Dr. Stephen Barrett - Watching Out for Quackery

January 4, 2008

Stephen Barrett, M.D. 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 Center for Inquiry's Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI). The recipient of a number of awards, including the FDA Commissioner's Special Citation Award for Public Service in fighting nutrition quackery and the Distinguished Service to Health Education Award from the American Association for Health Education, he is the author of 50 books, including The Health Robbers: A Close Look at Quackery in America and seven editions of the college textbook Consumer Health: A Guide to Intelligent Decisions.

In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, Dr. Barrett defines complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), the responsibilities of the healthcare consumer, whether or not CAM is growing in mainstream healthcare, and the types of people who are susceptible to CAM claims. He also explores various CAM therapies including Therapeutic Touch, Chiropractic and myths about water fluoridization, and how a skeptic might most effectively confront family members who are consumers of complementary and alternative medicine.

Also in this episode, Lauren Becker shares some thoughts on secular activism and science advocacy for 2008.

Books Mentioned in This Episode:


Consumer Health: A Guide To Intelligent Decisions Stephen Barrett, William London, Robert Baratz, Manfred Kroger

Links Mentioned in This Episode:

Quackwatch
CFI Civic Days
Science Debate 2008

Related Episodes

Barry Beyerstein - The Sins of Big Pharma
July 21, 2006

Comments from the CFI Forums

If you would like to leave a comment about this episode of Point of Inquiry please visit the related thread on the CFI discussion forums

Haven’t listened to the podcast yet, but just a high-five for Dr. Barrett. He’s done an outstanding job on his Quackwatch site.

I should also add that he’s been soliciting donations to defray the costs of his work. I have no affiliation whatever with his site, but think that membership should be aware of this, in case they feel like lending a hand.

Posted on Jan 04, 2008 at 10:03pm by dougsmith Comment #1

Hooray for Lauren Becker!  It’s good to hear her thoughtful commentary again. 

And, as always, thanks to Thomas and DJ for putting together this excellent show every week.

Posted on Jan 05, 2008 at 8:01am by Barbara Comment #2

How many chiropractors are needed to change a light bulb?


Only one, but it takes 20 visits.

 

On a more serious note, the rise in “Osteopathy” is a very good example of the idea of associating unproven therapies with established medical care, my personal, opinionated prejudice is that DOs (Doctors of Osteopathy) are like allopathic physicians that have been tainted by chiropractic woo.

Thanks for another excellent interview.

Posted on Jan 05, 2008 at 9:21am by OhioDoc Comment #3

Well this struck me as a difficult interview. Dr. Barrett seemed somewhat unwilling to follow DJ’s questions, and it struck me that there was more than an average amount of miscommunication between them. Barrett seems like rather a tough cookie as an interview subject.

But that said, I really wanted this interview to go on MUCH longer. We needed at least 2-3x more information from him; the history of quackery, homeopathy, herbal remedies, etc., it would be interesting to get into the science of some of that, as well as into some of the leading quacks nowadays, like Gary Null, Kevin Troudeau, etc. Would also be interesting to have a discussion of why many of these quacks (including at least Null and Nicholas Perricone) have been featured on PBS pledge drives.

Questions as to how proper testing is done in medical science would probably interest many, especially as it compares with the lack of testing for quack remedies.

Lots of material here for a further interview, although I certainly feel for DJ; perhaps a different tack next time?

I should add that I imagine there is more reaction against what Dr. Barrett does because there’s more money in quackery than in other forms of pseudoscience. And people really CARE about whether it works or not.

Posted on Jan 06, 2008 at 10:17am by dougsmith Comment #4

Thanks for the tip!  Quackwatch is highly recommended.  Can’t wait to listen to the ‘cast.

cheers

Posted on Jan 07, 2008 at 11:54am by VikingMoose Comment #5

Well this struck me as a difficult interview. Dr. Barrett seemed somewhat unwilling to follow DJ’s questions, and it struck me that there was more than an average amount of miscommunication between them. Barrett seems like rather a tough cookie as an interview subject.

But that said, I really wanted this interview to go on MUCH longer. We needed at least 2-3x more information from him; the history of quackery, homeopathy, herbal remedies, etc., it would be interesting to get into the science of some of that, as well as into some of the leading quacks nowadays, like Gary Null, Kevin Troudeau, etc. Would also be interesting to have a discussion of why many of these quacks (including at least Null and Nicholas Perricone) have been featured on PBS pledge drives.

Questions as to how proper testing is done in medical science would probably interest many, especially as it compares with the lack of testing for quack remedies.

Lots of material here for a further interview, although I certainly feel for DJ; perhaps a different tack next time?

I should add that I imagine there is more reaction against what Dr. Barrett does because there’s more money in quackery than in other forms of pseudoscience. And people really CARE about whether it works or not.

Yea, it seemed like we just touched the surface of the topic in that interview.

Posted on Jan 07, 2008 at 12:19pm by morgantj Comment #6

Yes, I certainly share Doug’s feeling about the interview. It’s the first time I’ve heard Dr. Barrett speak, and it’s always tough when you hear someone whose work you admire greatly and they turn out to be less than an inspiring speaker or interviewee. Still, I guess being a touch irascible is necessary when dealing with the persistence of nonsense in alternative medicine for years and years.

Posted on Jan 14, 2008 at 9:38am by mckenzievmd Comment #7

Why is it always ass-umed that if one is atheist, one is automatically aligned with the left?

I’m always surprised that this podcast leaves the rational inquiry at the door when the subject of politics comes up. The claims by the essayist at the head of the episode bordered on parody. Why waste time on shooting fish in a barrel when there’s Stephen Barret to interview?

Listening to her smug and condescending essays are like listening to a religious zealot.

More inquiry. More D.J. Less political content.

Posted on Jan 15, 2008 at 3:08am by deancameron Comment #8

Since you’re new here, I understand you may not have seen the diversity of political viewpoints we have. Lauren Becker is generally well-regarded for her essays. If her politics in the recent one were not to your tastes, fair enough, but her points are hardly irrational just because you don’t agree with them, and charges of religious-like zealotry seem more designed to suppress free expression and inquiry than to encourage it.

If you investigate the past discussions some, you’ll find that while there might be a bare majority of self-described liberals among the forum memebrs, and among the CFI community generally, there are many and vigorously active members who don’t share that perspective. Libertarians, in particular, are a strong contingent, and DJ himself has expressed some leanings in this direction, but it wouldn’t surprise me if you found representation from every part of the political spectrum both here and in CFI.

Posted on Jan 15, 2008 at 9:54am by mckenzievmd Comment #9

I just wanted to make mention of a site that is anti-quackwatch,  Quackpot Watch.  I don’t know what to make of it or if there is an anti-quackpot watch site that responds to that one (and so on), but I thought it worth mentioning.

Posted on Jan 15, 2008 at 11:36am by Pragmatic Naturalist Comment #10

I just glanced through that site you mention, and I got red flags from all the ad hom on it—use of the word “evil” for instance.

I can’t take a site seriously when it makes accusations such as those and then fills up paragraph after paragraph with vitriolic invective.

More of an opinion site by someone who has a bias towards alternative medicine, evidence be damned.

Posted on Jan 15, 2008 at 1:36pm by Atheist_Pariah Comment #11

Also the guy who runs that site appears to have no actual accreditation of any sort. He’s basically some sort of a disgruntled consultant with an aggressively militarist persona:

Tim Bolen is a Crisis Management Consultant, and a Consumer Advocate, in the Health Care Industry.  He’s been in one form of Crisis Management, or another, since 1966.  His hobbies, besides mountain hiking, and woodworking, are “war” and the tools and history of war.

Why all the capital letters? Why the quotes around “war” as a hobby? Not sure this guy deserves to be linked to ...

Posted on Jan 15, 2008 at 2:45pm by dougsmith Comment #12

Lauren Becker is generally well-regarded for her essays. If her politics in the recent one were not to your tastes, fair enough, but her points are hardly irrational just because you don’t agree with them, and charges of religious-like zealotry seem more designed to suppress free expression and inquiry than to encourage it.

Moreover, I think that Becker made a couple of points that are beyond the left-right controversy: we have, as citizens, unavoidable responsabilities in the goverment we have. It is not fair and it is not a constructive attitude to criticize the goverment and avoid the to get involve in politics, at least, in its more basic form: a well-reasoned vote.

Posted on Jan 16, 2008 at 8:14am by Barto Comment #13

I just wanted to make mention of a site that is anti-quackwatch,  Quackpot Watch.  I don’t know what to make of it or if there is an anti-quackpot watch site that responds to that one (and so on), but I thought it worth mentioning.

One of DJ’s first questions seemed as if he was looking right at this guy’s site - all arguments this guy, along with Kevin Trudeau and his “Natural Cures,” use to grow resentment towards the medical, health and pharmaceutical fields, and then turn that into “trust me, I’ve got the answer” as THEY peddle their wares, for huge profits, which have little to no research to back them up. As Doug pointed out, Bolen seems to have a very high opinion of himself, what with all the capitalization of the words he uses to describe himself. His “credentials” seem very vague. It also appears he’s moved on to a newer website that hosts his “Bolen Report.” The one linked to above looks to have not been updated in over a year…due, of course, to the ongoing conspiracy against him and people like him.

Posted on Jan 17, 2008 at 12:15am by majestyx Comment #14

Stephen Barrett, M.D. 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 Center for Inquiry’s Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI). The recipient of a number of awards, including the FDA Commissioner’s Special Citation Award for Public Service in fighting nutrition quackery and the Distinguished Service to Health Education Award from the American Association for Health Education, he is the author of 50 books, including The Health Robbers: A Close Look at Quackery in America and seven editions of the college textbook Consumer Health: A Guide to Intelligent Decisions.

In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, Dr. Barrett defines complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), the responsibilities of the consumer of healthcare, whether or not CAM is growing in mainstream healthcare, and the types of people who are susceptible to CAM claims. He also explores various CAM therapies including Therapeutic Touch, Chiropractic and myths about water fluoridization, and how a skeptic might most effectively confront family members who are consumers of complementary and alternative medicine.

http://www.pointofinquiry.net

Also interviewed at Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe on 3/19/2008—I thought the interview was good. He listed 3 top quackery areas, starting with chelation.
[Here is a link to archive of *.mp3’s—also on iTunes]

Posted on Mar 30, 2008 at 10:06am by Jackson Comment #15

Also interviewed at Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe on 3/19/2008—I thought the interview was good. He listed 3 top quackery areas, starting with chelation.
[Here is a link to archive of *.mp3’s—also on iTunes]

Thanks for noting that, Jackson. I thought it was a good interview.

Posted on Apr 02, 2008 at 6:41am by dougsmith Comment #16