The skeptical website Quackwatch is biased and unreliable!

Quackwatch’s mission statement:

I didn’t want to hijack the thread Osteopathic Medicine in GQ with my response to Lamar Mundane’s post there:

It bothers me when people characterize “skeptics” (why is this in quotes?) as people who are closed-minded. Why does the demand for substantiation of a claim mean that one is unwilling to believe anything new?

There are a few things in the above quote that I’d like to address:

How did you determine that Quackwatch was wrong in some of its conclusions but not others? In your opinion, which conclusions in particular are wrong, and why?

Got a cite for that accusation of selection bias, or any of those other “tactics”?

I don’t know anything about the Glucosamine sulfate issue, but isn’t medicine allowed to advance and incorporate new treatments as evidence is developed? Perhaps Quackwatch’s previous “hard” stance was written at a time when there was little, no, or controversial evidence for the claims made about this drug. Perhaps further that since that time, new evidence has come to light which backs up some of those claims. Isn’t a skeptic allowed to change his mind based on new evidence?

So where would you get your solid medical information?

Actually, I thought they hit some things a little too hard. I was researching something else last week, and since I am a massage therapist, I took a look at what they had to say about massage. There were a lot of refutations of outrageous claims - which is fine, except that I never make those claims in the first place. (i.e. - I can’t cure kidney stones by doing reflexology work on your feet.) None of the massage therapists I work with or know well make those claims either - there are one or two, but the MT community pretty much regards them as crackpots.

I guess my concern here was that anyone reading Quackwatch might well think that any massage therapist was one of those crackpots. I just don’t want to be painted with that broad brush.

Very good point seawitch. But it’s a fact that some massage therapists DO subscribe to those claims, and there’s no easy way for a patient to to tell which ones they are. The goal of Quackwatch is to make patients aware of the potential pitfalls. I agree that it should be emphasized that not every massage therapist is a quack.

Just because a field is labelled “questionable” on Quackwatch’s page does not necessarily mean that the authors think the field is entirely bunk. It simply means that there are some questionable aspects within that field which need to be addressed.

An example is in Quackwatch’s page on osteopathy (which is what sparked this thread).

I think in this case the author sufficiently emphasized that the majority of osteopaths do not subscribe to the questionable claims of osteopathy, even though the American Osteopathic Association endorses those claims.

OK, I’ll bite.

The reason this was put in quotes was to disassociate this person from the average skeptic. The average skeptic is not of the “throw the baby out with the bathwater” category that this guy is. He routinely trashes “alternative” therapies until they become accepted. It is one thing to be skeptical, quite another to be condescending and dismissive.

Not being a physician, it is hard for me to answer this. Other than the obvious crapscience that he attacks (which is no more than a strawman), he doesn’t draw a lot of conclusions. His tactic is guilt by association and making painting with a broad brush. For example, the link to a polemic an Deepak Chopra is labelled “Ayurvedic Mumbo-Jumbo”. It is clearly misleading plus it characterizes a theory of medicine much older than Western methods and still in widespead use today as “Mumbo-Jumbo”. Clearly perjorative.

Glucosamine sulfate significantly reduces progression of knee osteoarthritis over 3 years.
Arthritis Rheum.
1999;42(suppl 9):S400.

Sure. Drugs get withdrawn from the market all the time when found to be harmful. But shouldn’t it be acknowledged that thepreviously posted information was wrong? In the interest of pure science?

Frankly, I am not the kind of person who relies on any one source for my information. I would not rule out an entire cultures medical history because it doesn’t jive with modern science. Science will probably never corroborate the theory of “Qi”, regardless of how much evidence builds up suggesting that accupuncture works.
Finally, doesn’t the very title of his site compromise the integrity of everything you see in it, particularly in view of it’s own mission statement that you quoted? Isn’t the implication that the substances and therapies listed in the site are “frauds, myths, fads, and fallacies”?

You should have made that clear. It looked to me as if you were disparaging all skeptics.

Well, I hardly think that his trashing of alternative therapies will help get them accepted. :wink:

There is no such thing as “alternative” medicine. There is medicine which has a proven therapeutic effect, and there are techniques and claims which are unproven. As soon as a therapy is proven to work, it is accepted into the fold of modern, science-based medicine. It doesn’t matter where the therapy comes from. It doesn’t matter how many people believe in a folk tale. All that matters is that the therapy be proven to work.

Perhaps the author’s condescention and dismissiveness is symptomatic of his frustration with the agressiveness of the quacks, the gullibility of the public and the fact that the government and most of the medical community is ignoring that the public is being bilked and injured. He’s yelling “fire” and you’re asking him to be more polite about it.

Attacking crapscience is what this site is all about. It’s not a strawman, it’s the point.

Why is “Ayurvedic Mumbo-Jumbo” misleading? Why can’t a very old and widespread theory of medicine be wrong? The theory that demons were the source of illness is quite old and was accepted by most cultures at one time or another. But it’s still wrong, no matter how many people believed it or how long it’s been around.

I agree with you on this point. If the author missed evidence and was incorrect in his conclusion, he should correct that mistake.

Neither are the writers of Quackwatch. Note the extensive bibliography at the end of each article.

See above post on demons.

I completely disagree. If a science-based explanation of “Qi” is developed and verified by experiment I guarantee that it will be welcomed into the fold of conventional western science-based medicine. There will be a Nobel Prize for whoever makes that discovery and millions for the companies that develop new therapies based on it.

(Incidentally, western medicine does acknowledge that acupuncture works, after a fashion. It’s the notion of “Qi” which is rejected as having no rational basis.)

I don’t understand this. The site is called Quackwatch. Its purpose is to expose quackery.

Absolutely. But as I said before, even though there may be fraud, myth, fad, or fallacy in a particular field, this does not necessarily mean the entire field is bunk (although sometimes it is). The Quackwatch site makes this clear (at least, that’s how I read it - see my previous post to seawitch).

Well, Kamandi, maybe I can give you a better example of my objections. One of the entries in the list of fraudulent practices is for Esalen Massage. The Quackwatch site describes it as being massage combined with energy work - and energy work is a dubious practice, so I understand the inclusion.

Esalen massage is something else, however. It is a version of Swedish massage, and uses a strict choreographed series of strokes. If you get an Esalen massage anywhere in the country, it will follow the same pattern with minor variation. It’s the basis for the most common basic massage found in spas. The primary difference from the Swedish style is that it is performed less vigourously, and doesn’t include the percussion (“karate chop”) movements. I’ve never seen it advertised as including the energy work, nor do I know anyone who performs it that way.

So if I advertise that I provide Esalen massage among my services, anyone who reads Quackwatch is going to think “Aha! A perpetrator of fraud! I shall take my money elsewhere!” Admittedly, the chances of me losing a client on this basis are pretty small - but with a fledgling business, I’m a little more sensitive about the possibility.

Not to say that every entry in the site is like this. But I did have a moment of :confused: when I read that particular section.

Dr. Barrett is providing a valuable service at Quackwatch, and though I’ll accept the possibility that he in not infallible, I’m sure so would he. You will note he doesn’t just state his opinion, he supports it with cites. To essentially say, “Quackwatch is biased because he attacked [insert list of pet practices off the beaten path]” is a bit disingenuous.

Seawitch: I’m sure Esalen massage is valid and enjoyable massage technique. Unfortunately some people insist and stretching credibility with terms like ‘cranial balancing’, and ‘neural reeducation’. I think it’s fair to point out that while you may enjoy your massage, your neurons aren’t going to be reeducated. It’s a similar situation in Shiatsu, a legitimate technique, but it certainly does not harmonize your Qi or balance your Yin and Yang.

Oh, I agree. If you make an appointment with me, what you get is a damn good back rub. Your neurons are on their own.

I just don’t want to be stuck in the same catagory with the people who do claim such things. Massage technicians often call those people “idiots”. Do you use the same term in the outside world? :wink:

That’s a difficult position to be in, for sure. I would think it’s in the interest of the massage technicians who do not subscribe to quackery to do all they can to root out the quacks in their midst. Perhaps by encouraging their govening or licencing body (is there such a thing in massage?) to issue a press release condemning such practices.

I would dearly love to have a nationwide or even statewide licensing body. As it is, in many states, it goes city by city - and the requirements differ. It seems all the little municipalities don’t want to give up the business license income. It would be nice to have some unification, but it’s going to be a long tough road. It doesn’t help that “massage” parlors are everywhere - some folks think I’m a quack, and others are sure I’m a hooker. Bastards.

Back to the topic at hand - I do find Quackwatch to be useful in a lot of cases. Since I lack a medical degree, it’s nice to find someone who puts things in lay terms for me. It would be pretty rare to find a site with that much information that didn’t have a grey area here and there. A problem with one small bit of the site certainly doesn’t mean the whole thing is invalid.

I do the same thing with Dr. Barrett that I do with other sites; I don’t automatically believe everything I read, but I check cites and cross-reference with other resources to try and form the most educated opinion I can.

BTW, this is one of the most polite Pit threads I’ve ever seen. Are we breaking some rule or other?

The guy who runs quackwatch is biased and unreliable. Period.

He dismisses most alternative medicine out-of-hand, even if there is scientific data to back claims up. My proof of this is his obvious scorn for all things Chiropractic. Chiropractic has been proved many times over. Endorsed by the government, used by the military, all major sporting teams, and a large population of society.

This man has fingered them all for quacks(at least the last time I was there, 3 years ago or so).

He used Doctors’ anti-vaccination stances as an excuse to expose them and threaten their livelihoods. And yes, there is ream upon ream of information on the detrimental affects of vaccination, but I don’t wish this thread to turn into an argument about it.

He IS close-minded, and his site is misleading to people who are looking for information on alternatives. You’d think the world of alternative medicine went and lost it’s fucking mind by the tone of his site.


GaWd: Proof you say? Which specific chiropractic claims has Quackwatch dismissed out of hand for which you can prove efficacy? Just your saying so isn’t proof enough for this skeptic. Chiropractic medicine has certain proven uses; but some practitioners make outlandish claims, so you need to be specific.

Same goes for vaccinations. Which specific vaccinations are you statistically safer not receiving?

Look the trouble with vaccinations is that they carry some risk. If everyone else gets vaccinated and you don’t you aren’t exposed to that risk, and you are also protected from the disease, since everyone else is immune and not contagious. So you are safer not to get the vaccine, but only if everyone else gets it.

If no one else is vaccinated, then you are much safer getting the vaccination, since you run a large risk of contracting the disease. At some point, the curves intersect, depending on how virulent the disease is, how common it is, and the degree of side effects of the vaccine. Let’s just guess that for most diseases if 99% of the population is vaccinated then you are probably safer not getting vaccinated. The trouble is if everyone makes that decision, then the vaccination rate drops and you are exposing yourself to greater risk by not getting vaccinated.

In the interest of public health, we require everyone to get vaccinated for certain diseases because of this “free rider” effect. We have a public interest in making sure the vast majority of people are immune. No vaccination, no public school since you are exposing everyone else who isn’t vaccinated to danger by not being vaccinated.

Vaccines have been so useful against infectious diseases that the anti-vaccine people have forgotten how horrible the diseases they protect against are. Since they’ve never seen an epidemic of polio they figure it isn’t a real risk. And we do see people getting sick from vaccines every day. Which leads them to make a bad cost-benefit analysis.

Now, back to quackery. We need to agressively combat quack medicine. It isn’t enough just to sit back and let people make up their own minds. Anyone who knows anything about the history of medicine knows how pervasive worthless treatments have been. And very many of those worthless treatments have been advocated by doctors, from bleeding to lobotomy.

How can we separate the worthless treatments from the effective treatments? There are so many ways people get sick. They are given treatments and sometimes they get better, sometimes they stay the same, sometimes they get worse. Caregivers have a huge stake in believing their treatments work. Patients are desperate for relief. If only there were some way that we could, I don’t know, CONTROL other factors and test which treatments worked and which didn’t. But luckily we have such a method. This method is known as science.

There is no such thing as conventional medicine and alternative medicine. There are really three types of medicine. Scientifically proven medicine, experimental medicine, and quack medicine.

Since we are undergoing a cyclical surge in quack medicines, doesn’t it make sense to agressively educate people on which medicines are known to be quackery? People DIE from quack medicine. This isn’t just a game, it isn’t just a question of you believe your thing and I’ll believe my thing, these are questions of life and death.

Careful about the way you’re assessing vaccinations, Waverly. Many vaccines protect even unvaccinated individuals through herd immunity. When a large enough fraction of individuals are vaccinated, it becomes very difficult for diseases to spread because there are not enough carriers.

I don’t know the numbers but, for example, an unvaccinated child has a very small chance of contracting mumps, because such a large fraction of children are vaccinated. Also, there is a small chance of complications from an MMR vaccination (not to even raise the spectre of Downs.) So from the point of view of an individual parent trying to protect an individual child, it may be (again, I don’t know the number) that the child has a smaller chance of negative outcome by forgoing vaccination.

Note, however, that if enough parents decide not to vaccinate their children, herd immunity evaporates and suddenly kids start getting mumps again. (And, in that case, interestingly enough, vaccination swings back to being a selfish , rather than largely altruistic act.)

As I said before, I refuse to turn this thread into an argument over vaccination vs. not. Let’s just say I have enough experience to know that vaccinations can maim and kill children. I guess for most people a few kids killed to save the rest is ok…but not for me.

As for Chiropractic “claims”, I discussed none, but Mr. Quackwatch dismisses all chiropractors. Do you deny the scientifically proven claims of Chiropractic? Yes, there are many. Do some research, because it’s surely not worth wasting my keystrokes on someone
who has made up his mind already.

Thankfully, this isn’t GD, and we won’t be hearing “cite please”. I offered my opinion on the quack that is Quackwatch.

Out of the hundreds of chirporactors I’ve known and worked with, I’ve known 2 who had opinions unsupported by research. One was run out of several states for being a quack(this was the very early 80’s), and the other is still in practice. How the quackwatch guy finds his “quacks” I’ll never know.


It started out in IMHO. I don’t know why it was moved to the Pit. Probably because of the rather inflammatory title. No big deal to me, but it does invite people such as GaWd to post such nonsense as:

If you’re not prepared to back up what you say, then your opinion is worthless. If you want your claim to be taken seriously, you’ll provide a cite, Pit or no Pit.
As the OP I’d like to urge people to try to keep this discussion civil. We don’t have to act like children just because we’re in the Pit.

GaWd: It sounds like you have had experience with someone getting ill from a vaccination. I’m very sorry to hear that, but I hope you realize the pitfalls of anecdotal evidence. Thanks to Lemur and Podkayne for correctly pointing out that a comprehensive immunization policy has effects beyond the individual.

Re Chiropractic medicine: This may not be great debates, but nor is it an opinion survey. We are fighting ignorance here, no? In that spirit, I don’t find your personal associations with chiropractors to be a compelling reason to call Dr. Barrett a quack.

Yes, for most people the fewer the kids killed the better. Vaccinate all kids: a tiny fraction dies from side effects. Don’t vaccinate any kids: a larger fraction dies from (e.g.) smallpox.

Kids dying from side effects due to vaccination is tragic and horrible, but doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have vaccinations.

Also, chalk me up as someone who would be interested in hearing some facts to back up your claims regarding chiropractic medicine.

Yes Waverly, I do have experienced what a specific immunization can do to a child’s health. Lifelong Allergies in a family with low allergies. Lifelong Learning disabilities in a family with none. A seizure disorder in a family with no occurences of it.

Unfortunately, that kid was me. Suggesting the studies I was personally put through to be “anecdotal” is an insult. THere is much information on this subject as well. And Waverly I was just using the term Quack as lightly as Dr. Barret uses it.

No, ya dumbfuck, it’s an opinion. It requires no backing up, hence the use of the word opinion, not fact. I’d throw down with a definition right now, but I figure there’s no use for that. You seem almost intelligent enough to know that an opinion needs no cite or fact.

If some would like, I will get some sources in the next few days and send them P-mail, but I long ago tired of arguing on messageboards about my personal beliefs on these two specific matters.

I’ve surfed through a small portion of the Quackwatch site looking for information on herbalism and related therapies, and the site strikes as providing helpful, well-documented information. The "mission statement(s) include an avowal that the site has and will continue to go after big drug companies that market unproven remedies, and physicians’ groups that are not vigilant enough in protecting public safety. This would suggest that the founders are not merely interested in picking on “alternative” medicine practitioners.

When you go after fast-buck promoters of quack cures, you upset a lot of people, some of them sufferers of chronic conditions who are desperate for relief that traditional medicine can’t always offer. If sites such as this can debunk worthless and expensive remedies and convince at least some people to seek the best possible medical help, they’re doing a valuable job.