The Scientific Method

The scientific method is the process by which science is done. To quote from Wikipedia:

Scientific method refers to a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning. The Oxford English Dictionary says that scientific method is: “a method of procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.”

Equally important in the scientific method is the sharing of results and peer review:

Scientific inquiry is generally intended to be as objective as possible, to reduce biased interpretations of results. Another basic expectation is to document, archive and share all data and methodology so they are available for careful scrutiny by other scientists, giving them the opportunity to verify results by attempting to reproduce them. This practice, called full disclosure, also allows statistical measures of the reliability of these data to be established.

It’s therefore a bit odd when criticism of an experimental cancer treatment results in those voicing the criticisms being threatened with legal action.

Enter the Burzynski Cancer Clinic and one Marc Stephens who may, or may not, be a lawyer, but who claims to be acting on their behalf.

Mr Stephens has been very busy of late. He’s been sending blustering letters to Rhys Morgan, a 17 year-old schoolboy:


This is my THIRD AND FINAL WARNING to you.

Please convey this message to your entire Skeptic Network, which includes but not limited to,, thetwentyfirstfloor, quackwatch, etc. I represent Dr. Burzynski, the Burzynski Clinic, and the Burzynski Research Institute. I’ve attached Azad Rastegar, and Renee Trimble from the Burzynski Clinic for your confirmation.

In the following weeks I will be giving authorization to local attorneys in multiple countries to pursue every defamation libel case online, including your online libelous statements. I suggest you shut down your entire online defamation campaign about Dr. Burzynski, and remove ALL recent or previous comments off the internet IMMEDIATELY. The minute you post any libelous comments online about my client I will pursue you and your parents/guardians To the Full Extent of the Law. I have no obligation to train you, or teach you, the meaning of defamation. Google it, or go to the library and research it.

This is a very serious matter. Please confirm your mailing address, which I have on record as (my address). If you do not cooperate an official legal complaint requesting punitive damages will be mailed to that address. I will be contacting your school as well to inform them of your illegal acts.

As Rhys says:

Since the initial email, I have discovered others have received similar legal threats from Marc Stephens including Peter Bowditch of, who blogged about Burzynski eleven years ago, but is only now receiving this legal threat. Another blog threatened includes from Andy Lewis, A.K.A Le Canard Noir. You can find a blog about his ordeal with Marc Stephens here:

I posted the blog so that patients, their friends and families would be aware of the whole story about Burzynski and his unproven therapy. I want them to be aware that the treatment seems to be in a constant cycle of trials generating unpublished results. As Dr Howard Ozer, director of the Allegheny Cancer Center in Philadelphia, said – it is scientific nonsense.

In fact, the actions of Mr. Stephens may have backfired a little. There is now a long list of posts popping up drawing attention to this interesting interpretation of what the scientific method entails.

About Geoff Coupe

I'm a British citizen, although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1983. I came here on a three year assignment, but fell in love with the country, and one Dutchman in particular, and so have stayed here ever since. On the 13th December 2006 I also became a Dutch citizen.
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3 Responses to The Scientific Method

  1. Pingback: Stanislaw, Streisand and Spartacus | Josephine Jones

  2. Matt H says:

    For various reasons, cancer tends to bring quacks and people with dubious theories out of the woodwork. My wife used to be Managing Editor of an oncology journal, and she regularly got strange manuscripts whose authors did not take rejection very well.

    The fact is, the common cancers basically fall into three groups: those for which median survival time was already over 10 years by the early 1990s, those for which median survival time was much less than 10 years in the early 1990s but has steadily increased to the point where it is or soon will be over 10 years, and the really nasty ones like pancreatic cancer for which median survival times remain very short.

    There has been progress, much progress, but cancer is not one disease so there will probably never be one cure for all cancers. Of course if you or somebody you love face a grim prognosis, you may be tempted to try something unproven out of desperation. But there really is no substitute for randomized clinical trials, because anecdotal evidence is of limited value. Unless you personally have had the experience of wasting your time and your employers’ money on hypotheses that did not work (as a working scientistI have), you don’t know how just challenging good science is. If and when I get a scary diagnosis, I will rely on scientific evidence because nothing we have works better.

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