Cancer Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine Quackery Skepticism/critical thinking

The world according to the FDA and Big Pharma?

I’m a bit cranky right now.

Long time readers are familiar with the logorrhea that usually characterizes this blog. Fans love it; detractors hate it, Some may have noticed a bit of paucity of blogging, at least relatively speaking. There’s a good reason for this. Not only was I out of town last weekend, but I got to come back to be on call (i.e. on service) for the group while at the same time trying to finish a grant application that my institution had “honored” with a nomination to fill out–only two weeks before it was due. Yes, now is not a great time to be around Orac; his crankiness is starting to irritate those around him, and he hasn’t had a chance to vent a bit.

Enter Mike Adams.

Fortunately (I think) for you, it’s just what I needed, if I can delve into the idiocy and conspiracy-mongering that characterizes Adams’ NewsTarget site and not lose too many neurons. Certainly Mark Hoofnagle was able to, with his demolition of a truly silly piece on Newstarget claiming that microwave ovens destroy the nutritional value of food. I humbly submit to you, though, that although the piece Mark deconstructed was exceedingly dumb, this article, entitled The World According to the FDA and Big Pharma, cranks the stupid up to 11 and then, not satisfied with that, adds a second amplifier of stupid also cranked all the way up to 11. How the man manages to remember to breathe in the morning is a puzzle, as his brain seems to consist of two neurons connected by a spirochete. It’s a good thing Mike apparently doesn’t believe in antibiotics; otherwise, the spirochete would die, with disastrous consequences.

And so it begins:

As clear-thinking people, natural health consumers sometimes look at the actions of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and wonder what planet its decision makers seem to be from. It’s like the FDA is living in a completely different world than the rest of us — a world where nutrients are dangerous, but synthetic chemicals are perfectly safe for human consumption.

In fact, the idea that FDA bureaucrats and modern medicine promoters are living in a different reality is not far from the truth. I my view, FDA decision makers have no connection with reality. They’re simply operating on a system of false beliefs and circular reasoning that justifies their efforts to protect Big Pharma profits by exploiting, misleading and directly harming the public.

Pot. Kettle. Black.

The FDA may have many problems, but if you really want to see someone disconnected from reality, just browse the NewsTarget site for a while. Go on. Take a break and do it. I’ll be right here waiting for you when you’re done. Just be careful. The words that flow from Adams’ keyboard to his website are highly toxic to neurons, not to mention any scientific or critical thinking skills you might have. You might want to innoculate yourself by perusing the Cochrane Collaboration or maybe James Randi’s website for a bit beforehand.

But, as I said before, I’m in a bit of a cranky mood; so let’s dig in:

Have you ever wondered what rules and beliefs actually drive FDA decisions in that alternate reality? As a service to NewsTarget readers, I’ve assembled a few in this article. These are the rules that define the dogma of modern “scientific” medicine and pharmacology marketing. These rules are followed by FDA bureucrats, drug company executives, psychiatrists, doctors, hospitals and everyone who’s currently profiting from the failed system of medicine operating in the United States today.

These rules, by the way, are no joke. This is not a satire piece. This is a serious exploration of the beliefs under which much of modern medical science operates today.

Given the hysterically penned straw men and outright misinformation in the “26 beliefs that drive modern medicine and the FDA,” I vote satire. Maybe Adams is smarter than I give him credit for, and this whole FDA as Darth Vader schtick is nothing other than that–schtick. Maybe it’s a schtick so subtle, in reality a parody of the paranoid mindset of the very wackiest of the alternative medicine aficionados.


Sadly, Adams appears to be completely serious about all 26 of these beliefs that he attributes to the FDA and big Pharma. Let’s take a look, shall we? Here they are in bold, with my response afterward:

1. All herbs are dangerous and might kill you.

Wrong. However, some herbs and plants are undeniably potentially toxic. For example, consider the foxglove plant, from which digitalis is derived. It can definitely be dangerous. In fact, the more therapeutic activity an herb or plant has, the more potential for harm it has–just like drugs made by the dreaded “big Pharma.”

2. Vitamins and dietary supplements are not only useless; they’re so dangerous that they should be regulated or banned.

This is just silly. Medicine, after all, uses a great many vitamins and sometimes some supplements. What modern medicine does not do (and alties like Adams do) is to make overblown claims about what vitamins and supplements can do. For example, vitamin C does not cure cancer.

3. The only thing more dangerous than dietary supplements is allowing the public to have access to accurate information about dietary supplements. To maintain control, the public must be kept ignorant of the medicinal uses of all substances other than patented chemicals.

Of course, what Adams neglects to mentions is that, in the vast majority of cases where the FDA has acted, it has been because quacks have been making health claims for their remedies that are not supported by evidence. Indeed, it often takes far more than it should to get the FDA to act against quacks, given that it is underfunded and understaffed.

4. Most diseases are caused by pharmaceutical deficiencies and can only be treated with pharmaceutical supplementation.

I applaud Adams here for refraining from using a famous altie “joke” about cancer not being a deficiency of chemotherapy. Adams is, of course, mistaken here. (I’d say he’s lying, but I do think he really does believe this drivel.)

5. Botanicals interfere with pharmaceuticals, not the other way around. There is no such thing as a pharmaceutical that interferes with an herb.

Wrong. If a botanical can interfere with a pharmaceutical drug, then in many cases the drug can interfere with the botanical. The reason we speak of botanicals interfering with drugs is because we know how how the drug works and what effects we expect to see. In contrast, botanicals may have many active ingredients whose mechanisms of activity are unknown or aren’t clear.

6. Scientific progress is measured by the degree to which man dominates nature.

This is the only thing that Adams has said that almost makes sense. Almost. however, as Mark asks, does Adams really want to live really and truly in nature? I highly doubt it.

7. Free speech should only be protected for drug companies, not nutritional supplement companies.

More like quacks shouldn’t be free to make claims that can’t be backed up with science. Adams is, of course, an advocate of “health freedom,” which is in reality the freedom of quacks to sell their quackery without the government being pesky about their making claims that aren’t evidence-based.

8. The 300+ synthetic chemicals now found in the blood of nearly everyone are completely harmless and have no negative health effects.

As opposed to the untested and unknown long term effects of many of these supplements that Adams likes to tout? Adams is, of course, a hypocrite. To him, all herbs and supplements are good; all drugs are bad.

9. The FDA is incapable of making mistakes, and therefore, drug companies should be granted full immunity against consumer lawsuits surrounding the injuries and deaths caused by FDA-approved pharmaceuticals. It is impossible for an FDA-approved drug to cause the death of anyone, because the FDA is infallible.

The stupid, it really does burn here. Have you heard anyone say that the FDA is “infallible”? As for the immunity claim, it’s probably Adams’ antivaccination idiocy rearing its ugly head again. The “immunity” proposed for pharmaceutical companies was for vaccine makers because vaccines are mandatory and because, after September 11, we were worried about biological attacks and didn’t want to chase companies out of the vaccine business. It can be argued that perhaps the protection went too far, but even so there is still a mechanism for vaccine-injured children to seek compensation. The courts are even still available after a claim is rejected if parents want to pursue the claim.

10. There is no need to safety test chemicals used in cosmetics and personal care products because the skin doesn’t absorb chemicals. Unless, of course, we’re talking about transdermal drug delivery products like the anti-smoking patch, in which case the skin readily absorbs chemicals.

Who says this? Really? Who?

11. Nature cannot be trusted. All herbs must be “standardized” to be safe. And even then, they’re still useless.

The reason for standardization is to get reproducible effects. It’s that simple. If you want variable and unreliable effects, then using the active compounds in the form of the herbs from which they are derived is the way to go.

12. Phytochemicals only act in isolation. Scientists can understand the physiological action of plant chemicals by isolating them, synthesizing them, and testing them one by one. There is no such thing as “synergistic action” with phytochemicals.

Yawn. It’s more that woos who claim “synergistic action” by various components of herbs never provide any evidence to show that there is any sort of synergy. Scientists, on the other hand, do look for such effects. It’s just that they usually don’t find any.

13. The only use for plant chemicals is to serve as ideas from which drug companies can synthesize patented drugs. Phytochemicals (phytonutrients) have no inherent value and their use for preventing, treating or curing any disease should be outlawed and stripped from modern civilization’s knowledge base.

I had a hard time not laughing about this one. Sure, pharmaceutical companies use plant-derived compounds to make drugs. But to say that’s the only use for plant chemicals is hilarious. Heck, the FDA can’t even really regulate plant products under current law unless there is a serious problem that can’t be ignored.

14. Shamans, medicine women, herbalists, midwives and healers are all engaged in quackery based on superstition or voodoo.

Most of them are, actually. Except midwives. Midwives are generally not quacks. Neither are some herbalists.

15. There is no such thing as bioenergy, intuition, mind-body medicine, quantum physics or therapeutic touch. The entire universe operates only on the physical and chemical levels. There is nothing beyond those two levels yet to be discovered or explored.

After all the years that we’ve been trying to find things like bioenergy, intuition, or demonstrate the efficacy of therapeutic touch and failing, it does become rather hard not to conclude that such things don’t exist and don’t work. Quantum physics, of course, does exist (whoever said it didn’t?), but quacks love to invoke it fallaciously to justify their quackery. In any case, if you believe that bioenergy exists, show us the evidence, rather than using handwaving torturings of quantum theory to explain your woo.

16. We already know everything there is to know. No new discoveries are necessary, nor are any paradigm shifts in scientific medicine. It is important that we all reject any new ideas or beliefs that threaten our existing ideas or beliefs.

Another hunka hunka burnin’ stupid. No scientist would ever claim that we know all there is to know, that no new discoveries are necessary, or that paradigm shifts are unnecessary. What planet is Adams from?

17. Drug corporations should be protected because they have the best interests of the general public in mind. The future health of the entire world depends on the research being conducted right now by drug companies.

18. Americans are lucky to pay the highest prices in the world for medication. Everyone else has to settle for “bargain” pricing, but Americans get the honor of knowing their dollars help fund the shareholder profits of the world’s wealthiest corporations, all of which deserve unlimited financial riches because they are saving the world from disease.

19. Drugs from Canada are so dangerous that they cannot be allowed to be touched or swallowed by superior Americans. Canadian drugs might be suitable for exporting to third world nations, but not to America.

These three are are a simplistic representation of real problems in pharma. What Adams neglects to mention is that his solution would seem to be nothing more than letting the quacks take over the position that big pharma occupies today. His “health freedom” would be nothing more than open season on everyone for quacks to take advantage of. For all of their problems, I’d take scientific medicine and big pharma over the sort of quackery espoused by Adams any day.

20. The best way to help consumers is to control them by limiting their options and minimizing their access to information that might confuse them.

This is getting repetitive, isn’t it? Doesn’t #20 sound a lot like #3? Bad Mike! You could have made this a list of an even 25!

21. Nutrition has no role in human health. Any talk about healing with nutrition is quackery.

Strawman. No one says that using nutrition has no role in human health. Talking about curing cancer with nutrients alone, however, as some of Adams’ fellow travelers are wont to do, is indeed quackery. There’s no good evidence that it can be done.

22.The human body is incapable of healing itself. Health can only be enhanced through chemical or surgical intervention. Patients have no role in determine their own health outcome.

OK, now Adams is just getting really silly again. A not insignificant amount of medicine is “letting the body heal itself” with a little help. The treatment of most fractures, for instance. Most inflammatory conditions, too.

23 “Science” is whatever we say it is.

24 Anything that disagrees with our definition of science is “unscientific.”

25. The “Scientific Method” is the process by which we decide what is science.

Ah, yes, these three are the familiar altie lament. Of course, the retort to this is that people like Adams, unable to show that their woo works, try instead to redefine what science is, much as “intelligent design” creationists do. Scientists get understandably testy when people try to redefine science in order to give their pseudoscience the appearance of science. Never forget when you hear someone like Adams whine about “science” or the “scientific method” that he doesn’t give a rodential posterior about science. He just wants to present science as just another belief system as a means of putting pseudoscience on a seemingly equal footing with real science.

26. Conflicts of interest don’t count if we all mean well.

Uh, no. Conflicts of interest are important, which is why there is an increasing requirement by journals and the organizers of scientific meetings that authors disclose conflicts of interest. Conflicts of interest do matter, but they only serve to alert listeners and readers to be more skeptical. A scientific conclusion is based on the evidence; a conflict of interest might lead one to look more closely at the evidence used to back up a conclusion, but the existence of a conflict of interest in and of itself does not invalidate a conclusion. Of course, Adams and his ilk are selective in what conflicts of interest they castigate. Any conflict of interest due to income from or affiliation with big pharma is automatically evil. Working for a supplement company or deriving considerable income from supplements or woo can safely be ignored.

There. I feel better now. After all that’s gone on this week, I needed a good rant, and Mike Adams never fails to deliver the stupid, thus providing a big, fat target. Indeed, his website is such a “target-rich environment” that I could, if I so desired, mine it for blog fodder for many months and never run out of material. I’m sure it would get boring fairly fast, though, given that Adams is pretty much a one-trick pony (FDA and big pharma are totally evil), and that gets tiresome after a while. On the other hand, I suppose I should be grateful for such a rich vein of woo to mine whenever material doesn’t present itself. The truly depressing thing, though, is that NewsTarget has a very high Technorati ranking, with an authority score of 2,858 and a rank of 222 as of this writing. It’s truly depressing to think how many people are being misinformed by Mike Adams’ ignorant ranting and conspiracy-mongering, not to mention his promotion of quackery. But get a load of how Adams finishes:

We could add substantially to this list, but you get the idea. Isn’t is fortunate that the universe doesn’t operate from the FDA’s distorted viewpoint?

In time, by the way, our system of modern medicine will cease to exist. No system of medicine based on beliefs that contradict reality has any future.

I disagree. Sadly, many systems of medicine based on beliefs that contradict reality (homeopathy, therapeutic touch, or reiki, for example) have survived and prospered a long time and show no signs of disappearing any time soon, even as scientific studies of their claims keep failing to turn up any evidence that they have a therapeutic effect.

And useful idiots like Mike Adams are their biggest cheerleaders.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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