When you first started seeking the facts about “alternative” medicine, where did you turn? For me, it was Quackwatch. Before there were blogs or podcasts, there was Quackwatch. It’s been around since 1996, which is prehistoric by internet standards. Quackwatch is an enormous site: if there’s a dubious health intervention, there’s a pretty good chance that Quackwatch has a page about it. I’ve linked to it repeatedly on this blog, as I consider it to be a credible source of information.
Unfortunately, taking an evidence-based approach to medicine, and putting that evidence in the public eye, puts you at all kinds of risks. From personal smears, to unfounded allegations of conflicts of interest, to legal threats, advocates for pseudoscience do whatever they can when they cannot refute the facts. And that’s what’s happening to the founder of Quackwatch: Dr. Stephen Barrett is being sued by a laboratory called Doctor’s Data.
I’ve previously blogged about Simon Singh and his case with the British Chiropractic Association. I’ve also highlighted the case of Dr. Paul Offit who was sued for a statement made about an antivaccination advocate. Doctor’s Data is using the same tactic with Dr. Barrett: Shutting down fair comment on scientific issues through legal intimidation.
Doctor’s Data is a laboratory that caters to chelation advocates. Dr. Barrett has repeatedly pointed out on Quackwatch the lack of a sound rationale for these tests. He received several letters demanding he correct information that they stated was “false, fraudulent, defamatory or otherwise not truthful,” but then subsequently refused to identify which statements were, in fact, incorrect. Dr. Barrett responded,
If you want me to consider modifying the article, please identify every sentence to which you object and explain why you believe it is not correct.
Rather than respond, the company is suing Dr. Barrett personally, as well the National Council Against Health Fraud and Quackwatch, Inc. They are seeking $10 million in damages.
The suit specifically names objections to these articles on Quackwatch:
- How the Urine Toxic Metals Test Is Used to Defraud Patients
- CARE Clinics, Doctor’s Data, Sued for Fraud
- Be Wary of CARE Clinics and the Center for Autistic Spectrum Disorders (CASD)
- Three brief articles in Consumer Health Digest:
- Laboratories Doing Nonstandard Laboratory Tests
It’s critical for advocates of science-based healthcare to support each other and stand together. Legal threats and other forms of intimidation are standard tactics when organizations don’t have any evidence to defend their claims.
As Dr. Barrett says,
Very few people provide the type of information I do. One reason for this is the fear of being sued. Knowledgeable observers believe that Doctor’s Data is trying to intimidate me and perhaps to discourage others from making similar criticisms. However, I have a right to express well-reasoned opinions and will continue to do so. If you would like to help with the cost of my defense, please follow the instructions on our donations page.
If you value your access to science-based information about medicine, please tell your network about Dr. Barrett and Doctor’s Data. Tweet it, Facebook it, and spread the word. Let’s make this another example of the Streisand effect. Finally, if you value information sources like Quackwatch, consider a donation to help Dr. Barrett. I’ve just donated.