The very, very short version: an independent health-care-fraud muckraking association is being intimidated, via a law suit with a $10 million dollar claim. The suit has been filed on behalf of a for-profit laboratory that does millions of dollars of business providing tests that enable quack or questionable "therapies" for heart disease, autism, and other conditions.
The for-profit laboratory has deep pockets and has associates with even deeper pockets.
If you want to support health-care-fraud muckraking, go here to donate. If you are a skeptic or dislike legal bullying, you should donate.
The longer and detailed version is below the fold.
Stephen Barrett, M.D. is a now-retired psychiatrist who has also had a long career in health education and anti-quackery activism. . In 1969, Barrett founded a regional group, the Lehigh Valley Committee Against Health Fraud. In 1996, Barrett and his colleagues began Quackwatch, an online site publishing articles about health-related frauds, myths, fads, fallacies, and misconduct.. Over time, Quackwatch has grown into a group of related sites, including Chirowatch and Chelationwatch. (The complete list of active sites is at the bottom of this post.)
Chelationwatch became a separate site in July of 2004, linking to previously-published articles critical of chelation therapy for anything other than heavy-metal poisoning.
Chelation is the accepted medical treatment for a set of rare conditions: heavy-metal poisoning (lead, mercury, and so on). That is the only medically-accepted use for chelation. However, it has been proposed as a questionable therapy for a number of conditions.
In the 1970s, some doctors theorized that chelation might be helpful in heart disease. However, studies showed no benefit and by 1998, chelation was thoroughly discredited as an effective treatment for heart disease.
Enter novel theories about autism causation and the internet. In 1996, Bernard Rimland of the Autism Research Institute (ARI) published a guide for alternative autism health practioners, which became known as the "Defeat Autism Now! (DAN!) protocol". In 2001, Sally Bernard and co-authors published "Autism: a novel form of mercury poisoning" in a fringe medical journal, Medical Hypotheses. What's the accepted treatment for mercury poisoning? Why, chelation. In a 2005 position paper, ARI reported:
The Autism Research Institute convened our first mercury detoxification Think-Tank in February 2001, in Dallas Texas, in response to the need for information on how best to treat mercury toxicity. The resulting Consensus Report published in May, 2001, has been widely distributed in hard copy and on the Autism Research Institute website.
This opened a whole new avenue for "autism therapy providers" (many of whom were not physicians) to provide "therapy" for "autism as heavy metal poisoning". Another key word is "detoxification".
The hypothesis that autism is a form of mercury poisoning has been found to be false. Thoroughly and completely false. That didn't stop the chelation enthusiasts.
A 2008 article by Katie Duzan points out some of the problems (emphasis added)
The problem with DAN goes beyond certification.Let's break down the general protocol for treating a new patient at a DAN office. First, they take blood, urine and stool samples. These go to labs for testing to determine any deficiencies or issues. Sounds legitimate, right? Well, consider that there are never any children that have their tests come back 'normal'. And if anything comes back abnormal, the DAN doctor aggressively treats the problem with medication or other means.
Still sounds okay, but start thinking in terms of reality. What are the odds that every single child a DAN doctor sees is in dire need of medical assistance? There are parents that truly believe that every single autistic child has a gut issue, metal toxicity or something else that needs to be cleaned, cured or altered.
Barrett and his colleagues broadened their criticism of chelation to include chelation as an autism "treatment". In the view of responsible physicians, chelation as a treatment for autism is unnecessary and dangerous to the health of the child.Chelation rests upon urine tests for "toxic loads" of heavy metals. In an article written for Quackwatch and republished at Chelationwatch, Robert Baratz, M.D., D.D.S., Ph.D. explains "Dubious Mercury Testing" (emphasis added)
Because mercury is ubiquitous, the body reaches a steady state in which tiny amounts are absorbed and excreted. Thus, it is common to find mercury in people's urine. Mercury can also be found in the blood, because this is the major medium for transporting materials around the body. Large-scale population studies have shown that the general population has urine-mercury levels below 10 micrograms/liter. Industrial workers, and dentists, who have regular exposure to mercury vapor also have low values. Because urine-mercury levels represent the chronic, steady state, exposure to the body of mercury, they are fairly reliable indicators of past exposure, since they tend to even out the peaks and valleys of transient rises and falls in the blood level. Urine measurements should be performed on the first urine specimen of the day, which would be the most concentrated, or (preferably) on a 24-hour urine specimen.
Urine mercury levels can be artificially raised by administering a mercury scavenger (chelating agent) such as DMPS or DMSA, which collect the small amounts of mercury from the body, concentrate them, and then force them to be excreted. In other words, mercury that normally recirculates within the body is now bound and excreted. The urine level under such circumstances is artificially raised above the steady-state level.... The use of a chelating agent before testing—"provoked testing"—should be considered a scam. Anyone told that a urine-mercury level produced after taking DMPS represents a toxic state is being misled.
In 2008, Dr. Barrett published an expose of one particular clinic that was using the "provoked urine heavy metals test", Be Wary of CARE Clinics and the Center for Autistic Spectrum Disorders (CASD), in which Barrett observed
All patients underwent a provoked "urine toxic metals test" in which a urine sample is obtained after the patient receives a chelating agent. The chelating agent temporarily increases the excretion of mercury, lead, and/or other metallic substances that are present in trace amounts within the body. The test report, which typically states that the reported levels are elevated, is then used to claim that the child needs to be "detoxified" with chelation therapy
In 2009, three decisions from the U.S. Court of Federal Claims (the "vaccine court") ruled that there was no reliable evidence linking autism to specific vaccines (MMR) or vaccine ingredients such as thimerosal.
A number of articles followed, pointing out that some physicians and other health-care providers are still using chelation as a "treatment" for autism. As Arthur Allen noted in Slate Magazine:
On February 18, 2009, Stephen Barrett wrote an expose of the urine testing business, How the "Urine Toxic Metals" Test Is Used to Defraud Patients.
....[A] Chicago laboratory that performs most of the chemical testing for alternative doctors like Bradstreet who treat autistics. Doctor's Data Inc., which tests about 100,000 urine samples for toxic metals each year, presents the results in such a way that it almost guarantees a finding of "toxicity" for each child.
According to a recent federal report on complementary medicine, about 72,000 children were chelated in 2007. Most of them were probably seen by doctors loosely allied to an organization called Defeat Autism Now! The doctors, naturopaths, and other practitioners in DAN! frequently order up exhausting regimens of testing for each child in the belief that people with autism are out of whack with nature. They test the children for viruses, bacteria, yeast, immune system elements, and brain antibodies, drawing copious amounts of blood, as well as spinal fluids and biopsy material, before prescribing immune globulins, vitamins, enzymes, and other pills and infusions. The tests and therapies run into the tens of thousands of dollars per child.
One of the more popular tests, in recent years, has been for traces of toxic metals. The testing methodology is explained here. In a nutshell, Doctor's Data classifies the level of mercury in the urine of a recently chelated child by comparing it with base-line levels in normal, unchelated children. Naturally, the chelated levels are higher. That's what chelators do: They leach metals out of tissue. Plus, everyone has a little bit of mercury in them, because trace amounts are in our air, water, and food. What's remarkable is that so many people have relied on the data from these tests.
Many patients are falsely told that their body has dangerously high levels of lead, mercury, or other heavy metals and should be "detoxified" to reduce these levels. This article explains how a urine test is used to defraud patients.
The Bottom Line
The urine toxic metals test described above—whether provoked or not—is used to persuade patients they are toxic when they are not. I believe that several agencies can and should do something to stop this deception.
- If the FDA has jurisdiction over the software used to generate the test reports, it could ban its use. State licensing boards could prohibit the use of provoked testing and discipline practitioners who use it.
- State laboratory licensing agencies could prohibit testing of provoked specimens or order Doctor's Data to raise its reference ranges and to stop comparing provoked test results to these non-provoked ranges.
- The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' Division of Laboratory Services can also ban the testing of provoked specimens.
- State attorneys general can seek injunctions based on violations of consumer protection laws.
- In addition, all of these agencies can and should issue public warnings.
On July 27, 2009, The American College of Medical Toxicology published a Position Statement
It is, therefore, the position of the American College of Medical Toxicology that post-challenge urinary metal testing has not been scientifically validated, has no demonstrated benefit, and may be harmful when applied in the assessment and treatment of patients in whom there is concern for metal poisoning.
On April 20, 2010, Dr. Barrett published Doctor's Data Facing Multiple Lawsuits,
Several networks of fringe practitioners are using hair and urine tests from Doctor's Data to persuade patients to buy dietary supplements and/or undergo "detoxification" that they do not need. My advice is very simple. If you encounter a doctor who does either of these things, terminate your relationship, complain to your state licensing board, and e-mail me an account of what happened.Evidently, Doctor's Data did not appreciate Dr. Barrett's work. He writes:
On June 18th, Doctor's Data filed suit against me, the National Council Against Health Fraud, Inc., Quackwatch, Inc., and Consumer Health Digest, accusing us of restraint of trade; trademark dilution; business libel; tortious interference with existing and potential business relationships; fraud or intentional misrepresetation; and violating federal and state laws against deceptive trade practices. (On June 29th, Consumer Health Digest was dropped as a defendant.) The complaint asks for more than $10 million in compensatory and punitive damages. The suit objects to seven articles on my Web sites:
- How the Urine Toxic Metals Test Is Used to Defraud Patients
- CARE Clinics, Doctor's Data, Sued for Fraud
- Be Wary of CARE Clinics and the Center for Autistic Spectrum Disorders (CASD)
- Three brief articles in Consumer Health Digest:
- Laboratories Doing Nonstandard Laboratory Tests
Provoked testing (administering a chelating agent before collecting a specimen for heavy metals testing) yields unreliable results. This is the prevailing scientific belief and has been the basis for many government actions against practitioners who administered such tests. Like the attorneys' warning letters, their suit objects to my opinion that provoked testing is used to defraud patients, but it fails to challenge my reasoning. Many others have criticized provoked testing, but my analysis may be more conspicuous than the others.
The lawsuit also asks the court to muzzle me:
WHEREFORE, DOCTOR'S DATA, INC., Plaintiff, prays that this court enter an order granting Doctor's Data a permanent injunction; direct them to remove or delete all disparaging statements and remarks pertaining to Doctor's Data from these or any web sites under their control; and prohibit them from publishing these or any other or additional such remarks on blogs, the aforesaid websites, or any other web sites pending the outcome of this litigation.
The Bottom Line
Very few people provide the type of information I do. One reason for this is the fear of being sued. Knowledgeable observers believe that Doctor's Data is trying to intimidate me and perhaps to discourage others from making similar criticisms. However, I have a right to express well-reasoned opinions and will continue to do so. If you would like to help with the cost of my defense, please follow the instructions on our donations page.
What else you can do
Besides donating as much as you can to Quackwatch? Sign the petition requesting that Doctor's Data publish reference standards. Read the petition at http://www.petitiononline.com/DDITESTS/petition.html. Or you can go straight to signing it, at http://www.petitiononline.com/DDITESTS/petition-sign.html
Those who support Barrett (updated silently as I find them)
- June 30 2010 Orac More Legal Thuggery Against A Defender of Science-Based Medicine http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2010/06/more_legal_thuggery.php
- June 30 2010 Stavros Isaiadis More Libel Lawsuits instead of Scientific Debate Journey Through A Burning Mind http://www.isaiadis.com/2010/06/30/more-libel-lawsuits-instead-of-scientific-debates/
- June 30 2010 Barbara Drescher Quackwatcher Dr. Steve Barrett Is Under Attack Woo Fighters http://woofighters.org/2010/06/quackwatcher-dr-steve-barret-is-under-attack/ and http://icbseverywhere.com/blog/2010/06/quackwatcher-dr-steven-barrett-needs-y/
- June 30 2010 Monica Pignotti Science Based Medicine Blog on Legal Thuggery Potential Harmful and Other Questionable Therapies http://phtherapies.wordpress.com/2010/06/30/science-based-medicine-blog-on-legal-thuggery/
- June 30 2010 Todd W. Doctor's Data Inc. Uses Legal Threat to Silence Criticism Silenced by Age of Autism http://silencedbyageofautism.blogspot.com/2010/06/doctors-data-inc-uses-legal-threats-to.html
- June 30 2010 Skepacabra News from Around the Blogosphere http://skepacabra.wordpress.com/2010/06/30/news-from-around-the-blogosphere-6-30-10/
- June 30 2010 Kim Wombles Supporting Skeptics Who Speak Up Countering Age of Autism http://counteringageofautism.blogspot.com/2010/06/supporting-skeptics-who-speak-up.html
- June 30 2010 The Ashartus Files Attacks on Scientists The Ashartus Files http://ashartus.wordpress.com/2010/06/30/attacks-on-scientists/
- June 30 2010 Glenn Reynolds Threatening Bloggers is Generally a Bad Idea Instapundit http://pajamasmedia.com/instapundit/102143/
- June 30 2010 Peter Trzeciak Legal Trouble Again -- Spreading the News Pete's Wicked Blog http://blog.linuxblast.com/2010/06/legal-trouble-again-spreading-news.html
- July 1 2010 Mike Masnick Quackwatch Sued for Suggesting Medical Lab Quackery Techdirt http://techdirt.com/articles/20100701/01441710039.shtml
- July 1 2010 Derek Lowe "Doctor's Data": Telling the Truth and Getting Sued for It In the Pipeline (Corante) http://pipeline.corante.com/archives/2010/07/01/doctors_data_telling_the_truth_and_getting_sued_for_it.php
- July 1 2010 John Pieret This Could Take A While Thoughts in a Haystack http://dododreams.blogspot.com/2010/07/this-could-take-awhile.html
- July 1 2010 John Pieret The DDI DDDidn't Thoughts in a Haystack http://dododreams.blogspot.com/2010/07/ddi-ddidnt.html
- July 1 2010 Jack of Kent US libel suit against Quackwatch Jack of Kent http://jackofkent.blogspot.com/2010/07/us-libel-suit-against-quackwatch.html
- July 1 2010 Landon Ross Quackwatch Sued by Quacks The Rational Ape http://www.rationalape.com/2010_07_01_archive.html
- July 1 2010 Ian Musgrave Anti-Science Bullies At It Again Astroblog http://astroblogger.blogspot.com/2010/07/anti-science-bullies-at-it-again.html
- July 1 2010 Timothy Sandefur Quackwatch needs your help The Panda's Thumb http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2010/07/quackwatch-need.html
- July 1 2010 Anonymous Coward Chelation Therapy Quack sues Quackwatch Bayblab http://bayblab.blogspot.com/2010/07/chelation-therapy-quack-sues-quackwatch.html
- July 1 2010 Cujo359 Medical Quackery Meets Legal Quackery Slobber and Spittle http://cujo359.blogspot.com/2010/07/medical-quackery-meets-legal-quackery.html
- July 1 2010 Dana Hunter The Legal Jackboot En Tequila Es Verdad http://entequilaesverdad.blogspot.com/2010/07/legal-jackboot.html
- July 1 2010 Brad Evans The Streisand Effect? I hope so Blue Horizons http://darbsnave1.blogspot.com/2010/07/streisand-effect-i-hope-so.html
- July 1 2010 Reddit thread on the case http://www.reddit.com/r/science/comments/ckoki/a_medical_lab_that_produces_bogus_results_is/
- July 1 Robert Carroll Skeptic's Dictionary Quackwatch Doc Sued for $10 Million http://www.skepdic.com/skeptimedia/skeptimedia97.html
- July 1 Acagle ArcheoBlog How Not to Sweep An Enemy Under the Rug http://www.acagle.net/ArchaeoBlog/?p=9832
- July 2 2010 Health Care Renewal Quackwatch being sued by "Doctor's Data", a laboratory that caters to chelation therapists Health Care Renewal http://hcrenewal.blogspot.com/2010/07/quackwatch-being-sued-by-doctors-data.html
- July 3 2010 The Lucky Atheist Spread the Word: Quacks Sue Skeptic http://luckyatheist.blogspot.com/2010/07/spread-word-quacks-sue-skeptic-for.html
- July 3 2010 Hemant Mehta Science Defender Gets Sued by Doctor's Data The Friendly Atheist http://friendlyatheist.com/2010/07/03/science-defender-gets-sued-by-doctors-data/
- July 4 2010 PZ Myers Attempted Intimidation by a Quack Pharyngula http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/07/attempted_intimidation_by_a_qu.php
- July 4 2010 Horse Goes West Intimidation Fail Horse Goes West http://horsegoeswest.com/?p=1219
- July 4 2010 Bing McGhandi Doctor's Data: Litigious F^ckwits Suing Quackwatch Happy Jihad's House of Pancakes http://hjhop.blogspot.com/2010/07/doctors-data-litigious-fuckwits-suing.html
- July 4 2010 Michael Hawkins Doctor's Data is a Fraud For the Sake of Science http://forthesakeofscience.wordpress.com/2010/07/04/doctors-data-is-a-fraud/
- July 4 2010 Peter Bowditch Doctor's Data Millenium Project http://www.ratbags.com/rsoles/history/2010/07july.htm#3drsdata
- July 4 2010 Mike Stanton Doctor's Data Sues Quackwatch Action for Autism http://actionforautism.co.uk/2010/07/04/doctors-data-sues-quackwatch/
- July 5 2010 MediaWatchWatch Doctor's Data Doctors Data (UK) http://www.mediawatchwatch.org.uk/2010/07/05/doctors-data-doctors-data/
- July 5 2010 Walter Olson Lab sues Stephen Barrett (Quackwatch) http://overlawyered.com/2010/07/lab-sues-stephen-barrett-quackwatch/OverLawyered
- July 6 2010 Cohen Stephen Barrett von Betrügern verklagt http://blog.esowatch.com/?p=1707 Esowatch (in German, thanks Cohen)
- July 6 2010 Kimball Attwood, Doctor's Data sues Quackwatch http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=5983 Science-Based Medicine
- July 6 2010 Skeptico Doctor's Data Sues Skeptico http://skeptico.blogs.com/skeptico/2010/07/doctors-data-sues-quackwatch.html Skeptico
- July 6 2010 Beatis Stephen Barrett of Quackwatch Sued by Doctor's Data http://anaximperator.wordpress.com/2010/07/06/stephen-barett-of-quackwatch-sued-by-doctors-data/ Anaximperator
- July 6 2010 PalMD Quackbusting is Dangerous Work http://scienceblogs.com/whitecoatunderground/2010/07/rampaging_quacks.php White Coat Underground
- July 6 2010 Paul Ingraham More Legal Bullying Must Be Met With Public Outcry http://saveyourself.ca/146 Save Yourself.ca
- July 6 2010 Scott Gavura Defencer of Science-Based Medicine Sued http://sciencebasedpharmacy.wordpress.com/2010/07/06/defender-of-science-based-medicine-sued/ Science-Based Pharmacy
- July 7 2010 Le Canard Noir Doctor's Data and Bogus Tests http://www.quackometer.net/blog/2010/07/doctors-data-bogus-tests.html The Quackometer
- July 8 2010 Paul Bradshaw Quackwatch blog sued by Doctor's Data http://onlinejournalismblog.com/2010/07/08/quackwatch-blog-sued-by-doctors-data/ Online Journalism Blog
Writers critical of Barrett
- June 25 2010 Tim Bolen Doctor's Data Laboratory Files Federal Lawsuit Against Barrett, Quackwatch, NCAHF, Consumer Health Digest... Bolen Report http://www.bolenreport.com/feature_articles/feature_article097.htm
- July 1 2010 Linda Doctor’s Data vs. Barrett VICTORY F.I.G.H.T. for Your Health http://lymebook.com/fight/doctors-data-vs-barrett-victory/
- Friday July 2 2010 Tim Bolen I love the smell of napalm in the morning The Bolen Report http://www.bolenreport.com/feature_articles/feature_article098.htm
References used to write this blog post
- March 20 2004 Sylvia The DAN! Protocol Autistics Society online newsletter http://www.autisticsociety.org/News/article/sid=541.html
- February 2005, Autism Research Institute Newsletter http://www.autism.com/pro_mercurydetox.asp
- January 19, 2006 "Dad of Cameron" More Research, More Questions: A Chelation Study in Arizona Autism Street http://www.autismstreet.org/weblog/?p=10
- February 3, 2006 "Dad of Cameron" Earthquake! Shaky Science in Arizona Autism Street http://www.autismstreet.org/weblog/?p=11
- February 5, 2006 "Dad of Cameron" Arizona Chelation Study: Is It Real Science Autism Street http://www.autismstreet.org/weblog/?p=12
- February 6, 2006 "Dad of Cameron" Doctor’s Data - What’s in a name? Autism Street http://www.autismstreet.org/weblog/?p=19
- March 20 2006 Kev Leitch The DAN! protocol for dummies, LeftBrain/RightBrain http://leftbrainrightbrain.co.uk/2006/03/dan-protocol-for-dummies/
- June 27 2007 Arthur Allen True Believers Why there's no dispelling the myth that vaccines cause autism. Slate Magazine http://www.slate.com/id/2169459
- 2007 David Gorski, Mercury in vaccines as a cause of autism and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs): A failed hypothesis Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine http://www.sram.org/1101/mercury.html
- November 2008 Stephen Barrett M.D. Be Wary of CARE Clinics and the Center for Autistic Spectrum Disorders (CASD) AutismWatch http://www.autism-watch.org/reports/casd/overview.shtml
- December 29, 2008 Katie Duzan, Defeat Autism Now! (DAN!) Associated Content http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/1345352/dan_defeat_autism_now.html?cat=9
- February 12, 2009 Arthur Allen A Special Court http://www.slate.com/id/2211156
- April 1 2009 Arthur Allen Treating Autism as if Vaccines Caused It The theory may be dead, but the treatments live on. Slate Magazine http://www.slate.com/id/2211156/
- April 29, 2009 Stephen Barrett M.D., How the "Urine Toxic Metals" Test Is Used to Defraud Patients, Quackwatch . http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/Tests/urine_toxic.html
- July 27 2009 American College of Medical Toxicology Position Statement on Post-Chelator Challenge Urinary Metal Testing http://www.acmt.net/cgi/page.cgi?aid=2999&_id=52&zine=show
- December 31 2009 David Whelan, Heavy Metals Inc. Forbes Magazine dated January 18, 2010 http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2010/0118/health-medicine-chelation-therapy-heavy-metals-inc.html
- January 7 2010 Stephen Novella Chelation Fraud Neurologica http://www.theness.com/neurologicablog/?p=1438
- March 5 2010 Orac Suing DAN! Doctors for Malpractice: It's About Time Respectful Insolence http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2010/03/suing_dan_practitioners_for_malpractice.php
- April 20 2010 Stephen Barrett http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/Tests/doctors_data.html
- April 20 2010 Kimball Atwood Bogus Diagnostic Tests Science-Based Medicine http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=4768
Quackwatch and related websites:
- http://www.quackwatch.org (health fraud and quackery)
- http://www.autism-watch.org (guide to autism)
- http://www.casewatch.org (legal archive)
- http://www.chelationwatch.org (chelation therapy)
- http://www.chirobase.org (guide to chiropractic),
- http://www.homeowatch.org (guide to homeopathy),
- http://www.ihealthpilot.org (guide to reliable information),
org (guide to infomercials),
- http://www.mlmwatch.orghttp://www.naturowatch.org (naturopathy),
- http://www.nutriwatch.org (nutrition facts and fallacies),
- http://www.ncahf.orghttp://www.chsourcebook.com (consumer health sourcebook),
- http://www.ncahf.org (National Council Against Health Fraud),
- http://www.chsourcebook.com (consumer health sourcebook),
Donations to help support Quackwatch can be made through PayPal or by mail.