If you’ve been following the news in the blogosphere, you’ve seen the attacks aimed at skeptical bloggers from a controversial cancer clinic. The Burzynski Clinic charges significant amounts of money to treat patients with unproven therapies. To get around the law, Burzynski offers his “antineoplastons” as part of clinical trials, trials that have, after decades, led to no published randomized controlled trials, the gold standard for proving effectiveness.
Given the controversial nature of his work, Burzynski has come under considerable criticism. This exploded earlier this week when bloggers came forward with emails containing threats from a Marc Stephens who claimed he was a lawyer representing Burzynski’s clinic. As it turns out, only the latter is true. Stephens is not a lawyer. Here’s how the Clinic describes his role:
Marc Stephens was recently hired bythe Burzynski Clinic as an independent contractor to provide web optimization services and to attempt to stop the dissemination of false and inaccurate information concerning Dr. Burzynski and the Clinic. (emphasis mine, PalMD)
In my opinion, this translates as hired muscle for intimidation of critics. This opinion is based on actual emails sent by Stephens to multiple bloggers, emails that, along with intimidating language, became more and more unhinged, finally achieving a Time Cube quality. Rather than completely disavowing Stephens’ behavior, the Clinic has doubled down. They apparently fired him, but disavowed only his posting of a critic’s home on google maps, and “these comments”, whatever that means. They then go on to implicitly and explicitly threaten UK bloggers using more polite language than their recently departed lackey.
They accuse unnamed bloggers in the UK of making “false and defamatory statements”, setting the stage for—presumably—a libel suit. Why just UK bloggers? Many US bloggers, such as myself and Orac of Respectful Insolence have been strongly critical of Burzynski and quite specific in our criticism, yet we, as Americans, are not included in the threatening press release.
As many readers know, the UK has ridiculously horrid libel laws, famously showcased in BCA vs Singh, when the British Chiropractic Association went after a well-known journalist for making what were essentially truthful statements. In the US, the courts are much more friendly to free speech than to claims of defamation.
In its press release the Clinic, rather than apologizing for what (in my opinion) was sociopathic behavior by its agent, has basically said, “Yeah, we canned the dude, but were coming after you lousy Brits.”
They go on to list statements that they feel were made by these bloggers and that they feel are false. I’m not sure they are correct about either.
This is not how science and medicine are conducted. Advancement in medical science is not always collegial and peaceful, something you can see at almost any medical or scientific meeting. But the arguments are generally about data (with occasional ad hominem attacks thrown in for good measure) and the group with the best data (usually and eventually) wins. The loser doesn’t then threaten the other guy with legal action.
The Burzynski Clinic’s actions in this regard are shameful, and are not actions typically seen from legitimate doctors and scientists.