I honestly don’t know. I do know this and this is why I wanted to share.
What does a scientist do when confronted with questions about his or her work? Here’s a hint: It’s not to threaten legal action.
This is remarkably similar to creationists and ID proponents who, instead of actually doing science research, try to get laws passed to teach their notions and threaten people who ask them questions. Let’s look at what is going on with the Burzynski Clinic.
First of all a little about Dr. Burzynski.
Dr. Burzynski is a rather difficult woo-meister to tackle for a variety of reasons. First, he really is a legitimate MD/PhD, proving beyond a doubt that having an MD/PhD double threat degree does not necessarily inoculate one from falling prey to pseudoscience. He’s also an example of a brave maverick doctor (specifically the “iconoclast” type) who’s discovered The One True Treatment for cancer, HIV, and a wide variety of other conditions. In Dr. Burzynski’s case, his treatment of choice is something he once dubbed antineoplastons, and, like all brave maverick doctors, be they Mark and David Geier, Andrew Wakefield, or Robert O. Young, he believes himself to be a crusading researcher rather than a quack. He also gives good science-y speak in that he has many of the trappings of a reputable scientist, including publications in reputable journals. Come to think of it, that’s just like the Geiers or Wakefield too, all of whom have managed to insinuate themselves into the medical literature. Like Wakefield (but unlike Mark Geier), at one time Dr. Burzynski was actually viewed as a promising young researcher. Unfortunately that time was well over 30 years ago, when he was on the faculty at the Baylor College of Medicine. It was there that he discovered what he would later call “antineoplastons.”
Like many brave maverick iconoclasts frustrated with the “arrogance,” “blindness,” and “inflexibility” of his academic colleagues, Dr. Burzynski apparently ultimately decided that academia was not for him (or maybe the decision was made for him); so he founded his own clinic, which offers a “variety of alternative cancer treatments for patients diagnosed with over 50 different types of malignancies, including colon, pulmonary, breast, prostate, head and neck, ovarian, pancreatic, esophageal, hepatic, renal, bladder, brain, malignant melanoma, lymphoma, and many others,” and research institute, which is currently described as “a biopharmaceutical company committed to developing treatment for cancer based on genomic and epigenomic principles.” Apparently it’s not just about the antineoplastons. Since then, it’s been a life of woo for Dr. Burzynski, and of late he appears not to be publishing in anything resembling reputable journals anymore. A PubMed search reveals no publications since 2006, and the closest I find to a recent publication in a reputable journal is this report in 2004 of a single arm uncontrolled trial in children.
In any case, Dr. Burzynski first gained fame for his antineoplastons back in 1988, when Sally Jesse Raphael featured four “miracle” patients of Burzynski, who, according to her, had had incurable cancer and failed conventional therapies but were then cancer-free, thanks to Dr. Burzynski. Unfortunately, four years later in 1992, Inside Edition followed up these four patients:
In 1992, “Inside Edition” reported that two of the four patients had died and a third was having a recurrence of her cancer. (The fourth patient had bladder cancer, which has a good prognosis.) The widow of one of Raphael’s guests stated that her husband and five others from the same city had sought treatment after learning about Burzynski from a television broadcast — and that all had died of their disease. In 1995, a federal grand jury indicted Burzynski for mail fraud and marketing an unapproved drug. The indictment charged that he had billed insurance companies using procedure codes for chemotherapy, even though his treatment was not chemotherapy. He was tried in 1997 but not convicted.
Not surprisingly, in 1998, the State of Texas secured a consent agreement with Burzynski stipulating that he: (a) cannot distribute unapproved drugs in Texas; (b) is allowed to distribute “antineoplastons” only to patients enrolled in FDA approved clinical trials, unless the FDA approves his drugs for sale; (c) cannot advertise “antineoplastons” for the treatment of cancer; and (d) on his website and in promotional material his ads must have a disclaimer that the safety and effectiveness of “antineoplastons” have not been demonstrated. Obviously, big pharma got to Texas.
Next, let’s look at what happens when someone dares to question his results (selection):
If you had no history of lying, and if you were not apart of a fraud network I would take the time to explain your article word for word, but you already know what defamation is. I’ve already recorded all of your articles from previous years as well as legal notice sent by other attorneys for different matters. As I mentioned, I am not playing games with you. You have a history of being stubborn which will play right into my hands. Be smart and considerate for your family and new child, and shut the article down..Immediately. FINAL WARNING.
Marc Stephens may know what libel is, but he doesn’t seem to understand that making threatening remarks is not exactly a good idea.
As anyone who has had sexual harassment training knows, it’s not the intention of what you said that is actionable, but how the recipient received it that is actionable. Where I Mr. Stephens (who is not associated with the Texas Bar) I would quickly apologize for statements like this… and this one (sent to a high school blogger) (selection).
In the following weeks I will be giving authorization to local attorneys in multiple countries to pursue every defamation libel case online, including your online libelous statements. I suggest you shut down your entire online defamation campaign about Dr. Burzynski, and remove ALL recent or previous comments off the internet IMMEDIATELY. The minute you post any libelous comments online about my client I will pursue you and your parents/guardians To the Full Extent of the Law. I have no obligation to train you, or teach you, the meaning of defamation. Google it, or go to the library and research it.
This is a very serious matter. Please confirm your mailing address, which I have on record as (my address). If you do not cooperate an official legal complaint requesting punitive damages will be mailed to that address. I will be contacting your school as well to inform them of your illegal acts.
Again, this is my FINAL WARNING TO YOU.
(Screen capture of Google Maps satellite view of my house)
Seriously? That’s your legal threat? To contact the school you go to? First of all, the fact that Mr. Stephens has this information on a minor is somewhat disconcerting (although there is some public information).
I would love to see Stephens’ written filing. I bet that would be funny as heck. Maybe he would threaten the judge’s family too.
Anyway, I make light of this, but it’s not.
To the Burzynski Clinic, this is serious business… to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars per patient. To the scientific community it is also serious business… someone is making unsupported claims AND TREATING PATIENTS with it.
To the bloggers (like me), this is serious business… threats of legal action are never to be taken lightly. Threats of any kind are not to be taken lightly and I’ve had my fair share (surprisingly all of them are from creationists).
So, take a moment and issue some support for these bloggers that are taking up this fight. It is a fight to support real science instead of con-men with magic pills and unsupported claims.