A nonsensical attack on Stephen Barrett

About three weeks ago, fresh after having experienced my own attack by anti-vaccine activists who tried to get me fired, I noticed that Doctors Data was doing what cranks and crank organizations can’t resist doing when they face scientific criticism, namely to lash out. Such lashing out can take many forms. In my case, as I mentioned, the cranks were the anti-vaccine loons at Age of Autism, and the attack consisted of an e-mail campaign against me to the board of directors of my university. To Dr. Barrett, who, thanks to his many more years taking on medical pseudoscience than I, is far more despised by quacks than I, the lashing out took the form of a frivolous libel suit. I knew at the time that quacks would pile on, and in fact I was surprised that it had taken so long for someone to start gloating over the lawsuit in the blogosphere, but gloat someone did.

A homepath named Heidi Stevenson, who also writes for that source of all quackery NaturalNews.com, decided to post a very ignorant screed to a website called Gaia Health entitled Quackbusters Are Busted!: Though they seem to have more lives than a cat, it seems likely that Quackbusters will be down for the count. It’s such a hunk o’ burnin’ stupid that I see why Heidi would be considered a suitable candidate to write for NaturalNews.com. Truly, it’s napalm-grade, neuron-apoptosing stupid, to wit:

Stephen Barrett claims to be a retired psychiatrist and hires himself out as an “expert” to testify against non-mainstream medical practitioners. His claim to being a retired psychiatrist is laughable; he was never certified as a psychiatrist because he never passed the board examinations. He was never accepted into the profession. In America, though, once licensed as a physician, it’s legal to practice any type of medicine desired. Barrett wanted to be a psychiatrist, so he called himself one.

I first encountered this sort of nonsense at least ten years ago. To anyone familiar with how medicine works, it’s such patent idiocy that I was half-tempted to go back to Usenet and find one of my old rebuttals of the nonsense, but instead I’ll just updated it for a new decade. Just take a look at Dr. Barrett’s CV. He completed his psychiatry residency in 1961–nearly fifty years ago. Back then, board certification was not essential to have a perfectly fine and respectable medical practice. Such a criticism only works if you view an elderly doctor through the eyes of today’s medical world, where board certification is close to absolutely necessary to practice, at least anywhere near an urban area. Without it a physician won’t be accepted into health insurance plans as a preferred or network physician, is highly unlikely to be able to be accepted on the medical staff of hospitals, and will find it very hard to do anything other than moonlight in emergency rooms or work under the supervision of other physicians, for example, as a house physician. It wasn’t that way 50 years ago.

Heidi then continues:

Please understand that I would never make fun of someone’s misfortunes in normal circumstances. In Barrett’s case, though, an exception needs to be made. He has done enormous harm to anyone who advocates or practices non-mainstream medicine. He has hired himself out as an expert to testify against such practitioners, and he has been the mouthpiece for Big Pharma’s attack on anything that isn’t manufactured and sold by them.

Sure, she wouldn’t. Sure she wouldn’t make fun of someone’s misfortunes. Then she spends an entire article doing just that, making fun of another person’s misfortunes. In fact, she makes fun of them so much that she’s not sastisfied with the real misfortunes that Dr. Barrett has, such as having a frivolous libel suit directed against him by Doctors Data. She has to make up a whole host of imaginary “misfortunes” and then gloat over them gleefully, practically dancing as she does it.

I wonder how she could actually type up this screed. She appeared too busy dancing a jig, metaphorically speaking, and cleaning the spittle off her keyboard and screen as she typed. First, it’s very obvious that she’s been using Patrick “Tim” Bolen as a source, because her rant sounds almost as though it could have been written by Bolen himself, as you can see from Barrett’s response to Tim Bolen and Peter Bowditch’s deconstruction of Bolen’s activities. Indeed, at one point she cites a description of a deposition that Patrick “Tim” Bolen underwent made by Bolen himself:

As the deposition progressed, Aetna attorneys left the room more and more. Their questions became more and more strident, as the realization set in with them that their whole defense in the Federal case was based on NONSENSE – and the false information, and suggestions, provided by Barrett and Baratz. And, it became obvious, from their body language, that they knew they were in trouble – and that the actual trial was going to begin June 12th, 2006 with famous California litigator Carlos F. Negrete bringing the Plaintiff’s case to the jury.

One can only wonder if Patrick is referring to the deposition that Peter Bowditch posted to his website, where he won’t even admit where he lives. Such is the quality of the source upon which Heidi relies. It’s kind of sad, actually. Of course, when you don’t have actual data other than the smear campaign of a longtime enemy of Dr. Barrett, then you have to go for the pharma shill gambit, and, boy, oh, boy, Heidi does it with gusto:

Barrett has launched at least 14 expensive legal actions at a single time, cases that can be assumed to cost at least $100,000 each to pursue. In the Federal Court in Oregon, he was forced to respond to questions about his income.

In two years’ time, Barrett had made a total of $54,000.

Where did Barrett get the money to pursue so many cases? Thus far, no one seems to have found the hard proof, but it’s obvious that the backing for his nefarious machinations has been Big Pharma and Big Medicine, which seek to drive any and all competition out of business and make them illegal.

Which is utterly ridiculous, particularly in light of the Doctors Data lawsuit. If Barrett were backed by pharmaceutical companies, what would he have to fear from SLAPP suits like the one filed by Doctor’s Data? He could just hop on the Merck/Pfizer/Aventis (MPA) black helicopter, head on over to his pharma paymasters in secret, and shovel the cash into his bank account in sufficient quantities to crush a medium-sized company like Doctors’ Data, which wouldn’t stand a chance. In particular, Heidi completely ignores all the times that various quacks have sued Dr. Barrett for libel or various other reasons, all because they don’t like the light of truth being shone on their activities. In reality, it’s been Dr. Barrett who’s been the underdog all along. It’s him who’s put himself on the line, in particular his finances. It’s him whose reputation has been dragged through the mud by people like Patrick “Tim” Bolen and Ilena Rosenthal, the latter of whom managed to produce a ruling supported one of the worst laws I’ve seen, in which it’s quite possible to get away with libel, just by reposting defamatory statements from elsewhere on the Internet to Usenet, blogs, and websites after Barrett tried to sue her for libel for reposting defamatory statements from elsewhere on the Internet to Usenet, blogs, and websites. Personally, I think that was a bad move on Barrett’s part, but I’m not sure what I would have done. Probably nothing, given that there are already scads of quacks out there reposting defamatory statements about me from elsewhere on the Internet to Usenet, blogs, and websites. It’s one of those examples where trying to go after these people would be more likely to make things worse.

Heidi also makes another nonsensical claim that is easily refuted simply by a visit to Quackwatch. Apparently she’s upset that Quackwatch has multiple subsidiary websites, all with the same layout. Of course, one wonders what Heidi expects a bunch of websites that are all subsidiaries of one large site to look like. Does she expect that they’ll all have different layouts? More risibly, Heidi claims that there is “little original material” there and that Barrett writes little himself. A simple perusal of the website will show this to be false, with numerous articles by Barrett himself easily accessible and numerous other articles written by others expressly for Quackwatch. It’s such as easily refuted claim that Heidi must be either utterly clueless or have a high degree of contempt for her audience, figuring that no one will bother to check.

The other hilarious charge that Heidi makes is that Barrett is in it for “self-enrichment,” a risible charge that smacks of Bolen-level delusion, particularly in light of Dr. Barrett’s disclaimer:

Many people wonder whether Quackwatch is a “front” for the American Medical Association, the pharmaceutical industry, the “medical establishment,” or whomever else they might not like. Nearly every week I get e-mails accusing me of this–and worse. Quite frankly, the idea is preposterous.

  • I have no financial tie to any commercial or industrial organization.
  • My viewpoints are not for hire. Even if they were, none of my imaginary funders would actually have a reason to hire me.
  • Standard medicine and “alternative medicine” do not actually compete for patient dollars. Well-designed studies have shown that most “alternative” methods are used in addition to–rather than instead of–standard methods.
  • The total cost of operating our many Web sites is approximately $7,000 per year. If donations fall below what is needed, the rest comes out of my pocket.

Heidi builds her entire case on one ruling which, from my reading of the ruling, suggests that Barrett and the NCAHF had been ill-advised to bring the suit. For example, in one part, Heidi points out that neither Stephen Barrett nor Wally Sampson offered evidence that they were qualified as expert witnesses in the case, which was against a supplier of homeopathic remedies. Yet the reason was not so much because Barrett and Sampson didn’t know what they were talking about but rather because of the way the court operates. If you follow the link from Heidi’s post to the source of the ruling, you’ll find this revealing passage:

He [Sampson] admitted to having had no experience with or training in homeopathic medicine or drugs. He was unfamiliar with any professional organizations related to homeopathy, including the Homeopathic Pharmacopeia Convention of the United States, which group is responsible for designation and de-designation of such drugs as “official” drugs recognized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. He thus does not have expertise as to the drug products that are the sole products at issue in this case. While he stated that he teaches a university course on “alternative medicine,” Dr. Sampson admitted that the course does not instruct on how such methods may be practiced, but rather is a course designed to highlight the criticisms of such alternative practices. Therefore, the Court finds that Dr. Sampson has relatively thin credentials to opine on the general questions of the proper standards for clinical or scientific research or other methods of obtaining valid evidence about the efficacy of drugs. The Court further finds that Dr. Sampson lacks experience in the field of homeopathic drugs, which renders his testimony of little or no weight in this case.

In other words, to the court, you basically have to be a homeopath to be able to testify in court about homeopathy. Talk about a judge having his cranium firmly lodged in his posterior! It does not take a homeopath to recognize homeopathy for the utter nonsense, the sympathetic magic, the quackery that it is. All it takes is a very basic knowledge of physics and chemistry and, most important of all, actually knowing what homeopathy really is. It’s not just herbal medicine, as so many people think it is. It takes a truly deluded form of magical thinking to believe that like cures like in the way homeopaths say it does and that diluting a remedy to the point where it is tens of orders of magnitude beyond Avagadro’s number, to the point where not a single molecule of the original compound is likely to be left many tens of times over. It does, however, demonstrate just what the problem of licensing homeopathy would be, if it were licensed in many more states. Giving it legal status means that the only valid experts are true believers; i.e., homeopaths.

Of course, no rant against Barrett would be complete without adding a good conspiracy theory, and our homeopath certainly doesn’t disappoint there, either. She weaves a conspiracy in which she lumps any group she doesn’t like, any group that is dedicated to criticizing quackery into an amorphous group of interrelated (and, of course, pharma funded) “Quackbusters.” Healthwatch in the U.K.? Quackbusters. The NCAHF? Quackbusters? Me? Quackbusters, of course. I’ve seen the quacks list me among people like Dr. Barrett and Peter Bowditch as though being among them is a bad thing.

Yes, Heidi is one misguided and ignorant soul, and her arguments lay down enough napalm of burning stupid to destroy many villages, or at least fry a whole lot of neurons in anyone with a modicum of scientific knowledge and intelligence. Still, she can’t help herself, and I know what the best revenge would be. It would be two-fold. First, please do as I asked when I first wrote about this case and donate to Quackwatch to support Steve Barrett’s legal defense against the psuedoscientists at Doctors Data. It’ll drive the quacks crazy if Barrett has the resources to launch a strong legal defense, not to mention the moral support from a large number of people that such donations would indicate. Second, head on over to Heidi’s place and politely let her know how execrable and nonsensical her arguments are.

After all, if Heidi’s going to label me as being “in on the conspiracy” (and you know she will after this post goes live and she becomes aware of it), at the very least I ought to see if she can take the heat for what she wrote or whether she’ll do what I think she’ll do and what nearly all cranks do when faced with facts: Start censoring criticism.