Defender of Science-Based Medicine Sued

What was your first skeptical resource? For me, a health professional, 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.

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.

You’ve seen previous posts on Skeptic North about Simon Singh and his case with the British Chiropractic Association. I’ve previously described on this blog 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:

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 the role of public skepticism and the right to make fair comment about scientific evidence, 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.

Related Links

Check out related posts from PalMD, Science-Based Medicine, and Skeptic North guest blogger Paul Ingraham. And lizditz has a roundup of all the reaction to this story.

One Response to “Defender of Science-Based Medicine Sued”

  1. Kim Hebert says:

    What a shame. I would think the least they could do is point out specific statements were “fraudulent” so Barrett could take corrective action (if appropriate), but apparently the least they can do it just sue him for a ridiculous amount of money. I hope the American courts recognize the intimidation here, as Barrett has a written record of his attempted compliance.


  • Scott Gavura

    Scott is passionate about improving the way drugs are used. A pharmacist by background, Scott has a professional interest in improving the cost-effective use of drugs at the population level, while helping consumers make more informed decisions about their health. He blogs about pharmacy practice and questionable science at Science-Based Pharmacy and Science-Based Medicine. All views expressed by Scott are his personal views alone, and do not represent the opinions of any current or former employers, or any organizations or associations that he may be affiliated with. All information is provided for discussion purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for consultation with a licensed and accredited health professional.