Quackbusters and the Shock Troops of Medical McCarthyism

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For half a century, the medical establishment, including the pharmaceutical industry, has had near zero tolerance towards criticism against its unequivocal failures and medical catastrophes.

Permanent disabilities and deaths due to proven unsafe drugs, such as the anti-inflammatory drug Vioxx, synthetic hormone replacement therapy, thalidomide, and the cellular pertussis and the 1976 influenza vaccines, are simply pushed aside as the collateral of doing business and making profits.  Due to the close symbiotic relationships between the mainstream media, "expert" spokespersons, drug companies' bottom line and official federal health policies, the truth behind medical failures remain largely hidden from the public.  Those physicians, researchers and health advocates who dissent face a formidable force, protected my federals laws, intent to censor and destroy reputations.

Over forty years ago the great sociologist and philosopher Ivan Illich noted in his book Medical Nemesis that "the medical establishment has become a major threat to health." It is a system that today depends more upon a barrage of manipulated science, revolving doors, conflicts of interests, armies of lobbyists, and false propaganda instead of honest, independent medical facts. The good news is that physicians and whistleblowers are increasingly coming forward. Class action lawsuits and Freedom of Information Act submissions reveal exactly what Illich warned: an incestuous and closed medical cabal that dodges factual criticism and cowardly retreats from self-scrutiny and public debate. And corporate media further plays into this disception in order to protect one of its major revenue bases, the pharmaceutical industry.

In recent years, the battlefield for the health wars has moved to the internet and blogosphere. Thousands of trolls from Big Pharm and Big Ag funded astroturf and front organizations, such as Quackwatch and the Cornell Alliance for Science, bring forth faux experts, and the media readily becomes an obedient servant for their medical orthodoxy. Legitimate discourse is destroyed; this is equally true on the neo-liberal Left and conservative-nationalist Right. Likewise, Wikipedia is an active promotor for these drug-pushing front groups, which has been used as a tool to destroy the reputations of legitimate and honest dissent. According to many physicians and health activists interviewed, it is nearly impossible to have patently false information corrected or changed on Wikipedia if you have targeted as a public enemy of the medical establishment. This article tackles and deconstructs one of the more nefarious of these Big Pharma front organizations that has inflicted untold damage on the careers of hundreds of health practitioners.

The Quackbusters, founded by the disgraced, unlicensed psychiatrist, Stephen Barrett, are a ubiquitous shadow network in the world of health and medicine with a unique talent. A talent, described by Health and Human Services official, Dr. Thomas Eng, as a gift for widely "[influencing] behavior change" via interactive media. Elaborating, Eng states that Barrett and his group of pharmaceutical and federal supported trolls "tailors information and interactions to the individual," adding, "In print media, there is some kind of vetting. In interactive, anyone or their brother can slap a Web page together."[1]  Although Barrett's website, Quackwatch, has been largely inactive for over two years, with only minor updates of earlier articles, it still maintains a high profile of prominence on search engines. Such should not be the case except for the preferential favoritism Barrett and other members in the scientific reductionist medical community and skeptic aasociations, such as stage magician James Randi's Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, receive from internet companies such as Google,  Wikipedia and more recently Facebook. A 1999 Village Voice article described Quackwatch as "a skeptical psychiatrists attempt to torpedo alternative and natural health movements."  During an interview with the article's author, Barrett acknowleged his bias and his lack of medical expertise to criticize conventional medicine because "that's way outside my scope."[2]

Barrett believes most alternative therapies should be disregarded without further review or research. "A lot of things don't need to be tested [because] they simply don't make any sense," he says, pointing specifically to homeopathy, chiropractic, and acupuncture. He believes that consumers should rely solely on established medical groups and pharmaceutical-based studies, and that anyone who wants to consider info on both sides is "waiting to be quacked in a major way."[3]

One assumes that Barrett, in his efforts and opinions, is authoritative and correct, speaking as a retired physician / psychiatrist who's been interviewed on innumerable occasions by CNN, The New York Times, has testified as an expert before congress, and, in a larger sense, has been adopted by mainstream media as the "consumer watchdog" du jour within the field of medicine.

But is Barrett a credible and reliable medical authority to speak on anything pertaining to safe and effective treatments for disease? The California State Superior Court would answer this question with an emphatic "no". Barrett has presented his opinion and has staked his personal credibility before the courts, on many occasions. In each instance, he has been made to suffer an embarrassingly unfavorable ruling.

In 2003, the Quackwatch flagship organization, known as the National Council Against Health Fraud (NCAHF), brought suit against 43 "Alternative Medicine proponents" in California, claiming that they were engaging in health fraud "because what they were doing wasn't scientifically proven." The ruling, which arrived on April 22, 2003, bludgeoned the NCAHF, and ripped apart their argument concerning what constitutes legitimate and effective health care.[4]

Barrett ceased any professional affiliated psychiatric practice in 1991 and has since participated on numerous board and advisory associations and organizations promoting drug-based medical practice and discrediting natural health, including diet and nutrition. supplements, chiropracty and massage therapeutic modalities, etc.[5] In a California Supreme Court case in 2006, Barrett and another Quackbuster Terry Polevoy were ruled as engaging in unwarranted and unsound combat against the use of "alternative and nonstandard" healthcare practices and products." During the case, the defendants' attorney Carlos Negrete uncovered that Barrett had failed his Psychiatric Board Exams, and had done so for over a decade.[6] An earlier US Appeals Court decision in 2001, NACHF vs King Bio, found Barrett's position on alternative health to be "biased, and unworthy of credibility."[7]

Quackwatchers report on many of the most accomplished physicians, practitioners and experts in the alternative health movement and in doing so, have generated a fair amount of controversy and mixed media attention. So much, in fact, that the reports on the Quackwatch site dominate web search engine results. The consequence is that hundreds of well-credentialed alternative health practitioners, including physicians and pioneering scientists have had their reputations preemptively tainted and in some cases destroyed. "He seems to be putting down trying to be objective," says Peter Barry Chowka, a former adviser to the National Institutes of Health's Office of Alternative Medicine. "Quackwatch.com is consistently provocative and entertaining" Chowka added. "But I personally think he's running against the tide of history. But that's his problem, not ours."[8]

Upon discovering this, our curiosity was piqued and we felt compelled to conduct some independent research on the matter, and hopefully, reach a conclusion as to whether Barrett was, indeed, an expert, or guilty of what Dr. Eng describes as "medical McCarthyism."[9]

Among the more popular spokespersons for alternative and complementary medicine and a harsh critic of pharmaceutical, CDC and FDA corruption is Dr Gary Null, who has been a primary target of Quackwatch for many years. Others include Dr Peter Breggin, one of the nation's most outspoken critics of antidepressant drugs or SSRIs; Dr James Gordon, a Harvard trained psychiatrist, founder of the Center for Mind Body Medicine and clinical professor at Georgetown University Medical School; Dr Julian Whitaker, a colleague of Nobel laureate Linus Pauling and a leading researcher in nutraceurtical medicine; cardiologist Mayer Eisenstein, Dartmouth and Tufts educated OGYN physican Dr Christiane Northrup; Dr David Perlmutter, neurologist and health advisor to Dr Mehmet Oz; and hundreds of others, living and deceased. Their sole sin has been to question the efficacy and safety of conventional medical claims and medications as a first line of defense for treating diseases and/or promoting healthier natural alternative treatments based upon their successful results.[10]

The case of Dr. Null is unique in his having been a high profile public advocate in the alternative heath movement for almost four decades. As a national media personality, he has influenced a wide spectrum of people nationally and internationaly through his syndicated radio broadcasts, Public Television appearances and his philanthropic efforts and causes. In People Magazine, Dr. James Hunt, Dean of Medicine at the University of Tennessee Center for Health Sciences, claimed that "if we had a few physicians with the same motivation and knowledge as Null we'd have a lot fewer sick people."[11] Total Health Magazine called Null "one of America's leading health and fitness experts."[12] 

An all-too-common tactic used by Quackwatch, David Gorski's Science Based Medicine (a network of pro-pharmaceutical spokespersons), the anonymous faux medical group Respectful Insolence, Skeptic Guerrilla's on Wikipedia, among others, is to fault their opponents with the charge of relying upon pseudo science. In the case of Null, research supporting nutritional treatments for diseases and the medical benefits of foods, herbs, and supplements for treating a wide variety of physical and mental disorders and diseases are shared daily from peer-reviewed medical and scientific journals.  During an exchange with Dr. Len Saputo, a Duke University trained physician in clinical practice for almost six decades and twice recognized as the world's top senior tennis champion said, "I have been a listener of Gary Null's radio shows for many years and am impressed by his scholarly discussions on a wide range of healthcare topics. The material he presents is based on reliable institutional and peer-reviewed medical journals that I have found to be accurate and trustworthy." 

However, what has most upset Quackwatch and medical organizations and groups protecting private industry interests at the expense of public health, has been Null's extensive work and research on the negative effects of fluoride, vaccines, mercury, genetically modified and chemically processed foods, pesticides, depleted uranium, sugar and caffeine, all of which, Barrett and the federal health and agricultural agencies promote blindly and in utter denial of the its' confirmed health risks. Null's commentaries, according to Progressive Radio Network figures, reach over a million people weekly. A long time listener, pubic advocate attorney William Pepper, a friend of Martin Luther King who represented the King family's successful civil case proving federal culpability and James Earl Ray's innocence in the assassination of MLK, praised Null "for his ongoing willingness to engage with representatives of the pharmaceutical industry who virtually never accept the challenge" against their shoddy health claims.[13]  Research demonstrates that the scientific record firmly supports Null's conclusions and solutions on these topics. Fact checking and research is the cornerstone of the journalistic process, yet, the Quackbusters and their colleagues in the evidence-based medical cartel, leaders of the drug-based medical community of skeptics and those media outlets who disregard scientific facts, quite simply, have failed to do their homework.

Barrett's claims that Null “promotes hundreds of ideas that are inaccurate, unscientific, and/or unproven....” are plainly false.[14] Amongst those ideas are that the intake of fluoride is harmful, and that mercury in dental fillings can have serious neurotoxic effects. Dr. Null has also consistently warned of the harmful impact of sugar and the negative effects of caffeine. His critically acclaimed and multi-award winning documentary films have consistently taken to task  the claims and profit incentives of drug and vaccine manufacturers, notably the rise in mortality due directly to medical intervention (iatratrogenic errors and unsafe prescription medications are now the third leading cause of death in the US), the over-prescribing of psychiatric drugs to children, and the epigenetics behind the autism epidemic due to toxic substances. His film AIDS Inc received Best Documentary and Best of the Festival awards at the Hoboken International Film Festival, which has been recognized by Fox Time Warner as "one of the 10 Biggest Film Festivals in the World".[15]  Null's observations and conclusions are supported by extensive, peer reviewed research and hard-won scientific scholarship. This approach stands in stark contrast to Barrett's own fast and loose, "things don't need to be tested [because] they simply don't make any sense" methodology.

A thorough review of the scientific literature on the National Institutes of Health's PubMed database finds the claims against Null unfounded and disturbingly biased. Personal attacks are largely based on personal opinions and favor private commercial drug and industry interests and revenues.  Every article Null has published has had a preponderance of credible references to scientific research that support his conclusions.  Therefore, it is this journalist's opinion that Dr. Null is not only accurate in the substance of his articles and documentaries on topics such as the negative health effects of fluoride, sugar, and mercury in dental fillings, but also that his opponents have engaged in unprofessional and ad hominem attacks on Null without scientific support.

Null and many others who have broken with the rank-and-file medical establishment have become a viable challenge to the existing medical paradigm. Such voices are more urgent now than ever before. The Nobel laureate Bertrand Russell was also an outspoken skeptic of the pseudo-science during his day; nevertheless he observed a dangerous and darker side to so called evidence-based science when it becomes a tool for the State. Today, the federal health agencies --CDC and FDA as well as the USDA and EPA -- are merged with private interests. This has given rise to an edifice Russell called "a scientific oligarichy." Scientific oligachies, Russell warns eventaully become "totalitarian." Quackwatch, Evidence-Based Medicine, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, Cornell Alliance for Science and others are the inquisitonal foot soldiers who assure that "all forms of power," in Russell's words, "become a monopoly of the State."  These groups, believing themselves to be the stalwarts of liberal progressivism, are part of the new dictatorial oligarchy. We should heed Russell's warning about the scientific elite, who currently dominate and rule over the medical. Medical tyrannts and bureaucrats say, "we are wise and good, we know what reforms the world needs; if we have the power, we shall create paradise. And so narcissistically hypnotized by contemplation of their own wisdom and goodness, they proceeded to create a new tyranny, more drastic than any previously known."[16]  The medical oligarchy abhors our individual freedom to treat our bodies' illnesses as we feel fit. It loathes those who would challenge its authority and chastise its shortcomings, failures and blatant mishandling of scientific facts and evidence to conceal its deficiencies.

Fortunately the methods, networks and identities of its foremost leaders are being revealed. A cabal supported by the pharmaceutical industry, endorsed by the federal government, which influences the flow and distortion of medical information and health guidance, is rapidly coming to light.

Richard Gale is a medical journalist, a former Senior Research Analyst in the biotechnology and genomic industries in Silicon Valley and was the head of communications for the Gorbachev Foundation's State of the World Forum.


[1] Ladd, Donna.  "Doctor Who?"  Village Voice. June 22, 1999. https://www.villagevoice.com/1999/06/22/doctor-who/

[2] Ladd, Donna.  "Doctor Who?"  Village Voice. June 22, 1999. https://www.villagevoice.com/1999/06/22/doctor-who/

[3] Ladd, Donna.  "Doctor Who?"  Village Voice. June 22, 1999. https://www.villagevoice.com/1999/06/22/doctor-who/

[4] Superior Court of California in and for the County of Los Angeles Judge Rules in Barrett vs. King Bio, December 3, 2001. http://www.quackpotwatch.org/quackpots/california_superior_court_judge_.htm

[5] Barrett, Stephen. Curriculum vitae. https://www.quackwatch.org/10Bio/biovitae.html

[6] Humantics Foundation, December 15, 2007 http://www.humanticsfoundation.com/quackwatchwatch.htm

[7] Superior Court of California in and for the County of Los Angeles Judge Rules in Barrett vs. King Bio, December 3, 2001. op cit.

[8] Ladd, Donna.  op cit.

[9] Ladd, Donna.  op cit.

[10] Quackwatch.  "Promoters of Questionable Methods and/or Advice." https://www.quackwatch.org/11Ind/index.html

[11] Johnson, Bonnie, "This Vegetarian Named Gary Meditates on One Goal: Null-ifying All Carnivores." People. May 11, 1981. http://people.com/archive/this-vegetarian-named-gary-meditates-on-one-goal-null-ifying-all-carnivores-vol-15-no-18/

[12] Total Health Editors. "Gary Null, Ph.D. Alternative Medicine and Natural Healing Advocate." Total Health Magazine. Accessed February 15, 2018. http://www.totalhealthmagazine.com/Interviews/Gary-Null-Ph.D.-Alternative-Medicine-and-Natural-Healing-Advocate.html

[13] Private correspondence with William Pepper, February 2108.

[14] Barrett, Stephen (January 29, 2012). "A Critical Look at Gary Null's Activities and Credentials". Quackwatch. Retrieved September 15, 2013

[15] Colorado Public Television 12. "Gary Null". Retrieved February 15, 2018 http://www.cpt12.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Gary-Null-CV.pdf

[16] Russell, Bertrand.  Impact of Science on Society. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1953.

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