The Observer still doesn’t understand Burzynski

The Observer, the epicenter of l’affaire Burzynski, has responded to the deluge of criticism from the medical, scientific and skeptical communities about its coverage of the cancer quack, Stanislaw Burzynski, who continues to pump unproven urine-derived treatments into terminal cancer patients and charges them insane fees up front for the privilege. Entire communities throw untold sums of money at the slimmest (nonexistent, really) hope that these patients will recover at the Burzynski Clinic, and the Observer finds this uplifting.

Horse shit. And shame on The Observer.

The reader’s editor column today, which I believe is essentially an ombudsman’s column, does nothing to serve the readers who might damn well end up in the clutches of the monster from Texas. The title of the article is simply beyond the pale:

The readers’ editor on… kind hearts and a cruel illness: Is it so surprising where desperate parents will turn in the search for a cure for their terminally ill child?

No. Not at all. They are vulnerable and desperate, which is why it is our collective responsibility to protect them. What is surprising is that your editor is unwilling to say, “Boy, we really messed up by giving someone a platform to promote what will inevitably be massive fraud of the most callous and depraved kind.” But look how the Observer continues to frame the issue:

Yet what was intended as a gripping, human-interest story quickly drew a sustained attack on the paper for apparently offering unquestioning support for a highly controversial cancer treatment, known at antineoplaston therapy.

First off, it’s not controversial therapy at all. It’s a failed therapy. 30+ years and no credible science to back it up? FAILED.

The Observer, unbelievably, is trying to twist this story into some sort of attack on the family of Billie Bainbridge, the little girl whose sickness prompted the original article. They actually close the article with the line: “But some participants in the debate have combined aggression, sanctimony and a disregard for the facts in a way which has predictably caused much distress to the Bainbridge family.”

They point out that the Rhys Morgan, a 17-year old who was actually threatened by the Burzynski’s hired toughs (they actually sent him a google map image of the kid’s house, which translates into, “We know where you live”), did not talk to the Bainbridges before he asserted that they “looked on the Internet.” (The Observer fails to demonstrate that this was factually incorrect. Just saying.)

So what? That is the least important part of Rhys’s original post. The fact remains that a 30-year fraud is claiming another little victim. Who gives a tiny nutty crap about how the parents heard about the scam artist?

Hey, do you want to see some bad writing? Notice how the paper goes from indignation that the Internet somehow failed to…recognize that Billie’s family was looking at anecdotal evidence(?), to a defense of the paper:

“Billie’s parents know it is unproven, but there are other families in this country who were told by their hospital that their condition was terminal and nothing could be done for them, but were then treated at the clinic and survived. Knowing this, Billie’s parents felt they couldn’t sit back and do nothing if there was a small chance this treatment would save her life.”

And this is the point that is being lost in the vitriol that is flying around the internet. Undoubtedly, the Observer was wrong not to have included criticism of the treatment. A simple check with Cancer Research UK would have revealed the depth of concern about it and, no question, that concern should have been in the article, but because it was absent doesn’t mean that the paper was promoting the treatment, as some have suggested (“pimping” it, as one science writer so crudely tweeted).

Uncritically giving a cancer quack uncritical press? How could we possibly have mistaken that for promotion? We should have just called it as it was: a shoddy, pathetic, and irresponsible attempt at journalism.

The Internet apologizes for not making this clearer.

Now do you f*cking job and protect Billie, her family, and your readers from this immense fraud.


Please consider donating to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. They turn nobody away, even if they can’t pay. Unlike Burzynski.

7 Responses to The Observer still doesn’t understand Burzynski

  1. A couple of differences between the Observer view and the one you have posted. Firstly, I broadly agree with yours. Secondly, whether I agree or otherwise I have the opportunity to reply below which is always a significant plus point!

  2. Callum J Hackett says:

    The more that I’ve thought about it, the more it seems essentially patronising for writers and journalists to focus solely on the ‘human element’ – to think entirely about the poor, poor families, doing whatever they can to raise money for any treatments on offer no matter how questionable they are, and that they should have our unrelenting sympathy in any and every endeavour, preferably with us also giving money without question.

    Of course these families have our sympathy. BUT, if we truly care for their welfare, then it is our duty as impartial parties to scrutinise Burzynski and folks like him so that we can protect the vulnerable from being sucked into false treatments and scams.

  3. InvincibleIronyMan says:

    So if I start my own clinic, where the standard treatment is burning huge piles of money as an offering to the cancer god, I’m sure I can expect the Observer’s unequivocal support!

  4. I learned about Dr. Burzynski in July 2011 and I still cannot get around the documentation of his successes.

    The fact that he has been tried and cleared by the Texas Medical Board (TMB) FIVE TIMES for the SAME charges makes me suspicious of TMB motives and the FDA drug approval process as well.
    No one else in the history of FDA clinical trials is on record for CURING diffuse intrinsic childhood brain stem gliomas, but he has. This is why the FDA continues to grant families access to his clinical trials albeit on a case by case basis.
    Read the available reports, articles, test results and statements by oncologists. Also check him out on His antineoplaston treatment successfully completed Phase II of FDA clinical trials in 2009. By definition this means the FDA confirmed his treatment is “safe and efficacious.”
    I still cannot get around the documentation of his successes.

  5. Bob says:

    Hey, Karla. Thanks for the link to the infomercial.

    You simply cannot say that he has cured anything without phase III clinical trials. That’s not how it works. You can’t. He can’t. If he is claiming it, then he is fails to understand how the drug development process works.

    His published works fail to meet scientific muster. And if you imagine that the regulatory agencies are nefarious, and big pharma is nefarious, why, after 30 years haven’t the drug companies simply stolen the highly profitable idea of antineoplastons? They know where to look. Right?


  6. […] The Observer still doesn’t understand Burzynski ( […]

  7. […] Skeptical Humanities on the Observer on Burzynski: Entire communities throw untold sums of money at the slimmest (nonexistent, really) hope that these patients will recover at the Burzynski Clinic, and the Observer finds this uplifting. […]

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