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Stephen Joel Barrett (born 1933) is a retired Americanmarker 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. Numerous sources have cited Quackwatch as a useful source for online consumer information.


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). He was a practicing physician until retiring from active practice in 1993, and his medical license is currently listed as "Active-Retired" in good standing. Longtime resident of Allentown, Pennsylvaniamarker, Barrett now resides in Chapel Hill, North Carolinamarker.

In addition to webmastering his websites, Barrett is a co-founder, vice-president and a board member of the National Council Against Health Fraud (NCAHF). He is an 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 Universitymarker.

Barrett is the consulting editor for the Consumer Health Library at Prometheus Books, has been a peer-review panelist for at least two medical journals. He has also served on the editorial board of Medscape and The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine. 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, the Today Show, Good Morning America, Primetime, Donahue, CNN, National Public Radio, and more than 200 other radio and television talk show interviews."Sintay and Hagan. From Farrah Fawcett to Suzanne Somers: Is Alternative Medicine Safe?. Barrett participated on Good Morning America, April 7, 2009.

Barrett has received a number of awards and recognition for his consumer protection work against quackery. Quackwatch received the award of Best Physician-Authored Site by MD NetGuide, May 2003.In 1984, he received an FDA Commissioner's Special Citation Award for Public Service in fighting nutrition quackery. He received multiple votes or at least one first-place vote in "10 outstanding skeptics of the 20th century by Skeptical Inquirer magazine. In 1986, he was awarded honorary membership in the American Dietetic Association. Barrett has been profiled in Biography Magazine (1998) and in Time Magazine (2001).

The magazine Spiked-online included Barrett in a survey of 134 persons they termed "key thinkers in science, technology and medicine." 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."

Consumer information

The Quackwatch website is Barrett's main platform for describing and exposing what he and other contributors consider to be quackery and health fraud. The website is part of Quackwatch, Inc., a nonprofit corporation that aims to "combat health-related frauds, myths, fads, fallacies, and misconduct." Barrett's writing is supplemented with contributions from 150+ scientific, technical, and lay volunteers and includes numerous references to published research articles. Barrett defines quackery as "anything involving overpromotion in the field of health," and reserves the word fraud "only for situations in which deliberate deception is involved."

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." 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." Barrett is at the forefront of exposing shady aspects of chiropractic.

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.

A number of practitioners and supporters of alternative medicine question Barrett and Quackwatch for its criticism of alternative medicine. 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. 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.

Some sources that mention Stephen Barrett's Quackwatch as a useful source for consumer information include website reviews, government agencies, Quackwatch is available from their database. various journalsW 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 Enquirer, specifically for Pharmacy Course on Unproven Medications and Therapies.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)Wallace Sampson, Kimball Atwood IV. Propagation of the Absurd: demarcation of the Absurd revisited. Medical Journal of Australia. Pyrmont: Dec 5-Dec 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 (”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” including an article in The LancetMarilynn 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. and some libraries.

Selected publications

A partial list of articles Barrett was one of the authors or his authored work was cited 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." His report has been cited in later articles, including one which concluded that such testing was "unreliable."
  • 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.

A partial list of his (co)authored and (co)edited books include:

  • Consumer Health: A Guide to Intelligent Decisions - Barrett SJ, Jarvis WT, Kroger M, London WM (2006). (textbook, 8th ed.) McGraw-Hill, ISBN 0-07-248521-3

  • Dubious Cancer Treatment - Barrett SJ & Cassileth BR, editors (2001). Florida Division of the American Cancer Society

  • 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 - by 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

Collections of articles:

  • Paranormal Claims: A Critical Analysis, 2007, edited by Bryan Farha, University Press of America, ISBN 978-0-7618-3772-5. Three of the eighteen chapters are written by Barrett.

See also


  1. License number: MD005361E
  2. Joel R. Cooper. Consumer Health Fraud...don't be a victim! Interview with Stephen Barrett, M.D., The Medical Reporter
  3. Dr. Who? Diagnosing Medical Fraud May Require a Second Opinion. by Donna Ladd, The Village Voice, June 23 - 29, 1999. Retrieved September 2, 2006
  4. 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
  5. 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.
  6., Best of the Web website reviews: Quackwatch.
  7. Han LF. Selected Web Site Reviews,
  8. U.S. News & World Report: The Best of The Web Gets Better
  9. JAMA Patient Page - Click here: How to find reliable online health information and resources, Journal of the American Medical Association 280:1380, 1998.
  10. Barrett SJ (August 23, 1985). Commercial hair analysis. Science or scam? JAMA Vol. 254 No. 8.
  11. Assessment of Commercial Laboratories Performing Hair Mineral Analysis, Seidel S, et al. , JAMA. 2001;285:67-72.

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