Woo invades my favorite city

It’s times like this that I really wish I were back in Chicago. Actually, it’s times like any time that I wish I were back in Chicago, but this in particular brings out that feeling:

The Health Freedom Expo is invading Chicago beginning today.

Of course, whenever you hear someone advocating “health freedom,” it’s a pretty good bet that it’s an altie advocating quackery. After all, lacking data to support the efficacy of their favored treatments, alties often resort to the argument that attempts to suppress them are an attack on “health freedom.” Of course, much of the time, what is being suppressed is not health “freedom” but the freedom of altie hucksters to sell ineffective “cures” for handsome prices.

And, boy, the Health Freedom Expo doesn’t disappoint when it comes to that!

Look who’s going to be there. First off, über-quack supporter Kevin Trudeau (1, 2), will be there in all his glory. Trudeau has made quite the name for himself, when, after his conviction for credit card fraud and being banned from making infomercials because of false claims he had made, he decided to publish a book entitled Natural Cures “They” Don’t Want You to Know About. Trudeau’s book has sold millions of copies duping the credulous with claims that there are cures for cancer and a variety of other serious diseases out there that “they” (meaning the government, the pharmaceutical companies, “conventional” medicine) don’t want you to know about, so that doctors, big pharma, and the government can keep ready access to your money. And now he’s back with another book, called More Natural Cures Revealed. No doubt he’ll regale attendees of the Health Freedom Expo with this sort of pitch:

The United States Federal Trade Commission censored Kevin Trudeau’s first book, Natural Cures “They” Don’t Want You To Know About. That book still saved lives. Hundreds of thousands of people have reported better health and the curing of their diseases without drugs and surgery after reading it. Now, Kevin Trudeau takes on, and goes head-to-head against, governments worldwide, the international pharmaceutical medical cartels, and even the news media. He reveals for the first time never-before released secret information about his covert involvement with Big Pharma, the food industry, governments in over sixty countries, and some of the richest and most powerful families, people, and private organizations in the world. He is being called the most daring whistleblower of corporate and government corruption of all time. Risking potential criminal prosecution, Trudeau now releases the material previously censored by the U.S. Government: the specific product brand names that Trudeau believes can be used to prevent, treat, and cure disease.

The “most daring whistleblower”? More like the cleverest huckster. As for Trudeau’s previous book having “saved lives,” I almost choked on my iced tea when I read that. If anything, it’s far more likely that his book has probably kept people who mistakenly believed his claims from pursing effective conventional therapies. If anything, his book has probably cost people their lives, or, at the very least, delayed them from seeking effective treatments. I’d love to see the “evidence” Trudeau presents to show that his book has saved a single life. No doubt it will be testimonials. And, like all good alties, Trudeau wraps himself in–what else?–“health freedom” to appeal to his audience.

But that’s not all. Arch-quack Hulda Clark will be there too. She’ll even be giving a two-hour workshop on the last day of the conference. Clark, as you may recall, claims to have the “cure for all cancers,” indeed the “cure for all diseases.” You see, according to her, all cancer is caused by an intestinal fluke, and a device she invented (called the “Zapper”) will kill this fluke and thus “cure” all cancer. Here is what she said in her book entitled, yes, The Cure for All Cancers (what else?):

All cancers are alike. They are all caused by a parasite. A single parasite! It is the human intestinal fluke. And if you kill this parasite, the cancer stops immediately. The tissue becomes normal again. In order to get cancer, you must have this parasite…

This parasite typically lives in the intestine where it might do little harm, causing only colitis, Crohn’s disease or irritable bowel syndrome, or perhaps nothing at all. But if it invades a different organ, like the uterus, kidneys or liver, it does a great deal of harm. If it establishes itself in the liver, it causes cancer! It only establishes itself in the liver of some people. These people have propyl alcohol in their body. All cancer patients (100%) have both propyl alcohol and the intestinal fluke in their livers. The solvent propyl alcohol is responsible for letting the fluke establish itself in the liver. In order to get cancer, you must have both the parasite and propyl alcohol in your body.

This is all nonsense, of course. Cancer is not caused by an intestinal fluke. (Of course, Clark seems unable to explain how people living outside this fluke’s range of habitat somehow still manage to die of cancer at rates comparable to those living where the fluke is found. Those flukes apparently do get around.) Worse, Clark tells patients with advanced cancer that they need to remove their amalgam dental fillings and all teeth with root canals because these things “damage the immune system,” leading patients with advanced cancer to undergo painful and completely unnecessary dental procedures.

And, of course, wherever Hulda Clark goes, her pit bull Tim Bolen can never be far behind. Known for vicious PR campaigns aimed at discrediting those whom he becomes aware of who call it like it is and call Hulda Clark the quack that she is, he runs a site called Quackpot Watch (I refuse to link to it) and distributes a newsletter called the Millions of Health Freedom Fighters Newsletter. A few years ago, I somehow ended up on his mailing list under a different e-mail address, and let me tell you the contents of his newsletter would do Kevin Trudeau proud, accusing essentially all the “enemies” of “health freedom” of being in the pockets of big pharma. Also, this is a guy who doesn’t understand the concept of spamming (as shown by this rather amusing e-mail exchange) and has trouble giving a straight answer about where he lives.

And, looky who else is here: Karl Donsbach. As you may recall, Coretta Scott King died at the altie hospital in Tijuana run by Donsbach). He’s been involved in so many dubious health care “endeavors” that he probably surpasses Hulda Clark simply by the number and variety of them. And look at some of the titles of the talks:

Quantum Nuwati Healing
Chakra Chanting & Toning
Body Balance, Reflexology, Lymph Drainage & More
Ways You Can Help Win the 40-Year Medical Monopoly War
Parasites, Their Involvement with Cancer
Medicinal Herbs: An Answer to Cancer

And, of course, what altie conference would be complete without some antivaccination rhetoric:

Vaccinations: Bucking a State Mandated Marketplace Through Grassroots Activism

Yes, I think it would be a lot of fun to check out this “Health Freedom Expo.” Too bad I no longer live in Chicago. I could have been a mole, taking notes or recording the lectures. I could have gotten up and asked annoying skeptical questions. Although Kevin Trudeau has shown himself to be a master snake oil salesman and con man, who, given his slick, unctuous manner, would probably be very difficult to rattle with skeptical questions, I’m sure I could have caused considerable discomfort among many of the other alties there. Heck, such an experience would have provided blog fodder for weeks critically analyzing all the lectures and presentations. Who knows? Perhaps I could have even gotten into Hulda Clark’s workshop and learned how to zap those parasites and cure all cancer! I could then quit my day job doing surgery to treat cancer and, because Hulda apparently has the “cure for all cancers,” I could also either close up my lab or refocus it on a different line of research! Particularly amusing would have been the exhibition hall, which I’m guessing will be chock full of companies selling supplements, acupuncture, Reiki, crystal healing, and all manner of woo. There are dozens of booths listed on the floorplan. Maybe Don Lemmon will be there, too, preferably with his wife.

Ah, well, maybe it’s all better this way. Were I to subject myself to that level of altie woo, the effect might be the same as if I were to try to read Ann Coulter’s new book: I might blow a gasket dealing with the concentrated attacks on my critical thinking skills.


  1. #1 TheProbe
    June 9, 2006

    Here is a riddle:

    Q: Why is Hulda Clark being saved for the last day?

    A: Since she has the cure for all diseases, there is no need for the rest of the conference.

    “Parasites, Their Involvement with Cancer”

    Sounds like a panel discussion with Clark, Hoxsey, Laetrile Pushers, etc. They are all parasites.

    Wide a Freak Show like this, who needs the circus?

  2. #2 Andrew Dodds
    June 9, 2006

    I wonder how many debates they will have between each other – after all, they can’t ALL be right, surely?

  3. #3 Left_Wing_Fox
    June 9, 2006

    This parasite typically lives in the intestine where it might do little harm, causing only colitis, Crohn’s disease or irritable bowel syndrome, or perhaps nothing at all.

    Ok, that shitbomb landed in my backyard. My brother suffers from Crohn’s Disease.

    After some initial difficulty of real doctors in diagnosing him, my family tried an “Alternative” method. Naturally, the claim was “Parasites”, and my brother was given over a dozen gel-caps daily filled with cloves and various spices to “naturally eliminate” this parasite.

    Fortunately, the “treatment” lasted only two weeks before they realized it was doing jack, aside from making my brother burp up potpourri. In the meanwhile, he was losing his appetite and had difficulty keeping food down, and lost a dangerous amount of weight.

    Fortunately, he was finally able to see the specialist for a battery of very uncomfortable tests, and was soon after diagnosed with Crohn’s. Medication helped, surgery worked wonderfully on his condition (only a small area of small intestine was affected) and he’s about as back to normal as one can expect from this disease.

    I shudder to think what might have happened if they had continued the alternative treatment.

  4. #4 Bruce
    June 9, 2006

    Well, Chicago needed its chakras cleansed anyway. On a different topic, I have a friend who is a Dr. and he doesn’t seem to be gettting checks from Big Pharma. Is there a form you need to fill out? Do they pay on a sliding scale? He’s working his ass off as a GP and could use the cash. Thanks.

  5. #5 Skeptico
    June 9, 2006

    I wonder if Kevin Trudeau and Hulda Clark will argue with each other. I mean, if Clark has a “cure for all diseases” then why do we need Trudeau? And what about Karl Donsbach? Why would you need his Quantum healing or chakra cleansing if Clark has the cure to all diseases. Or if Trudeau does? I’m confused.

  6. #6 Joe
    June 9, 2006

    FYI, there are no “cures” mentioned in Trudeau’s book. When I looked at Amazon’s reviews, there were lots from angry alties who had spent $27 on the book. When they looked for whatever ailed them, they were directed to Trudeau’s website, which offers them for a fee. That was months ago, yet the book remains a best-seller.

    As far as altie’s competing claims- in “Voodoo Science” (excellent book) Robert Park describes a Congressional hearing in which alties sat side-by-side and gravely nodded in agreement with each other’s disparate views.

  7. #7 Sid Schwab
    June 9, 2006

    The depth of the belief in altie cures is unplumnable, as demonstrated by a former patient. Years ago, I’d operated on her for breast cancer, and she was, by all criteria, cured. Years later, when she developed cancer in the opposite breast, she had come under the influence of people who criticized her “traditional” approach. So, having alerted the local newspaper, she had the new cancer treated “holistically”; meaning herbs, certain dietary changes, meditation, under the care of a defrocked and de-licensed former MD. The paper did a three day series on the various components of her treatment. Front page stuff. I nearly missed the article about her death, over a year later, page 6, section three.

  8. #8 tim gueguen
    June 9, 2006

    I’m sure I’ve commented here before that the idea that big pharma would suppress some miracle cure is amusing. In fact they’d learn how to make it, patent it, and then sell it at a good profit.

    It would be interesting to know how many of those supposedly cured by alternative treatments actually had the disease being treated in the first place. Doctors can misdiagnose things. Then there are the people who will decide that they have disease X and no amount of doctor visits will convince them they don’t. So when they take their centipede and ground popcorn husk enema they think it has cured something they never had in the first place, and the quacks may not have the medical knowledge to know this, or simply don’t care.

    I was surprised, and quite disappointed, when I found out Hulda Clark has degrees from my alma mater, the University of Saskatchewan. She did get those degrees back in the ’50s, so maybe she was more rational 50 years ago than she is now.

  9. #9 DouglasG
    June 9, 2006

    The only thing I would think that “Big Pharma” would suppress is the “cure” for the “Common Cold”. They earn lots of dough with symptom suppressants. A “cure” would cost them big big money (and no whammies). Just as the dental industry would never cure tooth decay, but cancer? They could make a mint with a cure!

  10. #10 Stewart Paterson
    June 10, 2006

    Alties will never argue with each other for the same reason that none of the people in woo land will ever contradict another:- THEY HAVE NO RIGHT TO ARGUE.

    I mean, If I believe in the Easter Bunny, what right have I got to say you’re crazy because you believe in fairies at the bottom of the garden. If I draw attention to your ludicrous ideas, you might look a bit too closely at mine. So we’ll just pat each other’s backs and use the term “quantum physics” to explain how 2 contradictory beliefs can exist side by side.

    They make me puke. I spent some time looking at Eric Julien’s web site and forum, then some more time reading a forum on “contrails” and another, via link on Randi’s site to people who are into voices out of the Ether. How can there be so many deranged people on this planet?

    I blame the internet! Thanks to the internet these freaks can now find each other and give mutual support to their insanities instead of being safely on meds.

  11. #11 Keith Douglas
    June 11, 2006

    To be slightly fair, many of these nuts profess an extreme form of subjective idealism – “your thoughts become reality” and all that sort of crap. If one sincerely believes that, then there is no inconsistency between all the claims, because one might work for one person, another for another. Of course, stating the position that way reminds us how SI of that form is basically solipsism, so on another level it is inconsistent … But there the inconsistency is in assuming that there are other people at all.

  12. #12 Thursday
    June 23, 2006

    One of my favorite quotes about religion can certainly apply to slews of altie healing methods:

    “Religion is the only item for sale where if the product is unsatisfactory, the fault always lies with the purchaser.”

    Geez, sorry the cancer kept killing you, but I guess you just didn’t believe God enough…

  13. #13 Blake Stacey
    August 1, 2006

    For an enjoyable run-down on the “different ways of knowing”/”your thoughts become reality” woo trickery, see Alan Sokal’s essay “Pseudoscience and Postmodernism: Antagonists or Fellow-Travelers?” (link to PDF).

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