What is a Quack & How do we spot them?

A quack is a fraud or pretender of medical skill. They are essentially con-artists or charlatans who are often eloquent in speech, running public relations campaigns and attempt to convince people to accept them as experts within the medical field that they enter. This is  usually done with the intent to convince sales of items of some sort, often supplements. The process for a quack to convince people of their fraud as being a real cure is called quackery and is manifested as using flimsy evidence or reasoning and sometimes out right lies and data manipulation. 

Quacks can manifest from all types of people such as professional wrestler like Bernard Macfadden who sold health and fitness magazines and wrote extensive  books on lifestyle factors and later went onto try to establish his own religion based upon these lifestyle changes. Other times they can be recognised scientists such as Linus Pauling who deservedly achieved the Nobel prize in chemistry but later in life used his fame to claim that mega-doses of vitamin C (often given intravenously) prevented and even cured cancer based on flimsy evidence. Yet other times they can be doctors such as Andrew Wakefield, a surgeon, who published a fraudulent study in a well recognised medical journal which later went on to retract the study stating that they had been deceived by Wakefield. He claimed the combined MMR vaccine was linked to autism and gastrointestinal diseases based upon fraudulent data. However no one else was able to reproduce his findings and later it was discovered that Wakefield had patented the ‘single’ vaccines; which was a massive undeclared conflict of interest. One final example I will give is that of osteopaths and chiropaths, who historically dealt with bone manipulation (like-a-massage) which does have a role to play in specific musculoskeletal disorders, however that markets seems no longer enough for them that many (but not all) have digressed into other completely unrelated areas such as asthma, allergies, nutrition and cancer etc.

Signs of a Quack

The principle that defines quacks is that they use flimsy evidence or what appears to be strong evidence but cannot be reproduced by others, i.e. it is falsified. There are some tell-tale signs for quacks

  1. Toxins or toxicity; they will frequently talk about toxins and toxicity particularly of unnatural substances or chemicals. Often the solution involves ‘detoxing’ and enema’s to purge the system. Coffee enema’s or suppositories where a classical favourite probably as they may have been sponsored by the coffee industry.
  2. Testimonials; they will use anecdotal evidence of some one getting better after having used such a remedy. Such evidence is regarded as highly weak as it is prone to much bias. Such case studies in modern medicine are used as an indication for further more robust studies often which requires comparison against a placebo – a substance without any healing properties and the participants and researchers do not know which is being used ( i.e double blinded). Testimonials would only be helpful if it included all patients that were exposed to the claimed cure such that negative feedback is also included. However positive only testimonials are highly bias.
  3. ‘Celebrity’ Doctors;  these are doctors who pop up in the media frequently in order to build up their public profile and then go on to sell some form of product or book. Or to use Nobel prize status as occurred with Linus Pauling.
  4. Energy; These are claims to harness the bodies own healing power and accentuate it. This is something osteopaths (also called Doctor of Osteopath; DO)  did historically where they claimed their hands could feel the energy emanating from the patient and they would refocus or manipulate this energy to help aid healing process.
  5. Not qualified; This should be the easiest to recognised however the con-artists have become more sophisticated. They set up organisations that claim to have expertise and these organisations then give out certificates and  prizes and the like. Some organisations even have allowed pets to register as the requirements are so flimsy.  Some organisation which I would question are;
    • British Association of Nutritional Therapists (BANT)
    • British Society for Allergy, Environmental and Nutritional Medicine (BSAENM)
    • British Society for Integrated Medicine (BSIM)
    • International Organization of Nutrition Consultants
    • International Society for Fluoride Research
    • International Society for Orthomolecular Medicine
    • National Association of Certified Health Professionals
    • National Association of Certified Natural Health Professionals
    • National Association of Nutrition Professionals (NANP)
    • National Guild of Hypnotists
    • Natural Health Practitioners Association
    • Nutrition Circle
    • Nutritional Magnesium Association
    • Nutritional Therapy Association, Inc.
    • Nutritional Therapy Council (NTC)
    • Society for Integrative Oncology
    • Society of Certified Nutritionists (SCN)

There are many more for which a list of questionable organisations can be found at QuackWatch.  For nutrition related advice I would advise returning back to British Nutritional Foundation as many fake nutritionists because their title is unprotected so need to ensure advice taken from Registered Nutritionists (RNutr or RPHNutr).

 

Evidence

As we mention the principal issue of quackery returns back to evidence and we have discussed medical evidence elsewhere. As Muslims the greatest and most absolute evidence is revelation from Allah (Aza wa Jal) and this is why we regard Prophetic Medicine as the best medicinal form, particularly the Qur’aan. We have discussed the role of Prophetic Medicine in relation to the worldly medicines elsewhere and that should be referred back too. Obviously secularists and non-Muslims will not accept revelation as a form of proof hence they may label such things as fraud or quackery. Examples would be accusations against blood cupping (hijamah) which has been established in the Prophetic Sunnah.  Such secularist not accepting revelation as evidence does not  reduce the term ‘quack’ or ‘quackery’, just as it does not change the term ‘fraud’ and ‘fraudster’ which they may incorrectly apply to the noble Prophets (alayhumusalaam). Such non-Muslims using the term inappropriately does not change the definition of the word.

This is why we see our scholars using similar wording:

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So here Shaykh Nasir Al-Albani (rahimullah) uses a word that has been translated by a trusted Muslim brother as ‘Quackery’ and so in my using this term has a precedent from the scholars. We have also explained ‘simple means’ elsewhere but namely return back to that which is observed or experienced.

The various other disciplines of health management such as homeopathy, herbalism, Chinese medicine are based upon experience and I do not class them as quackery. However I do regard many of them as having an extremely weak evidence base and therefore a weak form of healing. Many of these disciplines existed before Modern medicine yet the latter has surpassed them in every country, including all the Muslim countries.

From the Muslims who have been duped by quackery then they unintentionally try to increase health inequality of the Muslim minorities by advising delaying seeing a doctor falsely believing this is closer to reliance (tawakul) on Allah (Aza wa Jal). This is a false concept rather we have been commanded by the Messenger of Allah (salalahualayhiwasalim) to seek medicine as explained elsewhere.  Just as you would seek water if you were thirsty or food if you were hungry.

Finally the modern day Islamic scholars are well known for their acceptance of modern medicine in general and some have written books on its importance. As for the quacks they have no recognition from the scholars.

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