Anyone can be director of an institute of pseudoscience, I guess

So the Washington Times is disseminating quackery — nothing new about that, I guess. But this is pretty awful stuff.


You have to suffer to find out what she is talking about: this link takes you to a canned presentation. You’ve seen these before, I presume. They use a custom video player with all the controls stripped out, so once it gets started, you have to go through the whole thing, and you can’t skip ahead. And it goes on and on, hammering away at how evil modern medicine is and how it will kill you and stirring up fear and anger before it gets to the point: they have a cure for cancer, but Obama and the medical establishment are hiding it from you, and you can buy it from them. Wheee. So predictable.

Their miracle cure is a fermented wheat germ extract, marketed as a dietary supplement. It’s called H-86 or Avemar. Contrary to their claims that Obama and the FDA are trying to silence its existence because they want you to die a horrible painful death, it’s an object of active research. I’ve seen one clinical trial that showed a significant improvement in survival time for melanoma patients; there are a number of papers that investigate it and try to identify the mechanism (it may stimulate apoptosis in some cancer cells).

So it’s one among many. It’s got some promising preliminary results — but those are dime a dozen, I’m afraid, and many drugs that are initially interesting don’t pan out — and scientists are exploring it and publishing on it. It doesn’t magically vaporize tumors. The melanoma patients eventually died, but their average survival was prolonged. That’s the reality of cancer research.

But I was intrigued by the Health Sciences Institute. That’s a name with authority, and it sounds like a real thing. When you dig a little deeper, though, it seems to be little more than a website and Jenny Thompson, who has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has appointed herself director of her very own sciencey institute of research and medicine.

I’ve been missing a trick. I need to declare Pharyngula to be a research think tank, start issuing dozens of e-alerts every month, and promote more FUD to draw in the massive donations so I can afford to advertise in the Washington Times, or the Daily Mail, or whatever hack rag with no standards will accept my money.

I just need a good title. “Pharyngula” is probably too obscure. Give me some ideas for convincing masks for pseudoscience, so I can get on that gravy train.

Jenny Thompson is a very naughty person. I did not sign up for anything on her website, and I didn’t even leave my email address anywhere there…but she went ahead and signed me up for her HSI e-alerts anyway. That’s OK, though, I’ve also put her HSI email address in my spam filters, so we’re even.


  1. says

    I need to declare Pharyngula to be a research think tank

    I think a “think tank” sounds good!!! It’s so much more sciency than an “echo chamber”!!

  2. koyote ken says

    The Western Minnesota Institute for the Advancement of Squishy Underwater Creatures of Value to the Human Species of Modern post P.T Barnum Philosophy and Monetary Enlightenment.
    Dr. P.Z. Myers, Director

    That should rake in the dough

    or not….

  3. chigau (違う) says

    Biologically Unified Long Life Scientific Health Institute T…
    can’t think of a T-word.

  4. anteprepro says

    The Deepak Chopra Institute of Theoretical Health, Alternative Technologies, and The Science Arts

  5. Rob Grigjanis says

    While I was at the University of Alberta, my workplace received a letter addressed to the Theatrical Physics Institute. So much better than the actual name, I thought. Someone should use it.

  6. Kichae says

    @ibyea #10

    I see what you did there.

    @Rob Grigjanis #13

    This is in no way a slight toward the U of A Department of Physics faculty, or their professional clubhouses, but in my time as a student in the department, I never once saw anyone bust out their theatrical chops. I feel so ripped off! If I had known they were doing MacBeth outside of teaching time, I would have stuck around to do my homework on campus.

  7. moarscienceplz says

    Their miracle cure is a fermented wheat germ extract

    I dose myself with a fermented barley extract on a regular basis. Does that count?

  8. Die Anyway says

    > “…right smack in their *sites*”. Fail

    > “…Jenny Thompson, who has a *bachelor’s degree in journalism*…” Double the Fail.

    I think I’ll go pop another Shocktop. That should cure me of something.

  9. ledasmom says

    While I was at the University of Alberta, my workplace received a letter addressed to the Theatrical Physics Institute.

    Imagine the exams: “Question 5. Calculate final velocity and time of descent for a standard chandelier dropped from the ceiling of a standard opera house, assuming suspension from twelve-foot chains. Show your work.”

  10. Rob Grigjanis says

    Kichae @14:

    I never once saw anyone bust out their theatrical chops

    Maybe before your time, but there were a couple of Falstaffs among the faculty, a Hamlet or two among the grads, and one King Lear Macbeth Titus Andronicus in geophysics.

    I was just an attendant lord, who now worries about eating peaches.

  11. anteprepro says

    Quandary-solving Ubermensch Association for the Numeration of Teleological Understandings and Marvels


    Transsubfield Hermeuntics and Esoterica Organization of Logicians, Oligarchs, and Gallop-gish Yeomen.

  12. says

    I tried to sit through that presentation, but couldn’t get more than 3 minutes into it. Hype, hype, hype. Lots of claims. Lots of conspiracy theories. Lots of big government hate. But hey, I did learn that there’s an all natural cure for cancer that beat 1 clinical trial. I’m sure that means something, right?

  13. says

    Harford Institute of Anthropological and Cephalopodean Applied Biology. (HIACAB)


    1. Always use the acronym in print when possible. When not possible to use the acronym, use “the Institute”. When not possible to avoid the whole name, make sure “Harford” is in small, non-bold, italic type, and preferably in a color/shade which will blend with the background.

    2. When speaking, always say “the Harford Institute”.

    3. For preference, find an ex-con with a strong stereotypical Scandinavian accent to be the director, so he can tell interviewers he “went to yale”. (Hat-tip to Dilbert.)

    …who am I kidding? A real con artist doesn’t bother with subterfuge; they brazen it out and counter exposure with a flurry of counter-accusations.

  14. anteprepro says

    America’s Scientific Research Association of American Health Science and Scientific Medicine

    You could also create the rival group:

    Association of American Science Research and Health Medicine and Science of America

  15. jrfdeux, mode d'emploi says

    I work in advertising and marketing for a living. I researched what it would take to bring “homeopathic remedies” to market, harmless “tinctures” in fancy bottles that sold for $30 each, with a profit margin hovering around 600%. I understand the target demographic and I know how to reach them. It would be fairly easy, and if it didn’t make me rich it would give me enough income so that I could sit on my arse all day. However, to actually pull it off I’d need a complete ethicectomy. Alas.

  16. spamamander, internet amphibian says

    Scientific Committee of American Metaphysics.

    And I really am dying for a hefeweizen now.

  17. Jerry says

    Just to show you how nutty is Ms. Thompson and how the Washington Times is willingly gullible, I did a PubMed search on Avemar or “fermented wheat germ extract” (FWGE). There are 34 papers on Avemar and 37 papers on FWGE. There is nearly total overlap, but I was just trying to show how easy it is to find multiple articles on the National Library of Medicine (NIH, federal government agency) free online literature search website ( The first paper on Avemar and #2 paper on FWGE is freely available in full text on PubMedCentral and has in the first line of Acknowledgements that the work was funded in part by a National Cancer Institute (also in NIH) grant. I didn’t have to dig any deeper than that. This search took me about 15 seconds. You have to *want* to ignore reality to not find out that the government department* Thompson is accusing of hiding this research is actually paying for the research, and paying to make the results fully freely publically available. This is truly insanely stupid.
    * The FDA and National Cancer Institute are both in the Department of Health and Human Services. This note is not official government policy, but is a personal comment. If it were official policy, then the person writing it would have half the education, one-quarter the IQ, and twice the salary.

  18. jnorris says

    Dear Professor Myers:

    When your new science institute is fully funded. please consider hiring me as your research librarian.

    Thank you in advance,

  19. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    Dear Professor Myers:

    When your new science institute is fully funded. please consider hiring me as your research librarian.

    And chef.

    Every fraudulent organization needs someone to cook the books, after all.

  20. says

    Research Institute for Publishinig about Oncology Family Freiendly

    Do not forget to set up your headquarters on Cayman Islands if you fail to get tax-exempt status.

  21. joehoffman says

    You need one word that sends people to the dictionary.
    Institute for Pharyngulative Medicine.

  22. CHARLES says

    @31 Jerry
    Dear Jerry, please do not post about subjects for which you cannot be bothered to actually check. The papers on FWGE show that it has cytotoxic effects – cytotoxic means it poisons cells, not just cancer cells, all cells.

    One paper shows that a couple of compounds may have an anti-proliferative effect on some cancer cells but that the effect is not strong. Many compounds have such effects, for example tamoxifen, but no-one has ever suggested eating raw yew tree bark as a cure for any cancer.

    Finally the fact that these effects are published shows that no-one is suppressing the research.

  23. CHARLES says

    May I suggest that a name for PZ’s pseudoscience institute Directorate of Universal Medicine and the journal could be Directorate of Universal Medicine Archives of Research into Cloacal Extraction

  24. Jerry says

    Charles in comment 36: WTF? I was not endorsing the product. I said nothing about effectiveness. I was showing how Thompson’s claim of a “cover-up” was easy to prove wrong. Try reading what I wrote.

  25. says

    Undoubtedly, the phrase “shut it down” plugs straight into the nervous system of a particular political species. The three magic words need only to be uttered: Dorothy says “there’s no place like home” and she is instantly transported to yet another virtual reality in an endless string of virtual realities. The interloper, Jenny Thompson (a.k.a. “CHARLES”), says Shut it down and a recognizable trumpet blast sounds across the amber waves of grain, announcing, “Danger! Obama is afoot and I have books and DVDs to purchase! Buy now and save yourselves!”