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RTM: Barrett: Dallas News story on QuackWatch 8.26.1
Hello, This quote by Stephen Barrett, MD is very germane to those of us who are looking for legal remedies for some huge healthfraud issues: aspartame, mercury dental fillings, fluoride, and milk, whose safety is stoutly proclaimed by very false advertising. It shows the value of respecting and being attentive to the work of energetic, competent, dedicated citizens, whose prejudices are different from ours:
"I am part of a very interesting project that is going on in California. Under state law there, if someone engages in false advertising, a private party, such as an advocacy group, can sue. It does not require an actual victim. A lawyer has filed 30 suits in the past several months. We are acting as consultants and expert witnesses. ..."
Subject: [healthfraud] Front-page article about me.
Date: Sun, 26 Aug 2001 12:03:20 -0400
From: "Stephen Barrett, M.D." <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This article appeared today on the front page of the Sunday Reader
section of the Dallas News:
It has a few small errors but is basically very good.
Sunday | August 26, 2001
Interview: Bogus medical claims are big business in U.S.
For nearly 30 years, Dr. Stephen Barrett has been exposing companies and people engaged in health fraud.
Products with bogus medical claims are a multi-billion-dollar industry in America. The retired psychiatrist turned medical investigator tracks schemes and scams from his home in Allentown, Pa.
Dr. Barrett's once "passing interest" in health fraud has become five Web sites, a popular electronic newsletter and the main topic of the 47 books he has written. [Total is 48 books coauthored or edited (not "written), and not all involve quackery -- SB]
He is vice president of the National Council Against Health Fraud, a network of medical experts. His most notable effort is the Web site Quackwatch.com, which "combats health-related frauds, myths, fads and fallacies."
He recently spoke by telephone with Dallas Morning News staff writer Ira J. Hadnot. Here are excerpts:
Question: Besides cancer, what other diseases are targeted the most by people selling false or misleading products or "treatments?"
Answer: Cancer is the top one. The second is multiple sclerosis, a disease that is a quack's dream. People with MS can have great ups and downs, and it could be easy to attribute those "ups" to a substance. That substance could be a stimulant that is causing the person to feel something, but it is not curing the disease.
The frauds usually go after diseases characterized by suffering and desperation. They like to assert that science doesn't have all the answers. But that never has been a claim of science, which is a rational process that can address many questions about whether a product or procedure is safe and effective for its intended purpose.
People who are vulnerable to quackery are easily taken in by the promise of a solution to their problem. Or they are fooled by one of the favorite gimmicks of frauds - using personal testimony to sway buyers. There is nothing scientific about personal testimony. What sells is not the quality of the product but the ability to influence ill people to purchase it.
Question: Can you share some of your more recent investigations and what they have revealed?
Answer: In one case, a number of people complained to me about a cancer quack. He was calling himself a doctor, but he had never gone to medical school. He victimized a lot of people. When victims contacted me, I referred them to the FBI. The guy was arrested and convicted of mail fraud and money laundering. ...
I am part of a very interesting project that is going on in California. Under state law there, if someone engages in false
advertising, a private party, such as an advocacy group, can sue. It does not require an actual victim. A lawyer has filed 30 suits in the past several months. We are acting as consultants and expert witnesses. ...
These suits could lead to the monitoring of infomercials, which are a large source of erroneous claims and misinformation.
Question: Are there any numbers in terms of how many people turn to what you call bogus "treatments" each year?
Answer: There is no real data. It is hard to calculate. ... The most widespread form of health fraud is people who are duped into wasting their money on vitamins they don't need. What's the cost? I can justify, from my research, at least $15 billion a year. It is probably way more than that.
It can get very complicated trying to assign numbers. There are thousands of products and multiple ways to distribute them.
The Federal Trade Commission may go after only 30 to 40 companies a year. There is no fear by most of these companies that they will be caught and fined.
Question: Is the medical profession concerned that an anti-doctor sentiment might be fueling some of this consumer behavior?
Answer: Dissatisfaction with medical care is a minor factor. Most people who turn to alternative treatments are satisfied with their treatment but want something extra. Some people are overconfident and think they know both sides of the issue. They are generally wrong.
I hear the phrase, "I have researched this" so much. What is happening is that they are reading the claim of someone selling something. They are not researching for conflicting information but to have their minds convinced.
Question: Can you share some cases where a person's health was damaged by fake products?
Answer: One woman was "diagnosed" with bogus medical equipment and told she had a thyroid problem. She was given iodine and went legally blind. She sued, and it was settled out of court.
I get one or two inquiries from people or lawyers a month that have some legal significance. The public is less likely to learn about these cases because they are normally settled and there is a secrecy agreement attached to the settlement payments.
I have been involved in some interesting child-custody cases. One parent is usually concerned about the child being taken for improper treatments and believes the child's health is being endangered. So far, I have been involved as a consultant in about a half-dozen of these cases. Often there are potential harmful effects. These are instances where you can help before the damage is done.
Question: Since there has been a lot of information about the human genome, do you believe false claims about that will become a potential "growth area" for quackery in the future?
Answer: What one is likely to see when there are scientific discoveries, the language is likely to wind its way into some of
these disreputable advertising claims. For instance, when there was lots being written about the immune system, that word started popping up in the copy. As new terminology is developed, it gets incorporated into the quack system.
One of the reasons quackery is not easy to spot is the use of scientific terms and misquoting scientific references. They will
attempt to sound scientific, even make up diseases and symptoms.
Question: You are pretty aggressive with your statements, naming names and taking on large companies. Has Quackwatch ever been sued?
Answer: Suits are rare. I am extremely careful. I don't engage in name-calling. I stick to the facts and opinions as I see them and as the team of experts who may be assisting me sees them. What we write is backed by an examination of the medical research that is available.
There are lots of threats of suits and people have demanded that information be taken off Quackwatch. We ask them what their issue is. When it comes down to it, most are bluffing and can't mount a challenge to the information we have presented. Most of these people engaged in fraudulent activities don't want to be exposed in court.
Question: Would a doctor recommend herbal substances for any reason?
Answer: There are some doctors who recommend them, but rarely. The question to ask is: Are there any herbs that have been demonstrated to be useful? There is not a lot of data to support them. But a few have had positive reports. Herbal products are not standardized. There is no federal oversight. You cannot be sure when you buy a product whether the ingredients listed on the label are actually what's in the tablets.
Some of these products may claim to produce mental clarity and more energy. Those are safe claims to make. The government isn't going to get involved investigating these kinds of statements. How do you measure mental clarity? Some people get that from drinking coffee and other products that contain stimulants.
Question: Are most of these vitamins, pills and teas that are touted as medicinal really placebos or do they contain ingredients that interact with the body?
Answer: There isn't a blanket answer. I would need to know which specific products you are talking about - there are at least 20,000 of them. There are hundreds of herbal products and thousands of dietary supplements. Lots of claims are unsubstantiated. We have a "Supplement of the Day Club" on the Web site, exploring whatever the latest claim is. There are new ones touted every week, but only a small percentage are useful.
Every once in a while, the Federal Trade Commission will go after some of these companies and shut them down. As a general rule, I tell people to be skeptical of the information. If something is really the new wonder drug, you certainly wouldn't be learning that for the first time in a direct-mail letter or in an ad at the back of a magazine. The medical journals and the popular press certainly would have gotten wind of it.
Question: What satisfaction do you receive from the work that has gone into the books and the Web sites?
Answer: It is very interesting, very challenging. I do get a lot of feedback from people who thank me for steering them away from something that is not going to help them.
I get notes from people who write and tell me they were about to spend $30,000 to $40,000 on some foreign cancer device. [should say clinic, not device - SB]
I handle about 30 to 40 questions a day online. Our homepage has received more than 2 million visitors thus far. U.S. News & World Report rated Quackwatch one of the country's best Web sites.
Years ago, I read some things that irritated me. I decided I had to get involved. This is where that irritation has led.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Stephen Barrett, M.D.
Board Chairman, Quackwatch, Inc.
NCAHF Vice President and Director of Internet Operations
P.O. Box 1747, Allentown, PA 18105
Telephone: (610) 437-1795
Editor, Consumer Health Digest http://www.ncahf.org/digest/chd.html
Weekly column: http://www.canoe.ca/HealthAlternative/home.html
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M.I.T. (physics and history, BA, 1964), Boston U. Graduate School
(psychology, MA, 1967): As a concerned layman, I want to clarify the
aspartame toxicity debate.
http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/aspartameNM/messages for 720 posts
http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/aspartameNM/message/657 45K post
http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/aspartameNM/message/658 20K post
Rich Murray: Smith: fibromyalgia & aspartame & MSG 6.27.1 rmforall
Rich Murray: Karikas: aspartame binding to DNA:
Clinical Biochemistry July 1998 7.27.1 rmforall
Excellent 5-page review by H.J. Roberts in "Townsend Letter",
Jan 2000, "Aspartame (NutraSweet) Addiction"
H.J. Roberts, M.D. HJRobertsmd@aol.com firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunshine Sentinel Press P.O.Box 17799 West Palm Beach, FL 33416
800-814-9800 561-588-7628 561-547-8008 fax
1038 page medical text "Aspartame Disease: An Ignored Epidemic"
published May 30 2001 $ 85.00 postpaid data from 1200 cases
over 600 references from standard medical research
http://www.aspartameispoison.com/contents.html 34 chapters
Rich Murray: Roberts:
"Aspartame Disease" 1038 page expert magnum opus 7.5.1 rmforall