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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.

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

1933 (age 84–85)
ResidenceChapel Hill, North Carolina
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]



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 followed 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. His medical license is now listed as "Active-Retired" 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-online 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 informationEdit

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. In a whole "Special to The Washington Post", extensive coverage of his views on the subject were provided, including his criticisms of many named abusers.[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. She further writes that 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]

Some sources that mention Stephen Barrett's Quackwatch as a useful source for consumer information include website reviews,[32][33][34][35][36] government agencies,[37][38] various journals[39][40][41][42][43] including an article in The Lancet[44] and some libraries.[45][46][47][48][49][50]

Selected publicationsEdit

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 concluded that "commercial use of hair analysis in this manner is unscientific, economically wasteful, and probably illegal."[51] His report has been cited in later articles, including one which concluded that such testing was "unreliable."[52]
  • "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:[53]

  • Consumer Health: A Guide to Intelligent Decisions, Barrett S, London WM, 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 alsoEdit


  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.[permanent dead link]
  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. Retrieved August 12, 2007.
  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. Retrieved August 12, 2007.
  11. ^ Lundberg, GD (1999). "Introducing the Editorial Board of Medscape". MedGenMed: E28. PMID 11104430.
  12. ^ "The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine". Quackwatch. Retrieved 15 February 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. 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. 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 DJ. David J Hufford, "Symposium article: Evaluating Complementary and Alternative Medicine: The Limits of Science and Scientists." J Law, Medicine & Ethics, 31 (2003): 198–212. Hufford's symposium presentation was the counterpoint for another doctor's presentation, which argued that "alternative medicine" is not medicine at all. See Lawrence J. Schneiderman, "Symposium article: The (Alternative) Medicalization of Life." J Law, Medicine & Ethics, 31 (2003): 191–198.
  32. ^ "Quackwatch". The Good Web Guide. Archived from the original on November 3, 2007. Retrieved October 13, 2007. 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. ^, Best of the Web website reviews: Quackwatch Archived January 14, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  34. ^ "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.
  35. ^ Han LF. Selected Web Site Reviews, Archived December 14, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  36. ^ U.S. News & World Report: The Best of The Web Gets Better Archived January 2, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  37. ^ "Science Panel on Interactive Communication and Health". U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). July 11, 2002. Archived from the original on June 20, 2001. Retrieved September 12, 2007.
  38. ^ "U.S. Department of Health & Human Services". National Health Information Center. Retrieved September 12, 2007.Quackwatch is available from their database.
  39. ^ W Steven Pray. Ethical, Scientific, and Educational Concerns With Unproven Medications. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education. Alexandria: 2006. Vol. 70, Iss. 6; pg. O1, 14 pgs. Quackwatch is named as a reliable source together with Skeptical Inquirer, specifically for pharmacy course on unproven medications and therapies.
  40. ^ Lawrence B Chonko. If It Walks like a Duck . . . : Concerns about Quackery in Marketing Education. Journal of Marketing Education. Boulder: Apr 2004. Vol. 26, Iss. 1; pg. 4, 13 pgs. Chonko states "Many of the thoughts on which this article is based are adapted from materials found on this site." (referring to Quackwatch)
  41. ^ Wallace Sampson, Kimball Atwood IV. Propagation of the Absurd: demarcation of the Absurd revisited. Medical Journal of Australia. Pyrmont: Dec 5 – 19, 2005. Vol. 183, Iss. 11/12; pg. 580 – 1. Sampson states that "CAM source information tends to exclude well known critical and objective web pages such as those found on Quackwatch ("
  42. ^ Eleese Cunningham, Wendy Marcason. Internet hoaxes: How to spot them and how to debunk them. American Dietetic Association. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Chicago: Apr 2001. Vol. 101, Iss. 4; pg. 460 – 1. Cunningham and Marcason state that "Two Web sites that can be useful in determining hoaxes are and"
  43. ^ JAMA Patient Page – Click here: How to find reliable online health information and resources, Journal of the American Medical Association 280:1380, 1998.
  44. ^ Marilynn Larkin. Medical quackery squashers on the web. The Lancet. London: May 16, 1998. Vol. 351, Iss. 9114; pg. 1520 – 2. Names Quackwatch as the premier site for exposing purveyors of health frauds, myths, and fads.
  45. ^ "Southwest Public Libraries". Archived from the original on October 31, 2007. Retrieved September 12, 2007.
  46. ^ "National Network of Libraries of Medicine". Evaluating Health Web Sites, Consumer Health Manual. National Library of Medicine. Archived from the original on October 12, 2007. Retrieved September 12, 2007.
  47. ^ "VCU Libraries". Complementary and Alternative Medicine Resource Guide – Fraud and Quackery Resources. Virginia Commonwealth University. Archived from the original on May 24, 2008. Retrieved September 12, 2007.
  48. ^ "Rutgers University Libraries". Finding What You Want on the Web: A Guide. Rutgers University Libraries. Archived from the original on October 12, 2008. Retrieved September 12, 2007.
  49. ^ "USC Libraries – Electronic Resources – Quackwatch". University of Southern California. Archived from the original on December 15, 2012. Retrieved September 12, 2007.
  50. ^ "Medical Center Library". University of Kentucky Libraries. Archived from the original on November 3, 2007. Retrieved September 12, 2007.
  51. ^ Barrett SJ (August 23, 1985). Commercial hair analysis. Science or scam? JAMA Vol. 254 No. 8.
  52. ^ Assessment of Commercial Laboratories Performing Hair Mineral Analysis, Seidel S, et al., JAMA. 2001;285:67–72.
  53. ^ Barrett SJ. "Books and book chapters". Quackwatch. Retrieved February 12, 2007.

External linksEdit