Today we interrupt our regularly scheduled post to bring you a special announcement. My usual post will appear tomorrow.
Britt Hermes is a familiar name to regular SBM readers. She’s the former naturopathic “doctor” who had the courage to leave naturopathic practice after she became disgusted with the abundant quackery and disregard for patient safety that permeates the field. Since then, she’s been busy exposing naturopathic pseudoscience via her own blog, Naturopathic Diaries: Confessions of a Naturopathic Doctor, as well as posts on our website, Kevin MD, and Forbes, and in media interviews and public appearances. Although left deeply in debt by her naturopathic “medical” education at Bastyr University, she successfully completed a Master’s of Science degree program at Kiel University. She still resides in Kiel, Germany, where she is pursuing a Ph.D. in evolutionary genomics in conjunction with the prestigious Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology and the Institute for Experimental Dermatology at the University of Lübeck.
For these efforts she is regarded as a “terrorist” in some naturopathic quarters and legal threats have attempted to silence her criticism. Now she needs your help in fighting back.
In February, 2016, Hermes discovered that her name had been misappropriated in three registered domain names. One, brittmariehermes.com, was a snarky “tribute” website, while the other two redirected the reader to the homepage of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. Upon investigating further, Hermes found that one of the eponymous domain names was registered with an email address at the domain natonco.org, the website of an organization called the Naturopathic Cancer Society, a non-profit run by self-appointed cancer expert Colleen Huber, a “Naturopathic Medical Doctor” who practices in Arizona. The Society raises money for those who want to partake of unproven cancer treatments but who don’t have the money to pay for them. Huber also runs Nature Works Best, a naturopathic clinic which offers such treatments, claiming, among other things,
It just so happens that around the time of Hermes’s discovery, the now infamous NatChat naturopathic discussion forum was engaged in a dustup over just who among their ranks was leaking information critical of naturopathy, with a big side of anti-vaccination pseudoscience thrown in for good measure. Among the accusations and counter-accusations, chat participant Colleen Huber let fly just what she thought of Hermes and her hanging out of copious amounts of naturopathic dirty laundry: Huber called Hermes a “terrorist” and claimed Hermes somehow controlled Wikipedia content presumably unfavorable to naturopaths.
Incidentally, chiming in on the NatChat vaccination debate, Huber also said she won’t administer vaccines, and neither should any other naturopath:
First Do No Harm requires that naturopathic physicians not administer vaccines, at least not in their present form. If a much safer, more effective vaccine is developed in the future, I will keep an open mind, but will not administer it until proven safe and effective in credible, uncorrupted double-blind studies. Those studies have not happened with current vaccines.
Those scruples apparently do not extend to her own cancer treatments. She claims that:
Nature Works Best is a natural cancer clinic located in Tempe, Arizona, that focuses on natural, holistic, and alternative cancer treatments. Our treatments have proved to be an effective alternative to traditional chemotherapy and radiation, which we do not use in our treatments. Rather, we have developed a natural method of treating cancers based on intravenous vitamin therapy which may include Vitamin-C, Baking Soda, and other tumor fighting agents as well as a simple food plan.
Our team of naturopathic medical doctors have administered an estimated 31,000 IV nutrient treatments, used for all stages and types of tumors. As of July 2014, 80% of patients who completed our treatments alone went into remission, 85% of patients who completed our treatments and followed our food plan went into remission.
None of the listed treatments has been “proven safe and effective in credible, uncorrupted double blind studies” nor are her statistics from “credible, uncorrupted double blind studies,” a point we’ll return to in a moment. In fact, one of the sources she touts as supportive of her baking soda treatments for cancer, Tullo Simoncini, was recently sentenced to 5 ½ years in prison for killing a patient with the treatment. (Article in Italian.)
“First Do No Harm” indeed.
Should you be able to stomach it, you can hear more of Huber’s naturopathic nonsense here.
In any event, based on her cyber-research, Hermes wrote a post on her blog: “Is dubious cancer ‘doctor’ Colleen Huber cybersquatting my name?” The post chronicled her discoveries about the misappropriation of her name and her efforts to fight back, including the fact that she had to go to the expense of hiring an attorney in the U.S. to assist in reclaiming her name. It also criticized Huber and her quack treatments, her use of a dubious Institutional Review Board (IRB) for her equally dubious research, and her questionable charitable organization. Hermes backed up her criticism of Huber’s research with a reanalysis of the data by Thomas Mohr, an oncology researcher at the Medical University of Vienna. Mohr’s comments:
Putting aside the ethical issues of the extremely bad study design, the lack of ethics committee approval or patients’ agreement, a quick n’ dirty analysis of the data reveals following odds ratio: 2.1 (95% CI 1.01 – 4.40, p<0.05) in favour of state of the art treatment. In other words, patients under natural care have more than a two-fold higher risk to die.
This is criminal.
If one removes data of questionable quality and takes into account only those with complete data and in treatment resp. [respectively] died during treatment (i.e. in remission, not yet in remission, died), the odds ratio gets almost 10:1 in favour of state of the art therapy. This is really nasty.
Eventually, Hermes filed a complaint with ICANN and was able to take control of several domains using variations of her name which, she says, she assumes were registered by the same person. Then, she discovered that yet another variation of her name was being used as a domain name without her permission. According to Hermes, it linked to Huber’s Naturopathic Cancer Society and “has a similar look and feel to the former websites at the squatted domains.”
Rather than realizing the error of her ways, Huber doubled down. She hired a German attorney, who sent a cease and desist letter to Hermes, claiming the cybersquatting post defamed her. (This was actually the second cease and desist letter she received from the naturopathic community, the first coming from her alma mater, Bastyr University, also upset about her revelations about the school.) The letter demanded that she take down the post and pay Huber’s legal fees. Hermes refused and responded to these claims in a second post, “Is Colleen Huber a cancer quack? And more legal thuggery.”
Huber’s cease and desist letter boomeranged into a fresh round of criticism of her quackery. Our good friend Orac deconstructed Huber’s bogus cancer treatments and her questionable research over on Respectful Insolence. Steve Novella, MD weighed in as well here on SBM. Taken together, their comments left Huber and her research in shreds.
But Huber is nothing if not persistent. Perhaps due to good old forum shopping for a more plaintiff-friendly jurisdiction, Huber has now filed suit against Hermes for defamation in Germany, where there is no protection against SLAPP lawsuits.
Unfortunately for Huber, the boomerang struck again in response to her lawsuit. This time, it was Edzard Ernst, MD, raising anew questions about Huber’s extravagant claims. Orac also posted with an update on Huber’s latest attempt to silence Hermes.
The suit has also prompted an international effort against this attempted suppression of well-documented criticism of naturopathic practices. The Australian Skeptics are heading a fundraising drive to help Hermes pay legal expenses. Michael Marshall from the U.K’s Good Thinking Society, Steven and Jay Novella from The Skeptics Guide to the Universe, and Claire Klingenberg from the European Council of Skeptical Organisations (ECSO) are on the fundraising committee. The Australian Skeptics want donors to know that:
- The funds donated are non-refundable.
- We cannot guarantee that Britt will win her case.
- Should more funds be collected than required to cover Britt’s costs, they will be held for a period of up to 12 months to ensure the legal risk to Britt has passed, after which they will be donated to Sense About Science or be put into a generalised Skeptics legal defence fund.
- No entity linked to the campaign, including Britt, Australian Skeptics Inc. (ASI) or any of the collaborators, will receive any funds raised by the campaign.
- ASI is not a registered charity in Australia and donors should not expect their donation to be tax deductible in Australia or anywhere else (depending on prevailing local regulation).
Eran Segev, President of the Australian Skeptics, commented in a a press release:
We are concerned by the case brought against Britt, not only over the merits or otherwise of the libel action, but particularly that the case may have the effect of silencing a major campaigner against unproven and disproven ‘medical’ practices through the imposition of considerable legal costs.
According to the press release:
The campaign, which hoped to raise at least £50k to help Britt with her legal defence, has garnered considerable attention – raising more than 60% of that initial milestone in just three days. Segev said of the early success: “While the response by the community has been incredible, legal cases can be protracted, unpredictable and expensive affairs, so we still require further donations to reach the £50k – or even more – that we need to ensure that Britt doesn’t risk financial ruin for writing about pseudoscience.
SBM fully supports Britt in her efforts to fight back against Huber’s attempt to silence her criticism. We hope you do too, and will give whatever you can via the Australian Skeptics website.