Burzynski is still bilking dying children

And credulous newspapers are helping that quack. The latest case is a little girl in Ireland with a disfiguring and deadly rhabdomyosarcoma who is trying to raise money to get the useless and totally fraudulent Burzynski antineoplaston treatment … and this article makes the good point that newspapers are helping to defraud sick people. Both the Irish Times and the Irish Independent reported on the poor girl’s struggle, and they called the fake treatment “pioneering” or “advanced”.

Each uncritical article published about clinics like the Burzynski clinic amounts to free advertising for a treatment which is at best, as yet unproven, and at worst, much more damaging than it is claimed. Though articles about individual patients and families must tread a careful line between criticism of the clinic and the feelings of those involved, the current standard of reporting on these clinics ultimately helps no one. It’s time to stop hiding the controversy, and sweeping it under the carpet. Patients deserve information, not infomercials.

It’s a shame. If you google Burzynski, the first page is full of bullshit promoting the fake treatment — one thing his clinic is good at is SEO — but still, there’s quackwatch and Orac and Larry Moran buried in the muddle, pointing out that this is flaming quackery. You’d think a reasonably intelligent journalist would notice that there’s some controversy here. And even better, you’d expect a reasonably intelligent journalist to pick up a phone, call an oncologist, and ask what they thought of antineoplaston therapy.

But they don’t.

And Burzynski gets free advertising for his $200,000 urine treatments.


  1. David Marjanović says

    And even better, you’d expect a reasonably intelligent journalist to pick up a phone, call an oncologist, and ask what they thought of antineoplaston therapy.

    Perhaps they actually did phone one oncologist – who had never heard of antineoplaston therapy, because who can keep up to date with every quackery on Earth?

    And then they took this as confirmation that antineoplaston therapy is so new that people haven’t heard of it yet, so it must be especially pioneering and advanced.

  2. says

    Churnalism at its worst, uncriticially reproducing glurge-filled commercial press releases. Shame on the Irish Times and Irish Independent – do some fact-checking, damnit.

  3. Loud - warm smiles do not make you welcome here says

    Fucking fact checking. How does it work?

  4. dianne says

    Oh, for…Burzynski’s “therapy” is not advanced or pioneering. He’s been failing to cure cancer with it since the 1970s. Every other cancer therapy from that era has either been rigorously proven to be helpful or abandoned. Or, often, both, as moderately useful therapies are replaced by better or less toxic therapies.

  5. says

    A form of crank medicine being around for years isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. After all if it’s been around for decades, but people are only just hearing about it, then it must be being suppressed by evil ole Big Pharma.

  6. truthspeaker says

    Hey, they sent us a press release and we paraphrased it. What more do you want from us? </95% of reporters, editors, and publishers on the planet>

  7. says

    (Former journalist here)

    Newspapers don’t have fact-checkers. There’s no time in a news cycle for fact-checkers to do the job, and no money in the budget to hire them.

    That said, it doesn’t absolve the the reporter of the responsibility to do basic research, especially since they can easily use the Internet to do it quickly.

  8. kevinalexander says

    Fact checking used to be hard work. It took time and leg work but since Google you can get a lot more information very quickly. And, yeah, I know there’s more shit than shinola there.

    When even a quick check will expose the worst of the grifters there’s no excuse for churnalism.

  9. raven says

    That said, it doesn’t absolve the the reporter of the responsibility to do basic research, especially since they can easily use the Internet to do it quickly.

    Just about everyone who wants to know something even as mundane as spelling a word, can access Google is a few seconds.

    The stakes are a bit higher than the usual here. This Irish family is going to spend a huge amount of money on a notorious quack cancer treatment.

  10. tanoro says

    This is interesting. The Irish Times has already reported patients of Burzynski and one of them died a month after their story ran.

    “Siblings diagnosed with brain tumours seven weeks apart, relate DARREN and KEITH GIBBONS”

    “This page was set up to fundraise for my brother Keith who was battling a brain tumor. Sadly Keith lost his fight in Dec 11. It is now for inspirational stories”

    I hope his brother was wise enough not to go to the same doctor.

  11. pacal says

    The Blog Skeptical Humanities late last year posted a few posts about this fraud Burzynski and attracted the unwanted attention of true believers you can see it Here

    It is truly dishearting.

  12. says

    I wrote a short blog about Burzynski’s home. The guy lives in a $6 million mansion and claims he can’t afford to get through FDA trials.

    Where does he claim he can’t afford it? IIRC, he mostly claims that he just hasn’t got around to it yet, or that the FDA won’t let him do stage III trials because of *insert conspiracy*.
    Btw, I found the linked blog post slightly stalkery creepy. And the deductions to a “Wayne manor” from an image of a nondescript gate seem a little bit generous, to say the least.

  13. josephinejones says

    I’m not sure this is a ‘fake’ treatment as such, but it is certainly not a very good one and has never been proven effective, despite having been in use by Burzynski for over 35 years.

    I think what is happening here is that the clinic are misleading patients, telling them what they want to hear (I have discussed this on my own blog here: http://josephinejones.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/the-burzynski-clinic-misleads-prospective-patients/). The newspapers then jump on this as a human interest story, also believing what they want to believe.

    It isn’t always the case that they are not aware of the controversy: they are actively choosing to sweep it under the carpet. I have been in touch with several UK newspaper editors over their coverage of Burzynski and have been left feeling like I’ve been banging my head against the wall. I have also been in touch with the Press Complaints Commission. Again, a total waste of time. My local paper, the Warrington Guardian, went so far as to print (the first 4 sentences of) one of my emails, yet have continued to print biased, irresponsible articles in support of a local woman’s fundraising campaign.

    It is often argued, including by editors, that faced with such a difficult situation, what can you do? My response to this is that if editors really care about patients, they must pull their heads out of the sand. I went into this in a bit more depth here: http://josephinejones.wordpress.com/2012/04/29/if-the-media-care-about-burzynskis-patients-they-must-pull-their-heads-out-of-the-sand/ where, like Jennifer Keane (@zenbuffy – who wrote the quoted article), I point out that yes, patient choice is important – but it should be informed choice. And it seems clear to me that the Burzynski Clinic are not properly informing patients, who in turn are not properly informing journalists.

    Yes – such pieces are essentially free advertising. But if they were actual advertising, they would be in breach of advertising guidelines and even illegal under the Cancer Act (in the case of the UK articles).

  14. truthspeaker says

    It is often argued, including by editors, that faced with such a difficult situation, what can you do?

    Research the facts and report on them objectively? Seriously, WTF is wrong with these editors?

  15. jenkeane says

    I’m glad that you thought the article was worth quoting. It has been extremely hard to find any Irish media outlet willing to cover any sort of criticism of Burzynski, so I was grateful to broadsheet for publishing it.

    Readers might be interested in the following documentary called The Cancer Man (http://dcufm.com/index.php/documentary-the-cancer-man/), recorded after a student society at one of the leading Irish universities (DCU) held a fundraiser for an Irish lad (Sean Lyne) to attend the Burzynski clinic. The documentary features consultant oncologist and senator John Crowne, myself (both not in favour of the Burzynski treatment), and Kate and Evert Bopp, who considered sending Evert’s father to Burzynski. Evert himself posted the full recording of his interview for the documentary on his own site, and it contains some questionable arguments for the integrity and efficacy of Burzynski, available here: http://evertb.wordpress.com/2012/03/22/burzynski-an-opinion/ Finally, as mentioned in the audio file on Evert’s site, I have clashed with the Bopps before regarding Burzynski, and some information about that can be seen here: http://www.zenbuffy.com/2011/11/burzynski-in-ireland-arguing-with-believers/

    Sorry for the link-soup, I just thought that they might be interesting to readers, since they relate to Burzynski in Ireland.