH
It’s been over 3 years since I wrote my rebuttal to David Robert Grimes’s (DRG) article in The Guardian ‘six stubborn myths about cancer’. Sadly, even though I robustly outlined the myriad inaccuracies and logical flaws of his article, his ignorance of first principles of evolutionary biology, and plague of Straw Man arguments – which I suggest misleads and polarises the reader on the topic of cancer and is therefore a significant danger to public health – DRG has failed to participate in the self-correcting process at the core of science, i.e. the ability to say, ‘I was wrong’. Instead of engaging with the arguments presented in my article, he chose to publicly ridicule my rebuttal to his article in the lazy and distorting way which has come to characterise much of his online rhetoric – Ad hominin, bullying and obfuscating.
DRG’s article from 2013 is still available online, and thus is still able to be viewed by billions of people. It must be a responsibility of scientists – both legally and ethically – to update their articles to correct errors whenever new information emerges which falsifies their view, and/or when their scientific understanding of a topic matures. Apparently, some scientists seem incapable or unwilling to broaden and deepen their understanding of critical societal issues such as cancer – and, because DRG is a mainstream journalist promulgating health information to millions of readers – such intransigence is, in my opinion, a serious threat to public safety. DRG constantly suggests that alternative narratives in medicine ‘costs lives’. But, it could be equally true that the effect of dogmatic sceptics (such as DRG) of polarising debate and public opinion – and of engaging with the dissenting public in a hostile, condescending and toxic manner – also costs lives and turns people away from science. As if this wasn’t bad enough, DRG also feels entitled to play armchair psychiatrist and diagnose total strangers with mental health problems.
DRG ostensibly seeks to promote and facilitate public engagement with science – and he perhaps he genuinely believes that his approach to science journalism does just that. However, judging from public reaction to him – which is, in substantiation, highly polarised – something else is going here which should be a warning sign to the scientific community and a wakeup call to science journalists to act more responsibly. Science journalists have orders of magnitude more impact on both science promulgation and on fostering public trust in science than a typical scientist who is disconnected within their own research world. As such, science journalism is a great responsibility, and it is the opinion of many that DRG isn’t a good ambassador for science. To me, DRG is a fascinating case study of how not to do science journalism.
My interest has zero to do with him as a person (I don’t know him from Adam) but solely to do with him as a public figure who affects science. He has (as he himself often alludes to) been called everything under the sun – ‘arrogant’, ‘abusive’, ‘disgusting’, ‘condescending’, ‘bullyish’. I don’t really care whether these accusations are true or not. The only reason I refer to this name-calling is for this critical reason: DRG reaches an erroneous conclusion when he assumes that people call him these things because they are ‘anti-science’. In truth, the hundreds or even thousands of people who have independently expressed outrage at DRG have done so primarily because of the inflammatory and hostile way DRG goes about writing and engaging with the public. If you think about it – really think about it – the notion that someone could be ‘anti-science’ is absurd in the same way it would be absurd to think someone is ‘anti-tools’. Science is the tool, whereas scientists are those who use the tool – be it skilfully or misguidedly. For sure, someone could be ignorant of science, or misguided, or even deluded – but none of these positions should be construed as ‘anti-science’. Indeed, in large part, the people who DRG mistakenly derides as ‘anti-scientific’ are those who simply hold a difference of scientific opinion.
Of course, DRG’s first delusion – that the dissenting public are angry at him because they are ‘anti-science’ – feeds into and reinforces his second delusion, that, by shooting down those that express outrage, he’s ‘standing up for science’. DRG’s public identity and role is a false narrative based upon one logical non-sequitur piled on top of another which, unfortunately, makes him feel self-entitled to act out the narcissistic dysfunction of seeing oneself as both victim and hero – a dysfunction which today increasingly erupts forth from the toxic epicentre at the intersection of twitter, Facebook and the corporately-owned online media. Out of hundreds or even thousands of criticisms from the public, DRG fails to develop an internal witness or ‘Daemon’ to self-reflect on his behaviour and errors in scientific thinking. Simultaneously, he accepts praise for being open to criticism and self-correction. Bizarre behaviour. It is the grandiosity of a psychopath, and this personality disorder is of heightened prevalence in some professions - such as media.
This delusion was irrevocably cemented in place when DRG was awarded the Sense About Science (SAS) award ‘Standing Up for Science’. It’s bizarre that any serious scientist could accept this award, or the validity of what it denotes, given that SAS historically was (and still is) substantially funded by pharmaceutical companies. Perhaps this is why author of Bad Pharma Ben Goldacre has never been awarded the ‘Standing Up for Science’ accolade, even though he has done more to defend science, promote science, and get the public engaged with science, than all of the SAS winners combined. Note that in the past, I have been critical of Ben Goldacre too – and have written an article about him – because Goldacre is critical of Big Pharma not because he’s against pharmaceutical drugs per se, but rather, because he’s against the way Big Pharma spin and corrupt data. Thus, he’s saying ‘’let’s get the medicalisation of medicine right’’ – rather than arguing for a lessening of a reliance on drugs in medicine, as he should if he stayed true to the Hippocratic philosophy of modern medicine to revere the healing power of nature. Havin said that, I respect Ben Goldacre overall, and I think he’s a thousand times a better scientist than DRG.
I struggle to see how someone like DRG could feel entitled to spin the narrative that he has shown ‘courage’ and ‘bravery’ in standing up for science. His views are safely pro-establishment – he stands on the shoulders of the giants of corporate science and big industry, barking at those in the fringe minority who are already marginalised and socially castigated, and whose opinions are already defeated by mainstream consensus.
What’s brave about that? As far as I can tell, and as others have noted, DRG’s approach risks nothing and, in fact, he has built his writing career on debunking. He isn’t an investigative journalist, but instead just lazily and uncritically regurgitates consensus positions. His bravery is the kind of Sir Robin The Brave as satirised in Monty Python. In a diametrically opposite way to Galileo – who was persecuted by the church state, DRG is supported by the entire establishment, and he writes from behind this shield, barking like a little terrier dog from atop the giant immovable pillars of Big Industry. It’s easy to be brave when you’re miles from the front line. When DRG has been interviewed, it’s never in a head-to-head debate format, and the questions interviewers pose seem scripted and sterile. Even when given the chance to engage in serious debate when interrogating Andrew Wakefield on radio, DRG seemed to act childishly and ran scared after rattling off a scripted diatribe, failing to engage Wakefield in a proper dialogue and debate. If you don’t believe me, listen for yourself (DRG makes an entrance at 13.50) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVzMcZzqC5E.
His SAS prize was predicated on the notion that he is standing up for science, and this accolade only makes pragmatic sense if DRG actually improves and fosters the public’s understanding and engagement with science. But, where’s the evidence he has done this? Given the hostility with which he derides people who don’t agree with him, and given that the people who agree with him would agree regardless, I would suggest that – if anything – DRG has had a net negative effect in developing peoples’ trust in science. So, here we have a scientist who is awarded a prize for writing articles which are in the interests of Big Industry, yet who actually erodes and toxifies public engagement with science. As a public citizen, I demand to see the evidence that DRG has had a positive effect. Where’s the evidence?
For more criticism of SAS, see this article from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/jan/05/sense-about-science-celebrity-observations.
Being given an award by a Big Pharma-funded institution is a clear conflict of interest, and therefore it’s surprising why DRG doesn’t reveal it. I couldn’t care less about the contradictions and incongruities in the personal lives of people who are complete strangers to me. It’s none of my business. But when the behaviour of a science journalist has a toxic and polarising effect on public scientific discourse, and therefore on public health, that is my business. I am the public, and I speak on behalf of the public who are fed up with clumsy and facile science journalism.
DRG’s article ‘six stubborn myths about cancer’ got off on the wrong foot and got worse. It got off on the wrong foot because it began with an emotive reference to a cancer patient who had died after shunning conventional treatment in favour of alternative treatment modalities - the polarising meme propagated being (and consistently regurgitated by the author in subsequent writings), ‘’beware! - this person tried the alternative route and died’’, as if that’s proof-positive of anything at all. In fact, the reason this cherry-picked example and emergent meme is so utterly facile, unscientific and misleading is because it’s not proof-positive of anything at all. It’s a sample of 1. Can we be sure that the girl would have survived with conventional treatment? No. Did DRG provide nuance and context by reminding the reader that tens of thousands of people die of cancer even after they receive the prescribed course of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or surgery? No. Did DRG alert the reader to the fact that thousands of people die as a direct result of chemotherapy treatment? No. Am I saying that all conventional treatment should be ditched in favour of alternative therapies? NO! Absolutely not.
What I am calling for is a rational debate, and I’m calling for an end to clumsy and dogmatic science journalism which polarises those topics - which have infinite shades of grey - into impervious black or white categories. As I’ve said before, cancer treatment (including cancer prevention) needs an integrated approach. Integrative medicine – which can be defined as the intelligent combination of conventional medicine and alternative therapies, with an overarching emphasis on facilitating the intrinsic healing mechanisms of the body – is the only rational and scientifically-robust approach to cancer. The need for integrative cancer care is based on the revolutionary(!), but logical, realisation that, for the most part, people get cancer because of poor-health. This is in stark contrast to the immature and dangerous idea in mainstream medicine that people get cancer and only then are sick. Given that cancer is an intrinsic disease caused by your own body – your own DNA – not functioning properly, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise that cancer is, in principle, the end stage of poor health and not the beginning. This is the new paradigm of understanding.
Given that DRG’s articles on cancer are so distorted, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he is highly uncritical and undiscerning of consensus positions in medicine – even though it is an obvious fact that:
(1) the prevailing narratives in medicine are heavily and systemically influenced by Big Pharma and corporate lobbyists, even at the foundational level of training in medical schools(!), and by selectively shaping research and development through funding streams – all of which have created a normalised, institutionalised implicit bias and aversion to the Hippocratic ethos of the founding father of modern medicine who taught that all the factors of lifestyle and environment which help optimise the intrinsic ability of the body to heal are vital in disease prevention and disease treatment.
(2) As reported by the BMJ, peer review is a ‘flawed process at the heart of science and journals’.
Bizarrely, but in substantiation, DRG has been shown to clutch at consensus positions even though they have been called into question by scientific authorities which demand higher evidence thresholds. For example, DRG has steadfastly stuck by his belief that the use of water fluoridation in dental health is based on evidence which is unequivocally positive – even though the Cochrane Collaboration has called into serious question the data which was used to help shape that consensus position, and even though Sense About Science’s director Tracy Brown has publicly shared her doubts as to the benefits of water fluoridation.
My question once was - how do you engage with people who are unconscionably and blindly irrational and ideologically-driven and seemingly incapable of dialectical learning, such as Grimes, Novella and Gorski? My answer now is - sadly, you can’t and so you don’t.
DRG calls himself a ‘cancer researcher’ – but given that cancer as a field of study is enormously broad and complex, and given that DRG’s expertise and interest is incredibly specialised – for someone like DRG to be considered a ‘cancer researcher’ would be as misleading and absurd as the following analogy: someone who works in a boatyard painting boats calling himself an ‘ocean researcher’. Indeed, in one question in an interview for The Freethink Tank DRG was given the chance to let his hair down for a moment and let his imagination run wild to envisage the state of cancer treatment modalities and research in a hundred years from now. DRG replied:
‘’… I don’t think we’ll ever cure cancer, but I would hope in the future we’ve developed methods to make it a chronic and treatable condition, where those afflicted can have their condition managed by improved surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and immunotherapy to live long and relatively healthy lives!’’
Unbelievable. DRG believes that, in 100 years from now, research and treatment modalities for cancer will be, essentially, exactly the same – just tweaks and improvements of the existing (and many would say, demonstrably failing) paradigm of cancer care – towing the line of the monopolistic and exclusionary attitude of Big Pharma and the Medical Industrial Complex. DRG espouses the type of promissory materialism Karl Popper warned against, and it reveals his lack of originality and imagination, especially given that we only need look at the past 100 years to see how far medicine has come, and this perhaps betrays his allegiance to the old-fashioned hey-day and paradigm of medicine of treating infectious diseases. If sceptics like DRG could only grasp the reality that medicine is just as much about prevention as it is about treatment, they would realise that medicine has a job on its hands every bit as huge and important as the eradication of infectious diseases which characterised the earlier triumph of modern medicine. Ironically, DRG quotes the deeply original thinker Richard Feynman, and advises scientists to ‘’ask lots of questions, read far and wide’’ and to not be afraid to ‘’prod away at received wisdom’’. And yet, DRG himself seems so afraid or incapable of challenging the status quo, or to come up with any original ideas, and seems to revile any kind of heretical stance in medicine – even though ‘heresy’ is exactly the thing encouraged by the best scientists such as Nobel Laureate Freeman Dyson.
DRG didn’t mention any of the present revolutions and seismic shifts taking place in our understanding of cancer treatment. And, he didn’t (and never does) mention the absolute most important topic in cancer – prevention. Even the hyper-conservative charity Cancer Research UK states that at least 40% of cancers are preventable. This estimate is at the extreme low end – a study published in Nature in 2015 showed that cells are naturally highly resistant to tipping into a cancerous state [as would be expected according to evidence from logic arising from first principles of natural selection/evolutionary biology] and need environmental triggers to become cancerous in 70-90% of cases. This was one of the most important papers to be published on cancer in the past 50 years, and yet, I didn’t see DRG reference it anywhere – not even in his subsequent articles on cancer. Bizarre, given he is a ‘cancer researcher’. Some scientists estimate the environmental root for cancer to be even higher than the Nature estimate, citing studies on diaspora populations and separated twins.
DRG’s interest in understanding cancer seems superficial, and his knowledge of cancer is a working-knowledge at best, i.e. his grasp of deeper systems theory (and his willingness to understand it) is piss-poor. In this sense, he is no more a cancer researcher than a boatyard attendant is an ocean researcher – and I will go on to make similar criticisms against Steven Novella and David Gorski in this article.
I am continually perplexed by the poor standard of science journalism today. Furthermore, I find the lack of ethical responsibility troubling. This sentiment is shared by many real and genuine scientists, such as Samuel Epstein – professor emeritus of environmental and occupational health – who labels as criminally negligent those institutions which discuss cancer without promulgating prevention as a key strategy. Epstein is a strong critic of institutions which (ostensibly) seek to help with the ‘war on cancer’ but do little or nothing to prioritise a system of prevention. Likewise, I call anyone who talks about cancer without emphasising prevention – be it science journalists or institutions – as being criminally negligent. Not only does DRG not emphasise prevention – in his polemical writings he actively and consistently trivialises, marginalises, and obfuscates the debate being held by serious scientists on how we can prevent and even treat cancer by optimising factors of lifestyle and environment – and by using novel therapeutic approaches such as principles of orthomolecular medicine and the ketogenic diet (as discussed later in this article). Even if I didn’t present any further evidence of DRG’s dogmatic close-mindedness, you already know from The Freethink Tank interview that he firmly believes that, even in one hundred years time, cancer could still only be managed by the same modalities in use by orthodox medicine today – modalities which are about as sophisticated as Fred Flintstone bashing himself over the head with a club to relieve himself of a headache, and about as logically sound as spending hundreds of billions of dollars mopping up the water around an overflowing sink instead of turning off the tap.
As I write this article, my uncle is dying of cancer. I recently asked him if his oncologists or palliative care doctors had offered him any advice on how he could modify his lifestyle to improve his prognosis. No. Nothing. ‘’Just keep following doctor’s orders’’. This is by no means an anomalous situation. My uncle before him, and my grandfather, my grandmother, a good friend – all of whom died of cancer – received the same advice, i.e. no advice. And my Swedish aunty, now on her 18th round of chemotherapy, has received the same none-advice. To reiterate, doctors gave no lifestyle or palliative care advice to my friend or any of my 5 relatives who died or are dying of cancer – even though there is solid evidence for the positive role of many natural compounds and lifestyle changes to, at the very least, mitigate against the destructive effects of conventional treatment.
I remember visiting my grandmother when she was receiving cancer treatment in hospital in the UK. I was appalled that the hospital food given was sliced cheese on white bread with a packet of crisps. And now, my uncle – whose skin has withered and greyed from the chemotherapy treatment, and whose immune system is shot (from the chemotherapy) and whose brain is foggy and depressed (from the chemotherapy) is now a shadow of his former self who – on doctor’s orders – does nothing to modify his lifestyle. Thus, he eats shit food, and sits in front of the TV for 10 hours a day, afraid to go outside because he’s afraid that his withered skin couldn’t take the sunlight.
The reduction in quality of life due to chemotherapy – the withering of a human being into a Gollum-esq creature retching and reeling in agony and misery – and all so that he gets a slim chance of adding a few more months to his life. I’m not questioning whether the ‘few more months’ are worth it – of course they are. But, at what cost? And, more importantly, due to what ignorance? Cancer patients have to endure this miserable shit-show just because the Medical-Industrial-Complex (as Harvard professor Arnold S.Relman refers to it) has not – and will not – put money into researching other treatment modalities for cancer. If you understand one word you understand the entire economic foundation for the Medical-Industrial-Complex: PATENT.
One of the most disingenuous and misleading phrases you hear from people like DRG is the slogan ‘’there’s no evidence that ‘x’ or ‘y’ is effective for the treatment of cancer’’. It’s a false and dishonest statement when it leaves out the reason for there being no evidence – which is often that there isn’t any evidence simply because no clinical trials have been conducted on the efficacy of ‘x’ or ‘y’. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. To say that ‘evidence is lacking’ - without also conceding that the right trials haven’t been conducted - is intellectually dishonest.
Thus, it’s possible – even probable – that treatment modalities for cancer which don’t feed into the Medical-Industrial-Complex could exist. And these alternative treatment modalities would be integrated strategies to include several interventions at the same time – e.g. strict food regime, targeted orthomolecular medicine, stress reduction techniques, oxygen therapy, psychological work, exercise and sunlight exposure protocols, fasting, and even the use of psychedelic drugs to treat stubborn psychological traumas and nourish spiritual development [N.B. the use of psychedelic drugs in psychotherapy is a serious and respected research branch – see Yale Psychedelic Science Group of the Yale School of Medicine and the special edition of The British Psychological Society magazine: https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-27/edition-9/special-issue-brave-new-world-psychology].
Even in the treatment and prevention of cancer, our psychological and emotional state has a significant impact, and any serious scientist would realise this. Cancer likelihood is also related to cross-generational factors, as can be confidently inferred from a Nature study showing that trauma can passed on down generations of mice in the DNA due to epigenetic alterations. Indeed, genetic expression in humans is influenced by ancestral environments – be it the physical, emotional or social environment. The Dutch Hunger Winter is a popular example of how persistent hunger in pregnant mothers causes epigenetic alteration of their offspring to become better at preserving energy – which subsequently predisposes those individuals to a higher risk of obesity-related health problems in normal, food-abundant society. Dr Gabor Mate, a well-respected addiction specialist, believes that psycho-emotional trauma (both ancestrally and in someone’s own life) plays a significant role in diseases such as cancer. [Source: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/sep/07/epigenetics-heredity-diabetes-obesity-increased-cancer-risk].
The medical era of genetic determinism is outdated, and anyone who remains ignorant of the potential for epigenetic factors to play a role in cancer is an intellectual luddite and a poor scientist. The meme ‘’it’s genetic’’ has become a dangerous one, because it fosters in scientists, doctors, and us as individuals, a diminished sense of responsibility – whilst simultaneously playing into the hands of the Medical-Industrial-Complex.
Sadly, when journalists like DRG criticise alternative approaches to cancer treatment, it’s usually in spats of debunking which are facile, misguided and misleading. For example, in his most recent attack on anything alternative, he said ‘’there is absolutely no evidence that cannabis has any curative impact on cancers’’. His article is predicated upon the review he links by The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. If you read up on this reference, however, it’s very difficult to see how DRG comes to his impregnable conclusion. What DRG says is not what the review says, at least not specifically. The review highlights a lack of evidence to show efficacy of cannabis – whereas DRG implies that cannabis has been exhaustively tested to the maximum possible extent of clinical testing in humans and has come up short. As you can see, this is a very different statement, and this sort of dishonesty and semantic trickery is a mainstay of many dogmatic sceptics. Furthermore, DRG has explicitly stated that he doesn’t think cancer will ever be cured – so, if he believes that nothing can cure cancer, what can the public even infer if he berates the idea of something having curative impact?
DRG is a master at picking the low-hanging fruit. Even if it’s true that cannabis compounds have no positive effect on cancer treatment (note: yet again, he didn’t mention anything to do with how cannabis extracts could be used in prevention), this is a very weak – and quite frankly irrelevant – attack on the strongly developing ethos in science of an alternative approach to cancer treatment. Firstly, keep in mind that DRG has explicitly stated that he thinks that conventional treatments are absolutely the only option, and will remain so for ever, and this reveals that he has an implicit bias against certain avenues of research. Secondly, when he picks out one natural substance, pits it against a Pharma drug, concludes it to ineffective in treating cancer and then uses this single example as a proxy to dismiss altogether the possibility of an alternative paradigm in cancer care, he is missing the point totally. No respected doctor who’s interested in alternative medical approaches to cancer would consider administrating cannabis oil alone as a complete treatment modality.
A good example is Dr Andrew Weil and his guidebook to Integrative Oncology – published by Oxford University Press. Here, it can be seen that an alternative paradigm to treating cancer would include all the myriad interventions aforementioned. Furthermore, I don’t see how natural compounds could even be compared to pharmaceutical chemotherapy drugs – because many pharma chemo drugs are spared having to be tested against placebo(!), whereas natural compounds (if ever tested at all) would almost certainly be placebo-controlled. As if putting someone on a £90,000 regime of chemotherapy with all its accompanying protocols couldn’t possibly elicit a placebo response! Excuse the sarcasm here, but it’s absurd to suggest otherwise.
Further still, when DRG ‘debunked’ claims for the cancer-fighting properties of marijuana, he conveniently forgot to mention (and always does forget to mention) the myriad natural compounds and therapies for which there is robust evidence for efficacy. For example, both the compounds curcumin from turmeric and sulforaphane from broccoli sprouts have shown positive effect on cancer in human clinical trials. See BBC’s Dr Michael Mosley’s reporting on human studies on Turmeric and Dr Rhonda Patrick’s analyses of Sulforaphane, e.g. Sulforaphane and Its Effects on Cancer, Mortality, Aging, Brain and Behaviour, Heart Disease & More - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zz4YVJ4aRfg. Of course, as a scientist, I would be the first to declare the ‘more trials are needed’ slogan. What’s disheartening is that ‘cancer researchers’ such as DRG show an indifference and disinterest in any research on natural breakthroughs. Such lopsided interest could be called the Tumbleweed Effect – i.e. when natural compounds are shown not to work there’s a fervent uproar from dogmatic sceptics; but when studies do show robust evidence for the efficacy of natural compounds and therapies … an eerie radio silence … like tumbleweed blowing across the desert.
DRG’s articles to debunk alternative cancer treatments only find friction with the lunatic fringe, because no serious scientist in support of a revolution in cancer care could even begin to relate to DRG’s inept and misguided grasp of what constitutes an alternative paradigm of oncology. DRG constructs and burns down so many Straw Man arguments that serious scientists would use the analogy that he’s barking up the wrong tree. And, of course, he is. Or, it would be more apt to say that he’s barking up a tiny rotten plant sprout, whilst serious scientists in integrative oncology are considering the therapeutic potential of integrating the multifaceted branches of a giant oak tree.
And, because those people on the fringes are as ideologically-driven and impervious to changing their beliefs as the dogmatic sceptics who berate them, such clumsy journalism is, in the end, just clickbait. It’s a travesty that journalistic space could be given to someone who genuinely wants to affect positive change in society rather than to someone using their privileged position as a journalist to selfishly indulge in egotistic ranting to fulfil a psychological void which - deep down - probably has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with science – i.e. where ‘science’ is abused as a prop, controversial topics used as bait, and the dissenting public become the scapegoat for one man’s anger.
PART 3 ‘SIX STUBBORN MYTHS ABOUT CANCER’ REVISTED
To view my original rebuttal, see here: http://objectiveskeptic.blogspot.co.uk/.
It isn’t my purpose here to over the argument made in that article again here. However, to give you a taster of why DRG’s 2013 article was so logically flawed, just consider his first claim that the idea that ‘cancer rates are rising’ is a myth. He says, ‘age is the biggest single risk factor associated with developing cancer and as we’re living longer it’s hardly surprising that rates are rising’.
Here, DRG makes the classic error of mistaking correlation for causation, which is ironic given that one of DRG’s favourite slogans to belittle people with is ‘correlation is not the same as causation’.
To say that age is the single biggest risk factor associated with developing cancer is equally as wrong as saying that, for example, altitude is the single biggest risk factor associated with developing altitude sickness. Can you spot the logical error in this statement? Oxygen depletion is the cause, and altitude is simply the correlate. As long as you have sufficient oxygen (e.g. oxygen tanks), altitude won’t cause altitude sickness.
Similarly, DNA damage and cellular dysfunction is the cause, age is simply the correlate. Of course, some DNA damage might be inevitable with age, but a lot of DNA damage is caused by environmental factors. So, if humans minimise DNA damage during their lifetime by living the healthiest life possible, cancer is not inevitable, and age would cease to be the ‘single biggest factor’. DRG has made a profound error by confusing correlation with causation.
By using semantic trickery, DRG makes false arguments, which are, nevertheless, difficult to argue against – especially since DRG uses language in a way which is unclear and misleading (e.g. age isn’t the risk factor; the risk factor is increased DNA damage with age). By associating cancer with age, DRG has effectively just posited the lazy and unhelpful argument ‘age is the single biggest risk factor in dying’! This doesn’t really help anyone. It’s almost convenient that people are living longer, since people like DRG can just blame the epidemic rises in cancer as a natural by-product of people living longer. But, the evidence speaks to something different, e.g. to use an illustration – if everyone human was exterminated at the age of 30 like in the movie Logan’s Run, humans in industrialised countries would still exhibit an increased cancer rate. For example, in the US, childhood cancers are the second leading cause of death in children under the age of 5.
Furthermore, DRG makes the absurd assumption – stated as fact – that we are living longer today than ever before. He failed to elucidate the distinction between life span and life expectancy. Life Span is the inherent genetic capability of human longevity – which has basically remained unchanged for 200,000 years – whereas life expectancy (which is given as an average to include infant mortality, which skews perception of longevity once adulthood is reached) is the expectant longevity in any given human group given the prevailing environmental and social conditions. Of course, we’re living longer than our recent ancestors who slaved away during the industrial revolution or who battled against the plague of the Medieval ages. But that still leaves about 200,000 years of human history that DRG hasn’t accounted for. DRG’s idea that humans are living long today because of the absence of ancestral hardships and diseases is misleading (note his tacit tribute to the heyday of modern medicine in finding solutions to infectious disease). It’s misleading because human longevity today is not enabled due to the absence of plagues and other infectious diseases – humans are intrinsically able to live long because human longevity is natural! It’s important to keep this distinction in mind. DRG’s conception of ‘natural forces’ arises, seemingly, from his ignorance of anthropology and evolutionary biology. Plagues, war, disease, starvation – all these things are actually unnatural and would have been very uncommon in human groups for most of our human history. It was only when humans became settled following the agricultural revolution when these problems became a key and systemic feature of human history.
It’s quite possible, even probable, that human populations could have existed which exhibited life expectancies as long as humans today in the developed world. Indeed, untouched present-day hunter-gatherer societies exhibit longevities to rival those in the western world, and the oldest-lived person in recorded history was a man from Bolivia – an undeveloped country – who was reported in 2013 to be 123 years old. This has since been disputed, but he was certainly older than 100.
In summary, I posit two points which contradict DRG’s assumptions on longevity and disease:
1. Human beings have the evolved the genetic capacity to live long (80+), possibly due social factors of evolutionary theory such as Kin Selection – i.e. in social groups the knowledge, wisdom and caretaking ability of grandparents would have been key to improving the survivability and reproductive success of younger generations of relatives. Therefore, along with longevity, humans would have co-evolved DNA and cellular systems resistant to damage. Regardless, cells are billions of years old, and so would have evolved to be naturally highly resistant to becoming cancerous, as shown in the Nature study which revealed that cells need environmental triggers to be tipped into a cancerous state in 70-90% cases. Indeed, because cells are highly resistant to cancer, and because cancer is so prolific, this is proof positive that the world has become more carcinogenic, which is a fact that DRG is reluctant to accept.
2. Human longevity is driven mostly by healthy living (both socially and environmentally) – not by being propped up by medical interventions. This is important to realise because it reiterates the fact that human longevity is an intrinsic genetic potential, and modern medicine has done nothing to change the biology of longevity. Indeed, the longest-lived peoples in the world – such as those living in the Blue Zones (pockets of human populations around the world who show exceptional longevity) – are often people who have the least medical intervention during their lives. It’s probable that the aforementioned man from Bolivia never visited a doctor in his life. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is an inverse correlation between use of medical intervention and longevity around the world.
PART 4 – CRITIQUE OF DRG’S FOLLOW-UP ARTICLE ON CANCER
In 2017, DRG wrote a follow-up article which touched on some of the key themes of his 2013 article. It’s called ‘Tackling cancer treatment myths, from clean eating to cannabis’. I will discuss the inaccuracies and logical flaws in this article before going on to summarise the key criticisms of the triumvirate – Novella, Grimes and Gorski – in part 5. I will be as concise as possible, but some points need examination and careful elaboration.
DRG’s article was replete with factual errors, logical inconsistencies and misleading statements, including:
· His reference to cancer as a ‘’complex family of diseases’’. Whilst it is true that cancer is a complex family of diseases, this statement obfuscates the fact that all cancers are united by one thing – DNA mutation and cell dysfunction, which can be affected by environmental factors, to include epigenetic influences. Even the ‘genetic roulette’ theory of cancer – which was resoundingly debunked by the 2105 paper in Nature – cannot distance itself from the fact that, even if this theory was true, epigenetics means that even a genetic propensity for cancer is significantly influenced by environmental factors. Even Wikipedia – in the ‘causes’ section of ‘cancer’ – gives an estimate for cancer being 90-95% environmentally driven. When DRG says that ‘’cancer is still widely misunderstood’’, this is also true within consensus medicine itself. Importantly, the ‘complexity’ of cancer is a red herring in an analogous way to saying that ‘the causes and effects of inequality are so complex’ – as this is a convenient way that politicians and big business can avoid having to do anything to implement the obvious solution to remedy it, i.e. equality. As I suggest elsewhere, complex problems can have simple, overarching solutions.
· DRG suggests it’s a myth that cancer can be beaten or avoided with special diets. ‘’The idea that one can directly influence cancer through something as simple as diet is an alluring one’’, he says.
Firstly, for most cancers, you can influence both the likelihood of you getting cancer, and your prognosis if you have it, by eating a good diet. When I say ‘good diet’ I’m not referring to the ‘balanced diet’ promoted by silly dieticians who have the erroneous belief that a mixture of good food and bad food equates to balance. No – by ‘good diet’ I mean a consistently healthy diet, like the one prescribed by people like Dr Colin Campbell. The fact that good food is protective against cancer is just that – a fact – an obvious fact that should need no proof whatsoever, but for which there is actually a mass of evidence to back it up. Demanding that proof be given that good food confers a protective effect against cancer would be as idiotic as suggesting we can’t recommend using parachutes when jumping out of a plane due to a lack of RCT evidence – as eloquently put in the satirical BMJ article on parachutes which cautioned against advising the use of parachutes because no RCT trials have been conducted to show their efficacy.
Not only is good food protective against cancers, it could also play a chemotherapeutic role in treatment, as highlighted in this TED talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OjkzfeJz66o.
Secondly, diet is not simple in the dismissive and trivialising way DRG has often spoke about the connection between diet and health. Diet and its effect on health is infinitely complex, and it takes dedicated and intelligent research scientists like Dr Rhonda Patrick to explore and disentangle it. But, paradoxically, even though the basic science of diet and health (e.g. metabolic pathways) is complex, the principles for eating right are simple. As the ecologist Bill Mollison once said, whilst the world becomes more complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple. In appropriating this quote to how we look at cancer – the ‘world’ is cancer epidemiology and the ‘solutions’ are prevention.
True to style, DRG flips these two concepts to make a dog’s dinner out of promulgating health information. How? Because, on the one hand he trivialises and debases the link between diet and cancer whilst simultaneously (as in his Irish Times piece) saying that epidemiological link between diet and disease is so complex that we can’t really be sure that any diet can be recommended. Conveniently to DRG’s indifference and disinterest in diet, the link between diet and disease will always be epidemiologically complex.
· DRG says, in reference to diet and lifestyle, ‘’the thought of being able to take some personal control is comforting’’.
This is a troubling statement. Is DRG really suggesting that people can’t take some personal control? – control of a disease which is perhaps only 5% genetically determined? If so, this is a grossly misleading statement and would fall foul of Samuel Epstein’s definition of criminal negligence in failing to advocate for prevention.
Like the 2017 BBC documentary by Dr Giles Yeo called Clean Eating – the Dirty Truth, which looked at special ‘fad’ diets, Yeo (like DRG) sets up these extreme approaches as a Straw Man argument to be attacked, whilst failing to give mention to the vast and more reasonable middle ground. Both Dr Yeo and DRG are guilty of polarising debate by using poorly though-out Straw Man arguments. This clumsy BBC documentary ignores and obfuscates key points, such as the fact that major diseases such as heart disease and type-2 diabetes can be prevented and even reversed by following a good diet, as emphasised by respected doctors in the UK such as Dr Michael Mosley. For some reason, discussing heart disease has become unfashionable, even though it is still the biggest killer – bigger than cancer.
The documentary featured the work of Dr Colin Campbell and presented it in a biased and misleading way, to which Campbell took objection in this letter to the BBC:
http://nutritionstudies.org/british-broadcasting-corporation-bbc-your-credibility-is-tarnished/. Dr Colin Campbell also criticised Dr Yeo and the BBC for excluding the interviews conducted with Campbell’s colleague which revealed the amazing potential for nutritional intervention to treat heart disease.
For sure, the ‘anti-cancer’ diets that DRG alludes to likely are fads and lacking in evidence. But this does not mean that healthy diets aren’t effective as a significant contributory factor in the prevention and treatment in many different types of cancer. DRG consistently fails to mention that (a) prevention is better than cure; (b) whilst ‘anti-cancer’ diets might not cure cancer, they play an important role in preventing it in the first place. Cure and prevention are essentially the same thing, in the same sense that scientists talk about vaccines curing the world of various diseases. This is technically incorrect, because vaccines prevent diseases developing, they don’t cure them. But, even if a specific lifestyle can’t cure cancer- if it prevented it in the first place, it’s essentially saved you from the curse of cancer. Prevention is as powerful as cure, but it’s difficult for us to grasp this fact because the absence of something isn’t as tangible as the removal of something which has manifested; (c) there are many permutations and ideas of what constitutes an anti-cancer diet. Some of these are fads, but some of them certainly aren’t. Naturally, the better the diet generally, the more anti-cancer it will be; (d) diets which are anti-cancer can be so either because they are promote general health and wellbeing, or because more specifically because they contain compounds with shown anti-cancer effect; (e) and that he has explicitly stated that he doesn’t believe that the word ‘cure’ should be used in the same breath as ‘cancer’, even for mainstream treatment – thus all of his arguments about cancer have this get-out clause.
· To get technical – the author goes on to discuss energy consumption, the Warburg Effect, and the Ketogenic diet. From the outset, it’s patently clear that DRG isn’t an expert in biochemistry, and he references Gorski – another non-expert. NOTE: if you really want to get to grips with this topic, I suggest putting your trust in scientists who are actually qualified in this field, such as the biochemist Dr Rhonda Patrick, who is published in top peer-reviewed journals.
Whilst it’s true that the metabolic switch to glycolysis ‘’stems from the mutations that give rise to cancer’’, DRG makes the mistake of failing to mention that diet can, through the mechanism of epigenetics, influence the probability that these very mutations arise in the first place. In other words, even if diet doesn’t directly cause the metabolic switch to glycolysis, diet influences the likelihood that DNA will mutate and instruct a cell to inefficiently generate energy from glycolysis in the cell cytosol, rather than in the mitochondria as for normal, healthy cells. Basically, DRG is protesting that ‘’diet doesn’t cause the metabolic switch – cancer does!’’ It’s as if he can’t bring himself to concede (if he’s even aware of it at all) that diet influences the rate of cancer-causing mutations in the first place. We have solid evidence that several common herbs protect DNA from damage, and as Dr Rhonda Patrick explains in this video, magnesium protects DNA from mutation during replication and is associated with a decreased all-cause mortality, including a significant reduction in cancer risk. Many people are deficient in magnesium. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iiH4m7NvV98&t=116s.
· I agree that the whole ‘acid/alkaline’ diet debate is over-simplified and beside the point, because, as DRG correctly says, blood and tissue acidity is tightly regulated by homeostatic mechanisms in the body. A constant blood PH is vital for life.
But, even if the benefits of an alkaline diet for cancer lacks a solid evidence base, we can nevertheless use the terms ‘acid’ and ‘alkaline’ as proxies or signposts for what is good or bad food, e.g. red meat is acidic in nature (even if it doesn’t lead to acidic blood), whereas all the good stuff (such as green vegetables) tend to be of an alkaline nature. Eating alkaline foods won’t turn your blood alkaline, but it will confer a protective effect against cancer.
Furthermore, the blood is regulated to be a constant PH of around 7.4 (which is alkaline) so it makes sense that it would be easier and resource-sparing for the body to maintain this vital alkaline PH if it isn’t being constantly bombarded with acidic foods which must be neutralised.
I apologise to readers if I go into a lot of detail, but these are the nuances which must be understood to get a rational grasp of the topic – nuances which DRG consistently omits or doesn’t understand as being relevant. Even if it’s true that diet can’t affect cancerous cells, an alkaline diet could stop them becoming cancerous in the first place! As it happens, and as Dr Rhonda Patrick points out, alkaline foods such as magnesium-rich green leafy vegetables have been shown to enhance DNA repair mechanisms in cells and to enhance the functioning of mitochondria – both of which are critical to cancer prevention and treatment.
In talking about the effect of cancer on energy production in a cell, it’s mind boggling how DRG fails to give any mention to mitochondria – the cells’ powerhouses which are normally responsible for producing energy, and at a much higher glucose efficiency than cancerous cells. Since mitochondria are dysfunctional in cancerous cells, and since Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) produced from normal mitochondrial respiration are used to mediate programmed cell death in healthy cells (which goes awry in cancer), it is absolutely vital to include mitochondria in the discussion if we are to get a good understanding of the role of diet and energy metabolism in cancer.
New avenues of research suggest that optimising mitochondrial function in all cells (including in cancerous cells) could play both a preventative and a therapeutic role in cancer, because:
(a) Mitochondrial-driven cells use glucose far more efficiently – up to 20 times more efficiently – than cancer cells, and thus theoretically the intercellular space surrounding those healthy cells which use mitochondrial respiration will be itself be healthier and less acidic, and so less prone to facilitating negative epigenetic effects of DNA.
(b) More ROS are produced in normal mitochondrial respiration, because the process is aerobic, using oxygen, compared to glycolysis in cancerous cells which is largely anaerobic. These ROS aid in normal cell apoptosis and even in the targeted killing of cancerous cells by the body.
For more information on lifestyle factors (inc. supplements and food) which optimize mitochondrial functioning, view videos by Dr Rhonda Patrick and this talk on TED called ‘Minding your Mitochondria’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLjgBLwH3Wc. In Germany, for example, they are more open to trying alternative therapies, such as oxygen therapy – which has the potential to drive mitochondria and fat metabolism and to produce ROS to arm the body to naturally combat cancerous cells.
DRG goes on to make the absurd assumption that, because glucose is required by every cell in the body, and because all carbohydrates from food – whether vegetables or chocolate – ultimately break down to glucose, this means that, basically, whether you eat sugary junk food or vegetables doesn’t affect cancer risk because the glucose will still find its way to the cancer cell. DRG’s writing is sloppy here – what he really means is that diet cannot affect the ‘end-of-line’ uptake of glucose by cells because all carbohydrate is broken down into glucose. This is such an erroneous way of understanding things because it’s akin to saying – if we replace ‘glucose’ with ‘water’ – that the water in Coca-Cola and the water in vegetable juice is the same water and therefore, because cancer cells have no greater preference for either water, Coca-Cola is no more likely to feed cancer than vegetable juice! DRG has the unique ability to draw false conclusions from established facts. There is empirical proof that diabetics can tolerate vegetables but not sugary junk food – even though the sugar is the same. Try telling a diabetic that the effect of sugar from vegetables and Coca-Cola is the same.
DRG’s argument is absurdly reductionist, if for no other reason than for the fact that higher concentrations of sugary carbohydrates in the diet will translate into more glucose being available to cancer cells and less impetus for the body to metabolize fat – not to mention the fact that when nutritionists talk about sugar they are fully aware that complex carbohydrates break down into simple sugars. It is a simple fact that cancer needs more glucose than healthy cells, and this is because glycolysis is up to 20 times less efficient – and this glucose is used mainly for cell replication, not metabolism, hence why it's especially dangerous in cancer cells.
DRG’s argument also completely ignores the fact that the vitamins, minerals, protein and fats ingested alongside carbohydrates will regulate the impact of glucose on the body – not just at the cancer cell interface, but also on how sugar affects hormone levels, blood biochemistry, and epigenetics – all of which are known to affect the development and proliferation of cancer cells. [Dr Rhonda Patrick video on SUGAR - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uWIpHO6cXHk]. Yet again, sugar load is an invaluable proxy for bad diet! When people talk about sugar and cancer, they’re not talking about sugar per se, but the sugar that is obtained from processed / artificial foods.
This idiotic misunderstanding is shared by the biggest cancer charity in the world – Cancer Research UK – who have a bunch of erroneous and misleading videos about cancer, including this one on sugar – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrPTa64gFsg.
In another round of semantic dumb-foolery, the author says the idea that sugar specifically feeds cancer is ‘wrong’ – whilst at the same time conceding that obesity is linked with cancer risk. Can you spot the absurdity of putting these two statements in the same sentence? We know with absolute scientific certainty that obesity is associated with intake of sugary processed foods. Naturally then, intake of sugary processed food is associated (to a lesser or greater degree) to overall cancer risk. Grimes would no doubt contest this extrapolation – but it would be to no avail if you dig down into the logic. It’s analogous to saying, ‘’A drives B and B drives C, but A cannot be linked to C’’. It’s as absurd as saying that obesity (B) is linked with heart disease (C), and obesity (B) is linked to bad diet (A), but we can’t link bad diet (A) with heart disease (C). Ridiculous. It’s ridiculous from a logical standpoint and an evidential one, since we know, to take just one example, that obesity causes insulin problems which is a direct causative factor in kidney cancer.
Next, the author tries to debunk the idea that the ketogenic diet could be used as a therapeutic tool in cancer treatment. Unsurprisingly, he has a clumsy understanding of why the ketogenic diet is thought to be helpful. He says, the ketogenic diet is the ‘’cutting out (of) carbohydrates to throttle glucose production and starve cancer’’. Firstly, the phrase ‘glucose production’ is misleading. He is referring to the ingestion of carbohydrates which break down into glucose (i.e. glucose provision, not production), or the endogenous release of glucose via metabolism in the liver? Whatever he actually means, it’s a bland point, because the ketogenic diet is far more profound than this – it is more to do with optimising mitochondrial function, as discussed before, and of optimising the endocrine (i.e. hormone) system of the body (e.g. obesity increases risk of kidney cancer partly due to insulin disruption). Mitochondrial cells are vital to facilitate the healthy functioning of the cell cycle (including cell death), but are dysfunctional in cancer cells.
Furthermore, the ketogenic diet is also strongly related to the idea of fasting and caloric restriction, which have been found to have profound and widespread benefits for the body, including the optimising immune system functioning – which is key for preventing and treating cancer. See - http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2016/03/12/fasting-for-three-days-can-regenerate-entire-immune-system-study/. See also BBC’s Michael Mosley research on the benefits of fasting.
For more insights into the errors promulgated by DRG, see these rebuttals (part 1 and 2) by molecular biologist Travis Christofferson (in which he offers DRG $1,000 if he can provide evidence for something he says in his Guardian article):
In trying to debunk the ketogenic diet, DRG references David Gorski to, ostensibly, back up his claims. But Gorski is an unreliable source (as will be expounded upon in the final part), but DRG calls upon him precisely because he already knows Gorski will be sympathetic to his position – a very unscientific way to go about things. Novella, Grimes and Gorski reference each other in an eco-chamber, and as such have become an unholy triumvirate – passing the buck onto one another knowing full well that they are aligned with each other’s biases and ideologies.
DRG continues… ‘’the bottom line is that while good nutrition is important in cancer, and indeed to health in general, the reality is that no diet can cure cancer – no matter how glossy the pictures might look in a diet book or on Pin interest’’.
Firstly, when DRG says that ‘’no diet can cure cancer’’, what he forgets to mention is that he believes that nothing can cure cancer. He operates from the principle that the words ‘cure’ and ‘cancer’ shouldn’t be spoken in the same breath. The critical omission of this fact means that anything he says related to ‘cure’ and ‘cancer’ is misleading, and must be seen within the context that DRG doesn’t think anything can cure cancer.
Remember that in the interview for the FreeThinkTank in 2016, when asked what he thought would be the state of cancer research in a hundred years from now, he his response by saying, ‘’I DON’T THNK WE’LL EVER CURE CANCER…’’. So, there you have it folks – DRG categorically stated that he believes that cancer cannot be cured, so when he says ‘’diet can’t cure cancer’’ is a meaningless and misleading point, because, according to his understanding, nothing can.
And, in his usual polarising style, DRG gives no mention to the fact that diet can play a profound role in preventing cancer.
Paradoxically, the most misleading line of all in the entire article in this one where he says that, ‘’while nutrition is important in cancer, and indeed to health in general…’’. DRG, in order to pass as someone who is even remotely credible, at some point must concede that diet is important in cancer. This acknowledgment, however, never seems anything more than a vague, passing remark – a get-out clause to rebuke anyone who accuses him of negligence toward prevention. Indeed, an argument or an article by DRG is never complete without a get-out clause or some type of plausible-deniability cunningly encrypted amongst his arguments. It appears that DRG uses words to conceal and obfuscate meaning, rather than to clarify – and this is a danger to public health.
DRG dedicates a third of a sentence in the entire article to diet being ‘important’, but he has never spoken about the relationship between lifestyle and cancer in a serious and mature way. Even in his Irish Times piece on fad diets not being the answer to the obesity epidemic, he omits stating cancer as one of the diseases linked to obesity. Cancer is glaringly conspicuous on the list, by its absence. [http://www.irishtimes.com/news/health/why-diet-fads-will-not-stop-obesity-epidemic-1.1911783].
In my opinion, and as I stated before, this is the type of criminal negligence professor Samuel Epstein refers to when lamenting how prevention is not prioritised in cancer research. Even though DRG is in the privileged position of being able to promulgate health information, he never actually uses his platform in a balanced way to suggest ways to help prevent lifestyle diseases such as cancer. On the contrary, it would appear that DRG actually shoots down public attempts to develop the dialogue on the link between diet and cancer. For example, he derided Dr John Kelly’s book Eating for Cancer as belonging to the ‘fiction section’ of book stores. Furthermore, he falsely stated that Dr Kelly was suggesting a cure, when Dr Kelly was patently NOT saying any such thing. Then Steven Novella got on board to attack the book in his article ‘Doctor who is not solving cancer’. It is my speculation that DRG informed Novella of the book with the intention that Novella would critique it, and this speculation is based on the fact that the interview and book review appeared in the Irish Times.
Further still, DRG fails to elucidate or even just to realise the difference between ‘good diets’ – i.e. diets which are good for you overall – and diets / foods that are specifically anti-cancer. We have robust scientific evidence that such natural compounds exist, e.g. clinical trials in humans as reported by Michael Mosely on the BBC’s Trust me, I’m a Doctor show, and Dr Rhonda Patrick’s analysis of efficacy of sulforaphane from broccoli in human studies. Also, see the TED talk by William Li o the chemo-therapeutic potential of certain food compounds, which rival the efficacy of pharmaceutical drugs - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B9bDZ5-zPtY.
Good books DO exist which scientifically address the link between lifestyle and cancer –
In short, my advice is to ignore DRG’s ignorant and clumsy ramblings about diet and cancer, and consult people who are actually qualified to talk about it.
Next, DRG rails against the idea of ‘natural remedies’. Firstly – no – the natural approach to cancer care (as advised by practitioners of integrative medicine) is NOT reducible to a single compound or supplement; rather, it is the combination of many approaches in a holistic, integrated way as done at the Hippocrates Institute or the Arizona Institute for Integrative Medicine. It’s wildly ignorant of DRG to assume that professionals in alternative approaches to cancer would take this reductionist approach (e.g. ‘one supplement cures cancer’). We can leave that type of reductionism to DRG – he is very adept at it, and this is undoubtedly born out of his academic training in physics, which unfortunately denies him the instilled level of nuance and intuitive understanding of biological systems which he would have gained with a qualification in biology.
Secondly, there is good evidence that natural treatments could, in the very least, be used alongside conventional treatments to mitigate against their harmful effects. For example, it has been shown that cannabis and fasting are both helpful. In deriding cannabis, for example, DRG is – yet again – wilfully ignorant of the wider context, a context which in this case includes socio-political, economic and ideological forces, as mapped out in the US by the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, the removal of cannabis from the Pharmacopeia in 1942, and placing in the Controlled Substances Act of 1972 under Nixon, since it was deemed to have ‘no safe, effective medical use, and a high abuse potential, so it can’t be used in medical settings’.
The consideration of cannabis as a medicine has been driven as much by political and ideological forces as by evidence-based medicine, but DRG seems ignorant to this nuance. This systemic bias against marijuana is patently true – just consider the devastating effect of synthetic opioids such as Oxycontin. Oxycontin is orders of magnitude more dangerous than marijuana, and has caused widescale social collapse. DRG’s rebuttal of cannabis claims is predicated upon this institutional bias against marijuana – a bias DRG propagates while remaining ignorant of it, like a robot. And, he makes the mistake he consistently makes of failing to mention that cannabis hasn’t been tested to the same extent in phase-3 clinical trials as other drugs; thus, his remarks about it being ineffective are shallow and misleading. But, note the idiosyncratic get-out clause when he qualifies his rebuttal by adding ‘’weight of evidence to date’’.
DRG conveniently forgets to mention reviews such as the Cochrane Collaboration review which reveals that much of orthodox medicine has a poor evidence base. There is the unfair approach that alternative medicine requires greater evidence for efficacy, and this greater stringency for alternative remedies is predicated upon the misguided assumption that synthetic compounds intrinsically have a greater potency of effect. In reality, the only fundamental difference between natural and pharmaceutical compounds is that the latter can be patented.
[In referencing the NCI and Cancer Research UK, DRG makes the uncritical assumption that these agencies are totally independent, as he did in his first article on cancer regarding the FDA (see the Wikipedia entry for the FDA which highlights its inherent conflicts of interest). Cancer Research UK is a charity, but this doesn’t mean it can’t be influenced by industry interests, and this possibility is evidenced by the fact that CRUK funnels most of its charity donations into biomedical research – not into prevention, where any sane, rational person with an eye for epidemiology would focus the money].
In his customary black and white mentality, DRG says, ‘’cannabis may not have an impact on cancer…’’, does he really mean zero effect? He is either lying or is being wilfully ignorant. Given the mass of basic science on cannabis, to suggest that cannabis has zero effect is an absurd claim. His dismissal of claims for natural compounds usually amounts to nothing more than the facile and entirely predictable ‘just because it works in a petri dish doesn’t mean it works for real’ or ‘just because it works in animals doesn’t mean it works in humans’. This is the type of Ad infinitum evasion employed by Novella and Gorski. It seems reasonable, until you realise that their position on whether something works or not is fixed before even considering the evidence, in a classic case of confirmation bias. As stated, for such dogmatic sceptics, evidence hierarchies serve to perpetually evade and distort, rather than to objectively look at the veracity of a claim.
In general, wherever a natural compound or therapy has reasonable evidence for efficacy (for any health condition) and is safe, it is irresponsible to caution against its use. Dogmatic sceptics’ protocol, however, is to reserve admitting something is beneficial until strict studies such as meta-analyses and systematic trials have proved it beyond any doubt – effectively allowing for a type of idiocy which can be summed up as ‘’food or compound ‘x’ has many health benefits with reasonable evidence for efficacy, and is safe to use with no contraindications, but don’t bother using it until the scientific community is 100% sure it is useful – it’s better to wait 20 years just to make sure it passes all the thresholds of evidence’’.
In this way, people who rely solely on consensus are missing out on 20 years’ worth of health-promoting foods and natural supplements, when the substance in question doesn’t have any negative effects anyway, and is likely positive, and at the absolute worst has a neutral net effect. With this cautious approach, can you spot the principle which dogmatic skeptics get back-to-front? The precautionary principle – they get the precautionary principle back-to-front. They are cautious in accepting the efficacy of safe, natural substances, and yet don’t see the value in suggesting a precautionary approach to the question of whether the daily ingestion of thousands of synthetic chemicals in our environment could be bad for us.
Regarding DRG’s reference to homeopathy – I covered homeopathy in previous article which rebutted DRG’s ‘six stubborn myths about cancer’, so I won’t waste time on that here. In short, whilst I agree that homeopaths can steer people away from treatment that could help them (inc. alternative treatments that work), homeopathy is used here, yet again(!) as a Straw Man. No serious practitioner of alternative or integrative cancer therapies would use homeopathy, other than as a placebo medicine. Funnily, DRG never tackles the far-bigger placebo scam of antidepressant medication, even though some types have been shown to cause suicidal ideation and, all things considered, have an incredibly poor benefit/harm ratio – much, much worse than homeopathy.
DRG says, ‘’there are certain things we do know contribute to cancer’’ (emphasis added). If he wanted to be more scientifically accurate, he would have said, ‘’there are many things we do know cause (i.e. are carcinogenic) cancer’’. He goes on, ‘’yet cancer often arises in individuals with no obvious risk factors, giving it a seemingly capricious nature and leaving people struggling to find an explanation’’.
Sadly, yet predictably, a very misleading statement. This is further evidence that DRG is an apologist for the debunked genetic roulette view of cancer. As I expounded upon before, dogmatic sceptics hide behind epidemiological complexity to protect the narrative they are trying to safeguard. Just because there are ‘no obvious causes’ doesn’t mean that environmental factors aren’t just as important. As mentioned, smoking is easy to link to cancer because people are reliably distinguishable by 1 factor – smoking. For other cancers, the factors are more numerous and thus harder to extricate from epidemiological complexity. It’s true that different tissues have a varying susceptibility to becoming cancerous (due in part to different intrinsic stem cell division rates), and also differentially according to different external factors, but this does not negate the fact that cancer is largely environmentally-driven.
For example, just because brain tissue might be 10x less resistant to becoming cancerous than, say, lung tissue, it doesn’t logically follow that brain tissue is 10x less likely to be driven by environmental factors. It could just mean that brain tissue is 10x more sensitive to damage from environmental sources, e.g. lifestyle, environmental toxins, and psycho-mental-emotional stressors.
DRG goes on, ‘’in lieu of a clear villain…’’.
This is a pathologically dishonest statement, since we know the constellation of factors which synergise to cause cancer in 70-90% of cases. On ridiculing the supposed link between deodorants and cancer, DRG is – yet again! – missing the point. It’s about the compound effect, and the synergistic effect, of thousands of factors and chemicals – the possible synergy of which we don’t understand and will never fully understand. That’s why we adopt the precautionary principle. The precautionary principle is adopted precisely because our knowledge base is in lieu of a clear villain! Concern about synergy is also the reason why the more reasonable members of the public are concerned about vaccines (which I discuss later) – not because they distrust the safety profile of individual vaccines, but they are justly concerned that adequate safety studies haven’t been conducted on the synergistic effect of giving babies 10 vaccine injections at a time, or enforcing a vaccine schedule which can include 50 or 60 vaccines during childhood.
In a similar vein, DRG says, regarding the conjectural link between sweeteners and cancer, that there’s ‘’no evidence of a link’’. Firstly, as mentioned, this indicates DRG’s contrarian grip on the precautionary principle – i.e. things must be proved safe if there is a plausible mechanism for harm (which there is in this case, i.e. novel compounds). Secondly, there might not be a direct link, but anything that influences hormones or impacts general health will affect cancer risk.
The rebuttal of the supposed link between cell phone use and brain tumours is an odd one – because, after the headline, DRG doesn’t directly mention cell phones. Cell phones held next to the head have been shown to be detrimental to health, but the vagueness with which DRG refers to cell phones makes it difficult to ascertain what’s he trying to convey. Regardless, this point is a red herring – a classic case of DRG using a red herring to avoid discussing the real issues at hand. For example, we know that pollution raises the risk of cancers in general, including breast cancer, as documented by The Telegraph.
And that old chestnut – the Pharma cure cover-up conspiracy. Yet again (how many times?!) DRG presents his readers with a Straw Man argument.
Firstly, it’s an obvious fact – though obviously invisible to DRG – that Big Pharma would make (and does make) a lot more money from long-term chronic sickness (which requires recurring treatment, often over the course of many years, if not decades) than they would from dishing out cures. This is obviously true, and it is an economic fact.
It’s a Straw Man argument because, in reality, most people don’t think that Big Pharma is surprising a cure – they are simply suspicious and troubled by the fact that (a) the pharmaceutical industry is driven by profit (it is the biggest industry on earth); (b) that profit, ultimately, depends on people being sick; (c) Big Pharma already have a proven collective track-record of being corrupt and dishonest – you just have look at all the major law suits and fines levied against pharmaceutical giants (and the dumbfounding reasons for them) and the work of Peter Gotzsche from the Nordic Cochrane Collaboration who equates Big Pharma to organised crime – see:
So, when DRG says there is ‘’sheer force of evidence’’ against the claim that Big Pharma is hiding a cure, this is a misleading statement. Furthermore, what evidence does DRG present to categorically refute this idea? He doesn’t produce any. Not only does he not produce any evidence to back up his claim of there being a ‘sheer force of evidence’, the thing that further weakens his position is the self-referencing of his own thesis on the theoretical longevity of conspiracy theories. This paper was published in the pay-to-publish journal PLOSone and was subsequently widely debunked by many scientists, and independently. It was debunked for its flawed mathematics and erroneous logic. For example, DRG’s paper is predicated upon the assumption that conspiracies (e.g. there is a cure for cancer) would need to be kept secret by all members of an organisation. So, for example, the secret would have to maintained by all 400,000 people who work in the NHS in the UK. This assumption is patently nonsense. Organisations are hierarchical and compartmentalised by nature and design, and so, by way of comparison, only a small handful of people within a banking system would be aware of the arms deals being done with despotic leaders or the fixing of libor lending rates. In a banking organisation of 10,000 people, perhaps only 10 are even aware of the dealing at the top. The exposition of arms dealing or libor fixing wasn’t done from within the organisation, but from without through investigative journalism. In other words, these haven’t come to light because an entire organisation of 10,000 people finally broke under the strain of keeping a secret. And, if the secret is exposed from within, it is exposed within that band or level, since the hierarchical structure of an organisation purposefully limits power downward in an inversely exponential manner. This fact directly contradicts the very assumption DRG bases his theory on.
DRG’s biggest oversight, however, stems from having a childish, Hollywood-style, conception of conspiracy theories. In truth, the worst type of conspiracy – and yet the most likely to happen – is the one that has become normalised to the point where it ceases to be a conspiracy, and it can hide in plain sight. This is the normalised conspiracy.
Normalised conspiracies are simply paradigms or narratives which emerge through standard, legal, economic and political forces, and which are beneficial to those in power. The biomedical (i.e. drug and technology) approach to medicine is one such normalised conspiracy, and there are very obvious ways by which this paradigm of health care has become cemented in medicine – e.g. funding streams, streamlining through licencing, editorial bias in journals, the shaping of medical syllabuses by pharmaceutical interests, the demonization of anything alternative in culture and intellectual circles, and the use of language itself. These are just a few examples which has led to the normalised conspiracy which is the medical orthodoxy.
DRG would no doubt compulsively shout the ‘’conspiracy theorist’’ attack for this suggestion, but he would be an utter fool to do so. You would have to be a fool to deny the interplay of powerful forces at work shaping medicine. Peter Gotzsche of the Nordic Cochrane Collaboration understands the situation, as does Harvard University professor of medicine Arnold S. Relman, who stated, ‘’The medical profession is being bought by the pharmaceutical industry, not only in terms of the practice of medicine, but also in terms of teaching and research. The academic institutions of this country are allowing themselves to be the paid agents of the pharmaceutical industry. I think it’s disgraceful’’.
DRG goes on to say, ‘’it’s unsurprising that a disease feared by many would become a focus for conspiracy theories’’. Again, DRG displays back-to-front thinking. What IS unsurprising is that a disease feared by many (and which is consistently reinforced as something which is frightening and scary by DRG) would be monopolized by Big Pharma and dogmatic skeptics alike. Whilst heart disease has become unfashionable to discuss (DRG hasn’t written an article on it even though it’s still the biggest killer, ahead of cancer) – partly because the cat is out the bag that it’s preventable through living a healthy lifestyle and thus is of no interest to Big Pharma – cancer, on the other hand, is the ‘new kid on the block’ in terms of profit. The last thing Big Pharma wants is for journalists to promulgate that cancer is largely preventable disease, and fear serves a vital function in keeping people held obsequiously hostage to the ‘best advice’ of the pharma-sponsored orthodoxy in medicine. If you think this sounds hyperbolic, just listen to interviews with Peter Gotzsche of the Nordic Cochrane Collaboration.
The Medical-Industrial-Complex has been eager to hold a complete monopoly on cancer care and advice, and this can be traced back to the Cancer Act of 1939. Around this period, there are legal cases which show the unfair persecution of alternative medical practices by agents in Big Industry –
Of course, dogmatic skeptics would do anything to rubbish the article above, and the implications it raises. But, lest we forget, at around the same time that the America Medical Association was calling chiropractors ‘’quacks’’, they were endorsing and being sponsored by Big Tobacco. Like on so many aspects of medicine, Grimes, Novella and Gorski are ignorant, and this includes context and the history of medicine. For example, for at least 100 years before modern medicine even had a solid evidence base (and it still doesn’t in many areas), ‘’quack’’ was being used as a pejorative term, showing how – for a long time and as an emerging systemic tactic in mainstream medicine – Astroturf slogans have been used to propagandize against ideas which don’t align with the ideological and political narrative – rather than as an objective characterization of things which don’t work. People like Grimes stand on the shoulders of a long and ignoble line of commercial and socio-political engineering. But, of course, he’s not cognizant of it.
And, on it goes… DRG says, ‘’these myths center on the idea that there is a simple cause or cure for cancer’’. DRG keeps regurgitating the idea that cancer is complex, complex, complex Ad infinitum, saying cancers have ‘’wildly differing characteristics’’. It’s a red herring and clearly in his interest to keep doing the Houdini trick of hiding behind epidemiological complexity when it suits his argument. The truth is that cancer is, in the most important sense, simple. All cancer can be reduced to the same fundamental baseline of causation - it is driven by environmental factors and thus the best way to protect yourself is to lead the healthiest life possible. As Harvard professor David Hunter says, we could prevent millions of cancer deaths with the knowledge we already have. But, DRG never promulgates that emphasis should be on prevention, and this is gross negligence and journalistic misconduct.
‘’There’s no magic bullet’’, DRG says. But with conventional cancer treatment, that’s precisely what we have. It’s about as ‘magic a bullet’ as possible.
The magic bullet is prevention. Just as the magic bullet for smallpox was preventing people from getting in it the first place. As I have said before, if you prevent someone getting a deadly illness which they would have gotten had they not taken preventative action, then prevention is essentially the same as a cure – even better.
In this final part I will summarise, as concisely as possible, the key ways in which the writings of Grimes, Novella and Gorski are logically erroneous and scientifically inaccurate – and thus how they mislead the public on health issues.
1. Selective (i.e. biased) scepticism, and thus false balance. There are many medical issues which they could raise awareness about which have a far more damaging impact on people and society than the fringe topics they so fervently focus upon. For example, you never hear Grimes, Novella and Gorski devoting column inches or debating energy into discussing the devastating effect that Oxycontin (and other prescription drugs) is having across the world – even though it destroys orders of magnitude more lives compared to the alt-med practices they rail against so vehemently. No, they don’t talk about this. They don’t talk about the hundreds of thousands of people who die every year from iatrogenic deaths in mainstream medicine, or from correctly prescribed pharmaceutical drugs, or from side-effects in cancer treatment. They don’t mention the criminal undertakings of Big Pharma (which have been noted by Peter Gotzsche in his book Deadly medicines and organised crime: how big pharma has corrupted healthcare), or how one of the most widely used medications in the world – SSRIs – has a very poor scientific basis, or how most new cancer drugs don’t work:
Instead, Grimes squanders his privileged platform to harp on about clairvoyance and homeopathy. Like idiot savants, Grimes, Novella and Gorski seem exceptional at one thing (ridicule) but impaired in everything else.
2. The cult of SBM or ‘’science based medicine’’. If evidence based medicine (EBM) has been called Orwellian and Fascist (see: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/Pharmacology/dc-bits/holmes-deconstruction-ebhc-06.pdf), then where does this leave SBM?
To clarify, EBM has been criticised as being fascist, not because evidence-based-medicine isn’t a good thing (it is, and it’s the gold standard in science) but because of how the very title and accolade itself lends itself to be appropriated by those power structures which can afford to conduct expensive trials (e.g. Big Pharma and government orgs) and to be used as an exclusionary force to those who cannot (e.g. independent orgs, and trials for compounds which cannot be patented). Thus, a treatment that is branded and lauded as ‘’evidence-based’’ is not necessarily more efficacious than one that isn’t – simply because for many non-mainstream approaches to healthcare, neither the will nor the money is there to pass it through the various clinical trials to become recognised as being ‘’evidence-based’’. The call for evidence, whilst ostensibly a good thing, all too readily can become misappropriated by dogmatic skeptics to avoid having a rational conversation about how something could potentially work, thus stifling both the development of nuanced argument and the encouragement of systems-thinking in medicine.
Thus, EBM is perfect in theory, but in practice can become a tool to exclude and propagandise. If this is true for EBM, how about SBM – where people like Grimes, Novella and Gorski propose that scientists and doctors should be able to decide a priori what treatments should and should not be studied? At least with EBM, everything is on the table (in theory) and all that ultimately matters is what works. With SBM, potential treatment modalities can be dismissed out of hand. That sounds like a disastrous idea, given the fact that the Medical-Industrial-Complex blatantly doesn’t want economic competition from a market of alternative / non-patentable medicine.
In SBM, ideologues like Grimes, Novella and Gorski would get to speculate on the prior plausibility of various treatments being efficacious. This is a scary prospect, given that (a) we know they’re strongly biased in favour of the biomedical model and against alternative approaches to healthcare (b) they clearly misunderstand how prior plausibility shifts markedly depending on the cause and epidemiology of a disease; e.g. is it a disease due to an infectious vector, a genetic condition, or due to poor lifestyle?
At least with EBM, it must be put to the test. Paradoxically, dogmatic skeptics feel at home with the logically-erroneous position ‘’I know it’s false, now I just have to figure out why’’. But, critically, they could only prove it by putting it to the test. With SBM, on the other hand, there would be no need to investigate further, and the caption here to illustrate the point would be akin to ‘’it doesn’t work because I don’t believe it could, end of story’’. Clearly, to anyone with a rational mind, this is an extremely dangerous place for medicine to head.
Apart from the likelihood of being appropriated and abused by the power structures which already dominate medicine, SBM also fails upon closer scrutiny when we consider that gauging prior plausibility is compounded by the fact that much of health is counter-intuitive. For example, fasting is good for us; some stress is good for us (e.g. the health benefits from hormetic compounds in foods stem from the fact that our bodies overcompensate to the physiological stress or damage they produce); and swapping between hot and cold environments has been shown to be good for key markers of health such as insulin sensitivity. As an emblematic example, Grimes – with his black and white physicist’s way of seeing the world – has stated that the energy impact on the body of 100 calories of fat equals 100 calories of carbohydrate. This sounds intuitive and logical – but it’s not. And, in this case, it only takes a little bit of nuance and understanding of physiology to grasp why – namely, that fat and carbohydrate have markedly different influences on the hormone response of the body. What sounds intuitive and logical can be wrong. For aeons, parents have been telling their kids to put ice on bumps and burns to keep the swelling down. Sounds logical, right? In fact, it’s the wrong thing to do because inflammation here – or ‘swelling’ – is a healing response by the body. For people like Grimes – who promulgate on health matters but are ignorant of biology – this is potentially dangerous to public health.
Indeed, some of the greatest scientific truths of all time were overlooked for decades because they seemed too counterintuitive to possibly be true, e.g. the debate between Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein about the nature of reality, which Einstein eventually lost. To Einstein, the possibility that reality is unknowable at the fundamental level – and that reality itself is ‘brought into existence’ by the observer – seemed totally unacceptable. Using an analogy from physics to explain a principle in medicine is far from perfect, for which I apologise, though I use this profound example to prove a point. As John Bell (who designed the equation to prove whether Bohr or Einstein was correct) said, ‘’Bohr was inconsistent, unclear, wilfully obscure and right. Einstein was consistent, clear, down-to-earth and wrong’’. And, even in biology, quantum effects have been shown to be important, as discussed by professor Jim Al-Khalili in his episode Quantum Biology in the BBC series Secrets of Quantum Physics. I’m not going to invoke quantum physics to give credence to esoteric healing techniques (as many ‘’quacks’’ do and have been admonished for). Suffice it to say that reality (which includes medicine and human health) is more mysterious than we understand at the moment, and we need to distinguish between people in the alternative sphere who are visionaries and deep thinkers from those who are quite obviously quacks.
3. They polarise the debate. Grimes, Novella and Gorski are king of the Straw Man fallacy. Whilst sensible and rational people spend their time in the vast middle ground, these scientists focus their attack on the fringe and the outliers – which becomes the Straw Man du jour to obfuscate and divert peoples’ attention away from more robust and salient ideas.
For almost every issue Grimes rails against, his protestations distort (wilfully or otherwise) the truth… Grimes writes about ‘’anti-vaxxers’’, whereas in reality most of the people who question vaccines are pro-vaccine but simply concerned about vaccine safety… Grimes writes about ‘’cancer cure conspiracists’’, whereas in reality most people who distrust Big Pharma are simply concerned by the economic reality that chronic disease is highly profitable; that they have an economic imperative to dismiss medicine that cannot be patented; and that their indifference to prevention aligns with Samuel Epstein’s conception of criminal negligence… Grimes mocks people who claim cancer is a new disease, whereas in reality most people think (rightly) that the cancer epidemic is a modern phenomenon… Grimes lambasts homeopathy because some practitioners advise against vaccinations, but it is Grimes who shoulders the burden of proof to show if this is common or rare among homeopaths (which he provides zero evidence for) and he red-herrings from the actual question of whether homeopathy can be useful therapeutically as a placebo.
Grimes, Novella and Gorski believe steadfastly in one extreme in medicine (the biomedical approach) whilst lambasting the other extreme (the smorgasbord of Straw Men distractions they imagine up in their writings pertaining to alt / fringe medicine). Yet, in truth, both extremes are idiotic, short-sighted and logically unsound. Integrated medicine – which Dr Andrew Weil describes as the intelligent combination of conventional and unconventional approaches to healthcare – is the future of medicine.
Dogmatic skeptics like Grimes, Novella and Gorski are intellectually frozen in the biomedical ‘golden age’ of medicine when people were saved from infectious diseases, where vaccines and antibiotics were true heroes. They still are, of course, but today most people in developed countries die from conditions related to poor lifestyle. As such, these skeptics will increasingly be seen as clinging on to Stone-Age medicine, stubbornly refusing to step into the new paradigm – of integrative medicine – which focuses on myriad and interconnected aspects of health and wellbeing including diet, epigenetic effects, bio-psycho-social-spiritual influences, and orthomolecular medicine. Of course, in their intransigence and naivety, Grimes, Novella and Gorski will continue to dismiss, out of hand, any approach to medicine which doesn’t fit their ideological worldview – and therefore they will slowly but surely slip into the wrong side of history.
Sadly, and even though dogmatic skeptics aren’t cognizant of it, their bullish and polemical style of constructing and burning down Straw Men – and of engaging with the public in hostile and condescending ways – could paradoxically cause a ‘swing vote’ of the undecided toward the unscientific. For those at either extreme – i.e. those who are rigorously schooled and beholden to mainstream medicine and those who erroneously believe in implausible fringe medicine – nothing will change their mind; not Grimes, not Novella, not Gorski. People in the huge middle ground, however, might be put-off and become distrustful of science and mainstream medicine when they encounter vitriolic and toxic characters like Grimes, Novell and Gorski. Steven Pinker recently did a talk on this in reference to political persuasion being determined as much, if not more, by how people are made to feel. Pinker argues that, whether or not the political right is good or bad, many swing voters have settled there because conservatives (as compared to leftists) seem much more rational, grounded, and open to criticism without resorting to the outrage antics of political correctness. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTiRnbNT5uE.
Many have already publicly stated that they find Grimes arrogant, condescending and bullish – and the same goes for Novella and Gorski. Imagine how many people think this privately, and who’ve come to that conclusion independently, and we have a major problem on our hands – namely, that these science journalists and self-appointed gatekeepers of truth (who have been afforded the important position of informing the public on science) are actually causing the public to distrust science and become more cynical of mainstream medicine.
4. The Mystery of Sulforaphane. Sulforaphane – a compound found naturally in high concentrations in broccoli sprouts – is a fascinating compound. It has been shown efficacious (by the strict standards of EBM) to have a preventative effect in several cancers, and to help alleviate some of the symptoms of autism.
Remarkably, Grimes doesn’t mention Sulforaphane in either of his articles about cancer for The Guardian; nor does he mention Sulforaphane in his autism article for The Guardian – even though the NHS in the UK mentions that Sulforaphane has been shown efficacious by clinical trial, and thus a promising natural treatment for manage the symptoms of autism.
Perhaps more than anything else in this entire article, this wilful omission betrays Grimes’s bias, corruption and implicit utter disdain for the idea of treating disease with alternative / natural approaches. ‘’If it works it ceases to be called alternative medicine and is just called medicine’’, Grimes would protest. But, alas, he is wrong even here. A compound isolated from broccoli, then synthesised, and then patented, could be called medicine – broccoli sports wouldn’t (even if they had therapeutic value), just as the foods in a good diet which cured type-2 diabetes wouldn’t be called medicine, or the yoga which cured insomnia wouldn’t be called medicine. You get the point.
Here, like on many aspects of healthcare, Grimes, Novella and Gorski are denialists, and they evade the truth that silence – the ‘’tumbleweed effect’’ alluded to earlier – is a killer. Ironically, Grimes often regurgitates the slogan ‘’costs lives’’ when referring to unproven alternative approaches to healthcare, whilst being too dumb to realise that his total lack of emphasis on prevention (even though he has ample opportunity to mention it in his articles) costs lives; that his silence on the topic of iatrogenic death in medicine costs lives. He has a dodgy sense of ethics – feeling compelled to exclusively highlight things which don’t work in alt-med, rather than those which do. Conversely, they wilfully ignore all the things (and there’s a lot) that don’t work in mainstream medicine.
Grimes’s wilful ignorance and deceit is mirrored by several mainstream institutions of ‘’knowledge’’. For example, the Wikipedia page on Sulforaphane keeps deleting edits which add the reference to autism research. Who are these editors who are cloaked in anonymity? And, who do they serve? Clearly, they are not being objective, nor scientific. The book Wikipedia Wars goes into this is detail, and there have been several articles written about the ‘Guerrilla Skeptics’ who plague Wikipedia with their bias and dogma to uphold the status quo. And, where references to Sulforaphane do manage to make it through the editorial firing squad (e.g. in other Wikipedia articles), the editors feel compelled to state that synthetic analogues are better, as if they couldn’t tolerate the idea that natural substances – in their natural state – could have substantial medicinal value. These editors are clearly obsequious to the puppet masters of the Medical-Industrial-Complex. Who knows how such censorship structures are organised in the first place. What’s for certain is that if you can control the information, you can control the public’s perception (and therefore, support of) mainstream medicine.
Along with Sulforaphane, there are other major and telling anomalies in how dogmatists like Grimes – and his army of Guerrilla Wikipedia Skeptics – report (or don’t) on important matters. For example, even though Sodium Valproate has been unequivocally shown to increase rates of autism in children – Grimes omitted this in his article on autism for The Guardian. This is negligent because, in his article, Grimes specifically addressed the question of whether autism is caused by genetic or environmental factors. He stated that the evidence for it being caused by environmental factors is shaky – even though we have solid proof that chemicals in the environment can cause it. In other words, the principle of extrinsic causality is there. It is, in principle, possible. Needless to say, Sodium Valproate isn’t discussed on Wikipedia on the autism page.
5. The one-variable effect (aka the appeal to ignorance). As stated before in this article, Grimes, Novella and Gorski reveal their poor grasp of logic and epidemiological statistics when they feverishly subscribe to the (commonly-misunderstood) notion that the smoking/lung cancer link is one of the rare cases where we can be certain cancer is environmentally-driven – and that for other cancers we cannot be confident they’re driven by environmental factors.
At first glance, this seems logical and like common sense but, as I explained before, upon closer inspection it becomes clear it’s a lazy and erroneous conclusion. For smoking, it’s simple from an epidemiological standpoint to separate experimental groups by 1 key factor – i.e. whether they smoke or not. If you factor out other variable (which is possible with large population sizes, i.e. millions of people smoke), it becomes relatively straightforward to statistically prove the causative effect of smoking on lung cancer.
For other cancers, the statistics are far, far, messier due to far greater epidemiological complexity and ignorance of the interplay and synergy of carcinogenic factors in the environment. But – and this is the point – for other cancers it’s not that we can’t be sure they aren’t caused by environmental factors, its just that we can’t be sure what those factors are, and the effect each of those factors has on cancer risk. In short, just because we can’t be sure what the factors are, doesn’t mean we can’t be just as confident they arise from an external source, since we already know from the paper in Nature that cells need environmental triggers to become cancerous in 70-90% of cases. In the analogy I used before, if we have a bullet wound but no bullet, we can be almost as certain that a gun was used as when we had the physical proof of the bullet.
For lung cancer, smoking is such a constant and invasive insult to an organ that it’s clearly the biggest environmental factor (along with pollution in extremely polluted cities). But for other cancers, it is possible, even probable, that they result from the cumulative load of all extrinsic factors in the environment. So, when Grimes preaches that deodorants don’t cause cancer, he’s right. But what he doesn’t understand is that there are thousands upon thousands of toxic pollutants in our environment – many of them carcinogenic and many of which interact synergistically to magnify the effect of any single one by orders of magnitude in some cases. When thousands of things in our environment contribute to the cancer in one way or another (whether through being actively carcinogenic, or passively contributory to cancer by disrupting our hormonal and immune systems) it’s extremely lazy and erroneous to suggest that, either (a) any one of those chemicals doesn’t cause cancer, or (b) we can’t be sure the cancer isn’t driven by environmental factors just because we don’t know what those factors are. Here, the ‘’no evidence’’ meme Grimes uses so often is obfuscating and dishonest. We can use evidence from logic – as psychologist Ken Wilbur suggests – to reach many robust provisional conclusions which would likely be reached anyway by exhaustive clinical experimentation. Evidence from logic is thus another way which we can operate in society now according to the precautionary principle, rather than waiting for 20 years for absolute proof that (for example) chronic exposure to pesticides is bad for us. We can be confident of this already.
In short, when dogmatists like Grimes, Novella and Gorski talk about ‘’the complexity of cancer’’ they do so in an underhanded and obfuscating way. They co-opt this complexity to add doubt into the mix regarding the urgency many feel to emphasise and prioritise prevention over treatment; and of the urgency many feel to rid our societies and ecosystems of as many carcinogens and toxic chemicals as possible. This, ladies and gentlemen, is criminally negligent. It’s criminally negligent because it mitigates against the only sensible approach – i.e. the precautionary principle.
6. The Precautionary Principle! Following on from the previous point, it is absurd to wait indefinitely to know categorically whether something is true or not – given that we have other means to make accurate predictions.
For example, we might never know for absolute sure whether chronic exposure to pesticides is bad for us (actually, we do know, just not to the artificially high standards of evidence levied by dogmatic skeptics) but this doesn’t mean we can’t be fairly certain they are… and besides, we know they have catastrophic effects on the environment (and we rely on a healthy environment for our health), therefore, in logical corollary, pesticides are definitely bad for our health.
The resistance to accepting likelihoods such as this is as absurd as saying that, because we don’t know all the reasons which contribute to psychological wellbeing, we can’t be sure there’s even such a thing as psychological wellbeing. It’s the paradox of the unprovable truth – whereby we can know something is true without being able to prove it. Dogmatic skeptics seize on this to add doubt, whereas most reasonable and rational people don’t use such manipulative tactics. To provide a dramatic example, there’s been a feud raging for at least a decade between Deepak Chopra and Richard Dawkins – Dawkins saying that a lot of what Chopra says is hogwash. Some of it might well be, but other things Chopra says might just be visionary ideas, yet to be studied or evidenced. Dawkins recently had a stroke – which he thankfully recovered from. The sad irony, however, is that Dawkins would quite likely have benefited from Chopra’s teachings on lifestyle practices, even without knowing if they were true or not, and they might even have helped prevent his stroke in the first place. Richard Dawkins is infamous for declaring ‘’what matters is if it’s true’’. But sometimes, that approach can be harmful to health if it delays you taking positive action because you’re waiting for solid evidence for something which is logically plausible anyway.
7. Appeal to Nuance vs Appeal to Simplicity. As alluded to before, Grimes uses words like ‘’complexity’’ (e.g. cancer is ‘’complex’’, or diet is ‘’complex’’) in ways which can mislead and obfuscate the issues at hand – Novella and Gorski also juggle with semantics in almost everything they write about and promulgate.
For example, the topic of organic food is seemingly universally hated by dogmatic skeptics. They claim there’s no good evidence that organic food is better (either because it is more nutritionally-dense or because it contains fewer contaminants such as pesticide residues). If, for a moment, we accept this to be the case, we can still put forward the cast-iron case that organic food is much better for the environment, and thus, due to the indefatigable fact that we need a healthy environment to be healthy ourselves, we can say that organic food = healthier people. On this point I’ve heard dogmatic skeptics protest vehemently that ‘’the point is being confused’’ – i.e. they appeal to simplicity to keep separate the benefit of organic (a) for our bodies and (b) for the environment – as independent variables. It’s analogous to a defence lawyer trying desperately to keep evidence from being admitted into court – evidence which he or she knows will be damming for their defendant’s case.
On the equally hated topic of detox, they use the same trickery, only in reverse. Here, they appeal to nuance to say things like ‘’living a consistently healthy lifestyle is better than buying those quack detox-fixes’’. I would say, true! Of course, that’s right – but the question is whether certain substances can, or can’t, aid in the body’s ability to detox itself. They’re avoiding the question by smudging it out of context with (seemingly intelligent) nuance. It sounds like they’re being reasonable and rational – but in this case, they’re actually displaying an inability to stay focused on the question, and that’s the mark of a poor scientist. By the way, yes, there are compounds which have been shown through clinical trial to aid the body in detoxication – so the principle of ’’detox’’ is plausible, and evidenced.
On the benefits of meditation – another topic dogmatic skeptics seem to hate with pathological fury (Grimes especially); they exhibit the same shape-shifting between nuance and simplicity, depending on whichever approach best suits their ideological bias. More likely than not, on the topic of meditation they will err on the side of simplicity – regurgitating studies such as the 6-week trial comparing new meditators to a control group who watched a TV documentary they enjoyed (– which found no significant differences between the groups).
Here, a good scientist would realise that it is, in fact, deep and nuanced thinking which is required here to best understand what was going on in this type of meditation study. For a start, new meditators aren’t the same as experienced meditators, and some of the benefits of the meditation would have been negated by the withdrawal symptoms from thinking and doing which the participants might have suffered. Indeed, for someone who is new to meditation, they might at first experience some unpleasant and unsettling feelings. But, to use this fact to levy caution about meditation would be as absurd as saying that an alcoholic shouldn’t stop drinking because they’d experience withdrawal symptoms! In truth, many people are addicted to their thinking habits and doing habits, and the negative symptoms at the beginning of a meditation course is testament to this (and shouldn’t be used to impugn the long-term benefit). Other relevant nuance would include the obvious fact that watching a good quality documentary can be meditative in itself – not only because it’s relaxing but also because it encourages the viewer to deepen and broaden their perspective on life, to experience transcendent feelings, and to enliven aspects of the mind such as curiosity and imagination. All of those things are facets which are thought important to living a more mindful and peaceful life. Thus, on another level, we can appreciate that the definition of meditation itself must be a nuanced one – i.e. there are many types, and some people might respond better to walking meditation, others to more classical types. Thus, to say meditation isn’t effective because 1 study didn’t show it to be is – even if we ignore for a moment the other factors I mentioned above – ludicrous, because mediation isn’t one practice, just as exercise isn’t. It would be as absurd as saying ‘’John can’t tolerate lemons all that well, therefore fruit is bad for you’’.
Grimes, in a similar vein but slightly differently to the nuance/simplicity point, shape-shifts between notions of psycho-somatic effects being strong, or weak, depending on the point he’s trying to make. For example, Grimes’s pet-hate is homeopathy [Note: he’s spent infinitely more time criticising homeopathy than he has questioning iatrogenic deaths from mainstream medicine or the corruption within the pharmaceutical industry] and even though he has to concede that homeopathy could have an effect due to the Placebo effect, he’s adamant that the placebo effect would be trivial and insignificant. Yet, when it comes to debunking the popular health claims that gluten is bad for you, Grimes insists it’s due to the Nocebo effect – and here (you guessed it) the nocebo effect is strong enough to produce pronounced physiological effects.
Grimes’s thinking is too clumsy to twig that both the placebo effect and nocebo effect are driven by the same underlying mechanism. If one is strong, it proves the other can be. Predictably, Grimes insists on keeping the placebo effect and nocebo effect artificially distinct. He calls the nocebo the ‘’evil cousin’’ of the placebo. To the discerning reader, you would question why Grimes didn’t call it the evil twin of the placebo. Semantic trickery and deception is Grimes’s mainstay.
8. In logical progression from the previous point, another criticism against Grimes, Novella and Gorski is the way they use language in a deceptive and propagandising manner, something some people refer to as ‘’astroturfing’’ (for e.g. see TED talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-bYAQ-ZZtEU).
Above all, perhaps, is their constant use of the slogan ‘’anti-science’’ to people who don’t adhere to the consensus view. From the outset, this is slogan is a logically-inept one, for the simple reason that – if science is a tool – someone couldn’t be anti-science in the same way they couldn’t be anti-tool. They could be anti-scientist, or anti-scientism, but not anti-science. The fact that they consistently spout the illogical slogan ‘’anti-science’’ subtly betrays the fact that, for dogmatists like Grimes, Novella and Gorski, they fail to differentiate between science, scientist, and scientism. This is a fundamental error.
Calling someone ‘’anti-science’’ because they don’t believe in a consensus position would be like (as Noam Chomsky pointed out to be totally absurd) calling someone ‘’anti-American’’ because they didn’t believe in the consensus position of the state. What a bigot like Grimes actually means when he calls them ‘’anti-science’’ is, at best, that they have a difference of scientific opinion or, at worst, that they’re being unscientific. Both these are wildly different to being ‘’anti-science’’. The term ‘’anti-science’’ is meant to portray a fascistic resistance – but that type of totalitarianism would much better describe the likes of Grimes himself, and Novella, and Gorski – the triumvirate cult.
It gets worse. These 3 characters are obsessed with lambasting doctors and authors who promulgate and campaign for a more integrated approach to medicine. In their rabid pursuit, they recklessly and sloppily use mean-spirited words like ‘’fraud’’. Indeed, Grimes has called Deepak Chopra a fraud, Dr. Mercola a fraud, Rupert Sheldrake a fraud… the list goes on. But, on what grounds could these people be considered fraudulent?
In short, they couldn’t reasonably be considered frauds just because their views go against the consensus, or because they occasionally have outlandish theories, or even because they make money from selling books and products. Moreover, many of their ideas could just as equally be seen as being visionary and revolutionary (even in lieu of evidence) rather than as quackery. Ironically, Grimes loves to associate himself with the values of free-thinking and brilliant visionaries like Freeman Dyson – who wished and encouraged there to be more heretics in science – but, in reality, Grimes’s thinking is as far from visionary and as far from original as it is possible to be.
Freeman Dyson also hated arrogance, and another great scientist chimed with this when he said ‘’condemnation without investigation is the height of arrogance’’. Yet, Grimes feels entitled to condemn without investigating. His sort of investigation is looking up consensus positions on Wikipedia – it’s lazy, unscientific, and totally unoriginal.
One of dogmatic skeptics’ favourite slogans is the Carl Sagan quote ‘’extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’’. Sadly, they misappropriate and corrupt the original sentiment behind Sagan’s expression and use it to negate ideas which are far from extraordinary. And, of course, being the self-appointed gatekeepers of truth and high priests of evidence and logic which they claim to be, dogmatists like Grimes, Novella and Gorski get to choose which ideas are extraordinary, and which aren’t. Not a good set-up for objective science.
Novella and Gorski are obsessed with trying to downplay the growing interest in integrative medicine – and both authors obsessively attack Dr. Andrew Weil – who heads the Arizona School of Integrative Medicine and who is considered the world-leader and visionary on integrative medicine. What Dr. Weil says is reasonable, rational, and evidence-based – and his book series on integrative medicine has even published by Oxford University Press. This includes a book on integrative oncology. Dr. Weil’s research into the effect of lifestyle interventions is excellent – but his philosophical insights are just as important, e.g. he highlights how modern medicine is a ‘’disease management system’’ rather than a ‘’health promoting system with an emphasis on prevention’’. This difference is absolutely key.
That we would benefit from taking an integrative approach to cancer care (i.e. emphasising prevention and treating it with the intelligent combination of conventional and unconventional treatment modalities – e.g. nutritional and psycho-somatic interventions) seems like the most obvious thing in the world. And it is to many mainstream doctors around the world whose training hasn’t been as hijacked by pharmaceutical interests as in the USA. Germany, for example, is leading the way for the integration of alternative treatment modalities in cancer care.
Novella and Gorski utterly despise the vision of medicine that Dr. Weil is advocating – and their ineptitude in understanding the core principles of integrative medicine is betrayed by the immature and logically erroneous articles they write to try to rebut Weil’s case.
Novella has even gone after Dr. Rhonda Patrick - a highly respected biochemist who has been published in the world’s top science journals. Novella was criticising Patrick’s suggestion that cryotherapy (i.e. cold therapy and the switching between hot and cold environments) has a growing evidence base for efficacy. Predictably, Novella’s case rested on semantics and the hierarchy of evidence levels – claiming that Patrick had been referring to basic science studies rather than full scale human clinical trials. It sounds like a reasonable criticism, until you realise that – for claims which Novella don’t want to be true – there would never be enough evidence to substantiate it in his eyes. This approach is fundamentally different to being open to a claim, but simply seeking out more evidence. Novella makes the absurd (and false) statement that studies from basic science hardly ever make it through to show significance at clinical trial. For a start, you know this is a misleading statement because every drug approved by clinical trial was first observed in basic science (e.g. metabolism pathways). Furthermore, Patrick was also discussing the evolutionary precedent for why cryotherapy could work – thus she was using evidence from logic, which, as I have explained before in this article, can be just as powerful an investigatory tool to work out how – or if – something could work. Of course, Novella never discusses any of these points which would allow the reader to make an informed decision. For example, hormesis stress from thermal variation has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, and increased insulin sensitivity has been shown to lower the risk of obesity, and obesity raises your risk of cancer. A is causatively linked to B, and B is causatively linked to C, so therefore A is linked to C because A, B and C are all logical corollaries of one another. But, Novella and Gorski seem incapable of making these connections – unless, of course, it suits their agenda.
Of course, even though Grimes, Novella and Gorski rant on Ad Nauseum about the need for evidence and scepticism, their standards seem to swing wildly depending on the topic at hand. When is comes to vaccines, for instance, they don’t seem at all critical or concerned about the extremely lax standards of safety testing for vaccines – e.g. vaccines are tested by the manufacturer (obvious conflicts of interest there) and the synergistic effect of the 20-60 vaccines children are injected with has never been adequately tested. Vaccines are exempt from stringent and exhaustive evidence standards. And, of course, Grimes, Novella and Gorski call anyone concerned about vaccine safety ‘’anti-vaxxers’’ or ‘’anti-science’’ even though, in truth, these people simply concerned about vaccine safety.
Another example which betrays the fraudulent bias of these 3 characters is their gleeful and unquestioning acceptance of bogus claims like ‘’antioxidants from supplements increases the risk of cancer’’. They accept it outright, as the blanket statement that it is, rather than scrutinising it with the microscopically-pedantic nuance they would use for claims their ideological position dictates cannot be true. Dr. Rhonda Patrick has already debunked as bogus the claim about antioxidants and cancer. Here, of course, dogmatic skeptics would levy far more scepticism against the rebuttal of the study than they ever did against the original study itself.
And, of course, dogmatists love berating famous nutritionists such as David Wolfe (again, note how they could spend this time berating the fact that hundreds of thousands of people die every year from iatrogenic medicine and irresponsibly-prescribed pharmaceutical drugs, but they never do). Grimes, in particular, has lashed out against David Wolfe for, ostensibly, promoting anti-vaccine narratives. If you listen carefully to what Wolfe says, however, you’ll learn that Wolfe is pro-safe vaccine, just deeply concerned about the lack of adequate safety testing of vaccines and how they could interact together synergistically and with other factors in the environment.
Aside from that, Grimes pours vitriol on the ‘’pseudo-scientific’’ claims Wolfe makes about diet and health. As in so many other cases, Grimes even uses the word ‘’fraud’’ to dismiss Wolfe. Now, I have no doubt that a lot of what Wolfe says isn’t scientifically-robust. In fact, perhaps most of what Wolfe says isn’t scientifically robust. However, there’s one thing I can be sure of is that – along with death and taxes – David Wolfe is deeply passionate about food, health and wellbeing. And this is where dogmatists miss the point entirely. Most disease in the developed world today is chronic illness driven by poor lifestyle. One of the most important archetypal figures in society today, therefore, is the person who can instil and inculcate in people a deep and abiding passion for health and wellbeing. Someone wanting to be healthy is the most important thing – and people who inspire this have a profound effect on peoples’ health, regardless of whether everything they say is scientifically-rigorous or not. By way of analogy, a Yoga teacher with a PhD in science is not necessarily going to be a better instructor than a Yoga teacher with no qualifications at all. The passion and attitude of the teacher is key to whether they impart enthusiasm (and thus a commitment to a healthy lifestyle) to their students. In this way, a nutritionist or a counsellor could have a bigger effect on societal health than a doctor.
As a striking example, it has been estimated that loneliness can have as negative effect on our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, see –
The need for doctors is a function of the causality of a disease – and if, for example, a disease was found to be 100% stress-related, then counsellors would be the best healers in our society, not doctors. As Dr. Andrew Weil says, the best we can hope for is that GPs are good ‘’therapeutic marriage brokers’’ – given the fact that most disease today is caused by environmental stressors and poor lifestyle. A person wishing to prevent or reverse heart disease or type-2 diabetes needs to eat a good diet – and a passionate nutritionist could be a life-saver, in spite of their lack of academic and/or medical qualifications.
9. Medical Idolatry and credentialism / appeal to authority. The power of life or death is in the tongue, as they say, referring to the inordinate amount of power doctors have over their patients. Just because doctors are experts on diagnosis and treatment options, doesn’t mean they’re as knowledgeable about prevention or integrative medicine. Countless times, I have witnessed people in my life failing to adopt healthy lifestyles, optimum preventative strategies or post-operation lifestyle changes to aid their recovery – simply because a doctor didn’t recommend that they do so. The same is especially true for cancer – most patients are obsequious to their doctors – hanging on their every word – whilst the doctors themselves are obsequious and beholden to the wishes of the Medical-Industrial-Complex. Doctors do save lives, of course, but their inaction in providing good advice also costs lives and/or allows for more suffering than is necessary.
Grimes, Novella and Gorski are totally beholden and servile to the consensus positions endorsed by the Medical-Industrial-Complex. There is a lot of quackery in mainstream medicine, but dogmatists are blind to it, and wilfully so. Whether they’re even aware of it or not (!) these 3 are agents of the propaganda machine of the Medical-Industrial-Complex. SAS – or ‘’Sense About Science’’ – as already mentioned, is funded by pharmaceutical interests. Grimes was awarded a prize by SAS, but he’s clearly too brainwashed to understand why this represents a huge conflict of interest.
EBM might very well ‘democratise’ medicine (as former editor of the BMJ Richard Smith points out) but that’s largely irrelevant if the EBM knowledge base is selectively comprised of expensive clinical studies which have been funded (and can only be funded) by the wealthy pharmaceutical industry and establishment forces. In other words, ‘’anyone’’ can do studies and publish papers, but only specific bodies in society can afford to do so, thus making the ‘’democracy of medicine’’ a moot point. And, even if studies were published which grated up against the status quo, the process of peer review in itself has been shown to be flawed and biased. It’s like saying anyone is free to go to the moon – but in truth, of course, only a select few realistically can. Money in medicine leads to patents, and to the monopolisation of ideas (which gets confused with ‘’consensus’’).
Both pose a grave danger to public health.
In concurrence with the above point on appeal to authority, dogmatists tend to have a bias toward technology – i.e. ‘’nature is inferior to what can be produced by man’’. But, for many conditions including the biggest killers in our society (e.g. heart disease and type-2 diabetes) nothing works better than natural dietary intervention. This is just a simple fact. If you ignore the power of food as medicine for heart disease and type-2 diabetes, you’re either ignorant, stupid, or insane.
10. Erroneous assumptions. For example, when a patient dies from following a ‘’quack’’ diet, dogmatists are quick to assume that they died because they neglected conventional treatment. Even if you pointed out their assumption, they’d feel entitled to it because – in their minds and due to their implicit biases – the a priori probability of a claim is whatever they want it to be.
Yet, if someone with the same condition got better following the ‘’quack’’ diet, the automatic assumption would be that it couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the diet, and a whole raft of arguments will be presented to evidence this position – regression to the mean, placebo effect, misdiagnosis etc.
Bizarrely – and just to illustrate how cunning and devious Grimes, Novella and Gorski are – this can also be appropriated by them in reverse. For example, when it turned out that Black children are more likely to get autism, Gorksi couldn’t possibly entertain the idea that an increased susceptibility to adverse reaction to the MMR vaccine had anything to do with it (and I don’t know whether it does) – so he invoked an argument normally strictly in the realm of the alternative… he proposed that Black children had lower levels of vitamin D, thus are more susceptible to autism. This sounds reasonable – and is backed up by evidence – but the point is that Gorski was really clutching at straws here. He normally avoids speaking of diet and health in the same breath – avoids it like the plague – but he has no problem invoking this line of reasoning as a last-ditch effort to rebut a claim he finds even more unpalatable. Novella went to even more disturbing lengths in the Hannah Poling case – desperately trying to eradicate any speculation or suggestion that her autism could in any way be related to her vaccination schedule [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jon_Poling ].
Please support my work by donating at my Patreon page. I receive ZERO support for writing my articles. I have spent many hundreds of hours - possibly thousands - researching and writing articles to ensure public health, and to uphold good, honest, scientific progress in the field of health and well-being.
Please support my work by donating at my Patreon page. I receive ZERO support for writing my articles. I have spent many hundreds of hours - possibly thousands - researching and writing articles to ensure public health, and to uphold good, honest, scientific progress in the field of health and well-being.
UPDATE: Critique of book 'Trick or Treatment?: Alternative Medicine on Trial’ (see link below).
This short critique begins by referencing the fact that ''Sense About Science'' - the group which champions the likes of David Robert Grimes, Edzard Ernst, and Simon Singh - is a lobby group, with shown links to Big Industry: