So you’ve just discovered a cure for cancer. It works 100% of the time without any exceptions. Do you announce it to the world from your research clinic? Do you labor over publishing exhaustive studies proving the efficacy? Do you trade it to a drug company in exchange for a small island nation of your choosing? Or do you take it on the road in an RV, driving around the country and recruiting people to join your health club, never staying in one location for too long?
Three of these things are what doctors or researchers or lucky geniuses would do. One of them is what a confidence artist would do. And on April 20th, Robert Dowling brought his “cancercured.com” RV to Jackson, Mississippi.
Robert Dowling is not a doctor. He graduated from Texas Christian University and the infamous correspondence school, The Clayton College of Natural Health, which proclaims him a “naturopathic doctor.”
Of course, if you’ve been following the blog, you know he claims to cure cancer. So when he came to Jackson to state his claims, well – the Jackson Skeptical Society was there.
Dowling gave a two hour presentation, replete with cries of “amen!” and promises of a bloody revolution. There was bullshit piled on top of bullshit and the mountain of excrement grew to a pile unable to be contained. Contradictions were plenty. One moment Dowling was fishing for investors, because his system was “a good investment.” The next, he was delivering stinging invective, saying that drug companies didn’t want to use his system, because it didn’t make money. He claimed he wasn’t there to insult anyone, then launched an attack on Steven Barrett’s Quackwatch before insulting cancer patients for taking chemotherapy, even using goofy voices to impersonate their cries for help as they died.
The standard True Believer tactics were in play. Dowling attacked “traditional” medicine constantly. Not there to insult anyone, he claimed that most drugs came from Nazi experiments, that mammography was the “worst technology ever,” and that any woman who got one would “die an early, horrible death.”
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.”
According to Dowling, oral pathology is the magic cause of all disease. He said it caused cancer, heart disease, and alzheimers. And when people asked what else might be caused by the bacteria in your mouth, well, Dowling was pretty sure that those pesky bacteria were the culprits. Lupus. Fibromyalgia. Parkinsons. Diabetes. Never mind that his brother is dying of Parkinsons and doesn’t trust Dowling to give him a treatment. Never mind that Dowling himself has diabetes. Never mind that these diseases have completely different causes, mechanisms, and treatments. If your doctor offers you blood pressure medication for your cancer and chemotherapy for your parkinsons – RUN.
When someone says something works every time, you should be skeptical, unless it’s Billy D. Williams with a Colt 45. And when the oral pathology that’s killing you is caused by cavitation in old dental work, well, sound the alarms.
Dowling claimed that neurotoxins from oral bacteria travel through the body, causing diseases. He has a simplistic manner through which he knows this: if his thermal cameras find this “oral pathology” in the right side of your head, then the cancer is on the right side of your body. If it’s on the left side, the cancer is in your left side. These pesky bacteria are literally killing you in a very symmetrical manner.
Of course this is nonsense. Dowling would not identify the bacteria, claiming only that they were the same ones in your mouth as always (giving you a mouth full of neurotoxin, all the time). Even if such a mechanism were real, then the blood leaving your “cavitation” with the lethal payload would travel throughout the body – or at least concentrate the cancers near the source of the infection.
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.
This is not surprising. What is surprising is the cultish, exploitative manner in which Dowling operates. In order to get the cure for cancer, you have to jump through a lot of expensive hoops.
First, you have to fill out a questionnaire on his website. The website is an interesting showcase of the red flags of quackery. First off, it looks exactly like his other website. Also, it claims to be an educational institution, but has a “.com” domain. Then there is one of my all time favorite quack techniques, claiming that they have “peer reviewed studies” by publishing and reviewing the studies themselves.
Now, you’ll have to buy and read his book, only $30.00. Then you’ll pay $35.00, a dues fee which you’ll pay every year. Then, you’ll need a gallon of “enzyme booster” at $100.00 a gallon. Then you’ll pay an undisclosed amount for a “thermal scan.” Then some more for some tests. Then you’ll be told if you need a real cancer scan – and you probably will, since “risk factors” include pulled teeth, root canals, braces, “trauma to the mouth,” and crowns.
Dowling gave out a pamphlet on what to expect when you sign up for his “Quantum Health Management.” He said that he couldn’t say where his treatments were performed, or what they consisted of, or anything else about the studies, unless I joined Quantum Health Management. So I took the stack of papers. But I don’t have them anymore.
And that is where the story gets good. We showed up at this “seminar” only to call the quack into question, to politely show people that something was up by simply asking a few questions. I think we had a bit of success there. Obviously the crowd did not turn on Dowling, and we got our fair share of nasty spoiler looks. But we were not hostile, and came across as seeming curious and, of course, skeptical. We showed the crowd that Dowling was at least suspicious, and certainly didn’t have any answers.
That was a victory. The other, more appealing victory is that the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure issued Dowling a cease and desist order the next day. A few phone calls got me on the speakerphone with several of their investigators. That afternoon, the investigators interviewed me in the George Street Grocery, where I described the events of Monday night. When I asked where I should start, the director of the investigations bureau got to say “from the beginning,” probably just for my amusement.
The next day Brad got on the phone to tell the Chief Investigator Dowling’s location – a local pentecostal church. The cease and desist order had been issued Tuesday afternoon, the investigators had taken my handouts, used them as evidence of Dowling’s wrongdoing, and tracked him down before five o’clock. Score one for the JSS.
Wednesday, Brad contacted the church and told them what Dowling was doing. They asked Dowling to leave. We repeatedly tried to track him down or schedule appointments so that we could find him, but his handlers were cagey, cautious, and unwilling to reveal any information. His “publicist” wouldn’t publicize his location. So we didn’t find him operating in violation of the order, but – maybe he left town early. He was only staying four days, anyway – long enough only to take money and leave people with false hope and bad psuedoscience.
We’re going to warn the Southern Skeptical Society about this guy, and if any of my readers out there hear anything about Dowling, please let us know. If he comes to your town, he can cause real harm. The dental techniques he espouses are dangerous, he warns women NOT to get mammograms, and he could easily poison a relationship between a fence-sitter and scientific medicine. At the very least he will take your money and offer you nothing more than a gallon of “enzyme booster” in return.