Panorama: Cancer – Hope for Sale?

“The mystery of the universe is not time but size.”

Stephen King

A cheerful post today, about Panorama‘s investigation into a Dr Stanislaw Burzynski, of Texas, who claims to have a cure for cancer based on no evidence whatsoever. Or, at least, no evidence that he has deigned to share with the world.

You could tell where this was going from the moment the reporter (Richard Bilton) announced the good doctor’s name and locale. Stanislaw Burzinsky? From Texas? The man is obviously a quack. Add to that the fact that he has his own movie, entitled, hilariously, Burzynski: The Movie, and we’re off into the realms of scientific quackery, although Bilton consistently declines to say as much. We don’t hear from Burzynski for a good two-thirds of the programme (apparently, he has been avoiding reporters), and when he does finally grant an interview he turns out to be one of those annoying people, almost always either politicians or conmen, who never actually manage to answer your question meaningfully.

Then there are the talking heads: people who have been treated by Burzynski, and doctors who have reservations about him. One patient, when questioned about the lack of actual scientific evidence for the effectiveness of the treatment, says, “What says radiotherapy works?” Er…years of clinical trials, maybe? The drug approval process? Peer review? None of which have been carried out on Burzynski’s work, because he hasn’t published any.

The Panorama programme is frustratingly inconclusive – presumably in an attempt to See Both Sides of the Story – but any reasonably intelligent viewer can probably tell that Burzynski is a dangerous conman who should not be allowed anywhere near actual cancer patients. The importance of independent thinking should never be underrated.

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