Laetrile: Everything old is new again, or at least Eric Merola hopes so

Remember our old buddy Eric Merola? He's the guy who made two—count 'em—two crappy, conspiracy-laden, misinformation-ridden, astonishingly bad bits of "great man" propaganda disguised as documentaries about a Houston cancer doctor peddling unproven cancer treatments and charging his patients tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars for the privilege of being under his care while receiving this magic elixir, known as antineoplastons. Believe it or not, this post is not going to be about Stanislaw Burzynski, although it will be about Eric Merola's latest project.

Over the last several months, ever since he unleashed Burzynski: The Sequel on an unprepared and uninterested world, Merola has been hinting about his next project. Given Merola's involvement in Zeitgeist: The Movie and his primary role in throwing together two hack propaganda pieces that were so blatantly worshipful of Burzynski that Leni Riefenstahl, were she still alive and able to see them, would have told Merola to cool it with the overheated hero worship and portrayal of his movie's subject as a god-man a bit, I knew his next movie would be more of the same. I also knew it would not be about Burzynski. What it would be about, specifically, remained a mystery, however.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday afternoon, the YouTube channel for Merola's movie, Second Opinion: Laetrile at Sloan-Kettering dropped four (!) trailers on an unsuspecting (and even more uninterested) world. My first reaction was: Did I read that right? Laetrile? Seriously? That's so...1970s! My second reaction to reading that was...was...


I really must thank Mr. Merola for the best laugh I've had all week. I've been really, really busy working on grants this week, and it's been really frustrating to try to get all the paperwork and sections from co-investigators together. I needed that. I guess Merola must need a new conspiracy, his having so totally had his posterior handed to him over and over and over again over Stanislaw Burzynski. One wonders if Burzynski is about to lose his very own personal Leni Riefenstahl. Hey, if Burzynski and Merola can Godwin the skeptics critical of Burzynski, I can return the favor, at least in jest. Besides, the comparing Merola to Leni Riefenstahl does a profound disservice—to Leni Riefenstahl. After all, Leni Riefenstahl had serious talent, as vile as the cause to which she dedicated her talent was. Eric Merola? Not so much.

But let's take a look at the trailers. I must admit, Merola's production values are a bit better than they were. At least that robotic-sounding announcer doesn't appear to be there anymore, although the cheesy music is, as are the annoyingly artificial, film school artsy camera angles, overcooked for straight documentary interviews, are still there. In the first one we see:

Is that who I thought it was? Yes, yes indeed it is! It's Ralph Moss, for whom no cancer quackery, it seems, is too quacky. He's also known as the foremost promoter of Laetrile. He's been pushing it since the 1970s, complete with an obviously nonsensical conspiracy theory about how the leadership at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), where he worked as a medical writer. Back then, Laetrile was the biggest cancer quackery going, way, way bigger than anything Stanislaw Burzynski had done, bigger than just about any bogus cancer therapy I can think of. You can see it from the NEWSWEEK cover from the period at the beginning of the clip, which proclaims that perhaps 70,000 Americans with cancer had crossed the border to Mexican quack clinics (well, it didn't use that word, but it's accurate) to get Laetrile.

At least Merola got it right to describe Moss as a science writer at MSKCC. Depending on when he's telling it, Moss has—shall we say?—inflated his credentials. For instance, in his book The Cancer Industry, Moss apparently represented himself as assistant director of public affairs, implying that that executive-level position made him privy to the innermost workings of MSKCC. It turns out that he was nothing more than, as Merola reports, a science writer, being employed at MSKCC from 1974 to 1977 and receiving a "summary discharge." (In other words, he was fired. In fact, he was fired the day after Second Opinion was trumpeted to the public, as this summary of the incident from 1977 published in Science describes.) His position was characterized as "ranked at the lower end of the pay scale." In other words, it strains credibility to believe that he could really have known much, if anything, about the high level machinations he claims to know about. None of this stops him from spinning a tale of suppression of research by the powers-that-were at MSKCC to hide evidence that Laetrile was active against cancer, going so far as to say that all the leaders of MSKCC who stated that there was no evidence that Laetrile (or, to be more scientifically accurate, amygdalin) had significant anticancer were lying, accusing them of a cover-up. Why would MSKCC want to cover up evidence of a highly effective cancer treatment? As is the case with Burzynski, it's never explained convincingly.

In any case, it's claimed that Moss and a group of employees from MSKCC "leaked" documents "proving" that Laetrile/amygdalin, who supposedly wrote a report "blowing the whistle" about the coverup. If these clips are to be judged, it's going to be another hilarious bit of paranoid conspiracy mongering. Particularly amusing is this clip:

What was your reaction when you watched this? (Seriously. Watch it. It's less than 2 minutes.) First, we have the unlikely tale of Moss meeting with all the top administrators of the Sloan-Kettering Institute to find out their views on Laetrile. Next, we're treated to a bizarre story in which Moss claims to have met with Lloyd J. Old, MD, the vice-president of the Sloan-Kettering Institute at the time. Dr. Old is claimed to have said to Moss: "You want to know where we get all of our new ideas?" Old supposedly handed Moss a book, saying, "Here, this is the Bible." That book, allegedly, was the American Cancer Society's book, Unproven Methods of Cancer Management. (Sadly, it's a book the American Cancer Society no longer publishes.) Basically, it was a list of cancer quackery, a compendium of brief articles the ACS published in its journal from the 1950s to the early 1990s describing modalities considered to be cancer quackery (although even then the ACS didn't use that word), with brief explanations and reviews of the evidence showing why they were quackery.

My first thought was that Moss was full of crap. But then I wondered. Is it possible that Dr. Old might have been having a little fun with a clearly gullible young science writer who had probably by that time developed a reputation around MSKCC for believing in Laetrile, that he might have been pulling a credulous young writer's leg, and messing with him a bit? I wonder. Certainly the story doesn't sound particularly convincing, but if something like that did happen, I can totally picture Moss falling for a prank like that hook, line, and sinker. Who knows? As an aside, I happen to have collected quite a number of articles from the ACS Unproven Methods list. Some of this stuff I hadn't heard of before. One of these days I'll have to march through parts of the list. However, I did find the last entry on Laetrile in the list, published in 1991, to be most helpful for this post.

Next up is another clip:

Now it's not enough that Moss claims to have been buddies with the vice president of the Sloan-Kettering Institute. According to him, he was also buddies with Robert Good, MD, the president of the Institute himself. If Moss is to be believed, he was discussing writing a book with Dr. Good. Whether you believe this or not, Moss tells of an incident of scientific fraud that occurred that Dr. Good had to deal with, in which a researcher named William Summerlin working for him. This was a very famous case of scientific fraud in the 1970s, in which Summerlin convinced people that he could transplant skin from black mice onto white mice. If true, this would have been a major breakthrough because of the difficulty in getting transplants from genetically unrelated organisms to "take." Supposedly, Summerlin accomplished this feat by culturing the skin in special solutions. In reality, he used black ink markers to darken the fur. It's hard to believe anyone could get away with a trick that simple and obvious, but for a while Summerlin did, all while working for Dr. Good, who, impressed with his work, became his mentor and saw to his promotion. Ultimately Summerlin was found out, and the story made national news. (Indeed, an excerpt from a news report on the incident by Walter Cronkite himself is included in the clip above.) Moss says that this scandal broke the same day he learned he was getting a job at the Sloan-Kettering Institute. I suppose he tells this story to imply that Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center played fast and loose with science at the time. He denies it, and maybe Moss didn't intend it that way, but you can be sure that Merola did.

So why, according to Merola, did Moss go on to become a Laetrile warrior and hardcore promoter of unproven "alternative" medicine? (Excuse me, that's redundant.) Here is the blurb:

One of his first assignments was to write a biography about Dr. Kanematsu Sugiura, one of the Center’s oldest and leading research scientists as well as the original co-inventor of chemotherapy.

While meeting with this iconic scientist to pen a biography on his 60-year career at Sloan-Kettering, Moss discovered that Sugiura had been studying this “quack remedy” in laboratory mice, and with unexpectedly positive results. Shocked and bewildered, Moss reported back to his superiors what he had discovered, only to be met with backlash and denial from Sloan-Kettering’s leaders on what their own leading scientist had found.

Fueled by respect and admiration for Sugiura—Ralph W. Moss attempted to publicize the truth about Sugiura’s findings. And after all diplomatic approaches failed, Moss lived a double life, working as a loyal employee at Sloan-Kettering while also recruiting fellow employees to help anonymously leak this information to the American public—through a newly formed underground organization they called—“Second Opinion”.

There's no doubt that Dr. Sugiura was a pioneer in chemotherapy research. (His obituary was published in Cancer Research, and, trust me, they don't do that for just any cancer researcher.) Were it not for his involvement in Laetrile research in the mid-1970s, people like Moss and Merola would revile him as one of the people who contributed to the "poisoning" of patients.

Here's also where other sources were useful, because a lot of what's on Merola's website is the same old sorts of misinformation that he previously used in the service of Burzynski. The negative clinical trials were rigged not to work. He claims Laetrile "tested positively" in preclinical studies but that those results were covered up. Dr. Sugiura's work was claimed to have been suppressed, causing Moss to form his "Second Opinion" group, which ultimately got him fired from Sloan-Kettering. At least, it sounds as though he were fired; it's not clear. Whatever the case, it's the same old conspiracy tropes that one finds swirling around Burzynski and his unproven cancer treatments. No wonder Merola was attracted to the topic. Of course, Laetrile was studied. It didn't work.

So what about the "positive" results?

First, what is Laetrile, which is often interchangeably called amygdalin or "vitamin B-17," even though it's not a vitamin? Basically, "Laetrile" is the trade name for laevo-mandelonitrile-beta-glucuronoside, a substance allegedly synthesized by Ernst T. Krebs, Jr. in the 1920s. It's chemically related to amygdalin, a substance found naturally in the pits of apricots and various other fruits. Again, most proponents of Laetrile for the treatment of cancer use the terms "Laetrile" and amygdalin interchangeably. Apparently amygdalin was tried as an anticancer agent as early as 1892, but was abandoned because it was ineffective and toxic, because it can break down into glucose, benzaldehyde, and hydrogen cyanide. (Yes, that cyanide.)

Like a lot of cancer quackery, the rationale for Laetrile has shifted over the decades. In the 1950s, Kreb claimed that cancer tissues are rich in an enzyme that causes amygdalin to release cyanide, which would destroy the cancer cells. Supposedly noncancerous tissues are protected by another enzyme. (Yeah, right.) Later, Krebs claimed that Laetrile/amygdalin is a vitamin (B17) and, of course, cancer is due to a deficiency in that particular vitamin. Other claims have shifted, from Laetrile being a cancer cure to being able to "control" cancer to being a cancer "preventative." I see this in Merola's website, where in one passage he claims that the reason the clinical trial in the 1980s showed no anti-cancer activity due to Laetrile is because it arrests cancer growth and shouldn't be expected to work in advanced cancer. (Funny, the quacks in Tijuana never had any problem claiming Laetrile could cure advanced cancer.) I also note a great similarity with how evidence for antineoplastons is presented. For example, check out this story from the article on Laetrile on Quackwatch about Dr. Ernesto Contreras, one of the most—shall we say?—most active Laetrile doctors in history who ran a clinic in Tijuana in the 1970s:

By 1974, Dr. Contreras stated that he was seeing 100-120 new patients per month, with many more patients returning to obtain additional Laetrile. Patients typically were charged $150 for a month's supply. Contreras acknowledged that few of his cancer patients were "controlled" with Laetrile. While admitting that 40% of the patients displayed no response, he claimed that 30% showed "most definite responses" to the drug. However, these statistics may not be reliable. In 1979, he claimed to have treated 26,000 cancer cases in 16 years. Yet when asked by the FDA to provide his most dramatic examples of success, Contreras submitted only 12 case histories. Six of the patients had died of cancer, one had used conventional cancer therapy, one had died of another disease after the cancer had been removed surgically, one still had cancer, and the other three could not be located [5].

The National Cancer Institute carried out a retrospective case review of case records of patients treated with Laetrile by practitioners all over the country in 1978. There were 67 case records submitted as "best cases." Of these, the NCI could find evidence of a possible complete response in only two patients and of a partial response in four. Other reviews of case histories presented as the "best evidence" for Laetrile (such as this one) found no convincing evidence that it might have anticancer activity in humans.

The final nail in the coffin of Laetrile (unfortunately not the final nail in the coffins of Laetrile patients) was a clinical trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1982, along with an accompanying editorial. Merola, not surprisingly, doesn't like this trial and disingenuously criticizes it:

As explained in “Chapter 4″ of the “DVD Extras” of this project, the human clinical trials conducted were not designed based upon standard protocol by designing the human trials around the previous successful animal studies, which showed that Laetrile prevented cancer, stopped it’s ability to spread, and relieved pain. Instead, they chose patients who had exhausted all previous forms of therapy, and gave them Laetrile. The average survival time for these patients in the Laetrile studies was only 4.8 months.

They also did not conduct a randomized trial, instead they conducted a non-randomized Phase II study, with no basis for comparison to see how Laetrile fared against chemotherapy and/or radiation. Given that chemotherapy and radiation were unable to help these patients, it would be highly unlikely that Laetrile would have had any positive effect, since Laetrile was only proven in lab studies to prevent cancer and keep it from spreading, when administered in the early stages of cancer. Therefore, it would make sense that Laetrile would be ineffective within a group of late stage cancer patients.

Yes, this was a non-randomized phase II trial, but it was done that way because given the politics of the time it almost certainly couldn't be done any other way, as the accompanying editorial noted that the trial had to "pick its way through a minefield of formidable obstacles." It couldn't be controlled, randomized, or blinded. As Dr. Arnold Relman described:

It avoided ethical objections by giving Laetrile to all patients (with fully informed consent, of course), but selecting as subjects only those for whom there was no known effective treatment or in whom standard treatments had already failed. On the other hand, it blunted the anticipated criticism from the Laetrilists by selecting patients only in good general condition and by including fully a third who had never received chemotherapy or radiotherapy and therefore might be considered particularly good candidates for Laetrile.

Yes, this was very much like trials of quackery like the Gonzalez Therapy, ten years before the founding of the office that would later become the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and 20 years before the travesty of ethics and science known as the Gonzalez trial. In any case, 175 patients with advanced cancer were treated with Laetrile plus a "metabolic" therapy commonly used with Laetrile at the time. To blunt criticisms of the Laetrilists that the investigators weren't using high enough doses, the investigators treated patients with a "standard" Laetrile dose and what they referred to as an "extremely high dose program." The end results showed only one patient who met the criteria for a partial response to therapy, and that sounds as though it wasn't real. The patient had stable tumor size for five weeks, then moved to another location, where his initial tumor measurements met the criteria for partial response. His tumor then progressed. Thus, this was a questionable, transient response. There was no evidence of prolongation of life based on historical controls and no evidence of tumor response, but there were several cases of cyanide toxicity. The bottom line was that there was not a hint of a whiff of any evidence that Laetrile had antitumor activity.

But what about the mouse studies by Dr. Sugiura? Our good friends at the American Cancer Society point out, at least a dozen sets of animal experiments were performed at seven institutions with a variety of transplantable tumors treated with Laetrile from different sources, including from the key organization at the time promoting Laetrile, the McNaughton Foundation. In all experiments that were properly blinded and used objective tumor measurements, there was no evidence of anti-tumor activity due to Laetrile. Then:

In 1975, Laetrile advocacy groups claimed that positive results had been obtained at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Institute. These experiments were not blinded and were based on visual estimation, rather than quantitative measurement, of metastatic growth. Further double-blind experiments that used an objective bioassay for metastatic growth were negative.

That would be this study, which concluded, "we do not have evidence to support taking amygdalin to clinical trial, although other considerations may require that one be conducted." Those "other considerations" were pro-Laetrile activists.

Science published a news/opinion article about Laetrile at MSKCC in 1977 that laid out the history of MSKCC's testing of Laetrile. Some key passages:

Stock makes clear that he does not say Sugiura's results are wrong. But he and Good believe that an important test for choosing between Sugiura's results and his colleagues' was a blind experiment in which the mice were injected by others and Sugiura, who did the pathology, was not told which mice were treated with laetrile and which were the controls. Although the system was the same as that of Sugiura's first six experiments, in this case laetrile turned out to possess no anticancer activity.

If the inference is made that the results with the 14 tumor systems are more likely to be true, Sugiura's results are an anomaly. No immediate explanation is available, but perhaps none is necessary: anomalies are a common feature of the scientific landscape and there is only time to resolve the most interesting.

This is very, very common. Even the best scientists forget that animal experiments should, ideally, be blinded, just as clinical trials are, particularly if measurements are being made that are the least bit subjective, such as a human being counting and estimating the volume of metastases. These days, we have much more objective systems, such as imaging systems that can calculate tumor volume based on volumetric estimates, which make blinding not always as critical. Still, many of these systems rely on humans to judge where the edges of the tumors are; so even then blinding is important. Here's another telling passage, quoting the scientist whose records the Second Opinion Group managed to get a hold of:

Second Opinion charges that Sloan- Kettering has suppressed some results favorable to laetrile. The group has obtained certain data from the files of Elisabeth Stockert, a member of the Sloan- Kettering team, and claims that they show a positive anticancer effect for laetrile. Stock says he did not suppress the results, because he didn't know about them, and would not have included them if he had because they are uninterpretable. Stockert agrees; the study, she says, was not a proper experiment but a preliminary investigation which had to be abandoned when she went to Paris for 5 months.

In other words, Second Opinion cherry picked some preliminary experiments that, according to the Science article, were "uninterpretable," and ignored all the negative experiments.

The bottom line is that our old buddy Eric Merola has once again yoked his horse to a scientific and medical loser, an even bigger loser than Burzynski has been. Laetrile was discredited a long time ago. His complaints about the lack of a randomized clinical trial are, as usual, whining. To get to a good randomized clinical trial, one needs convincing preclinical evidence in the form of cell culture and animal models, for which none existed for Laetrile, and a preliminary clinical trial. Well, the preliminary clinical trial was done, and it was negative. When that happens, in the normal course of drug development, the drug is abandoned; it is not taken to a larger randomized clinical trial. In fact, given the spectacular failure of Laetrile in animal studies and the NEJM clinical trial in 1982, it would be unethical to do another trial.

I do see one purpose that Merola's resurrection of the rotting apricot-scented corpse of Laetrile. Burzynski is currently trying to duplicate the political activism of the Laetrile supporters of the 1970s. Let's hope he doesn't succeed, because the Laetrile activists like Moss came the closest of anyone to persuading Congress to legalize cancer quackery—at least before Senator Tom Harkin persuaded Congress to create NCCAM.


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So... Never published, non-randomized (pre?)clinical trials of Burzynski are enough to call him a brace cancer Maverick, but the Big Cancer is so conspirational for NOT doing the proper trials of Laetrile?

How about making a documentary about Antineoplastons and how they require the properly done and publishedtrials before pushing for the right to administer them to patients?

By The Smith of Lie (not verified) on 19 Feb 2014 #permalink

I wonder if Mercola thinks he is doing his buddy Burzynski a favour, by promoting an entirely different form of quackery which he thinks is even more effective than antineoplastons.

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 19 Feb 2014 #permalink

Dear Herr Doktor,
I wonder if Mercola thinks at all!

Other than of making money, of course, because he doesn't seem to think of ethics.

Oh, and BTW, "Krebs" in German means cancer - no wonder that Mr Krebs dedicated his time to cancer research. Too bad he didn't succeed - but then Krebse = crabs are known for going sideways, not forward.

By Nanea Taylor (not verified) on 19 Feb 2014 #permalink

Well that's amusing. laetrile was thoroughly discredited back in the 80s, and here it is again. I guess it's true, everything old is new again. Or, Quackery is Unkillable, it just pops up somewhere else.

As an English teacher's kid I feel compelled to point out that "disinterested" is a synonym for "unbiased", not "apathetic". As I understand it, "disinterested" means "having no direct stake in the outcome" - it's used a lot by law talking guys.

You probably want "uninterested".

I will now return to my regular programming of bad jokes and the occasional real comment.

By palindrom (not verified) on 20 Feb 2014 #permalink

But wait, I thought ANPs were the "holy grail" of Cancer cures?

Isn't this a conflict of interest?


Where's the "like" button on this thing?

Re: Comments that consist of nothing more than grammar, word usage, or spelling flames.

You do know how much pedants and grammar and writing Nazis annoy me, don't you?

Laetrile was so much in the news in the 1970s that Doonesbury did a story line in 1977 in which Duke and Zonker went to California to buy an apricot farm from a guy named Tony Placebo. It turned out Mr. Placebo had last been seen in that vicinity perpetrating a land fraud, and the alleged apricot farm Duke bought turned out to be nothing but desert.

Point being that when even a comic strip is making fun of your quackery, you should perhaps take that as a sign that you have gone too far. But that was 37 years ago. Maybe Merola didn't remember (or never saw in the first place) that strip. But when Laetrile pops up every now and then, I remember that story line.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 20 Feb 2014 #permalink

Palindrom - as the scientist who usually gets stuck proofreading the papers, I feel your pain...

Ernst T. Krebs, Jr - no relation to Hans Krebs of the Cycle, I suppose?

Thanks for the link to Unproven Methods of Cancer Management - if only that were still an active project...

By Roadstergal (not verified) on 20 Feb 2014 #permalink

OT but are earth-shattering revelations by bragadocious pseudo-scientists ever truly OT @ RI?

Today Mikey says:
Battle for humanity nearly lost: global food supply engineered to end life, not nourish it.

He discovered this in his lab.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 20 Feb 2014 #permalink

Thanks for the link to Unproven Methods of Cancer Management – if only that were still an active project…

You should compare articles in the Unproven Methods of Cancer Management series, published periodically over the years, to what the ACS says about CAM now. It's very sad.

Ernst T. Krebs, Jr – no relation to Hans Krebs of the Cycle, I suppose?

Or Maynard G., I imagine.

@Denice #12:

He discovered this in his lab.

It had fallen down the back of the sofa?

By Rich Woods (not verified) on 20 Feb 2014 #permalink

Doonesbury did a story line in 1977 in which Duke and Zonker went to California to buy an apricot farm from a guy named Tony Placebo

I remember that series of strips. "Maybe you could irrigate it, Duke." "Perhaps. But first I gotta go remove Placebo's lungs."

Of course there are strips from the same period making fun of Jerry Brown as Governor of California.

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 20 Feb 2014 #permalink

Battle for humanity nearly lost: global food supply engineered to end life, not nourish it.

He discovered this in his lab.

And how does one discover something like this in one's lab?</rhetorical>

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 20 Feb 2014 #permalink

Orac, as a longtime reader, I do know how much posts that are nothing but "grammar, word usage, or spelling flames" annoy you, and for that reason II tried to leaven my comment with at least a little wit, and not to make it into a flame.

I wrote because I have tremendous respect and admiration for what you do. Using a word incorrectly can cause some people to give less weight to what you actually have to say. I wrote with the aim of helping you refine your already formidable writing skills, in order to make you even more effective.

By palindrom (not verified) on 20 Feb 2014 #permalink

global food supply engineered to end life, not nourish it.

It only remains to discover that the entire scheme was planned by Ra's al Ghul in one of his attempts to depopulate the planet.

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 20 Feb 2014 #permalink

Mikey wrote:

Battle for humanity nearly lost: global food supply engineered to end life, not nourish it.

I can't but reflect that if the global food industry is trying to kill humanity off, they're doing a spectacularly bad job.

I've often wondered why conspiracy nuts never notice the contradiction in assuming your shadowy enemies are simultaneously devilishly clever and dumb as nails, but I guess if you did see a problem with it you wouldn't become a conspiracy nut in the first place.

By Andreas Johansson (not verified) on 20 Feb 2014 #permalink

Krebs? No relationship to Krebiozen treatments offered by quack doctor Ivy...or to our esteemed colleague here?

Ralphie has been offering "telephone consultations" about cancer treatments:…

"...Could you or a loved one benefit from speaking to an experienced guide who can help you negotiate the rough waters of cancer therapy? Dr. Moss offers phone consultations for 60 minutes for $500. Follow-up consultations to past consultees is 30 minutes for $250. Basically he tries to get to know you as a person, to learn your needs, and what medical experiences you have had. He may then inform you about treatments of which you are unaware, or evaluate decisions you have already made. During your conversation he will help you to narrow your choices to several credible options. His personal knowledge of many of the key practitioners in this field may prove invaluable to you.

Cancer care can be very expensive and patients and their families frequently spend tens of thousands of dollars on treatments. While such money is often well spent, sometimes it is expended on invalid or even fraudulent approaches. Dr. Moss can give you insights into various treatments and their practitioners, in the US and abroad, and can thus provide you with a valuable sounding board on a wide variety of conventional and alternative treatment options. From that perspective, a consultation can save you a considerable amount of time and money...."

A friend who used to work as a Customs Agent at the Mexican border saw the carnage the laetrile clinics in Mexico caused and said it angered and saddened him.

Ernst T. Krebs, Jr – no relation to Hans Krebs of the Cycle, I suppose?

Or Maynard G., I imagine.

Why do I visualize a cross between Maynard G. Krebs and Ernest T. Bass?

By The Very Rever… (not verified) on 20 Feb 2014 #permalink

palindrom: "Orac, as a longtime reader, I do know how much posts that are nothing but “grammar, word usage, or spelling flames” annoy you, and for that reason II tried to leaven my comment with at least a little wit"

"for that reason II tried"? Are there two of you in a Roman sense?

This is an example of Gaudere's Law, which states that posts critical of spelling or grammar errors will themselves inevitably contain spelling or grammar errors. :)

By Dangerous Bacon (not verified) on 20 Feb 2014 #permalink

“for that reason II tried”? Are there two of you in a Roman sense?

Perhaps palindrom is a Rastafarian, and is using an abbreviation for I-and-I.

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 20 Feb 2014 #permalink

Mikey, it appears, has discovered the root cause of the decline and fall of western civilisation- heavy metal
( insert obligatory Metallica joke HERE).

Yes, he's looked at over 1000 foods and supplements and has found that "substances have been intentionally formulated into dietary products to *drive consumers mentally insane* while causing widespread infertility, organ damage and a loss of the ability to engage in rational, conscious thinking".

(Like he'd know what that is).

Bread has yoga mat chemicals for no apparent reason; vitamins have massive amounts of copper which will cause psychosis ( their manufacturers are owned by pharma); foods from China have lead ( and you know what it does).
Leaving people weak, stupid and malleable. Unlike their ancestors of a century ago.

"Is there a covert heavy metal war being waged against America by China?"

He goes on and on: it's truly one of his looniest rants.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 20 Feb 2014 #permalink

#20 "I’ve often wondered why conspiracy nuts never notice the contradiction in assuming your shadowy enemies are simultaneously devilishly clever and dumb as nails, but I guess if you did see a problem with it you wouldn’t become a conspiracy nut in the first place."

Its because they are supervillains. supervillains are always very stupid. this also explains why MSKCC revealed all to the guy above- they were explaining their evil plan to him. probably ha him strapped to a laser table at the time, from which he escaped with the help of the supervillains girlfriend Sufficient Vulva.

By incitatus (not verified) on 20 Feb 2014 #permalink

Something else struck me as I was reading this post: the stranger-than-fiction names of some of the Sloan-Kettering physicians that Mr. Moss claimed to have known. Exhibit #4271 for why I do not try to make a living writing fiction: Dr. Old and Dr. Good. I have no reason to doubt that those actually were their names, but any fictitious characters with those names in those roles would get a manuscript permanently banished to the slush pile.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 20 Feb 2014 #permalink

Could we stop hitting on palindrom? You have to be really talented (and sneaky) to get a pedant remark past Orac. :-)

-lilady (Undisputed Queen Of The Run-On...and On Sentence)

Listen closely to the music in the audio track of the third video clip, and see if you can characterise the emotions each part suggests.

The first music track begins one second into the video.
The second begins at 2 minutes 07 seconds.
The third begins at 2 minutes 49 seconds.

The music provides cues for how Merola wants the viewer to react to what's being presented. Use of music to suggest emotions and attitudes is common technique in film, TV, advertising, and so on, and a common propaganda method.

The pictures of the Merola brothers on the site frankly remind me of two-bit petty crooks, though it may only be the two vertical bars behind Eric, that suggest a prison cell. So they were involved in propagating 9/11 conspiracy theory, eh? Surprising, yet not surprising.

Manipulative bottom-feeders, both of them. 'Bulls---: With Colons' indeed.

Dangerous @24 - My post wasn't critical of grammar or spelling, which I agree are trivial. It was about usage, which is arguably less so.

By palindrom (not verified) on 20 Feb 2014 #permalink

to *drive consumers mentally insane*

It could be worse; the substances could be driving consumers *some other kind* of insane.

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 20 Feb 2014 #permalink

Just wondering, if Merola is now touting Laetrile as
The Best Thing Evar for cancer, why isn't he on his buddy Burzynski's case for not using it? For that matter, why isn't he getting on Moss's case for not promoting The Other Best Thing Evar, Anti-Neoplastons? Why isn't Merola promoting the Gonzales protocol? Or megadose Vitamin C?

Maybe I shouldn't give Merola ideas.

Ralphie has been offering “telephone consultations” about cancer treatments:

According to Quackwatch, Moss's PhD is in Classical Studies. If you want to know how the Ancient Greeks and Romans cured cancer, he's your man!

The Science article I cited in my post confirms that Moss's PhD was not in any biological science, but classical studies.

Maybe I shouldn’t give Merola ideas.

Indeed. Next up: A film about Linus Pauling, orthomolecular medicine, and high dose vitamin C for cancer...

I don't like chewtoys.
Those hanging bags you use for kick boxng are another story.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 20 Feb 2014 #permalink

I prefer The Walrus, myself.

By Pareidolius (not verified) on 20 Feb 2014 #permalink

Orac @33 -- I'll go away, though I don't see that I was digging myself into anything. Words mean things. People judge you by words. I was trying to help. I really don't deserve this.

By palindrom (not verified) on 20 Feb 2014 #permalink

So, I took a late dinner break and I was unable to bring a chew toy, hanging bag or walrus to the party, from the Mother Jones blog.

Our colleague "notation" is having fun with Mr. L. Hubbs on that blog.

@ palindrom: There's really no need to depart. :-)

@ Denice

vitamins have massive amounts of copper which will cause psychosis

OT, sort of.
One of the approved fungicide treatment in organic agriculture is bouillie bordelaise, essentially a solution of copper sulfate.
It tends to be used in massive amounts. I mean, after application orchards and wineyards are painted blue.

But apparently, in this context all of this copper is OK and non-toxic.

By Helianthus (not verified) on 20 Feb 2014 #permalink

Remember, swallowing a U.S. one-cent piece only became a serious health concern after they stopped making them out of solid copper.


Bread has yoga mat chemicals for no apparent reason

Assuming "yoga mat" is not some autocorrect borkage on your part:
My organic chem is a bit rusty so I must ask - WTF are "yoga mat chemicals"?

By Militant Agnostic (not verified) on 20 Feb 2014 #permalink

The Great Gazoogle assures me that " yoga mat chemicals" are A Thing.

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 21 Feb 2014 #permalink

Azodicarbonamide, used for bleaching flour.

Lilady, who is Eggman?

Re. the Mother Jones story: Last year I came across an interesting proposal, can't remember where I read it.

For each locality, allow only as many nonmedical vaccine exemptions as add up to 1/2 of the level at which herd immunity begins to decline, minus the quantity of medical exemptions required in the locality. Then either:

a) Require applications for the nonmedical exemptions, that would be evaluated and acted on in a manner similar to pacifism exemptions from the military draft (keyword 'draft board,' context 1960s USA Vietnam war), or

b) Auction them off to the highest bidders, possibly with some percentage reserved for low-income persons on a first-come/first-served basis. Once the available yearly quota of exemptions has been used, no more for that year.

Otherwise, if we're to allow religious exemptions to public health rules, we should also allow exemptions from local bylaws governing refuse and sewage, and the portion of the rates that support the cleansing department. 'Only God will protect me from rats, flies, and cholera!' Right! Next up, religious exemptions to Newton's Laws of Motion!

"Yoga mat chemicals" could be anything, which makes it my most favorite kind of guilt by association.

Fun when anti-vaccine memes go all out with "____ [chemical] which is used in ___ [name unrelated and kind of scary practice like embalming, lethal injection, pesticides]" and it works equally well with harmless things (water, used in torture; atoms, used in bombs). It's kind of like Mad Libs for the stupid.

“You want to know where we get all of our new ideas?” Old supposedly handed Moss a book, saying, “Here, this is the Bible.” That book, allegedly, was the American Cancer Society’s book, Unproven Methods of Cancer Management.

This one got me thinking since I read it this morning. You have to admire the story. There is this book full of "suppressed" cures. Room for everybody and their dog. Vitamin C next to laetrile, antineoplastons, and Hilda Clark deworming device.
If it was a prank on Moss, I can see he still didn't get the joke.

However, he should have, because there is one little inconsistency (for a big enough value for "one"): if this book is where Big Bad Pharma is getting "all of their new ideas", it means:
- one, "suppressed" cures are sometimes released, so it should be possible to track a few of the current mainstream drugs back to the original inventor (the brave maverick doctor tends on the vociferous side, so there should be records of his rants). Like, I don't know, old timers like antineoplastons or laetrile. Oh, these aren't mainstream. Guess it's still not the time yet for their release. Or maybe they are really not working.
- two, if these suppressed-by- and then co-opted-by-Big Pharma cures are working, then a few of Big Pharma drugs are working. That, or these "suppressed" cures are indeed all useless.

Alternative explanation: Big Pharma is using these unproven methods because it knows they aren't working (cue the usual alt-med meme of drugs not curing the patient).
But in this case, if they pick these non-working methods from this big book, where things like laetrile and ANP end up, that does it say about the alleged effectiveness of any of the listed "cures"?

Meh. Over-analyzing stuff, as usual. Occam's razor, it was a joke.

By Helianthus (not verified) on 21 Feb 2014 #permalink

@ Lurker: Eggman2 posted am off-topic comment on the Mother Jones blog (about vaccine exemptions), touting Ralph Moss' Laetrile cancer cure.…

Now, I have to apologize for posting the possible mumps outbreak at Fordham University on this thread. I should not post comments in the wee hours of the morning.

I've heard about the restriction of personal belief/religious exemptions and awarding those exemptions to a very limited number of parents in each state. I'm probably in the minority here.

IMO, most people who propose that exemption lottery, have not had the life experiences I've had (an older cousin left with permanent neurological sequelae from measles and a childhood chum who died from polio). Most people haven't worked in public health investigating cases of V-P-Ds.

I strongly believe in the social contract of protecting our most vulnerable members of society by instituting a no-exemption-from-vaccines policy that is the law in West Virginia and Mississippi, in each of the 48 States that do permit personal belief/religious belief exemptions.

Helianthus, I'm disappointed. "Bouillie bourdelaise" sounds so delicious.

Words mean things. People judge you by words. I was trying to help.

As a one-time proofreader I share the pain. I am waiting for someone to write a Firefox add-on which automagically corrects the apostrophe use in websites.

By herr doktor bimler (not verified) on 21 Feb 2014 #permalink

@herr doktor bimler - Did you mean "website's"?

By Mephistopheles… (not verified) on 21 Feb 2014 #permalink

Cue the appropriate XKCD cartoon on Big Corporations not using / selling pseudoscience:

[Yes, I know that a lot of con artists are making a killing (in both senses) selling their quackery, but it's not on a billion dollar corporate scale in most cases, Boiron being a notable exception.]


I totally appreciated not only your usage comment, but your follow up explaining your rationale--which was exactly the way I took it. ORAC is way too touchy sometimes and doesn't seem to give a fig about telling off a longtime fan and frequent commenter. He misreads you in the extreme. I have only lurked here occasionally (and skip his day on the other blog) since he did something similar to me a couple of years ago. His ego seems to get weird sometimes.

By rancidbrainmatter (not verified) on 21 Feb 2014 #permalink

Orac, I am a newcomer here and, while awed by the level of intelligence and knowledge of your followers, I have to speak up in defense of palindrom, regardless of the consequences. He is correct as to the difference between "disinterested" and "uninterested." You can dismiss this as fluff and nonsense, but it's no less important than the differences you find crucial in the sciences, when meaning is important. Don't simply dismiss it as "just grammar," unless you are prepared to have others dismiss your quibbles as "just science." Words DO matter, in both literature AND science.

notation, it is just a quirk. Orac writes long detailed posts and there will be grammatical errors. So we have learned to ignore them if they are minor (though corrections to ones the imply something that is opposite of the meaning are appreciated... though that is rare).

It is Orac's blog, so it is his rules.

From my one experience I know it takes a lot of work to put out so much content. Especially one without any grammatical mistakes. No one is perfect, and we all appreciate this one sane corner of the internets. Plus, this is not a peer reviewed journal paper, nor a news article. It is blog article.

So just make comments on the content, not the grammar. Tone trolling is frowned upon.

Thanks, Chris. I have no problem with ignoring quirks. I have plenty of my own. I simply care about language as much as others care about science, and take it no less lightly.

However, if that's the way things are run here, so be it.

I'm a little surprised that he doesn't simply have one of his minions serve as a grammatical editor, or word minion.

I'm pretty sure someone would volunteer to do it; then those little fiddly things would be fixed and Orac wouldn't have to fuss with them either.

Ha! Like that plexiglass box with the blinking lights would take direction from mere humans.

Or he composes these in the evening while relaxing and sets them to post a few hours later, and there is no time to get someone, even one the west coast, to correct grammar.

Just learn to deal with it. It is not a big deal.

It's not a big deal to some people, no.

To other people, it is a livelihood.

"To other people, it is a livelihood"

But not Orac's.

He really does not get paid much for this, which is his hobby. Let him deal with the grammar gremlins on the grants he needs to write to fund his real work.

Stop stressing or a blog. Again, it is not a journal article nor is it a news article. It is a personal blog.

Ugh, now this is where wording can be a problem. Obviously I did not press enough keyboard keys, but:
"Stop stressing or a blog."

Should be:
"Stop stressing overr a blog."

Though, when I think about it... so whose livelihood is dependent on Orac's grammatically correct blog articles? This intrigues me, who are these people and if their livelihood is dependent Orac having perfect grammar why aren't they begging him to let them proof his blog on a moment's notice late at night in the USA Central Time Zone?


No one's livelihood is dependent on Orac's blogging. However, my livelihood is dependent on grammar, so it can be a little hard to see mistakes one can't fix. It's the internet, so I ignore it.

I'm not the one who complained about it; I was simply offering a helpful suggestion. At least I had meant it to be helpful.

I'm growing weary about this discussion and I think Chris stated it correctly (she is, after all, one of our most senior posters on this blog).

I would suggest that if any of you feel the need to correct anyone on this blog, that you critique my posts. Don't forget that lilady is the Undisputed Queen Of The Run-On…and On Sentence.

I’m growing weary about this discussion

Yah, and I am an editor. I've but once felt compelled to suggest a correction in the comments, obliquely, with one word on each end. It worked just fine.

"Both these answers are incomplete. Put it all down."

When I first arrived here on RI ~ three years ago, I thought that Orac was using voice activated computer typing program, because of his voluminous output. He doesn't use that software. (One of the bloggers on the Skeptoid blog, stated last week, that he does use that software).

Lately, as I peck away on my laptop, I find myself typing "now" instead of "know"...for some reason. I suppose I could type my comments on a Word document and transfer them over to RI for better clarity, but it doesn't make sense to me, because it is a blog and not a formal letter.


"I thought that Orac was using ^ a voice activated computer typing program, because of his voluminous output."

I'm often astonished at not only Orac's output but also that of the principle minions. How do you find the time to post on multiple comments sections? I see a plaintive request for assistance on AoA or something pop up every now and then. Reminds me if that other xkcd comic - "Are you coming to bed dear?", "No, someone is wrong on the internet".

I can't help a cringe though, when I see ambiguous phrasing. Not because it's not understandable but because it will be pounced on by wooites.

By NumberWang (not verified) on 21 Feb 2014 #permalink

and then comes the heavy sigh. 'No, that's not what it means, it means this....'

By NumberWang (not verified) on 21 Feb 2014 #permalink

and then comes theavy sigh. 'No, that's not what it means, it means this....'

I'm just glad that there are experts like Orac and others who spend the time educating us engineers and the like.

By NumberWang (not verified) on 21 Feb 2014 #permalink

I suppose I could type my comments on a Word document and transfer them over to RI for better clarity, but it doesn’t make sense to me, because it is a blog and not a formal letter Word is an abomination.

Just a suggestion.

I’m growing weary about this discussion and I think Chris stated it correctly

So am I and so do I.

Let's put it this way. My normal response to grammar/usage pedants who post comments that are nothing more than a grammar flame without any substantive comment about the post or a topic that came up in the comments is—and, make no mistake, that's exactly what the original post that set off this completely unproductive tangent in the comment threads here did—to delete the comment without, well, comment and, if I deem it appropriate, to correct whatever grammar/usage mistake or peccadillo that set the pedant off in the first place. Or not. The only reason I didn't do that this time is because the pedant making the comment does happen to be a longstanding respected commenter. So, out of respect for his status, instead I opted to post yet another reminder what my feelings are about this sort of nitpicking. In retrospect, I now realize that that was a mistake. I should have hewed to my usual policy and will do so in the future, no matter how longstanding the commenter.

I'm going to be blunt here. It's not as though I haven't had this discussion many, many more times than I can remember over the last nine years. It's also not as though long time regular readers don't know how much usage/grammar/spelling pedantry irritates me. This entire discussion should be more than enough reason at least to suggest to the disinterested (usage intentional) why I detest such comments.

Finally, it's not as though I haven't heard the defense before in which the pedant protests, "But I care so much about RI and words and don't want the quacks to be able to attack you for bad usage/spelling/grammar." To them I say to ask themselves this: Do you really think a quack or quack apologist cares if I misused "disinterested" instead of using "uninterested" and will try to discredit me somehow over that? Really? Most quacks and quack apologists don't even know the difference between "disinterested" and "uninterested." If the answer to this question is yes, you don't really know quacks very well at all. If the answer is no, then you just refuted your own argument.

If I offended anyone, well, I'm only slightly sorry. Apparently what I just wrote needs to be said periodically. Maybe I should create a page about commenting and put this sort of comment there permanently.

Word is an abomination.

It is for anything having anything to do with HTML, which is why I compose my posts in BBEdit before copy/pasting them into WordPress. It's OK for scientific writing, though.

"I can’t help a cringe though, when I see ambiguous phrasing. Not because it’s not understandable but because it will be pounced on by wooites."

If that was the only problem... As a non-native English speaker, I find texts with ambiguous meaning (like disinterested used for uninterested) a bit malaise-inducing, because I never really know if it's just me being ignorant, or some typo or brainfart on the part of the author. In doubt, sometimes, I'll try to politely ask for clarification ("do I have it right, did you say X"), and hope the author won't think I'm tone-trolling. Oh, well.

By Irène Delse (not verified) on 22 Feb 2014 #permalink

"Word is an abomination."

I'll be sure to forward your comments to my daughter. She ordered my laptop and ordered the Microsoft Office Word 2007 program. :-)

Hey everybody -- thanks for the sympathetic comments. But I do think we have more important things to worry about.

One last remark: Orac, it's good to remember that there's another audience you write for -- peer reviewers. The stronger and cleaner your writing is, the less it distracts from the case you're trying to make. The quacks won't care, and most of your minions won't care, but some of the NIH panelists or journal reviewers will notice. Style points shouldn't count, but they undoubtedly do, at some level.

By palindrom (not verified) on 22 Feb 2014 #permalink


Apples and oranges.

Blogging is not the same thing as NIH grants and manuscripts submitted to peer-reviewed journals, and I act accordingly with a much more stringent level of proofreading for my grant applications and journal submissions. (Why do you think I can't just whip those out in a night?) I can assure you that I have never gotten a complaint from peer reviewers about language, grammar, or spelling in my blogging—or ever even had evidence or an indication that anyone who's ever peer-reviewed one of my grants has actually read my blogs, much less that my blogging has had any effect whatsoever on the review of a grant or manuscript. I suppose it might if I were ever to submit a grant to NCCAM, but in that case grammar/spelling/usage would be the least of my worries.

She ordered my laptop and ordered the Microsoft Office Word 2007 program

Well there's your problem right there. You should get a MacBook Air. :-)

Personally, I miss Lotus Ami-Pro for word processing. But that is going back a long time ago, before there was an internet.

If you submitted to NCCAM, you'd really have to watch your P's and Q's, because based on the standards of evidence to which they seem to adhere, there would be no actual framework by which to establish that you had a valid case!

All they'd have to go on would be your grammar.

By palindrom (not verified) on 22 Feb 2014 #permalink

It’s OK for scientific writing, though.

Only where trivial mathematical and tabular content is involved. I have a separate bone to pick with publishers who think LaTeX is a replacement for a dedicated typesetting system, but it's vastly better than Word.

It's been all downhill since Text/360.

Narad @85 -- Someday it'd be interesting to hear what your gripes are about LaTeX. For math, at least, it's pretty decent.

By palindrom (not verified) on 22 Feb 2014 #permalink

Someday it’d be interesting to hear what your gripes are about LaTeX. For math, at least, it’s pretty decent.

My main gripe is with publishers who think installing LaTeX is an "enterprise solution" and routinely churn out utter monstrosties.

As for LaTeX itself, offhand, nightmarish font management. Contortions required to obtain bf math ital. Inconsistent sup and sub placement, both horizontal and vertical. Autosizing fences. Thousands of band-aid packages. Absolute necessity of mixing typographical and content markup. The unforgivable injection of Knuth's nightmarishly bad calligraphic face into the literature. I could go on.

It's created a legion of blind snakes who fancy themselves keen-eyed typographic dragons. Just head over to Stack Overflow for examples.

Narad @88. Thanks for the reply!

In my own field, the LaTeX is the starting point for the journal, which auto-converts it into whatever and then proceeds to set it up with something better. But, for better or for worse, the arXiv posting of the article, in the form of a PDF produced from LaTeX, is usually the only thing that most people read.

I feel your pain on the fonts. Also, although Knuth is described by some as the greatest computer scientist who ever lived, the TeX book is a "wholistic manual" -- you pretty much have to read the whole thing to make use of any part of it. Ugh.

By palindrom (not verified) on 22 Feb 2014 #permalink

In my own field, the LaTeX is the starting point for the journal, which auto-converts it into whatever and then proceeds to set it up with something better.

There's no direct mapping to journal, but anyway, I know your field. Believe me, Brother, I also know a whole lot about the current and past of the production side of that which Chandra gave away, as well as its sisters. It's a few scripts and a few guys in the subcontinent amateurishly breaking display equations, nothing more.

It’s a few scripts and a few guys in the subcontinent amateurishly breaking display equations, nothing more.

That does not surprise me in the least.

My own papers are pretty simple-minded when it comes to math, so I tend to have very few display equations:

We fit a straight line to the data in the form
$$y = mx + b,$$
where $m$ is the slope and $b$ is the intercept.

Well, not quite that elementary, but almost.

By palindrom (not verified) on 23 Feb 2014 #permalink

That does not surprise me in the least.

It hasn't always been this way, but there are only so many ways to drive down page charges. Typesetting is obvious, and manuscript editing is next, although pretenses exist to tell societies that it's actually still there (Oscar Sierra Alpha is being grievously swindled by Papa Mike Golf).

The main reason for the death of the latter is that it was next to impossible to retain competent people at the wages generally offered, so the "service" was generally as likely as not to simply represent a headache for for something that's supposed to already be in the can. However, what's left is mediocrity enforced by the mediocre – I've been chastized by India Oscar Papa for queries on Alpha Papa Juliet that had the temerity to suggest that a canonical cite had been omitted (think 2MASS or Schlegel et al.)

But I digress.

My own papers are pretty simple-minded when it comes to math, so I tend to have very few display equations:

We fit a straight line to the data in the form
$$y = mx + b,$$
where $m$ is the slope and $b$ is the intercept.

Well, that's something that wouldn't merit a display in the first place, but the LaTeX police would be all over you for using the "deprecated" '$$'. And you probably want 'b\,,' to be safe, 'cause there ain't much of anybody who's going to nice it up.

^ (I'll drop this sideline to the actual topic, but on the "headache" front, you don't want to have to handle the reaction when a humanities major changes 'pixelated' to 'pixilated'. At. All.)

Ah, yes, humanities majors copy-editing scientific manuscripts can lead to some real hilarities.

And I'm revealing myself as an ancient greybeard who started out with plain TeX and never really internalized LaTeX.

I even know that the final "X" is pronounced sort of like the "cchhh-chhhh" sound Bart Simpson makes when Homer tries to strangle him.

By palindrom (not verified) on 23 Feb 2014 #permalink

"I have a separate bone to pick with publishers who think LaTeX is a replacement for a dedicated typesetting system, but it’s vastly better than Word."

ok i dont have to put much maths in my papers but LaTex is an abomination in the eyes of god and man. I dont know what its meant to be- its a terrible way to write anything as what you see bears no resemblance to what you get. I literally cannot read latex documents as my students try to give them to me because all the gibberish that surrounds the text makes it impenetrable. LaTex is one of the least user friendly "programs" ever. Its basically a word processor kit-car as i understand it. sure you can eventually use it to write documents but you have to write your own word processor first using it as a starting point. Unless you can read the matrix unaided.
I can understand that if it is the only thing that could give you a way of writing what you need that you would be forced to use it, but it isnt better than anything. Its one step down from using a crayon.

By incitatus (not verified) on 23 Feb 2014 #permalink

Most of this is beyond me. I'll just say that I really miss WordPerfect.

@Mi Dawn,
I miss WordPerfect too!
It was my favor DOS/Windows 3 word processor.
But then, I did my MS thesis on my electric typewriter with some hand written equations thrown in.
I didn't have many opportunities to do writing about real science after TeX/LaTex started to come into use :(

By squirrelelite (not verified) on 23 Feb 2014 #permalink

I said I would desist, but....

I dont know what its meant to be- its a terrible way to write anything as what you see bears no resemblance to what you get.

Oh, sweet Jesus. It's not supposed to (although on-the-fly parsing isn't impossible). You know what else bears no resemblance to "what you get"? Word processors, unless you remember the days when monographs were issued by photographing typewritten copy. One of the most grievous failings of M$ Word, aside from its ever-worsening interface, is that it pretends to be a DTP platform.

It is such a pain in the ass to convert .doc files of any complexity (and some people won't touch .docx, meaning OLE equations are out) into a format suitable for production that there are shops in India that specialize in rekeying them into LaTeX, from which getting SGML/XML, which needs to be the format of record if one wants a dual-purpose PDF/(X)HTML output stream, is at least relatively straightforward. (Try reading raw MathML sometime.)

If you're going to "author" in LaTeX, you need to be able to run (pdf)LaTeX. Why on earth would you try to read such student papers from source? It's akin to trying to do the same thing with a Word document, albeit vastly simpler, because Word's file format is binary. Even worse, .docx is a zipped binary of an idiosyncratic, proprietary XML wrapper that nobody anywhere ever asked for or needed, like Knuth's calligraphic (and Michael Spivak is with me on the latter).

If you're writing for professional publication, less is always more, so long as you're dealing with a real typesetter. Nowadays, outside of books publishing (which is pretty damn spotty for technical material, given the usual pedigrees of acquisitions, developmental, design, and production* types), you're probably not. LaTeX is the next best option for anything far beyond almost straight prose.

* I once took galleys of a volume of a multivolume set of reprints of a fellow who was apocryphally caught with his Nobel around his neck when emerging from a bathroom stall. The "production editor" had carefully made a single-character change in the entire typescript before sending it to the typesetter. Even they gave up after the fourth galley page. "Books" is almost invariably worse than "journals."


I heard about Latex and Lyx but I also carefully read your exchange. What would be a good publishing platform on any of the 3 major OSes (prefs goes to OS X and Linux tho)?


I heard about Latex and Lyx but I also carefully read your exchange. What would be a good publishing platform on any of the 3 major OSes (prefs goes to OS X and Linux tho)?

Depends on what you mean by "publishing platform." Let's take it to E-mail.

palindrom: "And I’m revealing myself as an ancient greybeard who started out with plain TeX and never really internalized LaTeX."

I never used TeX, but I did use LaTeX for a professional organizations newsletter for a couple of years. It meant going to the computer lab in the basement of the medical school where the organization rented time to compose it on a non-graphics computer. And in those days there was on "What You See Is What You Get." It was "You'll see it when the guy behind the window hand you the printout."

squirrelelite: "But then, I did my MS thesis on my electric typewriter with some hand written equations thrown in."

Just before I was introduced to LaTex in the mid-1980s we still had typists to translate our hand written documents to something professional (internal company technical reports look very similar to those in journals, only with words like "Confidential" or "Secret" in red letters). It took me a bit to get them to actually use the font wheel with the Greek letters. They were making me hand write them in, until I noticed the wheel in its holder. I think they got Wang workstations a bit later, or it was an earlier Wang word processing system.

Pretty soon we're going to have someone chiming in with "It was really hard to carve symbols into stone with bronze tools, so when cylinder seals and clay cuneiform tablets came along, it was like a revelation!"

By palindrom (not verified) on 23 Feb 2014 #permalink

Oh, wait, I meant: :-p

Vaguely related to the digression, as well as an impending resurgence of the Greenberg "gambit," courtesy of PLoS One: Don't do this.

Vaguely related to the digression, as well as an impending resurgence of the Greenberg "gambit," courtesy of PLoS One: Don't do this.

@ Narad #98

I not only remember the days of photo-ready publishing i prepared several papers that way using letraset for the molecular diagrams. I am that old :)

But as for the rest of it- what interest would I have in using a program that makes it insanely difficult for me to write or read a document simply so that a typesetter has an easier time of it?
As i say i come from a relatively maths-lite discipline but we do embed equations and such like. I have no issues producing a document in word that i am satisfied with, have never had any formatting issues after submission and frankly i find it all easy to use and easy to read. Sure sometimes things roam around a little but only if you are such a noob as to insert figures etc before you finish writing the text. As i grew up doing photo-ready i wouldnt do that.
This is the thing, word has some irritating things, most of which i turn off. But for me LaTex is....well it has no point. it doesnt do anything for me, its considerably harder to use than word is and it defaults to gibberish.
Maybe when i find out what its for then I might appreciate it.
But meantime its not the preferred format for submission fr any journal i author for, so im not forced to suffer from it.

By incitatus (not verified) on 24 Feb 2014 #permalink

incitatus -- I think Narad's point is that LaTeX is not intended to be read in raw form -- you must process it to make it legible. Next time a student hands you raw TeX, just tell them to convert it to PDF or something.

Although I joke about how little math I use in published papers, class notes can be another matter -- there can be lengthy mathematical developments in those. And that's where TeX/LaTeX really shine -- they were designed primarily to typeset complicated mathematics so that it comes out looking really good (which enhances comprehensibility quite a bit).

Sure beats the cuneiform. And don't get me started on those Roman numerals.

By palindrom (not verified) on 24 Feb 2014 #permalink

Narad -- that is one Bud Tugley graph.

By palindrom (not verified) on 24 Feb 2014 #permalink

#108 thanks for that. as i say if i really needed it i might understand- i never need more than 1 or 2 equations so equation editor is fine for me.
But it begs the question if ou cant read it till you convert it how do you know what you are writing when you write it?

By incitatus (not verified) on 24 Feb 2014 #permalink

incitatus @110 -- What I do is sit there with a plain-text editor in one window, and something like a PDF viewer in another. Every so often I save the LaTeX file, run the typesetter, and redisplay the PDF. I can see what I have in a couple of seconds. It may seem cumbersome, but once you learn how to code math expressions in TeX it's probably 10 times faster than doing it with some God-awful mouse-driven GUI, and the results look vastly better.

I'm sure that there are tools to do this automagically, analagous to integrated development environments for various programming languages, but I'm a troglodyte.

By palindrom (not verified) on 24 Feb 2014 #permalink

my god that sounds painful. yay for no maths

By incitatus (not verified) on 24 Feb 2014 #permalink

In the 1970s an oncologist gave us a vial of Laetrile one of his patients had gone to mexico to buy and asked for a chemical analysis.

It was lactose ... $1500 a vial for LACTOSE!

By Tsu Dho Nimh (not verified) on 24 Feb 2014 #permalink

...but anyone else remember being excited over the original Franklin Acewriter?

"carve symbols into stone with bronze tools"
"cylinder seals and clay cuneiform tablets"

Used them both!

Imr90, what was handwriting it and then handing it over to a typist?

Then in the late 1980s they decided that engineers should type their own papers. Except they they did not put word processing software on the VAX and larger Cyber we were using for finite element and other analyses.

Of course this was the same place where the facilities guys took the requirements that there be drafting boards to read large CAD drawings (several feet wide and long), and computer terminals to access the computers... and put the computer terminals in top of the drafting boards to save space.

Making them useless for both.

Except they they did not put word processing software on the VAX and larger Cyber we were using for finite element and other analyses.

No *roff? (Troff still attracts a smattering of die-hard comments.)

Narad, see the paragraph on facilities. Sometimes the administration thinking is terribly warped.

I only ever saw text or code editors on the systems, no word processors. Remember, the computers were supposed to be used for engineering analysis, and there were typists with Wang systems. I have never heard of that word processor.

It was just when the administration bunch got the early PCs with word processors, they thought all systems were so equipped. One of them thought I could use one of the new screen editors on a Tektronix funky green graphics monitor.

Tsu Dho Nimh:
At least, simple lactose was unlikely to hasten the patient's death, unlike other kinds of snake oil :/
Though it highlights another issue with the alt-med world: that the product advertised is actually in what you buy.

By Irène Delse (not verified) on 24 Feb 2014 #permalink

I don't remember anyone doing word processing our any of our mainframe computers either. Although, a few years later, I used a WordStar clone that was written to run on the Windows Basic interpreter so it certainly could have been done.
But, since the IT department was funded by selling mainframe time by the hour to users, it was much cheaper budget wise to just buy a word processor. The IT guys allowed that but refused PCs for a few years before giving up.
I also briefly used a slightly later Tektronix that had a cpu board added and could run Basic programs that were stored on a cassette player. But, we soon got IBM PC clones, so I didn't really use that much.

By squirrelelite (not verified) on 24 Feb 2014 #permalink

"But, since the IT department was funded by selling mainframe time by the hour to users, it was much cheaper budget wise to just buy a word processor."

Not where I worked. Though that changed as PCs became more powerful.

Back then someone who worked in another section of the company did tell us the joys of the Lotus spreadsheet, something we did not know about.

Now, for the same company, spousal unit has a company supplied laptop where he does his work, plus it does have word processing, and access to a database that controls a database affecting a factory function (which he can reset from home... where he works once a week). Much has changed.

Oh, and in the early 1980s I was given a calculator that ran Basic with a tape printer. I wrote a program on it to assess a dynamic frequency issue for our product (with equations from an engineering journal). My final report included the program, plus graphs from its two inch wide four pen color plots. :-)

It was fun.

Sorry late at night and the redundancy department is on shift: "and access to a database that controls a database affecting a factory function"...

should be: "and access to a database affecting a factory function."

Good night.

Try again: “But, since the IT department was funded by selling mainframe time by the hour to users, it was much cheaper budget wise to just buy a word processor.”

Did I mention typists at Wang work stations? Those were actually glorified typewriters with computer terminals. Essentially the paper was composed on a computer, and then sent to computer controlled typewriter. The issue the users had with it was that when Greek letters, or any other font, was called for was that a piece of hardware (font wheel) had to be inserted.

Oh dear what a disappointment.

Orac is an apple fanboi.

Oh well, never mind, I still like the writings of the old plexi-glass box of blinking lights :) Hell I even like the odd grammatical error, it makes Orac sorta human ;)

By Delurked Lurker (not verified) on 25 Feb 2014 #permalink

You're right Chris. Those days were fun.

In a small way, I was reminded of them when I had to dig out a TI graphics calculator for my son to use for his college statistics class.

I used Lotus a little bit, but had a certain fondness for SuperCalc!

By squirrelelite (not verified) on 25 Feb 2014 #permalink

imr90 -- I still use vi, in the form of its descendant vim -- it's completely hard-wired into my fingers by now.

Context highlighting is the greatest invention since vaccines.

By palindrom (not verified) on 25 Feb 2014 #permalink

Context highlighting is the greatest invention since vaccines.

That depends on what you're doing. I have vim set to behave like straight vi, which was actually a bit of a nuisance.

I first hand experienced the following: someone I was very close with was diagnosed with malignant cancer (biopsy). Her oncologist made it clear that she needed to undergo surgery (mastectomy) and chemo therapy and probably some radiation therapy too. To make a long story short, she started taking B17 (apricot kernels and Amygdalin) and went for an ultrasound 3 months later, at the same hospital where the mammogram was taken, that lead to the for mentioned diagnosis. The result was: the two tumors were still quasi the same. When I looked at the CD they gave us and compared those images with the ones taken three months earlier, it seemed to me that the tumors were smaller! Weird. So, three days later, we went for another ultrasound in another town. During the three days in between the two ultrasounds, she increased the doses of both the apricot kernels and the Amygdalin pretty drastically (well, it was me who told her to do this, actually I found out about B17 and another theory about disease, the night before she was supposed to undergo a mastectomy) The doctor/radiologist at the radiology center in the other town couldn't find any trace of cancerous activity at all. When I showed him the ultrasound images from three days earlier, he repeated the test and could only stumble: 'I don't understand what happened, but it IS gone...'. That was five years ago... The thing that always gets me is this: B17 is supposed to be poisonous, but I've been taking it for years (as a precaution for cancer - which I stopped doing, since I learned more about the cause for 'disease', but I won't bother you clever guys with this any further) and never had any problems with it - only made me feel better and I like the taste; the thing is that chemo is toxic, you cannot get around that fact, but still they want to protect people from apricot kernels??? What a crazy business :-)

B17 is supposed to be poisonous, but I’ve been taking it for years [...] and never had any problems with it – only made me feel better and I like the taste

People would say the same thing about whiskey.

Citation seriously needed for your tall tale, a few things don't add up.

By Helianthus (not verified) on 13 May 2014 #permalink