Et tu, Lance?

Say it ain't so!

Skeptics' Circle host from earlier this year Rod Clark informs me that another celebrity has been sucked into maw of antivaccine propagandizing disguised as an autism charity. The one luring these celebrities in, of course, is that tireless, ever-Indigo campaigner against vaccines and for quackery Jenny McCarthy, flexing her D-list celebrity luster and snookering celebrities into supporting her antivaccine cause (unless, of course, that celebrity is Charlie Sheen, who's already an antivaccine loon and thus requires no deception). First, it was Britney Spears, Hugh Hefner, and the Girls Next Door showing up at a Generation Rescue fundraiser. Next, appropriately enough, it was pro wrestling, with WWE holding a Saturday Night Main Event to raise money for Generation Rescue. After those two events, the next question was obvious: Who would be next to fall for the false packaging of antivaccine activism as doing research about autism?

Answer: Lance Armstrong, who's hosting a poker tournament Ante Up for Autism with Jenny McCarthy to benefit the equally quack-friendly and antivaccine "autism charity" Talk About Curing Autism (TACA).

The sight of Lance Armstrong, who arguably more than any other celebrity I can think of owes his very life to science and scientific medicine, pairing with a celebrity so dedicated to antiscience and the promotion of antivaccination lies and autism quackery, is a jarring one. After all, Armstrong had stage IV testicular cancer, with metastatic spread to lungs, abdomen and brain. He underwent surgery and chemotherapy, choosing a nonstandard chemotherapy in order to avoid the lung toxicity associated with bleomycin, which is part of what was at the time the standard regimen for testicular cancer. Even though his odds of survival were far less than 50-50, he not only survived but managed to resurrect his cycling career to become one of the most successful cyclists of all time, winning the Tour de France seven times. Science saved him, and gave his will the opportunity to drive him to be a winner again. Without scientific medicine, no seven Tour de France victories, just an athlete tragically cut down in the prime of his life by cancer as testicular cancer is wont to do given that it tends to be more common in younger men.

On the other hand, perhaps I shouldn't be surprised. After all, since Armstrong has fallen pretty deeply into supplement and energy drink woo. He's best known for hawking an "antioxidant energy drink" known as FRS, which appears to be nothing more than what all those other "energy drinks" are: a bunch of supplements and vitamins, including quercetin (an antioxidant) and a whole lot of caffeine. As with virtually all energy drinks, the "science" supporting it is usually vague, based on studies that aren't really applicable to the claim being made, and, of course, no direct clinical evidence from well-designed clinical trials supporting the claims made. Particularly amusing is this claim in the FAQ about caffeine in FRS that it serves as a "metabolic enhancer to help the body absorb other ingredients." There's also the ubiquitous and meaningless claim that it "supports the immune system." Regardless of the dubiousness of the claims for FRS (and for all "energy drinks," for that matter), Armstrong's endorsement has paid big dividends for what was a small startup company.

Come to think of it, maybe I shouldn't be so surprised that Lance Armstrong would fall for all the woo promoted by Jenny McCarthy and TACA after all.

More like this

In the celebrity vaccine wars, as we all know, Jenny McCarthy has become the de facto leader of the "vaccines-cause-autism" lunatic fringe. However, apparently she has managed to recruit another celebrity to help her out. Her choice is amazingly appropriate: Britney Spears, who was seen at a…
There once was a time not so long ago--oh, say, four our five years--when the anti-vaccine fringe was looked upon as what it was: a fringe group, a bunch of quacks and quack advocates, all in essence one big conspiracy theory movement, in which vaccines are the One True Cause of Autism. At the time…
Over the last year and a half, Jenny McCarthy has been, unfortunately, a fairly frequent topic of this blog. There is, of course, a reason for this. Ever since she published her first book on autism back in the summer of 2007, she has become the public face of the antivaccine movement and autism…
. . .or a spread in Playgirl. Huh? Orac has a nice essay today for your Christmas Eve reading about a USA Today article yesterday by Liz Szabo that called out celebrities for their pseudoscientific proclamations and advice entitled, "Are celebrities crossing the line on medical advice?" So that's…

The sight of Lance Armstrong, who, arguably more than any other celebrity I can think of, owes his very life to science and scientific medicine

And his success as a cyclist was made possible with the help of scientists and doctors too.

Sark aside, it's scary how quickly this autism/vaccine thing seems to be gathering steam in the USA. I wish there were examples of this kind of thing been thwarted early but I'm afraid not. In the UK it took years before the media (with some honourable exceptions) took a pro-vaccine stance, in fact it is only now, 10 years later, that the more reactionary press have begun to admit that vaccination is not linked to autism.

Come on Gimpy, those allegations were never proved. It'd be a shame if it was true as he was a phenomenal cyclist to watch going up the side of L'Alpe D'Huez. I struggled to walk up!

Saying that, I've always had the impression that Mr Armstrong would do just about anything for a bit of limelight and a pretty girl. Even to the extent of going against the science that saved him. I'll have to formulate some sort of magical energy drink myself as seemingly suckers really are born every minute. I might put some Dihydrogen Monoxide in mine ;)

....those allegations were never proven to the satisfaction of the cycling world. . . yet there was that "B" sample test Armstrong failed years ago. . . . 1999, I think. . without the confirming "A" test, the cycling authorities couldn't take any action. . .but it doesn't mean it didn't happen; simply means it couldn't be proven. . .and now that several of his old team members have been found to have used steroids, it is beginning to raise some questions about Lance's "miraculous" run of victories again. . .

. . .so now we have some steroid-using nut who is dating the anoerexic Olson twin and we should follow his sage advice? wonder what his poor ex-wife (and kids) have to say about it. . .

By barbie123 (not verified) on 01 Sep 2008 #permalink

Does anyone have a contact email for Mr. Armstrong? I have always admired the guy, but I am appalled at this and would like to send a little Respectful Insolence (TM) his way. I urge everyone else who cares about this issue to do the same.
Say it ain't so, Lance!

By T. Bruce McNeely (not verified) on 01 Sep 2008 #permalink

Glad to see you write about this, O-Man. I first learned of this from a FRS ad running on the WSJ Health Blog. I've just ordered some to investigate the composition of the products but I'm concerned about the high content of quercetin. Yes, it's an antioxidant but it can also be a topoisomerase II poison at modest concentrations - I can't tell the potential risk of the stuff until I score some of the 'free' product (paid shipping fee but must be sure to cancel before next month's supply is billed.)

I have a feeling Lance and WWF are merely helping what they (mistakenly) believe is a worthwhile cause. Of course, this stuff about the energy drink might change my feelings.

Darn, if people weren't stupid enough to listen to celebrities in matters they don't know. Goodness, this woo keeps spreading as if there was no tomorrow.

That does seem pretty inconsistent of him.

I hope he's not advocating any alternative cancer cures with his Live Strong foundation.

That was my first thought too, Gimpy.

Was a good set up though, if the man famous for winning the Tour de France seven times ever got/gets called on drugs, there's always the, the French are just cowardly sore losers who hate him because he's American, line.

Probably this has been said frequently before, but I did not read it here so far:

If we believe the Antivax crowd, big Pharma are doing all those evil vaccinations for the money. Just for fun, I looked up some numbers:

According to the CDC website, a single shot of MMR costs about $8. With roughly 350 million people in the US, of which each gets one shot in their lifetime, this probably means something around 50-100 million Dollars per year. Merck's net income, according to Wikipedia, was 4631 billion Dollars in 2005. So all this incredible conspiration to increase their net income by about 0.001% ?

Unfortunately this foolishness is gaining ground.
I've also seen a strong surge of "anti-intellectualism" and distrust of science and the scientific method in religious teachings over the last two decades. Combine this with the general poor quality of education and of science education in general, and I see how this could combine with McCarthy's degree from Google U and form a nasty witches' brew of misinformation, lies, pseudoscience and other forms of malfeasance.

Merck's net income, according to Wikipedia, was 4631 billion Dollars in 2005.

I think you mean 4.6 billion.

Damn, Lance Armstrong really should know better :(

Ack, in doing a quick search for whether your needed booster shots for the MMR later in life, I came across the god-awful, one of those lovely pro-death-by-infectious-disease sites that plague my country. It's truly begging for a dose of Respectful Insolence.

So far I've seen one guy named Occam in the forums actually defending science and pointing out the nuttiness - I'm sure he would appreciate some help.

"I think you mean 4.6 billion."
AArrgh. Sorry about that - now I'll forever be considered as number illiterate - just copied in haste without thinking.
Still, with a revenue of 22billion and net income of over 4 billion, the gain from MMR is still of the order of 1% - a bit low for a conspiracy of the supposed scale.

Of course that would be a silly thing for them to do, MartinB. You have to remember that vaccinations also cause all those (rarely actually specified) illnesses that the other drugs cure, so Pharma gets you to pay for that which causes you need their other products. The $8 is just the buy-in for a whole life of paying more! [/conspiracy mode]

Now we just need to convince the people who believe the above that it is Chemicals(tm) which are causing the problem, and start selling them Chemical(tm)-free Nutritional Supplements (say, 8 oz cans with a vacuum in them labeled in very fine print with all the things that are not in them) as the only safe diet, and before too long we won't have to worry about them voting...

By BrutalGourmet (not verified) on 02 Sep 2008 #permalink

Hahahaha - ROFLMHO!

Pro wrestling is anti-vax? WTF did they think was in that stuff they have they been putting in themselves all these years?

Also, I always suspected LA of feigning the illness to get a free pass on doping.

I wonder what analysis the GR/Hollywood contingent has done to make sure that FRS and or HGH/other anabolic steroids don't cause autism. After all, wouldn't those things qualify under the environmental insults or unnatural causes they are supposed to be looking for?

Oh, I forgot, as long as they have some testy-moanials swearing the cat and fish didn't die (referencing OSR) they can be perfectly happy with their newfound bedfellows.

Orac, I emailed this to the Lance Armstrong website, but I think it is a general mail box. I would like him to hear what I said directly. Like T. Bruce Mcneely I wonder if any one has a more direct address?
For reference, what I said was
To Lance,
Both of my parents were amateur bicycle racers during the 30's and 40's. My father held the San Francisco to Los Angles record for a long time. Spokes and sprockets have been tangled all through my life. I have admired your struggles and success against cancer. I watched the last 3 Tour De France races in awe. So I hope you will understand my disappointment at your associating yourself with a group of quackery supporters like Generation Rescue. Please read up on their great success at reintroducing childhood diseases to the US.
Robert B. Estrada

By Robert Estrada (not verified) on 02 Sep 2008 #permalink

Hey Dr. Frank, that Jabs website has a whole lot of crazy per capita. Whoo. I odn't think you'll get very far with reasoning with those people. I'd recommend you instead get some /b/tards to flood their forums. At least the destruction will be colorful.

Interesting to see that so far Ante Up For Austism has only managed to recruit one major poker pro, Marcel Luske. Hopefully they don't get any others. I'd be especially disappointed if Barry Greenstein or Chris Ferguson, who both have solid mathematics backgrounds, got roped into this.

I'm pretty sure LA didn't fake the cancer - he had one of his testicles removed, and there are any number of actresses who could confirm that.

And then there's guys like this! I hope I get a chance to meet him in a couple of weeks. Maybe Alex will run with him....

"His legs were paralyzed by polio years ago, but that hasn't stopped Ramesh Ferris from hand-cycling across the country.

Ferris, 28, wants to raise awareness of the polio vaccine in hopes of one day seeing the disease eradicated.

He has taken his message to capital cities across Canada since leaving the Yukon in April.

And he doesn't plan to stop until he reaches the eastern tip of Newfoundland.

"I have about 1,000 kilometres to go if our estimate of 7,200 kilometres for the whole trip is correct," Ferris said. "But this trip isn't about one individual cycling across Canada.

"It's about working together to share the message about polio eradication, education and rehabilitation until globally it becomes a disease of our past."

Poliomyelitis, or polio, is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus that enters through the mouth and multiplies in tonsils and lymph nodes.

It invades the nervous system and can cause paralysis in a matter of hours. It can also affect a person's breathing and be fatal.

Ferris, who was born in India, contracted the disease at six months.

It left him without the use of his legs and he had pneumonia nine times before his 11th birthday.
The goal of the charitable organization is to raise money for the eradication of polio, spread awareness about the continuing need for immunization against the disease and support the rehabilitation of polio survivors in poor countries.

"Canadians are becoming complacent regarding polio vaccination because they might not see it as a threat anymore. Just over 3.4-million Canadians have not received the vaccination and that's extremely frustrating," Ferris said.

"If we do not continue efforts to eradicate this disease, an additional 10 million children will be paralyzed over the next 40 years."

The Public Health Agency of Canada has declared the country polio-free.

Megan Cumby, spokeswoman for the New Brunswick Department of Health, said New Brunswick parents aren't obligated to vaccinate their children.

"Immunizations are strongly recommended, but parents always have the right to refuse," Cumby said. "The Education Act states that a child has to be vaccinated in order to enter school, but if the parent has an objection on certain grounds, such as religion, they have to sign a form about why they weren't vaccinated."

Ferris said he has a long way to go before everyone understands the importance of being vaccinated against polio.

He hopes to raise $1 million by the end of this month to help the cause."

And the loudest voice in the anti-vaccine movement are those being paid money by ambulance-chansing lawyers. There are conflicts of interest on both sides, the difference being the vaccine manufacturers discolse theirs.

Oh, and we have science supporting our views. I know that's a trivial matter for the anti-vaxxers, but hopefully it'll swing the balance in our favour.

ChrisB, there are major issues with the lack of documentation at NVIC. When better more recent information comes out on vaccines comes out, Barbara Loe Fisher conveniently leaves it out and does not update that website. Though there is a prominent tab to contact a lawyer (including the infamous Clifford Shoemaker, who should have completed his retraining as directed by a judge in New Hampshire on proper gathering of evidence).

The article in Rolling Stone had several corrections, and it still has issues. It was also written by a lawyer with no medical background. If you do a search on this blog (see search box on the left of this page) on Kennedy's little essay, you will see where it was deconstructed years ago.

Also, today there was yet another study that showed no relationship between MMR and autism. The MMR has been around since 1971 and has never contained thimerosal. Plus, all pediatric vaccines in the USA are available without thimerosal, so that is also a non-issue.

If you have some real scientific evidence (by the way, that especially means not written by a lawyer), that the MMR is worse than measles (which causes severe neurological damage 1 out of 5000 cases, and does kill about 1 in 500), mumps and rubella... please provide it. If you have real scientific evidence that the DTaP is worse than diphtheria, tetanus or pertussis (which kills over a dozen American babies each year), tell us.

We are not "knowitalls"... really. You just have to tell us what real actual factual science shows that the vaccines are worse than the diseases. You can do that, right?

-Lance Armstrong, who arguably more than any other celebrity I can think of owes his very life to science and scientific medicine-

Is Lance defaming ALL of science and medicine? Is that how you read his actions? Isn't that interpretation a little all encompassing? Hyperbole, even?

-I have a feeling Lance and WWF are merely helping what they (mistakenly) believe is a worthwhile cause.-

I agree, I don't know what other benefit this would be to him.

-Still, with a revenue of 22billion and net income of over 4 billion, the gain from MMR is still of the order of 1% - a bit low for a conspiracy of the supposed scale.-

And I don't know of any international industry that has done anything unscrupulous or immoral for a 1% profit. (Hey, didn't there used to be a factory here in Anytown USA? Oh, do you mean that one that just opened in Zogatqarova, Indonesia?) And vaccines are Merck's ONLY product. Wait a minute, you mean they have tens of thousands? Hmm, lets apply that extra profit to a couple more of them. Wow, now we're talking tens of millions of dollars. Naw, that's just not enough money to do anything actually immoral. LOL

Besides, modern medicine would never promote or allow a medicine that would hurt anyone. Now who's up next for their thalidomide...ladies? Anyone, anyone...

Robert said "Now who's up next for their thalidomide...ladies? Anyone, anyone...'

Which was never approved for use in the USA because an FDA doctor, Frances Kelsey, insisted on seeing some real data:…

All of the vaccines used in the USA have gone through extensive testing. The MMR has been used in the USA since 1971 and never contained thimerosal. The removal of thimerosal from pediatric vaccines took a while in order the test the safety of the new formulations.

And if a drug company wanted to work on profits, they would stop manufacturing vaccines (and many have, so there are now shortages of vaccines). It is actually brings in more profit when kids get sick than avoid disease: ..."Routine childhood immunization with the 7 vaccines was cost saving from the direct cost and societal perspectives, with net savings of $9.9 billion and $43.3 billion, respectively. Without routine vaccination, direct and societal costs of diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, H influenzae type b, poliomyelitis, measles, mumps, rubella, congenital rubella syndrome, hepatitis B, and varicella would be $12.3 billion and $46.6 billion, respectively."

Now what exactly was the point you trying to make?

Robert said "Now who's up next for their thalidomide...ladies? Anyone, anyone..."

BTW, do you know that that damned thalidomide is used in medicine again - as an anti-cancer drug (effective against multiple myeloma)?

And as for anti-vaccination activity - it is kind on nonsense, and dangerous one. Outburst of such activity in the former USSR about 20 years ago caused re-appearing of diphteritis with several hundreds deceased children as final outcome. And to be effective vaccination should cover near 95% of the whole population. So ....

hey guys . ya know the drug companies pay people to post the company propaganda line on sites like this ! chump change to them !

villie who is pulling the "pharma shill gambit" bumbles with "hey guys . ya know the drug companies pay people to post the company propaganda line on sites like this ! chump change to them !"

And you know this because...? Do you know where the sign-up page is? Because it would be really cool to get paid.

Otherwise, just answer my questions on what actual science shows that the MMR is worse than measles, mumps and rubella, and that the DTaP is worse than pertussis, diphtheria and tetanus.

Unfortunately I am interested in this subject due to having a health impaired child who needed herd immunity at a time when it was eroded to the point our county had a pertussis epidemic and measles killed over 120 Americans (1988-1991).

Oh, the "pharma shill gambit":

....those allegations were never proven to the satisfaction of the cycling world. . . yet there was that "B" sample test Armstrong failed years ago. . . . 1999, I think. . without the confirming "A" test, the cycling authorities couldn't take any action. . .but it doesn't mean it didn't happen; simply means it couldn't be proven.

Every single medical test I know of has a rate of false positives - people who report as positive even though they are in reality negative. And every single medical test I know of has a rate of false negatives, people who report as negative even though they are in reality positive.
If we have data on the false positive and the false negative rates, and the true rate within the tested population, we can work out the probability that someone who returns a positive test result actually has the condition. Say that the test has a false positive rate of 95%, a false negative rate of 95%, and the true rate of drug-taking is 5%. 2000 people take the test. Of those, 1900 are clean, and 100 have taken the drug. Of the 1900 people who are clean, 1805 return a negative, and 95 people a false positive test by pure chance. Of the 100 people who are drug-takers, 95 return a positive test result and 5% a false negative result. Therefore a total of 190 people return positive test results. The chance that someone actually has taken the drug, given that they returned a false positive, is only 50%, 50% of the people who returned a positive test result did not take the drug.

Interestingly, the lower the rate of actual drug-tasting, the more likely it is that someone with a positive result didn't take the drug. If only 1% of the population takes the drug then given a positive test result there's only a 16% chance that they actually took the drug and an 84% chance that they are clean.

The point of taking the test twice is to guard against this sort of statistical mischief. The guard is not perfect. Under the circumstances I assumed above, if the test results are independent and if we tested twice, out of 1800 clean people, 5 (well, 4.95) would return a false positive twice despite not taking the drug. How many drug-tests do top athletes take over their lifetime?

Of course in reality we don't know the true rate of drug-taking in the population, we only know what we test. Before we can make any estimate of the probability that Lance Armstrong actually took drugs, given that he returned a single positive test result, we would need to know the false positive and false negative rates of the drug test against known samples (this is when you send a lab samples that you know have the drug and that you know are clean, and ideally you don't tell the lab ahead of time that you are checking it), and the proportion of all drugs tests that return negative results.

Sadly journalists seem totally unaware of these details and the statistics are never reported. I fear a number of athletes' careers have been ruined by bad luck, indeed if enough drug-tests are taken then we can be sure that statistically some athletes' careers will be ruined by two false positive test results. This is not to say that drug-testing in sports is therefore wrong, the benefits of reducing drug use may outweigh the costs of randomly ruining the odd athletic career. But if so then the sports managers should make it clear that it is very possible that these athletes did absolutely nothing wrong, and they are simply being sacrificed to the more important goal of keeping drugs out.

I first learned of this from a FRS ad running on the WSJ Health Blog. I've just ordered some to investigate the composition of the products but I'm concerned about the high content of quercetin.

How sad. Lance could end up causing more deaths this way than he saves thru his cancer foundation.