Mercola’s Middlebury Moment – Conflicts of Interest As Distraction from the Merits

Joseph Mercola is an osteopathic physician, who is possession of alternative facts about alternative medicine, which no doubt come from alternative science in an alternative universe. He is a conspiracy theorist who sees government, the media, and the scientific community as engaged in a vast conspiracy to stand in the way of his alternative truths.1

In his alternative world, vaccines kill, timerosal and milk2 cause autism, fluoridation3 and cell phones cause cancer. On his path to alternative health and wellbeing, Mercola has made millions selling and promoting dubious “health foods”; he has also found himself on the alternative side of the law, particularly with the FDA4 and the FTC5.

Mercola is an entrepreneurial physician, who hawks untested “natural health” products, while bashing licensed, tested pharmaceuticals. Mercola may not be the most honest broker of scientific information6, and so it seems inappropriate when he lobbies for the silencing of scientific discussion and debate.

In a web post this week, Mercola claimed that the newspaper USA Today,had been ridiculed for a column by an “industry front group.”7 This was a bit of fake news from Mercola; the event he referenced actually involved an attempt by environmental activist groups8 to silence speech that they disagreed with. The speaker to be silenced was the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH). No ridicule was involved; only accusations of undisclosed funding from self-styled public interest groups, which themselves do not disclose their funding sources in their letter.9

The President of the ACSH, Hank Campbell, responded with a rebuttal to this Middlebury Maneuver10, which is worth reading.11 Campbell eloquently makes three points. First, the accusers have serious conflicts of interest, both financial and positional, themselves. Second, the crucial issue in a scientific debate is the evidence, its quality, and its ability to warrant valid inferences. The “Lobby” wants to silence speech, but has nothing to offer on the merits of any scientific issue, except politically correct, subjective opinion. Third, the Lobby ignores that the ACSH has taken stands on health issues against many the pecuniary interests of corporations; indeed it has taken one of the strongest anti-smoking stances of any advocacy group. Campbell’s rebuttal is a powerful reminder that scientific disagreements cannot be won by bullying opponents into silence.


2 Joseph Mercola, “Milk linked to autism, schizophrenia,” Optimal Wellness Center Website (Mar .21, 1999; archived Jan. 2, 2008).

3 See, e.g., A. Mesh, “Dr Joseph Mercola gives $15,000 to anti-flouride campaign,” Williamette Week (May 6, 2013); Joseph Mercola, “Is fluoride as safe as you are told,” Optimal Wellness Center Website (Feb 2, 6, and 9, 2002); Mercola, the Sun, Tanning Beds, and Melanoma (Skeptic’s Dictionary Newsletter)

4 Susan J. Walker, Director, Division of Dietary Supplement Programs, “Warning letter to Joseph Mercola, D.O.,” (Feb 16, 2005) (Ref. No. CL-04-HFS-810-134 ); Scott J. MacIntire, District Director, “Warning letter to Joseph Mercola, D.O.,” (Sept. 21, 2006); Steven Silverman, Director, Office of Compliance, Center for Devices and Radiological Health, “Warning letter to Dr. Joseph Mercola,” (Mar. 22, 2011); see also Trine Tsouderos, “FDA warns doctor: Stop touting camera as disease screening tool,” Chicago Tribune (April 26, 2011); Stephen Barrett, “Dr. Joseph Mercola Ordered to Stop Illegal Claims,” Quackwatch (Jan. 9, 2017).

6 See Kate Knibbs, “The Most Honest Man in Medicine?” The Ringer (Jan. 5, 2017); Brian Smith, “Dr Mercola: Visionary or quack?” Chicago Magazine (Feb. 12, 2012).

7 Joseph Mercola, “USA Today Ridiculed for Column by Industry Front Group,” (Mar. 07, 2017).

8 Alaska Community Action on Toxics; Beyond Toxics; Breast Cancer Action; Breast Cancer Fund; Californians for Pesticide Reform; Center for Biological Diversity; Center for Food Safety; Citizens’ Environmental Coalition; Clean and Healthy New York Community Science Institute; Empire State Consumer Project; Farmworker Association of Florida; Friends of the Earth – US; Greenpeace; HavenBMedia; Healthy Building Network; Health Care Without Harm; Learning Disabilities Association of Maine; Made Safe Organic Consumers Association; Pesticide Action Network North America; Real Food Media; The 5 Gyres Institute; US Right to Know; Vermont Public Interest Research Group; Women’s Voices for the Earth; Ann Blake, PhD, Environmental & Public Health Consulting; Josh Freeman, MD (Emeritus Chair of Family Medicine, University of Kansas School of Medicine); Matthew Anderson, MD (Associate Professor, Dept. of Family and Social Medicine, Montefiore Medical Center); Martin Donohoe, MD, FACP (Adjunct Faculty, School of Community Health, Portland State University; Board of Advisors, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility).

10 Addison County Independent,Middlebury College professor injured by protesters as she escorted controversial speaker” (Mar. 6, 2017); Editorial Board, “Smothering Speech at Middlebury,” N.Y. Times (Mar. 7, 2017); Katharine Q. Seelye, “Protesters Disrupt Speech by ‘Bell Curve’ Author at Vermont College,” N.Y. Times (Mar. 3, 2017).

Comments are closed.