What is Quackery?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Definitions are hard. You could argue that one person's quack is another's health professional. I do not want to limit the definition to just those people who practice Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). Your local GP may, on occaisions, resort to quackery. Also, a CAM practitioner may be very diligent in how they present themselves. I shall take a working definition from the excellent Quackwatch web site. This definition appears to be quite neutral as to what sort of person is the source of the quackery...

Quackery, in the broadest terms, is "anything involving overpromotion in the field of health."

A quack is "a pretender to medical skill; a charlatan"
and "one who talks pretentiously without sound knowledge of the subject discussed."
(This is is essential to the Quackometer Project as spotting quackery depends on spotting this pretentious, out-of-context vocabulary.)

Quackery is often, but not always, linked to health fraud where there is "the promotion, for profit, of a medical remedy known to be false or unproven."
How can you spot Quack? - they nearly always do the following:-

  • Flaunted qualifications and credentials - this is just an 'appeal to authority'. Quacks often award themselves impressive qualifications or buy them from non-accredited 'colleges' usually in he USA.
  • Exagerated and inflated claims - diets, cures or remedies appear to solve a whole host of illnesses and problems, not just one problem - they are non-specific. Foods are not just foods, but 'superfoods' etc.
  • More often seen on TV, newspapers, magazines with their 'latest findings' than in scientific journals, conferences, text books.
  • Works alone - a sole genius in a world that won't listen.
  • Use of out-of-context language, e.g. energy, frequencies, vibrations, biomagnetic, quantum, detoxification, organic, holistic... These words are often stolen from other disciplines (usually physics) with the quack having no idea what they mean. Their use in health matters is pseudoscience and meant to sound impressive and to bamboozle the gullible.
  • Lots of impressive testimonials - little or no independent peer-reviewed research, no ballance in reviews of research, i.e. no mention of negative results, untracable privately published 'research', lots of 'happy customers'. Testimonials count for nothing - anyone can get them for anything. People fool themselves over the effectiveness of treatments.
  • Claims to be standing up for ordinary people against the conspiracy of 'big pharma', doctors, scientist, the government, multinationals and other great evils (who might disagree with them).
  • Say there is always a need for a personalised questionaire, consultation, membership (with them, not your GP) - just a way to flog more rubbish.

...and much more, Maybe I can add to this list in my blog as time goes by.

Find out more about quackery here...


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