Monday, April 3, 2017

#1818: Doug Kaufmann

Cancer quackery is possibly the worst – and most lucrative – form of quackery, and few types of cancer pseudoscience are sillier than Tullio Simoncini’s tinfoil-hat “cancer is really a fungus” idea. Now, Simoncini isn’t American, but he’s got a few champions in the US as well, including Doug Kaufmann, who has published his findings in peer reviewed scientific journals on youtube and various conspiracy websites, and given talk at quack conferences promoting the insanity (such as the annual convention of the Cancer Control Society, a hardcore pseudoscience and conspiracy group). He’s got his own website, too, Know The Cause, where he claims that virtually every chronic disease is caused by fungus, including diabetes, malnutrition, allergies, arthritis, asthma and a host of others (for the details you can, of course, purchase his book, but I think you already see where this is going).

Evidence? Not really, but Kaufmann doesn’t really seem to know anything about medicine, physiology or how to evaluate evidence, so of course he’d think he has some evidence, for instance a study that shows that lung cancer patients turn out to have fungal infections. Well, it’s not a study, but a letter to the American Journal of Roentgenology that points out the dangers of misdiagnoses among lung cancer patients, and that an investigation among patients with suspicious lung lesions showed that some of the lesions actually had other causes (not actual misdiagnosis – just a reminder of the danger of misdiagnoses) – a staggering 0.6% of them fungal infections. To Kaufmann, however (“my take”), this means that it is “impossible” to tell lung cancer from fungal infections, from which he infers (by contradicting his own premise about the impossibility of a diagnosis) that all cancers are fungal infections. Elsewhere Kaufmann is truly overwhelmed by how fascinating70 year old books about cancer are: they even acknowledge the possibility of misdiagnosing fungal infections as cancer, which is, contrary to what Kaufmann thinks, not exactly evidence for his view that it is impossible for doctors today to tell. And the old books are indeed rather different than books on cancer today, for the obvious reason that we have gained staggering amounts of new knowledge of cancer the last couple of decades and much of the old ideas and musings have been falsified. Kaufmann, though, sees a conspiracy: “What did these texts know that today’s medical textbooks really didn’t know?” To which the correct answer is “nothing, of course,” but Kaufmann has already demonstrated that he is systematically going to choose wrong answers.

Kaufmann has apparently heard that some scientists thinks genes may have something to do with cancer but, noting that there are still things we don’t know about genes and cancer, concludes withI say” that fungus “mimicks cancer” and that “cancer” is a misdiagnosis. Yeah, that’s not how it works. 

In fairness, it is a bit unclear what Kaufmann’s “hypothesis” actually is, but much points to the idea being that fungal DNA fuses with human DNA and causes cancer, apparently mostly in the TP53 gene, which is an idea that is ridiculous in the extreme, given our knowledge of that gene and genetic testing of tumors. In more detail, Kaufmann’s approach appears to boil down to this (hat-tip Respectful Insolence):

- Fungi can produce most of human diseases
- Fungi can cause inflammation, which can contribute to cancer
- Fungus is in our food
- Pathogenic fungi can make Aflatoxin b1, which commonly contaminate the grain supply and is a potential carcinogens

Therefore fungi can cause cancer. It is hard to overestimate how ridiculous that idea is, or how confused and nonsensical the reasoning that goes into it. The scary thing, though, is that there are people who take this nonsense seriously.

Diagnosis: Seriously delusional, but his is a brand of crackpottery that has the potential to do real and serious harm. Dangerous.

Hat-tip for most of this entry: Respectful insolence.

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