A Brief Quackery Primer

A Brief Quackery Primer | American Council on Science and Health – Feb 2018 – by Josh Bloom

Many well-educated, skeptical people suffer from a failure of logic when it comes to matters of health.  Some studies even suggest that the more educated the person, the more likely they are to fall for some form of quackery.


When a person who believes fervently in some idea is confronted by evidence that they are wrong they may react emotionally and consider the evidence to be a personal attack.  They will then deny the evidence, no matter how strong it might be. 

This is the problem we are having in the “opioid crisis” when charlatans like Kolodny ignite anti-opioid hysteria without data to back up his claims. When presented with contradictory facts, he ignores it or attacks the messenger.

This emotional reaction is part of common human nature; it takes a strong, objective mind to combat it, and it is exploited by quacks.

Evidence, to be acceptable, must follow the rules.  Evidence based on logical fallacies, poorly designed or faked studies, testimonials and anecdotes, is not acceptable;  these are the methods of quacks. We prefer science to pseudo-science.

“Alternative” Medicine is a red herring; there is no alternative to proper treatment.


The fallacy of the appeal to authority is another pitfall exploited by the quacks.  Credentials can be phony, can be meaningless, can be purchased.  Even people with genuine credentials can be dead wrong. Citing credentials or quoting authorities are no guarantees of reliability.

And these days, the self-appointed authorities in opioid prescribing are dead wrong.

Many intelligent people retain the rebelliousness of youth under the guise of “individuality”.


They are resentful of Authority and the Establishment;

And a touch of paranoia can play its part

Quackery can be appealing because it’s consistent with the American notion of freedom and individuality and resistance to control and dogma.


The placebo effect, which improves chronic symptoms about half the time. The quack is quick to take the credit.

The waxing and waning of chronic symptoms.  When the symptom gets worse, the patient goes to the quack, who takes the credit when the symptom gets cyclically better, as it would have done anyway.

Misdiagnosis.  A favorite quack trick:  he tells you you have a disease you don’t have, then he cures you.

Spontaneous remission.  Occasionally, a serious disease improves or gets better for no detectable reason.  The quack will loudly take credit, without mentioning his many failures.

Phony “prevention” programs.  It’s very easy to successfully treat a patient who has nothing the matter with him.

The public erroneously believes that it is protected from Quackery by the law and this gives people a false sense of security. That makes it easier for the quack to deceive. In reality, quackery is not necessarily illegal; in any case, it is very difficult to prosecute even the most flagrant quackery.


How Quacks Do It

The Quack makes unscientific claims and defies you to disprove them whereas a real scientist develops and displays proof before making claims

Methods Of The Quack

The Quack uses complicated language and systems to cover up a simple but non-scientific principle.

They take simple concepts and then obscure them with all sorts of complicated pseudo-language.

Additionally, quack jargon commonly makes use of emotionally loaded catch words, such as alternative, holistic, prevention, nutrition, immune system, wellness and more.

That is why the Quack focuses on what I call the “quack-sensitive” ailments, such as arthritis, headaches, depression, loss of “vigor”, malaise, multiple sclerosis, sexual difficulties, etc.  

These are real ailments characterized by chronic discomfort and often incorporating emotional factors; conventional medicine finds these difficult to treat successfully. The Quack hurls themself into the breach.

Attack The Establishment For Profit

The Quack always finds a way to make a profit on the latest beliefs. They rely on authoritarianism, logical fallacies, falsehoods, unsupported assertions, anecdotes, testimonials.  They never defend methods by showing proof, but instead attack the “establishment”.

If a quack is wrong with 99 times patients and turns out to be right once, they claim to be a courageous pioneer.  

If a legitimate doctor is right 99 times and wrong once, the quacks only talk about how mainstream medicine (they will call it “allopathic”, to make it sound like medicine is just a parallel to homeopathy, naturopathy, etc.) is wrong.

If a quack is sincere, and really believes in what they’re doing, does that make it all right?  I think it is safer to go to the quack who knows they are a quack; at least fear of legal reprisal may prevent them from killing you.

Most Worrisome Is The Sincere Quack

 “MAY you never know what we’re preventing!”

The quack is, in essence, saying: “prevention is good” and if you don’t get a disease, it worked.  They pretend that because the first part is true (prevention is good) then the second part must also be true (what I do constitutes prevention).

1 thought on “A Brief Quackery Primer

Other thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.