Stephen J. Barrett, MD

Board of Directors

Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA

Stephen Barrett, MD, a retired psychiatrist, is well known as the founder and owner of Quackwatch. Since 1996, this popular consumer information website has been foremost in “combating health-related frauds, myths, fads, fallacies, and misconduct” and provides vast stores of “quackery-related information that is difficult or impossible to get elsewhere.” As the owner of Quackwatch and some two dozen related websites, Dr Barrett is often called on by the media for comment.  His free email newsletter Consumer Health Digest is read by thousands.

Dr Barrett graduated from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and completed his psychiatric training at Temple University Hospital. Forty years ago, he founded the Lehigh Valley Committee Against Health Fraud. He went on to co-found the National Council Against Health Fraud and for many years served as an officer and board member.  He is on the editorial board of The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine.

Dr Barrett has received numerous awards, including the FDA Commissioner’s Special Citation Award for Public Service for opposing nutrition quackery (1984). He was awarded Honorary Life Membership in the American Dietetic Association (1986). He was honored with the Distinguished Service to Health Education Award from the American Association for Health Education (2001). Quackwatch was awarded “Best Physician-Authored Site” by MD NetGuide (2003). 

Dr Barrett was named one of the top ten skeptics of the 20th century by Skeptical Inquirer magazine. He was featured in Biography Magazine (1998) and Time (2001). In 2007, Spiked-Online proclaimed him as one of 134 “key thinkers in science, technology and medicine.” He is listed in Marquis’s Who’s Who in America (from 2001) and Who’s Who in Medicine and Health Care (from 2002).

Selected Books:

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Consumer Health: A Guide to Intelligent Decisions, with William M. London, Robert S. Baratz & Manfred Kroger (McGraw-Hill, 8th ed., 2006). The most comprehensive text available in the field continues to provide a vast amount of information to enable consumers to make wise choices regarding health products and services. It offers a panoramic view of the health marketplace, while explaining the scientific methods that are essential for validating claims about how products and services affect health.

Dubious Cancer Treatment, editor with Barrie R. Cassileth (Florida Division of the American Cancer Society, 2001). Featuring over twenty highly respected authorities, explains the dangers of quack medicine, "alternative" cancer remedies, health fads, and "miracle diets." It argues for stronger laws and more vigorous policing of the marketplace.

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Chemical Sensitivity: The Truth About Environmental Illness, with Ronald E. Gots (Prometheus, 1998). Chemical sensitivity describes people with numerous troubling symptoms attributed to environmental factors. Many such individuals are seeking special accommodations or seeking recompense for their discomfort. This book examines this phenomenon in depth and the scientific, legal, ethical, and political issues that surround it.

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Reader's Guide to Alternative Health Methods: An Analysis of More Than 1,000 Reports on Unproven, Disproven, Controversial, Fraudulent, Quack, And/or Otherwise Questionable Approaches to Solving Health Problems, with John F. Zwicky, Arthur W. Hafner & William T. Jarvis (American Medical Association, 1993). Substantial annotated bibliographies of journal papers, books, association statements, and popular-magazine articles reflecting both proponent and critical views of alternative healing systems, treatments for specific diseases, nutrition, diagnosis, and additional topics. A brief description of each method precedes the relevant bibliography. Should be especially useful to professionals because the literature it covers is not represented in systems such as MEDLINE.

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The Health Robbers: A Close Look at Quackery in America, ed., with William T. Jarvis (Prometheus Books, 1993). Featuring over twenty highly respected authorities, this volume explains the dangers of quack medicine, "alternative" cancer remedies, health fads, and "miracle diets." It argues for stronger laws and more vigorous policing of the marketplace. Quackery is often harmful because it turns ill people away from legitimate and trusted therapeutic procedures. However, its heaviest toll is the financial loss, not only of those who pay directly, but to everyone who pays for bogus treatments through taxes, insurance premiums, and other ways that are less obvious. The book includes many chapters by Dr Barrett, and others by present ISM Fellows (JE Dodes & WI Sampson).

Health Schemes, Scams, and Frauds (Consumer Reports Books, 1991).

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The Vitamin Pushers: How the “Health Food” Industry is Selling America a Bill of Goodswith Victor Herbert (Prometheus Books,1991). Explains the dangers of quack medicine, health fads, and "miracle" diets, and argues for tightened standards for screening medical personnel. Addresses such questions as:  Are organic foods worth their extra cost? Can acupuncture cure anything? Will vitamin B12 shots pep me up?  Can diet help arthritis?

Selected Papers:

  • Naturopathic opposition to immunization,” (with KC Atwood), Quackwatch, 2001 Dec 30. “One reason naturopaths (NDs) are held in low regard is their historical opposition to immunization. Some naturopaths now claim that this opposition ‘does not reflect the current view of NDs trained in accredited schools.’ However, a close look indicates that opposition is still widespread.”
  • Questionable cancer therapies” (with V Herbert), Quackwatch, 2001 Jul 6 [revised].
  • PBS broadcast angers chiropractors,” National Council Against Health Fraud, 2001 Jun 18.
  • A close look at Therapeutic Touch” (with LA Rosa, ECR Rosa & LW Sarner), Journal of the American Medical Association, 1998 Apr 1; 279(13):1005-1010. “Twenty-one experienced TT practitioners were unable to detect the investigator’s ‘energy field.’ Their failure to substantiate TT's most fundamental claim is unrefuted evidence that the claims of TT are groundless and that further professional use is unjustified.”
  • Commercial hair analysis: science or scam? Journal of the American Medical Association, 1985 Aug 23-30; 254(8):1041-1045. “[C]ommercial use of hair analysis in this manner is unscientific, economically wasteful, and probably illegal.”


Analysis of the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy (WHCCAMP) Final Report (with TM Gorski):


  • Panel discussion at The Amazing Meeting 2, James Randi Educational Foundation, 2004 Jan 15-18.

  • Appearance on Penn & Teller’s exposé on Therapeutic Touch.

Additional Recognition:

  • Marquis Who's Who in Science and Engineering, 2001-
  • Marquis Who's Who in the World, 2002-
  • Marquis Who's Who in Medicine and Health Care, 2002-
  • Marquis Who's Who in American Education, 2006-

In the News:

  • Hulda Clark rebuttal” (with T Polevoy & L Bernstein), Tony Brown’s Journal, PBS, 2000. “In this two-part discussion, Dr Terry Polevoy, Dr Stephen Barrett, chairman of Quackwatch, and Dr Leslie Bernstein, a professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, challenge Dr Hulda Clark’s theories and methods for identifying and eliminating the causes of disease.”

Complete Bibliography:

The Online Steve Barrett:

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(re Steve Barrett)

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(re Quackwatch)

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