Respectful Insolence

I didn’t think I’d be revisiting this topic so quickly. However, given that I’m at TAM and I don’t have a lot of time to do one of my usual 2,000 word epics for a change, I thought that this story, which popped up the other day while I was traveling was at least worth mentioning:

Robert Young will appear in a California court today on 18 charges of theft and “treating the sick without a certificate” at his alternative retreat near San Diego.

Among other offences, the 63-year-old, who believes in the “pH Miracle” of avocado juice, is accused of taking more than $50,000 from a man dying of cancer, treating him without a licence and then asking staff at his centre not to tell the patient his disease had spread. The man subsequently died.

Mr Young, who made his name with best-selling books advocating a “pH diet”, denies all the charges and insists he is the victim of persecution for his non-traditional beliefs. He has published a series of video testimonials from contented patients, including Mr Campbell-Danesh’s parents, GP Avril Campbell and retired gastroenterologist Booth Danesh.

The accused, who refers to himself as Dr Young, citing a PhD from an alternative medicine college, tried to use the two ­Scottish doctors’ credentials to support his treatments.


This appears to be the testimonial the article is talking about (it’s also on Facebook), and here are the three videos she did for Young.

Here’s number one:

Here’s number two:

Here’s number three:

As part of my talk yesterday, I pointed out how easy it is to be fooled by quacks in medicine. What’s depressing is how easy it is for even a physician to become a believer in quackery. Sometimes, all it takes is being diagnosed with a serious disease. Now, to Dr. Campbell’s credit, she did undergo standard treatment for her breast cancer, complete with the recommended chemotherapy. That’s good. It’s also understandable that she felt wiped out at the end of her treatment. This is a very common finding. It’s also true that sometimes there can be long-term sequelae of chemotherapy, but in reality the most healing thing needed after successful multimodality chemotherapy is the tincture of time.

What’s depressing to see is how a physician can fall hook, line, and sinker for even the most obvious quackery. In the videos, she discusses pH and “balance” in the body and praises Young for having studied it all his life. This is, of course, utter nonsense. Young is nothing of the sort, and his “pH Miracle” rests on a massive misunderstanding of acid-base physiology in the human body and an even more massive exaggeration of how much one can change one’s acid-base physiology and what such changes would do. I’ve referred to his treatments and views before as a “symphony of pseudoscience and quackery,” where he is a germ theory denialist, believes that cancerous tumors are made up of cells spoiled by acid, and viruses are “molecular acids.” He’s treating cancer and other diseases based on an utter misunderstanding of biology and physiology, but he’s treating cancer. Basically, it just doesn’t get any quackier than Robert O. Young. Well, I suppose it does, but such a quack would be fearful to behold.

In her testimonial, Campbell discusses the various tests she’s undergone. She describes something about looking at her blood under a microscope. Sounds innocent enough, right? Wrong. To anyone with a little knowledge of quackery, what she describes sounds like “live blood cell analysis,” which, as a physician, she should know has no value in diagnosing illness.

She also describes undergoing “full body thermography,” which is another favorite naturopath technique that, while potentially not quackery, is, to put the kindest spin possible on it, not ready for prime time in that there is no evidence of its usefulness in detecting breast cancer—or any other cancer—at least none sufficient to justify doing whole body scans as a fishing expedition for various made up diseases. She further describes undergoing colonics and “seeing” that they are causing abnormalities found on the thermograms to regress. Again, she should know better. Thermography is problematic at best to interpret, given how much our body temperature varies in different areas and can change just depending on activity and metabolism. As I said before, the sad thing is that thermography is a technology that has some degree of scientific plausibility. Unfortunately, whatever promise it might have (probably not much these days given the development of so many more imaging modalities), thermography is so tainted with the stench of quackery that it will be hard to overcome that.

Campbell also relates another incident in which she underwent an ultrasound of her thyroid. Now, given how common cysts and other abnormalities are in the thyroid gland and how relatively uncommon clinically apparent thyroid cancer is compared to tiny foci of indolent cancer that never cause a problem in the patient’s lifetime, screening a person with an ultrasound for no clinical indication is a technique custom-made to produce overdiagnosis. In any case, she discusses what sounds like a loculated cyst which was of concern. I have no idea who did the ultrasound or who interpreted it. Moreover, if this truly was a suspicious lesion, Campbell should have undergone fine needle aspiration of the cyst, not just continue to observe it. At one point she touts how the same person using the same equipment had measured a 12% decrease in the size of the cyst. Without seeing the images, it’s hard to tell if such a small decrease was real or just differences in technique or random variation. For small cysts, differences in technique or random variation are more likely to explain it.

The bottom line is that most likely Campbell felt better because she was in Southern California on a ranch, getting some sun in a warm clime, being more physically active, and, possibly, eating better, although whether it was necessary to go to the extreme of a raw vegan diet is debatable at best. None of this, diet, exercise, or relaxation, is in any way “alternative.” So the stuff that helped Campbell was more or less mundane, science-based medicine that almost anyone can do, but Robert O. Young grafted his pseudoscience and quackery onto it, including live blood analysis, thermography, colonics, and who knows what collection of supplements. When Campbell felt better, she thought the “whole program” was necessary, when in reality it’s highly unlikely that anything other than mundane things like hanging out at a ranch and getting regular exercise helped her, although I’m sure Young charged her a lot for all the others stuff.

Interestingly, the cancer center where Campbell works wants nothing to do with this, and correctly so. For instance, it’s pointed out that:

In his blog, he described Dr Campbell as a “world renowned specialist oncologist and research scientist”. Dr Campbell herself, in her video testimonial, said she was an oncologist at Glasgow’s Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre. She does work at the ­Beatson, as a speciality doctor, but is not officially registered with the General Medical Council as anything other than a GP.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde yesterday distanced itself from the endorsement of Mr Young’s brand, pH Miracle Living, with sources stressing that she was speaking in a purely personal capacity. A spokeswoman said: “The Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre has not heard of this product and in no way would endorse or support it.”

And:

A Scottish cancer specialist contacted by The Herald said: “There is no way the Beatson will want to be associated with something like this.”

Nor should it. Unfortunately, Campbell has tried to associate Beatson with this quackery. I’ve mentioned it before, but I feel obligated to mention it again. A serious illness can change even an ostensibly science-based physician such that she becomes susceptible to pseudoscience. Of course, given the way that Campbell and her husband spoke in video testimonials, I rather get the feeling that the tendency to woo was already there. Be that as it may, doctors are being warned not to endorse quack cancer cures:

MEDICAL staff have been urged not to lend their names to alternative health therapies after the doctor parents of singer Darius Campbell-Danesh gave glowing internet testimonials to a US man who claimed he could cure cancer.

Robert Young, 63, has been charged with theft and “treating the sick without a certificate” in California.

However, GP Avril Campbell and retired gastroenterologist Booth Danesh, who are the parents of the singer and West End stage actor, appeared in a video praising Mr Young who claims to be able to cure cancer with avocado juice.

Dr Campbell, who works at Glasgow’s Beatson cancer centre, was recovering from breast cancer when she visited Mr Young’s alternative retreat outside San Diego. However, a charitable trust that aims to help people make sense of scientific and medical research said yesterday that doctors were vulnerable to being targeted to endorse controversial treatments.

It is sad that such a warning even needed to be issued.

Finally, I’m dying to know what happened at that court hearing mentioned in the news story, but Google is strangely silent about it. The sooner I see Robert O. Young in a prison jumpsuit again, the happier I’ll be.

Comments

  1. #1 Dangerous Bacon
    July 11, 2014

    ” At one point she touts how the same person using the same equipment had measured a 12% decrease in the size of the cyst. Without seeing the images, it’s hard to tell if such a small decrease was real or just differences in technique or random variation. For small cysts, differences in technique or random variation are more likely to explain it.”

    As a cytopathologist who sees lots of thyroid needle biopsies, I can attest that 1) thyroid cyst sizes can certainly vary over time for different reasons (even firm palpation of the neck could have an effect), 2) cysts that are not part of a solid mass are extremely unlikely to be malignant, and 3) getting pH therapy from a quack on an avocado ranch is not going to affect your thyroid cyst.

    Sorry for these jaundiced views. Maybe I’ve just been “spoiled by acid”.*

    *there was that time with blotter in the ’70s, but we won’t go into that now.

  2. #2 Eric Lund
    July 11, 2014

    The bottom line is that most likely Campbell felt better because she was in Southern California on a ranch, getting some sun in a warm clime

    It used to be common, even well into the 20th century, for UK doctors to recommend that their patients (especially the ones who could afford it) move to warmer climes in order to improve their health. At least that was the standard explanation in fiction for English characters permanently living (as opposed to visiting, temporarily stationed, or fortune seeking) in the tropics. There are some conditions, such as seasonal affective disorder (not understood until the 1980s or so) and vitamin D deficiency (that one was somewhat understood by the mid 20th century), for which this treatment actually works. In other cases, it’s probably a psychological lift, and that seems likely in Dr. Campbell’s case.

    “The Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre has not heard of this product and in no way would endorse or support it.”

    Good call. I’d expect that the ordinary citizens of metro Glasgow are not R. O. Young’s target market (it’s one of the less affluent areas of the UK), and the NHS should not be endorsing quackery.

  3. #3 Narad
    July 11, 2014

    Finally, I’m dying to know what happened at that court hearing mentioned in the news story, but Google is strangely silent about it.

    Unfortunately, the San Diego Superior Court flushes its calendar daily. He obviously waived his speedy-trial rights from the get-go, given that the evidentiary hearing was scheduled for March 14 and the arrest was at the end of January. It seems like the second arraignment (on “the information”) must have taken place already.

    Readiness appearance? Beats me, but I doubt much of anything interesting happened.

  4. #4 Denice Walter
    July 11, 2014

    It seems that Dr AC-D did not *suddenly* go over to the woo side-
    in the first video, she relates how she was surprised about her diagnosis because she ate well, ‘balanced’ her life and exercised but then she notes how over the past two years, she had had a great deal of stress, bereavements, less exercise and more attention to work-related tasks. This sounds a bit like the standard woo meme that views stresses and an ‘un-balanced life’ as causing cancer.

    Also she was always interested in prevention ( who isn’t?) and HOLISTIC and NATUROPATHIC medicine even taking courses in homeopathy, hyponosis and hypnotherapy.

    Woo acceptance usually doesn’t just appear like magic ( altho’ woo IS usually magic).

  5. #5 Denice Walter
    July 11, 2014

    @ Dangerous Bacon:

    re the acid experience, spoiled by it or not.
    I’m sure you’re not the only one @ RI (although in my own case, no blotter was ever involved).

  6. #6 herr doktor bimler
    July 11, 2014

    the tincture of time.

    Time dissolved in alcohol? Does it have to be pharmaceutical-grade ethanol, or will malt whisky work? Asking for a friend.

  7. #7 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    July 11, 2014

    herr doktor bimler – As someone with a degree in Chemistry, malt whisky can be used in this application with far superior results to pharmaceutical-grade ethanol. So will bourbon whisky and rum. Even ale (but typically not lager) will work in a pinch.

  8. #8 Denice Walter
    July 11, 2014

    But wait…
    if tincture of time is applied homeopathically, it would combat aging?
    I can’t believe that I haven’t read that yet..

  9. #9 Mike
    July 11, 2014

    I recently came across Dr. Anthony Azar on twitter.

    I then came upon this video of him explaining how he practiced conventional medicine and called anti-aging people quacks. Then he had a personal experience which caused him to focus on anti-aging and integrative medicine.

  10. #10 lilady
    July 12, 2014

    Anthony Azar….Anti-aging quackery…stem cells, plasma regeneration, oral and IV chelation and HBOT therapy.

    http://www.agelessmedicalny.com/

  11. #11 Woo Fighter
    July 12, 2014

    Our old friend Stan B. is also a member of that quack A4M group (American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine). Wasn’t he going to market a line of anti-aging ANP skin creams at one point?

    Note the photo of Stan that’s got to be at least 20 years old:

    http://www.worldhealth.net/whos-who/stanislaw-r-burzynski/

    Stan’s only defender, Dr. Julian “scientology supporter and anti-vaxxer” Whitaker is also involved in A4M. He claims to be board certified in anti-aging from the A4M but apparently there’s no such board certification.

    And more on A4N below. Interesting that the founders got butthurt and are pursuing legal action against Wikipedia. The hallmark of any good quack is trying to sue Wikipedia for telling the truth about their quackery:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Academy_of_Anti-Aging_Medicine

  12. #13 Chemmomo
    Went to college in the Berkshires
    July 12, 2014

    If we’re applying a homeopathic tincture of time, do we need to invoke James Taylor at every succussion?

  13. #14 Woo Fighter
    July 12, 2014

    Did you mean to refer to Jim Croce “Time in a Bottle”?

  14. #15 Chemmomo
    Ooops
    July 12, 2014

    My bad – we need to invoke Jim Croce.

    It’s been a long time since I was in high school, and those songs were already “oldies” then.

  15. #16 Chemmomo
    Thyme will not grow in my yard, but mint will
    July 12, 2014

    Woo Fighter: yes. We seem to have caught my error at the same time.

    No, I’m not going to put on Simon & Garfunkle now.

  16. #17 Narad
    July 12, 2014

    Interesting that the founders got butthurt and are pursuing legal action against Wikipedia.

    NYSUCS (no, really) has no entry for 111917/2009 or for the plaintiffs. W—media was a defendant in two other cases. This appears to mean that there was no Request for Judicial Intervention, i.e., the case never existed.

  17. #18 Narad
    July 12, 2014

    Of course, Patty Bolen was very excited.

  18. #19 Daniel Corcos
    https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Daniel_Corcos2/?ev=hdr_xprf
    July 12, 2014

    The among of energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.
    Alberto Brandoloni

  19. #20 janerella
    July 12, 2014

    It never fails to amaze me when I see those who start out in evidence-based science/medical careers turn woo. Laypeople, the uneducated, I can understand. Those with scholarly tertiary qualifications (not in science/medicine) – degrees that almost certainly at some point require a hefty foray into literature reviews and the like, I can, at a pinch, understand. But medicos and scientists who – before they veer off into unproven alt-med territory – base their legitimate careers on modalities underpinned by evidence – I just shake my head at the massive cognitive dissonance.

  20. #21 Krebiozen
    July 12, 2014

    Apart from the obvious damage this sadly misguided doctor has done by endorsing an idiotic and dangerous quack, she can’t even get her basic facts right. She states that the UK (or possibly Scotland) is, “The worst in the world for heart disease and our cancer rate is increasing”. The UK certainly isn’t the worst in the world for heart disease mortality (155th according to lifeexpectancy.com). As for cardiovascular disease generally, according to the WHO (PDF)people in the UK lose fewer years of healthy life to heart disease than many other countries.

  21. #22 Krebiozen
    July 12, 2014

    Sorry, despite appearances there are two functioning links on my last comment.

    To continue, the number of cases of cancer in the UK may be increasing, but that’s because of its aging population. Age-adjusted rates are barely increasing (PDF), mainly due to increases in prostate and breast cancers which are almost certainly due to improved detection, with lung cancer and colonorectal cancer both decreasing. Mortality is falling too.

    Dr. Campbell’s subtext is clearly that since heart disease and cancer incidence are increasing conventional medicine must have it all wrong. But her premises are incorrect. If anything the burden from these diseases is decreasing, so I think we can conclude that we are doing something right, and that Dr. Campbell has wasted her time and money on Young’s avocado ranch. It seems clear to me that she could have spent her money more wisely on a holiday to France or Italy where sunshine and healthy foods are widely available, and where the cultural entertainment is, I would wager, of a much higher standard. I would also wager that she would have experienced the same improvements in her health, as people tend to once they finish chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

  22. #23 herr doktor bimler
    July 12, 2014

    Wasn’t he going to market a line of anti-aging ANP skin creams at one point?

    That’s his Aminocare grift. Me, I would begin to question my faith in a doctor if I found out that the drug he prescribes to kill cancers when taken internally, he also prescribes to restore youthful appearance when applied to the skin. But that’s just me.

  23. #24 Denice Walter
    July 12, 2014

    The A4M website is rife with woo of all genera but bio-identical hormones appear to have the ‘it’ factor. This group runs at least 5 conferences a year; their sponsors list is about as formidably woo-drenched as you would expect. Unfortunately, I know WAY more about these charlatans than is probably good for me

    AFAIK there is ( as there are no vampires or enchanted paintings that will age instead of you yourself aging) only one way to prevent aging.
    Although retinol may do something about the *appearance* of aging.

    On the skin cream issue:
    it’s hilarious that web woo-meisters frequently chastise their thralls for using commercial sun blocking agents and advocate sun exposure for healing through vitamin D.
    THEN they sell them skin creams.

    In other news:
    perhaps Mikey will be pre-occupied with his new (or reborn)career and shut up about the other bad ideas buzzing around the chaos inside his head.

    He is rapping/ singing again and creating music videos AND he proudly displays his latest effort.

  24. #25 Daniel Corcos
    France
    July 12, 2014

    The among of energy necessary to refute bullsh… is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.
    Alberto Brandoloni
    https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Daniel_Corcos2/?

  25. #26 Narad
    July 12, 2014

    ^ “Never existed” is an overstatement; it can take some time for an RJI to finally appear in New York. But there’s not even an answer filed in this one.

  26. #27 Chemmomo
    where anyone can grow avocados in their back yard
    July 12, 2014

    Krebiozen

    Dr. Campbell has wasted her time and money on Young’s avocado ranch. It seems clear to me that she could have spent her money more wisely on a holiday to France or Italy where sunshine and healthy foods are widely available, and where the cultural entertainment is.

    Are you suggesting that the Valley Center/Fallbrook, CA area is a cultural wasteland? Well, maybe it is, but it’s all of 45 minutes by car from downtown San Diego, and two hours out of Los Angeles (by road, not as the crow flies), and 30 minutes to Temecula (So Cal wine country). We do have good, fresh, locally grown food, well trained chefs, and no you cannot beat our weather (unless you like a lot of rain, in which case you would be out of luck).

    I personally would not go on vacation to Valley Center, but that’s because I livehere (San Diego area). Back when I lived on the East Coast, it would have been a reasonable option. Especially if I wanted some peace and quiet.

  27. #28 Chemmomo
    On the other hand. . .
    July 12, 2014

    If I found myself likely to die of cancer within a year, since I already live in a part of paradise, I’d go visit somewhere else – such as the south of France. Or Greece (skipping Italy). But before that, I’d go visit the Bay of Fundy.

    Friends and coworkers give us their extra avocados. Unfortunately for me, one of my kids eats them all before I can.

  28. #29 Woo Fighter
    July 12, 2014

    Slightly OT:

    Big news concerning Burzynski: a new 200-page list of complaints from the TMB. Check my post on the Buzynski Center for Inquiry thread for details.

    Here’s a link to the 200-page document:

    http://www.quackwatch.org/s/b.pdf

  29. #30 Woo Fighter
    July 12, 2014

    Denice,

    Nothing beat Mikey’s rant this week about being rear-ended in his truck by Juan, an illegal immigrant driving without license, insurance, little ability to speak English, etc. He claimed this is an epidemic in all the border states with Mexico and how these states are being overrun.

    It was such a hate-filled, racist screed I was embarrassed for Natural News (well, almost…) Of course he denied being racist, almost saying “some of my best friends are Mexican…”

    He claimed he could have been killed in the crash as Juan had fallen asleep and rear-ended him at full speed. Yet he clams the damage to his truck will be $1000. These days, $1000 doesn’t go very far for bodywork, so I seriously doubt how much damage Juan really caused and how he could have “rear-ended Mikey at full speed” and yet Mikey only sustained $1000 in damage. A tail light, some body filler and bit of paint on a new car at a dealership can run a grand.

    The post seems to have been removed. Or at least I wasn’t able to find it anymore.

    The day before, he had a piece about how “filthy illegal immigrant children” (my paraphrasing) are flooding the US with disease.

    But he’s not racist.

  30. #31 Narad
    July 12, 2014

    I personally would not go on vacation to Valley Center, but that’s because I livehere (San Diego area).

    If you want to take a trip to the San Diego Central Courthouse, you could get a copy of the case file.

  31. #32 Narad
    July 12, 2014

    Big news concerning Burzynski: a new 200-page list of complaints from the TMB.

    It still has a ways to fall, penny-stock speculators.

  32. #33 Krebiozen
    July 12, 2014

    Chemommo,

    Are you suggesting that the Valley Center/Fallbrook, CA area is a cultural wasteland

    Not at all; many of the most interesting ideas I have encountered over the past few decades come from that part of the world. I was referring to Young’s ranch; aside from the plentiful medical misinformation I imagine there is little duller than an avocado rodeo, and from Dr.Campbell’s account it seems unlikely she left the ranch much. My point is that she’s from Scotland, and there are areas with good healthy food that are much easier and cheaper for her to travel to.

  33. #34 Krebiozen
    July 12, 2014

    But he’s not racist.

    The sooner Lord Draconis institutes the New World Order the better. Then perhaps humans will abandon this peculiar chauvinism about where a person happens to have been born.

  34. #35 herr doktor bimler
    July 12, 2014

    My point is that she’s from Scotland, and there are areas with good healthy food that are much easier and cheaper for her to travel to.

    I.e. “Anywhere but Scotland”?

  35. #36 Chemmomo
    A short train ride away
    July 12, 2014

    Narad @31

    If you want to take a trip to the San Diego Central Courthouse, you could get a copy of the case file.

    Unfortunately, not feasible with my current work schedule.

  36. #37 Narad
    July 12, 2014

    I.e. “Anywhere but Scotland”?

    Congratulations, you’re officially Welsh from here on out.

  37. #38 Denice Walter
    July 12, 2014

    @ Woo Fighter:

    Mikey has a history of sayng hateful things about people who are different from him ( in his mind at least)- amongst them are his fellow citizens who voted as liberals, people who live in ‘ghettoes’, doctors, psychologists, pharma shills, elitists and a certain black man who lives in a white house.

    Thinking about it, I hear and read a great deal of hatred- day in and day out – courtesy of our web woo-meisters and anti-vax mavens ( see rants by MacNeil, Stagliano and Jameson for a start). PRN’s chief woo-doer seethes with anger and hatred for a majority of *people* – not just doctors, lawyers, psychologists, students, reporters, bankers, politicians et al : he decries the stupidity and poor taste of the average person who watches televison, goes to movies, votes, works for corporations and oh, yes, he hates elitists as well. He discusses the widespread ignorance overtaking society and the lack of education that people have in general.

    This is from a person who has problems differentiating the meanings/ usage of the words “conscious”, “consciousness” and “conscience”.

  38. #39 Militant Agnostic
    Where the buffalo roam
    July 13, 2014

    Kreb

    I imagine there is little duller than an avocado rodeo

    In these parts, a ranch implies animals, if not cattle then bison, horses or maybe even llamas, but definitely not avocados. Robert O Young is “All hat and no cattle”.

  39. #40 herr doktor bimler
    July 13, 2014

    Congratulations, you’re officially Welsh from here on out.

    You have not seen me in my Cameron Highlanders kilt.

  40. #41 Eric Lund
    July 14, 2014

    In these parts, a ranch implies animals

    But you live in the real world, not Woo-ville. In Woo-ville, any countryside retreat where you might go to get “treatment” can be called a ranch. A few weeks back, there was mention of such a ranch in Lenox, MA. Lenox may be in the Berkshires (the westernmost part of the state, as far as you can get from Boston without leaving Massachusetts), but I doubt this place is what you would consider a ranch–even in the Berkshires, there simply isn’t enough land available.

  41. #42 Scottynuke
    July 14, 2014

    @ hdb #40:

    Careful where you toss that caber…

  42. #43 JCL
    July 14, 2014

    Deep fried Mars Bar washed down with a bottle of IrnBru – what could be the harm?

  43. #44 Serge
    July 16, 2014

    Deep fried battered Mars Bars I’ll have you know.