Burzynski: A note to the PBS ombudsman

The PBS Ombudsman has responded to criticisms of Colorado Public Television’s airing of Burzynski 2: It’s Still An Infomercial.

I have emailed some followup questions:

This response leaves me with some unanswered questions. I wonder if you would clarify, please.

1. The issue of promotion. Whatever the status of the pledge drive, the movie is (as you rightly acknowledge by putting “documenary” in quotes) essentially promotional. It is advertorial. Placed as such, it would clearly be illegal (as the FDA letter makes clear). Does CPT really bear no responsibility for showing promotional material which it knew in advance was, if accepted as promotion, a violation of federal law?

2. I believe there may be a confusion between the two Burynski movies. “It was licensed to the Documentary Channel” seems to me to apply to the first, not the second movie, which was planned for release direct to DVD until very recently. “We are puzzled that people have referred to it as an infomercial or advertisement” is naive in the extreme, as the reaction to the first Burzynski movie should be more than sufficient to make this clear (for example: “Eric Merola, a former art director of commercials, is either unusually credulous, or doesn’t understand the difference between a documentary and an advertisement, or has an undisclosed relationship with the subject” – Quack Quack Goes Burzynski, Village Voice, June 1 2010).

3. The claim that “Antineoplaston therapy has had significant success rates with terminal brain cancer patients” is unsupportable from the published evidence base. The term “significant” has a specific meaning in science; it would mean that there was solid evidence that Burzynski patients survived longer on average than non-patients with similar disease and prognosis, and that by a statistically significant margin. We do not know this because Burzynski has not reported the results of any one of the 61 trials he has registered in the last two decades.

Overall it looks very much as if the wrong sort of people were driving this, editorially. Had it been in the hands of science journalists it is likely that the uncritical presentation of which you are critical, would not have happened, and the viewing public would, as a result, have been mush less likely to be deceived.

Let’s not forget that Merola, with his brother Peter, is responsible for the conspiracist propaganda masterpiece “Zeitgeist: The Movie”. Many of the techniques used in the Burzynski movies are identical to those in Zeitgeist. Emotive story lines are set up, viewers are coerced into emotional investment with the perceived victims, and then the alleged bogeyman (the political and religious establishment in Zeitgeist, the medical establishment in Burzynski) are paraded like pantomime villains to be booed and jeered by the by-now partisan audience.

Given Merola’s past history of conspiracist propaganda, I believe that showing this movie showed atrocious judgment.