Stephen Barrett: Wikipedia’s Agent Provacateur Against Natural Medicine

Originally published on the Progressive Radio Network, April 1, 2019
© Richard Gale

During the past year, we have released 24 separate investigative stories about Wikipedia, its co-founder Jimmy Wales, and the fringe movement of Skeptics who have gained monopolistic editorial control over Wikipedia entries dealing with natural health, nutrition and complementary and alternative healing modalities (e.g., Chiropractic, acupuncture, homeopathy, Chinese medicine, naturopathy, etc.). Yet we are unaware of any journalist in the mainstream media or persons within the larger medical and scientific communities who has asked a fundamental question. Are Wikipedia’s editors accurate? How much knowledge and expertise do they possess in the subjects they are critiquing? We have, and we are appalled by our discoveries. Besides using its leverage as the single most visited website influencing people’s information and decisions on health matters, there seems to be growing evidence that Wikipedia is in violation of its IRS status. Wales and his Skeptic comrades have covertly inculcated the encyclopedia with medical ideologies while relying upon slander to stage an offensive that would destroy the reputations of health disciplines they disagree with. Below we are providing one glaring example of an individual who has been the most highly referenced resource for the Skeptic’s aggression, Dr. Stephen Barrett.

Barrett has been the progenitor of attacks on many natural health disciplines for over four decades. His vehemence towards Chiropractic is well-known. The organizations he co-founded and directed for decades have been a source of unscientific bias against alternative and complementary health practitioners such as Drs. Peter Breggin, Gary Null, Memet Oz, Andrew Weil and others. Barrett’s unsubstantiated claims form the basis for Null’s Wikipedia biography. One might think that after repeated efforts to correct the site’s misinformation and the lack of credible citations, Wikipedia editors would honor the encyclopedia’s “mandatory” editorial standards. But this is not the case. Therefore, we are providing a background on Barrett and his allies in private industry whom he has served to discredit alternative medicine and medical experts who raise concerns over the health risks of corporate products and chemicals such as processed sugar, tobacco, fluoride, pesticides, food preservatives, etc. If we are able to locate this information easily, so can Wikipedia. Many persons have been wrongfully injured by Wikipedia editors, including Sharyl Attkisson, Deepak Chopra, and Rupert Sheldrake. And we consistently find the same individuals of this medicine by McCarthyism within Wales’ inner circle of Skeptics acting as the protectors of the medical industrial complex and as the interrogators against natural health. The consequence is that truth is frequently and selectively absent and Wikipedia users are unjustifiably being misled.

The height of scientific vanity is found among those who engage in endless futile endeavors to contort science in order to prove their rightness and morality. These are the Skeptics, who refuse to look plainly at those things that challenge their fundamental understanding about the subjects they hold dear. For this reason Skeptics are often accused and ridiculed for espousing scientific materialism, reductionism, and for promulgating an extremely limited view of human biology, the mind, consciousness, and the practice of medicine. In our opinion modern conventional medicine has built a citadel, a walled-fortress that refuses to take century old medical wisdom and practices seriously. And Skeptics are up to their necks in the cultural of denial imprisoned within these ramparts constructed with the mortar of pharmaceutical drugs, chemotherapy, radiation, unsafe vaccines, GMOs, and a legacy of medical error, illnesses and deaths.

For over the past one hundred years. non-conventional medicine – e.g., chiropractic, naturopathy, homeopathy, nutritional therapy, etc., – has had formidable enemies. This goes as far back as the Carnegie and Rockefeller sponsored Flexner Report in 1910, which established the parameters by which modern conventional medicine as we know it has grown and developed. Parallel to the Report’s establishing a drug-based curriculum for medical education, while censuring all natural healing modalities, the American Medical Association (AMA) became the nation’s central medical authority.

The AMA is arguably the nation’s single non-governmental enemy to national health and well-being. In our opinion, since the start of 20th century, the AMA has had a single agenda: manipulate and brainwash the public to only place its trust in conventional licensed medical physicians. According to Joseph Lisa, author of The Assault on Medical Freedom, who gained access to the AMA’s Department of Investigation files at its Chicago headquarter, the AMA has actively sought the creation of a “totalitarian medical pharmaceutical police state.” The association has spawned other organizations and covert operations with mandates to stamp out natural therapies.

However the two most menacing pro-medical industry organizations to penetrate their tentacles into the wider public network of professional medical organizations and societies, pro-industry advocacy groups, almost all of the mainstream media outlets and especially Wikipedia have been those founded by former psychiatrist and radical Skeptic Dr. Stephen Barrett: National Council Against Health Fraud (NCAHF)and Quackwatch Inc.

The NCAHF is an offshoot of the AMA’s organization the Coordinating Conference on Health Information (CCHI), a covert operation that grew out of the AMA’s now defunct Committee on Quackery. Both the CCHI and NCAHF have been consecrated by federal health agencies and the pharmaceutical industrial complex; yet, neither operate with any institutional oversight or scrutiny, governmental or otherwise. And both serve the AMA’s larger mission. Barrett and his supporters unanimously deny that he, the NCAHF and Barrett’s later organization Quackwatch (formerly called the Leigh Valley Committee Against Health Fraud Inc, started in 1970) have any association with the federal health agencies and private interests. However, the NCAHF’s umbrella organization, the CCHI, had a far larger enterprise that included relationships with the Federal Trade Commission, FDA, the US Postal Service, American Pharmaceutical Association, the IRS, the Attorney General’s office, US Office of Consumer Affairs, and the Better Business Bureau.

Barrett published an article for the AMA News issue of August 25, 1975, which outlines his unethical activities on behalf of the dominant medical establishment. Here Barrett confesses receiving funds from unnamed “professional societies”:

“Several of the professional societies endorsed our group and donated money to help the Leigh Valley Committee Against Health Fraud, Inc. The medical society allowed us to use itst office equipment until obtained our own… By working “undercover” using assumed names and box numbers, we’ve gotten all sorts of information and publications other groups, like the medical societies, haven’t been able to lay their hands on…. Really, we’re a bunch of guerrillas –we’re not a large group, there are about 40 members, but we’re the only such group in the country.”

Operating under the guise of “consumer protection,” Barrett’s Quackwatch assumed the task of information gathering about the practices and use of chiropractic, acupuncture, homeopathy and naturopathy, vitamin therapies, non-conventional medical modalities, and books on alternative health and then report back to the CCHI. A Canadian lawsuit against Barrett ruled that “The sole purpose of the activities of Barrett & Baratz are to discredit and cause damage and harm to health care practitioners, businesses that make alternative health therapies or products available, and advocates of non-allopathic therapies and health freedom.”

Has Barrett received funding from private interests? During one court proceeding, during examination Barrett conceded his ties to the AMA, the Federal Trade Commission and the FDA. But his web of funding is likely far wider. and more heinous.

Barrett’s membership on the American Council on Science and Health’s (ACSH) Board of Scientific Advisers suggests that he has served as a spokesperson for private corporations for a very long time — over four decades! Similar to Quackwatch, the ACSH calls itself a consumer advocacy organization and claims to support evidence-based science. Its mission also claims it is not beholden to any private interest. Nevertheless, its platforms are radically pro-industry and advocate for genetically modified foods and industrial agriculture, nuclear power, vaccine mandates, natural gas and the deregulation of toxic chemicals. Practically every Trustee member has direct ties to large corporations. Journalist Gary Ruskin has identified the ACSH as a front group for the “tobacco, chemical, fossil fuel, cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries.” It has defended Monsanto against lawsuits charging glyphosate or Roundup as being carcinogenic. Court records revealed that Monsanto funneled money to the organization, and a Le Monde investigation found the organization lobbying on behalf of Big Ag. A Mother Jones report uncovered that in 2013, ACSH donors included Chevron, Coca-Cola, Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation, Bayer Cropscience, Procter and Gamble, Syngenta, 3M, McDonald’s, and tobacco giants such as Altria and Phillip Morris. The organization initiated efforts to receive funding for lobbying services rendered from Pepsi, Monsanto, British American Tobacco, Dow Agro, Exxon-Mobil Foundation, and Reynolds American. It also cemented close ties with the Koch family, the owners of Koch Industries and the major funders of the Randian pro-industry American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC; this includes receiving funds from the David Koch Foundation, the Koch family-controlled Claude R. Lambe Foundation and Koch Industry’s allied public relations firm the Bradley Foundation. Thom Golab, a ACSH Trustee, was an executive at the Media Research Center, an ultra-conservative media group funded by large right-wing foundations and front-organizations, who provide “intellectual ammunition” to conservative efforts such as ALEC.

On practically all matters concerning health, we believe the ACSH relies upon junk corporate science. A significant amount of its energy is spent fighting against regulations and restrictions for products with highly toxic chemicals or are known to have severe health risks. Speaking about the organization’s co-founder Elizabeth Whelan, an FDA information director said, “Her organization is a sham, an industry front.” Its former executive director Dr. Gilbert Ross spent 23 months in prison for defrauding New York State’s Medicaid program of $8 million. The judge ruled Ross was “a highly untrustworthy individual.” He was released from prison just a year before being selected to head ACSH and held the post for almost 15 years. Even before its FDA approval, Ross was promoting Merck’s Gardasil vaccine with claims it would be “among the greatest medical discoveries of modern times.” Whelan herself has been caught hiding her organization’s ties to private corporations. In effect Whelan created an industry of writing scientific information pamphlets to advertise junk science that protects industry interests and their unhealthy products. If a toxic product had received bad press, the ACSH would be an ally to clean up its image. The watchdog group Center for Science in the Public Interest issued a report on the ASCH’s strategies and methods to promote fraudulent science for whitewashing some of the most dangerous products threatening public health. The report stated:

“ACSH appears to be a consumer fraud; as a scientific group, ACSH seems to arrive at conclusions before conducting studies. Through voodoo or alchemy, bodies of scientific knowledge are transmogrified into industry-oriented position statements.”

Among its more dangerous and life-threatening positions are: second-hand smoke is not harmful, humans are not responsible for global warming, hydrofracking is clean and does not pollute water resources, all pesticides approved in the US are safe and have never been associated with any illness, GMOs pose no human health or environmental threats, chemicals used in flame retardants pose no health risks, scientifically proven endocrine destroyers such as phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA) are safe.,” and defending the nutritional value of fast food. During the early years of the AIDS epidemic, the ACSH was “stridently anti-homosexual, portraying gay people as agents of human destruction.” In our opinion if there is any commercial product that has been shown to endanger human health and the environment, you can be certain ACSH supports it.

There has been growing controversy over scandals of public relations firms ghostwriting scientific articles under the disguise of independence on behalf of pharmaceutical and agricultural companies. Of course these are service-for-fee relationships, and ACSH has been found engaging in this practice. In 2009, ACSH personally sent out a request for $100,000 to the pesticide maker Syngenta in exchange for producing a “consumer-friendly booklet” promoting the safety of its pesticide atrazine. Atrazine has been categorized as an endocrine disruptor associated with the demasculinization of amphibians; it has been listed as a possible carcinogen in the President’s Cancer Panel Report, and has been tied to miscarriage, reduced male fertility and birth defects.

It is important to unveil the cesspool at the ACSH for what it really is because Barrett’s relationship as an inside adviser with the ACSH is very disturbing and should raise alarms. In our opinion it completely discredits him from being a reliable and unbiased scientific resource on any matter. And in our opinion it should convince any sane person that Barrett lacks integrity in being a voice capable of speaking for the best interests of the average consumer. The entire Skeptic movement, Jimmy Wales and his editorial trolls on Wikipedia, and all of those who bow before James Randi and pay dues to the Center for Inquiry, are complicit in propping up a draconian medical regime to silence real scientific inquiry and exploration.

Barrett continues to serve as a Scientific Adviser for the ACSH, which he joined in 1978! He was the editor of Elizabeth Whelan’s and Frederick Stare’s 1975 book Panic in the Pantry, which accused all those who practice alternative medicine or “quacks” as having “credentials not recognized by responsible scientists and educators.” In our opinion it is clear that Barrett has been shilling for corporate interests. His intimate affiliation with ACSH and its leaders became an extension for his Quackwatch propaganda’s reach and he has used it very effectively.

Nicholas Martin worked as an editor at the ACSH before leaving in to start the Consumer Health Education Council (CHEC). Later he was asked to write an article for the Nutrition Forum, a publication Barrett edited. Martin undertook the request to test Barrett’s integrity. He writes on his blog:

“… the reason I let Barrett publish his report under my name, is that he made no effort to authenticate any of the information I supplied to him. He simply took the word of someone he had never met whose assertions validated his own assumptions, and he then submitted his writing as someone else’s work to a prominent science publisher and his readers. It is even among exhibits submitted to a 1994 congressional subcommittee that conducted a hearing on dietary supplements. And so I learned firsthand how quackbusting works.”

In our opinion, for Barrett to make any claim of independence from industry interests is laughable. Quackwatch’s tactics are taken directly out of the ACSH playbook. Like his friend the late Elizabeth Whelan, Barrett has mastered the art of working in the shadows to conceal his private supporters. For many years, it was a mystery how Barrett and his Quackwatch colleagues were capable of filing numerous lawsuits against chiropractors and alternative health practitioners with legal expenses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, when at the same time Barrett reported in one court trial that his earnings were $60,000. This is even more inexplicable when we consider that out of 40 cases filed, all which were lost in court, he was still responsible for picking up the tab on legal fees. Such cases can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Similar to his other friend Gilbert Ross, Barrett has had his own problems with charges against him. In 2003, a California Appeals Court found Barrett and his colleague Dr. Wallace Sampson “to be biased and unworthy of credibility.” This was after Barrett’s organization the National Council Against Health Fraud sued 43 different alternative health practitioners for practicing “scientifically unproven” medicine. Some of these were large cases; some had follow up appeals as well. So, who was funding Barrett’s lawsuits for all these many years?

References to Stephen Barrett and Quackwatch riddle Wikipedia’s pages on practically every alternative medical and healing tradition and discipline, as well as the personal biographies of alternative medicines leading practitioners and advocates. One of Barrett’s big fans is Wikipedia’s co-founder Jimmy Wales. Both share a lot in common as supporters of the Skeptic movement to advance scientific atheism and create pharmaceutical regime. Barrett has been the co-Chair of the Health Claims Subcommittee at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, one of the Skeptics’ flagship organizations, since 1980.

It is a curiosity how Barrett, who holds no degrees in nutrition or dietetic science, could be consistently regarded and quoted as an expert pundit about nutrition by mainstream media. His credentials are solely self-professed and have been fabricated to maximize his marketability for the institutions that back him. Nor has he ever shown a deep knowledge of the therapies he attacks. For example, when questioned in an interview about his knowledge of the therapies he chastises, such as acupuncture, homeopathy and chiropractic, he stated they are simply too illogical to be effective and they “don’t need to be tested [because] they simply don’t make any sense.” This accurately defines Barrett’s criteria of the “scientific method” that he has using for his entire career as the Skeptic’s’ grand inquisitor against natural health physicians and practitioners. Nevertheless he has appeared countless times across the major networks to comment on medical controversies or to promote pharmaceutical interests over claims of safer natural remedies.

Barrett calls himself a “legal expert,” but has no professional legal training. He continues to identify himself as a psychiatrist, although he failed his medical board certification exam back in the 1990s and has not legally practiced for two decades. And as a trained psychiatrist, he has no formal scientific background qualifying him to speak either for or against chiropractic, nutrition and supplements, herbal medicine, homeopathy, or any other alternative medical practice. Although there are tens of thousands of studies and clinical trials published in the peer-reviewed medical journals, either supporting or questioning the health benefits of non-conventional medical therapies, nutrition, supplements and herbs, Barrett has never displayed any sound knowledge with the scientific literature.

Instead, in the tradition of all devoted modern Skeptics, it seems that Barrett regards himself as a holy crusader in the medical wars between good and evil, the sanctified medical establishment ruled over by the cathedrals at the AMA and federal health agencies against the heretical cults of natural health who prefer to treat illnesses as safely and cheaply as possible. Barrett is part of a long lineage of failed healers. His earlier predecessor who embodied over-zealous savagery against alternative health, notably Chiropractic, was the AMA’s publications chief editor Morris Fishbein; like Barrett, Fishbein never practiced serious medicine a single day in his life. Barrett failed his psychiatry certification exams; Fishbein failed anatomy in medical school and never completed his internship.

Barrett may very well be the entire medical establishment’s greatest absurdity. In our opinion he is a burlesque character representing the buffoonery of the Skeptic movement and a large segment of the Wikipedia editorial process. The US Court System’s ruling that Barrett is “biased and unworthy of credibility” is enough evidence for removing all references to Barrett and his Quackbusters as legitimate sources for scientifically reliable information. His perceptions and opinions about doctors and healers practicing non-conventional medicine are as equally skewed, distorted and capricious as the legal system would have us believe. Yet Fishbein, the ACSH, Barrett and the Quackbusters have set back medical inquiry. They have indoctrinated an entire generation of Skeptics, notably fanatical scientific materialists such as David Gorski, Steven Novella and Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales, into a cult of medical denialism. You will not find any of this information on Barrett’s Wikipedia page. The Skeptics controlling it have assured his biography is anointed with sainthood. Sadly, numerous patients have suffered the consequences.

Our assessment of the evidence indicates that Wikipedia is a fraud, and a dangerous one at that. And yet it has been hiding in plain sight. It is time for a Congressional investigation to permit those who have been slandered to testify and force Wales and his editors to speak under oath to the IRS’ Inspector General. A review of Wikipedia’s behavior and activities could result in the loss of Wikipedia’s non-profit status. Future articles will go into further depth about Barrett’s background and his influence over Wikipedia.