Monday, July 20, 2015

Free Book on Cancer

Advertisement:  “When hundreds of perfectly, reliable people gladly testify that they have been rescued from death's door by Dr. Bye's Combination Oil Treatment for Cancer and similar dreadful diseases, It is surely worth while to Investigate the methods and results of this treatment. Any one may obtain free of charge a finely illustrated book describing this simple and efficacious treatment, simply by writing Dr. W. O. Bye, Ninth and Broad way, Kansas City, Mo.”  

Don’t send away for this book yet!  This ad appeared in April 1909.  I found it in an article from around the same time period explaining how the US Post Office was investigating the supposed doctor for using the mail for fraudulent purposes.

In conjunction with the investigation the Post Office arranged to have his claims of a miracle cancer cure with an 82 percent success rate analyzed.  They obtained addresses of 20 people who had ordered it and found only one that claimed to be cured, but he had had surgery before his order arrived and the surgeon reported that his growth was not cancerous.

Subsequently the state Attorney General’s office conducted another investigation.  They found that the magic oils and pills consisted of such ingredients as cotton oil, Vaseline, various sugars, almond oil and syrup of sarsaparilla.  In part the reports stated:  "The results of this analysis show that the treatment furnished by Dr. Bye cannot by any possibility accomplish the results claimed for it in the cure of cancer. The agents of which it is composed have long been known to the medical profession but notwithstanding this fact no reliable authority makes the claim that, taken singly or together, they can be relied on for the cure of cancer. On the contrary, the fact is generally recognized among medical authorities that there is no substance or mixture of substance known at the present time which can be relied on for this purpose.”

The good doctor also prescribed cures for other illnesses including malaria, rheumatism, dropsy, deafness, tuberculosis and influenza.  He did so by developing a diagnosis based only on letters received from his patients.

But why should we care?  The case of Dr. Bye is one of many that was published by the Journal of the American Medical Association over 100 years ago with the intention of educating the public and of keeping them from falling for these too-good-to-be-true remedies.  But oils to cure cancer and similar miracle cures sound vaguely modern and familiar.  The problem remains.  Only the methods have changed.  The purveyors of these miracle cures now use the power of television and the Internet, obtain celebrity endorsements and encourage followers to share these questionable claims with Facebook friends.  They have slicker presentations and have no need to worry about accusations of postal fraud; and when they are called before Congress to testify, all we get are weak excuses and cries of being the real victim.

Now more than ever critical thinking is of paramount importance.  Technology advances at an accelerated pace, becoming faster and more sophisticated.  It’s in our pocket or purse, always available.  At the same time society's need for such education and public credulousness have progressed so little, if at all, over the last century.

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