What actual targeted gene therapy looks like.

What actual targeted gene therapy looks like.

Film producer Eric Merola seems to think that there is a conspiracy of skeptics (whom he calls The Skeptics) who are fanatically hell-bent on harassing his hero, Brave Maverick Doctor Stanislaw Burzynski. According to his latest film Burzynski: Cancer Is A Serious Business, Part 2 (henceforth referred to as Burzynski II, to distinguish it from part 1, to which I will refer as Burzynski I), there is a shadowy cabal of Skeptics out there just waiting to swoop down on any Burzynski supporter who has the temerity to Tweet support for him, any cancer patient being treated by Burzynski who Tweets or blogs about it, and any cancer patient even thinking about going to the Burzynski Clinic. I know this because he’s made it very clear in the promotional materials of his movie that that’s what he thinks and that skeptics were going to be the main target of his “film making” in his latest hagiography devoted to Stanislaw Burzynski. Very clear indeed. And, given how ham-fisted he was in his conspiracy mongering in Burzynski I, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I was at least a little concerned, because Merola made an explicit promise to “name names.” So were some other skeptics. After all, Merola isn’t exactly known for intellectual honesty (or even talent) in film making. We expected a heavy duty sliming, and curiosity (not to mention concern over our reputations) made us very—shall we say?—curious about what Merola was going to say about us.

So it was with great interest that I learned that Burzynski II was going to be screened at a film festival in San Luis Obispo last weekend. Its DVD release having been delayed from March 5 to July 1, I had thought that my curiosity about the contents of the movie would probably have to wait, and it will, at least as far as seeing the movie. A review of the movie suggested dark insinuations about Burzynski critics abounded, but that was not enough. Fortunately, a small posse of skeptics, lead by the intrepid Brian Thompson, made posthaste for San Luis Obispo. When the reports and copious handwritten notes in perfect encoded reptilian script came back, however, I was faced with a problem. How does one review or discuss a movie second-hand? How does one report on a movie that one hasn’t seen, about which one has to trust the powers of observation (and not to mention the note taking capabilities) of someone else, no matter how well briefed beforehand about what to look for? I decided that there was only one thing to do, and that’s just to go ahead and do it. I realize that there are likely huge swaths of information missing, but I definitely got a flavor of the movie from Brian’s detailed account plus discussions, and a definite idea of how it is going to be promoted from what was reported to have been said during the Q&A. Then I’ll discuss each of these points, thus inflating the rather thin observations I have from our Skeptics into a real post. Unfortunately, more detail from me will have to wait until the official release of the movie, or until such a time as Merola tries to bring the movie to somewhere in my neck of the woods. (Wouldn’t that be amusing?)

So here are the five things I learned (secondhand) from the Burzynski II screening, thanks to The Skeptics.

1. Stanislaw Burzynski is a genius who invented “personalized gene targeted cancer therapy,” and is now being emulated by centers like M.D. Anderson, which are furiously trying to catch up.

One thing I noticed immediately from our Skeptics’ reports was that I was spot on when it comes to many of my predictions about the movie, so much so that I was tempted simply to do a link dump of my posts on various Burzynski claims in the form of “claim in Burzynski 2” juxtaposed with a link. But, as Han Solo said, “Hey, it’s me,” and I can’t do that. In any case, this should not be a surprise. Burzynski’s been telegraphing this particular message for the last few years, beginning at least as far back as 2009, when I first read his claims in Suzanne Somers quackfest of a book, Knockout: Interviews With Doctors Who Are Curing Cancer And How To Prevent Getting It in the First Place. According to our Skeptics, the very beginning of the movie was in essence more of Burzynski’s arrogance of ignorance about “personalized gene-targeted cancer therapy,” in which he demonstrates once again that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about with regards to genomics and targeted therapy and adds a healthy dose of special pleading that it is “impossible” to test Burzynski’s woo—I mean “personalized gene-targeted cancer therapy” (which I will henceforth refer to as PGTCT)—in randomized clinical trials (RCTs). This is not unlike the argument that homeopaths frequently make claiming that their woo can’t be tested scientifically. It’s also as nonsensical.

That’s why I can’t resist mentioning that it’s true that testing personalized cancer therapy scientifically poses certain challenges. It can’t be done in the same way that we’re used to doing RCTs. I discussed this very matter when I discussed Burzynski’s PGTCT the first time around, and even analyzed an example of how it can be done. My analysis is probably now out-of-date because the field is moving so rapidly, but the bottom line is that real scientists and real physicians at real cancer centers, contrary to what seems to have been insinuated, think about these issues all the time. The FDA is devoting considerable effort to figuring out how new genomic technologies will fit into its mission and how it can find a scientifically reasonable method to grant approval to such therapies. Once again, Stan’s arrogance of ignorance, hungrily lapped up by his lapdog Eric Merola, appears to be the order of the day. According to the reports, it’s made to sound as though Burzynski invented personalized gene-targeted therapy, which is, of course part of the mythology that I recently discussed. Burzynski didn’t invent PGTCT. He doesn’t even do it right. Indeed, at one point, Merola even has the cojones to assert that cancer centers like M.D. Anderson haven’t yet faced the problems Burzynski is facing because, I guess, Burzynski led the way. No doubt it’s true that M.D. Anderson doesn’t face the problems that Burzynski is facing. That’s because M.D. Anderson is trying to do it right; Burzynski is not.

2. Burzynski is a Brave Maverick Doctor who is curing patients that conventional science can’t cure, and it’s not his fault when he can’t

Early in the movie, as was the case in Burzynski I, there is a series of patient anecdotes, or, as I like to call them, testimonials. It turns out that nearly all of them are patient stories that I’ve discussed before in great detail. For instance, Hannah Bradley and Laura Hymas feature prominently, but since I’ve discussed both of them in depth recently, I refer you to that link if you want to know why Merola’s claims that Burzynski cured these patients is certainly contestable. One thing that was noted is that there was a long segment on Laura Hymas with a tape of her and her family trying to persuade her NHS oncologist to support her decision to go to Burzynski. I would very much like to hear that segment, because it could be instructive to see how an oncologist handled Hymas’ family’s pleas to be associated with something he definitely didn’t want to be associated with. I guess I’ll have to wait until July.

Now here’s the part that disturbed our intrepid viewers, and, when they told me about it, I was even more disturbed by it because I’ve seen less subtle variants of it before. I’m referring to the cases of two children from the U.K. with malignant brain tumors who became famous after their diagnoses because of their parents’ success at raising money and bringing their children’s plight before the British press and public. I’m referring to Billie Bainbridge, whose case led to widespread discussion in the British press in late 2011 because of very successful fundraisers featuring beloved celebrities, and Amelia Saunders. Both children, tragically, died of their disease, and I’ve discussed both cases, particularly Amelia Saunders, before. Now here’s what bothered us. After interviews with each set of parents and glowing reports about how each child did so well on Burzynski’s antineoplaston therapy, we learn of each child’s ultimate demise in voiceovers. In Billie’s case it’s apparently mentioned that Billie had had radiation therapy for her tumor, and the narrator noted that children who hadn’t had radiotherapy do better. Then, after an interview with Amelia’s parents, the narrator intones that two months after the interview Amelia’s brain tumor began to “swell and fill with fluid.” He further intones that there was “confusion and disagreement” between the Saunders’ radiologist in the U.K. and the radiologist in Houston over why this was happening, and that the Saunders decided to take Amelia off of antineoplaston treatment. It’s then noted that Amelia died on January 6, 2013 with her family around her.

Here we see only slightly less subtle versions of two ploys favored by Brave Maverick Cancer Doctors designed to absolve themselves of blame and excuse their failures. In the case of Billie Bainbridge, the ploy is to claim that if only the patient had come straight to us and not used “conventional” therapy first, she could have been saved. In fact, a lot more of this sort of claim is found later, during the Q&A when one questioner asks Greg Burzynski, Stanislaw Burzynski’s son, whether the clinic has statistics tracking how well patients who have never seen any conventional therapy before and instead came straight to the Burzynski Clinic for their only care did. It was actually a surprisingly good question. Burzynski junior couldn’t answer and instead made excuses, claiming that his father was trying to publish that data but had been rejected. Instead, he trotted out Mary Jo Siegel, another testimonial, and there was apparently considerable discussion; most of the panelists thought it was better not to receive conventional therapy before antineoplastons and that patients who went straight to antineoplaston therapy did better. It was all anecdotes and testimonials, no data. Maybe it’s just my status as an evil conventional cancer doctor, but I found that to be a profoundly irresponsible message that encourages patients to eschew conventional therapy in favor of the unproven; i.e., antineoplastons.

The second favorite tactic of Brave Maverick Doctors like Burzynski is to blame the patient (or, in this case, the patient’s family) when the patient doesn’t do well. The insinuation here about Amelia appears to be that the reason she didn’t do well is because her parents didn’t follow the Brave Maverick Doctor’s treatment plan to the letter. The implication in Amelia’s case appears to be that the reason Amelia’s condition deteriorated so rapidly and she died was because Mr. and Mrs. Saunders decided to take her off of the antineoplastons too soon. I’m sure I’ll be corrected if my report on the matter was inaccurate. (I’m always open to a screener copy of the movie or a transcript from Mr. Merola to allow me to get it all correct.) Assuming it’s accurate (and I have no reason not to), this sort of insinuation is despicable, particularly given the real story, which has been discussed before. It’s worth reminding my readers of what happened. On November 20, 2012, Richard Saunders posted this message on Amelia’s Facebook page:

Amelia’s tumour is dying, from the inside. We’ll be getting another opinion from here on this, but the scans do back this up. There are cysts forming inside the tumour where cancer cells would have been before.

For the moment, we seem to be winning our little battle.

We are trying our hardest not to get too excited yet. These cysts are forming inside the tumour but it isn’t shrinking – however this proves the treatment is working. Remember that Amelia has received no other treatment.

It was pointed out at the time that these “cysts” almost certainly represented areas of ischemia (low blood flow) leading to tissue death as the tumor outgrew its blood supply. Again, this is a phenomenon commonly seen in advanced malignancy. Tumor cells are constrained in their growth to the diffusion of oxygen and nutrients in aqueous solution unless they can induce the ingrowth of blood vessels, a process called tumor angiogenesis. Tumors frequently can outgrow their blood supply, and when that happens, areas in the center of the tumor will die and liquify. Tumors frequently, as they progress, consist of a relatively thin rim of viable, growing cells surrounding a central area of necrotic tissue. In contrast, when tumors shrink due to chemotherapy or other treatment, they often shrink from the outside-in because that’s usually where the most rapidly proliferating cells are. True, they don’t always shrink that way and sometimes do have spread-out areas of necrosis, but that’s less characteristic. Sadly, then, seeing “cysts” growing in Amelia’s tumor most likely said nothing one way or the other about whether or not Amelia’s tumor was responding to Burzynski’s antineoplastons. That was assuming that Burzynski’s interpretation of the scans is even correct, which I doubted. Unfortunately, this is part of Burzynski’s M.O. He has misinterpreted the formation of cystic areas in brain tumors before as indicating tumor response to therapy.

Unfortunately, I was correct. On December 11, 2012, Mr. Saunders posted this sad update on Facebook:

We had our meeting at Great Ormond Street yesterday and, sadly, they just don’t have anything for us. We kind of knew this before we went – but wondered if they might have a trial that we could take part in. Unfortunately they don’t.

They felt that Amelia is in the latter stages of the disease, and that what is called ‘progression’ has already started. This means her tumour is growing, the cancer is spreading and we don’t have a huge amount of time left. Again we had already guessed this was happening but it was good in a way to have another opinion of this.

The other thing to mention is that I know I posted on here a few weeks back that Amelia had cysts forming in her tumour. Sadly it just appears this theory was wrong, and thank God we didn’t get our hopes up too much about this. Chantal and I have been accustomed to trying to make sure we get lots of opinions about things, and ultimately Amelia’s decline clinically is the telling factor. Her right hand side is now pretty well locked in position and her speech is going. Other functions like swallowing are also beginning to fail.

It tore my heart out to see that message. This is one time when I was not happy that I had been correct. More importantly, my disgust for Burzynski was greater than ever. Getting a report of Merola implicitly excusing Burzynski and subtly suggesting that Mr. Saunders was somehow at fault for listening to a real radiologist only heightened my disgust. One question that comes up in the wake of this part of the film is just which radiologists it is that Burzynski uses. I’ve heard of so many examples of dubious readings of imaging studies that I have to wonder.

3. Burzynski is a real scientist with tons of data supporting antineoplaston therapy who is being unjustly hounded by the FDA, the NCI, and big pharma to prevent him from bringing his cancer cure to market

In the movie, apparently not only is Burzynski a genius and pioneer who invented PGTCT long befoe conventional cancer centers like M.D. Anderson thought of it, but he’s also been unjustly persecuted by the FDA, the Texas Medical Board, and the NCI. Merola goes to great lengths to point out that two chemotherapy drugs approved for glioma, Temodar and Avastin, never went through phase III clinical trials and were approved on the basis of phase II clinical trials. This is true. They were approved using the accelerated approval process, which was designed to bring promising drugs to market more rapidly and in Merola’s hands is apparently portrayed as being a tool of big pharma to increase its profits. Merola bemoans how unfair it is (to him) that the FDA is requiring a phase III clinical trials for Burzynski’s antineoplastons and refusing to grant accelerated approval for them, as it did for Temodar and Avastin.

It seems like a compelling point on the surface if you don’t know about the drug approval process or Burzynski; indeed, The Skeptics who viewed the movie wondered about this claim. Here’s what, as far as I can tell from my reports, Merola leaves out. Temodar and Avastin both had proper, completed, and published phase II trials before approval. Moreover, although Merola did apparently mention that the accelerated approval doesn’t exempt manufacturers from doing phase III clinical trials, he apparently neglected to mention that if those trials are done and are negative then the FDA can revoke the accelerated approval. If Burzynski had ever published a complete phase II trial for antineoplastons for brainstem glioma, he might be considered for fast track approval. On the other hand, given his history, it’s probably quite reasonable of the FDA not to grant him eligibility for fast track approval. Certainly another thing stated in the movie and mentioned in the Q&A, too, is that if antineoplastons were approved for the indication of brain cancers they could then be used off-label for any cancer. Assuming our Skeptics got it right, this means that getting antineoplastons approved for brain cancer and then encouraging their off-label use for pretty much every other cancer seems to be Burzynski’s long term business plan.

There’s also apparently a heapin’ helpin’ of conspiracy mongering in Burzynski II very much like the conspiracy mongering in the first Burzynski movie. Brian handles this issue quite well, but I can’t resist chiming in as well. For instance, Merola claims that the FDA serves pharma, which uses it to suppress antineoplastons. It’s basically a rehash of the same sorts of arguments from the first Burzynski movie, all conspiracy theories beloved of cranks, including that universities don’t want a cure for cancer because they would loose all that sweet, sweet, NCI and pharma money, plus the even sweeter indirect costs that the NIH provides with grants. Then there’s a claim that the FDA requires independent testing, but that no hospital will work with the Burzynski Research Institute to test antineoplastons because, apparently, they don’t want to jeopardize all that filthy NCI and pharma lucre. (Has Merola actually seen the paylines for NCI grants these days? Obviously not. When the pay line barely reaches the 7th percentile, a lot fewer people are enjoying anything resembling Merola’s fantasy of academic medicine.) This conspiracy mongering is taken to a ridiculous extreme in the Q&A, when Eric Merola reports in response to a question that David Axelrod saw a rough cut of Merola’s first movie in 2009. At the time, Axelrod was a senior advisor to President Obama. Merola told the audience that Axelrod said the film was very important but that the issue was too big to deal with then given that the economy was tanking. Incredibly, Merola claims that Axelrod also said that approving antineoplastons would devastate the pharmaceutical industry, sending the country back into recession, and that the stock market would plummet as a result as well. When I read that part, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud.

And, apparently, it’s not Burzynski’s fault that he hasn’t been able to publish, either. The movie claims that up until 2006 antineoplaston papers were routinely accepted. Well, maybe. Or maybe editors are finally on to ol’ Stan. Whatever the case, as I’ve pointed out Burzynski’s publications since 2000 are pretty thin gruel and quite unimpressive, all in lower tier journals, some in “integrative medicine” and CAM journals, and some review articles. Although he’s published preliminary results of one of his phase II trials, he’s never, despite having had over 60 phase II trials, published a complete phase II trial. An amazing example of the nefariousness of journals is given. In November Burzynski tried to submit the results of a phase II trial to The Lancet Oncology, but we’re told that the manuscript was rejected two hours after it was submitted with basically no explanation. Any scientist who’s tried to submit to a top tier journal is probably laughing now. We’ve all accumulated stories like this. True, I’ve never had a two-hour turnaround time for an editorial rejection, but I have had a rejection in less than 24 hours. It’s cutthroat out there, and the top tier journals get so many submissions that they frequently do a “first pass” of rejections of manuscripts that the editors deem to have virtually no chance of being published or that don’t fit within the scope of the journal tightly enough. In fact, The Lancet Oncology is unusual in promising a 72 hour turnaround time. That’s a startlingly fast turnaround time. Come to think of it, maybe I should try to submit something to The Lancet Oncology. There’s nothing to lose, as I would know if it was rejected within 72 hours, so that I could submit it to a different journal. Then I could have something in common with Stan.

4. The Japanese are on the verge of publishing definitive clinical trial evidence that antineoplastons work!

This one’s no surprise either. I’ve addressed the issue of research on antineoplaston by Japanese anesthesiologist Dr. Hideaki Tsuda, and Keir Liddle has pointed out why this research thus far is not so impressive. I agree. But I was intrigued; so I suggested that our Skeptics pay close attention to whether any specific results of the vaporware Japanese trial were described. What they learned was that it was a trial of 63 patients with colorectal cancer metastatic to the liver randomized to either chemotherapy or chemotherapy plus a course of antineoplastons. The movie tells us that the results were awesome, namely that the addition of antineoplastons pushed median survival from 36 months to 70 months. This would indeed be an impressive result if it were validated, although one can’t help but notice that, even in that case, antineoplastons would not be the cure that is often claimed. Even if the result held up, they would be a treatment added to chemotherapy. (Also never mind that antineoplastons are chemotherapy.) In any case, I can’t evaluate this claim until I see a publication in the peer-reviewed medical literature other than to say that most scientists frown on discussing one’s results in a propaganda movie before actually…oh, you know…publishing them in a decent peer-reviewed journal—and with good reason.

5. Skeptics are evil meanies who cackle evilly as they terrorize cancer patients online and delight in crushing their hope

This is the final thing my fellow Skeptics learned by going into the belly of the beast. Indeed, one of them even got to ask a question at the Q&A (more on that later). In this, I truly admire them, because they went into a theater where the film maker wanted to convince his movie’s audience that we are Evil Incarnate, so much so that we are no longer skeptics but The Skeptics and are, according to Merola, a well-organized international group. Well, Merola got one out of two correct. There are skeptics from different countries critical of Burzynski. But well organized? Not so much. Merola obviously doesn’t know any actual skeptics or skeptical organizations if he thinks that. Apparently we’re also so all-encompassing that Merola didn’t do what he had promised and actually name names. Features were apparently obscured, and names on Tweets and blog posts were treated similarly, while at one point the voice of a prominent Skeptic from a YouTube video was even electronically altered to make it sound really sinister, complete with an evil laugh at the end. I have no idea why Merola did that after all the hype about “naming names,” but he did. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was a bit relieved that he did, too.

Be that as it may, no wonder our Skeptics were so interested in this part of the movie! They tell me that we Skeptics were accused of:

  • Attacking cancer patients online and telling them they should just die, accompanied by the image of Pete and Hannah crying, as previously seen in the latest Burzynski II trailer.
  • Keeping pro-Burzynski or even neutral Burzynski material out of Wikipedia. I will give Merola credit for one mildy funny line that our Skeptics remembered, namely that the only neutral information about Burzynski in Wikipedia is his date of birth and prior education. Apparently the audience thought it was funny too.
  • Publishing “death lists” of previous patients and republishing them on multiple blogs and websites to give the appearance of coming from more than one source.
  • Being paid by the government to attack Burzynski
  • Being paid by big pharma to attack Burzynski
  • Having been funded by the NCI, ASCO, and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, (as though this were a bad thing)

I really wish I could have seen this part, because according to our Skeptics many Tweets and blog post excerpts were flashed on the screen, all designed to make The Skeptics look really, really bad. And I’m sure Merola could find some, too. I have seen the occasional Skeptic go too far in my opinion in what he or she says about Burzynski patients.

One “skeptic” charge that apparently rankles is that the Burzynski Clinic charges huge sums of money up front. Merola’s retort? He mentions a 2008 Wall Street Journal story about M.D. Anderson charging cancer patients $105,000 up front to begin therapy. Googling located the original article quickly, but I can’t get access to it. It is, however, extensively quoted here. As horrible as this story is, one can’t help but note that M.D. Anderson didn’t charge this patient for a clinical trial. This was for standard-of-care cancer treatment. That’s bad enough and doesn’t excuse such behavior, but it does reveal that Merola is comparing apples to oranges. The complaint is, after all, that Burzynski charges huge “case management fees” to his patients to be in his clinical trials. Whatever the case, saying in essence, as Merola does, “Hey, they do it too!” is not generally considered a particularly compelling defense, except perhaps among seven year olds.

The demonization appears not to have stopped with the movie, either. During the Q&A, I’m told, Merola used terms like this to describe us, helpfully transcribed by our Skeptics:

  • “No shame whatsoever.”
  • “Blind mules.”
  • “Really nasty people.”
  • “Slippery, slippery people.”
  • “Don’t care about the truth.”

The dislike Merola expresses for Skeptics in his movie is genuine, and I strongly suspect that he really believes that there is a massive conspiracy against Burzynski, and that we’re simply the latest party to it, joining the FDA, the NCI, the Texas Medical Board, and, of course, big pharma.

The underlying lessons

One problem with trying to write about a movie that you haven’t seen through second-hand accounts is that you just can’t get the whole experience the film maker intended because all you have to go on are discussions and other people’s accounts. For instance, I have no idea how effective the use of Hannah Bradley and Laura Hymas was, although if the first Burzynski movie was any indication I’m guessing that Merola pulled out all the stops to emotionally manipulate the audience. Similarly, although I do know from the trailer and our Skeptic mule’s report that the movie featured cancer patients crying at the “harassment” Merola alleges, I have no idea how effective his demonization of the Skeptics was because I only know what sorts of wrongdoing he accused us of, and a few of the adjectives he used to describe us in the film and in the Q&A. I have not experienced it all in context, with dialogue, music, sound, and images all combined to make Skeptics like me look like dogmatic, heartless bastards serving their pharma overlords’ interests. I can take satisfaction that when Brian got up to ask a question, identified himself as a Skeptic (a “skeptic mule,” to be precise), and, prefacing his question with the observation that Merola accused all of us of being funded by pharma, asked him about how he has funded his movies, Merola reportedly looked none too pleased. It was at this point that I think we get a full lesson in where Merola’s at.

In a way, Merola’s tenacity is admirable. He talked about how he so wanted to do his first movie that he took the easiest, highest paying jobs he could find, so that he could finance the Burzynski movie and work on it during nights and weekends. Ultimately he decided that he couldn’t finish the movie unless he went all in. So he quit his job, which shows to me both how much of a true believer he is but also bespeaks a certain boldness and willingness to take risks that’s admirable. It’s sad that he offered up this boldness and risk taking in the service of someone like Burzynski, who, if Merola is to be believed, didn’t trust him at first and had to be won over by a rough cut of footage about patients from the first movie. He also overcame other adversity, as during the first year after its release his movie didn’t do so well and he was seriously hurting for money. Then, he was interviewed by Dr. Oz, and über-quack Joe Mercola started promoting him, after which his first movie took off. This timeline makes sense in retrospect to me. Even though Burzynski I was released in 2010, I didn’t hear about it until well over a year later and didn’t find online access to review it until November 2011. Apparently this time around things are easier because Burzynski trusts Merola and he has a better distribution deal, but even now Merola claims he won’t start seeing any money until September. I can’t argue that, as he was reported to have said, Merola “put his financial ass on the line.” He also put a family member on the line in 2011, namely a cousin with a brain tumor whom he referred to Burzynski in 2011 and who tragically died despite antineoplaston therapy and whom he doesn’t mention in the Q&A.

Perhaps that’s why Merola is so vicious this time around in attacking his critics. He is clearly a True Believer, as evidenced by the work he did, the risks he took, and the price he paid, as only a True Believer would go to such lengths. Last time around, however, what he didn’t face were Skeptics criticizing his movie, mainly because we hadn’t heard of it, didn’t see it, and didn’t think much of it. That’s why it makes perfect sense that the rise of his movie paralleled the vast increase in criticism of Burzynski by skeptics. Also not mentioned by Merola is that it didn’t help that around the same time in 2011 Burzynski patients were getting into the news through their prodigious fundraising efforts, and Skeptics were taking note. Burzynski didn’t react well, siccing his attack poodle Marc Stephens on a teenaged skeptic in the U.K., and thus invoking the Streisand Effect in full force. The side spatter from that kerfuffle naturally started hitting Merola as skeptics looking into Burzynski’s activities started examining Merola’s movie, which was by then freely available to watch on various websites. The first time around, Merola flew in under the radar and was only noticed when people like Dr. Oz and Joe Mercola started promoting his movie. This time around, there is no free pass, no free year, and he can’t fly in under the radar. Merola has been noticed, thanks to the popularity of Burzynski I, and the scrutiny began as soon as he announced Burzynski II. This time he does not have over a year to say whatever he wants, do whatever he wants, and screen his movie only to adoring, credulous believers in “health freedom” and quackery before skeptics start to take notice.

This time, Merola’s not going to get the same year-long free ride with no skeptical evaluation that he got last time, and he doesn’t like it. However, this has nothing to do with a shadowy conspiracy of skeptics and everything to do with his having reached a high enough profile as someone who has become in essence the biggest advertiser for Stanislaw Burzynski in existence. Although I actually believe that Eric Merola believes he is doing the right thing (as he claims he believes The Skeptics think they’re doing the right thing), he is deluding himself when he claims to be an independent journalist. He was never such a thing and, in fact, has become such a True Believer in Burzynski that he is no longer capable of even a semblance of critical thinking about him. Instead of looking at the evidence objectively, he applies his skills as a former advertiser to cherry pick evidence and present only information that supports his True Belief. I’d almost admire him, if he weren’t so manipulative, deceptive, and unrelentingly and ham-handedly one-sided in his film making tactics.



Posted by David Gorski

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