The Significance of the HONcode Principles

Stephen Barrett, M.D.
September 23, 2014

Quackwatch and its affiated sites adhere to the HONcode principles of the Geneva-based Health On the Net Foundation. These principles have evolved from discussions with Webmasters and medical professionals in several countries. These principles are sound, but compliance is voluntary and some sites displaying the code contain untrustworthy information or link to other sites that contain unreliable information.

To be certified by HON, a Web site must formally apply for registration. If accepted, it must subsequently comply with all the principles enumerated in the HONcode. When a noncompliant site is reported, HONcode officials ask that the logo be removed—and most sites comply. You can confirm that a site is registered by clicking on the HONcode seal, which should be linked to a registration status report on the HON site.

The HON Foundation has been reviewing web sites and posting the results of its reviews. However, some of reviews of sites providing unreliable information on “alternative” methods have been descriptive rather than critical—and thus offer little or no guidance to readers. Nor does its search engine limit its searches to reliable sites. HON officials are well aware of these problems and have indicated some interest in fixing them.

The Quackwatch Web site was launched in December 1996. Our other sites are:

  • Acupuncture Watch (started 2/05): The skeptical guide to acupuncture history, theories, and practices
  • Allergy Watch (8/07): Your guide to questionable theories and practices.
  • Autism Watch (7/04): Your scientific guide to autism
  • Cancer Treatment Watch (8/05): Your guide to sensible cancer treatment
  • Casewatch (7/04): Your guide to health fraud- and quackery-related legal matters
  • Chelation Watch (7/04): A skeptical view of chelation therapy
  • Chirobase (10/98): Your skeptical guide to chiropractic history, theories, and practices
  • Credential Watch (2/05): Your guide to health-related education and training
  • Dental Watch (6/02): Your guide to intelligent dental care
  • Device Watch (7/04): Your guide to questionable medical devices
  • Diet Scam Watch (11/04): Your guide to weight-control schemes and ripoffs
  • Fibromyalgia Watch (1/11): Guide to the fibromyalgia marketplace
  • Homeowatch (11/01): Your skeptical guide to homeopathic history, theories, and practices
  • Infomercial Watch (7/04): A critical view of the health infomercial marketplace
  • Internet Health Pilot (1/02): Your gateway to reliable health information
  • Insurance Reform Watch (4/09): Your guide to an equitable health care system
  • Mental Health Watch (7/04): Your guide to the mental help marketplace
  • MLM Watch (1/99): The skeptical guide to multilevel marketing
  • Naturowatch (6/03): The skeptical guide to naturopathic history, theories, and practices
  • NCCAM Watch (11/05): An antidote to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
  • Nutriwatch (3/00): Your guide to sensible nutrition
  • Pharmwatch (8/05): Your guide to the drug marketplace and lower costs

Here are HON’s principles followed by a bracketed description of how we comply with them.

Principle 1

Any medical advice provided and hosted on this site will only be given by medically trained and qualified professionals unless a clear statement is made that a piece of advice offered is from a non-medically qualified individual/organization. [Nearly all articles on Quackwatch and its affiliated sites are written by or with the help of experts.]

Principle 2

The information provided on this site is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient/site visitor and his/her existing physician. [The mission of our sites is to help people make intyelligent decisions about health matters. Some of our information can enhance discussion with competent health professionals. However, articles about irrational practices may provide reason to seek care elsewhere.]

Principle 3

Confidentiality of data relating to individual patients and visitors to a medical Website, including their identity, is respected by this Website. The Website owners undertake to honor or exceed the legal requirements of medical information privacy that apply in the country and state where the Website and mirror sites are located. [Our sites collect no electronic or personal data from visitors and do not reveal individual medical information without permission. Comments about our sites sent by e-mail may be posted without revealing the identity of the sender.]

Principle 4

Where appropriate, information contained on this site will be supported by clear references to source data and, where possible, have specific HTML links to that data. [Whenever possible, our references are linked to their abstracts on PubMed, which enables browsers to quickly find related citations. Quackwatch’s FAQ section discusses the factors that influence whether our articles are peer-reviewed and/or referenced.]

Principle 5

Any claims relating to the benefits/performance of a specific treatment, commercial product, or service will be supported by appropriate, balanced evidence in the manner outlined in Principle 4 above. [The only products we market are publications. All income from the sale of these items is used to fight quackery.]

Principle 6

The designers of this Website will seek to provide information in the clearest possible manner and provide contact addresses for visitors that seek further information or support. The Webmaster’s E-mail address will be clearly displayed throughout the Website. [We prefer that visitors read our instructions before sending any messages. Links to our page from which comments and questions can be sent are provided at the top and bottom of our home page and on other pages with information about Quackwatch or Dr. Barrett.]

Principle 7

Support for this Website will be clearly identified, including the identities of commercial and noncommercial organizations that have contributed funding, services, or material for the site. [Quackwatch’s funding page provides this information.]

Principle 8

If advertising is a source of funding it will be clearly stated. A brief description of the advertising policy adopted by the Website owners will be displayed on the site. Advertising and other promotional material will be presented to viewers in a manner and context that facilitates differentiation between it and the original material created by the institution operating the site. [Any ads or sponsored links that we carry are clearly identified as such. Our recommended links are for products and/or services from companies that I believe offer exceptional value. Some pay a monthly fee or a commission for products offered, but others are listed simply because I like them. This income helps cover the cost of our research and site maintenance. We do not accept advertising from companies that I do not personally endorse. The advertisers, of course, have no influence on what we write about.]

Reporting Violations

HON asks members of the Net community who consider a Website displaying the HONcode logo to be blatantly violating any of these principles to notify the Webmaster/owner of that site by email with a copy to (If you see any, please also notify Quackwatch.) HON states that if a violation is reported, the Health On the Net Foundation will ask the site owner to make appropriate modifications. HON also states if the modifications are not made, the site owner will be instructed to remove the logo and that failure to do so will result in “appropriate action.” Most sites receiving such notices comply with them.

For Additional Information

This page was revised on September 23, 2014.