As long-time readers know, I take issue with a number of high-profile “wellness warriors” and anti-science advocates who claim to offer “natural,” “holistic,” or simply “alternative” treatments that can cure cancer or prevent it entirely. Chief among these are Chris Wark and Ty Bollinger, two people with absolutely no scientific or medical training and tons of bad advice. They are part of a large network of disreputable and largely discredited hucksters, many of whom get by on their claims by offering just the tiniest shred of truth mixed in with their hyperbole and insidious messages. They thrive in our increasingly anti-intellectual culture, where headlines and sound bytes sway their customers and their “fan base” into believing that there is substance to their messages. This is why, more than ever, it is essential to take a critical approach to all the medical headlines that are presented, and especially those making extraordinary claims.
The well-established and professionally vetted website, Healthline, has a very good primer on the subject of spotting fake medical news. It could hardly be more topical. There is nary a day that goes by when some website or other isn’t making absurd claims about the latest health craze or danger. Whether it is bloating the risks of GMO foods or misrepresenting the cancer risk from eating red or processed meat, there are more sources out there in the ether intent upon cherry picking data or simply removing it from context in order to sell their point than there are serious outlets for the reporting of science news. Part of the problem with this is that science news isn’t usually considered very sexy or commercial, but a bigger problem is that it is generally difficult for most people to fully understand.
And capitalizing on that, we have opportunists like Chris Wark, a self-proclaimed guru on defeating cancer without chemotherapy. Duly note, of course, that Mr. Wark was cured through surgical intervention and, while chemotherapy was recommended as an adjunctive treatment to lower the risk of future metastasis, there was no indication that he had any actual, existing metastases that needed treatment. To put it bluntly, he was one of the lucky colon cancer patients who had it all taken out without any recurrence. This had nothing to do with whether or not he received chemotherapy, and there is no way of knowing how he would have responded to such treatment or whether his “lifestyle” choices have had any bearing whatsoever on his post-surgical health.
Wark rose to prominence making claims that he “cured” his cancer by juicing carrots. He has largely dropped that line, no doubt because his story has been so heavily debunked over the years, but when I was diagnosed in 2014 it was still being presented to me on a regular basis as an alternative for treatment — why do chemo if you can just juice? Looking into his story took about fifteen minutes to see all the holes and intentional misrepresentation, though it was hard to doubt his sincerity until the plethora of affiliate links on his old web site became clear. I don’t begrudge a blogger for trying to make a living, but hawking juicing machines and quack remedies under the guise of offering free advice to help fellow patients was beyond disingenuous. Still, the nature of Wark’s enterprise intrigued me, and so I eventually signed up for his newsletter.
Here is a screenshot of a recent one, copyrighted by Mr. Wark, of course, as all his materials are; I present it here as evidence of his malfeasance.
The key to this email is the claim that “scientific proof” exists for chemotherapy causing breast cancer to spread. Note the sentence: “we have further scientific proof that the treatment is to blame.” This statement, aside from being completely at odds with the study it pretends to reference, is downright evil.
Just by pushing the false narrative that mainstream medical treatment is more dangerous than the cancer itself, a common theme among Wark’s posts and those with whom he colludes, he is jeopardizing the health of patients who might take what he says and believe it because they simply do not know better. Wark presents himself (and does so very well) as an expert in the arena of cancer care. Despite numerous legal disclaimers throughout his site that make it clear he has no training, skill, or valid advice to offer from a medical perspective, intelligent people still manage to take him seriously because of the clever way in which he plays to their confirmation bias and fears.
Until we, as a group of patients, caregivers, and cancer advocates, can unify in our will to vet the information we share and actively fight ignorance, this sort of divisive rhetoric will quell progress in the greater cancer narrative. I ask that everyone take the time to consider whether they are utilizing their best critical thinking about new information that they hear, especially when the claims are extraordinary, before choosing to outright believe something simply because it fits their world view. We should be open to discussing new and radical ideas, but we should also demand that such ideas are presented in an honest and accurate fashion.
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