Quackery: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 Definition of Quackery
  • 1:34 Examples
  • 2:39 Recognizing Quackery
  • 4:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ian Lord

Ian has an MBA and is a real estate investor, former health professions educator, and Air Force veteran.

Health fads and promises of better health or cures to ailments outside of traditional medicine are typically forms of quackery. In this lesson, we will define quackery and provide tips for how to recognize these false healthcare claims.

Definition of Quackery

Jane's sister Betty is one of those people who seem to hang onto every word and promise made about the latest health fad out there. Betty is the kind of healthcare consumer who tends to distrust doctors and is on the lookout for alternative treatments. Every year, new health claims are made outside of the peer reviewed medical community and marketed to consumers like Betty. Jane, who is a registered nurse, knows that many of these claims are nothing more than quackery, but what does that mean exactly? Let's help Jane define quackery and identify instances of it so that she can help her sister be better informed.

Dr. Stephen Barrett, the editor of, defines quackery as 'the promotion of unsubstantiated methods that lack a scientifically plausible rationale.' Promotion includes trying to sell a product or idea for a profit. Unsubstantiated means that the claim has neither been proven nor disproven by science. Plausible means that the claim makes scientific sense given the established facts already out there. So, to 'lack scientifically plausible rationale,' would mean that the claim is implausible, improbable, or doubtful.

Quackery doesn't necessarily mean the same as fraud. People may genuinely, though mistakenly, believe in the product. Distributors, or those who sell products through multi-level marketing, may become convinced of the claim through strong marketing or persuasion. Unfortunately, belief in quackery can cause someone to avoid getting actual medical treatment from a legitimate professional.


Magnet therapy, homeopathy, and vitamin C megadoses are just a few of the methods Betty has tried at one point or another. She believed that a magnetic shoulder wrap helped reduce inflammation and speed the healing of her sprained shoulder. A homeopath sold her an onion-based solution that in reality is effectively indistinguishable from plain water as a hay fever remedy. The clerk at the nutritional supplements store suggested she take large doses of vitamin C to fight off the common cold during flu season.

Each of these products was sold with vaguely scientific sounding jargon and promises. For example, the ad on TV said that the magnets in Betty's shoulder wrap interact with the iron in her blood and promote blood flow and increased oxygen, which, in turn, helps improve healing and provides a rejuvenation of health.

Homeopathy sells the idea that what causes a problem can also cure it when given in minute amounts. Vitamin C megadoses begins with the idea that we generally don't get enough of it in our diets and that this supposed deficit leaves us vulnerable to disease.

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