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Quackwatch is largely the work of retired psychiatrist and CSICOP fellow Stephen Barrett, a longtime critic of the alternative medicine industry. The website has some great content, but it could use the work of an adept website designer to bring the aesthetics up to date. The same is equally true for the website of the now-defunct National Council Against Health Fraud, which was also co-founded by Barrett.
Unsurprisingly, Barrett's work has rained quite heavily on the parades held by certain people, leading them to post outrageous attack ads against him online and he has been subject to numerous lawsuits.
If you do a Web search for Quackwatch, you're likely to come across a large number of blaring announcements like this: "Quackwatch founder loses in court!" "Quackwatch exposed as quack!" "Quackwatch loses lawsuit!".
Nearly all of these accusations are on pseudo-scientific and untrustworthy "medical" Web sites of dubious quality. This also means that if you attempt to use Quackwatch as a verifiable source to prove that a "medical" Web site is lying or worse, they will immediately point to this accusation in order to "prove" that Quackwatch is not a reliable source.
This all springs from one lawsuit that has been dragged through the courts for years – not by Quackwatch, but by Koren Publications, a chiropractor supply company. Quackwatch explains this lawsuit at these pages:
- A Response to Tim Bolen
- Bogus "Anti-Quackbuster" Suit Withdrawn
- My Libel Suit against Tedd Koren, D.C.
The short answer seems to be that Stephen Barrett sued Koren for defamation, but his case was dismissed; he then appealed, but the appeal was denied. One side of the case (namely Koren) made a lot of noise about it, repeatedly trumpeting bulletins such as this on many different quack-medicine Web sites:
- 2005: Quackwatch Founder Stephen Barrett Loses Major Defamation Case in his own Hometown (Note how this very statement admits the defamation trial itself only lasted for three days, as opposed to being delayed and wasting time in litigation for four years.)
- 2007: Quackwatch Found Guilty (Actually, there was no "guilty" verdict, as the press release notes: "On June 11th, 2007, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed a lower court dismissal of Barrett’s defamation suite against Dr. Koren.")
There's even a Web site out there especially dedicated to slamming QuackWatch, called Quackpotwatch. Take three guesses as to who's managing and contributing to this Web site.
Criticisms of Quackwatch
A woo rodeo of detractors
- Our Response to the Quackwatch Article – from a supplier of "HGH Human Growth Hormone." Their response is summed up as, "Spend $60 on our product first and try it out!"
- Is Stephen Barrett a Quack? – by Ray Sahelian, M.D., who has authored books on "natural supplements" and "herbal products." His opinion is that Dr. Barrett is reliable but terribly biased…and besides, he hasn't embarked on a crusade against "the worthless cold and cough medicines sold by pharmaceutical companies and drug stores" the way Dr. Sahelian has. So nyahhh nyahhh nyahhh.
Factually inaccurate statements
In his zeal to fight woo Barrett sometime fails to understand the difference between the misuse of material and the material itself being pseudoscience. One such example is his "My Concerns about 'Holistic' and 'Biological' Dentistry" article where he not only makes untrue statements but ignores relevant facts about the work he is denouncing.
Barrett: While extolling their health, he [Weston Price] ignored their short life expectancy and high rates of infant mortality, endemic diseases, and malnutrition. While praising their diets for not producing cavities, he ignored the fact that malnourished people don't usually get many cavities.
Price: "since 1870 the average length of life has been increased by fifteen years, that marked reduction has occurred during this period in infant mortality and in mortality due to tuberculosis, typhoid, smallpox and many other diseases."
Price: "This physician stated that there were about 800 whites living in the town and about 400 Indians, and that notwithstanding this difference in numbers there were twice as many Indian children born as white children, but that by the time these children reached six years of age there were more white children living than Indian and half-breed children. This he stated was largely due to the very high child mortality rate, of which the most frequent cause is tuberculosis."
Price: "It is important to keep in mind that morbidity and mortality data for many diseases follow a relatively regular course from year to year, with large increases in the late winter and spring and a marked decrease in summer and early autumn. [...] I have obtained the figures for the levels of morbidity for several diseases in several countries, including the United States and Canada."
More over Nutrition and Physical Degeneration was originally published by the Paul B. Hoeber, Inc; Medical Book Department of Harper & Brothers so the work went through peer review and was published by a recognized scholarly publisher.
The Foreword by Earnest A. Hooton (a physical anthropologist of Harvard University) stated "A quantity of excellent evidence has been amassed which indicates that dental caries is, to a great extent, connected with malnutrition and with deficient diets." This view is supported by modern scholarly works.
Finally, the relationship between tooth health and nutrition was still being researched when Price published his work.
There were plenty of things to invalidate Price's research such as fortification of food being virtually non existent in Price's time so his "modern" food was significantly different from that of today, the advances in understanding nutrition, or any of the many things that have changed since 1939 could invalidate his research. Instead what the reader gets are claims that are refuted by the very work being referenced.
Quackwatch also runs a number of other sister sites, including:
- Chirobase.org, a skeptical look at chiropractic
- CredentialWatch.org, exposing diploma mills
- Dentalwatch.org, exposing dental woo.
- MLMWatch.org, exposing multilevel marketing and pyramid schemes
- Naturowatch.org, coverage of naturopathic quackery
And also publishes a newsletter:
- Consumer Health Digest (not to be confused with the identically named and unaffiliated alternative medicine Consumer Health Digest)
It also manages the site of the National Council Against Health Fraud, to which it is affiliated.
- Seriously - my eyes.
- For example, here's a link to The Cure Zone's mirror of the announcement calling the Quackwatch site untrustworthy: http://curezone.com/forums/fm.asp?i=588592
- (1923) Dental Infections, Oral and Systemic
- (1939) Nutrition and Physical Degeneration: A Comparison of Primitive and Modern Diets and Their Effects Paul B. Hoeber, Inc; Medical Book Department of Harper & Brothers; Chapter 6
- (1939) Nutrition and Physical Degeneration: A Comparison of Primitive and Modern Diets and Their Effects Paul B. Hoeber, Inc; Medical Book Department of Harper & Brothers; Chapter 20
- (2009) Encyclopedia of Microbiology Academic Press
- Alvarez, JO et al., Chronic malnutrition, dental caries, and tooth exfoliation in Peruvian children aged 3-9 years. Am J Clin Nutr. 1988 Aug;48(2):368-72.
- Aparna Sheetal et al, "Malnutrition and its Oral Outcome – A Review" (Aparna Sheetal et al.,Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research. 2013 January, Vol-7(1): 178-180