Frequently Asked Questions about My Activities

Stephen Barrett, M.D.
September 19, 2020
How did you become interested in this subject? Did some experience make you bitter? Were you a victim of quackery yourself?

I have never been seriously victimized in any way and am a very upbeat person. I grew up in a family atmosphere that placed great value on education, science, and fair play. My interest in quackery began by accident and was not related to any strong feeling on the subject. During the mid-1960s, I read two books that irritated me greatly. One was about the government’s struggle to clean up the patent medicine fraud that was rampant during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The other described how chiropractors had achieved legal recognition even though the theory behind their work was nonsense. When I voiced my concern to my local medical society president, he suggested that I organize a committee focused on quackery. Further discussion led us to form a group that was broad-based rather than composed just of medical doctors. The more we looked at, the more deeply I became concerned.

During the mid-1970s, I began writing about what I found and gradually evolved into a medical writer and editor. As I did so, I gradually reduced my psychiatric work until 1993, when I retired so I could spend more time writing about my findings. The original committee, renamed Quackwatch in 1997, has evolved into an informal network of individuals who provide help when asked.

What prompted you to start the Quackwatch Web site?

My intent was to provide source material for students and instructors who were using my Consumer Health textbook. But when I grasped the importance of the Internet, I decided to do much more.

What qualifies you to write on so many topics?

My medical education has provided the background to understand most aspects of health, disease, and health care. Many experts are available to review what I write and answer questions that come up. The most convenient is my wife, who happens to be a very scholarly family physician. Much of my writing is based on my own investigations of the health marketplace. My resource library contains thousands of books, tapes, and periodicals and more than 100,000 miscellaneous documents collected since the early 1970s.

Do you have a healthy lifestyle? What do you eat? What do you do for fitness?

My lifestyle is quite healthy. My diet is 10%-15% fat and adequate in fiber. To keep fit, I do 2-4 sessions of swimming and two sessions of strength training plus walking per week. My program has resulted in excellent cholesterol levels (TC 132, LDL 62, HDL 61, TG 43 when last checked) and a resting pulse of 52, which reflects a high level of fitness. After moving to North Carolina in 2007, I began swimming competitively and have won 140 state championship events, 46 awards in national events, and 16 medals in international events and have set 19 state records.

What are your goals?

I hope to promote accurate health information and increase consumer protection in the marketplace. I focus on attacking misinformation because very few people are doing that. But our Internet Health Pilot site helps to promote high-quality information by steering consumers to sites that provide it. I am also campaigning for lower drug costs.

What is the status of your medical license?

In 1993, I decided to devote my full energy to investigating and writing about quackery and inactivated my Pennsylvania license. Since 1999, there has been an organized attempt to destroy my reputation by falsely describing my status as “de-licensed”—a derogatory term that means having one’s licensed revoked for misconduct. I have committed no misconduct and retired in good standing. Since I no longer see patients, I have no need for a license. I sued several of the people who libeled me by calling me “de-licensed.”

If a doctor says that a patient is terminally ill and nothing more can be done, would you recommend rolling over and dying rather than trying an alternative? Is that what you would do for yourself?

I recommend taking whatever steps are needed to determine the accuracy of the “terminally ill” prognosis. If it is correct, I would recommend spending the remaining time in the most productive way. In my own case, I would eat pizza (which I gave up many years ago to protect my coronary arteries), place my affairs in order, and continue to write about the topics I believe are most important. I would not waste 10 cents or 10 minutes looking for something that does not exist.

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