The crackpots, cranks and charlatans who keep the various pseudosciences alive and kicking may strike most members of the general public as harmless and often amusing. But medical quacks and other practitioners of phoney “healing arts” are neither harmless nor amusing. Some pseudoscientific “healers” shamelessly exploit the understandable fears of the seriously ill, and prey on family tragedy— false hope is held out to the hopelessly ill patient and his loved ones, and worthless nostrums are sold at enormous prices to those whose finances have already been ravaged by long hospital stays or extensive therapy. Examples of such quacks are those who “specialize” in patients with cancer or AIDS.

Fad diets that produce rapid weight loss at the expense of gross malnutrition, dangerous nutritional imbalance, or outright poisoning are another aspect of quackery that the general public frequently encounters. Many quacks deal exclusively in the bogus “treatment” of diseases or conditions which are chronic, such as certain types of arthritis. Self-limiting diseases— those from which a sufferer would recover without medical treatment— and chronic diseases— which alternate between periods of flare-up in which the sufferer feels acute distress, and quiet periods in which no discomfort is evident— are almost made to order for the quack. A patient who has spent a good deal of hard-earned money for a worthless quack remedy and then feels better is almost certain to attribute his permanent or temporary “cure” to the remedy, rather than to the natural progress of the ailment, the usual pattern of subjective validation.

Among the most widespread instances of quackery are the scientifically unsupported claims, so often found in mass communications media, that avoiding a certain kind of food, or eating a certain kind of food almost exclusively, will “keep you healthy,” or “maintain wellness,” or prevent certain diseases. Public confusion regarding which foods are “good for you” has reached nearly epidemic proportions in today's USA. If you're understandably confused, why, there's always a self-appointed “expert,” be it Dr. Andrew Weil or Kevin Trudeau, to help you become much, much more confused!

The reasons why people turn to quacks are many and complex, but prominent among them is the general ignorance of the basic facts of human physiology that is part of the general state of scientific illiteracy among the American public. Most quack remedies are offered with rationales so absurd that they amount to complete gibberish; it seems impossible that anyone could delude himself into thinking that such remedies could possibly help his condition. Yet quacks say business is booming as never before. A major underlying cause of all questionable health practices in the United States is presumably the widespread belief that “anything is worth a try,” coupled with the rarity of informed, methodical thinking about health-related matters. The bottom line is that there is no alternative to science, or to science-based medicine. Quack or “alternative” healing arts are almost invariably based on superstition, magic, tradition, and assumption-without-proof. They do not offer any true alternative to regular health-care, and can quickly lead to personal tragedy if taken seriously.

Four major themes run through almost all quack healing arts: First, diseases are asserted to be caused, in general, not by micro-organisms, but rather are the result of some “imbalance” or “misadjustment” of some (usually non-existent) part of the body. Second, there are asserted to be magical connections (unknown to science) between one part of the body and another, so that diseases can be diagnosed and treated without ever actually inspecting or working on the diseased portion of the body. The “treatment” is generally symbolic, magical and ritualized. Third, the same worthless nostrum, elixir, “therapy,” ritual or procedure tends to be prescribed for many different, unrelated ailments. Identical treatments for completely unrelated diseases are rationalized with fantastic scenarios involving familiar pseudoscientific buzzwords such as “energy” or “vibrations” or “quantum.” Fourth, quacks often justify the ritual they practice by appeal to (often bogus) tradition or to “ancient wisdom,” such as “3,000-year-old Chinese Healing Secrets,” assuming that victims will be unaware that medical science is less than a century old— and that basic knowledge of human anatomy, the functions of body organs, the causes of disease, etc., has simply not existed, during most of human history. Indeed, Western medicine itself became consistently scientific only after World War II; strictly speaking, “medical science” is only about 50 years old, and progress continues to be rapid. Any almanac with detailed world population figures will show you that in all countries of the world the average life expectancy was on the order of 30 to 40 years until the introduction of modern Western medicine in that particular country. What “healing secrets”?!?

Quacks like to refer to medical science and valid medical procedures by the buzzword “allopathy.” By contrasting their own brand of quackery to “allopathy,” in an either-or situation, they can easily create the impression that the two are equally valid, alternative ways to treat diseases— a typical tactic in pseudoscience. Quacks are also quite fond of buzzwords like “wellness,” “holistic” and “wholistic.”

Among “healing arts” that lack a basis in science, and that have been popular in the US at various times, are homeopathy, based on the idea that “like cures like,” so that a “poison” alleged to create symptoms similar to those of a disease will cure the disease when diluted into nonexistence and then symbolically “given” to the patient; naturopathy, based on the idea that anything growing in your local practitioner’s backyard will be better as a medicine than something demonstrated effective by medical research; iridology, based on the assertion that the iris of your eye is a map of the whole body, and that changes in the iris denote disease of specific body parts; zone or polarity therapy, reflexology and acupressure, in which all diseases are asserted to be due to “energy imbalance,” and cured by gentle pressure on or massage of some small area of the body surface; color therapy, in which all diseases are treated by shining variously colored lights on various areas of the body surface; acupuncture, (and less popular variants moxibustion and moxipuncture) in which all diseases are due to “blocked energy flow” through imaginary tubes called “meridians,” and treated by inserting fine needles deep into the body, or otherwise creating a superficial, localized burn or other injury; “straight” chiropractic in which all diseases are due to invisible, imaginary “subluxations” of the spine and are treated by “spinal manipulation,” actually a vigorous and potentially dangerous massage; traditional osteopathy, in which all diseases are due to invisible misalignments of various portions of the human skeleton, and are treated by anything from painful flexing to gentle rubbing or touching; a variety of other massage therapies and energy therapies, in which “blocked energy” is released by a good massage or rubbing with hands; theraputic touch, in which the “therapist's” hands are waved aimlessly around several inches from the body of the “patient,” to “align his spiritual subtle energies”; and a bewildering range of other therapies involving special diets, exercises, chants, diet supplements, adornments, jewelry, ointments, perfumes, special candles, postures, lotions, bracelets, magic charms, crystals, colored lights, pendula, dowsing rods, incense, laying-on-of-hands, tonics, laxatives, enemas and what-have-you, all offered as a positive “cure” for whatever ails you.

It goes almost without saying that all existing medical and scientific evidence points to the fairly obvious conclusion that such concepts, activities, therapies and arts are worthless in any efforts to treat actual diseases, or to maintain good health. Where quackery is adopted as an early alternative to sound medical treatment, and the ailment is real and dangerous, the victim of the quack is either being murdered or committing suicide, depending upon your point of view. Yet, where such bogus therapies are compared with the treatments offered by medical science, the appeal of quackery is not at all hard to understand. Following John Sladek, consider:

Difficult to understand, highly intricate and technical. [What's a virus, an EKG, a CAT scan, hydrocortisone, a PET scan, a Ross procedure, etc., etc.?] Easy to understand, based on one simple principle, used over and over for any ailment (like cures like, pressing toes unstops energy flows).

Busy, unsympathetic, brusque, “unfeeling” doctor, who talks to you in terms you find very difficult to comprehend or remember. Sympathetic, friendly healer who has all the time in the world for you personally, takes an obviously deep interest in each patient, talks in terms you can understand and remember.

May admit defeat in cases which are hopeless, invariably terminal, chronic, genetically caused or have no presently known effective treatment. Never gives up while the patient or his relatives still are in possession of some money.

Never guarantees cure, rarely holds out false hopes. Prognoses tend to be conservative and as realistic as experience warrants. Diagnosis and cure are absolutely certain if the patient has a “good” attitude; failures are always the fault of the patient, for not “having faith.”

Medical doctors will generally use the same approaches, both in diagnosis and treatment— the approaches proven effective by current medical science. Exotic-seeming and -sounding methods are offered, which the patient has probably never encountered before, in both diagnosis and treatment. The treatments are justified by tradition, not science or testing.

Treatment may be unpleasant (injections), frightening (surgery), or difficult and demanding (restricted diet, vigorous exercise, completely new life-style for post-heart attack). Cure is simple and pleasant (just a tasty herbal drink each morning), painless (massage or a rubber band around a toe for a few moments per day), and always EASY— “new miracle diet, eat as much as you want of anything you want.” Nothing is demanded, nothing is threatening.

Success is not advertised. It is taken for granted. Fame of practitioner depends on advertisting, media coverage and word-of-mouth. “Aunt Mabel swears by him!”
Failure is widely publicized and viewed with great seriousness (malpractice suits, drug company lawsuits, “them doctors just give up on me!”) Failures are quietly buried by grieving relatives. Only accidental successes count; all wins, no losses. No negative testimonials appear in the ads.
Enormous complexity and difficulty; each disease is unique and there are many different diseases, some common, some very rare, thus many different kinds of treatments and therapy. Individuals respond differently to drugs, with different side effects. Continual study and research are required to stay abreast of what has been learned to date concerning the most effective treatments. ALL diseases are due to one simple condition (poor nutrition, spinal subluxations, blocked energy flow, bad thoughts, environmental electromagnetic radiation, etc.) so that one simple, symbolic remedy will cure anything whatsoever from bad breath to cancer. Once the remedy is arrived at (by decree, not by test) and practitioners put it into use, they will never voluntarily change it or question its effectiveness— this would be seen as a loss of faith and confidence, which might scare away patients.

Unquestionably, among the principal attractions of quackery are the nonthreatening nature of its remedies, and the literally moronic simplicity of its scenario explanations for the effectiveness of the remedies. Anyone who has spent much time in a modern hospital, surrounded by busy strangers and incomprehensible, frightening-looking equipment will recognize the strong appeal of the quack who’s hung out his shingle in the cozy white house a few blocks away, who’ll engage you in friendly chit-chat while he “treats” you as you recline in an easy chair, with a therapy as simple and non-frightening as laying out a few flat, tiny gemstones on your forehead!

Some people who seek quack remedies are people who cannot be helped by medical science for one reason or another— people who suffer from conditions for which no cure is presently know, and for which no effective treatment currently exists. They understandably turn to quackery as a last resort, when all else has been tried and the doctors have sent them home to die. Perhaps the sufferer hopes against hope that, despite the obvious charlatanery of the practitioner, his treatment might— against all the odds— somehow help. There are very rare cases in which something does happen. For instance, many herbal or naturopathic remedies are prescribed based on the superficial resemblance of a plant part to a well or diseased human organ, a good example of primitive magical thinking. For this reason, at one time sponges were eaten as a cure for goiter, since goiters look somewhat like sponges, and “like cures like.” But goiter patients who ate sponges actually did improve somewhat, because sponges are a good source of iodine and it is iodine deficiency which causes goiter! Such accidents, in which a quack remedy is found to have some kind of real, beneficial physical effect, are so rare as to be irrelevant to the question of quackery.

After all, it does not help a patient suffering from terminal cancer of the pancreas to be injected with a substance that might someday be shown to be effective in preventing hangnail! An example of such an irrelevant (and incidentally bogus) claim is often made for the ancient Chinese magical practice of acupuncture. The actual traditional “theory” of acupuncture is total nonsense, based on the assertion that ailments are caused by varying air pressure in small (imaginary) tubes running throughout the body. The Chinese word “qi” just means air or wind. By inserting a very thin, very long needle into the proper tube (“meridian”) the pressures could be equalized and the ailment cured. [Today the meaningless buzzword “energy” is generally used to refer to the imaginary something that the imaginary tubes are supposed to carry.] Acupuncture traditions go back about 2000 years and are based on no facts, no research, and no knowledge of anatomy or the actual causes of disease. The earliest acupuncture manuscripts are illustrated with crude block prints which show “points” and “meridians” having no connection whatsoever with those shown by 1000 AD, and even less connection with those shown in 2000 AD. In other words, although acupuncture has no basis whatsoever, other than tradition, the traditions are in practice completely ignored. This is pretty much the standard situation in all of medical quackery, not just acupuncture.

In more recent times, in Chinese hospitals where “folk medicine” was mingled with modern Western medical science, acupuncturists supposedly had some success in anesthetizing patients who were undergoing light surgery. Proponents of the usefullness of acupuncture wisely ignored the traditional, nonsensical explanations of its supposed effectiveness, and claimed that when an acupuncture needle is inserted into nerve ganglia, the brain is stimulated to produce its own, morphine-like pain killers, the endorphins, which then act to block the subsequent pain due to surgery. Medical research has failed to support any aspect of this claim; in fact, careful clinical tests reveal no connection between the amount of endorphin in the blood and sensitivity to pain. However, the important thing to note is that even if the claim about endorphins were true, it would be completely irrelevant to validation of the use of acupuncture as a quack remedy for various unrelated diseases! And to promote weight loss, help with breaking the tobacco habit, etc., etc., etc. Recently acupuncture has been used to treat chronic arthritis pain and minor athletic injuries— but there it functions simply as a counterirritant, and the more traditional ice pack (or hot pack) would work just as well, or better. Notice that an authentic double-blind study of acupuncture is essentially impossible— when you encounter claims that acupuncture “works better” than aspirin, analgesic creams, hot packs or ice packs, it is essentially certain that you are encountering subjective validation! And in any case the claim is irrelevant to the central dogma of acupuncture— the absurd dogma that the treatment “works” for all ailments of all kinds! Quacks are extremely fond of a “bait and switch” non-sequitur tactic, in which the fact that a quack remedy is supposedly effective against hangnail is taken as “proof” that it's worth taking or trying in an attempt to cure something totally and completely unrelated!

The public vaguely knows that many powerful modern drugs have their source in plants of various kinds, so the simple-minded claims of naturopaths and herbal healers can easily be made to sound vaguely plausible. Although the famous antibiotic penicillin, for instance, was first extracted from certain penicillium mold fungi, eating large quantities of the right mold would certainly not give you a medically significant dose of penicillin! It is important to realize that so-called “plant healers” generally do not rely on any kind of scientific knowledge, but instead base their recommendations on the usual primitive, magical ideas that underlie much of pseudoscience, such as “like cures like.”

The medical and nutritional professions have not helped a great deal; they tend to issue advice on maintaining good health that is often not actually based on sound science, and is too often totally impractical to follow. In April of 2005, a published survey of more than 150,000 adults showed that only 3% follow all four current health “goals”— not smoking; maintaining a healthy weight (BMI 25); exercising 30 minutes a day 5 or more times per week; and, eating 5 or more servings of fruit and vegetables a day. This is hardly surprising. The advice concerning exercise and fruit and vegetables is virtually impossible to follow during a normal work week. About 75% of adults don't smoke, and about 40% maintain a body weight appropriate for their height, but less than a quarter even try to follow the advice on exercise, or on eating fruits and vegetables. It is little wonder that Americans would prefer to gulp vitamins, or take some weird herb, or some other magical potion, in hopes that by some miracle these notoriously worthless and sometimes harmful “supplements” will somehow maintain health.

Fad diets are among the most popular forms of medical quackery. The worst kind of fad diet involves irrational food restrictions not based on any science. Eat only protein, eat only bread, eat only pea soup, eat only pineapple, eat only grapefruit, eat only bananas, or eat only cabbage! Well, you do lose weight on such insane diets, but you lose it because of malnutrition and dehydration, as well as loss of appetite (how much cabbage can you eat?). And as soon as you get off the diet and start eating normally, you gain all your weight back. To make a permanent change in weight, you must make a permanent change in lifestyle, eating a balanced diet, but eating less and exercising more. That's hard! That's unpopular! So new fad diets come along every few months, to offer an “easy” way to lose weight. A familiar example of a fad diet that has been with us since the middle of the 19th Century is a diet that is (for no known nutritional or medical reason) high on protein and fat, and low on carbohydrates. The health hazards such diets present are well-documented, but the most obvious point to reflect upon is that so many such diets have been so popular over the past century and a half, that if they actually worked, there wouldn't be any significant number of obese people in the US, whereas in fact obesity is notoriously epidemic today!

One of the most profitable branches of quackery has involved food-faddism and worthless dietary supplements. Millions of Americans have wasted millions of dollars on quack nutritional regimens for which often-nonsensical health claims are made (“organic” or “natural” foods, “health'' foods, “macrobiotic” diets, etc., etc.) and on useless food supplements (herbs, megavitamins, oat bran, fish-oil, seaweed and kelp, colloidal “metals,” bee pollen, wheat germ, etc., etc.). So-called “organic” foods are biochemically identical to “ordinary” foods, but far more expensive in price and considerably more inefficient to grow— with the extra money going mainly to the vendor who is the originator of the fad for a particular “natural” food, rather than to the farmer. As another example, while no vitamin supplements of any kind are needed in the average diet, vitamin supplements have in fact been a habit with Americans for 50 years and more. But, not satisfied with the already huge vitamin profits, and the fact that the human body can make use of only extremely tiny amounts of such substances, quacks have popularized massive “megavitamin” doses, which (if you are lucky) are simply excreted unused by the body, or (if you are unlucky in your choice of megavitamin) may be stored in body tissue to eventually cause serious medical problems or outright poisoning. As one biochemist noted, megavitamin consumers have “the healthiest toilet bowls in town.” Equally scary are the “life-extension” quacks who recommend huge doses of enzymes, RNA, or weird chemicals like hydergine which they claim will somehow magically postpone the aging process.

Allergies have proven to be a particularly rich field for quacks. Nonexistent “environmental allergies” are commonly diagnosed for wealthy patients, who are then induced to live for a few expensive weeks at a “toxin-free safe house,” actually an old motel which the quack happens to own, in order to “de-toxify.” An allergy sufferer who falls into the hands of a quack soon discovers, via “skin reaction tests'' or just revelations from the beyond, that he or she is allergic to just about everything that exists, and that's why “you feel tired all the time.”

Neither the government nor the courts have been able to halt the explosive growth of medical quackery in recent times. In fact, the sad situation is just the opposite— politicians, judges and juries tend to go out of their way to protect, promote and support medical quackery. Two outrageously quack compendia of holistic remedies from the 1970s boasted sympathetic forwards by Senators Edward Kennedy and George McGovern, respectively. The American Medical Association's “reward”for many years of trying to inform the public about the hazards of health quackery was to wind up on the losing end of a multimillion dollar “restraint-of-trade” lawsuit by chiropractors. The Food and Drug Administration does tend to go after individual worthless products offered by quacks for sale by mail, as does the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, but generally “a day late and a dollar short,” ignoring most quack remedies and devices currently on sale, and completely ignoring the problems posed by medical quackery in general.

In 1994, the infamous Hatch-Harkin act exempted “dietary supplements” and “herbal remedies” from any pre-market safety testing, and virtually any Federal regulation. The result is a huge industry, taking in close to $20 billion per year in 2001, which sells unregulated amounts, with unregulated purity, of questionable substances such as ephedra, St. John's wort, ginseng, melatonin, etc. None of these substances offer any substantiated health benefits of any kind whatsoever, at any dose; but many of these substances are unquestionably poisonous at the unregulated doses being sold routinely in grocery stores. The result: yet another steadily-growing public health and safety crisis! Indeed, and unsurprisingly, Sen. Orrin Hatch has steadfastly opposed attempts to establish “recommended doses” of such herbal products, as cases of severe poisoning or death from such products mount into the tens of thousands. The largest supplement manufacturers operate from Hatch's home state of Utah, and his son has been employed in full-time lobbying for such supplements since 1998. In general, all forms of quackery have very strong bipartisan support in federal and state legislatures.

Throughout the 20th Century, quacks were united against almost every public health initiative, from water fluoridation to required vaccinations against widespread childhood diseases, often joining forces with various religious cults which teach that all preventative medicine is merely a diabolic plot. They even opposed the campaign to innoculate every child against polio, after the Saulk vaccine was developed in mid-century— a campaign that in fact completely wiped out polio in the US. Today, quacks are still steadfastly opposed to childhood vaccinations against any disease, no matter how dangerous. Quacks for more than a century have based their opposition to vaccination on the insane grounds that there is “no proof” (acceptable to quacks, that is) that bacteria and viruses actually cause any known disease. A quack will often deny, for instance, that the disease AIDS is caused by HIV. Today quacks also routinely claim that the threatened “bird flu epidemic” is a hoax. Thus, in addition to causing great harm on the individual level, quacks shamelessly contribute to the already-large difficulties presented in controlling diseases in large populations, especially in Third-World countries.

The law, and lawmakers, side decisively with the quacks. Your best— indeed, about your only!— defense against quackery is ordinary common sense. If a therapy sounds “too good to be true,” and its practitioners seem to know nothing about medicine and disease, but are quick to spiel about the wonders of “energy balance” and “traditional Tibetan healing arts,” or “life-force consciousness fields,” or “quantum-powered herbs,” or “crystal-concentrated homeopathic miracle drugs,” there can be little question that you have encountered a quack. If a justification for the therapy offered is that it is a “distillation of 5,000 years of healing wisdom of the Holy Scriptures of ancient India,” or for that matter ancient China, or ancient Africa, or ancient Europe, or ancient Mexico, or ancient Egypt, or ancient anywhere, you are unquestionably in the hands of a quack.

The usual symbol for Western, scientific medicine is the Caduceus of Mercury, a baton with wings and two entwined serpents. [At some point it seems to have been confused with the more traditional symbol of medicine, the Rod of Asklepios.] I would suggest a good symbol for medical quackery and “alternative healing arts”— the head of the Gorgon Medusa. On her head each hair was a serpent, presumably poisonous, and if that were not enough her glance turned men to stone. Quackery seems to take on as many dangerous forms as those snake-hairs of the Gorgon's scalp! For his or her own safety, and the safety of family and friends, even pets, each American needs to be doing a far better job of distinguishing science from pseudoscience!

Many quacks become enormously wealthy and radiate insincerity and crookedness. Others live modestly, charge fees barely high enough to live on, and exhibit obvious sincerity and a genuine desire to be of help to the suffering. What all have in common is invincible ignorance of the actual causes of disease, and of known effective treatments, which makes it impossible for them to be of help to those actually suffering from a disease. At best, quacks can only listen sympathetically to their patients' problems. In recent years, nutritional quackery and food faddism have become so all-pervasive that they affect almost every American household to some degree. Other forms of quackery have become virtually universal— for instance, as quackery expert William Jarvis remarks, “chiropractic is so well entrenched that it must be viewed as a societal problem, not simply as a competitor of regular health-care.” Actually, my impression is that during the past decade, almost all branches of medical quackery have established themselves so well that they now constitute a major and very serious social problem. About 10% of the US adult population currently deliberately avoids effective medical care and sound medical advice for one reason or another, for at least some types of ailments, and instead practices primitive magical mumbo-jumbo which may make the sufferer feel better in the short run, but in the long run can result in disasterous health problems and crushing financial consequences. Consistently from 1990 to 2004, about 30 to 35% of the US adult  population has regularly resorted to quack remedies of one kind or another.  Politicians and courts have repeatedly shown their willingness to protect quacks against almost any conceivable type of assault by forces of science and reason. Indeed, many foes of pseudoscience feel that the battle is irretrievably lost, as far as quackery is concerned. As a self-proclaimed quack told me a while ago, “these are the safest bucks I ever made!”

Whether conscious frauds gloating over their ill-gotten wealth, or saintly, kindly and ignorant people genuinely trying to do good, quacks are quacks, and they are a genuine menace to your health even if you never set foot inside the door of one. The widespread confusion about sound health practices generated by quacks makes it just that much more difficult for each of us to safeguard his or her own health.

For Further Reading—

  • Science Meets Alternative Medicine, ed. by Wallace Sampson, MD, and Lewis Vaughn (Prometheus, NY, 2000).

  • Alternate Therapies, Unproven Methods and Health Fraud, by Micacla Sullivan-Fowler (American Medical Association, NY, 1988)

  • Examining Holistic Medicine,ed. by Douglas Stalker and Clark Glymour (Prometheus, NY, 1989).

  • The Health Robbers: How to Protect Your Money and Your Life, ed. by Stephen Barrett, M.D. (Stickley, Philadelphia, 1980).

  • Health Quackery: Consumers Union's Report on False Health Claims, Worthless Remedies, and Unproven Therapies, by the Editors of Consumer Reports Books (Holt, Rinehart \& Winston, 1980); Health Schemes, Scams and Frauds, by Stephen Barrett, M.D., and the editors of Consumer Reports Books (Consumers Reports Books, NY, 1991).

  • Chemical Sensitivity, by Stephen J. Barrett, MD, and Ronald E. Gots, MD, Ph.D. (Prometheus, NY, 1998).

  • Crazy Therapies, by Margaret Thaler Singer and Janja Lallich (Jossey-Bass, CA, 1996).

  • “Alternative” Healthcare, by Jack Raso, M.S., R.D. (Prometheus, NY, 1994).

  • American Health Quackery, by James Harvey Young (Princeton, NJ, 1992).

  • Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, by Martin Gardner (Dover, NY, 1957).

  • Nutritional Cultism: Facts and Fictions, by Victor Herbert, M.D. (Stickley, Philadelphia, 1981).

  • Vitamins and Health Foods: The Great American Health Hustle, by Victor Herbert, M.D., and Stephen Barrett, M.D. (Stickley, Philadelphia, 1981).

  • Health, Quackery and the Consumer, by W. E. Schaller and C. R. Carroll (Saunders, Philadelphia, 1976).

  • Follies and Fallacies in Medicine, by Petr Skrabanek & James McCormick (Prometheus, NY, 1990).

  • Magic or Medicine, by Robert Buckman and Karl Sabbagh (Macmillan, London, 1993; Prometheus, NY, 1995).

  • From Paralysis to Fatigue, by Edward Shorter (Free Press, NY, 1991)

  • Placebo: Theory, Research & Mechanisms, ed. by L. White, B. Tursky and G. E. Schwartz (Guilford Press, NY, 1985).

  • The Medical Messiahs: A Social History of Health Quackery in 20th Century America, by J. H. Young (Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, 1967).

  • Internet Resources on Medical Quackery:
    Home page of the National Council Against Health Fraud, an up-to-date and very reliable source concerning questionable health practices, scams and cons.

    See also http://www.quackwatch.com/
    which contains a huge amount of information about quack “healing arts,” and see also http://acsh.org/healthissues/, and http://your-doctor.com/patient_info/alternative_remedies/various_therapy/quackery.html. More links on quackery. A history of quackery in Texas. A short diagnostic list for quackery.

    A summary of various varieties of health quackery.

    Homeopaths on homeopathy.

    A good site on diet scams and fad diets can be found here.

    The Skeptic's Dictionary has good writeups on many specific “alternative healing arts,” which you can turn up by searching from the main page, here.

    Recent evaluation of various "fad" diets.

    Articles on the many dangers posed by “dietary supplements,” which since 1994 have been exempt from all regulation and certification and testing: Supplements; Findlaw on supplements; heart and circulatory system dangers of supplements. Unwanted effects of supplements.

    For more medical and veterinary quackery, see

    A funny writeup on faith-healer, evangelist and spirit communicator Peter Popoff

    The danger signals of medical quackery here, and here, and more generally here.

    One of the most disturbing epidemics in the US currently is the so-called epidemic of obesity.

    Is it really true that 50% of all US citizens are too illiterate, stupid or senile to take their prescription drugs in amount and at times stated on the label?!?

    Other web resources on quackery.

    Calculate your very own “dosha,” right here.

    Avoiding Facing Death!
    Blavatsky, Queen of Pseudoscience!
    Cities on the Moon?
    Creationism and “Intelligent Design”
    Distinguishing Science and Pseudoscience!
    ESP Experiments!
    Flying Saucers (1947–1985)
    Fortean Phenomena
    The Fourth Dimension!?
    Gods from Outer Space!
    Hollow Earth!
    Kirlian Photos and the Aura!
    Martian Canals!
    Monsters! and Ape Suits!
    Mystery Spots?
    Mystical and Bogus Physics!
    The New Age!
    Perpetual Motion?
    Postmodernism versus Science!
    Pyramid and Crystal Myths and Powers!
    Medical Quackery!
    Psychic Detectives!
    Pyramid and Crystal Powers!
    Science Fiction and Pseudoscience!
    Our Space Brothers!
    UFOs 1985-2005

    The word “quack” arose in the Renaissance when various characters drove their wagons across Europe peddling questionable remedies. The tradition of a “medicine show” continued in the US up until the 1950s and the present author was lucky to see several. During the Renaissance and later, such travelling medicine peddlers were called “quacksalbers,” a term that roughly translates as “salve spieler,” that is, someone who delivers a carnival-barker-like speech about the wonders of the miracle ointment or liniment or syrup he is selling. In english the term got shortened just to quack.