Over the past couple of months, we’ve been seeing some FB adverts for cancertruth.net, a crank-magnet hub of cancer misinformation run by fanatic Christian Ty Bollinger, an all-round quack who makes public examples of sceptics who question his claims and motives by calling them “lowly Pharma trolls” from the “medical Mafia”. This kind of name-calling is a well-documented trick of the trade, as anyone who has ever confronted a quack will know. For those of you who haven’t ever had the pleasure, this type of response is called an ad hominem argument.
Bollinger has written a book called “Cancer: step outside the box”, which you can buy for 20 quid or 30 bucks and which he says is the product of several years of “medical research”. In reality, it is the product of equating anything-goes conspiracy junk à la Mike Adams with credible medical literature, combined with years of religious indoctrination. (Indeed, for Ty, cancer is ultimately a result of sin, and your only real chance of being saved from it is by seeking redemption through Jesus Christ. But we’ll leave that aside.) As a sceptically-active adult who can usually smell bullshit before having read the first word on a webpage, it is very easy to get it into one’s head that only stupid idiots are fooled by people like Ty Bollinger and his unquestioning embrace of all and any pseudoscience the Internet has to offer. But this is a mistake. Harnessing the skill of detection takes practise and prior knowledge. It hurts me to imagine how many bright young minds, as we speak, are discovering Ty’s world of “InfoWars” and “What ‘They’ Don’t Want You to Hear”, and revelling in the false knowledge that they are fast-tracking themselves into enlightenment by fuelling their brains with the cutting-edge. Equally, it’s a tragedy to me that Ty Bollinger’s “thousands of hours” spent “researching” were in actual fact thousands of hours spent willingly applying his brain-power to the task of rooting around in humanity’s intellectual dustbin.
For a sense of how difficult it would be for any conscientious 16-yr-old biology student to debunk Ty’s homepage article on the question “What is Cancer?”, consider standing with a small, empty wicker basket in the heart of an untouched apple orchard in Devonshire, on an early-autumn afternoon of a particularly good year for apples.
Of course, Ty could always say, HA! Text-book biology is just what ‘they’ want you to see anyway.
…And you might be stumped for a millisecond, but then you’d recall that his entire website revolves around scientifically-established, text-book concepts like pH, respiration, trans-fats, antioxidants, mutation, immune function, radiation, cholesterol, and so forth, and so forth. (He just doesn’t know what they actually mean.) If he doesn’t trust science, why on earth does he enjoin his readers to trust that these scientific concepts aren’t just deep layers of conspiracy construction, designed to function as a believable framework for all the lies ‘they’ tell us, and that he so diligently exposes? Perhaps it’s because in reality, they function as a convenient conceptual framework for readers to place his lies neatly into. It makes them easily remembered and spreadable. One thing’s for sure: when we see such selective inconsistency, we know the motivation is something other than truth.
I will go through his answer to the question “What is Cancer?”, bit by bit. The entirety of his original text is quoted, but feel free to observe it in context at his website, via donotlink, here.
Please note that I go into more depth on the kind of misinformation Bollinger spreads, and give an explanation of what cancer actually is (without assuming any prior knowledge), in this blog post. I’ll indicate if one of Ty’s claims is dealt with directly in it, and which paragraph to look at. Here is the first section of Ty’s piece on the question “What is Cancer?”
“Conventional medicine defines cancer as a colony of malignant cells, or a tumor. If you have a tumor, then the conventional oncologist will try to cut or slash it out via surgery. After they cut you, then they typically recommend chemo to try to kill any remaining cancer cells with toxic poisons. And they will finish off with radiation, to burn whatever cancer cells remain.”
Firstly, notice the use of loaded, repetitious language (“cut or slash”, “burn”, “toxic poisons”). What follows, this strongly suggests, is so reliant on unsubstantiated claims that he feels the need to poison the well by doubling-up on nasty words before he can let people read on, to inflame their emotions and make them less likely to go and do some fact-checking. The use of the snide expression, “they will finish off with radiation” is another, more subtle example of the same ploy – immediately planting in the mind the image of a gang of sadistic doctors toying with your body for their sport. Furthermore, look at the term “conventional oncologist”, which implies that some oncologists (the unconventional ones) think more like Ty than others. They don’t. To be an oncologist, you have to have studied cancer genetics and cell biology and passed some long, hard exams. Practising oncology means treating patients on the basis of what you learned for those exams. ‘Alternative oncologist’ is a meaningless term, used only to set up a double standard.
More importantly, Ty’s description of the transition from diagnosis to treatment is ridiculous. And it implicitly makes one of the most fundamental oncological oversights, as seen in cancer quackery across the board: failing to distinguish between a benign tumour and a malignant tumour. A malignant tumour is one that contains cells which have gained the ability to break away from the tissue that holds them together. Before a tumour has started shedding cells into the blood lymphatic system, or ‘metastasised’, tumours are ‘benign’, and can in many cases be removed (or “cut or slashed”) out via surgery without complication. When possible, it is preferable to use surgery as the only treatment, because of the side-effects that are associated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy. However, unless there is good evidence that the tumour has not yet started to shed cells, it is often recommended that surgery is combined with other treatments, to give maximum confidence that all the cancer has been killed. If a patient is diagnosed with metastatic cancer, treatment must be tailored to the particular kind of cancer they have. This will be the result of careful analysis of the particular genetic traits of the cancer. At this point, I should say: cancer is NOT a disease, it is an remarkably diverse CATEGORY of disease. No two cancers are the same. Different tumours in the same body can have very different genetic profiles. In fact, even within the same tumour, cells may be different in this way. Likewise, chemotherapy isn’t a drug, it’s drug category. The drugs that are recommended as part of a patient’s course of chemotherapy will reflect their individual case. Radiation therapy works locally, targeting a specific area of the body, whereas chemotherapy and oral medication (Ty doesn’t mention pills) work on the whole body. Broadly speaking, these differences, combined with the patient’s profile, determine the treatment approach.
“This is why I, and many others, refer to “the Big 3” protocol as “Slash, Poison, and Burn.” Alternative medicine sees cancer as a multidimensional, systemic total body disease. The cancer tumor is merely a symptom and the purpose of the alternative cancer treatment is to correct the root causes of cancer in the whole body.”
So, after reiterating his fondness for loaded language, he tells a lie. In reality, the opposite is true. A one-dimensional, dumbed-down view of cancer, and the ignorant portrayal of the [category of] disease as predictable that is what defines cancer quackery – not the ‘individualised’ approach they claim to take but actually are incapable of taking because of their lack of even the most basic understanding of cancer, DNA, and human physiology. Saying that the “root causes of cancer” are “in the whole body” is, again, meaningless. Massive oversight number 2 from Ty Bollinger: the difference between proximate and ultimate causes, which, when it comes to cancer, is crucial. Please see paragraph 1 of the section entitled “Miracle cure for cancer?” in the blog post I mentioned above, for more on this. The causes of cancer, both ultimate and proximate, are as diverse as cancer itself. The claim that “the cancer tumor is merely a symptom”, which is false, is discussed later.
“The fact is we develop cancer cells throughout our bodies throughout our lives.”
This is kind of true, but not really. Cells are called “cancer cells” when they’re part of a cancer. Cells do spontaneously mutate, and Ty is correct in saying that “normally”, our bodies “are able to find [these cells], identify them, and destroy them before they are able to grow uncontrollably” (ie, before they become cancer, and thus, before they come cancer cells).
“It is a normal occurrence, which is constantly taking place in a healthy body. It is only when the healthy body becomes unable to mount its normal defenses and the cancer cells are allowed to reproduce at an uncontrollable rate that cancer becomes life threatening. This is a failure or breakdown of our normal immune system. The immune systems breakdown, and its cause, needs to be treated in conjunction with the cancer, in order to assure the best possible outcome for the patient. Any treatment that does not address underlying causes for the breakdown of the immune system will be palliative at best, and life threatening at their worst.”
It’s just not true that this mechanism (find, detect, destroy) will not fail if you are “healthy”. The word “healthy” is, in any case, spectacularly broad in meaning and impossible to define without including more and more words. Here we see Ty’s complete ignorance of the probabilistic nature of cancer, which arises from the fact that any copying system has an inherent error-rate. We see it in all copying systems, not just in DNA-replication. Cancer can occur in people who are in very good physical shape. This doesn’t mean that the immune system has no role in cancer. Far from it. But sometimes, even in a fully-functioning system, something slips through the net. Ty fails to mention hereditary cancer predispositions, some forms of which will result in a person getting cancer very early in life, and dying. Try Googling famililal adenomatous polyposis, or Li-Fraumeni syndrome, for example. Please see paragraph 3 of “Some background information” for more on this. Now, be prepared, this is where it all kicks off…
It’s important to remember the basic physiology of all cancer cells. Whether it be breast, prostate, renal or lung, there are many facets of their physiology that will remain constant. Glucose is taken in as a primary food; lactic acid is excreted from the cancer cells into the blood. The blood carries the lactic acid to the liver, where it is converted back into glucose to feed the cancer cells. This occurs in all known cancer cells. It has been well documented in many studies, that, many years ago serum glucose levels were used to monitor the progress of the disease. It was well established that as the disease progressed, serum glucose levels would rise.
Yes, there are basic elements of physiology that all cancer cells share. They’re the ones that all non-cancer cells also share. There is a lot more *unshared* physiology going on in cancer cells than there is in normal cells. Glucose? Taken in as a primary food? Yes, by all cells, including the healthy ones! It’s testament to the mental tragedy I was talking about earlier on that after several years of what Ty thought was “medical research”, he’s managed to miss the fact that all cells require glucose for cellular respiration…..which, of course, renders the rest of that last paragraph moot. Oh, and the whole of the next paragraph.
“Knowing this, the wisdom of removing simple carbohydrates and sugars from the diet becomes obvious. The ignorant use of glucose I.V.’s in cancer patients also becomes painfully obvious. The object is to make it difficult for cancer cells to reproduce. Why fuel them with a primary requirement?”
…Because you can’t stop fuelling them with a primary requirement without also cutting supply to healthy cells.
“They are unable to efficiently use protein or complex carbohydrates for food.”
Actually, proteins and complex carbohydrates can both be converted to glucose just fine by the liver and the pancreas.
“The healthy cells of our body and immune system are able to use these as fuel and for repair.”
And so are the cancer cells.
“Adapt the patient to a diet that includes protein and complex carbohydrates and eliminate the rest. This is a simple change that can make a huge difference in the final outcome of the disease process.”
Forgetting for a moment that complex carbohydrates and proteins are both routinely converted into glucose by the body, where’s his evidence that eliminating everything but complex carbohydrates and protein “can make a huge difference in the final outcome of the disease process”? Even if his premise were correct, which it is not, this would still need to be supported by controlled studies.
“It’s also important to remember that a large number of cancer cell types have receptor sites for opiates.”
So do healthy cells. And just because a cell has opiate receptors doesn’t mean that opium helps keep them alive.
“In other words, opiates used to fight pain will actually increase the cancer cell’s growth rate.”
No, this does not follow.
“The quick shrinkage of tumors that is sometimes seen in chemotherapy or radiation therapy is not a sign of recovery from cancer. It is a complete shutting down of the normal immune response.”
This is not true. Cancer is made of tumour mass. If the tumour shrinks, the patient has less cancer. Tumours aren’t “symptoms” of an underlying disease, they are the disease, and their growth into surrounding structures causes a host of symptoms (say, difficulty breathing if they grow in towards a patient’s wind-pipe). There is absolutely no basis for the claim that tumour shrinkage, when it occurs after chemotherapy or radiation (but presumably not if it were to occur in someone who eschewed “conventional” treatment for cancer), is the “complete shutting down of normal immune response”.
“This is as indisputable fact, yet the pharmaceutical companies are allowed to use it to get their chemotherapy approved. Under optimal conditions, tumors will enlarge as they become engorged with CD-cells and macrophages. These cells identify the cancer cells, kill them and then devour their remains. This is an inflammatory response and results in the tumor growing slightly as it becomes engorged with these cells. If the tumor shrinks quickly from chemotherapy or radiation therapy, the ideal healthy response of the body to controlling cancer does not have a chance to occur.”
Whoah, Nelly. Ty starts that paragraph by saying that something anyone who has ever studied cancer would dispute is undisputable. He then uses this as the basis for the idea that chemotherapy doesn’t work, but pharmaceutical companies are selling it anyway. (I invite you to read that first sentence again just in case you missed that he inadvertently implies that pharma companies are using *his* absurd interpretation of tumour shrinkage to sell their drugs. We are dealing with a seriously impaired thinker here, folks.) Let’s not forget that for this to be true would entail that every single oncological researcher, many of whom have come out of the best universities in the world, are willing to forfeit all semblance of scientific integrity for dirty pharma payouts. In principle, as someone who studied cancer as part of their degree, and who has friends in cancer research, I find this insulting. In practise, I had to get over that a long time ago when I realised that people like Ty are all over the place, and that taking offense doesn’t get you anywhere.
Let’s avoid the false dichotomy that says you have to be in love with pharmaceutical companies to confront pseudoscience. In the words of Ben Goldacre, one of pharmaceutical companies’ most vocal critics (from his book, Bad Pharma):
“Alternative therapists […] have no role to play in fixing these problems. These business people often like to pretend, with an affectation of outside swagger, that their trade somehow challenges the pharmaceutical industry. In reality, they are cut from the same cloth, and simply use cruder versions of the same tricks, as I have written many times elsewhere. Problems in medicine do not mean that homeopathic sugar pills work; just because there are problems with aircraft design, that doesn’t mean that magic carpets really fly.”
“Never confuse rapid tumor shrinkage with beating the cancer. It is just the opposite.”
This is the last bit:
“CT scans and PET scan show inflammatory responses, not just cancer. Since the normal and healthy body response are CD-cells infiltration and consuming of cancer cells is also an inflammatory response, they are often confused by radiologists untrained in cancer fighting agents that work with the immune system to facilitate both increases in CD-cells and at the same time being cytotoxic (selectively killing cancer cells).”
Here’s a definition of “inflammatory response” from Wiki: “part of the complex biological response of vascular tissues to harmful stimuli, such as pathogens, damaged cells, or irritants.” As we might expect, on the basis of this definition, cancer certainly does cause inflammation. As tumours grow and displace surrounding tissue, cells are damaged. Tumours also secrete a variety of substances which could act as harmful stimuli or irritants. A trained oncologist would never confuse inflammation for a tumour, let alone to the point where the patient would be referred for a PET scan. The two things look completely different. If on the off-chance such a rare error of judgement were made one the first consultation (very unlikely), further consultations with other doctors (they don’t work alone) would expose the mistake. A biopsy, for example, would show unmistakably that the lump was not cancer. Inflammation is generalised fluid swelling, redness, and heat – not a mass of cells. In a PET scan, a radiologist is looking for areas where more energy is being expended – ie, where more glucose (from blood) is being demanded. PET scans are expensive, and usually aren’t used to diagnose cancer in the first place but to ascertain where the cancer has spread to, or whether treatment has been effective. No patient would ever be referred for a PET scan because of inflammation.
Bollinger throws around the term “CD-cells”. The fact he seems to think that “CD-cells infiltration” is what the “inflammatory response is” demonstrates as clear as day that he he is using the term because he thinks it makes him sounds clever. “CD” stands for “cluster of differentiation“, and is always followed by one or more numbers. That’s because there are a LOT of different types of CD cells. The CD number is the name given to a specific protein on the surface of a cell. Many CD cells (for example, CD4, CD8, CD20), are not involved in inflammation. It would have been good if Ty had read up on the topic he’s taken it upon himself to use as a basis for pushing his medical delusions on cancer sufferers.
So, what would a radiologist *not* “untrained in cancer fighting agents that work with the immune system to facilitate both increases in CD-cells and at the same time being cytotoxic” look like? Let’s see. Well, on paper at least, they’d have to look a bit like Ty Bollinger. Because they’d have to believe, like Ty, that glucose is the primary source of fuel for cancer cells but *not* the rest of the cells in the body. And they’d have to believe that increasing CD cell-numbers was the holy grail of cancer treatment. It’s not. The only thing CD cells necessarily share is that they are all involved the immune system. The immune system is mind-blowing in its degree of organisational complexity. Its many subsystems interact in an exquisitely specific manner and there is no reason to think that increasing all of a patient’s CD-cell levels should result in tumour-shrinkage. In fact, sending someone’s whole immune system into overdrive would probably be a very, very bad idea. Here’s an article on why “boosting” the immune system (which is what I think Ty is getting at) is (another) meaningless concept, and probably dangerous in the sense that Bollinger seems to be inadvertently endorsing through his ignorance. In other words, then, this kind of “radiologist” would actually have to be a quack who, like Bollinger, lacked any medical qualifications. If they were caught using this term to describe themselves, they’d be in serious trouble.
The selectivity problem (which, through an amazing feat of learned stupidity, Ty seems to think he has solved) is the central and most difficult problem in cancer treatment research. It is discussed briefly in paragraph 3 of the section called “Miracle cure for cancer?” of the note. There are promising avenues of research currently being pursued, which aim to overcome the problem of singling out cancer cells, but the majority of current cytotoxic (cancer-killing) drugs can affect the whole body, being fatal to rapidly-dividing cells like cancerous ones, those from the gastrointestinal tract, hair follicles and early blood cells in the bone marrow. Cancer treatment is not perfect, but it does save lives.
As a final word on this dense cacophony of ignorance: perhaps the most badly thought-out element of Bollinger’s piece was his singling out of “a radiologist” as the the crux of the problem. Radiologists diagnose or confirm diagnoses of disease (not just cancer). When the disease is cancer, science-based medicine requires a pathology specialist (for example, breast, lung, prostate or renal) to ascertain the invasiveness of the cells. Then a group of surgeons will work together to figure out the best way to achieve the best possible outcome, hopefully with complete removal of the tumour, causing the smallest amount of damage. Next, oncologists (plural) will use the data from the pathologists (data that describes the profile of genetic over- and under-expression of in the tumour cells) to decide which drug(s) will be most effective against the particular case of cancer the patient has. In short, medicine is a team effort.
Nothing in Bollinger’s statement stands up to the most basic medical science or current medical practice. He starts with the typical and tiresome premise of denigrating science, then fails to provide any scientific argument whatsoever, instead backing up his utterly unfounded and impressively stupid statements by impersonating science – its language and its terminology, its concepts and its techniques.
Science is not some collection of answers from which one can pick and choose what one likes. Science is a method of inquiry, and it is the method – the way in which we seek the answers – that makes something scientific, and not the terminology or the answers themselves. While science never demands our ultimate trust, it does demand that, if you want to disagree with it, you must disagree using more science. That means you must disagree with the method, rather than simply reject the answers. And to disagree with the methods used to determine scientific answers, you need to…ahem…understand the methods, and the answers, that you are disputing.
All this got me thinking about how formidable a beast the “alternative” healing/pseudoscience/conspiracy scene is. It can sometimes feel (if you’ll allow me to get into the spirit) like a giant conspiracy against reason and human emancipation from mental slavery.
People competing for recognition in the “alternative” world seek to obtain the things “they” MOST don’t want you to see. This compels to hunt the Internet for the most cracked out, far-fetched, hare-brained articles and “nuggets” (Ty’s preferred term for the misinformation he emits from his little cyberspot on the World Wide Web) that they can possibly find. It sort of reminds me of football or Pokémon cards. There are some that you find in every packet. And there are some that are really hard to track down and that only a few people have ever got hold of. THOSE are the ones people are after. “Alternative” suppliers stock the collectables – the articles and interviews and pictures with words under them, and the pressure is on to be the website or FB page that has the rarest, most STUNNING NEW INFO to provide its consumers with, to increase their page rankings so they can earn maximum dosh from advertising or selling their rubbish. But whereas football and Pokémon cards (or medicine) correspond to a finite number of characters (or available treatments), as a crank you don’t have this limitation. You can simply invent stuff. It doesn’t have to be stuff that’s true, or even stuff that people might be able to point out with irrefutable evidence is not true. It doesn’t have to make sense, or be good for people. There are no rules. And the more recognition you get, the more people you can hire to pluck bullshit from their arses and convert into (just) readable prose, and the crazier the people you can employ, so your posts are always on the forefront of Cutting-edge Crap. Oh, you like that effect? Check out the title of Ty Bolinger’s most recent book, “Monumental Myths of the Modern Medical Mafia and Mainstream Media and the Multitude of Lying Liars That Manufactured Them”, with a preface by Mike Adams. He’s got alliteration down to a tee. We can at least say that about Ty.
In Bollinger’s world, there is no reality-check. He just keeps going. His readers gotta catch ‘em all – all of those lies, all the conspiracy theories, all the cheap bunk that the human mind can produce when released from the onus of fact-checking. Writing this article reminded me of what I just found out is called “Rule 34” which, in the form I heard it, goes something like this: if you can think of a sex fetish, no matter how weird, someone has already thought of it. It’s been done.
See for yourself. Think up some pseudoscience – pick an object or concept and see whether some whacko out there on Google has spun some junk from it. In my experience, they usually have.
To conclude, all the evidence you need to ascertain that Ty Bollinger is a dangerous quack has been provided to you by his own words, and his astonishing ability to confuse broadcasting his ignorance with providing credible refutation of medical theories.