Monday, January 25, 2016

#1579: Shane Ellison

A.k.a. The people's chemist

Shane Ellison is “the people’s chemist” – a “rogue chemist turned consumer health advocate” – and he can cure you with alchemy. If you ever visit his website (you don’t have to; we’ve been there for you), you’ll be met with the rather interesting combination of words: “Combining chemistry and nature is an experiment. But when it yields measurable results, each day is another chance to live young without risky medications.” By “measurable results” he means … well, he’s got testimonies and anecdotes. It’s always testimonials, isn’t it? Ellison was a rogue chemist, remember, not a scientist. At least his target audience isn’t.

The narrative is, of course, that Ellison, who’s got an MA in chemistry, left the corrupt pharmaceutical industry behind (where he had for a while “ignored my suspicion that an insidious and deliberate push to get each and every American hooked on drugs, while at the same time bankrupting them, existed between Big Pharma and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)”) – from his Big Pharma experience he also learned that “[w]e design drugs based on symptoms, we don’t cure” – and his current goal is to get people off of their medications and rather buy various supplements: “prescription drugs and health don’t mix,” says Ellison. He sells quite a selection on his website, and the parameters by which these are “natural”, and prescription drugs aren’t, are a bit unclear (some of them are gluten free, apparently).

The Big Pharma conspiracy is, of course, a conspiracy to get you to use as many drugs and vaccines as possible to maximize profits (yes, he’s been pushing the “swine flu vaccine was a scamconspiracy). Instead, you should buy Ellison’s supplements, which, according to the testimonials, have helped people achieve miraculous weight loss (they’re horribly expensive, which could of course be an explanation), and cured diabetes and aching joints. He also pushes his books, which include at least Over-the-counter natural cures and The 5 Deadliest Pills Checklist. Some of the claims in the former are discussed here. Suffice to say, it’s the usual tripe, with claims like “Big Pharma didn't invent aspirin. Mother Nature did” (no, aspirin does not exist in nature), but Ellison recommends that you use white willow bark instead, which according to him “doesn’t contain ASA (acetyl-salicylic acid) or aspirin. Therefore, it won't accidentally kill you.” Well, white willow bark contains salicin, which is converted to salicylic acid when ingested and which can indeed kill you. But you know, Ellison is on a roll and not so concerned with such inconvenient details. The reason “the industry” pushes aspirin rather than white willow bark is because white willow bark is barely effective and has at least as bad possible side effects as the drugs it is supposed to replace because “[t]he industry couldn't market the natural ingredient as their own. You can’t patent Mother Nature.” Ellison’s idea is that the patented drugs are “simply ‘copy-cats’ of Mother Nature. Unfortunately, because they are slightly altered, they carry large amounts of risk due to fast absorption into the bloodstream. These copycats are also very toxic because the body does not recognize them as being natural.” In reality, of course, the modifications are made to improve the effects and remove unnecessary dangerous side effects from the drug’s natural contexts (like in the case of aspirin and white willow bark). The last sentence of that quote, however, is a nice illustration of how crazy and dangerously wrong Ellison’s claims actually are: No, your body does not have a detector that distinguishes “naturally produced” chemicals from other chemicals. It’s rather interesting that so many people who, like Ellison, make a living off of pushing “natural” supplements sold at exorbitant prices, are trying – like Ellison – to argue that Big Pharma is suppressing natural cures because they can make no money off of them.

He does lament that he cannot use the word “cure” for his products, since “the word ‘cure’ is the sole property of the drug companies.” Of course, what he is talking about is the requirement that claims to “cure” anything must be backed up by evidence, which he doesn’t have. Anecdotes and conspiracy rants aren’t evidence.

For some reason Ellison has managed to receive some media attention, probably because his website is somewhat slicker than the webpages of those who are pushing similar conspiracies over at, for instance (in fact, Ellison does indeed have a page there as well, where he talks about his book Health Myths Exposed; the myths include the aforementioned Big Pharma conspiracies, as well as the “myth” that high cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease and the "myth" that “ephedra causes heart attacks, strokes and seizures”). Don’t take medical advice from this guy, please.

Diagnosis: Doing science – conducting rigorous trials and getting the results published – is hard. Doing denialism and conspiracy ranting on the Internet (or in book form) is easy. Unfortunately many consumers are apparently not entirely clear about the difference.

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