No, Everything You Thought You Knew About Disease Is Not Wrong

The authors of this book are not doctors or scientists, but they try to convince readers that science-based medicine gets it all wrong, that germs don’t cause disease, and that drugs and vaccines can’t possibly work. No, the book gets it all wrong.

The book What Really Makes You Ill?: Why Everything You Thought You Knew About Disease Is Wrong, by Dawn Lester and David Parker has been featured on conspiracy podcasts and shows like Crrow777 and it’s getting a lot of attention.  I’ve always been willing to follow the evidence and admit I was wrong about something; and if everything I thought I knew about disease was wrong, I needed to correct my errors, so I struggled through the whole 1,030 pages. I’m willing to follow the evidence, but this book contained no actual evidence for me to follow. It failed to convince me that science-based medicine is wrong.

Unequaled chutzpah

The authors have no background in science or medicine. Their backgrounds are in accountancy and electrical engineering. They say those fields require an aptitude for logic, and they claim that their freedom from the dogma and biases of “medical science” (the quotation marks are theirs) enabled them to follow the evidence with open minds. What chutzpah! Their minds must have been so open that their brains fell out. Instead of asking what was true, they started with a preconceived belief that they already “knew” the truth.  Their “research” was classic confirmation bias: they simply located everything they could find that questioned the dominant paradigm. They were “enabled” to mistake opinion for evidence, to cherry pick from the writings of quacks and other questionable sources, to make obvious errors of fact and logic, and to reach conclusions no reasonable person could agree with. They say, “Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth,” but they demonstrate an unquestioning respect for people who are not authorities.

Their starting point was their belief that germ theory is a myth. Yes, they are germ theory denialists. They say the germ theory remains unproven and there is overwhelming evidence that it is a fallacy. They say no original scientific evidence definitively proves that any “germ” causes any specific disease: no so-called infectious organism has ever met Koch’s stringent postulates, the four criteria needed to prove a causative relationship between a microbe and a disease. They claim that toxins in our environment and in our food are what really makes us ill. They even deny that specific diseases exist.

They say Paracelsus’ idea that the dose makes the poison was wrong. Since we know that very tiny amounts of hormones produce effects in the human body, they assume that infinitesimal amounts of any substance must have toxic effects, and when people are exposed to multiple natural toxins and manmade products, the effects must add up. They are chemophobes, assuming that every chemical is a poison to be avoided. They believe Multiple Chemical Sensitivity is a real disease.

They say the claim that everything is made of chemicals is misleading, because matter is also electrical in nature. They believe all electromagnetic fields are harmful, whether from cell phones or home appliances.  They believe EMF causes cancer. They believe EMF hypersensitivity is a real disease. They don’t mention any of the scientific studies showing that the symptoms are due to the nocebo effect.

They say no virus causes any disease. They say all medicines, in any dose, are poisons, as are all vaccines.

They quote Stephen Sinatra, one of the authors of the book Earthingwhich I reviewed unfavorably for Skeptic magazine: “Emerging science reveals that direct contact with the ground allows you to receive an energy infusion.” No, it doesn’t!

They repeatedly cite Death by Modern Medicine by Carolyn Dean, the MD and ND whose book on magnesium I reviewed last week. They accept everything she says as gospel truth, even though she was declared unfit to practice medicine and was stripped of her license.

They believe Fereydoon Batmanghelidj’s pronouncements on water. I don’t: see my SBM article.

They complain that drugs have not been tested in combination with each of the other drugs a patient might conceivably be taking. As I said in a previous article, that’s impossible. The number of studies needed would far exceed the number of people in the world.

A few of their many errors

They say neutrons have positive and negative charges which balance each other. Wrong! Neutrons have no charge.

In their discussion of drug testing, they say Phase III clinical trials are done on normal, asymptomatic subjects. Wrong! In both Phase II and Phase III trials they test patients who have the disease the drug is intended to treat.

They say virtually all the kids responsible for school shootings were on SSRI medications; they weren’t.

They say fully half of prescription drugs are pulled from the market due to side effects. That’s false. The FDA says only 3 out of the 222 drugs they approved between 2001 and 2010 were later withdrawn from the market.

They say the active ingredient in aspirin is salicylic acid. It isn’t. It’s acetylsalicylic acid.

They adopt the strategies of evolution denialists

People who argue against evolution seem to think if they can identify a single missing link, that will disprove the whole edifice of evolution. Or if they can find two scientists whose words seem to contradict each other. Or if there is any legitimate controversy about some tiny detail. Both the Theory of Evolution and Germ Theory are correctly called “theories” in the strict scientific sense, because they comprehensively explain all the pertinent facts, they are supported by overwhelming evidence, and they are so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter them. Rejecting a scientific theory requires denial and perversity, traits Lester and Parker demonstrate in abundance.

They point out that medical explanations for diseases “contain many anomalies, inconsistencies, and contradictions and present a number of aspects that remain poorly understood.” They have assiduously accumulated statements from anywhere and everywhere that they perceive as questioning the dominant paradigm. They crow about things like the WHO fact sheet that says, “The fundamental causes of asthma are not completely understood.” They quote the CDC: “Experts don’t know the cause of many forms of arthritis.”

As if statements like that disproved the Germ Theory!

Anti-vax arguments

They oppose vaccination. Of course they do. They repeat most of the usual anti-vax arguments and misinformation, but they go even further. They say vaccines can’t possibly work because they’re based on a false theory. They say, “It is clear from this discussion that no disease is caused by a virus.” They seem to think a “discussion” of opinions, rather than science, is the way to determine the truth.

Where’s the evidence?

They don’t trust science because they think it has been corrupted by vested interests. They believe patient anecdotes about alleged adverse effects of statins, rather than the evidence of controlled studies. They claim that Andrew Wakefield and others who have dared to question mainstream ideas were unfairly persecuted.

Here’s an example of what constitutes “evidence” in their world. They say that in her 1957 book The Poisoned Needle Eleanor McBean quoted a Dr. Laurie as saying “I am thoroughly convinced that the increase in cancer is due to vaccination.” A random person’s unsubstantiated opinion. How can they imagine this would mean more to us than all the scientific studies? Occasionally they do mention a controlled clinical study, but they ignore all the other studies that got the opposite results.

They claim to have expertise in logic, but their words demonstrate logical fallacies and false dichotomies. Their defective reasoning produces non-sequiturs like “Phosphorus is a proven neurotoxin. It should be noted that the definition of polio includes references to effects on the central nervous system.” (Yes, so what?)

I previously mentioned their acceptance of Carolyn Dean and Fereydoon Batmanghelidj. They also quote Peter Duesberg, an AIDS denialist. They think Florence Nightingale’s casual observations in the Crimea were evidence that one disease could morph into another. They quote John Tilden, a “drugless doctor” who died in1941, who claimed “Measles is the manner in which a child’s body throws off toxemia.” They cite the infamous Gary Null, who is notoriously hostile to evidence-based medicine; Dr. Robert Mendelsohn, whose book Confessions of a Medical Heretic calls bottle-feeding of babies “the granddaddy of all junk food;” Devra Davis, who opposes cell phones and has been accused of doing “junk science;” and many others whose names will be familiar to readers of SBM, such as Vandana Shiva, Betty Martini, Stephen Sinatra, T. Colin Campbell, Viera Scheibner, Joel Fuhrman, and many others. Nowhere do they mention real experts like Siddhartha Muherjee, the author of The Emperor of All Maladies, who could have readily corrected most of their misinformed ideas about cancer.

They call Pasteur a plagiarist and imposter who deliberately deceived the public. They say Semmelweis was wrong: the unsanitary surgeons didn’t transmit germs to their patients but poisoned them with “noxious matter” from autopsies.

Questionable opinions

The book is full of questionable opinions not backed up by evidence. Here is just a sampling of them:

  • Malaria is caused by unhealthy living conditions, not by Plasmodium.
  • “Antibiotics should never be used.”
  • Gulf War Syndrome was proven to be caused by chemical exposures and vaccine overload.
  • Diseases are not transmissible between people.
  • The Black Death was caused by toxic chemicals in comet debris.
  • “There are no separate and distinct disease entities with distinct causes.”
  • Humans are not natural omnivores.
  • Neurosyphilis was actually mercury poisoning.
  • “Pharmaceutical drugs can neither prevent nor alleviate disease.” (What about insulin?)
  • They address 5G, fracking, phthalates, bisphenol A, and fluoride, blaming them for causing illness.
  • Their rant on animal experimentation covers all the usual points but adds germ theory denial.
  • They question climate change and believe chemtrail conspiracies,
  • “No infection can cause a birth defect.”

Conclusion: Wrong,  wrong, wrong!

This book is wrong, wrong, wrong! They don’t seem to understand science, how it works, and why it is so important. They rely on opinions rather than on evidence. If you don’t think “some random scientist reportedly said” is evidence, if you value science, this book is not for you.

This article was originally published in the Science-Based Medicine Blog.

Dr. Hall is a contributing editor to both Skeptic magazine and the Skeptical Inquirer. She is a weekly contributor to the Science-Based Medicine Blog and is one of its editors. She has also contributed to Quackwatch and to a number of other respected journals and publications. She is the author of Women Aren’t Supposed to Fly: The Memoirs of a Female Flight Surgeon and co-author of the textbook, Consumer Health: A Guide to Intelligent Decisions.

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