Skepticism

Deep Fried Skepticism Triumps Over Quackery

You may remember a few months ago, I mentioned a budding skeptics group in Mississippi.  They’ve been slowly growing, expanding their presence on their Facebook group, and holding additional pub events to meet and socialize.  They built a website and have about 20-30 members now.  Not bad for a couple of months. But last week, they managed to do something that many well-established local skeptical groups don’t manage to accomplish.  They took down a quack.

They found out that a known snake-oil salesman Robert Dowling was coming to Jackson to try to sell his fake cancer cure, something he calls the Quantum Health Management screening process. According to the site, all cancer is caused by ‘cavitations;’ holes in the jawbone that are sometimes caused by poor dentistry. Not only are the dentists of the world plotting against us with cancer, but also the FDA and the American Cancer Society are all ignoring the evidence and blah blah blah.. ugh… I can’t even summarize without feeling nauseous. Just go read the Quackwatch article about it for Stephen Barrett’s summary of why Dowling is, well, a quack. Barrett also has information on the ‘cavitations’ or oral pathology that Dowling claims is the root cause of all cancer.

So when this clown showed up peddling his nonsense, Patrick Jerome of the Jackson Skeptics put out a call to action.  Read the rest after the fold.

Their plan: research the heck out of this guy, attend his talk, ask a lot of questions.  Six of them attended the seminar.

They were polite. They were non-confrontational. They were very, very patient.  They listened to Dowling’s presentation for two hours.  They listened to him rail about how he had discovered a cure for cancer. How traditional medicine and drug companies were refusing to see the truth because they couldn’t make enough money off this cure. How oral pathology caused cancer as well as heart disease and alzheimers. How traditional medicine came from Nazi experiments. And so on.  Then it was the skeptics’ turn:

After the steaming piles of pseudoscience flew right and left, the skeptics in attendance asked our questions: what bacteria cause this? Why would doctors cover up a cure for cancer? What studies have you done? Where were they published? How long have you followed your patients? Are you a doctor? We asked far more questions than the rest of the audience combined, even though they outnumbered us six or seven times. I doubt that Randi, Dennis, Brad, Don and I were the only ones skeptical of his claims – but we were the only ones voicing that skepticism.

Dowling did not have our answers. After claiming to have published studies, after claiming a 100% cure rate, after calling himself a doctor, he said that he had the proof. And when we asked for it, we got dodgy answers, evasions, and even the confession that he was not in fact a doctor. Of course, he was only a few semesters away from a medical degree in the Caribbean.

I encourage you to read the whole story on the Jackson Skeptical Society web site.  It’s fairly awesome. But the best part is that the story isn’t over.  Patrick also got in touch with the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure and found them very interested in his story.  They issued a cease and desist order on Dowling and effectively shut down his operation in Mississippi. If he is caught practicing in Mississippi again, he’ll be arrested. And the Jackson Skeptical Society will be keeping an eye out for him.  They’re also not resting on their laurels.

Unfortunately, Dowling isn’t based in Mississippi. In fact, it’s a little difficult to figure out where he is based.  I spent a few hours today researching it myself and found websites and companies based in North Carolina, South Carolina and Phoenix.

I don’t believe that this story is over.  We’re doing more research, trying to find out as much as we can and to report this guy to the FDA, the Better Business Bureau and anyone else we can find.  If you hear about him in your town or if you find out any information, please contact us either through Skepchick or at the Jackson Skeptical Society site so we can follow up.  I’ll post more as I know it. In the meantime, go Mississippi Skeptics.  You guys rock bluegrass :)

Masala Skeptic

Maria Walters (a.k.a. Masala Skeptic) has spent a lot of time in ‘furrin parts,’ including Hong Kong, Trinidad, and Pittsburgh. Although her passport is from India, she’s spent most of her adult life in the United States. She currently lives in Atlanta and has an unhealthy affection for science fiction, Neil Gaiman and all things Muppet.

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19 Comments

  1. Huh, I had no idea there *was* a skeptics group in Mississippi (I live in Hattiesburg, 90 miles south of Jackson).

    I’m tempted to make a Facebook account (something I’ve been staunchly against for years!0 just to join. Should point them out to some of my co-workers that are skeptics too (which, really is *all* of them, as we’re all [good] scientists…).

  2. When I wrote this, I didn’t know how wrong it sounded:

    Of course, what a woman SHOULD do, according to Dowling, was to get his thermal scans. In the back of his RV. For a huge fee. So he could tell you that you had “oral pathology.”

    But, on review…. that sounds…. well, just never get yourself into that situation.

  3. @LtStorm: “Huh, I had no idea there *was* a skeptics group in Mississippi (I live in Hattiesburg, 90 miles south of Jackson). ”

    Don’t feel bad. I’m from Jackson and have family all over the state. I would have expected to have heard about this even though I don’t live in Mississippi any more.

    I’m thrilled to see it happening though. :)

    @Jackson Skeptical Society: Fantastic Job! and I’d love to join. I still visit family back in Jackson occasionally and I would love to catch up with you guys next time I’m in state.

    @Matto the Hun: “After hearing stories about the press of Creationists, Jenny McCarthy, and the rest of the League of Morons, it’s nice that the good guys can deliver a butt kickin’.”

    This is even a more impressive thing that you already thing. Jackson, Mississippi is firmly attached to the buckle of the bible belt. Creationist run thick in that area. Some of the other woo was a bit less prevalent there at the time I move out, but from what I’ve seen since it would have become any easier to set up a skeptical group there. Such a solid success is a fantastic job.

  4. Well, actually, one of the things that helps is that a lot of people around here still see things like psychics and new age nonsense as the work of the devil.

    So those particular types of BS don’t get the rabid defensive maneuvers that they get elsewhere.

    Now, creationists are a different beast entirely.

  5. @Jackson Skeptical Society: “…a lot of people around here still see things like psychics and new age nonsense as the work of the devil.”

    True, and I think that the guys from The SGU actually even covered that particular topic in one of their podcast last year. It came on the back of a study related to that very point. However, I have noticed that ‘medical’ related nonsense sells just fine in the south as long as it isn’t presented with a supernatural mechanism, (eg. vitamins cure all, Doctors are all part of an oppressive conspiracy, Big Pharma!, these sorts of things do just fine).

    The… gentleman… you just dealt with falls into the category of the ‘railing against the establishment conspiracy’ type of woo that can actually sell quite well in the south. This type of woo plays on the ignorance and sense of dis-empowerment possessed by the target population to really make it successful. Both those qualities are available in plenty down there, and that is part of why I consider it such a big win.

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