Saturday, August 16, 2014

Leonard Coldwell: the facts don't matter if the story is good (Part 4 of 5)

NOTE: ALL links to web pages, and comments about the content on those pages, were accurate at the time this post (and updates) were originally written. In this post, information about said content was accurate at least through February 2015, but it appears that at least one subject (namely, Coldwell himself) may have subsequently taken steps to redesign/"clean up" some of his sites.

Leonard Coldwell, fake doctor and ex b.f.f. of imprisoned serial scammer Kevin Trudeau, has taken up far too much space on this blog, especially for such a little man, so it's time to start wrapping up this five-part series. Originally this started out as a one-off post about Coldwell's hilarious new Bio/Credentials web site,* but it grew a little... and then it grew a lot.

In Part 1 I took a close look at an ill-fated page on Coldwell's new Bio site that contained some seriously defamatory and legally actionable lies about some of the people (including me) whom he claimed were defaming HIM. (For instance, he falsely accused two male bloggers of being child rapists.) In Part 2 I deconstructed Coldwell's medical "lackground" -- the small collection of diploma-mill credentials and miscellaneous certificates that he shared on his "Accredation" [sic] page. In Part 3
I reviewed Coldwell's history of handling criticism. And in this segment, I will explore the possible reasons that Coldwell is a legend in his own mind as well as in the minds of his relatively small (compared to Kevin Trudeau and other Scamworld gurus) band of followers and fans.

I think it goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway, that I am not a professional psychologist or mental health expert and -- unlike the subject of this lengthy series and numerous other Whirled posts -- I don't even play one on the Net, so take all of this for what it's worth. As always, I have made every effort to be accurate and to provide relevant links whenever they are available; beyond that, this post reflects my own opinions, based upon the public writings, videos, and behavior of the bad Mocktor Coldwell and some of his much more successful colleagues.

Persecution complex, thy name is Lenny C
The central belief of every moron is that he is the victim of a mysterious conspiracy against his common rights and true deserts...
~ H.L. Mencken
On the surface, Leonard Coldwell's main shtick is his questionable "health" advice about "natural" cures for cancer and other diseases. He is also a rabid anti-vaccination ranter, and in the wake of recent news events he has had quite a lot to say about the deadly Ebola virus. Lenny never misses an opportunity to froth at the mouth over the disease or epidemic or syndrome du jour, claiming that he knows the truth about it and that the mainstream media and the medical establishment are all lying to the people.

And as many know, he has a side-shtick as
a comically alarmist social and political ranter who embraces every wackadoodle conspiracy theory that comes down the pike, particularly those that have something to do with the New World Order (NWO) and the enemies that he believes are threatening America and freedom-loving people everywhere. Recently, though not for the first time, his rants have had a distinct anti-Semitic tinge, the screen shot linked to in this sentence being just one of numerous examples that have polluted social media.

Coldwell's alt-health shtick, and indeed his entire output over at least the past decade and a half or so, are largely built upon the story he tells of being a hero -- nearly a martyr -- who has fought bravely against the medical establishment since he was a little boy or a teenager (it's difficult to pin down the exact age he was when he embarked upon his hero's journey, as he has told several different versions of the tale). He tells of braving death threats -- "about twenty" a day, for goodness sake! -- and gunshots and car bombs and wicked-bad "defamation" campaigns, all in order to continue delivering his priceless information to the people in need.

The narrative itself appears to be driven by what I can only describe as a serious persecution complex, to use a rather old-fashioned and possibly outmoded term. In turn, that complex -- or whatever one wishes to call it -- is nurtured and stoked by fans, followers and various members of the nutjob "alternative" media, who, for their own reasons, have a need to believe, or at least to pretend they believe, Coldwell's story.

The RationalWiki site --
where, as it happens, I recently found a hilarious entry on Coldwell -- has an interesting article about the persecution complex. Of particular interest for our purposes here is the section on the phenomenon in pseudo-science and alternative medicine.
Proponents of pseudoscience regularly rail against the scientific establishment and what they see as concerted efforts to quash anyone who would compete with the orthodox line. A common example of this is the creationist line that the prevalence of evolutionary biology is less to do with scientific evidence, than it is a conspiracy to push ideology or protect the jobs of scientists who toe the party line. The same claim is made by global warming conspiracy theorists. Medical conspiracies follow a similar line in that proponents of obviously flawed treatments, such as homeopathy, are not dismissed due to lack of evidence, but more because Big Pharma won't tolerate any threat to their ability to hawk their pills.
That would seem to be a fair description of Coldwell. On the other hand, it is possible that what he has is not exactly a persecution complex, which (at least by my understanding of the term) implies that the person truly believes, at some level, that he or she is being persecuted or oppressed or repressed. And most of the time I lean towards thinking that Coldwell's narrative is cobbled together by cynical lies, distortions, and gross exaggerations, not because he actually believes any of it but because he is well aware that such a story is a powerful attractant for gullible followers.

It is entirely possible, however, that Coldwell has taken at least some of his own nonsense to heart; for many people there is a perverse satisfaction (or at least a handy excuse) in the conviction that one is being held back by forces beyond one's control. The author of the persecution complex piece on RationalWiki shared this snippet from
a June 2005 post on John Rogers' Kung Fu Monkey blog: of the great secrets of human nature is that the one thing people want more than love, security, sex, chocolate or big-screen TV's is to feel hard done by. Why? Because being hard done by is the shit. Feeling hard done by is the sweetest of drugs. If you're being persecuted -- it must mean you're doing the right thing, right? You get the mellow buzz of the moral high ground, but without arrogantly claiming it as your own. You get an instant, supportive community in a big dark scary world of such scope it may well literally be beyond rational human processing. When you are hard done by, you get purpose in a life where otherwise, you'd have to find your own. And when you ride that high, then no amount of logic, no pointing out that in actuality you and your beliefs are at a high point of popularity and influence for the last hundred years -- is going to pry that sweet crack-pipe of moral indignation from your hands.
(In his brilliant book, Pity the Billionaire, Thomas Franks explores the persecution complex of the political right wing -- Tea Party folk, certain Republicans, and so forth -- in the United States. The persecution narrative is very popular among these factions: why should racial and ethnic minorities have all the fun?) If you follow the link in the quotation above -- which was embedded by the RationalWiki author and not the original blog writer -- you'll see a very pertinent entry on Argumentum ad martyrdom, "a pseudo-Latin term used for two different logical fallacies favored by some Christians." And, I might add, by some alt-health and other Scamworld gurus too -- including a certain fake-doc who claims to be a Christian.

In any case, I think it's pretty easy to understand the payoff for Coldwell regarding the persecution story, whether or not he literally believes all of it. He gets attention, emotional satisfaction, and financial gain from his tale of the hero's journey. I think most of us can also easily understand the payoff for alt-media and Internet "radio" hosts who, after all, must constantly fill their schedules with entertaining, sensationalist guests -- in many cases, the nuttier, the better. The facts don't matter if the story is good.

But what about Coldwell's fans and followers; what stake to they have in believing his stories?

The myth of the alt-health hero
It seems to me that one reason some folks are still so willing to believe Leonard Coldwell's stories -- even in the face of what to most people would be glaring evidence that he is far from credible -- is that they have already bought into the folklore of the "natural cures" hero who bravely fights the medical establishment. Said establishment includes not only doctors and the mainstream healthcare profession but also the big drug companies who, of course, are all out to suppress those "natural cures" and destroy the natural-cures healers and advocates in any way possible -- either by discrediting them, attempting to decimate their reputations and their businesses, or, in extreme cases, trying to kill them.

RationalWiki describes the phenomenon as
the "Brave Maverick Doctor" mythos, although in Coldwell's case it would have to be the Brave Maverick Fake Doctor. And since he's not really brave but is actually a spineless coward, perhaps Cowardly Maverick Fake Doctor, or CMFD, would be an apt credential for him to add to his impressive list of phony creds.

The dramatic tales have undeniable entertainment value, so for that reason alone I think it is pretty easy to understand why the uncritical and unquestioning would be enthralled by Coldwell's yarns of narrowly escaping guns and car bombs and other physical threats, as well as his whoppers about the nefarious "defamation conspiracy" that he claims has been going on for years. It is the stuff of movies and TV shows and thriller novels, and as such it is so much more interesting and entertaining than real life.

Coldwell has repeated his thriller narrative countless times in interviews, on web sites, and of course in his books. He has also repeated the defamation-conspiracy story many times. Turning again to his 2008 magnum dopus
Instinct Based Medicine:
You can buy Instinct Based Medicine on Amazon (the link is in the sentence immediately preceding the graphic), or you can preview it on Google Books here, though not all pages are available for preview.**

Coldwell's hero/martyr story has been repeated ad nauseam not only by Coldwell but also by his fans, followers and promoters all over the Internet.
In Part 3 of this Whirled series (under the subhead, "Strategy number 1" etc.), I mentioned an October 2012 conversation between Coldwell and a minor-league conspiracy-monger named Glenn Canady. The link to the conversation that is embedded in that article no longer works, but you can listen to it here.

At the time I first wrote about the interview I had not yet listened to it but I have now done so. It contains Coldwell's well-worn narrative of being fought at every turn by the medical establishment. He talks about the groups that he claims have spent millions of dollars to "defame" him and says he knows exactly which groups are working against him, though he fails to name them. He also repeats
his "million dollar" challenges: he is prepared, he says, to offer a million bucks to anyone who can either beat his own claimed cancer "cure rate" of 92.3%, or who can prove him wrong. He reiterates his excuse that he would gladly set up clinics and cure cancer patients for free if only the American system would let him do so legally. And he insinuates that as part of the great conspiracy against him and his work, Google and Amazon have somehow conspired to keep his books off of all of the bestseller lists, even though, according to Coldwell, he has sold millions and millions of the things.

Desperation and anger
Apart from the desire to be entertained and perhaps even inspired by tales of heroism, there are of course more serious reasons that some people take Coldwell's nonsense to heart. Some people are truly desperate, or angry, or both, on their own behalf or on that of loved ones. Their desperation and anger are understandable, for establishment medicine has failed people in many ways. Despite attempts at reform in some of the more affluent countries, including the U.S., quality health care remains inaccessible to many. And then there is that whole "doctors are gods" mythos, which, though arguably not quite as influential today as in the past, still fosters an arrogance in many medical doctors. Even those who are truly kind and caring are, more often than not, hopelessly overworked.

This July 2013 review of a then-new book about alt-med (Do You Believe in Magic? The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine by Paul Offit, M.D.) touches on some of the issues.
Arthur Caplan, the director of medical ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York, says alternative healers satisfy patients' needs for more personal attention.

"Medicine does a very poor job of addressing the emotional, spiritual and even psychological side of things," Caplan says. "When you are not good at doing important things, other people rush into that vacuum."

Yet people who put their faith in alternative healers and supplements may be putting themselves at risk, Caplan says.

The alternative therapy industry capitalizes on a number of common sentiments, Offit says, from a naïve belief in the safety of all things natural to distrust of government regulation.
In addition, doctors do make mistakes, sometimes fatal ones. A very good friend of mine came close to dying because his aggressive neck cancer was misdiagnosed -- twice -- by some of the finest doctors in one of the most reputable medical complexes in the world. Fortunately the third time was a charm, and after a series of grueling treatments he appears to be in good health.

Of course misdiagnosis can also work in the opposite direction: a doctor's incorrect opinion or a false positive on a test result can prompt additional and more invasive testing or treatments that can wreak havoc on a patient's physical health, emotional well-being, and finances. Mistakes made in hospitals -- such as incorrect drug dosages or surgical blunders -- have cost lives. And hospitals are notorious Petri dishes for all types of virulence. In medicine, the cure or treatment is sometimes as bad as or worse than the disease. (But this is not always the case; here, from the Quackometer site, is some perspective on the word/concept of "iatrogenic.")

Even in the best of circumstances, the unhappy truth is that conventional medicine simply cannot save everyone or heal every disease. And more than anything, people want hope and the promise of healing. Alt-health quacks offer that hope, often with a healthy dose of feel-good platitudes.

That many people have an axe to grind with the pharmaceutical industry is also understandable. Big Pharma's innovations have saved millions of lives but have also destroyed many. Pharmaceutical companies have, for instance,
been known to cover up research results that pointed to lack of efficacy or to devastating and potentially deadly side effects of their products.

We've all read horror stories, and perhaps some of those stories have hit close to home. Another good friend of mine had been taking an aggressively advertised osteoporosis drug that ended up crumbling her jawbone. Her pain is barely manageable at best, unbearable at worst, and she will never be able to live a normal life again. She became part of a huge class action lawsuit, and according to her husband, the physicians and attorneys involved agreed that hers was one of the most extreme cases they had ever seen. It should have been a slam-dunk case, particularly since they had the very best lawyers available for this type of case. But the case has been dragging on for years now and they recently found out that the settlement, if it is ever actually paid, will be paltry -- probably only around $10,000 -- to compensate for a totally wrecked quality of life.

And my friend's case is just one of many thousands of stories of people who have been harmed by relentlessly promoted prescription drugs whose side effects are often more devastating than the condition they were supposed to treat.

The other big problem is price-gouging; the pharmaceutical companies charge outrageous prices, claiming research and development costs justify those prices, but the pricing seems arbitrary in many cases. Pharmaceutical companies do whatever they can get away with -- because they can, and in many cases because we allow it. [Update, 6 October 2014: see this post by Robert Reich on the real reason Big Pharma rips us off; and this transcript of a CBS 60 minutes piece that aired on 5 October 2014, regarding outrageous pricing on cancer drugs. ~CC]
I should note that even RationalWiki, which generally takes a strong pro-science, anti-woo stance, has done a pretty good job of covering the troublesome issues of the pharmaceutical industry.

So, while not giving short shrift to the lifesaving medicines developed by the pharmaceutical companies, I will say that I am aware of their atrocities and I am aware of how the game is rigged in their favor. I get it.

The lure of the black-or-white
That said, to understand the problems with mainstream medicine and Big Pharma does not mean that by default one must embrace the smarmy alt-health gurus and pretend doctors such as Leonard Coldwell, who clearly have their own agendas. That there are plenty of legitimate reasons to criticize doctors, the medical industry, the health care system, and Big Pharma would seem, on the surface, to lend credence to the tall tales of the alt-health gurus. It is precisely this "truthiness" factor that served Kevin Trudeau so well in building up his fan base (more on that below).

But legitimate criticisms do not make the tall tales true, and do not render the gurus or their "cures" legitimate.
(Or as UK doc and woo critic Ben Goldacre tweeted a few years ago, "repeat after me: pharma being shit does not mean magic beans cure cancer.") The defenders of alt-health often employ that logical fallacy known as a false dichotomy (or false dilemma), or "black-or-white": you are either totally for alt-health or totally for Big Pharma and the docs. "Don't mess with Mr. In-Between!"

In truth, there is an enormous gray area between that black and white.

Where I stand in the "war" between conventional med and alt-med
As you may be more than aware by now, Coldwell's most frequent accusation against his critics is that they are engaged in a fight against "natural cures" and natural "healers," with a focus on destroying him. And as I've noted, he generally accuses us of being paid by the "enemy" to engage. His claims are completely unfounded, at least regarding the bloggers and all of the other critics whose writings about him I have read.

Regarding my own stance on "natural" cures versus establishment medicine, perhaps you got a hint of that in the above section about people's disillusionment with medicine. I'm actually more on the fence about this than either my skeptic buds or my natural-cures friends would prefer, but because they are my friends, it doesn't matter. Where medicine versus alt-health is concerned I'm as much of a Ms. In-Between as
I have been for years in the larger skeptics-versus-believers battle. I don't have a stake in either side of the controversy. I am very well aware of the mistakes medicine makes that can cost lives, as well as the arrogance of many doctors, and I'm pretty well versed in the misdeeds of Big Pharma. I know that the government agencies that were formed to protect us are often in the pockets of big businesses. I have learned some of this from personal experience and much from my reading credible investigative sources for many years -- sources that do not include Kevin Trudeau, Leonard Coldwell, or Mike Adams the Health Ranger, about whom I will have more in a moment.

My own health habits aren't nearly as dramatic as the narrative spun by Coldwell, who (among numerous other lies) has repeatedly and falsely accused me of being a "druggy." Apparently he is either obsessed with drugs himself or is stuck on "druggy" as a knee-jerk accusation to discredit anyone who dares to criticize him, though he apparently fails to take into account that drinking copious amounts of bourbon makes one a druggy too. Alcohol is one of the most dangerous drugs there is when used to excess, which is why I quit drinking alcohol many years ago.

In the unlikely event that you are interested, here is my drug profile: I take some vitamins and nutritional supplements. I take a few over-the-counter drugs such as aspirin, generic Excedrin, and generic Benadryl. My "recreational drugs" are a cup of coffee in the morning, which I often don't finish, and the occasional indulgence in chocolate. I used to enjoy one or at most two cans per day of Red Bull -- the original, sugar-sweetened stuff, not the sugarfree version with aspartame, which I hate -- but I gave it up years ago, and these days, even thinking about the taste of Red Bull or other caffeinated "energy" drinks nauseates me. I rarely go to doctors, though I have a strong respect for (not to be confused with a worship of) modern mainstream medicine.

I have certainly been known to make fun of and criticize extravagant claims from alt-health gurus, but frankly, my dears, I don't give a damn if you follow their advice or not. I don't stand to gain or lose anything whether you're an alt-health fanatic, a staunch believer in "allopathic" medicine, or an advocate of "complementary" medicine. I think you should be free to eschew medical treatment, if you wish, in favor of "alternative" methods, or you should be free to combine the two as you and your practitioners of choice see fit. You should be free to take the supplements you want to take, whether or not there's any credible clinical evidence that they do what you expect them to do. You should be free to snort Himalayan pink salt, give yourself a coffee enema or a food-grade hydrogen peroxide douche, put aromatherapy frauducts in your ears or colloidal silver up your hoo-ha, guzzle baking soda and maple syrup smoothies, or do anything that any alt-health wacko tells you to do to cure or prevent cancer or any other devastating disease.

In other words... your body, your business. I believe that people should have choices.

But I believe those choices should be informed ones. Accordingly, I also strongly believe that I have the legal right and -- I'll go so far as to say the ethical duty -- to make fun of, and to criticize, and to question, any and everything that alt-health/selfish-help/McSpirituality/New-Wage gurus say or do that I believe to be questionable, dangerous, or just plain silly. That does not make me part of a
"conspiracy to destroy grounds of business" (Coldwell's completely made-up term for the "crimes" he alleges the critics have committed against him). It makes me a legitimate voice in the conversation. It makes me a voice that apparently scares the bejeezus out of quacks who truly have something to hide.

And while we're on the subject of rights, those alt-health wackos do not actually have a right, legally or ethically, to make up and publish lies about me or any other critic who dares to question them. The things Coldwell has written about some of his critics are textbook cases of unprotected speech.

But I guess there's no stopping stupidity.

But is there any truth (or at least truthiness) to the persecution story?
Perhaps you have figured out that Coldwell's hero/martyr narrative is part of a larger pattern. Indeed it is; some version of his "they're out to get me" story has been used by numerous other hucksters, perhaps most notably
Coldwell's former b.f.f. Kevin Trudeau, whose "Natural Cures" publishing scampire and Global Information Network (GIN) were totally built upon a foundation of so-called "forbidden" information.

The infamous Trudeau has been a huckster for all seasons and all reasons, and his tales of being persecuted by the government were always good for polishing his image as a hero for consumers and
for the First Amendment/freedom of expression. As I'd noted in previous posts, there is just enough "truthiness" in some of his stories -- because yes, the government has done and continues to do some atrocious things -- to lend a painfully thin veneer of credibility to his narrative. And as I noted above, there are plenty of reasons to criticize the medical profession and the large pharmaceutical companies, and some of those factors almost certainly contribute to people's willingness to believe the alt-health evangelists. But is there any truth to the claim that the alt-health docs or advocates are actually being persecuted?

Coldwell is certainly not the only questionable "healer" who has exploited the folk meme of the hounded and harassed health hero. Some practitioners who have actual medical degrees, having been under fire for their controversial and questionable practices, have also used the health-hero narrative -- or Brave Maverick Doctor narrative, if you will -- to advance their cause, and the true believers have gleefully embraced that narrative. Let's look at three of the most commonly cited alt-health heroes who,
unlike Leonard Coldwell, are (or were) real doctors.

I know, of course, that there are scads more doctors, fake doctors, scientists, and fake scientists that I could mention here. (The late Wilhelm Reich is but one of many. Actually, he was given a bum deal by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and treated shamefully, in my opinion. But still, he was pretty nutty.) I'm sure you can name a few too. I know that every one of these folks has hundreds of apologists and detractors alike. This isn't meant to be a comprehensive account by any means; the following three were chosen because they have been frequently cited by Coldwell and his fans.
Max Gerson: long dead, though the legend (and the coffee-enema protocol) live on
We'll start with the late Dr. Max Gerson, inventor of Gerson Therapy -- which he claimed could cure cancer as well as most chronic degenerative diseases. Being decades dead, and having died in allegedly mysterious circumstances, he is frequently mentioned as a genuine martyr to to the cause of "natural cures." He died in 1959 -- 55 years ago as I write this -- which in many ways deepens the mystery. His death is the stuff of alt-health conspiracy fandom; the story goes
that even though pneumonia was listed as the official cause of death, Gerson was murdered by persons or persons unknown, acting on behalf of the medical establishment, of course. Gerson's daughter Charlotte has said that someone put arsenic in her father's afternoon coffee. (Here is a link to a 2004 interview with Charlotte on the site.)

Gerson's protocol includes coffee enemas, a very restricted diet, and a slew of supplements. As is so often the case with alt-health therapies and "protocols," there's a lot of anecdotal evidence but precious little formal research evidence to validate them. Moreover, there are grave health and safety concerns around the protocol, including the possibility of severe electrolyte imbalances; serious illness and deaths have reportedly occurred as a direct result of those coffee enemas.

As with all "alternative" therapies, there is always the question of possible harm done simply by patients' choice to avail themselves of the alternative rather than to choose conventional methods. A client and friend of ours died of colorectal cancer years ago, and some of the people closest to him told Ron and me that they believed he may have been doomed by his choice to initially use alternative methods -- such as coffee enemas -- rather than going for conventional treatment, which might have saved him. It's impossible to declare with certainty what would have happened had he made different choices; I am just anecdotally repeating the opinions of those who knew him best and loved him the most.

Oncologist and surgeon Dr. David Gorski has much more than anecdotal evidence against Gerson's work, and has much to say about Gerson in
this November 2008 post on the Science-Based Medicine blog. The much-loathed-by-Coldwell-and-cronies American Cancer Society has also weighed in.

So Gerson was criticized while he was alive, and the criticism of his "treatments" continues today. To a true believer that may seem like persecution, but to me it seems like simple common sense to question any therapy, particularly one that includes squirting coffee up your behind. Whether or not Gerson was deliberately poisoned, and whether "someone" from the medical establishment was ultimately responsible or not, is something that will probably never be known, but I'm thinking that this question is pretty much irrelevant to those who have already made up their minds, and who care more about the story than the facts.

Joseph Mercola: sitting pretty at the top of the alt-doc heap

Dr. Joseph Mercola, who is one of Coldwell's heroes, is another controversial alt-health doc; actually he is not an M.D. but is a D.O., or a doctor of osteopathy. He has managed to position himself -- brilliantly, some would say -- in opposition to much of the medical establishment. If you're not familiar with the controversies surrounding Mercola, you can mostly catch up by reading this February 2012 piece in Chicago Magazine.

In his role as a natural health advocate/supplement huckster Mercola has faded heat for
everything from his advocacy of pseudoscientific ideas (e.g., his claims that HIV doesn't cause AIDS) and his cherry-picking of facts to promote his agenda, to his aggressive direct-marketing tactics. He has received warning letters from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for violations of various U.S. marketing laws, e.g., for making false and misleading claims.

He's all about the controversy.

Controversy, however, doesn't equal persecution, and even the unwelcome attention from the U.S. government hasn't really seemed to hurt him. (Even I have found some of the information on his vast site to be helpful,
in particular, the pet care info presented by some of my favorite author veterinarians.) Despite the fact that many in the medical establishment, such as Quackwatch creator and retired doc Stephen Barrett, M.D., have spoken out against Mercola -- and RationalWiki has some witty observations as well -- he doesn't seem to be hurting, financially or in any other way. As is often the case, the controversy seems to have served him quite well. But the alt-health fans, and the B-listers like Coldwell, seem happy to support any narrative that paints Mercola as the persecuted hero.

Stanislaw Burzynski: cancer is good business, and critics are bad for business
A current high-profile example, and apparently another hero of Coldwell's, is
Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski, whose cancer protocols have been, to say the least, controversial, even though of course he has his passionate defenders. His Texas clinic is best known for various brouhahas surrounding something Burzynski calls "antineoplaston therapy," which is actually a form of chemotherapy that uses compounds Burzynski calls antineoplastons (a word he made up to describe a group of peptides, peptide derivatives and mixtures used in his "alternative cancer treatments"). Dr. B originally devised the protocol in the 1970s and administered the therapy initially to 21 patients before administering it more widely as an "experimental treatment."

over three and a half decades Burzynski has been catching flak from the medical establishment, the FDA, the Texas Medical Board, the American Cancer Society, Cancer Research UK, and the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, among others. His treatment has been deemed ineffective and has been called bad science, and he has also been reprimanded for unethical behavior, including money-grubbing -- overcharging the most vulnerable patients for the privilege of submitting themselves to his unproven protocol. He has certainly had his share of legal issues too.

It's no surprise that journalists and bloggers have written critically about him. Perhaps one of the better known efforts
was that by USA Today. One of my favorite Houston journalists, Craig Malisow, award-winning reporter at the Houston Press, has also tackled Burzynski; start with this 2008 article and follow the links on the page to more recent efforts (under "Related Stories"). The aforementioned Dr. David Gorski, who writes the excellent Respectful Insolence blog under the name Orac, has written about Burzynski numerous times as well.

It will probably come as no surprise that Burzynski has rattled the legal saber at his online critics. A few years ago, using a "web reputation manager" named Marc Stephens who masqueraded as a lawyer for a while, Dr. B. threatened bloggers, including a teenage blogger. (Hmm, this is beginning to sound familiar.) Here is an April 2014 piece on the CSI/Skeptical Inquirer site about skeptical activists acting on behalf of Burzynski's cancer patients. In contrast to the bloggers (including myself) who have written about Lenny Coldwell, some of the efforts to inform people about Burzynski have been organized, though this hardly constitutes a conspiracy against him; the skeptics' stated purpose has been to help the patients. The article concludes:
Skeptics have been so effective that [the] most recent Burzynski hagiography spends a lot of screen time demonizing critics. Burzynski’s supporters have contacted our employers, have complained to state licensing boards, and defamed a number of us publicly. We are fully aware that when the Clinic dismissed Marc Stephens that it pointedly failed to retract the possibility of lawsuits against critics, a threat that hangs over all of these activists every day. If skeptics’ concerns are founded, however, the risks to activists pale in comparison to the risks already posed to those patients on whose behalf we are working.
If Marc Stephens -- whoever he is and wherever he is -- is looking for work after being booted out of the Burzynski propaganda machine, maybe Lenny Coldwell can hire him to intimidate his critics. In any event, although Burzynski is continually under fire from the medical establishment -- as well as from mainstream and independent journalists and bloggers acting independently of the medical profession or the big drug companies -- this hardly constitutes persecution.

But the persecution story is such a good one.

Lenny: always a booster, never a hero
Predictably, many of Burzynski's defenders -- including Coldwell -- believe that all of the above, including the efforts of the critical journalists and bloggers, are just part of the "conspiracy" by the trillion-dollar cancer industry. I find it noteworthy that "antineoplaston therapy" is a form of chemotherapy, and ordinarily Coldwell loathes chemotherapy and any other category of cancer treatment currently accepted by the medical establishment. (In fact he provides himself and "the Dr. Coldwell way" with a big out by indicating that his own "protocol"
can only be absolutely guaranteed if the patient has had NO prior surgery, radiation, or chemo.) But "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," and Coldwell has spoken up for Burzynski because Burzynski has been at odds with the medical establishment for decades. Had Burzynski been just another oncologist, Coldwell would have either ignored him or thrown him under the bus with all of the other evil conspirators.

It is the controversy that draws not only Coldwell but also the alt-health fans to Burzynksi, even though Burzynski is a real M.D. and has at least taken a stab at a scientific approach to his treatments. Because of the controversy, he is revered by many as a hero who is being hounded and persecuted by the establishment. Burzynski is one of the cancer "healers" featured
in a documentary called "Cancer Is Curable Now," a nearly-two-hour video which I have not watched in its entirety because of my bandwidth limitation issue. But I fast-forwarded through the entire thing and saw that Coldwell was not featured in the actual documentary. However, this did not stop someone from bringing Lenny and his "work" into the conversation on this August 6, 2014 piece on the misinfotainment hub, "Before It's News."

"Doctors silenced!" There's that dramatic theme again. Drawing from Coldwell's
Only Answer to Cancer page on Coldwell's main site, the author, who can't seem to get Coldwell's name right (he calls him "Leon"), quotes "Leon's" oft-repeated narrative and series of excuses about how he has been stymied by the cancer establishment."
Since all 7 siblings of my mom had cancer, as well as my grandmother dying of cancer, and even my father and stepfather dying of cancer I can tell you that Im sure no one else has the amount of experience with cancer that I have. I have seen it as family member, son and grandson from the start until it killed my relatives. [There's some arrogance for you. "Nobody's life has been affected by cancer to the extent that mine has!" ~CC]
In my time I have seen over 35,000 patients [notice that this is different from saying, "I have cured over 35,000 cancer patients. ~CC] and have had over 2.2 million seminar attendees that have written to me, sending in their comments and life stories. I have over 7 million readers of my newsletters and reports. I am the doctor that has, in the opinion of leading experts, the highest cancer cure rate in the world. In fact, I am convinced I could cure at least 90% of all cancer patients if I had the legal platform to work with these people the “Dr Coldwell Way.” As long as the patient is willing and still able to do whatever it takes and has no surgery, chemotherapy or radiation, there is no reason Cancer cannot be cured in most people.
I am sure I could cure them within weeks or a few months. But since the law and the ones that make money on your suffering and even death, dont [sic] allow me to treat you the way I know would produce results, I legally cannot even tell you what to do or not to do. That’s how the medical profession and pharmaceutical industry protects their Trillion Dollar Cancer Industry. They “make politicians install laws that kill citizens or at least make them sick, and laws that make sure they cannot be cured. They can only be treated to more illness and eventually death by the medical profession with toxic, dangerous and murderous treatments.
Besides the "Cancer Can Be Cured Now" video, the Before It's News article also embeds Coldwell's infamous "All Cancer Can Be Cured in 2-6 Weeks" vid.

Although Coldwell himself is not on the A-list of alt-health gurus (or the A-list of any other sector of Scamworld, for that matter, including the motivational-speakers sector), he seems to do his level best to swim in their wake with his mouth wide open, to borrow an apt metaphor from
a Salty Droid post about Coldwell. And there may always be a few fans who will gladly place him in the pantheon of the A-listers. But they're not fooling anyone except perhaps themselves.

Nevertheless Coldwell seems to be trying his level best to cash in on the alt-health hero theme, and just this past April (2014) he even announced that he is working on a documentary about how natural cures and alt-health advocates have been attacked by "paid defamation hit men." I wonder if it chapped his little hide when one of his commenters/supporters cited Lenny's ex-b.f.f. Katie as one of the greatest natural-cures heroes. I notice that Coldwell didn't respond to the guy's comment. But at least he didn't call him a brain-dead zombie and block him, so maybe that's progress.

Who is oppressing whom?

It would appear that contrary to the way the plot usually runs in the alt-health hero story cycle, some of the alt-health advocates are the ones who pose the genuine threats of violence. They're certainly great at rabble-rousing and inciting. Consider another alt-health "hero," the aforementioned tough-guy Mike Adams, aka the Health Ranger (
whom I wrote about last year). He's no doctor and unlike his buddy Coldwell he doesn't pretend to be, although he has apparently tried to convince the masses that he is a legitimate researcher of some sort, since he claims to have his own "testing lab." As the owner of the Natural News web site and numerous other advocacy sites, Adams has a huge audience. Not surprisingly he claims to have received more than his share of death threats in the course of his career. Supposedly he even had to leave a health expo a few years ago, and cancel another appearance, because of the death threats.

But in July 2014 he brought a lot of heat on himself when he published an incendiary piece about GMO scientists and researchers, not stopping at comparing them to Nazis but also all but inviting his fans to seek a violent solution to the GMO problem. In fact, when I went Googling for stories about the death threats the Health Ranger had been receiving,
the top results were all stories about Adams supposedly making death threats against scientists and researchers who wrote critically about Adams' and others' anti-GMO position.

Here are just two of the links:

A couple of months before that big flap, in May 2014, Orac -- one of the bloggers who is apparently on Adams' blacklist -- wrote a post about Adams' threats to sue his critics. (It appears that Adams really hates that guy at the Genetic Literacy Project.)

You get the drift. With Adams, if it's not implied incitement of violence, it's lawsuit threats. Sigh... it's becoming a cliche. Or as Orac wrote on the May 2014 blog post, "To me, this incident is yet another in a depressingly long list of examples of a promoter of quackery trying to use the legal system to bully a critic into silence."

Again, though, you couldn't exactly say that Adams is being persecuted. In fact you couldn't say that at all with any reasonable accuracy. He thrives on the controversy; it makes him that much more of a hero in the eyes of the fans and followers.

Coldwell, as I indicated above, is a big fan of Mike Adams. Whether the reverse is actually true or not I really don't know, but they've stroked each other in public and
have had their pics taken together at various events.

And speaking of violence,
one of Coldwell's other buddies -- a little guy in Florida named Will Pelton, whose claim to fame is that he is a firearms expert -- has also suggested a violent solution to the GMO problem, or more specifically the Monsanto problem. This is from May 2014, around the time of the worldwide "March Against Monsanto."

After all of the above, we're really no closer to a definitive answer to the question about whether or not alt-health heroes truly are persecuted. Like most matters that set the conspiracy fans on fire, however, the truth is probably more on the mundane than the dramatic side. In my experience it is nearly impossible to find very much objective information about this subject on the Internet. But here is something of which I'm pretty certain: online or off, no amount of evidence in favor of a more nuanced narrative would sway the people who fiercely embrace the myth of the alt-health hero.

What most of us can probably agree on is that public figures often get death threats, whether their stances are particularly controversial or not. And if they are controversial, all bets are off. One of my new favorite authors --
a man who goes by the pseudonym Horus Gilgamesh and is the creator of the delightful parody series Awkward Moments (Not Found In Your Average) Children's Bible -- recently felt compelled to cancel his appearance at an atheist's convention in Seattle. Even though he had taken such great pains to protect his true identity that some of his own relatives didn't even know he was the creator of the scathing books, he received some very disturbing death threats in his home mail box, from a presumably "religious" type who signed the threats, "God's Little Helper." The letters made mention of the upcoming Seattle convention, saying, "See you there!" (In a show of solidarity, numerous attendees wrote the name "Horus Gilgamesh" on their own name tags.)

For that matter anyone who voices an opinion in a public forum is subject to hate mail and death threats and random heckling; the Internet has only made this phenomenon worse. In the eight-plus years that I've been blogging I have certainly received my share of anonymous death threats, death wishes, and hate mail, and I'm a nobody. I don't consciously play to a world stage or do much of anything to attract followers, but some people apparently hate me (and some, like Coldwell, also apparently fear me).

And then there's the aforementioned Salty Droid, aka Jason Jones, who has been blogging since 2009 about Internet marketing and selfish-help scammers and scoundrels. I'm sure the threats he has received make those I've had look mild by comparison. Almost since Day 1 of his blog, the scoundrels have been threatening him with all sorts of things, and while most of the threats are ludicrous, some I've heard about seem pretty scary -- people showing up at his high-rise and asking to see him, but refusing to identify themselves to the front desk, and so forth.

Contrary to something Coldwell wrote in his July 17, 2014 screed about the "fake wanna be lawyer without a license that prides himself that so many people he is spreading lies about want to kill him," however, Jason doesn't boast about getting death threats. Quite the contrary: he mentioned in passing,
in an April 2014 blog post, that it was quite nice to have gone for nearly a year off of the "creep radar," having moved away from Chicago and not having announced it to the world.
Leonard was never going to be able to find {and properly serve} me :: because one of the {too many} gaps in SaltyDroid 2013 … stemmed from Jason moving from Chicago to Columbus. It’s been pretty nice :: almost a full year totally off the creep radar … my address not spattered all over an Internet populated by d-bags who wish I was dead. But I didn’t want to see Lenny deprived of his big opportunity to pay someone to have a writing contest with me … so I voluntarily appeared and filed some motions of my own.
Just more layers in Lenny's big stack of lies. Jason actually volunteered his new address to the court -- an address that Lenny and his hack lawyer had failed to uncover before filing one of the stupidest lawsuits of the year. Lenny, on the other hand, refused to reveal his own address to the court.

My sense is that the persecution stories from today's alt-health quacks are for the most part exaggerated and that actual death threats or dangerous situations are relatively rare. But they are, above all, good marketing hooks, and of course the fans take them to heart and exaggerate them even more, thus perpetuating the cycle. For the reasons noted above, believers will continue to believe, and they will not hesitate to speak up fiercely in defense of their idols, even when there is no evidence to support their stance.

The facts don't matter if the story is good.

[To be concluded (finally!) in the next post.]

* Update, September 2014: Here's a newer and more positively focused, but still train-wreckish and comical, online attempt to vindicate Lenny: the Dr. Leonard Coldwell Hugs site. I wonder how many people quoted and pictured on that site now shudder at the thought that they will be linked to him in perpetuity via those online train wrecks.

** You may notice that on page 27 of Instinct Based Medicine Coldwell mentions that "over 30 years" has passed since his mom was cured. Even setting aside that this book was published in 2008, which was six years ago as I write this in 2014, there is a difference between "over 30 years" and "over 40 years" or "42 years" or "43 years," which Coldwell has also cited as the span of time since he "cured" his mom. Now, technically speaking, 40, 42, and 43 are all "more than 30." Even so this points to his characteristic inconsistency. In some of his narratives he insinuates that he totally cured Mommy when he was a young boy or a teenager. In Instinct Based Medicine, however, he writes that by the time he was 22 she was "completely recovered from cancer" (which was noted in Part 2 of this series when I cited page 45 of Instinct Based Medicine.) And again I would like to mention, as I have so many times, that in Instinct Based Medicine there is no mention of his having cured her from Hepatitis C at that time. The Hep C claim only made it into later narratives. I explain the probable reason in Part 2, under the sub-head, "About that 92.3% cancer cure rate (and other cure claims)."

The rest of the story...
Update 24 May 2016: I just now discovered a wonderful blog, Just Bad For You, by novelist, children's book author, screenwriter and critical-thinking advocate Jeffrey E. Poehlmann, who is currently fighting cancer. On this April 2016 post he discusses, among several other topics, the myth of the "Wellness Warrior," and yes, Coldwell's name is mentioned a few times. Jeffrey also touches on some of the most popular (and debunked) conspiracy theories, of which Lenny is also very fond. It's a worthwhile read.


Patches said...

You have done a good job of covering every angle of this person and the scams he commits.
It's kind of funny because he is just a small time con-man. To me he will always be remembered as Not-a-Doc Lenny Klein. :) I wonder what he will change his name to next?

Julie Daniel

Anonymous said...

I contacted Burzynski's clinic when my late dad was diagnosed with cancer. One of the first questions asked was whether we'd be ready to shell out around $30,000 for our first trip to the clinic (for diagnostic tests, etc., NOT yet any treatment as such).

I thought about it as I contemplated the picture of the clinic: a huge, shiny building with the name BURZYNSKI in large letters on top (a la TRUMP).

No, we did not have $30,000 for the initial (or any later) visit.


bidigitalist said...

Even after 'diluting' his more extreme exertions w/ a healthy dose of salt (air-dried sea salt, of course, lol), his facts do remain constant:

1) No cancer survives alkaline environment. -- That's true.

2) Most of the most effective methods are very inexpensive, and require no expensive MD visits.

3) 1 in 4 cancer patients who do nothing.... go into complete remission with 5-year survival rates

4) 3 days of juicing can release dozens if not a hundred or more gallstones

5) MD's have the highest rates of failure and suicide... 2nd in both only to psychiatrists. Plus, MD life expectancy is 56, hardly the 'horse's mouth' for living long and well

We know that, factually and empirically, Burzinski HAS cured incredible #'s of people, too bad he's a money-sucker as most all MD's tend to be.

Bottom line: Between the new supercharging devices (supercharged lasers, QVials, FoodBoosters, etc.), and avoiding non-foods, eating only colors that grow in the ground and store solar energy (for deposit into human intestine), it's easy to trash this man as self-promoting, and still, when you watch his videos, they're rich with useful facts.

Unlike Trudeau, who we might suspect has never given to a charity, Coldwell, or whatever his name is, sure does give mightily. Just goes to show that even giants have moldy parts, too. :-))

Ultimately: Learn more, to live more, because the more we know, the wiser our decisions tend to be. That said, kudos for the amount of effort invested into this blog. Whew! Thank you kindly.

Cosmic Connie said...

Thank you for your comment, bidig. I'm not quite sure if your message was intended merely to point out that there is a consistency in some of Coldwell's major claims from one video/book/other source to the next; or if you intended to assert that these claims are, in your opininon, actually true; or if you are trying to make both points.

This blog's major points where Coldwell is concerned, however, center around the fact that he has always used his self-claimed accomplishments to give credence to virtually every declaration about health that he makes, including the ones you listed. He uses his "authority" to promote not only his "free" advice but also his info-products, nutritional supplements, seminars, GIN ripoff club (the IBMS Masters Society), and pricey IBMS "Coaching" courses. This "authority" is always based upon his many questionable "credentials" (Ph.D.s, "board certifications," etc.), the story of how he "cured" his mother from various liver ailments, including hep C, more than 40 years ago, his claim that he has "cured" more than 35,000 cancer patients and has a 92.3 percent (or higher) "cure" rate, and so forth. These claims appear, in one form or another (sometimes with a minute variation in details) on every one of his web sites, in every one of his books that I know of, and on every web site (that I've seen) of every person or company who has featured or promoted him.

And my blog posts have always focused on my questioning of these very extravagant claims.

I maintain that Coldwell's health "advice" and the "facts" he offers simply cannot be separated from the self-aggrandizement because he continually and aggressively promotes himself as the world's leading expert on the topics he speaks and writes about. It's like love and marriage, in the old song: "You can't have one without the other."

I've never disputed Coldwell's right to speak and write about health topics, but as noted above, I have disputed and questioned his claims about his own accomplishments, as well as questioned the topics on which he is conspicuously silent (such as his real reasons for leaving Germany, legally changing his name, etc.).

And the fact that he has told such blatant and detailed lies about me, and about other people whom I know he's lying about, makes me question his credibility regarding... everything.

However, not being an expert in health and medical matters myself, I've always left the analysis of his health "advice" to bloggers and other writers/journalists who do have more expertise in these subjects. Every one of the five assertions you seemed to be confirming in your message can be countered and debated and disagreed upon by reasonable people, and information about these assertions (pro and con) is available from much more credible sources than the volatile "Dr." Coldwell.

(To be continued on my next comment, due to Blogger’s annoying character limitation for a single comment.)

Cosmic Connie said...

(Continued from previous comment)

But here, for the sake of argument, are a few points:

The assertion about cancer being unable to live in an alkaline environment is pretty much irrelevant. See, for instance:

There's a lot of controversy about the "most effective methods" to treat cancer and other diseases, but most of the controversy seems to be generated by people who are selling some of those "effective methods." One isn't likely to find objective information from the average alt-health supplement peddler. Still, I very much believe that people should educate themselves about all options. They just need to consider the source/follow the money, and ALL people who are selling something, even just advice (via books and other info-products) are motivated to some degree by money.

Physician life expectancy:
Regarding M.D. life expectancy, the source Coldwell cites the most frequently (whether he names the source or not) seems to be Dr. Joel Wallach of "Dead Doctors Don't Lie" and Youngevity MLM fame, among other things. Wallach is a veterinarian and, more recently, a naturopathic doctor. And he says that the average life expectancy of M.D.s is 58.

Wallach is not the most credible source, however, and there's plenty of contrary information about physician life expectancy. It is, however, a stressful job and always has been, despite the money and prestige, which may be a factor in some health problems M.D.s may have.

Spontaneous remission/regression in cancer:
Burzynski is controversial, of course, but I won't argue with the assertion that many M.D.s (and members of other professions, for that matter) are money-suckers. However, money-grubbing doesn't seem to be the only objectionable factor with Burzynski.

Finally, I'm not sure what you mean when you say that Coldwell "gives mightily." If you mean that he offers many dozens of free-to-view self-aggrandizing videos, some of which possibly contain scraps of reasonable advice here and there, I'm on board with you. If you mean that he offers hundreds of comical Facebook rants and aggregated blog posts about various health and social and political issues, you're spot-on.

On the other hand, if you're talking about that phony "Foundation for Drug and Crime Free Children in Our Schools" (or whatever it's called) non-profit that Lenny has been blathering about for years -- and that he says accepts no outside donations, but into which he claims that all profits from his info-frauducts goes -- don't be a fool. Not only did that organization, such as it is, have its non-profit status revoked several years ago, but I'm thinking it's also a convenient way (one of many he has) for him to funnel and hide assets so he won't have to pay taxes and so he'll be judgment proof. Just a theory, but I could be right!