Posted by: Witch Doctor | December 10, 2011

Observers, bloggers and gangsters


On Sunday 20 November The Observer newspaper published an article about the agonising health problems being experienced by a particular family.


A little girl’s uncle wrote the article. His niece has brain cancer. In some ways the article was a celebration of the spontaneous generostiy shown by human beings when they hear about the suffering of a child. A fund had been set up and gigs were being planned to raise money to send the child to a clinic in Texas run by a medical practitioner Dr Burzynski.

Who would not or could not understand a family doing everything possible to try to save their child?

That was never in question.

Nevertheless, The Observer article opened up a can of worms.

But it is all the fault of the bloggers.

Of course……

There were some warning signs that the treatment offered by the Burzynski Clinic was at best driven by unproven enthusiasm and at worst by quackery.

These warning signs need to be investigated.

It so happens there is a cluster of bloggers who demonstrate a dedication to the exposure of quackery within healthcare. Presumably they feel it is in the public interest to expose it and furthermore they feel it is an unethical way to practise medicine.

The Burzynski Clinic threatened some of these bloggers for questioning the effectiveness of the treatment offered by this clinic.

Links to these bloggers are here:


Last Sunday, in response to the blogosphere, The Observer had an article asking the question:

“Is it so surprising where desperate parents will turn in the search for a cure for their terminally ill child?”

The answer is : “no it is not surprising. It is absolutely understandable.” To The Witch Doctor’s recollection that was the view taken by the bloggers.

In the article, The Observer refers specifically to two bloggers, Andy Lewis of the Quackometer, and Rhys Morgan a schoolboy. Both blog about quackery .

“Things escalated when Andy Lewis, who writes the popular Quackometer blog, received threats of legal action from a Marc Stephens, employed by the clinic to stop what it claimed were false allegations on the internet. The clinic says his “inappropriate” services have now been dispensed with, but it warns bloggers that they will be pursued by lawyers if they publish what they consider to be defamatory allegations about the treatment.”

“Rhys Morgan, a 17-year-old blogger, also received threats after raising concerns about the trials, though his recent claim that the family merely “did some research on the internet” before deciding on the clinic was not based on any conversation with them.”

The writer in The Observer seems miffed that the point of their article was being ”lost in the vitriol that is flying around the internet”

The Witch Doctor did not observe any vitriol originating from the two bloggers mentioned in The Observer.

The Quackometer has since responded to the article:

Bloggers: “aggression, sanctimony and a disregard for the facts”

“The article fails to get to the nub of the concerns with Burzynski. First and foremost, the dubious ethics of charging parents of terminally ill children, hundreds of thousands of dollars, to enroll them in trials for a treatment that has failed to demonstrate any good evidence that it may be effective over 30 years. Burzynski is running a private clinic. He sells anti-aging creams, vitamins and supplements. He is under investigation by the Texas Medical Board. These are a few of the many red flags that ought to raise deep concerns. Even if he is on to something with his antineoplastons, he is asking the terminally ill to provide the investment funds for his research programme. His patients are taking all the risks, both with their health and wealth. He is reaping rewards whether he is right or not. Such actions go against the fundamentals of medical ethics.”

He continues:

“…….I do not know the answers. But these discussions need to be had. And they need to be had in the context that there are peddlers of miracle cures out there, that may appear genuine to a desperate eye, but offer nothing but anguish, false hope and bankruptcy.

The Observer’s response not only failed to look at these issues, but took issue with those people that tried to. Most disgracefully, they attacked the 17 year old blogger, Rhys Morgan, for saying in his Guardian CiF article about libel threats from Burzynski, that the family had researched Burzynski on the internet. The family appeared to take issue with this and the Guradian has amended the article to say “The family has asked us to make clear that members of the family completed a long and thorough period of research across a wide range of conventional and alternative treatments, both in the UK and abroad, before approaching the clinic.”

Is this the justification for calling bloggers like Rhys, “aggressive, sanctimonious and having a disregard for the facts?” You should read Rhys’s blog and articles and decide for yourself. The response also failed to note how Rhys had been threatened by representatives of Burzynski by sending him pictures of his house. This is not science and medicine, but gangersterism. Let me remind you, Rhys is still at school. If there has been aggression against children, it has not come from bloggers.”

It seems The Observer, by publishing these articles is doing everyone a favour, not only by praising the generosity of the public, but by putting the thoughts and ideas of bloggers who are dedicated to exposing quackery in healthcare into the mainstream media.

However, if it does in fact turn out that The Butzynski Clinic is feeding on money and emotions of vulnerable patients then The Observer should not be the ones to take the full credit for the exposure. On the other hand, if it turns out that The Butzynski Clinic can produce evidence that they have discovered a cancer breakthrough that will stand up to rigorous peer review in the medical journals, then The Observer should take little credit for that either.

The Observer reported, but the bloggers investigated.

Is investigative journalism in the process of migrating from the mainstream media into the blogs of a few brave individuals who rely on their brains as their resource rather than multi-million pound bank accounts?

And are bloggers to be exposed, threatened and perhaps taken to court by those with vested business interests within the healthcare industry and beyond?

And will we all sit by and watch the show, munching popcorn?

Just like we watch Big Brother?

The Witch Doctor – Link to a random page





© Dlundin |


  1. I know, WD. I’ve been mulling over how exactly we can protect ourselves against punitive action from folk like this. Big newspapers have protection in that they have deep pockets. We don’t – well, as far as I know. We would need either patronage, anonymity or maybe the flotilla approach which was used for the Butzynski clinic might be the answer. Dr Rant had several writers, which is another approach. Maybe we should take some comfort from the fact that we now matter enough for people to take this kind of action against us, small comfort though it is.

    • Julie,

      I think we can forget about true anonymity because it doesn’t really exist if the wealthy and powerful are determined enough.

      I think there is indeed some comfort in the fact that blogging is becoming an accepted means of communication and is not being dismissed as a rather odd fringe activity. As it evolves it may be that the language used may become more guarded but nevertheless just as forceful than previously and that may offer some protection. Hopefully if this occurs it will be due to a groundswell rather than legislation. I can envisage the rise of the investigative blogger or groups of bloggers each an expert in their own field. Perhaps the tables will turn and it will be the powerful in the country that will need to be on their toes more so than the bloggers.

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