UPDATE: Looks like Natural News intercepted the “DoNotLink” link and redirected to an old article bragging about their supposed scientific prowess. I’ve replaced it with a direct link to the article.
Mike Adams, who calls himself the “Health Ranger,” has an ugly reputation for incompetence when it comes to scientific questions. That shouldn’t be a surprise. He’s a relentless self-promoter and a talented salesman who has discovered that wearing a lab coat and using four-dollar words moves product. He hawks supplements, housewares, CDs and DVDs, tinctures, powders, lotions and potions that will cure what ails you! People are more likely to buy his wares if they don’t trust their doctor, and if they’re full of fear for their own health. So it’s probably no coincidence that Adams’s Natural News site also pushes frightful misinformation about how awful, terrible, and corrupt those scheming doctors and scientists are.
It’s a very savvy marketing strategy, because people who feel like mainstream doctors and scientists are out to get them will probably identify more strongly with Adams’s Natural News community as a way to feel like they’re fighting back. That would make them more likely to trust him, and more likely to fork over $40 for ten ounces of freeze-dried apples (a little over $25 on Amazon).
If Adams is a world-class salesman, he’s strictly an amateur when it comes to science and, it appears, the law. A few days ago Adams posted an article screaming, “MMR measles vaccine clinical trial results FAKED by Big Pharma – shocking U.S. court documents reveal all”. Meh. The article is beyond misleading. Anyone reading just that, and not digging further, would walk away with a profound misunderstanding of what’s going on in the case. It could be just rank incompetence, but nothing about the article give me the impression that Adams gives a damn whether the contents are true or not, as long as the audience gets good and angry at those evil government scientists and corporate doctors. (And if his description of the case gets you angry enough, you can fight back! Just click on the “Store” button conveniently located right above the article and buy yourself an herbal medicine kit, or some essential oils, or an immunity-boosting candle, or all-natural salt, or even a $100 pack of iodine. Just the sort of thing they don’t want you to buy!)
Rather than explain the case in detail, I’ll just link to an excellent explanation written by an actual law professor. Long story short, two ex-employees of Merck (a pharmaceutical company that makes a mumps vaccine) filed a special kind of lawsuit called a qui tam action. A qui tam suit is basically when you sue someone on the theory that they defrauded the government, not you personally. The government can take over the case for you if it wants. If it doesn’t, like in this case, the people filing the lawsuit have to fight it out for themselves, but if they win they get a bigger cut of the damages. In other words, you can get stupid rich with the right qui tam action. (Which is not a criticism. People who save the government from serious fraud deserve to get a cut of the damages for bringing, fighting, and winning the case.)
We don’t have any idea yet whether the plaintiffs in this case, who are called “relators” in a qui tam action, can prove their claims or not. They mostly won a legal fight last fall, so the case is still going forward, but we aren’t even close to knowing whether the evidence supports those claims. Discovery, the part of the case where the facts really come out, has barely started and won’t finish until at least March 2016. All of that just means that it’s ridiculously premature to read too much into the complaint. All that’s happened here is that someone alleged Merck faked some test results to sell more vaccine; nothing has been proven.
Nevertheless, it looks like Natural News wants you good and pissed-off about the evil pharma company. (Really want to stick it to big pharma? Just buy the $650 “Emergency Medicine” kit of herbal remedies! That’ll show Merck.) To get there, they take some rather extreme liberties with the facts.
Strike One: The relators’ claims are all written out in their complaint, which is basically the document that starts the case. Natural News says it “acquired that document years ago and maintains one of the very few copies in existence, as all ‘official’ sources have tried to remove this document from human memory and bury the case.” This is pure, weapons-grade bolognium. Do you know what you have to do to get a copy of this super-secret document? Go to the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and say the secret words: “Can I have a copy of the complaint in this case?”
Let’s say you don’t want to go to Pennsylvania. Fair enough, even though it’s quite nice. You can also just go to the court’s website and download it. To be fair, the website is a little confusing. It might take you one or two or even ten minutes to figure out. You’d probably have to register for an account too, which can take even longer. But do you know what you don’t have to do? Go to Natural News for one of the “very few copies in existence.” This document that “all ‘official’ sources have tried to remove” is publicly available online and in the courthouse. And I checked, the one online is the same one that Natural News is hawking as proof of their secret-agent chops.
Natural News is probably all worked up because the complaint was originally filed under seal, meaning that the public couldn’t access it. That would be an understandable thing for a layperson to get worked up about, except it would take you literally thirty seconds on Google to find out that the False Claims Act requires all complaints to be filed under seal. Whoops. And while two paragraphs are still “redacted” (cut out of the public document, and still under seal) that’s because the relators asked them to be sealed even before they sent the complaint to Merck. They told the court that those two paragraphs contained “privileged” information, probably meaning they disclose something they heard from Merck’s lawyers when they still worked there, so as a courtesy they wanted to keep those paragraphs sealed rather than publish them right away. No one forced them to do it and it’s not part of any cover-up.
Strike Two: Natural News also howls, “US government chose to ignore the 2010 False Claims Act!” No, “Health Ranger.” They didn’t. The False Claims Act is the law under which the relators sued. I don’t know why he calls it the “2010” False Claims Act, because it dates back to the Civil War. It requires the government to choose whether or not to intervene, which it usually doesn’t. Remember, when the government doesn’t intervene the relators have to prosecute the case on their own dime, and the government still gets most of the damages awarded. You’d expect the government to take that deal most of the time, and in fact Wikipedia says it does in over 75% of FCA cases. I don’t know for sure that that’s an accurate number, but it sounds about right to me. In this case, other news reports clarify that the DOJ conducted a two-year investigation before deciding not to intervene in this case.
Strike Three: Natural News also wants its readers to believe that the government “simply ignored [the case], thereby protecting Merck’s market monopoly instead of properly serving justice.” This is just inane, and shouldn’t make sense to any readers who were thinking critically about the case. It says something about Natural News’s opinion of its own readers that it would publish this theory, and it says something about those readers that they swallowed it whole. If the government wanted to take a dive on the case, it would have intervened and then shut everything down. Letting the relators handle the case is the last thing the government would want to do if it was in cahoots with Merck. And in fact, far from ignoring the case, the government stepped in to a limited extent to support the relators by arguing on their side on a technical legal question.
Natural News strikes out! This article is a frothy stew of paranoia and misinformation. Conveniently, anyone who gets worked up about the terrible! government! conspiracy! it describes can just click on the “Store” link above the article and buy some survival rations to make themselves feel in control again. I wonder if scientists and doctors feel like this, reading Natural News pieces? If the level of care, accuracy, and knowledge that went into the legal parts of this report are anything like the health and science news they publish, it’s no wonder actual experts treat Mike Adams like a joke.
A very expensive joke.