The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘cancer’

Fight Against Cancer Quack Burzynski Goes to Congress

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 8, 2014

Last year I blogged about how this blog has joined a coalition of skeptical blogs titled the Skeptics for the Protection of Cancer Patients (SPCP).

The impetus for this is a particularly loathsome man - Stanislaw Burzynski – who is a quack that promises to cure people of their cancer, despite the fact that decades of research show that his claimed cancer cures don’t work.  Unfortunately, Burzynski has been able to skirt common decency, good medical science, and the FDA regulators and continue to practice his quackery, resulting in an unfortunate number of people going to him in the hopes that he can cure them.  A good rundown of Burzynski’s history of fraud can be found by listening to this recent podcast of Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the SPCP has decided to take down Burzynski due to the particularly flagrant manner in which he practices his dangerous pseudoscience; it will also serve as a message to all other medical quacks and charlatans to be on notice because we in the skeptical community are watching.

Burzynski SI Title

Well, now things are going to the next level – straight to Congress.  Burzynski has been able to get away with so much for so long because he has political allies in high places, so we’ve decided to fight fire with fire.  My skeptical colleagues at the SPCP have put together a petition asking Congress to step in and force the FDA to do its job and properly investigate, regulate, and (hopefully) put out of business Burzynski and his quack clinic.

Please consider signing and passing along this petition; the text of the petition follows – click here to sign:

Protect Desperate Patients from the Houston Cancer Quack

Petition by Skeptics for the Protection of Cancer Patients

We are writing to request your urgent attention to a matter that involves the exploitation of cancer patients, their families, and their communities.

For nearly 40 years, Houston cancer doctor Stanislaw Burzynski has been treating cancer patients with an unproven chemotherapy he calls “antineoplastons.” Following an agreement in the 1990s with the FDA, he has recently only been able to administer the drug under the auspices of clinical trials. For this questionable treatment, he charges patients exorbitant fees (often hundreds of thousands of dollars) to participate in a trial, and he claims to cure the most difficult, almost uniformly fatal pediatric brain cancers. His claims are not supported by science and evidence; despite opening more than 60 trials in the last 15 years, he has not published the results of a single completed clinical trial.

On Friday, November 15, 2013, many concerning issues about Dr. Burzynski were detailed in a front-page exposé in USA Today, including his past use of antineoplastons as an AIDS and Parkinson’s treatment. Sickeningly, critics of the Clinic have found a pattern going back 20 years of patients publicly celebrating unambiguous signs of disease progression as signs that antineoplastons were working.

The FDA recently released site inspection notes about Stanislaw Burzynski’s clinic. Their findings were horrific:

– Burzynski “failed to protect the rights, safety, and welfare of subjects under your care.”
– “Forty-eight (48) subjects experienced 102 investigational overdoses“
– Burzysnki allowed overdoses continue: “Overdose incidents have been reported to you [....] There is no documentation to show that you have implemented corrective actions during this time period to ensure the safety and welfare of subjects.”
– All baseline tumor measurements were destroyed: “Your [...] tumor measurements initially recorded on worksheets at baseline and on-study treatment [...] studies for all study subjects were destroyed and are not available for FDA inspectional review.” Without any measurement there is no way to determine any actual efficacy of the treatment, making Burzynski’s claims unsupported and unpublishable.
– Burzynski’s reported success rates are inflated: He “failed to comply with protocol requirements related to the primary outcome, therapeutic response [...] for 67% of study subjects reviewed during the inspection.” Nonetheless, these inaccurate outcomes are used to convince dying patients antineoplastons can save them.

Other issues cited by the FDA included:

– Paying patients who failed to meet the inclusion criteria for the study were admitted to Burynski’s trials;
– Burzynski did not report all adverse events as required by his study protocols, and many exhibiting toxic effects were not removed from treatment;
– Adverse events were not reported in a timely fashion (in one case 7 years);
– The FDA received two different versions of a pediatric patient’s records during an inspection, especially significant because the child apparently died of a known side effect of antineoplastons.

Shockingly, these observations were made after a decade of abysmal site reviews by the FDA. Currently, Burzynski’s trials are subject to a partial clinical hold, which means Burzynski is still treating patients already on his protocol.

We are asking that you:

– Encourage the FDA to dissolve the Burzynski Research Institute’s clearly deficient Institutional Review [ethical oversight] Board and toplace a permanent hold on any more cancer patients receiving antineoplastons;
– Investigate how Burzynski has been allowed to conduct experiments on pediatric cancer patients while repeatedly cited for violating rules designed to prevent uncontrolled human experimentation.
– Investigate why the FDA allowed this abysmal researcher to advance to phase 3 clinical trials without publishing a single phase 2 trial;
– Protect cancer patients from abuse through legislation and FDA oversight reform.

Please help end a medical ethics scandal that involves eight times as many patients as the Tuskegee Experiment. I look forward to your response on this important matter.

Click here to Sign the Petition!

Posted in medical woo, politics, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

“Doctor” Oz Fails at Medicine AND Physics as He Pushes Cell Phone Fear-Mongering

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 18, 2013

This recent silliness by “Doctor” Oz came to my attention: apparently, during a recent show he took seriously the notion that women shouldn’t carry cell phones in their bras because it could give them breast cancer.  My skeptical colleague Dr. David Gorski at Science-Based Medicine summarizes Oz’s idiocy and fear-mongering here…

… The story aired on December 6 and was entitled Why You Should Keep Your Cell Phone Out of Your Bra. The entire segment, lasting ten minutes or so, is one blatant piece of fear mongering. Even by the usual low standards of a typical Dr. Oz segment, this one was bad. How bad? I’ll give you a taste. Let me start just by asking what you might expect in a segment claiming a link between an environmental exposure of some sort and a specific cancer? You’d expect some actual scientific evidence, wouldn’t you? Some epidemiology, perhaps, showing that women who hold their cell phones in their bras have a higher risk of breast cancer, perhaps with some relative risks that were at least statistically significant. You might expect some scientific evidence suggesting why the proposed mechanism is plausible. You might even expect that there would be convincing (or at least suggestive) evidence that women who put their cell phones in their bras, when they develop breast cancer, develop it more frequently on the side where they stick their cell phone. These would be reasonable things to expect that, even though they wouldn’t be convincing proof, would at least raise concerns.

There was none of that at all. Zero. Nada. Zip. In fact, I was shocked at how evidence-free this whole segment was. Usually Oz at least tries to slather a patina of scientific evidence on his pseudoscience. OK, maybe not usually, but he does at least sometimes try when he’s not doing a story on alternative medicine, “complementary and alternative medicine,” or “integrative medicine,” anyway. Not here. It’s as if Dr. Oz’s producers weren’t even trying for this one. …

If you want a good analysis that thrashes the hell out of Oz’s claims from a medical perspective, definitely read through all of Dr. Gorski’s blog post.  Seeing as how I’m not a medical doctor, I won’t rehash his analysis here; but I am a physics professor, so what I can do is go through the basic physics of why it is implausible that cell phones are even physically capable of causing cancer.  In fact, I’ve written numerous posts on this topic already…

Electromagnetic Fields & Cancer Myths

This first post is probably the most thorough on the fundamental physics of how electromagnetic radiation/waves (also known as light) are generated and propagate; also included is a basic primer on the different kinds of EM waves, the EM spectrum, what role frequency and energy of light play in these issues, and the all important difference between ionizing and non-ionizing radiation.  Here’s the upshot: cell phones emit non-ionizing (i.e. non-cancer causing) radiation.

Maine Legislator Pushes Cell Phone-Cancer Woo

This article about a hysterical politician in Maine points out the implications of allowing basic scientific literacy to be trumped by the kind of psuedoscience and fear-mongering propagated by “Doctor” Oz and his ilk.

Cell Phones STILL Don’t Cause Cancer

Just a more up-to-date article outlining some more research from the Institute of Cancer Epidemiology in Denmark after it looked at more than 350,000 people with mobile phones over an 18-year period.  Conclusion: even while looking for supposed long-term negative effects, none were found.

 

Posted in environmental hysteria, media woo, physics denial/woo, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Skeptics for the Protection of Cancer Patients: Battling Burzynski’s Dangerous BS

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 17, 2013

Sometimes pseudoscience is stupid, sometimes it is annoying, sometimes it hurts our educational institutions… and sometimes it is outright frakking deadly.  Case in point, medical frauds who perpetuate nonsense to vulnerable, desperate people; such as when quacks push supposed “cures for cancer” which are anything but or have yet to be proven, such as in the case of Stanislaw Burzynski and his “cancer clinic”.  In such situations, it is literally a matter of life and death because when cancer patients delay reliable medical treatments in favor of pseudoscientific B.S. the delay can cost them their lives.  Skeptic James Randi helps to break it down in more detail here:

The Randi Show – The Burzynski Clinic and Cancer Quacks

But rather than curse the darkness, let us instead light a candle… :)

I am happy to announce that the Skeptical Teacher will be joining a coalition of skeptical activists called the Skeptics for the Protection of Cancer Patients (SPCP).  The Skeptics for the Protection of Cancer Patients is a grassroots group devoted to the promotion of promising, ethical, and transparent cancer research. For more about this project and the group sponsoring it, visit thehoustoncancerquack.com or visit their Facebook page.  Also, please consider donating either some of your time  by promoting the cause (if you have a blog or media contacts) and/or your money to the legitimate scientific research of cancer.

Some more background and info on Burzynski:

*Dr. David Gorski has a new Science-Based Medicine post out as of this past Monday on Burzynski’s antineoplastons treatment. Science-Based Medicine » Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski’s antineoplastons versus patients.

*Burzynski gets warning from FDA: Stop promoting your treatment as “safe” and “effective”

The U.S. FDA has sent a letter to the Burzynski Research Institute to cease claiming that their brain tumor treatment, antineoplastons, are safe and/or effective for the purposed for which they are being investigated. In other words, Burzynski’s claims on websites and promotional materials that this treatment WORKS is a violation because supposed to be testing that!

* Supporters often use patient anecdotes to sell his unproven treatments at the Burzynski Patient Group. We have started curating a collection of patient stories at The OTHER Burzynski Patient Group, the ones Burzynski would rather you not hear. Also, these stories can be exported to your own website IN THEIR ENTIRETY via the storify site they were created on. Free content, people. Just sayin’.

*Orac, an oncologist, cancer researcher, and patient advocate, has written extensively about Burzynski at Respectful Insolence.

*Learn the whole story at Josephine Jones’s Blog. She has kept a comprehensive list of content about Burzynski, his clinic, and his chemotherapy on the web. An invaluable resource!

*You might be interested that the EMPLOYER of one of our members (of SPCP) was recently contacted by one of Burzynski’s misguided supporters.

Posted in medical woo, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

A Tribute to Christopher Hitchens

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 17, 2011

I was saddened to hear of the untimely death of Christopher Hitchens, who was a fearless skeptic, atheist, and critical thinker.  I won’t go into a long post about how his words influenced me, but suffice it to say that I have found few people like him in this day and age who could ask the really hard questions about life and demand well-reasoned, honest answers to those questions.  Likewise, I think, among the writers whom I have read over the years, Hitchens best embodied the notion that “there are no sacred cows.”  Whether it was religion or politics, Hitchens’s often polemical writings never ceased to make me think.  He will be missed, but thankfully his words will live on.

In closing, I wanted to share a funny poster I found online in honor of Christopher Hitchens’s memory.  I think it’s the kind of blasphemous humor he would have enjoyed :)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Cell Phones STILL Don’t Cause Cancer

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 1, 2011

Okay, I’ve said it before, and no doubt I will have to say it again, but here goes… there is no causal connection between cell phone use and cancer!  Not only is it physically implausible, but there is no solid research showing such a connection; in fact, the research shows quite the opposite, as evidenced by this recent article from the BBC News…

Mobile phone brain cancer link rejected

By Nick Triggle Health correspondent, BBC News

man uses phone
Mobile phone safety has been much debated over the past two decades

Further research has been published suggesting there is no link between mobile phones and brain cancer.

The risk mobiles present has been much debated over the past 20 years as use of the phones has soared.

The latest study led by the Institute of Cancer Epidemiology in Denmark looked at more than 350,000 people with mobile phones over an 18-year period.

Researchers concluded users were at no greater risk than anyone else of developing brain cancer.

The findings, published on the British Medical Journal website, come after a series of studies have come to similar conclusions. …

Posted in environmental hysteria, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Medical Professors to Bachmann: “Put Up or Shut Up” on Vaccine Claims

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 15, 2011

Well, it seems that GOP/Tea Party presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann’s recent anti-vaccine comments at Monday night’s Republican debate have gotten her into some pretty hot water.  Good!  Someone who is that out to lunch on such a core issue of science, medicine, and public health needs to be seriously criticized and derided in the public square, because they certainly have no place in being anywhere near holding public office, in my opinion.

Message to Michelle Bachmann…

One of the most wonderful bits of blowback against Bachmann was in reference to a truly outlandish claim she made in a Fox News interview:

“There’s a woman who came up crying to me tonight after the debate,” Bachmann said. “She said her daughter was given that vaccine. She told me her daughter suffered mental retardation as a result of that vaccine. There are very dangerous consequences.” [emphasis added]

That stupid claim was just too much for some bioethicists who have expressed their skepticism by quite literally putting their money where their mouths are:

Professors offer more than $10,000 for proof that Bachmann’s story about HPV is true

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann’s story about a woman who claimed that her daughter suffered “mental retardation” after receiving a vaccine against HPV could fetch the woman’s family thousands of dollars. But the family can only collect if Bachmann or the unnamed woman can prove the story is true.

Two bioethics professors have offered to pay more than $10,000 for medical records that prove the anecdote Bachmann told after Monday night’s Republican presidential debate is true, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports…

Folks, this is precisely the kind of thing which needs to be done when someone who is as high profile as Bachmann (a potential presidential contender, for frak’s sake!) makes as stupid and dangerous a claim as she made.  The mere fact that she made this dubious claim to begin with is bad enough, because it will undoubtedly scare already nervous parents into not getting their kids vaccinated.  I would love to see more skeptical activism of this kind in the future – perhaps it is the start of a trend? :)

While I’m at it, I should also report about how Bachmann herself is publicly responding to the whole fracas.  Well, at least I’d like to report on what she has to say, but apparently her campaign is going mum on the issue.  Perhaps that’s for the best – I think it would be preferable if Michelle Bachmann just kept her mouth shut for good.

Posted in medical woo, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Michelle Bachmann Spews Anti-Vaccine Nonsense on the Presidential Campaign Trail

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 14, 2011

Up until this point, I haven’t made any public comments on the 2012 United States presidential race, but I can no longer hold my tongue (or, in this case, fingers).  I have been disturbed about a number of what I would call anti-scientific comments from many of the Republican candidates on the issues of evolutionary and climate science, which serve to only perpetuate an ignorance of and disdain for science in this country.  These days it seems like standard-operating-procedure for Republican candidates to deny evolution and global warming (with notable exceptions such as Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman) in an effort to win over more conservative voters,  but what happened in the most recent Republican debate this past Monday night is absolutely deplorable.  That’s because now some of these candidates are openly expressing denial of vaccines!

Case in point, at Monday night’s GOP debate there was an exchange between candidates Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann on the issue of Perry’s executive order (he’s the governor of Texas) to add the HPV vaccine to the vaccine schedule for 11-12 year-old girls as a way of protecting them from cervical cancer later in life.  Almost immediately, Bachmann attacked Perry using standard anti-vaccination talking points with Rick Santorum throwing in some additional anti-vaccine comments for good measure.  Here’s the exchange…

Video courtesy of Real Clear Politics

It gets worse.  According to this report, Michelle Bachmann doubled down on her dangerous stupidity in a post-debate interview with Fox News and the next day on the Today Show with these comments:

“There’s a woman who came up crying to me tonight after the debate,” Bachmann said. “She said her daughter was given that vaccine. She told me her daughter suffered mental retardation as a result of that vaccine. There are very dangerous consequences.” [emphasis added]

Holy… shit.  Now we have a potentially serious presidential candidate who is publicly stating that vaccines could cause mental retardation (as if it wasn’t bad enough with Jenny McCarthy claiming vaccines cause autism, now mental retardation is on the table, too!)  This is going to scare the hell out of a lot of parents all over the country, and vaccination rates will decline as a result.

Personally, I’m no fan of Rick Perry, but he at least had the presence of mind to see the wisdom of adding the HPV vaccine to the vaccination schedule, and he’s not denying the benefit of vaccines.  Yet here we have, in a response motivated by what I feel to be purely cynical political reasons, other candidates feeding into the dangerous and deadly anti-vaccination meme that vaccines make kids sick (as opposed to the other way around).  Michelle Bachmann has, in one bold stroke, given a huge national platform to the anti-vaccination movement which could very easily result in a lot of unnecessary illnesses and deaths.

What’s worse, because of her influence among the Tea Party wing of the Republican party, Bachmann’s comments will cause more GOP candidates to adopt positions on these issues cloaked in anti-vaccine language (just note in the video above how quickly Rick Santorum jumped on her coat-tails!)

Folks, this is dangerous business.  Michelle Bachmann may think she’s just fishing for votes, but what she’s actually doing is much more serious than that: the end result of her words and actions will be that people who listen to her will either die themselves or their loved ones will die.

And all of this is in the name of jumping on the “smaller government” anti-science bandwagon which is all the rage these days in some conservative circles.  Fortunately, not all Republicans and conservatives are this anti-scientific and stupid in their thinking, and if you count yourselves among these scientifically-literate conservatives, then you need to speak up.  Take some time to contact the Bachmann campaign (and perhaps the Santorum campaign as well) to let them know just how irresponsible and dangerous these statements are from the debate and subsequent interviews.  At the same time, take a few moments to contact Rick Perry’s campaign and urge him to stay strong in his pro-vaccine stance – supporting candidates when they take a positive position on a science issue is just as important as playing Whack-A-Mole with the idiots.

Do what you can to speak up within your particular political circles against this lunacy, because – at the end of the day – diseases such as influenza, whooping cough, measles, and cervical cancer don’t give a damn who you vote for, but they could kill you or someone you love if you listen to cynical, politically-conniving morons like Michelle Bachmann.

For more information on this issue, I highly recommend the following skeptical perspectives:

1. My skeptical colleague, Jamie Bernstein, has an excellent guest post over at Skepchick:

Cervical Cancer is my Cup of Tea: guest post by Jamie Bernstein

2. And the one-and-only Rebecca Watson gives her thoughts in a deliciously sarcastic Youtube video:

Posted in medical woo, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Stephen Colbert Pokes Skeptical Fun at WHO Cell Phone Claims

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 21, 2011

Earlier this month, the World Health Organization rather irresponsibly scared the hell out of a lot of people when they reported a link between cell phone use and cancer.  Of course, as I’ve mentioned in the past, we know of no plausible physical mechanism by which cell phones (or low frequency EMFs in general) can cause cancer; for a really detailed article on this issue, I highly recommend Orac’s post at Respectful Insolence.

But, while Orac’s article is excellent from a technical and medical standpoint, I think the best response to this scaremongering from the WHO comes from satirist Stephen Colbert :)

 

Posted in environmental hysteria, humor, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Huffington Post is Boycotted by More and More Science-Based Bloggers

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 21, 2011

Some of you may recall that I wrote a scathing post a couple of years ago, when The Skeptical Teacher was still young (in Internet time), about the progressive online newspaper called The Huffington Post (or, the HuffPo, as I call it).  In it, I essentially accused the HuffPo of becoming a front for left-leaning woo, such as various forms of New Age nonsense, “alternative” medical quackery, and vaccine denial. Well, the good news is it seems that the number of science-oriented bloggers criticizing the HuffPo is growing, as evidenced by this post over at the Red State Progressive blog…

Huffington Post Spreads Misinformation and Pseudoscience

Many progressives get their news, at least in part, from The Huffington Post. I think this is unfortunate, and I side with a growing number of bloggers who will not promote them with links or retweets. As I have explained previously, they promote a dangerous sort of quackery, including creationism, homeopathy, antivaccination propaganda, and pseudoscience. It seems that Ms. Huffington has a soft spot for this sort of drivel, and HuffPo has become notorious for it.

If you are still not convinced, you might consider examining the growing body of evidence:

In keeping with this trend, I encourage you all to NOT promote the HuffPo with links and retweets.  The more people who hold them to account for the dangerous pseudoscience they are spreading, the better.

Posted in media woo, medical woo, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Cell Phone & Cancer Study Follow Up

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 27, 2010

Last October I posted about a really crappy piece of “journalism” in the New York Post regarding a supposed link between cellphone use and cancer.  The punchline was that the headline-grubbing morons at the NYPost ran their story before the actual study had been published!

Well, now the actual study by the real scientists & researchers involved has been published, and – lo and behold – it paints a very different picture from the fear-mongering goobers at the NYPost.  In part, their conclusion states:

“Overall, no increase in risk of glioma or meningioma was observed with use of mobile phones.”

For reference, the entire study is available here in PDF format. Now of course I’m not surprised in the least by these results, seeing as how, based upon the laws of physics as we know them, there is no plausible mechanism by which such low-energy emissions from cellphones could cause cancer!

One would hope that various media outlets would take a lesson from this fiasco, but I suppose some people are more interested in selling paper than responsible news reporting.

Posted in environmental hysteria, media woo, physics denial/woo | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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