Complementary and alternative medicine History Medicine Quackery

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

I have a love-hate relationship with Mike Adams.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the symbol of modern-day western medicine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OK, I’ll tell you:

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

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

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

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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