A queen among quacks

I discovered yesterday that, early this month, Hulda Regehr Clark died.

In the same way that the Westboro Baptist Church and its astonishingly ghastly leader, Fred Phelps, are an excellent choice if you need an example of a religious organisation that pretty much nobody sane could like, so Hulda Clark was the archetypal example of an out-there quack. She wrote a number of books, which include The Cure for All Cancers, The Cure for HIV/AIDS and The Cure For All Diseases. And she was, so far as anyone can tell, quite sincere; unlike scam artists like Kevin Trudeau, Hulda really was telling us all how to cure every disease in the world, in her opinion.

But Clark was more than just a good example of a sincere quack. Fred Phelps is a raving loony with very little popular following, but Clark's similarly deranged ideas have attracted a surprising number of true believers, and a steady stream of desperate people heading to her clinic (relocated, after some unpleasantness, from the USA to Mexico...), to piss away the last of their money and/or life.

Hulda's ideas included a firm conviction that vast swathes of human disease are caused by liver flukes, and that the flukes can be killed by a little electrical "zapper" device of her own invention. Whereupon your nonresectable pancreatic cancer will go away. This very clear sort of objectively-provable cause and cure makes Clark's theories a useful example of whacko quackery; in order to believe Clark, you're required to be utterly ignorant of, or convinced of the invalidity of, fundamental elements of scientific medicine that've been around for at least a hundred years.

Orac of Respectful Insolence has put old Hulda pretty comprehensively to bed in his Requiem for a Quack, so I'll try not to ramble on too long about What This All Means and how it's another example of why critical thinking is important and yadda yadda yadda.

(I bought another couple of copies of Why People Believe Weird Things the other day. One is already earmarked for a young relative.)

As Orac says at the end of his post, and as many other people have said - where are the people Clark cured, if she ever cured anyone? There ought to be hundreds, maybe thousands, of people who were once gravely ill but are still alive and well today, because of her.

It's like faith healers. If they really are healing people of their lameness and diabetes and who knows what else, there ought to be tons of these healed people all over the place, happy to leap up on their de-withered and even re-grown legs and testify with all the wind their now-cancer-free lungs can deliver regarding the validity of their chosen televangelist, Christian Scientist or psychic surgeon.

But faith healers are famously reluctant to even keep lists of the people they've healed.

You'd think that healed people would be the very best candidates for the donations that so many faith healers seem so perpetually to need. But nope.

(There's an ingenious subversion of the follow-up idea, in which the faith healer solicits testimonial reports of healing miracles from followers, but carefully avoids the awkward process of seeing if the "healed" people even had the disease they reported in the first place, much less whether any real diseases are really cured.)

Hulda Clark had a neat solution to the tiresome problem of following up on her "cures".

The Cure for All Cancers has a bunch of "case histories" in it, you see, which include 103 people who allegedly had their cancer cured by Clark. The way she verified that a cure had taken place, though, was by a blood test for a growth factor which, according to Hulda, indicated the presence of the deadly-liver-flukes-that-cause-all-cancer in the patient's body.

If you tested positive for that growth factor, you had cancer, even if regular doctors couldn't find it.

(The majority of patients in Hulda's case studies were only diagnosed as having the disease by means of Hulda's unusual blood test.)

If you tested positive, and Hulda Zapped you, and you subsequently tested negative, you were now cancer-free, again regardless of what conventional medicine might think.

And since you were now definitely 100% cancer-free, there was no need for Hulda to waste her valuable time looking into five-year survival rates, or any of that other nonsense to which the brutal and chaotic practitioners of Conventional Oncology are reduced.

If a patient died of cancer a year after being cured by Hulda, after all, then it must have been because the liver flukes re-infected him! If Clark told other patients about this, all it'd do is fill them with unjustified uncertainty about the validity of the treatments which Clark knew, with absolute religious certainty, worked!

I think this is quite a succinct version of the impregnable circular logic that supports all sorts of weird beliefs.

UPDATE: According to Hulda's death certificate and her own Web site, the woman with the Cure for All Cancers, the Cure For All Advanced Cancers and the Cure for All Diseases did, indeed, die of cancer.

Clearly, this can only be another example of the terrible power of malicious animal magnetism.

15 Responses to “A queen among quacks”

  1. Ice8205 Says:

    Logic is not for everyone... Analytic thinking? Why bother?

    Too many commonly held beliefs fail under the cold light of analysis. Faith healing, fuel improvements, religion, .... But clearly there are people who want the comfort of those beliefs.

    In the end, a truly logical, analytic person has to just sigh, and let those adults who want to believe go on about their business.

    The obvious scam artists, etc, need to be kept under control. But for the rest?

  2. Stark Says:

    @Ice8205 - "In the end, a truly logical, analytic person has to just sigh, and let those adults who want to believe go on about their business."

    Ummmmm.... well, I disagree here. I would say that allowing the rest of humanity to sink into irrational thinking without at least trying to enlighten the mis-informed and honestly ignorant is a very illogical thing to do. The willfully ignorant is another story altogether (reminiscent of that saying about teaching pigs to sing). Failing to at least try to enlighten the ignorant is resigning yourself to the mercy of the scammers, frauds, and hucksters, as well as the genuinely misguided. Standing by and watching as many people are harmed by these erroneous beliefs leads to damage to society as a whole - which is a logically less than optimal outcome.

    Apply the idea that we simply have to let the mis-informed believe what they will into another venue and you end up with ordinary people following along with truly despicable and clearly evil ideologies without so much as blinking about it - simply because people who were thinking clearly didn't stand up and say "WTF?!". I will avoid Godwining this thread by skipping over the obvious historical example here and moving onto something more contemporary - namely the whole "tea-bagger", "birther", Obama is the anti-christ movement here in the US at the moment. Bunch of wildly mis-informed folks and if the rest of kept silent about it we'd likely end up with some very nasty things occuring out of this movement (OK, we still may but it won't be because we kept quiet). Luckily there's still a few voices of reason around who are calling the nuts nuts!

    No, I would say the logical choice is to in fact attempt to cure ignorance when you find it - it leads to much better outcomes for everyone. As Edmund Burke said (though it's often mis-attributed to Winston Churchill) "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.". Evil and Ignorance go hand in hand - large scale evil requires large scale ignorance in order to flourish.

  3. dr_w00t Says:

    "My friend Hulda Clark died from the complications of a spinal cord injury that plagued her for the final years of her life.

    As many know I accompanied her on her lecture forays around the US and I never told anyone how much pain she was in these last few years. She simply wanted to keep going. I arranged wheelchairs for all of the travel arrangements. A year ago, last October, she was planning on speaking at the Rife conference in Seattle, and although she was able to get her lecture together she could not get her body to cooperate. The pain was too much.

    I visited Hulda last Saturday, and she had lost even more functions – so I was unable to take her out to lunch at her favorite restaurant."

    Not to be a cynic... but that sounds more like some kind of cancer than a spinal cord injury to me. Maybe she died in the same agony as the poor fools she duped.

  4. dr_w00t Says:

    By the way Dan, I think you might have mixed up a link or two early on - the Westboro Baptist Church link is actually a link to the blog post on Hulda Clark's death, from which I've taken the above quote.

    Do you think she died of cancer?

  5. Daniel Rutter Says:

    Yes, I screwed up that link; as you say, it went to this page on a Hulda-believer site instead of the Wikipedia article about Westboro Baptist.

    The words you quote above are from one Tim Bolen, who was/is Hulda's "publicist" and is... a very odd man. His relationship with Stephen Barrett of Quackwatch may fairly be described as slightly more acrimonious than the relationship between the Ku Klux Klan and the NAACP.

    I was debating mentioning the encomiums for Hulda on the believer sites, but ended up thinking it wouldn't add much to the post, and could too easily lead down the rabbit-hole of Barrett v. Rosenthal, in which Bolen was a central player and Stephen Barrett was rather surprised to find himself being opposed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

    I've no idea what Clark finally died of. It's long been rumoured that Clark's brother Leo died of cancer, despite her "treatment".

  6. Tarfelarken Says:

    If it was cancer she died of then there can be no doubt that the non existent god is indeed an iron.

  7. Ice8205 Says:

    @Stark: My "sigh, let them go on" statement was not aimed at the fraud, the non-personal damage types. However, there is a concious avoidance of logic and analysis by a large part of the population, and you are beating your head against a brick wall trying to change that.

    I agree that the harmful, force your ideas/whatever upon everyone else needs to be stopped. But the personal, I choose to live this way types....

    The only issue is that there is no sharp dividing line between these two states.

  8. Stark Says:

    Oh, trust me, I am fully aware of the nature of the wall on which I beat my head... and frankly it's more akin to half a meter of armor plate than brick. Still, I do occasionally get through to somebody and those rare moments where you can watch the light come on in someones head are worth the frustration and headache of the rest of the time.

    It's certainly a long term battle to fight the quacks and charlatans and to wake the duped... but I still maintain it's worth it. I've had 9 definite "conversions" (and at least another dozen who are on the right track) from woo and quackery believers to rational thinkers... and those 9 people have a combined total of 17 kids - all of whom are now well inoculated against the ignorance to which their parent(s) were prey - in my book thats a victory. yes, it is a small group but it still makes a difference. As long as people keep trying to educate and show people how to think rationally it's not a lost cause.

    I'm a virtual nobody and I can point to 30+ people and know that I have markedly improved their life and by extension probably the lives of quite a few other people down the road - that's as good as it gets for me. Now look at Dan - a minor (albeit most excellent) internet personality who promotes rational thinking and imagine how many eyes and minds he has opened to a wider reality based world. Then look at groups like the JREF (James Randi Educational Foundation) and the effects their efforts have had across universities the world over (a great many campus skeptic and freethinker societies credit the JREF as inspiration for their founding). While there is still lots of woo and irrational belief out there it is no longer being so blindly accepted - there are many people fighting it and the number is growing everyday.

    The battle for rationality, while a long way from finished, is being well fought and progress *is* being made. I think it's part of why the quacks and fraudsters are getting shriller every year - they have to in order to keep being heard. The Ricahrd Dawkins', Michael Shermers, Penn and Tellers, Oracs, Mythbusters and even Daniel Rutters of the world are making an ever growing impact. There are more prominent and publicly visible rational thinkers out there now than ever before - love them or hate them they are being listened to and more and more folks are seeing the point of thinking instead of just believing. Even us little guys can make an impact on those directly around us with very little effort - do like Dan does and get a couple of copies of "Why People Believe Weird Things" and give them out to folks close to you who have a few weird beliefs - if nothing else it's a great read and it just may get them thinking as well. I do it - I also have at least two copies of Sagan's "The Demon-haunted World" on hand as well - it makes a great follow up to "Why People Believe Weird Things" for those who come back to me looking for more reading material (happens at least once or twice a year). Besides, it's a good read too!

    In short; it's a battle worth a bit of a headache - to me at least.

  9. RichVR Says:

    @Stark: The problem seems to be that people like you and I (I hope you don't mind me saying it that way) understand the problem. But we also understand the simple saying, "You can not reason someone out of something that they haven't actually reasoned them self into."

    I give you an email that I recently received. The person agreed, nay insisted, that I post it.:

    "On Sept 20th the Person (Barack Hussian Obama) falsely and illegally elected as President will show his real colors.
    He will kiss the ass of a nation who has killed more people wishing freedom since 1949,Communist Red China.
    The flag of a Communist Nation will be raised at the white house (should be called the red house now!!)
    Richard since you were never in the military you cannot know how repugnant this action will be to every
    person who has served in the US armed forces .
    So yes he is a communist,if you act like a communist ,appoint communists,you are A COMMUNIST!!!"

    Quotes mine, the rest untouched.

    This is a guy that I have known for over 20 years. I love him like a brother. But he seems to have snapped lately. I wish that I could change his mind. But I cannot and will not try. Instead I will not communicate with him for a while, as I think of what the fuck I will actually DO.

    The battle for rationality is not finished. It isn't even fucking started.

  10. speedweasel Says:

    Why People Believe Weird Things - Michael Shermer
    The Demon-haunted World - Carl Sagan
    How We Know What Isn't So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life - Thomas Gilovich

    ...was the reading list Dan suggested for me many years ago. They were all great and I recommend reading them in that order.

    From there, anything by Dawkins or Feynman tends to get people thinking.

    One of the most annoying things I've noticed about debating the credulous is their tendency to swallow-whole any information from their arbitrary choice of trusted authority and refuse to look any deeper into the logic (or illogic) of their argument.

    [This phenomenon is explored in some detail in that free book I never shut up about, The Authoritarians. -Dan]

    It’s like thinking hurts them and they are only prepared to take a 40,000 foot view of what is, in reality, a complicated subject.

    Now, if we're arguing about science or technology, I can generally illuminate the topic enough to impress them and they might end up seeing things my way, but what have they really learned? Often nothing!

    They end up credulously believing whatever I say and it’s really just chance that I’m better informed than the last guy who was telling them that burning saltwater is the next big renewable energy source, that is until big oil silences the maverick scientists who discovered it.

    All I’ve done is replace their poor source of information (crackpot conspiracy theorist on youtube) with a better source (me). But they are still gathering their beliefs through deference to perceived authority and I’m not seeing a lot of independent thinking or questioning coming from them.

    Sometimes I’ll end up arguing with some cretin long after they started to agree with me because they are still refusing to question anything, consider the evidence or even approach the topic logically.

    So, my question is, is this a win? My credulous friend no longer believes complete garbage but they still have no working bullshit filter because they are intellectually lazy. I haven’t taught anyone to fish, but at least they’re going to market now, instead of eating spoiled fish out of a dumpster. (Too much with the fishing analogy?)

  11. Popup Says:

    The ads on these crack-pot posts are always hilarious. There are quite a few people selling 'clark zappers' and the like, but I find it even funnier that there are scientology ads here. I clicked one, and I suppose it's only logic that it crashed my firefox! (3.06 on linux) Even a gecko has better sense than trying to decode their nonsense.

  12. Stark Says:

    @RichVR - Absolutely correct Rich, "You can not reason someone out of something that they haven't actually reasoned them self into."

    ...however... (you knew a however was coming didn't ya?)

    Many people I run into haven't even gone so far as to consider what they believe or why they believe it all - reason and un-reason have not yet gotten involved. These are the folks who we can still make a difference with and this is where I try to spend my efforts.

    I too have run into the 'un-reason brigade' and indeed they are a lost cause. My own mother now sits among them as regards our president. She actually called him a Marxist Nazi a couple of weeks back... my brain hurts just trying to grasp that one. I knew it was a lost cause when I asked her to define Marxism or Nazism and she could not do either but still wouldn't back down on her characterization...even though she admitted she couldn't define it. It's no fun realizing you cannot get through to somebody.

    @Speedweasel - Well, I wouldn't call it a win... but maybe it is progress in the right direction. A beginning maybe. We all end up believing some things via authority - simply because none of us has the time to research absolutely everything we might hear. The trick is learning how to discern the actually knowledgeable authority from the crackpot. To do this you need to be able to apply some critical thinking skills and evaluate basic statements for their likelihood of accuracy - clearly this is easier in some fields than others. In the case of your friend all you done so far is correct some wrong ideas... but in doing so you have shown him a right idea and maybe, just maybe, the next time a wrong idea comes down the pike they'll remember that they've been wrong before and possibly question the idea without simply swallowing it whole. Probably not, but stranger things have happened. One can only hope.

  13. RichVR Says:

    Well, since this post is still on the top I might as well place an addendum to my previous comment. After a few exchanged emails and actually meeting my friend in a bar today...

    He lives several hours away from me. I'm in NYC and he's... lets say west of me. He was visiting the old neighborhood today. We met for a few (several) pints of Sam Adams Octoberfest. We have come to agree on a few things:

    1. The 9/11 attacks did not come about due to the Bush administration needing a major catastrophe for his re-election.

    2. Obama is a citizen. And he isn't a commie. The election was legit.

    3. Windows 7 is worth buying.

    The first two came from my theory that any conspiracy that big would mean that both Republicans and Democrats (as well as the rest of the government) would have to be in on it. Therefore his guys are just as much to blame as "my guys" (although I do not label myself that way, but nevermind). As well, the government as a whole in the USA is indeed a bunch of morons, and couldn't hide a conspiracy if they had the Illuminati, aliens and Oprah on their side.

    Good beer is a fine mental lubricant. It gets rusty processes moving again.

    As for the second, well. We both agree that the Apple conspiracy is alive and well. Please. It just works. At least as well as a Mac OS does. To quote another friend. If the Mac OS "just works" then why are there Mac websites devoted to problems just like Windows?

    Nevermind. Yet again. I'm still a bit drunk.

    The above is simply the the ramblings of a squiffed mind. YMMV. Do Not Taunt Happy Fun Ball.

    P.S. Why does my spell check underline Obama and yet accept Oprah as a correct spelling? CONSPIRACY!

  14. Stark Says:

    Taunt! TAUNT TAUNT!!! ;)

  15. mcparsons Says:

    How can you read this, "The Cure for All Cancers, The Cure for HIV/AIDS and The Cure For All Diseases",
    without linking to this?

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