A characteristic of real doctors and real health care providers is that they usually don’t sell the drugs and remedies that they recommend. Indeed, physicians are generally not allowed to in most states, as it’s considered a conflict of interest. Also, the Stark Law forbids physician self-referral, which is the referral of a patient to a medical facility in which that physician has a financial interest, be it ownership, investment, or a structured compensation arrangement. The reason why it’s considered unethical for physicians to sell the drugs or treatments they recommend or to self-refer is that there is an inherent conflict of interest in such practices, and self-referral in particular encourages overutilization of services and the ordering of tests that might not be medically necessary.
These stritures, rules, and laws do not apply, to quacks.
I was reminded of this when I came across a recent article by one of the biggest, if not the biggest, quack on the Internet, Joe Mercola. Dr. Mercola, as you might recall, runs one of the highest trafficked “alternative” medicine websites in existence. There is one main reason that Mercola’s website, Mercola.com, is quite likely the most trafficked alternative medicine. That reason is simple. He got in early. He started his website back in the 1990s, when the World Wide Web was a new thing and people and businesses were staking their claims and figuring out how to take advantage of this new medium. Indeed, Mercola is celebrating his 19th anniversary, which he brags about here:
As painful as it is, I have little reason to doubt that Mercola truly does garner over 30 million visits/month, given what I learned the last time I looked at him as a phenomenon at his 15th anniversary of promoting quackery. By way of comparison, as far as skeptic blogs go, this one doesn’t do too shabby, but Mercola.com draws nearly 100 times the traffic I get here. What I’m more interested in, though, is his justification for selling what he refers to as “products” and what I refer to as quackery (at least the vast majority of it):
Listening to Mercola justify why he started to sell “products,” lo those many years ago, is both a study in self-justification and a glimpse into both the early Internet and the mindset of an Internet “entrepreneur.” Actually, it's more a case of cognitive dissonance. Remember, cognitive dissonance is the psychological discomfort experienced when a person performs an action that is contradictory to his beliefs, ideas, or values or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs. Now witness his cognitive dissonance at work. Basically, Mercola says roughly (but not exactly) the same thing in his video above as in his article:
Many people ask why I sell products. When I first started this website back in 1997, it was with the intent to help people make informed decisions about their health and avoid needless suffering.
I had witnessed the positive effects of a healthy eating lifestyle on my patients, and I wanted to share this information and offer my insights into health information being spread by the media.
In fairness, two decades ago, this might actually have been true. Mercola might very well have had nothing but good motivations when he first started his website. What I wonder about is this claim:
It cost me upwards of $500,000 to run the site for the first few years, and I realized I could not afford to keep the site running without finding a source of revenue. I didn't want to use paid advertising or investors, which could have compromised the unbiased information the site was founded on.
First of all, even though I know bandwith was much more expensive 20 years ago, is it plausible that Mercola would be paying a half a million dollars over the early years of his site. Assuming by the first “few” years, Mercola meant maybe 5 years, then we’re looking at bandwith charges of $100,000 a year. I’m going to appeal to the hivemind out there and ask: Is this plausible? How much traffic would a website have to generate in order to cost $100,000 a year, even counting costs associated with hiring programmers?
For the moment, let’s assume that Mercola did spend a half a million on his website. Let’s say that he really did have a problem and needed a revenue source. Now, consider. He didn’t want to use paid advertising or investers because it could have “compromised” the “unbiased information” the site was founded upon. Of course, it’s a load of fetid dingos’ kidneys that anything Mercola ever wrote on his site was “unbiased.” It’s heavily biased in favor of his unscientific views on health. But even if it were truly “unbiased,” let’s take a look at the choice he claims he faced. Either he had to find advertisers or investors or:
Instead, I started to sell high-quality products that I believed in and which I, my friends and family were already using. This revenue allowed the site to grow, and around 2010 I became involved in health activism in order to prompt real change to the health care model.
I formed the Health Liberty campaign and am now aligned with a number of highly effective non-profit organizations that are committed to protecting your health liberties.
A portion of the profits generated from the sale of the products I recommend goes to a variety of non-profit organizations. This year, in addition to donating a portion of our profits from product sales, I will donate $1 for every page view this article gets, up to $250,000.
So let’s see. Paid advertising from outside sources is an unacceptable affront to the objectivity of Mercola.com, but supplement sales are not? What is more of a temptation to someone like Mercola? Payments for advertising or payments directly to him for products that he manufactures and/or brands? Putting myself in a position like Mercola’s, I can say that I’d be far more interested in money flowing into my coffers to pay for products I sell than I would be in money from mere advertising. I daresay any entrepreneur would say the same. For one thing, if you own the products being sold, as far as profits go the sky’s the limit, whereas there are definite limitations to what can be brought in by advertising, particularly in the Internet age. Indeed, it’s rather amusing that Mercola would try to justify his existence by claiming that selling supplements would be less likely to result in bias in the content of Mercola.com than advertising. Does Mercola really think that trying to sell supplements won’t influence him to present information that shows the claims used to sell his supplements in the best possible light?
Clearly, at some level, he realizes that he's in it for the money now, but he still sees himself as that scrappy promoter of "natural health" 19 years ago who started a website back when the World Wide Web had only become accessible to basically anyone for a few years. Now he lives in a very expensive, fancy house and pulls in millions of dollars a year selling supplements. There's no way in a normal human being that making millions of dollars selling something won't bias that person in favor of his own products and in favor of the "natural health" world view that makes his products attractive. His views that commercial interests cause bias compete with his belief that he is promoting "unbiased information" about "natural health." Mercola resolves that dissonance by arguing that he had to start selling supplements to keep his website going, the implication being that he still has to, and by touting how he's using some of the millions he makes every year to support "natural health" causes, like the antivaccine National Vaccine Information Center and the like.
Just one of the claims is that Dr. Mercola’s liposomal vitamin D is somehow better than regular vitamin D:
Mercola Liposomal Vitamin D contains phospholipids from sunflower lecithin that create liposomes in your gastrointestinal tract. The liposomes deliver the nutrients directly into your bloodstream, ensuring better absorption of the vitamin D to its target organs and cells.
Liposomal vitamin D also utilizes innovative Licaps capsules. Licaps feature "Fusion Technology" to seal the capsule without bands, making oxidation and leakage virtually impossible — ensuring an extremely fresh product.
This is what I like to call “woo babble.” Its the equivalent of what Star Trek fans know as “technobabble,” only with woo instead. In other words, it’s meaningless, but it sounds very, very impressive. In fact, as ridiculous as Star Trek tehcnobabble can sometimes be, woo babble is even more ridiculous. Don’t believe me? Here’s some more woo babble from Dr. Mercola:
Astaxanthin is a powerful antioxidant that can cross the blood-brain and blood-retina barriers, which means it travels to parts of your pet's body that other antioxidants don't.
Astaxanthin may help support brain, eye and central nervous system health while helping to reduce DNA damage and support cardiovascular health and normal immune response. Our astaxanthin for pets uses airless pump technology, which is easy to administer to pets and keeps the product fresher, too.
Or, even more amusingly:
BioCharged Kitty Litter outperforms other pine-based litters, clay, wheat, and nut-based litters for absorbency, odor control and dust factors. It's made from environmentally friendly ingredients and, with its organic biochar and recycled pine, is perfect for composting or adding to your garden after use in your cat's box. Just make sure you remove all of the solids first.
What the hell does “BioCharged” even mean? Certainly we never find out from Mercola, even here, but you can be sure that there are no GMOs in this litter, as if that matters.
The bottom line is that Mercola is deluding himself and deceiving when he claims that somehow he is somehow more “pure” and less prone to “bias” by selling his own “products” in order to support the “unbiased” nature of his articles on his websites. While in the beginning he might very well have had the motivations that he describes, to help people, when he started his website and he might even really be selling supplements and “BioCharged Kitty Litter” because he thinks it is less likely to bias what he writes and publishes on his website, Mercola is deluding himself if he thinks he is not compromised by this commercial activity. More depressingly, his readers are even more deluded if they believe that Mercola’s selling of supplements makes him less biased than big pharma or anyone else. In fact, Mercola will never publish anything that casts doubt on the benefits of anything he sells. In that, he is no different from big pharma.
Of course, Dr. Mercola believes himself to be so much better morally than big pharma; so he tells himself and everyone else that he has to sell woo in order to promote his message and that that selling of everything from supplements to "biocharged" cat litter doesn't taint his objectivity. That is cognitive dissonance at its finest!
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For that era, $100k for an e-commerce site wouldn't be unimaginable. Bandwidth utilization was and remains metered, back then, with no price break points, it was flat per byte metering.
Colocation services was also novel at the time, with early adopter ISP's raking in the cash.
So, his quoted costs may very well be in line with reality, although initially, likely substantially lower in cost to operate, additional traffic as the site became more popular would rapidly taper costs upward.
Many people ask why I sell products.
Many people ask why I rob banks.
Because that's where the money is.
Astaxanthin is a powerful antioxidant that can cross the blood-brain and blood-retina barriers
This is the test of the truly professional scammer... selling the suckers concentrated synthetic food-colouring (not classified as fit for humans).
Don't you love the weasel words like "can cross"?
Regarding costs, 15-20 years ago, salaried web developers / project managers / IT Staff in London would have been pulling in between about £15k to £30k, designers about the same depending on experience and skillset, freelance / contract staff somewhere between £150 and £250 / day.
Hosting and bandwidth was more expensive then, so, converting to dollars, $100,000 a year is easily possible. It only takes three middle range staff, and you're nearly there already.
@ herr doktor bimler
Sean Connery, is that you?
Next you are going to tell me that Mercola, for his last trick, has used a faux-French courtesan, a knuckle-cracking mustached pickpocket, and a dead cat.
*reading the Astaxanthin bits*
I wouldn't be surprised about the cat.
Isn't Astaxanthin a pro-vitamin A found in Flamingos?
Sounds innocuous, but I bet that he is selling the hepatotoxic Spirolina full of anatoxins.
What I hate more than a worthless supplement mongerer, is a dangerous supplement mongerer!
CLO is full of highly oxidized PUFA's and a dangerous amount of Vitamin A. I bet he sells that junk too.
Isn’t Astaxanthin a pro-vitamin A A found in Flamingos?
IIRC it is one of the few carotenes and carotenoids that is not metabolised into vitamin A.
The Infallible Goofle reckons that flamingos in the wild are pink because of plain old beta-carotene in the brine shrimp. Zoo flamingos get canthaxanthin in their food to keep them the color that visitors expect -- E161g, as opposed to astaxanthin which is plain E161.
If I ran the zoo, there would be a different dietary regime with different additives and the flamingos would be blue and purple and green.
@herr doktor bimler, I'd only be impressed with plaid flamingos. ;)
Perhaps it's because I've not yet had a full cup of coffee, but when I read "BioCharged Kitty Litter," I thought maybe it came pre-peed upon?
Mercola Liposomal Vitamin D contains phospholipids from sunflower lecithin that create liposomes in your gastrointestinal tract.
A month or so ago I came across "liposomal vitamin C", a label popular among the cool vitamin grifters to give their brand of the commodity an advantage over all the other brands, where the lecithin is formed into micelles -- encapsulating some tiny fraction of the dissolved vitamin -- by way of ultrasound or mechanical agitation.
Sounds like Mercola (or his supplier) has decided to skip the unnecessary processing and just tell the suckers that the lecithin will magically form the liposomes of its own accord. Why waste effort when the sheep are lining up to be shorn?
Many people ask why I sell products. When I first started this website back in 1997, it was with the intent to help people make informed decisions about their health and avoid needless suffering.
And now you sell kitty litter.
@ Kevin Stacy
Come on, it's a very useful product, especially if you are a cat.
(I would classify a cat's smelly pan as a source of suffering. I manage to endure, but only because I love cats)
And the day Charles Augustus Milverton decided to get rid of his fat bastard of an accomplice in blackmail, I'm sure he would have been very happy to know where to order quickly a dozen bags of quality litter to cover the decomposition smells. A BioCharged kitty litter may have throw Holmes off his trail for a few more weeks.
Re: Biocharged - I'm guessing he just means "made with Biochar", but making sound more exciting.
If buyers follow the advice to compost Doc Mercola's Kitty Litter (band name!), they run the risk of "biocharging" their garden soil with toxoplasma and other pathogens. There's no way one can remove every trace of solid waste before composting the litter.
"Composting cat litter is not enough to kill the diseases associated with cat feces. In order to kill toxoplasmosis, a compost pile would have to reach a temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit (73 C.), and most piles never get that hot. Using contaminated compost carries the risk of contaminating your garden soil."
An M.D. should know better.
@Kevin Stacy CLO is full of highly oxidized PUFA’s and a dangerous amount of Vitamin A. I bet he sells that junk too.
My apologies to Mercola. He actually warns against taking Cod Liver Oil: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2008/12/23/important…
Good. He hasn't gone "quack fantastic" yet.
I'll leave him alone for now, but if he starts selling deer-antler for human consumption......
Correction: "A D.O. should know better."
I have no time for that anxiety merchant. My wife is often saying "Dr Mercola says..." and I have to fact check and then refute his latest overheated evaluation of some health threat slipped into your food by Big Grocery or Monsanto or, even better, the latest super healthy product that he has on sale today.
His enthusiastic support of NVIC alone earns him my disgust.
On a cheerier note, another supplement selling group of quacks appears to have done out of business--namely "Sears Family Essentials" looks to have gone dark (their web site links to iparentinglifeDOTcom now) and their info on the California Corp commision web site shows they are "forfeited". How sad....
It's also part of the emergency kit I keep in my car in winter months. It makes a good sand substitute in situations where you slide off the road. Of course, you don't need Mercola's super-duper (and undoubtably super-expensive) kitty litter for that. Store brand kitty litter does quite nicely.
Found this on barfblog.com and thought it was appropriate.
Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli in organic wheatgrass tablets from Germany
Posted on August 3, 2016 by Doug Powell
Another nugget from the European Commission’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed.
wheatgrass-tablets-1455051Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (stx1+; O145 /25g) in organic wheatgrass tabletts from Germany
Seriously, organic wheat grass tablets?
Posted in E. coli | Tagged e coli, food safety, Germany, O145, Stec, wheatgrass tablets
Yes, but back then it was just Mercola writing weekly articles on "wellness" and alternative medicine. Nothing fancy. I doubt he had more than just a web designer hired to set up his website and then someone on retainer to maintain it back then. Now, he clearly has quite a few people running his site and online store.
For example, here's what Marcela's site looked like in 1999:
There is synthetic astaxanthin which is used in salmon feed, but there is also natural astaxanthin obtained from Haematococcus pluvialis algae, Pfaffia rhodozyma yeast, or extracted from shrimp shells. I'd guess Mercola is using one of these sources. I've never heard of anybody making human dietary supplements from the synthetic stuff. There is a difference -- the chirality of the synthetic stuff isn't the same as the natural form.
herr doktor bimler #7, sounds prudent --
The real money is in selling replacement application tips for the airless pump.
"We are a carbon-progressive company"
They're sequestering carbon. Perfect. If the kitty doesn't get lamp-black paws then it sounds like a good product.
Vitamin D liposomes
As if the liposoluble Vitamin D would stay in liposomes...It doesn't need them at all.
DB @14: Isn't that the brain parasite that makes mice not afraid of cats? Maybe Mercola wants us to put it in our compost as part of his mind-control master plan! *Bwhahahaha*
Or maybe I've read too many old-time comic books today.
Indeed it is, JustaTech. But wait; there is more--
Schizoprenics often draw overly-frazzled looking cats:
@Takiar As if the liposoluble Vitamin D would stay in liposomes…It doesn’t need them at all.
It wouldn't stay in the center. It would be sandwiched in the lipid-bilayer.
But a micelle would be more appropriate for Vitamin D.
But yes, it does not need them at all. The only reason I can think of to create micellar or liposomal Vitamin D is to make it water-souble.
You could put it in drinks this way!
But perhaps "Micellar Vitamin D" does not sound as good as "Liposomal Vitamin D".
"Micellar" is like "mice" and "cellar" put together. I bet Mercola did a phone survey and found out that "liposomal" would sell better.
Given that I was doing this kind of thing (and still am) back then, I like to think I know what I'm talking about, and, looking at that, I reckon in 1999 he's employing a web developer and a content manager. (I hadn't looked at archive.org before) Unlikely to be a proper designer involved. Possibly part time developer, but looking at the archive.org grabs, it's updated pretty frequently.
Those two people may be the same person (if you see what I mean), but there's at least 1.5 people running that site, even back in 1999. So, say... 1.5 people at £25k, gives £37.5k, which would be around $55,000, plus office, IT and general costs, plus hosting etc...
It really kicks off about 2000, with lots of updated content.
Much as Mercola is a vile piece of slime, I think his claims as to costs on the early running of his webshite aren't exaggerated that much.
Schizoprenics often draw overly-frazzled looking cats:
Louis Wain libel!
Can Orac be persuaded to accompany his articles with smaller photos of repellent woogenerates?
I get nauseated seeing full-size portraits of Mercola, Wakefield and similar folk.
Programmers? Let's look at a 1999 capture. This seems to be around a 100 kilobyte payload. A look at 1998 hosting prices suggests that it would have cost a fraction of a cent to deliver.
As for Mercola's honesty in cost estimates, the link to "Reasons NOT To Vaccine Your Child" , although not as advertised, leads to a pretty funny 2000 capture of a pitch for his spam weekly E-newsletter:
(Emphasis in orginal, but second-order there.)
^ Sorry about the duplication of Orac's link; I started writing the comment much earlier, had myself a doctor's appointment on public transportation, and then figured I'd finish it, but without remembering that I had seen comment 21 while I was getting ready to go out.
I partially exonerated Mercola earlier for his Cod Liver Oil warning, but you would get the impression that he did that only to start peddling his Krill Oil!
Here is Krill Oil for kids. http://krilloil.mercola.com/krill-oil-kids.html
Kids’ Krill Oil is a source of omega-3 fatty acids that you can feel good about giving to your child
What a joke. Why the fυck would someone need krill oil for ω-3 fatty acids? Every single nut, grain, meat product, and FF dairy product contains ω-3 fatty acids, not mention Avocados and Olives.
There has never been a reported case of fatty acid deficiency. The concept of "essential fatty acids" was a confabulated by George Burr in 1929. This was the product of faulty reasoning.
I object. "....in that he is no different from big pharma" please don't tar BP with the Mercola brush. Big pharma are legally obliged to publish every clinical study (positive or negative) AND state all adverse events associated with their products when advertising/selling product. They are way better...
Does anyone know how many people DIE EVERYDAY from "science-based", traditional, allopathic medicine?
* More than 1,000 EVERYDAY, that's a 9/11 happening every three days! And how much profit is that system making?
Truth Goes thru 3 stages:
2nd Violently opposed
3rd Accepted as self-evident
Whoever this author is...I feel sorry for you!!
Alt truth goes through three stages:
RIdiculed for its ludicrous basis
Debunked by good science
Resuscitated and preached by the dim-witted
Dr. Quack seems to be have been overly succussed as an infant. :(
@Dr Quack: Does anyone know how many people DIE EVERYDAY from “science-based”, traditional, allopathic CAM medicine?
FIFY. Actually, no one knows how many people die from CAM because there is no tracking and no accounting. Someone who gets liver failure from CAM but dies from the liver failure is put into the "allopathic" deaths pile, when they WOULDN'T have died otherwise. Someone with cancer who uses CAM and dies is put into the "allopathic" pile because they wouldn't have gotten cancer/would have beaten their cancer if they had just followed Gerson/Bollinger/quack/quack/quack.
It's always either allopathic medicine's fault or the patient's fault. NEVER the fault of CAM.
(Sorry - a little bitter here. Just had a friend die who was treating herself with CAM and her family is blaming her spouse for not "making her follow the CAM more closely" and allopathic medicine for not curing her when she went to the MD with stage 4 cancer and mets all through her body. She lasted 3 days on hospice.)
Damn. My strikethroughs failed. "science-based", traditional, allopathic were supposed to be crossed out, and only CAM remaining.
Dr. Quack: "Does anyone know how many people DIE EVERYDAY from “science-based”, traditional, allopathic medicine?
* More than 1,000 EVERYDAY, that’s a 9/11 happening every three days! And how much profit is that system making?"
Yeah, usually of the symptoms from an advanced age. The average American lifespan is around eighty years old, several decade more than it was a century ago. Obviously science based medicine has done something right, like make sure kids can become adults.
Knowing that figure alone is rather meaningless, don't you think. I think the more pertinent number would be how many are kept alive, sorry, SAVED EVERYDAY* by science-based medicine...
...I'd be willing to bet that antibiotics alone greatly outnumber your emotional appeal of "c. 0.33 units of 9/11 a day". Not to mention insulin, heart- and blood pressure medication and you get the picture, I hope.
...and that's excluding all those whose daily quality of life is "merely" improved by modern medication.
For CAMsters, death is a god/nature-given natural process, not to be feared or allopathically tampered with:
Forty thousand men and women everyday
Forty thousand men and women everyday
Another forty thousand coming everyday
We can be like they are
Somewhat off-topic, but NCCIH's deputy director is on Wisconsin Public Radio for the next hour. They take FB comments as well as calls.
I once looked at Mercola's jobs section: he was tryng to find various marketing types and a web person (a few years ago).
I wonder what sites like his or Null's ( Gary Null.com/ prn.fm) cost to run these days - with tech people of course.
Do you live in Wisconsin too?
This is the Intertoobs, we live everywhere.
Coincidentally, Mercola posted a rant about the safety of supplements vs pharmaceuticals demonstrating his usual brand of logic and grasp of facts. This is in response to recent calls for better supplement regulation...hmm does he see a threat to his supplement empire? He manages to disparage Paul Offit, invoke Big Pharma conspiracy theories, in short the usual catastrophe.
In the end, even he concedes that there are some issues with supplements being contaminated with drugs...but that it is the Pharma industry fault! It's all at Mercola.com, Aug 9.
Maybe he's getting flack from customers quoting this recent article.
For 40 years I have heard the same boatload of nonsense from people who worship MD's instead of the one true God...Lord Jesus. "It's expensive urine." " It's dangerous ( forgetting so many people die from medically caused infections..there is an insider name for it 'nosocomial').
We're smarter than you fools who take supplements.'
I challenge you people to research and try Mercola supplements and other quality brands and give up your bigotry against alternative medical products.
In regards to "40 years of taking supplements", I can say it no better than Sam Clemens, well preserved here:
What supplements would Jesus take?
It seems to me that the supplement pushers are far more careless than they were back in the days I was interested in them. My "natural health" books in the early 1980s almost all warned about not using certain medications internally (comfrey, for example), or seeing a MD if symptoms persisted. I wonder when the change occurred that supplements were all good, never see a doctor, etc.
For over fifty years I have NOT taken supplements. I am incredibly healthy. I give credit to one thing: good genes.
I'm also an atheist but I don't see how religious beliefs are relevant to this discussion in any way.
Interestingly enough, my wife of over 34 years, a woman of the tender age of 55, has severe osteoporosis, complete with several healed vertebral fractures and two new ones.
Any vitamin won't do crap for her.
Currently, we're eagerly awaiting the insurance company blessing proper treatment, so that she can have her disc disease addressed before she's paralyzed from the neck down.
So, please do excuse any anger in any remarks.
For, I do love her more than I do my own life. And honestly, I have no desire to survive her at all.
Whatever they might have been, it now appears that it is supplicants that are being taken.
I'm gonna say shortly after passage of the DSHEA, honestly. :-/
Fascinating. I have often noticed that religious believers seem more likely to follow varying degrees of alternative medicine. In Mr Woo's church library a whole four shelves are filled with books on being your own doctor, natural healing, "supplement bibles" and the like.
My time in this church has been slowly draining my faith in anything. It makes me a little sad.
I can't match doug's comment, but before I read it I had thought: The Son of G-d would need to take no supplements, being The Way, and all, so I think the question is 'what supplements would Jesus sell?'.
Maybe none, as He'd more likely be dispensing homeopathy, since he did demonstrate abilities to do magic with water.
I believe the divine Mr M is now peddling vitamin A as either a preventative or a cure for Zika.