Debunking Wikipedia’s Warrior Against Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Debunking Wikipedia’s Warrior Against Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Richard Gale, Gary Null PhD, Victoria Theophanis
Progressive Radio Network, February 26, 2020
Rarely do we question the integrity, veracity and hidden motivations of an expert speaking or writing on any given topic. Patients rarely question the diagnosis or prescribed treatment of their cardiologist, oncologist, urologist, etc. Nor do we question the accuracy and objectivity of mainstream medical journalists or news anchors reporting on health issues. It is presumed that the sacred trust we project upon the authority and veneration of so-called “experts” should cancel out honest scrutiny and critical thinking.
The logic behind this is simple and should be self evident, not just in the medical profession but for any field or discipline. Those who have obtained a coveted position of authority are expected to be blindly deferred to with the presumption that the top of the food chain is equivalent to being knowledgeable, insightful and correct. Consequently, a school teacher may defer to the authority of an adjunct, who defers to a professor, who defers to a department chair, and further up the ladder to the Dean. But in the real world, these hierarchical differences of power and authority are more mythology than reality.
One glaring example of a non-expert who has been uncritically praised and lifted as an authoritative voice for medical orthodoxy is former psychiatrist Stephen Barrett. Barrett has had a fifty-year career attacking every premise and scientific legitimacy of medical treatments that fall under Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM).
Therefore when New York Times health columnist Jane Brody quotes Barrett as a voice of authority, she has automatically raised his status because the Times at one time was regarded as the most respected news source in America. Later Consumer Reports, which otherwise conducts outstanding research to test and evaluate appliances, cars and consumer products for safety and quality, fell for the myth of Barrett as a worthy expert possessing the authority to attack and criticize Chiropractic and the value of vitamin supplements. Barrett became the ultimate, objective “wise man” and protector of public health from the growing popularity and demand for alternative medicine, and led the way to identifying these practices in the mainstream media with derogatory names such as “quackery” and “pseudoscience.” Barrett created multiple anti-quackery organizations and consulted for federal agencies such as the FDA, corporate trade front-organizations and the nation’s largest promulgator of scientific materialism, the Center for Inquiry’s Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. He eventually became the “go-to-person” and authority figure for the mainstream media to protest and wage campaigns of fake news against natural health practices.
But has Jane Brody and the Times, Consumer Reports, and the many media celebrities who have hosted Barrett ever undertaken their own critical investigations to evaluate his real credentials and the validity of his charges? We cannot find a single reference where a mainstream journalist has properly scrutinized Barrett’s background and his numerous wild claims posted on his website Quackwatch. Worse, his personal opinions are also copiously reproduced on Wikipedia.
Today there are tens of thousands of doctors and practitioners in the CAM movement. Many are board certified physicians who were educated in conventional medical schools, including prestigious institutions such as Harvard and Stanford. What they share in common is a realization that orthodox medicine is not the final word nor end all for medical practice. If the conventional medical paradigm was as effective as presumed experts such as Barrett would like us to believe, there would be no need for CAM. Instead, iatrogenic medicine, or medical error, is the US’s third leading cause of death and there seems to be no national concerted effort to correct this dismal statistic. Partly due to modern medicine’s gross failures, CAM’s popularity is increasing rapidly, and its hardcore opponents are freaking out.
Barrett and his acolytes and colleagues unconditionally support the mainstream medical paradigm, which includes the standard American diet and mass mandatory immunization. Despite the volumes of scientific research to the contrary, they also defend genetically modified foods, agro-chemical pesticides and many toxic chemicals found in every day household and personal care products.
Therefore we are taking a more measured investigative look at Barrett’s qualifications that would disregard him as an authoritative voice to critically judge thousands of CAM practitioners and countless peer-reviewed scientific papers supporting CAM therapies. It is not a surprise that from our perspective, Barrett is completely unqualified to make accurate statements on anything related to these non-conventional medical regimens. Therefore, we can easily find his professional deficiencies and lack of expertise. Why couldn’t health journalists in the mainstream? Barrett has zero background and experience in CAM. He has never conducted any clinical research in the fields he criticizes. He has no expertise whatsoever in diet and nutrition nor the molecular biology of foods and supplements. Outside of psychiatry, which cannot be recognized as a hard science by any means, he has never treated or reversed any physical health illnesses that we are aware of. Nevertheless, this non-expert writes with the authority of someone who should have some acknowledged qualifications before launching into vitriol and ad hominum attacks on practitioners in these medical arts. This review of Barrett’s personal writing aims to deconstruct the myths of his statements and to expose the illogic of his fallacious reasoning.
Stephen Barrett believes that most diseases have little or nothing to do with diet. In his paper on his website Quackwatch, “Twenty Eight Ways to spot Quacks and Vitamin Pushers,” he writes “most diseases have little or nothing to do with diet.” Contrary to this claim, there is no credible science to support this false claim.
While Barrett admits parenthetically that diet is a factor in cardiovascular disease, he does not give it the attention it deserves. In fact, a joint analysis conducted by Cambridge University in the UK, Tufts University and Montifore Medical Center in New York analyzed data of 700,000 deaths recorded in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The researchers discovered that 45 percent of these deaths due to heart disease, stroke and Type-2 diabetes were directly due to diet and nutrition. The primary culprits identified with these deaths were processed meats, high sodium intake, and sugar-sweetened beverages.
Foods high in saturated fat, such as red meat, produce a byproduct in the gut called Trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) during digestion. TMAO interferes with platelets and increases clot-related illnesses leading to heart attack and stroke. Last year the prestigious Cleveland Clinic confirmed that eating red meat daily for a month period triples TMAO levels.
Yet diet is associated with far more serious health conditions than cardiovascular disease. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in men and second among women worldwide. A 2015 meta-analysis published in the Oncology Review reported a 30 percent higher risk in colorectal cancer among red meat and processed meat eaters. More surprising, as far back as 1981, a study published by the National Cancer Institute estimated that 35 percent of cancers may be attributed to diet, which is similar to that associated with smoking at that time.
Why would Barrett ignore such large and important studies? The answer is obvious. Since 1978, Barrett has been a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the American Council on Science and Health. The Council functions as a public relations research entity on behalf of large corporate interests. Its funders include many of the food industry’s leading culprits teh advocate and push junk food and the typical unhealthy American diet on consumers. Among the Council’s clients and funders have been Coca Cola and Pepsi, Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, McDonald’s, as well as Monsanto and the tobacco giants.
A second blatant mistruth in Barrett’s article is his statement that “additives and preservatives found in tiny amounts [in food] pose no risk to health.”
In 2018, the American Academy of Pediatrics published its report on “Food Additives and Child Health.” The Academy felt the urgent need to create a policy statement due to increased “child health concerns related to the use of colorings, flavorings, and chemicals deliberately added to food during processing (direct food additives) as well as substances in food contact materials, including adhesives, dyes, coatings, paper, plastic and other polymers.” Artificial food colors, nitrates and nitrites were singled out as especially worrisome.
The Academy’s report is very disturbing because it notes an evaluation of 3,941 direct food additives that found 64 percent had “no feeding data whatsoever (either a study of the lethal dose in 50% of animals or an oral toxicology study)… Only 6.7% had reproductive toxicology data and 2 had developmental toxicology data.” In other words, despite the numerous studies that already show the health risks of many food additives, the majority are still being used without any data to determine their potentioal health risks. This is clear evidence of Barrett’s utter neglect for scientific integrity and honesty, and it further indicates his deep ignorance about nutrition, diet and general health.
As for food preservatives, there are many to be worried about: propyl gallate, propylene glycol, sulfites, bromates and brominated oils, mono-glycerides, maleic hydrazide, among others. The synthetic solvent propylene glycol for example is listed in the CDC’s registry for Toxic Substances and Diseases. It is regularly found in ice cream, salad dressing, low-cost cheese spreads, and often used as an antifreeze and paint remover. Many countries — but not the US — have banned it from use in foods. It has been associated with metabolic acidosis, hemolysis, neurotoxicity, long term venous damage, and acute renal insufficiency.
Another example are the bromate preservatives, oxidizing agents commonly used in bread making. If Barrett had done his homework rather than listen to his masters at the private industry’s Council, he would likely have learned that back in 1990 scientists at Japan’s National Institute of Hygienic Sciences had already identified potassium bromate as carcinogen with nephrotoxic activities to humans and animals when given orally. The Japanese researchers also reported that bromate preservatives could induce renal cell cancers, mesotheliomas of the peritoneum and thyroid follicular tumors.
How can Barrett simply deny outright the large body of studies implicating food colors to a large variety of health conditions. Yellow #6, usually regarded as the most harmful, is used in baking goods, cereals, beverages, candy, gelatin deserts, sausages and many cosmetics and drugs. It has absolutely no nutritional value yet is associated with many adverse side effects. It is derived from a poisonous substance — Sudan-1 — once used as a petroleum dye back in the 19th century in the textile industry. Yellow #6’s molecular precursor Sudan-1 is a level three carcinogen. The coloring has also been associated with the rise in childhood hyperactivity. Years ago the UK banned the dye from food products but it is still found throughout many foods that define the standard American diet.
Having read this very short summary to deconstruct Barrett’s belief that “most diseases have little or nothing to do with diet” and that “additives and preservatives found in tiny amounts [in food] pose no risk to health,” how do you now feel about expertise and credibility? Knowing this, do you feel he is someone whose words can be trusted? Can you regard him as a expert on the subjects he has spent a lifetime career attacking and denigrating beside many practitioners of Chiropractic and natural medicine who has filed lawsuits against? More important, does this kind of misinformation and blatant falsehoods in fact endanger public health and submit millions of people to illnesses and diseases they may not get if a person like Barrett were never to have reached public awareness? Is it not medical neglect for which a person who purports to be a consumer advocate should be held responsible before a court of law?
If Barrett is sharing only personal bias, but cloaking himself in the mantle of authority and alleging his views are supported by evidence-based medicine, there are otherwise thousands of articles in the federal Library of Medicine to prove him and Wikipedia wrong. Is it possible then that the New York Times, Consumer Reports, and Wikipedia have used Barrett all along in order to justify their own animus and non-acceptance of CAM?
And here is the measure of truth. If you take the last 50 years and examine all of the major health and environmental issues, from DDT to glyphosate, from saccharine to aspartame, the amount of sugar Americans are consuming, the impact of low level radiation to 5G, from building natural immunity to mandatory immunization, from advocating a healthy plant-based diet to promoting junk food, who is then correct? We believe we are correct based upon the thousands of educators, physicians, activists and consumers who have spoken out on every one of these major issues that directly impact our health.
Walk away from Wikipedia.