Mike Adams brings home the crazy over, of all things, the Caduceus

I have a love-hate relationship with Mike Adams.

Mike Adams, regular readers of this blog, is the "intellectual force" between that repository of quackery and sheer lunacy, NaturalNews.com. I hate him because he is a vile human being who cheerfully promotes bogus therapies on his website. (You know, I think we skeptics should borrow Simon Singh's phraseology at every opportunity.) He's also an opportunistic ghoul who never, ever misses an opportunity to take advantage of a celebrity who's suffering from or dying of cancer to make breathlessly hysterical claims that they would have lived if they had just listened to him and gone for "natural" methods instead of "burning and poisoning." He did it with Tony Snow, who died of colorectal cancer. He did it with Christina Applegate, whose choice to undergo bilateral mastectomy for her breast cancer and her possessing a gene that put her at very high risk for further breast cancer he termed "maiming." Particularly despicable was his use and abuse of Patrick Swayze's battle with pancreatic cancer to criticize him for having said he would not undergo "alternative" therapy because, if woo-meisters could actually cure cancer they'd be famous and rich. Indeed, he even claimed that Swayze could still live if he gave up conventional medicine and went with "natural" treatments. Basically, there's no crazy too nutty and no depth to which Mike Adams will not sink in the service of promoting quackery.

On the other hand, in a perverse way, I love Mike Adams for basically the same reasons. His website and utterances are an endless source of blog fodder. His website is such a target-rich environment, so full of teachable moments about pseudoscience, logical fallacies, quackery, and just sheer illogic, that I sometimes think that I owe him a cut of all the filthy lucre I get from Seed for blogging here. (It ought to be enough to buy him a case of beer, anyway, and seeing what a drunk Mike Adams could come up with might just be worth the chance that he'd instead take the proceeds and invest it into his website.) Now he's gone and done it again. Get a load of this article called The Caduceus Decoded: Secret Symbols Reveal Dark Agenda of Western Medicine. To read it is to see into the mind of a true crank who sees dark conspiracies in a single symbol and extrapolates and speculates beyond all reason. Not surprisingly, Adams dives deep into the woo right from the beginning:

The Caduceus, it turns out, was a staff carried by the Greek god Hermes. Hermes is best known as the messenger of the gods, but he is also well known as the protector of liars, gamblers and thieves. He's also prominently known as the guide of the dead.

According to Wikipedia, the name of the staff, Caduceus, is adapted from the Greek word kerukeion, which means "herald's wand" -- the staff of the public messenger. It's related to the words kerux and kerusso, which pertain to someone who announces information to the public.

From a Biblical point of view, the two serpents on the staff are, of course, symbols of evil and deception. There is a Greek myth about the two serpents on the staff which states that Tiresias found two snakes copulating and he beat to death the female snake with his staff.

So far, then, we have a staff carried by the Greek god Hermes, a protector of liars and thieves (who is also the guide of the dead), named as a staff or wand related to announcing information to the public, encircled by two serpents representing evil, and tied to yet another Greek myth about the female being beat to death.

This is the symbol of modern-day western medicine.

Wow. Just wow. I tip my hat to Adams. No one--I mean no one--can focus on a single object or single observation and then go straight off into the stratosphere of woo with no concern for anything other than his own fantasyland, in which conventional medicine is always evil and "alternative" medicine is always "natural," pure, and good.

Does he have a point, though? What do you think? Of course he doesn't. The story of the Caduceus is actually far more mundane than the conspiracies percolating within Adams' fevered brain. In fact, the symbol of medicine is the rod of Aesculapius, the Greek god of medicine. Since Adams apparently can't read the very Wikipedia article he cites as "evidence" for the evil background of medicine's chosen symbol, the Caduceus, I'll point out this passage:

But widespread confusion regarding the supposed medical significance of the caduceus appears to have arisen as a result of events in the United States in the 19th century.[21] It had appeared on the chevrons of Army hospital stewards as early as 1856.[22] In 1902 it was added to the uniforms of Army medical officers. This was brought about by one Captain Reynolds,[23] who after having the idea rejected several times by the Surgeon General, persuaded the new incumbent --Brig. Gen. William H. Forwood -- to adopt it. The inconsistency was noticed several years later by the librarian to the Surgeon General, but the symbol was not changed.[21] In 1901 the French periodical of military medicine was named La Caducée. The caduceus was formally adopted by the Medical Department of the United States Army in 1902.[21] After World War I the caduceus was employed as an emblem by both the Army Medical Department and the Navy Hospital Corps. Even the American Medical Association used the symbol for a time, but in 1912, after considerable discussion, the caduceus was abandoned by the AMA and the rod of Asclepius was adopted instead.

In other words, amusingly enough, the widespread use of the Caduceus as a symbol of medicine appears to be mainly due to confusion between the rod of Aesculapius and the Caduceus by the U.S. Army. It also apparently didn't help that the Caduceus was often used as a printer's mark that frequently appeared on medical textbooks. True, the symbols do appear similar. The Caduceus consists of two snakes entwined around a herald's staff, often with wings at the top, while the rod of Aesculapius consists of a single snake entwined around a staff. While the Caduceus is indeed associated with the Greek god Hermes, the rod of Aesculapius is an ancient symbol of astrology, healing, and, above all, the god of medicine. It's not generally agreed what the symbolism of the serpent means, but as good a description as any comes from Cornutus, a philosopher in the first century CE, in the Theologiae Graecae Compendium:

Asclepius derived his name from healing soothingly and from deferring the withering that comes with death. For this reason, therefore, they give him a serpent as an attribute, indicating that those who avail themselves of medical science undergo a process similar to the serpent in that they, as it were, grow young again after illnesses and slough off old age; also because the serpent is a sign of attention, much of which is required in medical treatments. The staff also seems to be a symbol of some similar thing. For by means of this it is set before our minds that unless we are supported by such inventions as these, in so far as falling continually into sickness is concerned, stumbling along we would fall even sooner than necessary.[10]

One thought for how the Caduceus became associated with medicine is that Hermes became associated with alchemy. Even so, despite the generally accepted view that the rod of Aesculapius is more appropriate as the symbol of medicine, the Caduceus is at least as popular, if not more so, for this use. In any case, the predominance of the Caduceus over the rod of Aesculapius appears to be one of those bizarre twists of history that just happened because of the similarity of two symbols. History is full of little oddities like that.

But, true to form, Adams can't accept that. In the world of Adams, nothing is due to chance. Everything is due to dire forces or happens as a byproduct of an endless battle between the forces of good (him and the quacks he supports) and evil (conventional medicine and any skeptic with the temerity to point out that there is no evidence for the various modalities that Adams advocates). A perfect example of this thinking is the next passage, which is over the top in terms of its nonsense quotient, even by Mike Adams standards:

That the two snakes representing evil would encircle the staff of public announcement could be an indication that the purpose of the staff is to announce evil (the propaganda of western medicine). At the same time, the mythological carrier of the staff is the protector of liars and thieves (the drug promoters and drug companies).

Once you understand the symbology, it becomes quite evident that this prominent symbol of western medicine was not chosen by chance: It sends a powerful subconscious message, much like the symbols of secret societies used on dollar bills, for example (the all-seeing eye floating above the pyramid on the back of the dollar bill). It might even be said that, through the repetition of this symbol which adorns the most important documents and texts used in the medical schools, doctors are, in a very true sense, being continuously indoctrinated with the powerful symbols of evil and death.

Once these impressionable young doctors graduate from their medical schools, they are given the tools of death to "treat" patients: Chemotherapy poisons, toxic pharmaceuticals, scalpels and radiation machines. They slice off women's breasts and call it "cancer prevention." They poison children's brains with chemicals and call it "medicine." They damage and destroy key organs like the heart, liver, kidneys and brain through the forced application of toxic chemotherapy agents, sometimes at gunpoint (as with the case of Daniel Hauser).

For those of my readers who are physicians, I don't know about you, but I didn't even know about the confusion between the rod of Aesculapius and the Caduceus when I was in medical school or residency. In fact, I had no clue about this confusion until fairly recently. (I know, I know, I'm supposed to know everything about these sorts of things.) When I look at the Caduceus, I'm not thinking about any of the things Adams apparently thinks physicians think about. Of course, I'm sure that Adams' retort would be that the indoctrination is subconscious; so obviously I wouldn't be aware of it--because, you know, the symbols of evil that represent the medical profession are just that powerful. But, then, I am a tool of the medical-industrial establishment who openly mocks Mike Adams. So what else would you expect me to say?

In any case, if you really want to know just how far into conspiracy woo-woo land Adams had forged ahead, all you have to do is to consider what sources he uses to support his claims that medicine is infused with evil symbolism that is perfect for its supposedly corrupt mission. If you haven't read the full article yet, stop for a moment and take a guess.

OK, I'll tell you:

That's right: David Icke's lizard men and the two most insane conspiracy theory, anti-"New World Order" websites out there. Rense.com also has the lovely distinction of being chock full of Holocaust denial, with articles such as The Twenty Victories of [Holocaust] Revisionism, links to the Holocaust denial video series One Third of the Holocaust, and to a video claiming that Treblinka was not a death camp. Add to that antivaccine propaganda, Chemtrails, and crop circles and alien abductions, and I can see how Rense.com is a perfect source for Mike Adams. It's totally crank magnetism in action. Indeed, one could look at NaturalNews.com and easily see it as the Rense.com or Prison Planet of medical blogs. Indeed, NaturalNews.com is to medicine what Rense.com is to the Holocaust.

So what is Adams' alternative symbol? Why, all natural images of nature, of course. Because, you know, nothing in nature could ever cause disease, only those nasty Western scientific synthetic chemicals.

When I read Mike Adams, even now, years after I first discovered the nuttiness that is NaturalNews.com (formerly NewsTarget.com), I still marvel. How one man can pack so much quackery, pseudoscience, and illogic, along with so many logical fallacies into his mind and not have it melt down from the assault, I don't know. Unfortunately, I don't need to know, and, even more unfortunately, Mike Adams looks as though he'll be around spewing his quackery for a long time to come.

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I dunno. I can't reconcile the image of Western Medicine as nefarious, evil and conspiracy-laden with the use of the caduceus, which is such an obvious target for the trenchant minds over at naturalnews.com.

If deliberate intent was involved, wouldn't the mainstream bad guys have chosen a symbol like two perky kittens dancing around a maypole?

By Dangerous Bacon (not verified) on 26 Jun 2009 #permalink

Ah, but Dangerous Bacon, this is one of the laws of the universe. Conspiracies have to encode things in public symbols so that it is obvious to those in the know. It is only the rubes who are kept in the dark. A corollary to this is the fact that super-villians will always monolog and give the hero a chance to foil the plot.

Isn't a snake a 'natural' image? I mean, it is an animal. For that matter, the image of serpent = evil is a very Judeo-Christian belief. Pre-Christian Greeks wouldn't necessarily hold to that.

I think I did learn about the caduceus and rod of Aesculapius from mythology, since I read a lot of mythology books in middle school. I used to smile whenever someone used the 'correct' rod-with-snake symbol in media. (Heck, ScienceBlogs uses the rod as its 'Medicine & Health' symbol at the bottom of this post.)

By Becca Stareyes (not verified) on 26 Jun 2009 #permalink

I recall, when I was going through medical school, being too tired to care about ancient symbols that had been associated with the craft.

I do remember leaving out a few words of the Hippocratic oath, another ancient symbol that no longer has bearing on the modern world.

(I'm pretty sure I wasn't turned to the dark side, though. I think I would have remembered that.)

With the small amount of free time I have had since, though, I have done some serious study of the history of medicine and the symbology of the ancient world.

Snakes were never evil. Not until the Christians reinterpreted the Eden story without the true pagan symbolism, anyway.

Snakes, as Orac points out, were symbols of reinvention, reincarnation, and immortality. They were also used to represent wisdom, as their multiple lives brought them more and more knowledge.

No wonder they were used on Aesculapius's staff.

By Leslie Haber (not verified) on 26 Jun 2009 #permalink

Anyone who uses the Bible as source material for validating symbols is automatically laughed into oblivion. Being overly religious, demonstrating overt paranoia, attributing significance to symbols, regression; these are all symptoms of mental illness. Maybe someone will call a mental health intervention for Mr. Adams soon.

i've seen speculation that the snakes-around-a-stick concept might have been somehow connected with the treatment for guinea worm. not sure how likely that is, but it doesn't seem entirely unreasonable to me; both the disease and its treatment would have been well known in antiquity, and if a worm isn't exactly a snake, the guinea worm's nickname --- "fiery serpent" --- is at least quite old.

By Nomen Nescio (not verified) on 26 Jun 2009 #permalink

Things Mike Adams' thinking on the symbol remind me of:

-Shakespeare deniers
-DaVinci Code believers
-"gold fringe on the flag" sovereignty whiners
-the Bible Code
-that backmasking guy who thought "Simone" was some kind of codeword (it was actually "enormous" pronounced backwards in various political speeches)

Crank magnetism in action...

The Law of Fives is a powerful thing. I wonder what Mr. Adams sees when he looks at the simple Red Cross symbol. Probably something to do with lots of blood and a branding iron.

I think Mike Adams should publicly commit never, under any circumstances, to avail himself of traditional science-based medicine. Should be be in a car crash, or develop diabetes, or catch an infections disease, he should commit in advance not to see a surgeon, take insulin or antibiotics. He could then see how far herbs and reiki and homeopathy take him.

As far as I know, the caduceus in history didn't have wings. It seems that the wings are an American addition. I'm not sure how important the wings are to Mikes Adams' thesis.

By killinchy (not verified) on 26 Jun 2009 #permalink

It should also be noted that the caduceus is part of the insignia for the US Public Health Service. Looking into the history of the USPHS, you will find that the caduceus was chosen because of its connection with commerce and not because of anyone's error in assuming it was a medical symbol. Among the USPHS's first duties was care of the merchant seaman and quarantine of ongoing vessels. Hence, the "commerce" connection. On the insignia, the caduceus is matched with an anchor, in this case a "fouled" anchor, symbolizing the seaman in distress. Similarly, the colors of the USPHS (blue and yellow) were chosen to recognize the connection with the sea and the yellow flag of quarantine.

Don't forget the eeeeeeevil conspiracy of Big Pharma and Monsanto to make everyone fat in America and then consider the "oath" that all the lizard-alien-trained "doctors" swear to . . . the Hippocratic Oath. Notice that it begins with "hippo" and hippos are fat. Just sayin' . . .

Sidebar: I am now adding Monsanto to Godwin's law. When some wingnut resorts to portraying Monsanto as all things evil, they fail as surely if they invoked H*^ler.

Ignoring the serpent imagery (since I'm PRETTY sure the Greeks did not associate snakes with evil), is he suggesting that Western Medicine, as a monolithic entity, selected this symbol because they knew they were liars and felt it would be very clever to present themselves as such?

They wouldn't pick something a little more, y'know... subtle? Something that doesn't subvert their entire plot should ANYONE familiar with mythology encounter them?


The part about the female being beaten to death is especially relevant, given how our male-dominated western medical system considers virtually all female physiology to be disease (pregnancy, menstruation, etc.). Women are treated like animals in many ways, through endless breast cancer screening and mandatory HPV vaccines. Female organs are considered useless or disease-ridden, such as when hysterectomies are performed to remove women's "hysteria" (madness). That's where the name "hysterectomy" actually comes from, of course.

This paragraph has to be my favorite WTF??!! part of the article. Pregnancy is a disease? "Mandatory" HPV vaccines? Female organs are "useless" and "disease-ridden"?


Oh, and by the way Health RangerCrazy Mike, the root of the word "hysterectomy" is Greek--hystera, meaning womb, and ektomia, "cutting out of" (Source: Wikipedia amongst others).

"Hystera" is the root of both hysterectomy and hysteria. Early on it was thought that signs of anxiety, etc in women was caused by the uterus wandering around in her body, therefore "hysteria."

@AZSkeptic: Well, at one point it was thought the womb was what caused women to be hysterical. Several hundred years ago. The very age of medicine these nutjobs want us returned to. You know, when we can go to the doctor without having to worry about all those effective pills and poisons and instead have our humours balanced along with a health boosting mercury enema.

Doctors making people do things at gunpoint is an interesting idea. "If you don't take the full course of those antibiotics I gave you, you know what I have to do."
Tobacco companies would be out of business within a week.

By JThompson (not verified) on 26 Jun 2009 #permalink

Sadly, it appears to be out of print, but I'll recommend it anyway: Thomas Disch's terrific horror novel "The M.D.". Read it and you'll never think of the Caduceus in quite the same way again.

(Camp Concentration is Disch's best book with a medical theme, but I don't recall any mention of a Caduceus in it.)

Mike's "article" on the caduceus reads like a bad rephrasing of the premise behind "The DaVinci Code" or "National Treasure". It might make good fiction if the plot line were fleshed out a bit, but it's a "dead parrot" as far as showing anything about real modern medicine.

Seriously, the idea that the caduceus - which isn't a symbol of modern or ancient medicine, as you pointed out - has anything to do with medicine is simply laughable. Next, Mike will start "deconstructing" the old Procter and Gamble logo or the artwork on the British Pound and Euro.


You skipped the best part, where he rants and raves about medical science treating women like livestock, what with those routine mammograms and HPV vaccinations, and decides that "hysterectomy" must be derived from "hysteria" (madness) rather than, you know, sharing a common root.

So its not the cancer we were getting rid of, it was the crazy. Got it.

It sends a powerful subconscious message, much like the symbols of secret societies used on dollar bills, for example (the all-seeing eye floating above the pyramid on the back of the dollar bill). It might even be said that, through the repetition of this symbol which adorns the most important documents and texts used in the medical schools, doctors are, in a very true sense, being continuously indoctrinated with the powerful symbols of evil and death.

Wouldn't this subconscious indoctrination depend upon the medical student:

1) Knowing both that the Caduceus is the symbol of Hermes, and that Hermes is the god of liars and thieves.

2) Believing that snakes are evil.

Not many people know #1, and not everyone thinks #2.

By Matthew Cline (not verified) on 26 Jun 2009 #permalink

Dude, I just hate that time of the month when my uterus starts wandering...on another note he reminds me of a woman I once knew who was a homeopathy shill, she really believed in the power of crystals allow her to get in 'harmony' with the universe. Instead of just buying a large geode or something she made herself her own "Crystal Cave" with misc. crystals glue & chicken wire. She threw in some dolphins & pyramids for good measure & was so proud of it she sent pictures to all the people she knew. To this day my husband & I refer to Woo-meisters as crystal-cave makers.

Sound like Mike Adams has combined his new age insistence on 'natural' medicine with Jordan Maxwell's focus on symbolism and conspiracy.

The woomeisters, conspiracists, denialists and cranks are cross-pollinating and recombining their irrationality. Creating mighty black holes of crazy that suck in the credulous and careless. And, of course, almost all of them will sell you a book, CD or DVD. Even the cranks have to eat I guess but many of them make pretty good money hawking nonsense, often deadly nonsense, to the gullible.


The surface looks almost legitimate, perhaps even academic to the uneducated but dig down a little bit and there are vast wellsprings of crazy underneath. You might want to add him to your list.

OT, but please Orac, rip apart the latest crap from Mercola:


"We now know that if you can get your vitamin D levels up to about 60-80 ng/ml, it will virtually eliminate your risk of breast cancer."

This is but one of the dangerous gems from his latest spew.

I know you will be preaching to the converted here, but I so love to cut-and-paste your scientific rebuttals to this rubbish for the Mercola fans I know!

Once more Adams brings the crazy.
I suppose next time he'll be telling us that the Susan B Anthony dollar was a sign of American disdain for women, and that we can send him all our Susan B Anthony dollars so as to get the bad karma off our hands. Hey wait... I could do this!
Send me your dollar coins, they're bad karma!

Adams seems to have skipped over the part where after killing the snake Tiresias is cursed for seven years to live as a woman. Only breaking the curse after, depending on the source, leaving the next pair of snakes he sees copulating alone, smashing both of the snakes under his feet, or killing only the male snake.

That would seem to me to blunt his whole reference about medicine's relation to women.

Hermes is more accurately a pscyhopomp, a guide of souls into or through the afterlife, not a "guide of the dead;" more like a "guardian angel" than Charon. Also a patron of writing, invention, and wit, all of which seem appropriate for physicians or anyone. As the god of boundaries, he has influence in literal and metaphorical ways for those undergoing change or transformation which also seems a good association for medicine.

His later conflation with Thoth into Hermes Trismegistus (Thrice-Great Hermes)only emphasizes his role as a bringer to and of wisdom in all branches of human knowledge.

Typical silly equation of anything "pagan" with evil. The great myths and mythic figures can all be useful as psychological and emotional metaphors because all myths are reflections of humanity. But as Campbell said, letting myth petrify into dogma is a disaster.

Boy, this sounds pompous. I recently re-read Robertson Davies' The Cunning Man which makes some very sharp observations about medicine (among other things) and is very funny besides.

OT, but Davies quotes this doggerel from WWII (sing it to the tune of "Colonel Bogey"):

Hitler has only got one ball,
Goering has two but very small,
Himmler has something similar,
But poor Goebbels has no balls at all.

And so to bed.

By Faithful Reader (not verified) on 27 Jun 2009 #permalink

Wow ... how ... stupid. Well, he did manage to get one thing right - the caduceus was associated with Hermes/Mercury, not to mention the rainbow god 'Iris' (which means rainbow) who predates Hermes.

But what's the point - whether it's a caduceus, the rod of Asclepius, or a unicorn, what difference does it make? I guess it may matter to people who see a satanic design in the logo of Procter and Gamble.

Homeopathy and other quackery deserve a symbol of their own; I would propose a snake in the grass, but that would be an insult to snakes. How about a large splattered pelican poo to represent quackery? Or a cowpat? Any other suggestions?

By MadScientist (not verified) on 27 Jun 2009 #permalink

Man, he really doesn't get Hellenic mythology. Hermes' job as a psychopomp was absolutely vital - if he wasn't there to guide shades into the underworld, they'd get lost. Nobody wants a bunch of lost shades wandering around, making nuisances of themselves, unable to rest. He was performing an important public service, not... whatever Adams thinks he was doing.

If deliberate intent was involved, wouldn't the mainstream bad guys have chosen a symbol like two perky kittens dancing around a maypole?

Yeah, really! Why is it that conspiracy theorists seem to think that the puppetmasters of the most massive, evil, secretive, successful conspiracies in the entire world would want to put a symbol of their evilness in plain sight???

News flash: If you betray the hidden agenda of your secret conspiracy in a public symbol, it's not going to be a secret conspiracy for long.


I have discovered the hidden agenda of NaturalNews.com. It turns out, NaturalNews.com is a hidden conspiracy to give everyone explosive diarrhea! It's true!

How can I tell? Well, NaturalNews is an anagram for "wet anal runs". Could it be any more obvious??

Ah, but Dangerous Bacon, this is one of the laws of the universe. Conspiracies have to encode things in public symbols so that it is obvious to those in the know. It is only the rubes who are kept in the dark.

And as we all know, Evil Symbols have so much power that they will subvert you even if you have absolutely no idea what they are supposed to mean. So the rubes will be subverted without even knowing. Just by looking at them.

(Virtual headscratching here.)

Ronald Hutton, who wrote a history of modern witchcraft (Triumph of the Moon, excellent book, busts a lot of myths) observed that the most common question he was asked while working on the book was, "Do their spells really work?" -- asked by people who seemed to consider it quite conceivable that they did. Says a lot about an all too common mindset of the 21st century...