Thursday, May 16, 2019

#2190:Robert J. Rowen

Robert J. Rowen is apparently an MD, but probably one you should stay clear. Rowen is also an “integrative physician”, and his probably most famous for his promotion of ozone therapy. Indeed, Rowen claims that ozone therapy even cures Ebola. He does seem to be a true believer rather than an outright fraud, however, since in 2014 he even went to Sierra Leone at the height of the Ebola outbreak, together with fellow crank Howard Robins, to offer ozone therapy and ultraviolet blood irradiation therapy to Ebola patients. (He was not the only lunatic to go there; infected areas were also invaded by homeopaths trying to push worthless nonsense to people in desperate need of real healthcare – the most ridiculous suggestion being perhaps this.

Ultraviolet blood irradiation therapy is one of the most ridiculous forms of quackery out there, though ozone therapy comes close; in Rowan’s very much alternate reality, both are “oxidative therapies” that supposedly increase the oxygen content of the blood. There is no evidence that UV radiation does that; ozone therapy will, but not in any way that will make any beneficial difference insofar as it doesn’t increase the hemoglobin content, and the hemoglobin is usually maximally saturated anyways. Rowan not only thinks it works, but even issued a press release where he suggested he had actually managed to cure a patient with Ebola. Of course, there is no reason to think that the patient in question ever had Ebola, since he refused to be tested – the evidence being solely that the patient had possibly been exposed and was stressed out about having been exposed. It is striking that Rowan did not do his obvious professional duty and reported the case to the authorities to prevent others from being infected, however, though we suppose that duty would only apply if Rowan actually suspected that the patient might have contracted the disease. We leave readers to assess Rowan’s ethical standards here. If you do, you should also consider the fact that the press release was issued only eight days after the supposed exposure incident, that Ebola has an incubation period of up to 21 days, and that the patient was, as mentioned, never actually tested for the disease. Evidence, documentation and accountability: these people really do not know how any of that works, and people are all the more at risk for it.

I sure hope the people of the world will begin to stand up to the forces of disease-maintenance evil that has taken over the world to pharm us,” said Rowan, since the fact that Big Pharma is evil somehow vindicates his own type of quackery.  

Rowen is apparently recognized as one of the great experts on ozone therapy and related quackery in various pseudoscience circles (Edward Kondrot is a fan, for instance), and he gives talks and presentations at various cargo-cult conferences, such as World Oxygen and Ozone Congress, on the supposed benefits. But Rowen’s promotion of quackery doesn’t end with ozone therapy. Rowen is also an advisor of the American Board of Chelation Therapy which is a system created by chelation therapists (dangerous quackery) in order to be “board certified” in clinical metal toxicology without really knowing anything about the field. It is basically just a board set up by quacks to give themselves credentials and write capital letters behind their names. Rowen also recommends laetrile, no less, through something called the Cancer Control Society, a group whose website states that they do “not believe in the Traditional methods of Surgery, Radiation and Chemotherapy for the treatment of cancer by doctors in California hospitals.

It is, by the way, actually remarkable to look at the legal troubles various people affiliated with the American Board of Chelation Therapy have landed themselves in. Rowen himself, for instance, got in trouble while practicing in Alaska (before he moved to California): to avoid federal income tax, Rowen set up “asset protection” trusts and did not file returns for 1992 through 1997. In 1997, he pled guilty to a federal felony charge of “corrupt endeavor to impede” an agent of the IRS and was sentenced to 10 months of probation and ordered to pay $10,003.91 in restitution and a $2,000 fine; Rowen subsequently filed for bankruptcy but in 2003, the court ruled that this did not discharge his tax debt, and in April 2007, after appeals had been denied, the court issued an abstract of judgment for $1,124,800.90. Though not directly related to his medicine, of course, it’s just the kind of thing that might give one a bit of insight into Rowen’s attitudes toward honesty and accountability.

Rowen is predictably also one of the woo promoters who rushed to the defense of anti-vaccine apologist Bob Sears when the latter got in trouble with the California medical board. That itself doesn’t necessarily entail that Rowen himself harbors antivaccine sympathies, but might rather just mean that he doesn’t like the fact that authorities hold MDs accountable for their actions toward patients – Rowen is, after all, affiliated with the American Association of Health Freedom, an organization mostly lobbying for the removal of oversight and accountability for doctors who wish to sell quackery and unproven treatments; apparently, Rowen is, according at least to himself, known as “The Father of Medical Freedom” for “pioneering the nation’s first statutory protection for alternative medicine in 1990.”

Then again, Rowen also appeared on at least one list of vaccine-skeptical doctors circulated among antivaccine groups (somewhat parallel to the Discovery Institute’s laughable petition A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism – petition signing is a gambit apparently loved by everyone who doesn’t know how science works). And Rowen has at least basically stated that death is better than autism, which is stupid and strictly speaking also irrelevant to vaccine discussions since vaccines don’t cause autism in the first place (Rowen, of course, being a dangerous moron, seems to think otherwise; he also thinks that vaccine-preventable diseases are nothing to worry about.)

The very much familiar
development of most GMO
debates (Hat-tip: ?)
And just to demonstrate the powers of crank magnetism, Rowan has also contributed to anti-GMO conspiracy theories. In his article “Is GMO worse than nuclear radiation?” (remember Betteridge’s law of headlines; it appears that Rowen’s answer is that GMOs are worse since radioactive substances have a half-life whereas GMOs are forever, which doesn’t exactly suggest a deep understanding of radioactivity, or GMOs), Rowen argues – notice the complete lack of facts and evidence – by FUD that the US is in a conspiracy to empower Monsanto (the whyis left open, but apparently the claim sounds truthy to his intended audiences) and persecute free-thinking scientists, but is mostly a promotion of unhinged conspiracy screeds and books by Jeffery Smith, a former yogic flying instructor, who certainly has no scientific credentials or relevant scientific background whatsoever.

Diagnosis: The embodiment of post-truth activism, really. Little or nothing of what Rowen says is true, and none of the quackery he promotes will do anyone any good. But we’re less sure it is accurate to call him a “liar”; Rowen simply doesn’t seem to care. It’s been common to distinguish those who act against better knowledge when promoting the kinds of therapies Rowen promotes, on the one hand, and deluded true believers, on the other, but people like Rowen really force one to question how meaningful this distinction actually is.


  1. I would like to suggest in order to be more objective it would be beneficial to address the scientific claims on how ozone therapy (Rowen's main "oxidative therapy") is efficacious. The one issue, that was addressed above, stated it was to increase blood oxygen. However, that is not the claim that has been made by many of the medical doctors that have studied it. Following is the link to Rowen’s recent article published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology where he states the case for ozone therapy.

    Below is a short excerpt from that article: "Briefly, OT (ozone therapy) improves blood rheology, oxygen delivery, oxygen utilization, endothelial nitric oxide production, and immune modulation via cytokine induction. Bocci privately regarded OT as creating "super-gifted red cells" with increased oxygen delivery via increased 2,3 diglycerophosphate. He thought of OT as the "ideal cytokine inducer". His work found ozone to induce gamma interferon [5], known to be an essential part of the body's antiviral defense [6]."

    Thank you for the opportunity to make what I hope is a constructive comment.

    1. Great comment, thank you. Everyone should read the article, especially this blogs authors, who are so quick to call people who are educated way more than them names.

    2. It is a constricutive comment, I suppose, and yes: Rowen makes other claims for ozone therapy as well. The article you link to, however, isn't a study, nor even really a review article but a promotional piece. And notice what? Look at the references: Even if we assumed, for the sake of argument, that these reported real studies (that varies, to put it mildly), where is the study that shows that ozone therapy is actually efficacious for anything? Not even Rowen apparently managed to find a study that remotely suggests ozone therapy actually is efficacious for anything. For a quack treatment that has actually been around for more than a century, that is telling. (Instead, we get - as expected - a lot of irrelevant nonsense about what ozone can do in labs in concentrations vastly greater than the human body could conceivably tolerate.)

      And claiming that it is "safe", as he does, isn't funny. (Several deaths have been reported as well as a huge arsenal of other serious adverse effects - to what extent ozone therapy is a direct cause is presumably somewhat less clear, but thre are plausible causal mechanisms.)

      The medical consensus is that "Ozone is a toxic gas with no known useful medical application in specific, adjunctive, or preventive therapy. In order for ozone to be effective as a germicide, it must be present in a concentration far greater than that which can be safely tolerated by man and animals." For those of us without particular expertise in medicine, the only rational thing is to listen to the experts, not crazy maverick doctors with an idee fixe, a long history of crazy nonsense and financial stakes. Yes, that's a very boring conclusion. Truth and reason are often boring.

      And to unknown: "... who are so quick to call people who are educated way more than them names".

      Well, yes. Rowen is more educated than I am in medicine. Medical consensus, however, is collectively vastly more educated than Rowen. Medical consensus and Rowen can't both be right. Indeed, given the treatment in question, its history and Rowen's behavior, either Rowen is a pseudoscientist, or cancer researchers in general are in a conspiracy to hide the truth. You sort of have to choose. Given that you are so reluctant to call people who are educated way more than you names, can I trust you to make the reasonable choice?

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    1. What on earth does "the importance of cellular nutrition acquired through a healthy diet" has to do with this post on Rowen? Where does it criticize Rowen for making a claim like that? Are you commenting on the wrong post or something?

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