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Joe Mercola: Quackery pays

We’ve written about Joe Mercola’s support for quackery on this blog several times (for instance, here and here). It’s good to see that some of the mainstream media are starting to take notice, as evidenced by this article by Bryan Smith for Chicago Magazine entitled Dr. Mercola: Visionary or Quack? It features comments from a couple of—shall we say?—familiar people.

Although this article did irk me a bit for its tendency to buy into the false “tell both sides” balance, even going so far as to claim that much of what’s on Mercola’s website is actually based in science, I do think it is nonetheless very useful in that it demonstrates just how powerful and influential Mercola has become:

According to traffic-tracking firm Quantcast, Mercola.com draws about 1.9 million unique visitors per month, each of whom returns an average of nearly ten times a month. That remarkable “stickiness” puts the site’s total visits on a par with those to the National Institutes of Health’s website. (Mercola claims his is “the world’s No. 1 natural health website,” citing figures from Alexa.com.) Mercola’s 200,000-plus “likes” on Facebook are more than double the number for WebMD. And two of his eight books—2003’s The No-Grain Diet and 2006’s The Great Bird Flu Hoax—have landed on the New York Times bestseller list.

What a depressing thought that Mercola.com draws about the same traffic as the NIH website!

I also now know where Barbara Loe Fisher and her antivaccine group the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) got all that money to run ads in AMC Theaters during Thanksgiving weekend 2010, ads on the CBS Jumbotron in Times Square last spring, and, most recently, to buy ads with the company that supplies Delta Airlines with its in-flight video content:

Mercola says he recently donated $1 million to several alternative medicine groups, including the National Vaccine Information Center, which describes itself as a “vaccine watch dog.” Part of the money, according to the group’s website, was used to pay for an ad called “Vaccines: Know the Risk,” which was shown hourly on the CBS Jumbotron in Times Square for several weeks last spring.

Mercola says he is simply trying to ask hard questions about the potential harm caused by inoculations and voice his opposition to government-imposed mandates. “There are virtually no safety studies done [on vaccines],” Mercola says. “We don’t know what the effects of combining them are. We don’t know what the long-term complications are.” He says the government and media downplay very real risks and either underreport or ignore serious adverse reactions. Meanwhile, “we don’t have the option to say no [to getting the shots]. It’s just insane what’s happening, and more and more vaccines [are coming] down the line.”

The NVIC has never exactly been particularly flush with cash, but apparently Mercola has changed all that. What I’d really like to know is what other alt-med organizations were beneficiaries of Mercola’s largesse.

What I also now know is that Joe Mercola is rich, as in filthy rich, as in “rolling in the dough” rich, as in “raking it in hand over fist rich.” After all, he had a spare $1 million lying around to give away to the NVIC and various other quackery-promoting groups.

Finally, I know what really matters to Mercola. (Hint: It’s not patient care.) To whit:

If there were any doubt about the importance of marketing to the operation, it was dispelled when I was given a quick tour of Mercola’s sprawling headquarters. The lobby of Dr. Mercola’s Natural Health Center looks like the kind of well-appointed suburban office where you’d expect vanity procedures such as face-lifts to be offered. As it turns out, only one short hallway is dedicated to patient services. “Marketing and customer service take up most of the rest,” a new-patient coordinator told me.

Based on what I know about Mercola, that sounds about right. One little section of his empire devoted to actual patient care, the rest all devoted to marketing and fulfilling online orders. That’s very telling and entirely consistent with Mercola’s behavior. He might have been a real doctor at one time, but in 2012 he exists only to enrich himself by selling a mixture of the unremarkable, the unproven, and what I consider to be quackery. Certainly the archive of articles on his website is a treasure trove of quackery, antivaccine rants, quack apologia, and rants against the government and big pharma, interspersed with videos and radio interviews, and more. Truly, it’s a multimedia empire of woo. In my opinion, of course.

Who says quackery doesn’t pay?

Posted in: Health Fraud, Science and the Media, Vaccines

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