Thursday, January 13, 2011

If it walks like a duck...

From the Science Museum website:

The word ‘quack’ comes from the old Dutch word quacksalver - ‘one who quacks (boasts) about the virtue of his salves’. Medical professionals regularly used the word ‘quack’ to discredit anyone whom they disagreed with, especially unqualified healers. But a genuine ‘quack’ is someone who sells medicine for treatment while knowing that it doesn't work.

Quacks took advantage of people’s fears. They came out in force during plague or cholera epidemics

Famous quacks relied on having style and personal charisma. They aimed at rich patients. There was a strong element of drama in quack medicine and the most successful quacks spent lavishly to draw people in, putting on medicine ‘shows’ to entertain them, and writing books or pamphlets to advertise their products.

The two interesting characters mentioned in Meghan's post below reek of quackery. Let's see what else we can find:

From Quackwatch:
Gayelord Hauser (1895-1984) promised to add years to your life with five "wonder foods": skim milk, brewer's yeast, wheat germ, yogurt, and blackstrap molasses. He lectured frequently and in 1925, became a partner in Modern Products, Inc., of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a company that still markets spices, soups, and a few other products bearing his name.

Hauser had several brushes with the law. In 1934, the FDA acted against his selling Swiss AntiDiabetic Tea and Nu-Links with fraudulent claims. A few years later, his products Slim, Correctol, and Hauser Potassium Broth were seized by the FDA and destroyed by court order because they were misbranded and sold with fraudulent claims. In 1951, copies of his book Look Younger, Live Longer, which led the bestseller list that year, were seized by the FDA on grounds that they were being used to promote sales of blackstrap molasses as a cure-all. The court readily agreed that the molasses was misbranded by many false claims in the book. Among them was a claim that blackstrap molasses could "add 5 years to your life" and "regrow hair on baldspots." 

From a Time magazine article in 1942:

Hauser stopped calling himself an M.D. when the American Medical Association's Bureau of Investigation checked up on his credentials. Now he prefers to be known as "a food scientist." He claims to have been cured of tuberculosis of the hip by eating "36 lemons a day," for one or two weeks. 

Verdict? Probable quack, with the only caveat being that he may have believed in his own remedies.

I already posted a bit on the amazing Bernarr Macfadden but I subsequently discovered this article from the 1939 Journal of the American Medical Association (under the ominous heading 'Bureau of Investigation'). I don't seem able to cut and paste from the pdf so here are two excerpts as rather clumsy images:


Verdict? Probable quack with the same caveat.


Meghan Harris said...

Definite quacks...or prime examples of what "placebos" like the lemons or wheat germ can do to the mind!

John Latto said...

If you really wanted to be charitable though you could claim that at least both these guys were promoting relatively healthy life styles - well actually I'm not so sure about Hauser - but Macfadden's emphasis on raw food and exercise doesn't sound too bad. I really must read that book about him - he sounds fascinating. The Wikipedia article about him claims he wrote over 100 books including my favorites 'After 40 - What?' (1935) and the best 'Be Married and like It' (1937)