Not as market-aggressive as Joe Mercola or as high-profile as Andrew Weil, Joseph Pizzorno is nevertheless one of the most influential pseudoscientists affiliated with the world of woo (and associated conspiracy mongering) working today. Pizzorno is the founding President and currently President Emeritus of Bastyr University, arguably the most influential “schools” of naturopathic “medicine” in North America, and is still involved in the institution where he, right from the beginning and until 2000, was running its day-to-day operations. Now, Pizzorno’s style is a far cry from the paranoia-driven delusions of someone like, say, Mike Adams – he did, for instance, recognize Hulda Clark’s quackery for what it was (not exactly a major cognitive feat, though) – but his own brand of naturopathy is hardly more evidence-based or health-promoting; it just sounds less deranged to the uninitiated. Bastyr embraces homeopathy without criticism, for instance; indeed, Bastyr’s students are required to study homeopathy together with all the other nonsense suggested to be beneficial by naturopaths, from myofascial analysis and vega testing to traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda and even distant healing and germ theory denialism. Make no mistake; Pizzorno, his university, and naturopathy in general, are anti-science to the core.
Pizzorno is the co-author of the Textbook of Natural Medicine(with Michael T. Murray, who is also former faculty at Bastyr University and currently on its Board of Regents), which is widely used even in accredited education programs – despite being demonstrably a piece of unscientific junk. The book is described in some detail here. It is advertised as “the gold standard in natural medicine,” and as a scientific presentation that “includes the science behind concepts and treatments, and discusses Western medical treatments and how they can work with natural medicine in a comprehensive treatment plan;” more than “10,000 research literature citations show that the content is based on science rather than opinions or anecdotes.” It is interesting that they felt the need to point it out. Of course, as most critics would also point out, more important than what they included is what they did not include (i.e. all the well-designed tests, real scientific literature, and the parts of the texts they cited that do not support the conclusions they wish to draw); besides, the authors are fully prepared to drop any pretense of scientific support when it suits them, and the chapters on therapeutic modalitis baldly admits that “[a]lthough this textbook is strongly oriented to the scientific method and the use of the peer-review literature for documentation of the efficacy of a therapy, these modalities’ widespread clinical use and long history of patient satisfaction demand that they be given a place here even though the mechanisms of action of several have yet to be elicited.” Or in short: when scientific evidence shows that what they wish would work doesn’t work, disregard the science and rely on anecdotes and appeals to popularity or tradition instead. Among the most obvious and damning things that should strike anyone opening the book is naturopathy’s wholesale endorsement of medieval-style and thoroughly refuted vitalism; Pizzorno and Murray are unfazed by refutation, however, and claim against all evidence, knowledge and reality that homeostasis, entropy, and even evolution require vitalistic rather than mechanistic explanations. This is, of course, not simply false but a testament to the authors’ poor judgment and equally poor understanding of science. There is a good review of the second edition of the textbook here.
Pizzorno is also co-editor of The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods and The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, the Bible of Woo, in which more or less every piece of quackery is described as efficacious and studies that might seem to support those types of quackery if you don’t look closely enough to see the flaws, are carefully selected to provide a sheen of legitimacy while the many high-quality studies that don’t “fit the narrative” are just not mentioned. Like the textbook, the Encyclopedia (e.g.) recommends a range of questionable dietary measures, vitamins, minerals, and/or herbs for more than 70 health problems ranging from acne to AIDS – in many cases daily administration of ten or more products is recommended, often in dosages high enough to cause toxicity.
Pizzorno is also the author of Total Wellness: Improve Your Health By Understanding Your Body’s Healing Systems, which even contains a chapter titled “Strengthen Your Immune System” arguing (assuming) that “immune suppression” as an underlying cause of most disease. Total Wellness book is also antivaccine, of course. “Quackery” simply isn’t strong enough to describe the nature of Pizzorno’s advice. And things are barely better in his How to Prevent and Treat Cancer with Natural Medicine (with Murray, Tim Birdsall, and Paul Riley), one of many cancer quack books providing a whole “arsenal” of advice that range from the admittedly sensible to the useless, and since the latter is hard to distinguish from the former in the authors’ presentation, the book is one to avoid completely and with prejudice if you ever need information about cancer.
From the very founding of Bastyr, Pizzorno’s main concern seems to have been how to make naturopathic quackery look respectable. An important part of that process was of course to get their naturopathic program accredited, and to achieve this goal, Pizzorno helped write the CNME standards for naturopathic programs that would eventually be used to accredit Bastyr’s naturopathic program in 1987. Yes, accredidation is a mess; what Pizzorno and his allies achieved, was establishing a separate accrediting agency for naturopathic schools, effectively shielding them from effective oversight of their pseudoscience-filled curricula. Pizzorno is also on the board of AAFP’s Board on Functional Medicine; “functional medicine” being one of the ultimate misnomers in the world of woo.
Pizzorno has worked tirelessly to achieve more widespread acceptance of quackery through other venues as well, including offering courses for the American Council for Continuing Medical Education, where he for instance teaches about “Detoxification” and “Assessing Body Burden” – the latter presumably related to his Encyclopedia’s nonsensical claim that 25% of the US population suffers from heavy metal poisoning, which can ostensibly be assessed by provoked urine testing. That is a myth, of course, but tests almost ensuring false positives are useful for people pushing fraudulent detox regimes – you won’t have toxic levels of heavy metals in your body after completing the detox regimes, of course, and what more do you want? More on his efforts here.
As for his own background, Pizzorno has a B.S. in Chemistry and an N.D. (Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine) degree in 1975 from National College of Naturopathic Medicine. He does, in other words, not have a background in medicine.
Diagnosis: Quackery galore. But Pizzorno isn’t just a wild-eyed conspiracy theorist with a website, and his efforts to give naturopathy a sheen of legitimacy – marketing is everything, since most people don’t have the resources or background knowledge to assess the contents – have proved scarily successful. Definitely one of the most dangerous loons alive today.