Sunday, January 5, 2014

#858: William Lane

William Lane (not to be confused with William Lane Craig) is a rather influential promoter of pseudoscience and woo. His main idea, the one for which he is famous and the one that is the foundation for his company BeneFin, is the use of powdered shark cartilage as a cancer cure. The basic idea, which is stated explicitly in the title of two of Lane’s books, is that sharks don’t get cancer. That is, of course, false. Sharks do get cancer, even cancer of their cartilage, but as with most animals and unlike humans sharks have a tendency to die before cancer sets in. The other, equally idiotic idea, is that powdered shark cartilage taken orally could somehow prevent cancer in humans, which would be a silly inference even if his premise of sharks not getting cancer were true. (To be fair, he did base the inference on scientific considerations, but he did of course not understand any of the science he read.) It may give you salmonella, however.

In 2000 Lane was prohibited by the Federal Trade Commissionfrom claiming that “BeneFin or any other shark cartilage product prevents, treats or cures cancer,” until he has substantial evidence to support his claims – which he has, of course, completely failed to do (the president of LaneLabs, one Andrew J. Lane, whom one suspects to be related to William Lane,  also received a $ 1 million fine). His response to critics is usually that people who disagree with him on the basis of reality and evidence are in a conspiracy to stifle him, the standard gambit from any purveyor of bullshit. Lane’s work has a substantial file at quackwatch, and there is a good summary here.

His idea, however, is not entirely harmless – the popularity of his “cure” has greatly contributed to endangering several shark species, which is exactly the kind of problems that similar bullshit woo is creating for tigers and rhinos in certain Asian countries.

Diagnosis: Not only a reality-challenged promoter of woo, Lane is also a substantial threat to the environment. His influence is thus rather scary.

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