Monday, February 23, 2009

Q&A with Stephen Barrett M.D. of Quackwatch

Today's Q&A is with Stephen Barrett who runs the website among many others. Now on the the questions:

We'll treat this first question like it's the first day of a graduate seminar. Could you introduce yourself and talk a bit about your educational background and research interests?

(from Barrett, M.D., a retired psychiatrist who resides near Chapel Hill, North Carolina, has achieved national renown as an author, editor, and consumer advocate. In addition to heading Quackwatch, he is vice-president of the National Council Against Health Fraud, a scientific advisor to the American Council on Science and Health, and a Fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP). In 1984, he received an FDA Commissioner's Special Citation Award for Public Service in fighting nutrition quackery. In 1986, he was awarded honorary membership in the American Dietetic Association. From 1987 through 1989, he taught health education at The Pennsylvania State University. He is listed in Marquis Who's Who in America and received the 2001 Distinguished Service to Health Education Award from the American Association for Health Education.
An expert in medical communications, Dr. Barrett operates 23 Web sites; edits Consumer Health Digest (a weekly electronic newsletter); is medical editor of Prometheus Books; and has been a peer-review panelist for several top medical journals. He has written more than 2,000 articles and delivered more than 300 talks at colleges, universities, medical schools, and professional meetings. His 50 books include The Health Robbers: A Close Look at Quackery in America and seven editions of the college textbook Consumer Health: A Guide to Intelligent Decisions. One book he edited, Vitamins and Minerals: Help or Harm?, by Charles Marshall, Ph.D., won the American Medical Writers Association award for best book of 1983 for the general public and became a special publication of Consumer Reports Books. His other classics include Dubious Cancer Treatment, published by the Florida Division of the American Cancer Society; Health Schemes, Scams, and Frauds, published by Consumer Reports Books; The Vitamin Pushers: How the "Health Food" Industry Is Selling America a Bill of Goods, published by Prometheus Books; and Reader's Guide to "Alternative" Health Methods, published by the American Medical Association. His media appearances include Dateline, the Today Show, Good Morning America, ABC Prime Time, Donahue, CNN, National Public Radio, and more than 200 radio and television talk show interviews.

Dr. Barrett's Curriculum Vitae can be viewed online at quackwatch

Talk a bit about quackwatch, your 22 other web sites, and why you decided to start them all.

(also from have never been seriously victimized in any way and am a very upbeat person. I grew up in a family atmosphere that placed great value on education, science, and fair play. My interest in quackery began by accident and was not related to any strong feeling on the subject. During the mid-1960s, I read two books that irritated me greatly. One was about the government's struggle to clean up the patent medicine fraud that was rampant during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The other described how chiropractors had achieved legal recognition even though the theory behind their work was nonsense. When I voiced my concern to my local medical society president, he suggested that I organize a committee focused on quackery. Further discussion led us to form a group that was broad-based rather than composed just of medical doctors. The more we looked at, the more deeply I became concerned.
During the mid-1970s, I began writing about what I found and gradually evolved into a medical writer and editor. As I did so, I gradually reduced my psychiatric work until 1993, when I retired so I could spend more time writing about my findings. The original committee, renamed Quackwatch in 1997, has evolved into an informal network of individuals who provide help when asked.

What do you hope the effect of quachwatch and your other sites will be?

We focus on information that is difficult or impossible to get elsewhere. Our activities help people avoid being quacked, save them money, and provide a way to call illegal activities to the attention of law-enforcement agencies.

What role do you think that, "New Media," can play in spreading sound medical information?

They offer a wealth of reliable information free of charge. However, searching with Google is perilous. It is far better to use reliable sites from a trustworthy list. Our Internet Health Pilot site ( is gateway to trustworthy sites.

As a follow up, is, "New Media," living up to it's potential?

Yes, I believe that people are generally better of as a result.

How do you think that increased scientific literacy can improve the way people utilize the medical resources available in an advanced industrial society?

It should help people make better judgments about who is trustworthy.

How would you respond to the accusation that the medical field is too technical for the average lay person to be able to make sound medical decisions regarding their own health?

Most people need expert guidance, not only because information is highly technical, but also because many sources are not reliable.

In his inaugural address, President Obama stated that he would, "restore science to its rightful place." If you were given an opportunity to talk to him about science, technology and education, what would you say?

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine is wasting scarce research dollars and promoting quackery in many ways. If Mr. Obama had the power to do so, I would ask him to abolish it.

Finally, anything important I missed? Any promos you would like to get out there?

The best source of health information is Consumer Reports on Health newsletter.

I would like to thank Dr. Barrett for helping out with my blog. His answers help shed light on the nature of nature of health care in the United States today. The field is certainly technical enough that an expert's advice is indispensable but there are many disingenuous people out there looking to do little more then separate the desperate and naive from their money. The ability to discern legitimate medical information from pseudoscience is essential and the, "fill in the bubble sheet," style of high stakes testing pushed on educators by No Child Left Behind is not a tool for developing critical thinking. Public schools who produce students with little critical thinking ability and even less ability to critically judge sources of information are only going to make things more difficult for Dr. Barrett and his colleagues who try to get sound information to the public.
The significant number of web sties that Dr. Barrett runs was mentioned in the Q&A, here they all are:
(health fraud and quackery) (under construction) (under construction) (guide to autism) (under construction) (legal archive) (chelation therapy) (guide to chiropractic) (under construction) (guide to dental care) (under construction) (under construction) (guide to homeopathy) (guide to reliable information) (guide to infomercials) (under construction) (multi-level marketing) (naturopathy) (under construction) (nutrition facts and fallacies) (under construction) (National Council Against Health Fraud) (consumer health sourcebook)
Now I don't think that Dr. Barrett is a cyber-squatter who is looking to sell off some of these sites for a profit. Rather, this shows the nature of the concerns in this area. It would be almost impossible for one person to be an expert in all these areas, so the expert and their role is here to stay. What is more realistic is more realistic is for a person to be a critical thinker and to be able to evaluate sources of information. Hopefully, sources like quackwatch can make getting sound information easier.

1 comment:

  1. Dr. Barrett is totally wrong. I went to Dr. Donsbach's Clinic around 1990 in Rosarito Beach, Baja, Mexico. I met him and his wonderful caring staff. Dr. Burgos gave me a complete checkup and a Dentist replaced my silver fillings with white fillings. I was diagnosed with hypogylcemia. They said American Dr's know nothing about hypoglycemia and that 90% of people in American prisons and mental hospitals have hypoglycemia. They gave me a good diet to follow and I ate wonderful meals and health drinks. It's unfortunate Donsbach's Clinic was closed but Dr. Contreras Oasis of Hope Hospital is still open. Don't believe anything Dr. Barrett writes. Buy Dr. Bernard Jensen's books. I like his "Vital Foods For Total Health" My aunt taught me about him and eating health foods when I was a young girl in the 1950's.