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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 ([email protected]).

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: Diagnostic tests & procedures, Health Fraud, Politics and Regulation, Science and the Media

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