Olivier Bernard, a community pharmacist from Quebec, continued to debunk an unproven cure for cancer despite harassment by alternative practitioners. He has won prestigious John Maddox Prize 2019 for standing up for science.
The John Maddox Prize recognises the work of individuals who promote science and evidence, advancing the public discussion around difficult topics despite challenges or hostility.
Harassment did not deter Bernard from speaking out against alternative practitioners who promoted high doses of vitamin C as a cancer cure.
Alternative health proponents lobbied the government to approve and reimburse high-dose vitamin C injections for cancer patients, a cure that has no basis in evidence.
Bernard spoke out repeatedly, describing the scientific evidence and speaking directly to politicians and affected groups, according to Sense About Science, the UK charity that gives these international awards.
Bernard endured a campaign of harassment, including complaints to his employer and professional body, revealing the address of the pharmacy where he works, a smear campaign, calls for a boycott of his wife’s books, as well as death threats to him and his family.
Bernard stood up to this barrage of harassment, and his strength in speaking out has resulted in the creation of a government task force to protect scientists who speak on sensitive topics, and an inter-professional advisory committee to support healthcare professionals who speak publicly.
“People with cancer who use alternative/complementary/integrative therapies are at higher risk of dying from the illness,” says Bernard. “We’re talking about a 2- to 6-times higher risk of mortality.”
“The belief that Vitamin C cures all kinds of diseases dates back to the 1970s, but it proved to be wrong when assessed scientifically. As far as we know, the only thing that is cured with Vitamin C injections is scurvy – a concern in Jacques Cartier’s era, but relatively uncommon nowadays.”
Bernard runs a website, www.thepharmafist.com, where he debunks such myths with funny cartoons and comics.