Medical McCarthyism

Lynne McTaggart is angry, and she wants you to know it. She seems to think that the idea of getting people to stay within what is supportable from the scientific evidence, rather than making mendacious claims to cure disease while undermining genuinely valuable public health interventions and credulously repeating blatant propaganda, is comparable to McCarthyismW.

But do the arguments stack up?

Even journalists go by the old adage, ‘If at first you don’t succeed. . .’ After being fairly universally condemned for the first attack against What Doctors Don’t Tell You on October 1, the Times chose to run essentially the same article again about us last Saturday, November 2 – this time entitled “Magazine attacked by health experts over cancer ‘cure’ claims.”

See our commentary.

For this latest round the Times did speak to us, and for this alleged ‘attack’ assembled a few members of the cancer establishment, plus thoughtfully gave us some free publicity by publishing a decent sized photo of the cover of the latest issue.

They did last time, too. As was pointed out to you several times. Why do you keep repeating claims that have been proven to be categorically untrue?

The experts were three convenient rent-a-quotes (two from cancer charities) whose comments were solicited after the content of our current issue appears to have been misrepresented to them. It’s a cheap and nasty tactic in journalism usually resorted to when you don’t have a story.

Yeah, cancer charities. How evil can you get? Charities. That support cancer patients and fund research. The bastards.

But this business of misrepresenting things. You need to be a bit careful before you start people digging around your comments, because there’s rather a lot of evidence of you misrepresenting things, as we’ll see.

From their answers, it seems evident that none of them have actually read the articles in question, or indeed have lodged complaints about WDDTY independently, but were led to believe that

1) WDDTY thinks there’s a secret cure that cancer researchers have discovered but are concealing from the public

Where on earth would they get that idea? Surely not from stories called “The Big Cancer Cover-Up“.

2) WDDTY has said that homeopathy can cure cancer

Ridiculous. All you ever said was that homeopathy reverses cancer. And you only said it the once. Or maybe twice. Totally different.

3) WDDTY urges its readers to just get vitamin C or homeopathy instead of drugs

How could anybody possibly come away with that idea?

So we thought we’d set the record straight about a few points:

WDDTY’s editors emphatically do not believe that cancer researchers have a secret cure they are concealing. Quite the opposite. That’s pretty obvious from the statistics.

Why don’t doctors tell you that cancer survival rates are stalled? Because it isn’t true.

Oh sure. You think they are ignoring all the cures. Because medicine only attracts total dunces, and PhDs are just pen-pushers, whereas an insurance salesman and former coal miner is exactly the kind of person likely to hit on a miracle cure for cancer.

The World Health Organization says that cancer accounted for 7.6 million deaths (around 13 per cent of all deaths) in 2008 and predicts the deaths will practically double to 13.1 million deaths by 2030.  Some cancers are going up, and some cancers are going down, but anywhere from 160,000 to 220,000 British people die from cancer every year, depending on who you speak to, and about 560,000 people in the US die. One thousand women die from breast cancer in this country alone every month.

And in the context of the “McCarthyism” title, that presumably means you’ve subscribed to the ridiculous political grandstanding of Nixon and his “war on cancer” – a war you think we should have won by now.

But as we all know from your commentary, you have no actual idea how the scientific quest for cures to cancers is progressing. You quoted a 12% survival rate, when in reality it’s 51%. Cancer survival times are improving. 5 year survival for Hodgkin’s lymphoma is over 80%, ten-year survival for testicle cancer has increased from under 70% to around 95% in the last 30 years, ten-year prostate cancer survival was around 30% in 1990 and it’s around 70% now, ten-year survival rates for breast cancer have around doubled since the 70s and are also approaching 80%.

This, to you, appears to be failure.

Unfortunately the NHS cannot afford magic wands.

It’s cheap to do clinical trials on homeopathy because it’s only water, so if they were worth doing they would already have been carried out. 

This may be true of laboratory cell lines, but not clinical trials.

Our story in the latest issue concerned the work of an Indian hospital using homeopathy to treat cancer that was deemed scientifically valid by the National Cancer Institute in America – enough to merit further research.

Oops! That claim is compete nonsense, and even the most cursory checking of the facts would have revealed it to be so.  It was nonsense the first time you published it, in March 2012, it always was nonsense and it always will be nonsense.

Your problem here is the same as your problem with most of your content: the only claims that receive even the vaguest scrutiny in WDDTY appear to be those made by real scientists.

Large scale clinical trials don’t come cheap. The average cost per-patient for a phase 1 clinical trial is about $22,000 (and the actual active substance, or drug itself isn’t the expensive part of the trial).  So if you want to do a trial of 200 patients, you need at least $440,000. And that’s only phase 1.  You need to do about several phases to get it approved. A decade ago, it was estimated that the average cost of bringing a drug to market in the US was $802 million. The active substance costs pennies compared to the cost of actually testing it on people.

The NCI is strapped for cash.  They received $231 million less from US Congress last year than the year before, and their appropriations from Congress have been flat for more than a decade.  They don’t have money to spend on trials of alternative medicine, even if the evidence is compelling.

Please feel free to take that up with the US taxpayer. Science is not free, and the more advanced it gets, the more expensive it gets. It was always cheap and easy to claim a miracle cure based on a complete misunderstanding of the biology of cancer, and if that was a good way forward, medical science would use it and save a fortune.

In the UK, the evil cancer charity CRUK spent £351m on cancer research. the bastards.

According to Cancer Research UK, just over half of cancer patients survive beyond five years. 

How dare they say such a thing, based on such flimsy grounds as facts and actual survival statistics. They should arrive at a figure by making it up, like you did.

This is the very attractive figure now being bandied about to convince us all that we’re winning the war on cancer. In fact the NHS told Lord Saatchi recently that it’s no longer necessary to have new avenues for cancer treatment because we already have a cure for cancer.

A GooglewhackW! Well done. Maybe they didn’t tell him exactly that?

Actually, as WDDTY has reported, after cherrypicking the very best clinical trials showing positive results, Australia’s leading oncologists found that chemotherapy’s contribution to five-year survival was only 2.3 per cent in Australia and 2.1 per cent in the US (Ann Oncol, 2013; doi: 10: 1093/annonc/mds636).

That claim is, to quote the authors, “quite misleading to cancer patients“. And there’s more:

[…] adjuvant chemo for breast and other cancers can have a substantial effect to improve long-term survival and there are many less common types (testis, lymphoma, leukemia, childhood cancers) where the effects are large.

It would be a tragedy if a young or middle-aged  woman with breast cancer or a man with metastatic testis cancer refused chemo because they believed there was only a 2% increase in long term survival.

So, if a young or middle-aged woman (i.e. a woman in your core demographic) took your claims on trust and refused chemo, it would be a tragedy, because she would significantly reduce her chances of survival.

Do you have any idea if this has happened? Do you care?

This is our problem with WDDTY. Chemo is the perfect example. It’s horrible while you’re going through it, you lose your hear, you vomit, you feel like death, you’re at the mercy of opportunistic infections. For several months. and then you come out the other side. Like my friend who has been completely discharged seven years post-diagnosis with no evidence or recurrent or metastatic disease. Just as well she wasn’t put off chemo by people making misleading claims like yours, or she might not be here today.

How can Cancer Research UK present such optimistic figures?  It all has to do with absolute vs relative risk. Let’s say you have osteoporosis, the brittle-bone disease. Your condition may be at a stage where your risk of suffering a fracture is 4 per cent, but the drug can reduce that risk to 2 per cent.

They present such optimistic figures because, unlike you, they have a completely neutral stance on chemotherapy and simply report the facts, rather than trying to make it look as bad as possible because they just don’t like it, which is where you apparently come from.

There are two ways of expressing the same thing: as a relative risk, the drug has a 50 per cent rate of effectiveness – it’s reduced your risk from 4 to 2 – and that sounds attractive, but in absolute terms its effectiveness is just 2 per cent.

Odds ratioW, it’s called. Absolute versus relative risk is one of the things doctors do tell you about. Without using figures in a seriously misleading way.

For years researchers have been presenting the effectiveness of chemotherapy in terms of relative risk, and this has influenced the way the media has reported on cancer too.

Which media? The Daily Mail or responsible journalists?

Stores are discontinued stocking WDDTY from last month

This is completely untrue. All the stores that stock us two month ago still believe in free speech and are continuing to stock us, including Waitrose, albeit at a lower grade of listing – at the individual discretion of store managers. That decision was made in July and had nothing to do with the Times’ October article, but more to do with the John Lewis Partnership’s aversion to controversy of any sort, particularly to a magazine with so controversial a name. Their communications to us has suggested that they have no quarrel with the content. If you want it locally, ask your manager to stock it.

Let’s unpack that.

People have looked for it in Waitrose, it’s not there. Not in my local Waitrose or any of the others we’ve seen.

Waitrose changed its policy after numerous communications for skeptics pointing out the dangerously misleading content. Whether it was that which caused the change in policy or the title of the magazine (which hasn’t changed of course) we’ll never know. What we do know is that your rationalisation is self-contradictory and self-serving.

Sainsbury’s have followed suit.

This is not, and never has been, an issue of free speech. You are free to make your misleading statements (though your advertiser aren’t) and your readers are free to read them. That confers no obligation on any retailer to stock the thing.

If no high street shop in the UK chose to stock your magazine (a condition which I hope will prevail soon), your freedom of speech would be completely unaffected.

WDDTY is advocating that people use vitamin C or homeopathy instead of drugs. 

As we explained four times in our interview, we are not telling people to get off chemo and onto vitamin C. This latest issue relayed the story of my mother-in-law, whom the medical profession had given up on. They told her she was going to die. An alternative-cancer regime saved her life and she lived many more years.  It’s a fact.  British Dr. Patrick Kingsley (now retired but available for comment) oversaw her treatment and saved her life. And the life of many hundreds of other cancer patients. Isn’t this worth investigating?

Chemo, no – you just undermine it systematically. vitamin C? You have form.

There is no evidence that the alternative regime your mother-in-law followed had the effect you claim. If there was, it would be part of the standard of care, because unlike you it appears, doctors do not file everything according to their visceral reaction to the idea of it.

So we now have the spectacle of a giant news corporation currently on trial for illegal phone hacking self-righteously leading the charge to curtail free speech on cancer and ban a small publication that is simply trying to open the debate on cancer.

It’s not a free speech issue. Stop publishing dangerously misleading nonsense and you’re good.

As to the “debate” on cancer, it’s not a debate. The nature of science is that it is inherently neutral: the scientific consensus takes account of all views and al evidence. To “balance” science with the fraudulent claims of “practitioners whose treatments by the very definition of alternative lack sound scientific evidence, is ever bit as mad as “balancing” Buzz Aldrin with Bart Siebel.

On Friday morning before the story ran, when Hannah Devlin, the co-author (with Tom Whipple) of the Times article interviewed us, I asked her, why are you doing this story again, to which she finally let slip, ‘What do you expect? You wrote about us in your magazine.’

Yes, you only like “revenge journalism” when you do it and you always want to have the last word. We totally understand that.

Dial whine-on-one and ask for the whaaambulance.

So the true purpose of the story was a bit of face-saving, but largely revenge.

It’s called follow-up. You do it too. The difference is The Times checked their facts and got them right both times.

And guess what? Freedom of speech. Cuts both ways.

Of course the real issue here isn’t their second inept handling of this story but a creeping medical McCarthyism evident in so much of the general press, which assumes anything other than chemo and radiation and the official line is automatically to be viewed as quackery and not worthy of discussion.  Have you or have you ever been a user of homeopathy? 

The majority of cancers are solid and are primarily cured with surgery. Radiation and chemo are adjuvant therapies. They provably reduce the risk of late recurrence and metastasis. You present the figures about this in a dangerously misleading way. Your behaviour may lead to someone foregoing chemo when it may make the difference between life and death.

You systematically undermine doctors in their role of giving impartial advice to patients.

You seek to “balance” impartial advice with misleading advice that is not supported by the figures you use. You are careless with facts.

Happily, an increasing number of people disagree with this form of medical censorship, as evident from the overwhelming support we have received.

Yes, the comments on your Facebook pages are pretty much 100% positive. because, of course, you delete the ones you think might be skeptics.

Silence those who oppose freedom of speech!

If you agree that it’s worth having freedom of information about cancer, conventional medicine and alternative treatments, here’s what to do:

It is important to have freedom of information.

It’s harder to make a case for freedom of disinformation

3 thoughts on “Medical McCarthyism”

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    Re: “Yeah, cancer charities. How evil can you get? Charities. That support cancer patients and fund research. The bastards.”

    Obviously you meant this as mockery. Unfortunately that appears to be how they really see it. From here: https://www.facebook.com/WDDTY/posts/651920551495227

    “DON’T GET YOUR FACTS FROM THE GOVERNMENT. OR INDEED FROM CANCER CHARITIES LARGELY FUNDED BY THE PHARMACEUTICAL INDUSTRY”

    I don’t suppose doctors tell you that either.

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      Oddly enough, I’ve gleaned from their writings that WDDTY are bang alongside cancer charities that largely fund the lifestyle of practically any quack you care to mention.

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