Frequently Asked Questions
about Quackwatch

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

What is Quackwatch?

Quackwatch is an international network of people who are concerned about health-related frauds, myths, fads, fallacies, and misconduct. Its primary focus is on quackery-related information that is difficult or impossible to get elsewhere. From 1970 through 2007, it operated as a nonprofit corporation headquartered in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The corporation was dissolved in 2008, but the informal network will continue as usual.

Who funds Quackwatch?

Quackwatch operates with minimal expense, funded by individual donations, commissions on sales to people whom we refer to other Web sites, and profits from the sale of publications. Most of our income is used for research into the health marketplace. If the amount falls below what is needed, the rest comes out of my pocket. For additional information, see our article about funding.

Does the fact that someone is mentioned on Quackwatch mean that you think that the person is a quack?

No. When writing about individuals, we generally stick to facts and do not engage in name-calling. Several articles on the site describe quackery's characteristics. We leave it up to the reader to decide whether an individual's behavior fits any of these patterns.

Is lack of mention on Quackwatch a sign of legitimacy?

Because Quackwatch covers so many topics, many people wonder whether lack of mention should be interpreted as a sign of legitimacy. The answer is no. We identify many people who have been in the news for one reason or another, such as criminal prosecution or discipline by a licensing board. However, the number of scams and scammers is so large that nobody could possibly write about them all. Rather than attempting to construct an endless list, we indicate how to tell whether people or ideas are trustworthy. The main ones are:

  • Twenty-Five Ways to Spot Quacks and Vitamin Pushers
  • More Ploys That Can Fool You
  • How to Spot a "Quacky" Web Site
  • Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science
  • How do you pick your topics?

    Most articles are responses to either news events, misleading advertisements, or e-mail inquiries.

    Are your articles peer-reviewed?

    It depends on the nature of the article and how confident I am that I understand the subject in detail. Most articles that discuss the scientific basis (or lack of scientific basis) of health claims are reviewed by at least one relevant expert. Some are reviewed by many experts. News articles are not usually reviewed prior to posting. However, the review process does not stop when an article is published. Complaints or suggestions from readers may trigger additional review that results in modification of the original version.

    Why are some articles referenced and others not?

    That depends on the nature of the article, why it was written, and when the research behind it was done. News reports and opinion pieces, particularly the older ones, are less likely to be referenced. When I began writing about quackery, I preferred using the style of newspapers and most magazines that do not list references. However, because the Internet enables people to quickly access supplementary information, I switched to a more formal style about ten years ago. Thus topics that I began tracking before that time are less likely to contain references. Articles that discuss research in detail are almost always referenced.

    How should we regard the fact that some of your articles were posted or last revised many years ago?

    We have far too many articles to be able to review each on on any type of schedule. Instead, articles are revised when there is good reason to believe that important new information should be added or the conclusions or implications of an article are no longer valid. Some people have expressed concern that because medical knowledge is continuously expanding, articles that lack recent references are likely to be outdated. In most such cases, the cited reports were sufficiently definitive that further studies are unnecessary.

    Why have some topics been marked "to be posted" for a long time? Isn't it unfair to imply that something is wrong without providing the underlying facts?

    They represent topics I have investigated but not had time to write about. Meanwhile, the "to be posted" designation serves as a warning that something is wrong. It also encourages people to send more information.

    The "Jeers" posted on your "Comments" page have more disjointed thoughts, misspelled words, and vile comments than the "Cheers." Do you deliberately select this type of writing to make your critics look bad? Are you trying to suggest that everyone who think there is some validity to alternative methods is crazed, profane lunatic?

    The posted information reflects what is sent. Some people become very upset when their cherished beliefs are challenged. Their messages reflect a depth of feeling and a lack of logic that are a very significant aspect of quackery's persistence. The posted messages reflect a cross-section of what we actually receive. The favorable messages tend to be written better.

    How do you respond to accusations that your writing is unbalanced?

    Balance is important when legitimate controversy exists. But quackery and fraud don't involve legitimate controversy and are not balanced subjects. I don't believe it is helpful to publish "balanced" articles about unbalanced subjects. Do you think that the press should enable rapists and murderers to argue that they provide valuable services? Too many reporters strive for "balance" in quackery-related stories because it's easier to quote both sides of a "controversy" than to understand how science works and then exercise judgment. Too many stories are filtered by editors who are ignorant, are too timid, or believe it is politically incorrect to provide the naked truth about senseless methods. When discussing conflicting viewpoints, we indicate which ones are the most sensible.

    Judging from news reports, medical errors and medical malpractice are serious problems. Yet you say almost nothing about this subject. How come?

    Our focus is on fraud and quackery. Malpractice is the failure to meet mainstream standards of care. Fraud is deliberate misrepresentation. Quackery, as we define it, involves the promotion of unsubstantiated methods that lack a scientifically plausible rationale. Although some overlap exists, most cases of malpractice involve negligence rather than fraud or the promotion of bogus methods. We focus on information that is difficult or impossible to get elsewhere.

    Do you believe there are any valid "alternative" treatments?

    This question is unanswerable because it contains an invalid assumption. "Alternative" is a slogan often used for promotional purposes, not a definable set of methods. Methods should be classified into three groups: (1) those that work, (2) those that don't work, and (3) those we are not sure about. Most described as "alternative" fall into the second group. But the only meaningful way to evaluate methods is to examine them individually, which we do. We discuss this subject fully in our article "Be Wary of "Alternative" Health Methods."

    Shouldn't people be free to make their own choices?

    The real question is whether our society should try to prevent sellers from cheating buyers. Our laws do not condone the selling of worthless stock to people who can be persuaded that buying it will make them rich. Neither should they permit dishonest marketing of health-related products and services. We discuss this further in our article on "health freedom."

    I have noticed that search engines rank many of your articles very high. Are you doing something special to achieve this visibility?

    Not actively. Ranking is generally thought to be related to (a) content, (b) traffic, and (c) Internet significance, as measured by the number and significance of the sites that are interlinked. Quackwatch has rich content and high traffic. We link mainly to high-quality sites and have many incoming links from other sites whose operators like what we say.

    I like what you are doing. Is there a way I can help?

    Anyone can help by telling others about our Web sites, asking the administrators of other sites to link to us. We can also use donations to support our research.

    This page was revised on May 3, 2010..

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