Frequently Asked Questions
about My Activities

Stephen Barrett, M.D.

How did you become interested in this subject? Did some experience make you bitter? Were you a victim of quackery yourself?

I have never been seriously victimized in any way and am a very upbeat person. I grew up in a family atmosphere that placed great value on education, science, and fair play. My interest in quackery began by accident and was not related to any strong feeling on the subject. During the mid-1960s, I read two books that irritated me greatly. One was about the government's struggle to clean up the patent medicine fraud that was rampant during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The other described how chiropractors had achieved legal recognition even though the theory behind their work was nonsense. When I voiced my concern to my local medical society president, he suggested that I organize a committee focused on quackery. Further discussion led us to form a group that was broad-based rather than composed just of medical doctors. The more we looked at, the more deeply I became concerned.

During the mid-1970s, I began writing about what I found and gradually evolved into a medical writer and editor. As I did so, I gradually reduced my psychiatric work until 1993, when I retired so I could spend more time writing about my findings. The original committee, renamed Quackwatch in 1997, has evolved into an informal network of individuals who provide help when asked.

What prompted you to start the Quackwatch Web site?

My intent was to provide source material for students and instructors who were using my Consumer Health textbook. But when I grasped the importance of the Internet, I decided to do much more.

What qualifies you to write on so many topics?

My medical education has provided the background to understand most aspects of health, disease, and health care. Many experts are available to review what I write and answer questions that come up. The most convenient is my wife, who happens to be a very scholarly family physician. Much of my writing is based on my own investigations of the health marketplace. My resource library contains thousands of books, tapes, and periodicals and more than 100,000 miscellaneous documents collected since the early 1970s.

Do you have a healthy lifestyle? What do you eat? What do you do for fitness?

My lifestyle is quite healthy. My diet is about 10% fat and adequate in fiber. To keep fit, I do two or three sessions of aerobic exercise and two sessions of strength training per week. On some days, I use a treadmill, exercise bike, and Nordic Track for a total of about 40 minutes. On other days, I swim about 1,200 yards in half an hour. My program has resulted in excellent cholesterol levels (TC 197, LDL 67, HDL 115) and a resting pulse of 54, which reflects my high level of fitness. In 2006, an exercise stress test rated my fitness level in the top 2% of people my age. Since moving to North Carolina in 2007, I have been swimming competitively and have won 16 state championship events.

What are your goals?

I hope to promote accurate health information and increase consumer protection in the marketplace. I focus on attacking misinformation because very few people are doing that. But our Internet Health Pilot site helps to promote high-quality information by steering consumers to sites that provide it.

What is the status of your medical license?

In 1993, I decided to devote my full energy to investigating and writing about quackery and inactivated my Pennsylvania license. Since 1999, there has been an organized attempt to destroy my reputation by falsely describing my status as "de-licensed"—a derogatory term that means having one's licensed revoked for misconduct. I have committed no misconduct and retired in good standing. The Pennsylvania Board of Medicine now classifies my license as "Active – Retired," which means that I can prescribe for myself and my immediate family. Since I no longer see patients, there is no reason to maintain a broader license. I have filed lawsuits against several of the people who have libeled me.

If a doctor says that a patient is terminally ill and nothing more can be done, would you recommend
rolling over and dying rather than trying an alternative? Is that what you would do for yourself?

I recommend taking whatever steps are needed to determine the accuracy of the "terminally ill" prognosis. If it is correct, I would recommend spending the remaining time in the most productive way. In my own case, I would eat pizza (which I gave up many years ago to protect my coronary arteries), place my affairs in order, and continue to write about the topics I believe are most important. I would not waste 10 cents or 10 minutes looking for something that does not exist.

Additional Information about me

Additional Information about Quackwatch

This page was revised on March 6, 2011.

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