Friday, November 1, 2019

#2260: Mark Sircus

Marc Sircus is a near-legendary crank and promoter of cancer woo, perhaps most familiar for his Transdermal Magnesium Therapy, which is not something you should get involved with under any circumstances. Sircus, like many quacks, are fond of adding meaningless alphabet soups to his name, and usually titles himself with “O.M.D” (“oriental medicine doctor”, which does emphatically not have anything to do with doctor or medicine, but does convey a hint of racism), as well as “Ac.” (probably “acupuncturist”) and “DM (P)”, which is new to us but may have something to do with pastoral medicine. None of the “credentials” are worth the price of the paper on which they are printed, if they are printed anywhere at all, but they are apparently good for marketing purposes. We encourage people to ponder why Sircus feels the need to add meaningless letters to his name in his promotion materials given that readers are unlikely to have the faintest clue what they are supposed to be short for, and Sircus presumably knows that they don’t. 

Sircus is so into cancer woo that he is even associated with the delusional rantings of Tullio Simoncini (both are apparently sources trusted by people like Joe Mercola). According to Sircus, “[c]ancer is, fundamentally, a relatively simple oxygen deficiency disease and the use of bicarbonate increases oxygen carrying and reaching capacity.” Or in other words: “I don’t have the faintest clue about physiology, but I am merrily making up nonsense” (explanation here if you need it). The idea that sodium bicarbonate is an efficacious treatment for cancer must count as one of the most idiotic (and vile) disciplines of cancer woo out there – though the competition is fierce – relying as it does on blatantly false, conspiracy-theory driven delusions about what cancer actually is. According to Sircus, however, and his book Winning the War on Cancer, “[s]odium bicarbonate happens to be one of our most useful medicines because bicarbonate physiology is fundamental to life and health.” This is not how “because” works (and that is not the only problem with the claim). Sircus has observed, though, that many chemotherapy treatments include sodium bicarbonate, and asks whether it could be that the results one sees when using chemo and sodium bicarbonate is the result of the latter rather than the former, and promptly concludes that it is. “There are no studies separating the effects of bicarbonate from the toxic chemotherapy agents, nor will there ever be,” claims Sircus, suggesting a conspiracy. In reality, of course –Sircus isn’t even close to reality – sodium bicarbonate has been provided as part of a chemotherapy regimens not to treat the tumor but to protect the kidneys, given that certain chemotherapy regimens cause massive tumor cell lysis, though it is less commonly added these days since questions have been raised over whether it is actually beneficial. (Moreover, a controlled trial where one group of cancer patients only gets sodium bicarbonate without chemo is not very likely to pass ethical review boards, for obvious reasons.) Bah, details: Sircus has a panacea and a conspiracy theory to underpin the claims on its behalf; details are irrelevant. Instead, Sircus goes on to claim that baking soda can cure H1N1, too.

Sircus is the leader of something called the International Medical Veritas Association (remember Badger’s Law!), which is apparently different from the infamous HIV/AIDS-denialist, antivaccine Medical Veritas International organization (Badger’s Law predicts such confusing similarities among these kinds of organizations), and also writes the IMVA blog. A telling entry on the blog is his “Cancer Still a Mystery to Medical Science”, discussed here. You can already guess the gambit he tries to use, can’t you? Yes, there is still a lot of stuff scientists don’t know about cancer – that’s why they do research – and no, that doesn’t mean that you get to fill the gaps with whatever unsupported bullshit you fancy. In fact, Sircus goes one step further: he is claiming that physicians are deliberately making money by “complicating” the subject of cancer. To Sircus and the quacks, cancer isn’t “complicated;” the complexity of cancer is just part of a conspiracy, and/or the myopia of scientists blinded by the “reigning paradigm” that cancer has something to do with cells or DNA (the “cherished chosen belief system” of scientists and physicians who defend it with “fanatical fervor”); according to Sircus, that is “just […] a theory”. The rest of the post is a long list of familiar cancer quackery, including vitamin C quackery, where Sircus cites a recent study published in Cancer Research to support his case – or rather, he doesn’t cite the study, but a news story about the study that completely misrepresents its findings, and then ignorantly proclaims that “[o]ncologists never made it to first grade as far as knowledge of nutrition and its role in health and disease.” It’s hard to decide whether to laugh or to cry. 

So, what’s really the cause of cancer? Well, I think it’s worth quoting him at some length: “The germ theory of cancer is quite legitimate though medical authorities continue to crucify Dr. Tullio Simoncini for his focus on fungus and yeast as a central part of the cancer paradigm. Long before Simoncini walked the earth we have had research connecting fungus to cancer. Fungus is a microbe, and many scientists believe viruses, fungi and bacteria are all different stages of the microbe life cycle. Neither Dr. Dannenberg nor Dr. Simoncini is a medical heretic but many subjects in our contemporary civilization are just too taboo.” One would have liked to know a bit more about the “many” scientists who don’t know the difference between fungi, viruses and bacteria (some suggestions as to where Sircus picked up the idea here), though even that claim isn’t nearly as ridiculous as the idea that Simoncini is anything resembling a legitimate scientist, however. 

Sircus is, of course, also an anti-vaccine activist, advocating (in his post “String the Bastards Up”) killing scientists at the CDC for crimes existing only in his feverish imagination: “I think these people should be lined up against a wall. Actually there is no punishment that could possibly compensate for the suffering of autism and the tragedy of vaccine deaths” and “I am calling for the conviction and the worst possible punishment under the law for certain people in government who are in the medical field.” It’s unlikely that explaining to him that vaccines demonstrably do not cause autism would help much. This is what might happen if you are unable to distinguish reasonings from violent, paranoid fever dreams. And instead of executing them, “we are letting doctors in white coats inject poisonous heavy metals into babies and paying them well for it,” laments Sircus. As telling as his baseless, conspiracy-driven hatemongering against those who are actually helping people, is the fact that no vitriol is directed against his fellow bicarbonate sodium-quacks, who are demonstrably killing people, and being paid for it, by injecting people in desperate situations with what is, in effect, poison.

Part of it all is, of course, motivated by Sircus’s hatred for real medical doctors, in particular oncologists: “Oncologists certainly don’t cure cancer since it’s illegal to even speak about curing cancer and since most of their patients die no matter what the doctors say or do.” None of those claims are remotely true of course. It is, however, true that real doctors tend to reject most of the nonsense Sircus promotes, which makes it hard for people like Sircus not to ascribe them malicious intentions. As for his own views, we are still waiting for his magnum opus, the (ostensibly) 3000-page Conquering cancer, which supposedly sums up Sircus’s various views on the topic (one recent(?) addition being electrochemical cancer quackery, discussed here), as well as his fundamental misunderstandings and lack of understanding of basic biology, physiology or medicine. 

Another one of his inventions is “natural allopathic medicine”, which according to him and his e-book is a “new therapeutic principle that revolutionizes both allopathic and naturopathic medicine offering a radical shift in medical thought and practice” that focuses on “pH management, cell voltage, magnesium and iodine medicine, cannabinoid medicine, carbon dioxide medicine, re-mineralization of the body, increasing oxygen transport and oxygenation of the tissues, opening up of blood vessels, saturation and healing of cells with concentrated nutrition via superfoods, breathing retraining, emotional transformation processing, detoxification and removal of heavy metals and radioactive particles.” Apparently you can use it to treat Ebola: “Instead of using toxic pharmaceuticals that diminish the immune system by further driving down nutritional status we use we treat and cure through the fulfillment of nutritional law.” It’s hard not to suspect that his success criterion is “no one complained”. Evidence? “Just ask an emergency-room or intensive-care-ward doctor right after he has injected magnesium chloride or sodium bicarbonate to save someone’s life.” I think we can safely say that emergency room doctors are not using magnesium chloride or sodium bicarbonate in emergency situations for their nutritional value. He doesn’t offer any other evidence for any of his claims, apart from some cherry picking and misrepresentations of some papers thrown together in a speculative jumble.

Diagnosis: When you, regarding a topic you know nothing about, disagree with everyone who knows anything about it, you should at least stop to consider the possibility that you are wrong before you conclude that everyone else is in a nefarious conspiracy against you. But that’s what people like Sircus, who have staked their careers on the second of those options, need you not to do. It does seem, however, that Sircus is a true believer rather than an outright fraud, though it’s an interesting question whether there really is a legitimate distinction to draw when you encounter characters like Mark Sircus.

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