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Calibrating Your Nonsense Detector: A Case Study On Anthony William

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     3.3 million Facebook followers. 1.7 million Instagram followers. Multiple best-selling books. He has been featured on television programs, received celebrity endorsements, and posted countless stories of people healing themselves using his protocols daily. Anthony William, the Medical Medium, makes an emotionally compelling case for himself and his story. If you are wondering what a Medical Medium is, just read the biography posted on his website:

“[Anthony] was born with the unique ability to converse with [the] Spirit of Compassion who provides him with extraordinarily accurate health information that’s often far ahead of its time. Since age four, when he shocked his family by announcing that his symptom-free grandmother had lung cancer (which medical testing soon confirmed), Anthony has been using his gift to “read” people’s conditions and tell them how to recover their health. His unprecedented accuracy and success rate as the Medical Medium have earned him the trust and love of millions worldwide, among them movie stars, rock stars, billionaires, professional athletes, best-selling authors, and countless other people from all walks of life who couldn’t find a way to heal until he provided them with insights from Spirit. Anthony has also become an invaluable resource to doctors who need help solving their most difficult cases.”

     You read that correctly. Anthony William claims to be able to talk to a spirit for health advice, and then dissementates it for us earthly beings. William provides several protocols for various health conditions that are difficult to treat, and claims they are very successful. Trying to determine what William purports to be able to manage is an exercise in futility; there are no constraints, no limits, nothing that he claims he can’t manage. Something he is doing is clearly making him popular, though; many just disagree about what that is. As many people in the skeptical community have written, the protocols proposed by William are largely untested or implausible. William is rarely on any firm scientific ground, and is instead clinging to anecdotal evidence, specious explanations, and occasionally reasonable health advice. This blog won’t be about going through all of the scientific evidence for his recommendations; it would be too short because there is none. He has said this himself.

“They might be surprised then to learn that at this time there are no studies that have been done on celery juice and especially not on how celery juice can help chronic illness.”

Anthony William

     Instead, we will be taking a step back, and looking at how someone like William can become so popular. Dissecting his modus operandi will be of use to us here because he is the prototypical example of a health guru that deserves much less attention than he actually gets.

A Calibration Checklist

When sifting through healthcare advice and information, it can be hard to discern the truth. However, there are often many red flags that suggest something suspicious is going on. Anthony William checks off all of these boxes.

  • He has no medical credentials or medical education. William didn’t go to medical school, or any school for that matter. He holds no degrees, licenses, or certificates. As far as I can tell, his advice is not based on anything and is just made up.
  • The basis for his advice is a nonstarter. I hope I can one day live in a world where somebody claiming to speak to a spirit who reveals secret and undiscovered health information just gets laughed at, but today is not that day. Even if you believe in spirits, and you believe humans can talk to them, and that they generally have the best interests of human beings in mind, all of which would be extraordinary, it still doesn’t make sense. Why would they talk to William? Why not talk to all of the medical doctors who are actually in the field? Why is the information limited to medical advice? How do we know the spirit isn’t lying? How many more hypothetical questions could I ask that would show how many holes this story has? Isn’t it more plausible that William is making it all up for money, fame, or attention?
  • He makes vague, broad, and untestable claims. William is slippery; it is hard to determine exactly what he is claiming, which gives him wiggle room when he needs it, frees him of the need to be precise, and allows him to reach as many people as possible. The language he uses throughout his website lacks any precision, and it reads more like an advertisement than a list of reasonable benefits.
    • to help inspire and light the way for anyone else who is suffering or living with an unwanted symptom.”
    • “Today we are so used to having symptoms such as acne, brain fog, sleeping problems, headaches, digestive issues, fatigue, anxiety, aches and pains, and more, that people don’t realize these are chronic illnesses.”
    • “The miracle herbal remedy that is celery juice is here for the chronically ill–for anyone who lives with a symptom or condition.”
    • “Start avoiding the foods that feed pathogens.”
    • “As I share in my books, viruses are the most common cause of all kinds of chronic illnesses and conditions, usually in combination with toxins of some variety.”
    • “You can inhale toxins, like the chemicals in conventional perfumes or the fungicide your neighbor is spraying next door. You can eat or drink toxins, through the additives in your food, the ingredients in your medication or the chemicals in your tap water. You can also absorb toxins through your skin, like the chemicals used in conventional deodorant or the chemicals sprayed on wrinkle-free clothing. And then your body can also create toxins.”
  • He claims to be able to address any health issue. William suggests he can help with almost any problem, or as he puts it himself, “anyone…who is suffering or living with an unwanted symptom.” The full title of one of his books is Liver Rescue: Answers to Eczema, Psoriasis, Diabetes, Strep, Acne, Gout, Bloating, Gallstones, Adrenal Stress, Fatigue, Fatty Liver, Weight Issues, SIBO & Autoimmune Disease.” Another book claims to give an exact explanation for the causes of 88 different conditions or symptoms. If you have some health condition, I guarantee you will find something applicable to you if you browse long enough on his website. This is done purposefully; he claims to be able to help with as many conditions as possible in order to reach the most people.
  • Some of his advice is actually reasonable. This may be one of the most frustrating and misleading factors; generally, he advocates for a plant-based diet with plenty of nutrient-rich foods, and provides tasty-looking recipes. It is fair to say that this is in line with many nutritional guidelines, which gives him an air of credibility – but this is a bait-and-switch. Eating a better diet will have health benefits, but his followers may wrongly associate those benefits with his celery-juicing protocol instead.
  • He relies on anecdotal evidence and endorsements rather than real scientific evidence. William’s website and his social media presence are dominated by stories from people that have tried his protocols and report success. I don’t blame him for showcasing them. The physical therapy clinic I work at does it all the time. But the problem comes when William suggests that these anecdotal reports are proof that his advice works. He even goes on to say that to suggest otherwise is disrespectful to the people that report success. As anyone in the medical or science field can tell you, anecdotal reports are by definition unreliable. The reason no real scientist or doctor relies on this kind of evidence is because it has so many problems: it is uncontrolled, there could be confounding variables, we don’t know what each person is actually doing, they may or may not be accurately diagnosed, the symptoms they are dealing with are subjective and vulnerable to contextual factors…the list goes on. The entire reason we have scientific studies is to control for these things and make sure that the intervention we are using is responsible for the effects that we see. In his opening video, William suggests that there is “an organic study” going on in the real world, and that it is a “study you can trust.” He has it completely backwards here. We are not saying these people are lying, only that their reports aren’t something we can hang our hats on.
  • He appeals to emotion. The opening video on William’s website almost got me. It tells a story of William providing a safe and effective cure for many ailments that science has yet to solve. It has a moving piano track in the background. It features testimonials from people whose lives have been changed. It is well-produced, professional, and polished. It puts relief within reach. But William is just manipulating emotion here. By crafting a narrative suggesting that chronic illness sufferers have been ignored, and he has so much success with his methods, it is easy to believe that his protocols may be worth a try.
  • He provides a disclaimer to get himself out of trouble. Despite clearly presenting himself as someone with medical knowledge, who can diagnose medical conditions, prescribe treatments for them, give general health advice, and reveal the secret cures that help millions of people heal…his disclaimer says otherwise.
  • He suggests science broadly, and medical doctors specifically, are failing you. This is the most perverse thing that William does. As it stands, medical science and the healthcare practitioners that use it do not have everything figured out. We can’t help everyone. Our treatments don’t always work. There is always more research to be done and more information to learn. The reality is that medical science is not yet complete, and as of now, there are many uncertainties that healthcare practitioners face. But William doesn’t have any answers we don’t. Any healthcare practitioner that has had a patient they couldn’t help would be happy to learn about a new solution. It’s just that our standard of evidence to understand what really, truly works is much higher. William has not tried to meet that standard, and by all accounts, doesn’t care about it.
  • He monetizes his site. He sells books. He gets kickbacks when you purchase supplements through his site. The price to actually have any contact with him is astronomical. And again, I don’t blame him for doing this. He clearly spends much of his time, effort, and attention on being the Medical Medium, and earning money helps him do that. But looking at what he does and how he does it, he comes off more like a con artist than an honest man trying to help

The Quintessential Health Fraud

     Despite having all the hallmarks of a health fraud, William continues to rise in popularity. And I can understand why people would take his advice. Many just want to be heard, and given simple recommendations. They want to hear about others that have had success. They don’t want to listen to the doctors that have ran out of reasonable, evidence-based options. These people are suffering, and I can understand why someone like William might be an interesting gamble. But William is taking advantage of these vulnerable people, and the only way to stop him and others like him is to understand what he is doing. William creates a compelling story of healing and hope, of extraordinary claims and exceptional results.
But what set of facts is more believable here:

  • According to William
    • Spirits exist, can talk to humans, have a general interest in human affairs, have secret and unknown knowledge of human health, and never lie.
    • William is able to receive this advice exclusively.
    • The advice that William provides is relevant to any person suffering with any symptom and is literally described as a miracle remedy.
    • There is no scientific evidence for any of his protocols or anything he says, and according to him, not only does it not matter, he doesn’t care.
    • William is extremely successful with helping people.
  • Or
    • He is lying and/or extremely misguided.
    • The results people get are from the plant-based diet William advocates.
    • William is simply a health fraud who takes vaguely reasonable advice, dresses it up with a bunch of nonsense, and sells himself, and his products, well.

     One should always keep an open mind, but the second half of the phrase is more important. Keeping an open mind is great, but it shouldn’t be so open your brain falls out. In this case, to believe the first set of facts is to leave a hole in your head too large for any brain to stay firmly in place.

red flags for spotting medical frauds infographic

“Science is a way to call the bluff of those who only pretend to knowledge. It is a bulwark against mysticism, against superstition, against religion misapplied to where it has no business being. If we’re true to its values, it can tell us when we’re being lied to. It provides a mid-course correction to our mistakes…Finding the occasional straw of truth awash in a great ocean of confusion and bamboozle requires vigilance, dedication, and courage. But if we don’t practice these tough habits of thought, we cannot hope to solve the truly serious problems that face us – and we risk becoming a nation of suckers, a world of suckers, up for grabs by the next charlatan who saunters along.”

-Carl Sagan

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