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Doctor’s Data Sues Quackwatch

A few weeks ago I posted an article about bogus diagnostic tests. I cited Doctor’s Data, Inc. (DDI), as “a company with a long history of dubious offerings.” I also wrote:

You can’t help but have noticed that many of the links in this post are to articles on Quackwatch. That’s because the site is chock full of useful information about bogus tests, far more than can be found elsewhere. There you will find a more comprehensive list of bogus tests than I’ve mentioned here, and a larger list of laboratories peddling them. You’ll also find an article on “Dubious Genetic Testing” co-authored by the Quackwatch founder, Stephen Barrett, and our own Harriet Hall, and an article about bogus “biomedical treatments” for autism showing that—surprise!—Doctor’s Data and Genova Diagnostics are major players there, too.

I stand by all of those statements. It turns out that Doctor’s Data is not pleased that Dr. Barrett has so thoroughly blown the company’s cover.

As he describes on Quackwatch, about a month ago Dr. Barrett received this letter from a representative of the law firm Augustine, Kern and Levens, Ltd. of Chicago:

Dear Dr. Barrett:

It has recently come to the attention of our client, Doctor’s Data, Inc., an Illinois corporation, that you have, on a continuing basis, harmed Doctor’s Data by transmitting false, fraudulent and defamatory information about this company in a variety of ways, including on the internet and in other publications. Doctor’s Data is shocked that you would intentionally try to harm its business and its relationship not only with doctors but also with the public. Doctor’s Data has also learned that you have apparently conspired with and encouraged individuals to seek litigation against it, and have filed false complaints at various government and regulatory agencies against Doctor’s Data.

“It is never libelous,” you have said, “to criticize an idea.” However, you have gone way beyond the idea stage, and our client will not tolerate it. You apparently have carried on this conduct in an intentional manner and with the assistance of others. It is clear that you have a specific intent to harm Doctor’s Data, and this conduct must stop immediately.

We demand that you cease and desist any and all comments regarding Doctor’s Data, which have been and are false, fraudulent, defamatory or otherwise not truthful, and make a complete and full retraction of all statements you have made in the past, including those which have led in some instances to litigation. Such comments include, but are not limited to, those made in your article entitled, “How the ‘Urine Toxic Metals’ Test Is Used to Defraud Patients,” which you authored and posted on Quackwatch.com. “The best evidence for reckless disregard,” you have written, “is failure to modify where notified.” Consider this notice to you that if you do not make these full and complete retractions within 10 days of the date of this letter, in each and every place in which you have made false and fraudulent, untruthful or otherwise defamatory statements, Doctor’s Data will proceed with litigation against you and any organizations, entities and individuals acting in common cause or concert with you, to the full extent of the law, and will seek injunctive relief and monetary damages, both compensatory and punitive.

Doctor’s Data is a CLlA-certified company in full compliance with all state and federal regulatory and CLlA standards, and your false, fraudulent, defamatory and otherwise untruthful comments have been made to intentionally damage Doctor’s Data, Inc. This conduct will no longer be tolerated and if the retractions are not made as written above, the lawsuit shall be filed imminently.

Very truly yours,

Algis Augustine

Dr. Barrett’s reply included this:

I take great pride in being accurate and carefully consider complaints about what I write. However, your letter does not identify a single statement by me that you believe is inaccurate or “fraudulent.” The only thing you mention is my article about how the urine toxic metals test is used to defraud patients… The article’s title reflects my opinion, the basis of which the article explains in detail.

If you want me to consider modifying the article, please identify every sentence to which you object and explain why you believe it is not correct.

If you want me to consider statements other than those in the article, please send me a complete list of such statements and the people to whom you believe they were made.

Rather than sending Dr. Barrett such a list, the firm replied:

Dr. Barrett,

You have been making false statements about Doctor’s Data and have damaged this company’s business and reputation, and you have done so for personal gain and your own self-interest, disguised as performing a public service. Your writings and conduct are clearly designed to damage Doctor’s Data. If you don’t retract your false claims and issue a public apology, the lawsuit will be filed.

Today is June 14th, which is the deadline that was in our letter of June 2nd. Because you responded, you have until Thursday, June 17th, to post your retractions. If you do so and show good faith immediately, this will be taken into account in proceeding.

Jeff Levens
Augustine, Kern and Levens, Ltd.

Once again, Dr. Barrett asked the firm to cite the purported false statements:

Dear Mr. Levens:

My letter asked you to identify the claims that you believe are false. You have not identified a single sentence that you believe is inaccurate. Since you have failed to do so, I have no choice but to assume that you cannot. My offer remains open, as it is to anyone who is criticized on any of my sites. If you identify anything that you consider inaccurate, I will seriously consider what you say and act accordingly.

Thank you,

Stephen Barrett, MD

The result was predictable:

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 misrepresentation; and violating federal and state laws against deceptive trade practices…The complaint asks for more than $10 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

It also asks the court to prohibit Dr. Barrett and others from exercising their freedom of speech:

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.

Sounds eerily similar to the Simon Singh case in the UK. The U.S., of course, has libel laws that are far more protective of freedom of speech than those in the UK; but any lawsuit at all, no matter how unfounded, is burdensome to the defendant, who must spend considerable time and money on his defense. Thus a corporation with means can easily cripple an individual such as Stephen Barrett, who realizes no “personal gain” from what he writes on Quackwatch and lives on little more than a modest retirement pension. Roy Poses, referring to Scot Silverstein’s post over at Health Care Renewal about this lawsuit, observed:
 

Note that the Quackwatch publications which the suit addressed included one that simply described a lawsuit (filed by others), and another that simply summarized an article in Slate (written by others). Sounds like a SLAPP to me. 

Scot himself wrote:

This seems like a case of legal intimidation and may be a case for Senator Grassley’s whistleblower hotline (whistleblower@finance-rep.senate.gov).

Dr. Barrett is well aware of this, but he is not about to surrender:

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.

Yes, it is true that very few people or places provide the type of information that he does. That’s why I linked to so many of his articles from my own recent post. You can’t find that kind of information on virtually any mainstream website that claims to give reliable information about “complementary and alternative medicine”: not on WebMD, not on InteliHealth, not on the NCCAM website—even though most people would probably expect to find it in those places, if they were aware of it at all. You won’t find on any of those sites, for example, that being “a CLlA-certified company in full compliance with all state and federal regulatory and CLlA standards” is no guarantee against peddling bogus diagnostic tests.

Dr. Barrett needs both money and publicity to fight this. Please go here to donate money. Please spread this story around and keep plugging at it. Let’s turn this into an opportunity to expose both the sordid reality of present-day quackery and the perversion of law that the suit represents, exactly as has now happened in the Simon Singh case.

Posted in: Health Fraud, Politics and Regulation, Science and Medicine, Science and the Media

Leave a Comment (29) ↓

29 thoughts on “Doctor’s Data Sues Quackwatch

  1. DevoutCatalyst says:

    Money donated. Thanks!

  2. dwpeabody says:

    Yep donated earlier today, Quackwatch is a great resource. We should really aim to publicize this. Could some of the SBM people get together to make a blog template for everyone to post on their respective blogs? If the Skeptical/Pro-science comunity get behind this it would be great.

  3. BonesMcCoy says:

    Thanks for the info.
    After a year of lurking on SBM, I have come out of the shadows, registered at your site, and donated to Quackwatch.

    Keep up the Good Fight!

  4. rwk says:

    Niceone, DD! Time for Barrett to retire.

  5. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    Rwk, Barrett is retired. And, of course, there is doubtless little on his site that can’t be defended through reference to actual science.

  6. Chris says:

    rwk, news flash: Barrett has been retired from being a psychiatrist for years.

  7. daedalus2u says:

    I think what Doctor’s Data is worried about is insurance companies getting wind of this and disallowing claims that DD has filed retroactively.

    There is no medical indication for a chelation provoked urine test. A provoked urine test should not be covered by any health insurance.

  8. wales says:

    Interesting piece. Not knowing much about these types of diagnostic tests I have been doing a little reading. Doctor’s Data offers over 40 diagnostic tests, including blood and fecal tests for various compounds/bacteria, etc. Apparently Quackwatch’s quibble is regarding the two toxic metal urine tests and the two hair tests.

    I discovered, to my surprise, that hair testing is commonly used to detect drug use. One company’s website, Omega laboratories, even has 8 pages of key court cases involving hair testing. Why is hair drug testing a scientifically valid methodology but hair mineral testing not? It appears that it is the use of the test results to recommend nutritional supplementation that is at issue?

    http://www.omegalabs.net/abouthairtesting/legalityofhairtesting/legalityofhairtesting.aspx

    I also found this paper which describes a legitimate use of “provoked” urine testing to test metals levels in children. Who decides what is a legitimate vs. bogus use of this diagnostic test?

    http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15563650701338195

  9. daniel says:

    Doctor’s Data is about to get a nice hard lesson on the Streisand Effect.

  10. squirrelelite says:

    @Wales,

    Thanks for the link to the second reference. I read the abstract, but can’t get the full pdf’s.

    Essentially they did a small pilot study with 15 autistic and 4 normal children to see if provoked urine tests showed anything interesting. It looks like they didn’t.

    They tested for arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury. I think someone on Respectful Insolence mentioned that there is a reference level for lead in provoked testing, but not the other three. So, they compared all of them to reference levels for non-provoked testing, which is a major issue for this test. Even so, most of the children tested showed nothing.

    Three of the autistic children showed increased mercury, but two of these were barely above the detectable level, so they were ruled out. The third was “between the upper limit of normal and lower limit of the potentially toxic reference range”.

    So, they removed fish from the diet for greater than one month and repeated the test. This time the mercury was within the normal range.

    They concluded that “the proportion of autistic participants in this study whose DMSA provoked excretion results demonstrate an excess chelatable body burden of As, Cd, Pb, or Hg is zero. The confidence interval for this proportion is 0–22%”.

    In the absence of established reference levels for safe and toxic amounts of these metals under provoked testing, the results are meaningless even if they do show something.

    This small pilot study is way too underpowered to rule out a connection between mercury and autism, but it certainly didn’t show one.

    Since there are other methods of testing for these metals that do have established reference levels, there doesn’t seem to be any need for this test.

    I also noticed that they used “Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry” for these tests. I checked the DDI web site and didn’t see any mention of the method they use for their metal urine tests. Does anyone know what that is?

  11. nitpicking says:

    Find a lawyer to file a countersuit on a contingency basis. Watch Doctor’s Data fold.

  12. rmgw says:

    “U.S., of course, has libel laws that are far more protective of freedom of speech than those in the UK”;

    unless you criticise hamburgers, of course

  13. daedalus2u says:

    Squirrelelite, since none of the autistic individuals had mercury in a toxic range, to me this is pretty good evidence that mercury is not related to autism. If 0 of 17 autistic children have toxic levels of mercury, unless the selection of those particular 17 children was extremely biased, this is good evidence of no connection.

    That the mercury levels in the one child dropped when fish was removed from the diet shows that the source of mercury in that child was fish in the diet and not thimerosal (as we would expect because each serving of fish has more mercury than a vaccination does).

    I think this article is a good example of the damage that Doctor’s Data has done to toxicology and the treatment of heavy metal poisoning.

  14. squirrelelite says:

    daedalus2u,

    Thanks for the comment. I think we pretty much agree on this one.

    It did occur to me, though, (not being a doctor or a medical researcher) that if I were trying to develop a new method of testing for something like the presence of heavy metals and there was already a validated test for that (like the blood test for these metals), I would want to do both tests and compare and report the results.

    But maybe there were cost constraints or some other reason not to do so.

  15. wales says:

    Thanks for the info. No donation from me, so many serious disasters these days that need assistance (Haiti, Gulf, etc.) If Barrett is indeed retired perhaps he should find a less expensive hobby or find an attorney willing to do pro bono work.

  16. Scott says:

    @ wales:

    That sounds depressingly close to “he should let the fraudsters abuse the legal system to shut him up.”

  17. wales says:

    Yes you do have a depressing take on it.

  18. windriven says:

    Donation made. I’m considering making another donation in rwk’s honor. Isn’t his (her?) type of ignorance exactly what we’re trying to fight?

    @ David Gorski
    I would like to suggest maintaining periodic updates on this matter until it is settled. Simul stemus.

  19. TsuDhoNimh says:

    Wales … Read the abstract of that second reference, please.

    the proportion of autistic participants in this study whose DMSA provoked excretion results demonstrate an excess chelatable body burden of As, Cd, Pb, or Hg is zero.” That is ZERO, nada, zilch, bupkus, none!

    Provoking excretion with a chelator, comparing the results of that to non-provoked normal ranges, and deciding there is something abnormal based on those results is like having a cardiologist run you around the block a few times, take your pulse, compare it to normal resting pulse rates, and treat you for tachycardia.

    It’s totally bogus!

  20. daedalus2u says:

    Another thing that is also totally glossed over is that even during provoked urine testing, urine is still a minor pathway for mercury excretion.

    In the example that Barrett uses, the DD report states 6.3 micrograms mercury per gram of creatinine. Normal creatinine excretion is on the order of 15-20 mg/kg/day. A 20 kg child would excrete 300 to 400 mg creatinine. This means that the total mercury excreted by urine during the 24 hours following chelation (neglecting that the urine testing is only done at the peak mercury level) is only 1.89 to 2.52 micrograms. A ounce of tuna fish has about 0.5 ppm mercury, so a tuna sandwich with 50 grams of tuna (a rather puny tuna fish sandwich) would have 12.5 micrograms of mercury.

    At steady state, if a child is ingesting 10 micrograms of mercury a day, the child is also excreting 10 micrograms of mercury a day, the main excretion route is bound to glutathione in bile, which gets converted to less soluble forms in the gut by bacteria.

    This is why chelation is often not done even when there are actual elevated levels of mercury. If the source is removed, levels will go down due to normal excretion. Increasing excretion by a tiny amount via chelation may have no significant benefit even when levels are actually elevated. Removing the source is more important than increasing removal a tiny amount.

    The excretion path for other heavy metals is different. Mercury is pretty mobile and the liver-bile-gut excretion pathway is pretty robust. It only depends on lots of glutathione being excreted into bile, which is a major physiological pathway. If someone didn’t excrete glutathione in their bile, mercury poisoning would not be their most important health issue.

  21. daedalus2u says:

    I predict that DD will drop their lawsuit once they find that none of their co-conspirators in defrauding patients will testify on their behalf (where they would be subject to cross examination as to the reasoning behind their use of provoked testing).

    I think that is why none of the biomedical true believers testified for the Autism Omnibus hearings. The complete absence of an actual medical indication for what they are doing would be apparent.

  22. Dr Benway says:

    “Less expensive hobby,” lol.

    Lucky for you wales that so many people in this country are willing to defend free speech –including dopey commentary they strongly disagree with.

    I’d defend your right to say that Barrett is a bad person, or whatever it is you’re trying to say. But it seems clear you’re not the sort to return the favor.

  23. Calli Arcale says:

    daedalus2 — of course, the mercury militia tend to believe that autistic children have some deficiency in mercury excretion (perhaps genetic — that’s how they usually explain away the obvious signs of heritability in autism). Sometimes they argue that mercury gets “sequestered” in the brain, and cannot be removed except by chelation, which is why they say you need to use the provoked urine test to find it — they say the children have mercury in them, but it’s not being excreted, so a normal urine test would return normal results.

    Convenient, that. It makes it difficult for the marks to determine whether the child is really mercury poisoned or not.

    More recently, they’ve been talking about “glutathione depletion”, and tying this to the use of Tylenol (acetominophen/paracetamol) administered prior to vaccines to prevent fever, a common complication of vaccines. It’s a more novel approach, but it still lacks experimental basis. That’s okay by the DAN! doctors and such; they’re not interested in proof, but simply in a persuasive argument that will settle the doubts of their clients. Some of them may not be aware that there is a difference, but of course there is.

    wales:

    Yes you do have a depressing take on it.

    I’ve seen too many lawsuits intended as a chilling effect on free speech. This one, against Quackwatch, is merely the latest. The purpose is not to seek satisfaction for real damages. It’s to intimidate Stephen Barrett and his associates at Quackwatch. It is definitely an abuse of the legal system, and it is definitely contrary to Barrett’s First Amendment rights.

    I don’t care who’s trying to intimidate who, really. It’s wrong, and it’s an abuse of the system that will end up costing taxpayer money by wasting the time of the courts. It is not going to prevail, unless Quackwatch is unable to afford legal defense long enough and is forced to settle. That’s an unfortunate side effect of our legal system — a well-funded plaintiff will tend to defeat a poorly-funded defendant merely because the latter cannot afford to defend themselves and will settle out of court instead. This is used to silence inconvenient critics, intimidate whistleblowers, eliminate competitors, and even for straight-up profit. It’s disgusting, and it IS depressing that it happens so often.

    Fortunately, more and more states are taking action against it, in the form of anti-SLAPP legislation. But until all states have done so, plaintiffs can continue to venue-shop, filing in jurisdictions without such protection.

  24. tmac57 says:

    Thanks Dr. Atwood and SBM for bringing this to our attention. I made my donation this morning. I would like to see another international effort similar to the one on behalf of Simon Singh, to rally around Dr Barrett. Its time for people who value Dr. Barrett’s work to step up and help defend his right to criticize bad science. We need to let those skeptics on the front lines know that when push comes to shove, that we have their backs.

  25. RickK says:

    Donated. And added a little extra because rwk has the same initials I do.

    Quackwatch was invaluable in helping us slice through the naturopathic bamboozle when our daughter was diagnosed with peanut allergy.

  26. Maz says:

    Donated. When Quackwatch wins, can they collect money from Doctor’s Data to cover their legal fees?

    Also, I’d like to second the motion for updates on this suit.

  27. cloudskimmer says:

    My donation is on the way; I greatly appreciate the articles on Quackwatch.
    Is there any chance that the ACLU would be willing to help? This strikes me as a free-speech issue, and should be right up their alley.
    And yes, keep us updated on this. Please keep up the good work, Dr. Barrett.
    In order to sue, doesn’t there have to be some evidence of actual damage to the injured party? And how can they show that a particular article harmed them? I hope Dr. Barrett gets a good lawyer to shoot off a letter to them with an equally threatening tone.

  28. Citizen Deux says:

    Donated and reposted! DDI is a charlatan’s playground. They may as well be the scientific equivalent to mood rings, biorythms and Sister Lucretia’s psychic hotline. Reading the fine print in any of their results would lead any rational person to determine their information isn’t worth the paper it’s printed upon. Sadly, real practitioners are making diagnoses and (worst) prescribing drugs for conditions which don’t exist based upon DDI’s fancy color reports.

  29. Ben Kavoussi says:

    Donated by mail. Please keep us posted.

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