Cancer Complementary and alternative medicine Quackery

A quack goes to prison, but it’s not enough

If there’s one thing that’s frustrating about the U.S. justice system, it’s just how slow the wheels of justice grind. For example, it’s hard to believe that it was over two years ago that “pH Miracle” quack Robert O. Young was arrested for fraud, grand theft, and practicing medicine without a license, producing one of my favorite images ever on this blog, that of Young in a blue prison jump suit. The only way it could have been better would have been if it had been an orange jumpsuit, but unfortunately a contact in San Diego tells me that San Diego County doesn’t use orange jumpsuits for its prisoners. Oh, well. You take what you can get. Fortunately, finally there is a result. It’s a mixed result, but Young was actually convicted of some, but not all, of the charges against him.

That being said, it seemed as though Young would never face trial. Six months later, there was no sign of much happening. Finally—finally!—the trial got underway in November. Unfortunately, it lasted two months, with closing arguments made on January 19, after which the case went to the jury, where it stayed. Meanwhile, the local press wrote stories full of false balance like ‘Wizard of pHraud’ or victim of a witch hunt?, which were amusing more for their descriptions of the arguments of Young’s defense attorney Paul Pfingst than anything else:

Young’s defense attorney, Paul Pfingst, has painted the case as more of a witch hunt and said Young is being prosecuted simply because he espouses alternative views to traditional medicine. He noted that the case started with an investigation by the state Medical Board.

“A theory is not wrong. A theory is a theory — and we live in a country where people cannot be penalized for theories,” he told the jury during his closing argument Wednesday.

He sounds like a creationist, doesn’t he? Whether he’s conflating the colloquial definition of “theory,” which can include anything from a well-supported idea explaining an event to any old half-assed guess, with the scientific definition of theory, which describes a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world based on data obtained using the scientific method and repeatedly tested and confirmed through observation and experimentation, I don’t know. It depends on whether you want to consider him a liar or simply clueless about science.

Consider this howler:

Pfingst accused the prosecution of having a “patronizing attitude” against his client and his patients because they opted to try something outside of traditional medicine.

“They just don’t like his science,” Pfingst said of the authorities. “They are wrong. He is a scientist.”

I couldn’t stop laughing when I read that line. Unfortunately, it was effective, because for a while it looked as though there would be a hung jury, as a week after the case was handed to the jury jurors told the judge that they were deadlocked. At that point, I was very concerned that Young, like Stanislaw Burzynski and so many other quacks before him, might slither away from justice. Fortunately, as you will see, he did not, at least not completely.

Before I discuss what charges did and did not stick to our pH miracle a little background is in order for newbies (or at least those who aren’t long time readers). For those of you who don’t remember who Dr. Robert O. Young is (and you really should, given that I’ve been writing about his pH quackery ever since 2007, when I first featured him in an old feature known as Your Friday Dose of Woo.

Since then, I’ve discussed the extreme quackery of Robert O. Young from time to time on this blog, but it’s been at least a couple of years since I’ve discussed him other than in passing. Consequently, now strikes me as an excellent time to revisit, review, and discuss what sorts of pseudoscience and quackery Young advocates to treat cancer and—as is the case with so many dubious practitioners—multiple other serious diseases, such as lupus, type I diabetes (you read that right, not type II diabetes), metastatic prostate cancer, and cancer in general. (Not surprisingly, Young is also quite antivaccine, publishing anecdotes from parents who believe their child is “vaccine damaged” and appeals to support antivaccine groups like the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC).

Although I had heard of Young before and written about him more in an amusing than outraged manner, I really first became aware enough of Young for my bemused mockery to turn to outrage because of the case of a woman with breast cancer named Kim Tinkham. Not entirely coincidentally, Tinkham briefly became famous back in 2008 after having appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s daytime talk show in the context of her belief in The Secret, that mystical, magical, childish belief system that the universe will bring you what you want if you only want it badly enough. It’s a system of belief that goes far beyond the reasonable concept that people who want something badly enough will be more likely to try to obtain it and thus more likely to get it and into the realm of wish fulfillment, where “wishing makes it so,” a concept that is the central dogma of alternative medicine. At the time, she had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, described as stage III, and was being urged to undergo surgery. She refused. Ultimately, Tinkham paid the ultimate price for her trust in Young.

If you really want to get an idea of just how big a quack Young is, though, I suggest that you read an article he wrote a few years ago that sums up his view of cancer, What Is The Cause of Cancer? Is There A Cure? Then read my deconstruction from nearly seven years ago. The sheer level of quackery encompassed in Young’s ideas beggars belief. To him, cancer is not a mass of cells that have somehow freed themselves from the normal homeostatic controls that keep human cells differentiated, happy, and not growing out of control. To young, cancer is a “poisonous acidic liquid. But he’s not even consistent, because elsewhere he refers to cancer as “cell that has been spoiled or poisoned by metabolic or gastrointestinal acids” and the tumor mass as “body’s protective mechanism to encapsulate spoiled or poisoned cells from excess acid that has not been properly eliminated through urination, perspiration, defecation or respiration” and the “body’s solution to protect healthy cells and tissues.” These concepts are so wrong on so many levels that it would take enormous amounts of verbiage to deconstruct them again.

I could go on, but I won’t. Well, not quite. I can’t help but also mention how, after a beautiful aspiring young Brazilian model named Mariana Bridi died of sepsis after a urinary tract infection so severe that she had had to have her hands and feet amputated in a desperate bid to save her life, Young wrote a post entitled Ignorance Caused Sepsis or Systemic Acidosis That Took The Life of a Young Brazilian Woman, whose utter nonsense and pseudoscience garnered a heapin’ helpin’ of not-so-Respectful Insolence several years ago. Then read his post The Illusion of Germ Theory, in which he refers dismissively to “Pasteurian scientific dogma,”a construct that is just as big a warning flag for quackery as spelling the word “disease” as “dis-ease.” He also lambastes what he calls “Pasteurian scientific dogma” challenges “everything in the modern construct of immunology and what is said to be the immune system,” and characterizes viruses as “molecular acids.” I kid you not. I could go on, but I’ll restrain myself for now.

I hope you get the idea.

So back to the deadlock. After informing the judge that they were deadlocked, the jury was instructed by the judge to keep at it. So keep at it they did, and last week they came to a split verdict:

The author of the popular “pH Miracle” book series was convicted Wednesday on two counts of practicing medicine without a license, but acquitted on a third count, in a case that his attorney said was as an attack on alternative care.

Robert Young was led away in handcuffs after the verdicts were read and faces a maximum of three years and eight months in prison. Jurors deadlocked on six remaining charges, including two counts of grand theft.

He was taken into custody at the order of Judge Richard Whitney, who said the defendant presented “a significant public safety issue and a significant flight risk.”

The 63-year-old Young wiped his eyes during the hearing.

“For me personally, it’s hard,” he said during a break in the proceedings after the verdicts were read. “This has been my life. People who know me, know my heart.”


Unfortunately, the verdict was not as resounding as I had hoped:

On the deadlocked counts, the jury split 11-1 in favor of conviction on most that were related to practicing medicine without a license, and 8-4 in favor of convicting him of theft by fraud.

Three jurors who declined to give their names likened Young’s science to selling snake oil, and one indicated the deadlock was frustrating. “It wasn’t a satisfying conclusion,” Juror No. 10 said.

No, it wasn’t. On the other hand, given how quack-friendly California law is, getting a conviction on any charge for someone like Young is a victory.

Even better, all is not lost. I have heard from a fan with knowledge of the case that the DA plans on retrying Young in the future on the remaining counts because prosecutors are very eager to get a conviction on the grand theft by fraud counts and are concerned that he’ll wear the convictions of practicing medicine without a license as a badge of honor and spin it as him going to jail for his beliefs, rather than capitulating to the “medical-industrial” complex.

Given what an obvious quack Young is, I can only hope that the San Diego prosecutors follow through. Personally, I want to see Robert O. Young in prison for a long, long time.

Even better: Robert O. Young in a prison jumpsuit!
Even better: Robert O. Young in a prison jumpsuit!

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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