Quackwatch’s Conspiratorial Theory Against Alternative Medicine
Richard Gale and Gary Null PhD
Progressive Radio Network, August 15, 2019
A trend that is increasingly becoming accepted in mainstream, conventional medicine has been the acceptance of complementary and alternative medical theories and practices. Since 1997, Quackwatch has been the nation’s leading voice opposing the growing popularity in alternative medicine and funding for research into its efficacy. Portending to be a consumer protection resource, the organization believes it is serving public health. But Quackwatch is only one faction of a much larger movement and effort to stamp out non-conventional medicine. In the world of the scientific materialism promulgated by Quackwatch and Wikipedia, all roads lead to the ideological movement known as modern Skepticism. Each is a player within a self-reinforcing feedback loop that deceives the public and distorts the very core of the life sciences. For those who are exceptionally critical of Skepticism’s radical reductionist view of medicine and health, it has become evident that this loose confederacy of groups—Quackwatch, Science Based Medicine, Skeptic organizations, and Wikipedia—have sacrificed objectivity for groupthink.
For several decades, the website Quackwatch, founded by former psychiatrist Dr. Stephen Barrett, has been a one-stop shopping center for negative critiques and reviews about practically every kind of medical therapy and practice that falls under the umbrella of alternative medicine. It has been memorialized by Skeptics who have in turn infected many of Wikipedia’s entries with Quackwatch references under the false pretense that it is a scientifically reliable resource.
To be fair, not all of Quackwatch’s criticisms are unwarranted; there are certainly charlatans and entrepreneurs practicing in both conventional and alternative medical camps. Magnetic bracelets, magnetizing beverages, calorie blockers, multilevel marketing for various supplemental products, magic muscle pills, cellulite removers, among others we regard as nonsense as well. And pharmaceutical executives notoriously fool federal health officials with only partial or fake science to get ineffective and toxic drugs through hurdles at the FDA. Yet on numerous other counts, Barrett is flatly wrong. This not only concerns his limited knowledge and highly biased analysis of the scientific literature supporting many common alternative medical practices and natural nutritional protocols, but also many commercial products Americans use or are exposed to on a daily basis.
In his book Chemical Sensitivity: The Truth About Environmental Illness, Barrett states that we live in a time “when our food supply is the world’s safest and our antipollution program is the best we have ever had.” He argues that those who fear chemical- and food-related sensitivities, or who believe they are being poisoned by cosmetic ingredients, pesticides, household cleaning and petrochemical products, fast foods and the average American meat-based diet, food preservatives, fluoride, mercury amalgams, and other environmental toxic substances, are simply delusional. Barrett’s books and Quackwatch articles repeatedly deny that chemical exposure and our industrial processed foods are associated with any diseases. But scientific consensus strongly disagrees. Barely a day goes by without a new study appearing in the scientific literature about a recently discovered health risk regarding any one of these issues.
The question we ask ourselves is why, and perhaps how, can Barrett categorically deny the enormous body of peer-reviewed scientific evidence that confirms Americans are living in an unhealthy toxic environment every day in their lives? Twenty years ago, Cornell scientists estimated that 40 percent of diseases were environmentally caused, and our planet has become far more noxious since then. The World Health Organization has released dire warnings regarding this trend and estimated that 1 in 4 global deaths are due to air, water, soil pollution and chemical exposure. In 2016, Dr. Stephen Rappaport at the University of California at Berkeley published his research in PLoS One showing that environmental factors, and not genetics, are the major causes of chronic diseases. High sodium, alcohol, low omega-3 fatty acids, lead exposure high trans fatty acids, occupational chemicals and calcium, Vitamin A, iron and zinc deficiencies ranked among the top 15 causes. However, Barrett would rebuff these findings; they do not fit into the corporate-science paradigm he espouses.
During an August 26, 2018 podcast interview on the Skeptic Zone in Australia, Barrett denied receiving support from the pharmaceutical industry, a charge his critics frequently level upon him. Of course, it is not necessary to receive funds or remuneration in order to also serve the financial interests of large multinational corporations. Barrett’s role as a Board member of Scientific Advisers to the American Committee on Health Science (ACHS) for almost 4 decades however provides a strong case for his strong biases that would explain his favoritism towards many drugs and commercial products that have been proven to carry high health risks.
ACHS is a corporate-funded consumer advocacy organization that makes the false claim that it supports evidence-based medicine. However practically every Trustee member of the organization has direct ties to large corporations, which is why ACHS advocates for genetically modified foods and industrial agriculture, nuclear power and natural gas, vaccine mandates, cosmetic chemicals, the deregulation of environmentally unsafe toxic chemicals and FDA fast-tracking of drugs. Mother Jones reported that in 2012, ACHS’s donors including Chevron, Coca-Cola, Bristol Myers Squibb, Bayer Cropscience, Procter and Gamble, big ag giant Syngenta, McDonalds and the tobacco industry. It has also received funding to lobby on behalf Pepsi, Monsanto, Exxon-Mobil and British American Tobacco as well as receiving funds from the Koch family and major forces within the Randian pro-industry American Legislative Exchange Council.
Finally, it should be noted that the watchdog organization Center for Science in the Public Interest issued a report concluding that ACHS promotes fraudulent science to whitewash the health risks of some our most dangerous commercial products. The report stated that the organization is “a consumer fraud; as a scientific group, ACSH seems to arrive at conclusions before conducting studies. Through voodoo or alchemy, bodies of scientific knowledge are transmogrified into industry-oriented position statements.”
Therefore, after four decades of fraternizing with ACHS’s executives and providing scientific advice on projects for its corporate clients, how can one accept Barrett’s scientific objectivity? He has been repeatedly wrong on most of his positions about industrial food and chemical safety. Arguments against Barrett and Quackwatch serving the private corporate interests of some of our nation’s largest polluters, the pharmaceutical cartel and major contributors to environmentally-caused diseases hold absolutely no merit. Therefore, why should anyone believe his assessment of alternative health is scientifically plausible?
This may explain why Barrett has had a career that has been largely out of touch with America’s declining health trends now that iatrogenic or medical-based error is the third leading cause of mortality in the US. The weeds of bias have overgrown any light from reality. However, this does not explain why Quackwatch is obsessively determined to undermine complementary, alternative, non-conventional medical therapies. While the site pretends to be protecting public health by attempting to discredit effective, cost-saving health practices, we observe that it is serving the economic interests of the pharmaceutical industry. By discrediting every alternative medical therapy or supplemental nutrient or botanical medicine a patient may seek out for relief or treatment for a health condition or disease, Quackwatch in effect diverts their queries back into our broken drug-based medical system as the only recourse of treatment available.
In an ingenious way, Barrett has created a perfect distraction. In his estimation, those who place their faith in Chiropractic, acupuncture, homeopathy, Chinese and Ayurveda medicine, nutritional therapy, etc. are mentally unsound. On occasion he has labeled patients who turn towards these therapies as “paranoid,” “hysterical” and subject to “certain psychological factors.” As for practitioners of these healing arts, he would prefer to see them facing a judge in a courtroom. Therefore, Quackwatch has given birth to a wild conspiracy theory. And this has contaminated the entire Skeptic movement and Jimmy Wales and Wikipedia have drunk deep from the gully of this conspiratorial Kool aid.
We must realize that the vast majority of people seeking relief for any disease will begin with conventional medicine. In many cases that is sufficient and we compliment that. Orthodox approaches are especially beneficial in emergency medicine and surgery. However, most patients who turn towards alternative therapies do so because the predominantly drug-based treatments either failed or they suffered the drugs’ adverse effects. So where is the study that enables Quackwatch and Skeptics to confirm that these patients have not benefitted from alternative approaches?
Over the years we have interviewed hundreds of board-certified physicians who only started to explore complementary and alternative medical modalities after their orthodox approaches to treat patients were found limited. Not only did they discover many of these protocols ineffective, but often in fact harmful. Many physicians reported that it was a lonely journey they undertook. It was fraught with criticism and personal attacks. In the case of California and New York, some early physicians in the 1960s and 1970s were brought up on charges of fraud: the fraud being that they were not using accepted medical protocols at that time, despite their clinical experience that their patients benefitted. Today physicians are permitted to practice with informed consent without the fear of being harassed or the loss of their medical license. One example is the second largest medical group, the Chiropractors. Upon reviewing the scientific literature, there is a growing body of literature that supports Chiropractic practice. Chiropractic’s success is simply because patients find relief and this is not due to any placebo effect as Skeptics would force us to believe. The same is true for acupuncture, homeopathy, naturopathy and other approaches to natural health. Therefore, the scientific literature has kept pace with consumer interest and these alternative medical therapies. Yet Quackwatch and the Skeptics remain frozen in a mindset similar to the AMA’s Committee on Quackery back in the 1950s.
Nevertheless, if you search on Google, you will be taken to Wikipedia, which reflects Skepticism’s biases against alternative medicine’s efficacy. This is one among other reasons why Quackwatch, the Skeptics and Science-Based Medicine must be challenged for propagandizing unscientific and biased opinions.