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Quackwatch, Inc.

Quackwatch logo
Formation 1969 (website in 1996)
Type Non-profit organization
Location USA
Official languages English
Chairman Stephen Barrett

Quackwatch Inc. is an American non-profit organization founded by Stephen Barrett that states its mission is to "combat health-related frauds, myths, fads, fallacies, and misconduct" with a primary focus on providing "quackery-related information that is difficult or impossible to get elsewhere."[1][2] Since 1996 it has operated a website,, that advises the public on unproven or ineffective alternative medicine remedies.[3] The site contains articles and other information criticizing many forms of alternative medicine.[4][5][6 ]

Quackwatch has received several awards and has been recognized in the media.[7] The success of Quackwatch has generated the creation of other related sites.[8] Numerous sources cite as a practical source for online consumer information. The site has been questioned by supporters and practitioners of various forms of alternative medicine that are criticized on the website.[9][10][11]



Founded in 1969 by Stephen Barrett, M.D., the Lehigh Valley Committee Against Health Fraud was incorporated in the state of Pennsylvania in 1970.[12 ] In 1996, the corporation began the website, and the organization itself was renamed Quackwatch, Inc. in 1997 as its website attracted attention.[2] Quackwatch is closely affiliated with the National Council Against Health Fraud.[13]

Mission and scope

Quackwatch is overseen by Barrett, its chairman, with input from a board of advisors and help from volunteers, including a number of medical professionals.[14] As of 2003, Quackwatch engaged the services of over 150 scientific and technical advisors: 67 medical advisors, 12 dental advisors, 13 mental health advisors, 16 nutrition and food science advisors, 3 podiatry advisors, 8 veterinary advisors, and 33 other "scientific and technical advisors" were listed.[15] Many reputable professionals have signed on to contribute to the site in their field of expertise.[8]

Quackwatch describes its mission as follows:

"...investigating questionable claims, answering inquiries about products and services, advising quackery victims, distributing reliable publications, debunking pseudoscientific claims, reporting illegal marketing, improving the quality of health information on the internet, assisting or generating consumer-protection lawsuits, and attacking misleading advertising on the internet."[2]

Quackwatch states that there are no salaried employees, and a total cost of operating all of Quackwatch's sites is approximately $7,000 per year. It is funded mainly by small individual donations, commissions from sales on other sites to which they refer, profits from the sale of publications, and self-funding by Barrett. Stated income is also derived from usage of sponsored links, including,, HealthGrades, Inc, and Netflix.[2]

Site content

The Quackwatch website contains many essays and white papers, intended for the non-specialist consumer, written by Barrett, a board of advisors, and other writers. The articles discuss health-related products, treatments, enterprises, and providers which Quackwatch deems to be misleading, fraudulent or ineffective. Also included are links to article sources and both internal and external resources for further study.

The site is especially critical of products, services, and theories that it considers questionable, dubious, and/or dangerous, including:[16]

The website provides information about specific people who perform, market, and advocate therapies it considers dubious, including in many cases details of convictions for past marketing fraud. It maintains lists of sources, individuals, and groups it considers questionable and non-recommendable.[29][30] Its lists includes two-time Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling (for his claims about mega-doses of Vitamin C), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Center for Alternative and Complementary Medicine, and integrative medicine proponent Andrew Weil.[31][32]

The site is part of a network of related sites, including Homeowatch (on homeopathy), Credential Watch (devoted to exposing degree mills), Chirobase (specifically devoted to chiropractic), each devoted to specific topics.[33][34][35][36][37]'s articles are reviewed by the medical advisory board upon request[2] and many of its articles cite peer-reviewed research.[8] According to a review in Running & FitNews, the site "also provides links to hundreds of trusted health sites."[38 ] The site focuses on combating health-related frauds, myths, fads, and fallacies that is hard to find elsewhere.[39]

The site is also available in German, French, and Portuguese, and also available via several mirrors, including and[40][41][42][43][44]


Mention in the media, reviews and journals

Quackwatch has been mentioned in the media, reviews and various journals, as well as receiving several awards and honors.[7][8][45] In 1998, Quackwatch was recognized by the Journal of the American Medical Association as one of nine "select sites that provide reliable health information and resources."[46] It was also listed as one of three medical sites in U.S. News & World Report's "Best of the Web" in 1999.[47] A web site review by Forbes magazine stated:

"Dr. Stephen Barrett, a psychiatrist, seeks to expose unproven medical treatments and possible unsafe practices through his homegrown but well-organized site. Mostly attacking alternative medicines, homeopathy and chiropractors, the tone here can be rather harsh. However, the lists of sources of health advice to avoid, including books, specific doctors and organizations, are great for the uninformed. Barrett received an FDA Commissioner's Special Citation Award for fighting nutrition quackery in 1984. BEST: Frequently updated, but also archives of relevant articles that date back at least four years. WORST: Lists some specific doctors and organizations without explaining the reason for their selection."[48]

Citations by journalists

Quackwatch has also been cited or mentioned by journalists in reports on therapeutic touch, Vitamin O, Almon Glenn Braswell's baldness treatments, dietary supplements, Robert Barefoot's coral calcium claims, William C. Rader's "stem cell" therapy, noni juice, shark cartilage, and infomercials.[49] The site's opinion on a US government report on complementary medicine was mentioned in a news report in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.[50] Sources that mention as a resource for consumer information include the United States Department of Agriculture, the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, The Lancet, the Journal of Marketing Education, the Medical Journal of Australia, the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the Skeptic’s Dictionary, and the Diet Channel.[51] Websites of libraries across the United States of America, include links to Quackwatch as a source for consumer information.[52] In addition, several nutrition associations link to Quackwatch.[53] An article in PC World listed it as one of three websites for finding the truth about Internet rumours,[54] and WebMD listed it as one of eight organizations to contact with questions about a product.[55] In a Washington Post review of alternative medicine websites, the introduction rated Quackwatch as offering "better truth-squadding than the Food and Drug Administration or the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine."[56]

American Cancer Society

The American Cancer Society lists Quackwatch as one of ten reputable sources of information about Alternative and Complementary Therapies in their book Cancer Medicine,[57] and includes it in a list of sources for information about Alternative & Complementary Therapies in an article about on-line cancer information and support.[58] In a long series of articles on various alternative medicine methods, it uses Quackwatch as a reference and includes criticisms of the methods.[59]

Health On the Net Foundation (HONcode)

The Health On the Net Foundation, which confers the HONcode "Code of Conduct" certification to reliable sources of health information in cyberspace, directly recommends Quackwatch,[60] and has stated about Quackwatch:

"On the positive side, “four web sites stand out” from the rest for the exemplary quality of their information and treatments:,, and Three sites,, and are HONcode certified by the Health On the Net Foundation."[61]

Their website also uses Quackwatch extensively as a recommended source on various health-related topics.[62] It also advises internet users to alert Quackwatch:

"If you come across a healthcare Web site that you believe is either possibly or blatantly fraudulent and does NOT display the HONcode, please alert Quackwatch. Of course, if such a site DOES display the HONcode, alert us immediately."[63]

Gold standard in 2007 feasibility study

In a 2007 feasibility study on a method for identifying web pages that make unproven claims, the authors wrote:

"Our gold standard relied on selected unproven cancer treatments identified by experts at The website is maintained by a 36 year old nonprofit organization whose mission is to “combat health related frauds, myths, fads, fallacies, and misconduct.” The group employs a 152 person scientific and technical advisory board composed of academic and private physicians, dentists, mental health advisors, registered dietitians, podiatrists, veterinarians, and other experts whom review health related claims. By using unproven treatments identified by an oversight organization, we capitalized on an existing high quality review."[64]

Site reviews

The Good Web Guide of the United Kingdom said Quackwatch "is without doubt an important and useful information resource and injects a healthy dose of scepticism into reviewing popular health information" but is "firmly anti-holistic medicine".[5] Cunningham and Marcason in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association described Quackwatch as "useful",[65] while Wallace and Kimball, in the Medical Journal of Australia, described the site as "objective".[66] The Rough Guide To The Internet writes "don't buy anything until you've looked it up on Quackwatch, a good place to separate the docs from the ducks."[67]

Waltraud Ernst, Professor in the History of Medicine at Oxford Brookes University,[68] has some personal objections to the work of those who criticize alternative medicine, but she still commends "Barrett's concern for unsubstantiated promotion and hype," and states that "Barrett's concern for fraudulent and potentially dangerous medical practices is important."[69]

A review paper in the Annals of Oncology identified Quackwatch as an outstanding complementary medicine information source for cancer patients.[70]

The Handbook of Nutrition and Food explains "Maintaining adequate nutrition is important for general health of cancer patients, as it is with all patients, and diet plays a role in preventing certain cancers. However, no diet or dietary supplement product has been proven to improve the outcome of an established cancer. Detailed information on today's questionable cancer methods is available on the Quackwatch web site".[71]

Steven L. Brown states "Dr. Stephen Barrett's website provides excellent, detailed, well-researched, and documented information about alternative therapies that have been disproved."[72]

Journalist John MacDonald, writing for the Khaleej Times, called Quackwatch "a voice of reason on everything from the effectiveness of alternative medicine to the validity of popular diet gurus, and the various kinds of medical quackery that are being marketed to consumers".[73]

The 2009 Internet Directory advised that "Have you ever read a health article or had a friend suggest a remedy that sounded too good to be true? Then check it out on Quackwatch before you shell out any money or risk your health to try it. Here you will find a skeptical friend to help you sort out what's true from what is not when it comes to your physical well-being."[74]

The book Chronic Pain For Dummies says "Although many reliable resources are on the Internet, including those we list in this chapter, sadly, far too many sites offer only incorrect and/or outdated information, and many are downright hoaxes designed to sell empty promises. Make sure you gather information only from reliable resources. Two good sites for checking out possible hoaxes are and"[75]

The Arthritis Helpbook articulated that "Addresses ending in .edu, .org, and .gov are generally more objective and reliable; they originate from universities, nonprofit organizations, and governmental agencies. Some .com sites can also be good, but because they come from commercial or for-profit organizations, their information might be biased, as they might be trying to promote or sell their own products. One good source for information about questionable treatments is, a nonprofit corporation whose purpose is to combat health-related frauds, myths, and fallacies ( They also have other sites that are accessible from Quackwatch."[76]

Katherine Chauncey writes "The main purpose of Quackwatch ( is to combat fraud, myths, fads, and fallacies in the health field. This is a hard-hitting site developed by Stephen Barrett, MD. Not only is quackery-related information targeted, but quack individuals are named. You'll find information here that you won't find anywhere else. One of the goals of the site is to improve the quality of information on the Internet. Just reviewing this site will show you how to recognize information that may be coming from dubious sources."[77]

In a The Consultant Pharmacist review, pharmacist Bao-Anh Nguyen-Khoa characterized Quackwatch as "relevant for both consumers and professionals". Nguyen-Khoa noted two Quackwatch articles to be of interest to consultant pharmacists - "Selling of Dubious Products" about pharmacists stocking and recommending alternative products that they have poor knowledge of because of the high profit margin, and "Misuse of Compounding" about some pharmacies compounding readily available commercial products because the ingredients may be less expensive. Nguyen-Khoa remarked that the "site makes an effort to cross-reference keywords with other articles and link its citations to the Medline abstract from the National Library of Medicine". Even though the site has received praise from reputable reviewers and rating services, Nguyen stated that so many articles are written by one author (Barrett) left one sensing a lack of fair balance in Barrett's condemnation of many dubious health therapies. According to Nguyen-Khoa "Steps to correct this are under way, as many reputable professionals have signed on to populate the site in their areas of expertise." Nguyen-Khoa stated that the implementation of a peer review process would improve the site's legitimacy. Nguyen-Khoa stated the success of Quackwatch has generated two new related sites from the author: Chirobase, established to provide information about chiropractic not easily found in consumer literature, and MLM Watch, conceived as a skeptic’s guide to multi-level marketing. [8]

Barrett's Quackwatch is critical of alternative medicine.[10][11] Donna Ladd, a journalist with the alternative weekly The Village Voice, says Barrett depends heavily on negative research and case studies in which alternative therapies do not work, and says most positive case studies are unreliable. "It's easy to look at something like chiropractic, see what they're doing, and describe what they're doing wrong," Barrett says, adding that he does not criticize conventional medicine because "that's way outside my scope." She further wrote that Barrett says most alternative therapies simply should be disregarded without further research. "A lot of things don't need to be tested [because] they simply don't make any sense," he says, pointing to homeopathy, chiropractic, and acupuncture.[10]

The former U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Science Panel on Interactive Communication and Health[78] named Quackwatch as a credible source for exposing fraudulent online health information in 1999. Dr. Thomas R. Eng, the director of the panel's study, later stated, "The government doesn't endorse Web sites." Still, he said, "[Quackwatch] is the only site I know of right now looking at issues of fraud and health on the Internet."[10]

See also


  1. ^ Barrett, M.D., Stephen. "Biographical Sketch". Quackwatch. Retrieved 2008-07-10.  
  2. ^ a b c d e Barrett SJ. "Quackwatch - Mission Statement". Quackwatch. Retrieved 2007-02-12.  
  3. ^ Baldwin, Fred D. "If It Quacks Like a Duck ...". MedHunters. Retrieved 2008-02-01.  
  4. ^ Barrett SJ. " main page". Quackwatch. Retrieved 2007-02-12.  
  5. ^ a b The Good Web Guide. Retrieved on September 14, 2007.
  6. ^ Politzer, M. Eastern Medicine Goes West. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved on September 14, 2007.
  7. ^ a b Quackwatch: Awards and honors
  8. ^ a b c d e Nguyen-Khoa, Bao-Anh (July 1999). "Selected Web Site Reviews —". The Consultant Pharmacist. Retrieved 2007-01-25.  
  9. ^ Jaroff, Leon (April 30, 2001). "The Man Who Loves To Bust Quacks". Time Magazine.,9171,1101010430-107254,00.html. Retrieved 2007-08-16.  
  10. ^ a b c d Ladd, Donna (June 22, 1999). "Dr. Who? Diagnosing Medical Fraud May Require a Second Opinion". The Village Voice.,ladd,6617,8.html. Retrieved July 14, 2008.  
  11. ^ a b Hufford DJ. David J Hufford, "Symposium article: Evaluating Complementary and Alternative Medicine: The Limits of Science and Scientists." J Law, Medicine & Ethics, 31 (2003): 198-212. Hufford's symposium presentation was the counterpoint for another doctor's presentation, which argued that "alternative medicine" is not medicine at all. See Lawrence J. Schneiderman, "Symposium article: The (Alternative) Medicalization of Life." J Law, Medicine & Ethics, 31 (2003): 191-198.
  12. ^ Pennsylvania Department of State — Corporations
  13. ^ "Quackwatch home page". Quackwatch. Retrieved 2007-11-04.  
  14. ^ Rosen, Marjorie (October 1998). "Interview with Stephen Barrett, M.D.". Biography Magazine. Retrieved 2007-02-12.  
  15. ^ Barrett SJ. "Scientific and technical advisors". Quackwatch. Retrieved 2007-02-12.  
  16. ^ Barrett, Stephen. "Quackwatch — listing criticisms of several practices". Your Guide to Quackery, Health Fraud, and Intelligent Decisions (Quackwatch). Retrieved 2007-07-17.  
  17. ^ Barrett, S. "Algae: False Claims and Hype" Retrieved 17 July 2007
  18. ^ Barrett, S. "The "Mercury Toxicity" Scam: How Anti-Amalgamists Swindle People" Retrieved 17 July 2007
  19. ^ Barrett, S. "Be Wary of "Alternative" Health Methods" Retrieved 17 July 2007
  20. ^ Worrall, Nevyas, Barrett. "Eye-Related Quackery" Retrieved 17 July 2007
  21. ^ Barrett, S. "Be Wary of Acupuncture, Qigong, and "Chinese Medicine"" Retrieved 17 July 2007
  22. ^ Barrett, S. "Don't Let Chiropractors Fool You" Retrieved 27 November 2007
  23. ^ Barrett, S. "Gastrointestinal Quackery: Colonics, Laxatives, and More" Retrieved 17 July 2007
  24. ^ Barrett, S. ""Dietary Supplements," Herbs, and Hormones" Retrieved 17 July 2007
  25. ^ a b Barrett, S. "The Shady Side of Embryonic Stem Cell Therapy" Retrieved 17 July 2007
  26. ^ Barrett, S. "The Herbal Minefield" Retrieved 17 July 2007
  27. ^ Barrett, S. "Homeopathy: The Ultimate Fake" Retrieved 17 July 2007
  28. ^ Barrett, S. "A Close Look at Naturopathy" Retrieved 17 July 2007
  29. ^ Barrett SJ. "Nonrecommended Sources of Health Advice". Quackwatch. Retrieved 2007-02-12.  
  30. ^ Barrett SJ. "Questionable Organizations: An Overview". Quackwatch. Retrieved 2007-02-12.  
  31. ^ Barrett SJ. "The Dark Side of Linus Pauling's Legacy". Quackwatch. Retrieved 2007-02-12.  
  32. ^ Relman AS. "A Trip to Stonesville: Some Notes on Andrew Weil". New Republic. Retrieved 2007-02-12.  
  33. ^ Homeowatch
  34. ^ Credential Watch
  35. ^ Chirobase
  36. ^ Victims of Chiropractic
  37. ^ There are 22 web sites affiliated with Quackwatch. "Together, these have over 4,000 pages and cover thousands of topics."
  38. ^ "Cutting through the haze of health marketing claims". Thomson Gale (Running & FitNews). Sept-October, 2007. Retrieved 2008-02-01.  
  39. ^ Chris Sherman (2005). Google Power: Unleash the Full Potential of Google (1st ed.). McGraw-Hill Osborne Media. pp. 268. ISBN 0-07225-787-3.  
  40. ^ Quackwatch auf Deutsch
  41. ^ Quackwatch en Français
  42. ^ Quackwatch em Português
  43. ^
  44. ^
  45. ^ Sprott's Spots Award Winners
  46. ^ JAMA Patient Page - Click here: How to find reliable online health information and resources, Journal of the American Medical Association 280:1380, 1998.
  47. ^ U.S. News & World Report: The Best of The Web Gets Better
  48. ^, Best of the Web website reviews: Quackwatch.
  49. ^ Journalist mentions of Quackwatch criticisms of:
  50. ^ Reynolds Tom, White House Report on Alternative Medicine Draws Criticism, JNCI Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2002 94(9):646-648 doi:10.1093/jnci/94.9.646
  51. ^ Sources that mention as a resource for consumer information:
  52. ^ "Southwest Public Libraries". Retrieved 2007-09-12.  
     •"National Network of Libraries of Medicine". Evaluating Health Web Sites, Consumer Health Manual (National Library of Medicine). Retrieved 2007-09-12.  
     •"VCU Libraries". Complementary and Alternative Medicine Resource Guide — Fraud and Quackery Resources (Virginia Commonwealth University). Retrieved 2007-09-12.  
     •"Rutgers University Libraries". Finding What You Want on the Web: A Guide (Rutgers University Libraries). Retrieved 2007-09-12.  
     •"USC Libraries — Electronic Resources — Quackwatch". University of Southern California. Retrieved 2007-09-12.  
     •"Medical Center Library". University of Kentucky Libraries. Retrieved 2007-09-12.  
  53. ^ "Research". Texas Dietetic Association. November 6, 2007. Retrieved 2008-02-01.  
     •"Nutrition Resources". Illinois Dietetic Association. 2005. Retrieved 2008-02-01.  
     •"Links". Greater New York Dietetic Association. Retrieved 2008-02-01.  
     •"Nutrition Links". Maryland Dietetic Association. Retrieved 2008-02-01.  
     •"Professional Resources — Health Quackery". American Dietetic Association (Diabetes Care and Education). 2007. Retrieved 2008-02-01.  
  54. ^ Robert Luhn, "Best Free Stuff on the Web," PC World Jun 30, 2003
  55. ^ Health Quackery: Spotting Health Scams -- WebMD Public Information from the National Institutes of Health" WebMD
  56. ^ Leslie Walker. Alternative Medicine Sites. Washington Post, March 26, 1999
  57. ^ Reputable Sources of Information about Alternative and Complementary Therapies - American Cancer Society
  58. ^ Cancer Information & Support Available Online - American Cancer Society
  59. ^ A list of articles on many forms of alternative medicine on the American Cancer Society website that use Quackwatch as a source.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17][18][19][20]
  60. ^ Can you give some examples of charlatans and fraud on the health Internet? Health On the Net Foundation
  61. ^ Poor Quality Websites on CAM dangerous for cancer patients. Health On the Net Foundation
  62. ^ Search of Health On the Net Foundation website for use of Quackwatch
  63. ^ How to be a vigilant user. Health On the Net Foundation
  64. ^ Aphinyanaphongs Y, Aliferis C. Text categorization models for identifying unproven cancer treatments on the web. Stud Health Technol Inform. 2007;129(Pt 2):968-72. PMID: 17911859
  65. ^ Eleese Cunningham, Wendy Marcason. Internet hoaxes: How to spot them and how to debunk them. American Dietetic Association. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Chicago: Apr 2001. Vol. 101, Iss. 4; pp. 460 - 1. Cunningham and Marcason state that “Two Web sites that can be useful in determining hoaxes are and”
  66. ^ Wallace Sampson, Kimball Atwood IV. Propagation of the Absurd: demarcation of the Absurd revisited. Medical Journal of Australia. Pyrmont: Dec 5-Dec 19, 2005. Vol. 183, Iss. 11/12; pg. 580 - 1. Sampson states that “CAM source information tends to exclude well known critical and objective web pages such as those found on Quackwatch (”
  67. ^ Peter Buckley, Duncan Clark (2007). "Thing to do online". The Rough Guide To The Internet (13th ed.). Rough Guides. pp. 273. ISBN 1-84353-839-3.  
  68. ^ "Waltraud Ernst". Retrieved 2009-09-21.  
  69. ^ Ernst, Waltraud (2002). Plural medicine, tradition and modernity, 1800-2000. New York: Routledge. p. 230. ISBN 0-415-23122-1.  
  70. ^ Schmidt K, Ernst E (May 2004). "Assessing websites on complementary and alternative medicine for cancer". Ann. Oncol. 15 (5): 733–42. doi:10.1093/annonc/mdh174. PMID 15111340.  
  71. ^ Carolyn D. Berdanier (2001). "More Ploys That Can Fool You". in Elaine B. Feldman, William P. Flatt, Sachiko T. St. Jeor. Handbook of Nutrition and Food (1st ed.). CRC Press. pp. 1506. ISBN 0-8493-2705-9.  
  72. ^ Steven L. Brown (2008). "How Can I Tell If The Evidence Is Any Good?". Navigating the Medical Maze: A Pratical Guide (2nd ed.). Brazos Press. pp. 191. ISBN 1-58743-207-2.  
  73. ^ "The shame of SHAM". Khaleej Times. February 13, 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-01.  
  74. ^ Vince Averello, Mikal E. Belicove, Nancy Conner, Adrienne Crew, Sherry Kinkoph Gunter, Faithe Wempen (2008). The 2009 Internet Directory: Web 2.0 Edition (1st ed.). Que. pp. 236. ISBN 0-78973-816-3.  
  75. ^ "Ten or So Web Sources for People with Chronic Pain". Chronic Pain For Dummies. For Dummies. 2008. pp. 327. ISBN 0-47175-140-5.  
  76. ^ Kate Lorig, James Fries (2006). The Arthritis Helpbook. Da Capo Press. pp. 335. ISBN 0-73821-070-6.  
  77. ^ Katherine B. Chauncey (2003). Low-Carb Dieting For Dummies. For Dummies. pp. 292. ISBN 0-76452-566-2.  
  78. ^ "Science Panel on Interactive Communication and Health". U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). July 11, 2002. Retrieved 2008-09-25.  

Further reading

  • Paranormal Claims: A Critical Analysis, 2007, edited by Bryan Farha, University Press of America, ISBN 978-0-7618-3772-5. Three of the eighteen chapters are reprints of Quackwatch articles.

External links

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