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bobnotes Notes Current The Trouble with Footnotes and Authorities Dr. Burzyinski The Wikipedia article

Most of us have warned friends and students against uncritical acceptance of Wikipedia as an authoritative source. Like my friend, who undoubtedly fits into that category, I nevertheless consult Wikipedia very frequently for what I usually consider quite reliable information in the scientific and medical fields. Specifically in those fields, however, I make an exception for any claims that I know to be controversial in their field of study. See Skeptical about Skeptics, the Wikipedia Problem for detail.

Obviously the Burzynski antineoplaston cancer treatment falls into that category, and just as obviously, the opening sentence from the Wikipedia page shows a skeptical animus: “The Burzynski Clinic is a medical clinic in Texas, United States founded in 1976 and offering unproven cancer treatment.” We can contrast an actually balanced treatment of another controversial scientific matter in this Wikipedia opening paragraph:

The Younger Dryas impact hypothesis, also known as the Clovis comet hypothesis, is one of the competing scientific explanations for the onset of the Younger Dryas cold period after the last glacial period. The hypothesis, which scientists continue to debate, proposes that the climate of that time was cooled by the impact or air burst of one or more comets.[1][2][3]

Perhaps, however, the controversy in the Burzynski case is way different from the one about the Younger Dryas comet hypothesis. So different in some way that it is not even necessary to give the pro-Burzynski argument in this Wikipedia article. Certainly it does not do that. We hear that no one else can get his results, but we don’t know what those are. And we hear a great deal about legal troubles and dubious procedures. There’s trouble with the FDA and the Texas Medical Board as well. From the article, I get the strong impression that Burzynski is some kind of con man. They (the anonymous authors of the article) conclude their long FDA section with a quote that says as much:

David Gorski has written that over four decades the FDA and state medical boards have been unable to shut down Burzynkski's business selling unproven treatments – "these organizations are supposed to protect the public from practitioners like Burzynski, but all too often they fail at their charges, in this case spectacularly."

So that seems to be it. That’s how this controversy is different from the one about the Younger Dryas. One side here is a charlatan “selling unproven treatments,” someone the FDA and state medical boards “are supposed to protect the public from.” In cases like this it is not appropriate to present the charlatan’s case for his product.

It is appropriate, however, to argue that his treatments are unproven. This the Wikipedia does, albeit for only about 8 percent of the total space they give to the Burzyinski Clinic. I give their “Efficacy” section in its entirety. (My emphasis. NCI = National Cancer Institute:)

Although Burzynski and his associates claim success in the use of antineoplaston combinations for the treatment of various diseases, and some of the clinic's patients say they have been helped,[25] there is no evidence of the clinical efficacy of these methods. The consensus among the professional community, as represented by the American Cancer Society[25] and Cancer Research UK[26] among others, is that antineoplaston therapy is unproven and the overall probability of the treatment turning out to be as claimed is low due to lack of credible mechanisms and the poor state of research after more than 35 years of investigation. While the antineoplaston therapy is marketed as a non-toxic alternative to chemotherapy, it is a form of chemotherapy with significant known side effects including severe neurotoxicity.[27][16]

Independent scientists have been unable to reproduce the positive results reported in Burzynski's studies: NCI observed that researchers other than Burzynski and his associates have not been successful in duplicating his results,[20] and Cancer Research UK states that "available scientific evidence does not support claims that antineoplaston therapy is effective in treating or preventing cancer."[26]

There is no convincing evidence from randomized controlled trials in the scientific literature that antineoplastons are useful treatments of cancer, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved these products for the treatment of any disease.[10] The American Cancer Society has stated since 1983 that there is no evidence that antineoplastons have any beneficial effects in cancer and recommended that people do not buy these products since there could be serious health consequences.[28][25] A 2004 medical review described antineoplaston treatment as a "disproven therapy".[5]

In 1998, three oncologists were enlisted by the weekly Washington newsletter The Cancer Letter to conduct independent reviews of Burzynski's clinical trial research on antineoplastons. They concluded that the studies were poorly designed, not interpretable, and "so flawed that it cannot be determined whether it really works". One of them characterized the research as "scientific nonsense".[29] In addition to questioning Burzynski's research methods, the oncologists found significant and possibly life-threatening toxicity in some patients treated with antineoplastons.[30]

The Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center has stated: "Bottom Line: There is no clear evidence to support the anticancer effects of antineoplastons in humans."[31]

If Wikipedia wanted to present antineoplaston treatment in an objective and balanced manner (as for the Younger Dryas controversy) they would follow this up or precede it with something equally strong from the Burzynski side, but they don’t. Since my own viewing of the two Merola documentaries (and readings on the side, as in the sourced transcripts he gives us on his website) persuade me that there definitely is excellent medical and scientific evidence to support the antineoplaston treatment, I will undertake to provide that myself. I shall begin by examining the claims Wikipedia makes in the Efficacy section I quote above.

Let me first observe, though, that it seems reasonable to disregard the 90% of the article that is devoted to legal matters and the various slurs and smears. After all, just because big pharm has time and again been found guilty of criminal activity in pushing unproven and even known-to-be dangerous drugs on the public, when another drug is offered to us, we really just want to know whether it works.

As for the four paragraphs above quoted, the first states the thesis clearly (“There is no evidence of the clinical efficacy of these methods.”) but evidence for that claim only starts with paragraph two. So that’s where I start. Down (child)

This is a panel. Close it by clicking somewhere not on it. May take two clicks.

May include gaphics and hyperlinks.


What to do, though, if you go to Wikipedia without knowing that you are looking up a controversial topic?