Stephen Barrett

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Stephen Barrett
Stephen Barrett seated at desk crop.jpg
Stephen Joel Barrett

1933 (age 88–89)
Alma materColumbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons (1957)
OccupationPsychiatrist, author, consumer advocate, webmaster
Years active1961–1993 (psychiatry)
Known forBeing the webmaster of Quackwatch
Spouse(s)Judith Nevyas Barrett, M.D.[1][2]
Children3 (Daniel, Deborah, and Benjamin)[2]

Stephen Joel Barrett (/ˈbærɪt/; born 1933) is an American retired psychiatrist, author, co-founder of the National Council Against Health Fraud (NCAHF), and the webmaster of Quackwatch. He runs a number of websites dealing with quackery and health fraud. He focuses on consumer protection, medical ethics, and scientific skepticism.


Barrett is a 1957 graduate of the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and completed his psychiatry residency in 1961. In 1967 and 1968 he completed part of a correspondence course in American Law and Procedure at La Salle Extension University (Chicago).[3] He was a practicing physician until retiring from active practice in 1993. As of 2019, his medical license was listed as "Expired" in good standing: "No disciplinary actions were found for this license."[4] A longtime resident of Allentown, Pennsylvania, Barrett now resides in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.[5]

In addition to webmastering his websites, Barrett was a co-founder, vice-president and a board member of the National Council Against Health Fraud (NCAHF). He is a scientific advisor to the American Council on Science and Health, and a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI). From 1987 through 1989, he taught health education at Pennsylvania State University.

Barrett was the consulting editor for the Consumer Health Library at Prometheus Books,[6] and has been a peer-review panelist for [7] two[8][9][10] medical journals. He has also served on the editorial board of Medscape[11] and the Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine.[12] According to his website, he "has written more than 2,000 articles and delivered more than 300 talks at colleges, universities, medical schools, and professional meetings. His media appearances include Dateline, Today, Good Morning America, Primetime, Donahue, CNN, National Public Radio, and more than 200 other radio and television talk show interviews."[7][13]

Quackwatch received the award of Best Physician-Authored Site by MD NetGuide, May 2003.[14] In 1984, he received an FDA Commissioner's Special Citation Award for Public Service in fighting nutrition quackery.[15] He was included in the list of outstanding skeptics of the 20th century by Skeptical Inquirer magazine.[16] In 1986, he was awarded honorary membership in the American Dietetic Association.[15] Barrett has been profiled in Biography Magazine (1998)[17] and in Time (2001).[18]

The magazine Spiked included Barrett in a survey of 134 persons[19] they termed "key thinkers in science, technology and medicine."[20][21] When he was asked: "What inspired you to take up science?" he replied that his appreciation of medical science:

probably began when I took a college course in medical statistics, and learned what makes the difference between scientific thought and poor reasoning. Medical school brought me in touch with the rapid and amazing strides being made in the understanding and treatment of disease. My anti-quackery activities have intensified my interest and concern in distinguishing science from pseudoscience, quackery and fraud.[21]

Consumer information[edit]

The Quackwatch website is Barrett's main platform for describing and exposing what he and other contributors consider to be quackery and health fraud.[22] The website was part of Quackwatch, Inc., a nonprofit corporation founded by Barrett that aims to "combat health-related frauds, myths, fads, fallacies, and misconduct." The non-profit was dissolved in 2008.[23] Barrett's writing is supplemented with contributions from many scientific, technical, and lay volunteers and includes numerous references to published research articles.[24] Barrett defines quackery as "anything involving overpromotion in the field of health,"[25] and reserves the word fraud "only for situations in which deliberate deception is involved."[26] Barrett has become a "lightning rod" for controversy as a result of his criticisms of alternative medicine theories and practitioners. Barrett says he does not criticize conventional medicine because that would be "way outside [his] scope."[18][27] He states he does not give equal time to some subjects, and has written on his web site that "Quackery and fraud don't involve legitimate controversy and are not balanced subjects. I don't believe it is helpful to publish 'balanced' articles about unbalanced subjects."[28] Barrett is at the forefront of exposing questionable aspects of chiropractic.[29]

Barrett is a strong supporter of the HONcode and has made efforts to improve compliance with its rules and to expose those who abuse it.[30]

A number of practitioners and supporters of alternative medicine oppose Barrett and Quackwatch for its criticism of alternative medicine.[27][31] Donna Ladd, a journalist with The Village Voice, says Barrett relies mostly on negative research to criticize alternative medicine, rejecting most positive case studies as unreliable due to methodological flaws. According to Ladd, Barrett insists that most alternative therapies "simply should be disregarded without further research. 'A lot of things don't need to be tested [because] they simply don't make any sense', he says, pointing to homeopathy, chiropractic, and acupuncture as examples of alternative treatments with no plausible mechanism of action."[27]

Both website reviews[32][33][34][35][36] and various journal articles[37][38][39][40][41][42] mention or use as references Stephen Barrett's Quackwatch as a useful source for consumer information. However, other authors have critcised Quackwatch as being overly biased in its presentation.[43][44][45]

In February 2020, Quackwatch became part of the Center for Inquiry. CFI planned to maintain its various websites and to receive Barrett's library later in the year.[46]

Selected publications[edit]

Articles for which Barrett was an author include:

  • In 1985, Barrett was the author of the "Commercial hair analysis. Science or scam?" article in the Journal of the American Medical Association that exposed commercial laboratories performing multimineral hair analysis. He commented that in his opinion, "commercial use of hair analysis in this manner is unscientific, economically wasteful, and probably illegal."[47] His report has been cited in later articles, including one which concluded that such testing was "unreliable."[48]
  • "A Close Look at Therapeutic Touch", Rosa L, Rosa E, Sarner L, Barrett SJ. (April 1, 1998). JAMA, Vol. 279, No. 13, pp 1005–1010.

His (co)authored and (co)edited books include:[49]

  • Consumer Health: A Guide to Intelligent Decisions, Barrett S, London William, Kroger M, Hall H, Baretz R (2013). (textbook, 9th ed.) McGraw-Hill, ISBN 978-0078028489
  • Dubious Cancer Treatment, Barrett SJ & Cassileth BR, editors (2001). Florida Division of the American Cancer Society
  • Chemical Sensitivity: The Truth About Environmental Illness (Consumer Health Library), Barrett, SJ & Gots, Ronald E. (1998). Prometheus Books. ISBN 9781573921954
  • The Health Robbers: A Close Look at Quackery in America, Barrett SJ, Jarvis WT, eds. (1993). Prometheus Books, ISBN 0-87975-855-4
  • Health Schemes, Scams, and Frauds, Barrett SJ (1991). Consumer Reports Books, ISBN 0-89043-330-5
  • Reader's Guide to Alternative Health Methods, Zwicky JF, Hafner AW, Barrett S, Jarvis WT (1993). American Medical Association, ISBN 0-89970-525-1
  • The Vitamin Pushers: How the "Health Food" Industry Is Selling America a Bill of Goods, Barrett SJ, Herbert V (1991). Prometheus Books, ISBN 0-87975-909-7
  • Vitamins and Minerals: Help or Harm?, Marshall CW (1983). Lippincott Williams & Wilkins ISBN 0-397-53060-9 (edited by Barrett, won the American Medical Writers Association award for best book of 1983 for the general public, republished by Consumer Reports Books).

Collections of articles:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Barrett, Stephen (December 21, 2016). "Stephen Barrett, M.D. Curriculum Vitae". Quackwatch. Retrieved February 25, 2017. Wife, Judith Nevyas Barrett, M.D., is a retired family practitioner.
  2. ^ a b Rosen, Marjorie (October 1998). "Biography Magazine Interviews - Stephen Barrett, M.D." Biography Magazine. Retrieved February 25, 2017.
  3. ^ Barrett, Stephen (June 24, 2007). "Curriculum Vitae". Quackwatch. Retrieved July 18, 2007.
  4. ^ "Pennsylvania Department of State; Stephen Barret Medical License Status and standing". Pennsylvania Department of State; to be considered a primary resource. Retrieved November 19, 2015.
  5. ^ Wlazelek, Ann (June 13, 2007). "Allentown critic of quacks moves to 'milder winters'". The Morning Call. Retrieved September 25, 2014.
  6. ^ "Prometheus Books Spring-Summer 2007 Trade Catalog" (PDF). p. 63. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 14, 2006. Retrieved March 29, 2007.
  7. ^ a b Barrett, Stephen (June 4, 2007). "Stephen Barrett, M.D., Biographical Sketch". Quackwatch. Retrieved August 12, 2007.
  8. ^ Williams, Elaine S (April 21, 1999). "The JAMA 1998 Editorial Peer Review Audit". Journal of the American Medical Association. 281 (15): 1443. doi:10.1001/jama.281.15.1443.
  9. ^ JAMA Peer Reviewers for 2003
  10. ^ "Thanks to Reviewers-2001". Annals of Internal Medicine. 135 (12): 1098–1106. December 18, 2001. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-135-12-200112180-00033.
  11. ^ Lundberg, GD (1999). "Introducing the Editorial Board of Medscape". MedGenMed: E28. PMID 11104430.
  12. ^ "The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine". Quackwatch. August 15, 2002. Retrieved February 15, 2015.
  13. ^ Sintay and Hagan. From Farrah Fawcett to Suzanne Somers: Is Alternative Medicine Safe?. Barrett participated on Good Morning America, April 7, 2009.
  14. ^ "Pass the Envelope, Please...: Best Physician- Authored Site". MD Net Guide. May–June 2003. Archived from the original on June 25, 2003. Retrieved April 3, 2009.
  15. ^ a b Joel R. Cooper. "Consumer Health Fraud...don't be a victim! Interview with Stephen Barrett, M.D." The Medical Reporter. Archived from the original on December 12, 2006.
  16. ^ "Ten Outstanding Skeptics of the Century". Scientifically Investigating Paranormal and Fringe Science Claims. Skeptical Inquirer. Archived from the original on July 15, 2007. Retrieved August 12, 2007.
  17. ^ Rosen, Marjorie (October 1998). "Interview with Stephen Barrett, M.D". Biography Magazine. Retrieved August 16, 2007.
  18. ^ a b Jaroff, Leon (April 30, 2001). "The Man Who Loves To Bust Quacks". Time. Archived from the original on April 6, 2005. Retrieved August 16, 2007.
  19. ^ "What Inspired You? – Index of Survey responses". Spiked-Online. Retrieved July 23, 2007.
  20. ^ "What Inspired You? – Introduction". Spiked-Online. Retrieved July 23, 2007.
  21. ^ a b Barrett, Stephen. "What Inspired You? – Survey responses – Dr Stephen Barrett". Spiked-Online. Archived from the original on September 20, 2012. Retrieved July 23, 2007.
  22. ^ Baldwin, Fred D. "If It Quacks Like a Duck ..." MedHunters. Archived from the original on February 6, 2008. Retrieved September 16, 2007.
  23. ^ Barrett, Stephen, MD. "Quackwatch mission statement". Quackwatch. Retrieved August 16, 2007.
  24. ^ Barrett, Stephen, MD (January 28, 2003). "150+ Scientific and Technical Advisors". Quackwatch. Retrieved May 21, 2015.
  25. ^ Barrett, Stephen, MD. "Quackery: How Should It Be Defined?". Quackwatch. Retrieved August 16, 2007.
  26. ^ Barrett SJ, Jarvis WT. "Quackery, Fraud and "Alternative" Methods: Important Definitions". Quackwatch. Retrieved August 16, 2007.
  27. ^ a b c Dr. Who? Diagnosing Medical Fraud May Require a Second Opinion. by Donna Ladd, The Village Voice, June 23–29, 1999. Retrieved September 2, 2006
  28. ^ Barrett SJ. "How do you respond to accusations that your writing is unbalanced?". Quackwatch. Retrieved August 16, 2007.
  29. ^ Singh S, Ernst E (2008). "The truth about chiropractic therapy". Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine. W.W. Norton. pp. 171–72. ISBN 978-0-393-06661-6.
  30. ^ Christopher Wanjek. Attacking Their HONor: Some Dispute Value of Logo Used to Verify Accuracy, Integrity Of Health Web Site Contents. Special to The Washington Post, April 20, 2004; Page HE01
  31. ^ Hufford, David J. (2003). "Symposium article: Evaluating Complementary and Alternative Medicine: The Limits of Science and Scientists". The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics. 31 (2): 198–212. doi:10.1111/j.1748-720x.2003.tb00081.x. PMID 12964264. S2CID 29859505.. Hufford's symposium presentation was the counterpoint for another doctor's presentation, which argued that "alternative medicine" is not medicine at all. See Schneiderman, Lawrence J. (2003). "Symposium article: The (Alternative) Medicalization of Life". The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics. 31 (2): 191–198. doi:10.1111/j.1748-720x.2003.tb00080.x. PMID 12964263. S2CID 43786245.
  32. ^ Arabella Dymoke (2004). The Good Web Guide. The Good Web Guide Ltd. p. 35. ISBN 978-1-903282-46-5. Quackwatch is without doubt an important and useful information resource and injects a healthy dose of scepticism into reviewing popular health information. Its aim is to investigate questionable claims made in some sectors of what is now a multi-million pound healthcare industry.
  33. ^ Nguyen-Khoa, Bao-Anh (July 1999). "Selected Web Site Reviews —". The Consultant Pharmacist. Archived from the original on March 18, 2009. Retrieved June 24, 2013.
  34. ^ "Best of the Web website reviews: Quackwatch". Forbes. Archived from the original on January 14, 2008.
  35. ^ "Diet Channel Award Review Of Quackwatch". Retrieved September 18, 2007. Quackwatch is a very informative site which informs you about health fraud and gives you advice on many decisions.
  36. ^ "U.S. News & World Report: The Best of The Web Gets Better". US News. November 7, 1999. Archived from the original on May 24, 2006.
  37. ^ Pray, W. S. (2006). "Ethical, Scientific, and Educational Concerns with Unproven Medications". American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education. 70 (6): 141. doi:10.5688/aj7006141. PMC 1803699. PMID 17332867.
  38. ^ Chonko, Lawrence B. (2004). "If it Walks Like a Duck...: Concerns about Quackery in Marketing Education". Journal of Marketing Education. 26: 4–16. doi:10.1177/0273475303257763. S2CID 167338734. ERIC EJ807197.
  39. ^ Sampson, Wallace; Atwood IV, Kimball (2005). "Propagation of the absurd: Demarcation of the absurd revisited". The Medical Journal of Australia. 183 (11–12): 580–1. doi:10.5694/j.1326-5377.2005.tb00040.x. PMID 16336135. S2CID 43272637.
  40. ^ Cunningham, Eleese; Marcason, Wendy (2001). "Internet hoaxes: How to spot them and how to debunk them". Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 101 (4): 460. doi:10.1016/S0002-8223(01)00117-1.
  41. ^ "Click here: How to find reliable online health information and resources". JAMA. 280 (15): 1380. 1998. doi:10.1001/jama.280.15.1380. PMID 9794323.
  42. ^ Larkin, Marilynn (1998). "Medical quackery squashers on the web". The Lancet. 351 (9114): 1520. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(05)78918-2. S2CID 54300255.
  43. ^ Okasha, Mona (2000). "Quackery on the web – questionable cancer therapies". The Lancet Oncology. 1 (4): 251. doi:10.1016/S1470-2045(00)00162-5.
  44. ^ Cuzzell, Jane. (2000). "Quackwatch: Your Guide to Health Fraud, Quackery, and Intelligent Decisions", Dermatology Nursing, Apr. 2000, p. 134. Accessed 6 November 2019.
  45. ^ Vankevitch, Ned (2002). "Limiting Pluralism". In Ernst, Waltraud (ed.). Plural medicine, tradition and modernity, 1800-2000. New York: Routledge. pp. 219–244. ISBN 978-0-415-23122-0.
  46. ^ Fidalgo, Paul (February 26, 2020). "Quackwatch Joins the Center for Inquiry". Center for Inquiry. Retrieved February 26, 2020.
  47. ^ Barrett SJ (August 23, 1985). Commercial hair analysis. Science or scam? JAMA Vol. 254 No. 8.
  48. ^ Assessment of Commercial Laboratories Performing Hair Mineral Analysis, Seidel S, et al., JAMA. 2001;285:67–72.
  49. ^ Barrett SJ. "Books and book chapters". Quackwatch. Retrieved February 12, 2007.

External links[edit]