Blog: Pharma Watch
by Lapis

25 Ways To Spot a Quack

"Our list is a work in progress. In the spirit of science, we accept criticism and suggestions for improvement. Other ideas and contributions welcome. We would be pleased if you think of more ways to spot a quack, you would share them with us at"

Date:   6/23/2005 2:30:54 AM   ( 17 y ) ... viewed 3016 times

25 Ways to Spot a Quack
An Opinion
Copyright 2004 Owen R. Fonorow and M. S. Till, Jr.

The inspiration for the following list comes from the infamous web site which first published 25 ways to spot a quack and vitamin pushers. The Quackwatch list is familiar to dietitians, and it has even been found in medical education materials.

We noticed something peculiar about the original list, it is devoid of scientific principles. As professors Steve Hickey and Hilary Roberts remind us in their recent book ASCORBATE: The Science of Vitamin C, even medical researchers have to follow the scientific method. We thought it might be fun to modify the original list to help you and your loved ones spot the real "quacks."

1. A quack will dispute every new method of treatment without first trying it.
2. A quack ignores potentially curative, otherwise harmless, low-cost remedies that have shown large effects in small studies.
3. A quack prescribes high-priced, harmful medications, that injure millions, and kill thousands, and on the basis of large studies that are scientifically unsound because they cannot be repeated, and that are large in order to measure small effects.
4. Quacks will tell their patients that a particular therapy is not "proven" when the therapy in reality has never been investigated.
5. Quacks are incompletely educated in the science of nutrition.
6. Quacks believe that all vitamins are only needed in tiny amounts.
7. Quacks do not believe their own eyes; they will credit spontaneous remission or a placebo effect, rather than consider the possibility that a nutrient is responsible for a positive therapeutic effect.
8. A quack is generally afraid to think for herself/himself and blindly follows the dictates of the pharmaceutical controlled medical profession.
9. Quacks are dogmatic, have closed minds and will reject nutritional treatment options out-of-hand a priori .
10. Quacks are unable to assess the risk of a therapy, or perform simple cost- benefit analysis calculations.
11. Quacks are not well trained in the scientific method, and are unable to differentiate between sound and unsound studies.
12. Quacks assume, without giving evidence, that if a study is not published in a particular medical journal that it is unreliable, yet the leading medical journals admit that they can not find reviewers without conflicts of interest, and drug company inspired "ghostwriting" is common practice.
13. Quacks generally tell their patients that there are no benefits in taking supplemental vitamins.
14. Quacks are willing to experiment on their patients. For example, Quacks prescribe medications that are approved for another use by the FDA. Usually the rationale for other uses is based on flimsy reports in the medical literature.
15. Quacks will prescribe treatments that they know will not work in order to mollify patients and their families. For example, according to Mayo oncologist Moertel, oncologists knows that many chemo therapeutic agents have no beneficial effect on various cancers, yet these agents are routinely prescribed anyway in hopeless cases to keep the patient's morale up.
16. Quacks prescribe FDA approved medications that have been shown to worsen the condition being treated. (e.g., many heart medication have the potential to cause heart disease and make heart patient conditions worse.)
17. Quacks are generally hostile to new ideas that do not emanate from drug company research laboratories.
18. Quacks do not understand that wide acceptance of an idea does not guarantee its accuracy.
19. Quacks, or their minions, accuse opponents of being unscientific, and they attack opponents without supporting data, yet they tend to believe and quote fake news stories that appear regularly in the mainstream media.
20. After an idea can no longer be dismissed, Quacks will run a study, and take credit for ideas they once dismissed as nonsense.
21. Quacks blindly accept drug company marketing, even though, according to the British Medical Journal, only 6% of drug advertising material is supported by the evidence.
22. Quack treatment methods create or increase illness. According to former NEJM editor Marcia Angell, "The most startling fact about 2002 is that the combined profits for the ten drug companies in the Fortune 500 ($35.9 billion) were more than the profits for all the other 490 businesses put together ($33.7 billion)."
23. Quacks claim their methods are "proven" and are highly accurate, yet the cited studies usually lack any compelling theory.
24. A quack pretends that his or her therapeutic recommendations are based on sound science, when in fact they are not.
25. Quacks call leading edge doctors who have more knowledge of nutrition "quacks."

Our list is a work in progress. In the spirit of science, we accept criticism and suggestions for improvement. Other ideas and contributions welcome. We would be pleased if you think of more ways to spot a quack, you would share them with us at

The following "quack story" was told to us by Linda Pauling-Kamb (Linus Pauling's daughter).

"Linus Pauling was on a commercial airline flight and sitting next to a large Texan with an obvious cold. They had a conversation and discussed their respective ranches. Finally, Pauling leans over and suggests to the man that he might find vitamin C useful for his cold. The Texan, indignant, exclaims, "Heck, you must be one of those quacks!"

Vitamin C Foundation
PO Box 3097, Lisle, IL 60532
630-416-1438, Fax: 630-416-1309

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