I know Christopher Maloney is a quack because this is how quacks act. PZ Myers wrote a blog post way back when pointing out that Maloney is a quack, a naturopathic “doctor” in Maine. He urged parents to skip vaccinating their kids, and to have them drink berry juice and take garlic pills instead. That isn’t how the real world works, alas. The flu vaccine really does stop the flu, while black elderberry has nothing like the clinical evidence required for this sort of recommendation.
Rather than taking that criticism to heart, Maloney had his wife, a lawyer, send nastygrams to the hosts of blogs that criticized her hubby. That behavior, while certainly loyal, didn’t diminish anyone’s sense that Christopher Maloney is a quack.
Now she’s stirred the hornet’s nest by sending a cease and desist letter to PZ Myers. And she insists that charges of quackery are unjustified because “Dr. Maloney has impeccable educational credentials, receiving a pre-medical degree from Harvard University and a medical degree from the National College of Natural Medicine.”
There’re a few problems with that sentence. A pre-med degree doesn’t mean diddly for a physician’s competence or qualifications. It isn’t even required for admission to medical school. And attending medical school is no guarantee against being or becoming a quack. Nor is NCNM an institution so prestigious as to dissuade criticism. As Mrs. Maloney acknowledges, one is entitled to believe that naturopathy is quackery, and so it can hardly be “libel per se” to express that belief about the practice in general and in particular. And if naturopathy is really quackery, then truth is an absolute defense.
So, the OED defines quack as: “A person who dishonestly claims to have medical or surgical skill, or who advertises false or fake remedies; a medical impostor.” The lowest-hanging fruit here is “false or fake remedies.” This need not imply any intent to deceive on the part of Maloney, only that his medicine lacks any merit.
That conclusion is easy to justify. A letter from the Massachusetts Medical Society observes:
Naturopathy is both potentially and actually injurious when practiced according to the accepted standards of the profession. This injury is likely to be due to the failure of the naturopathic practitioner to recommend appropriate medical treatment.
Unscientific naturopathic beliefs pose irrational challenges to proven public health measures, most notably childhood immunizations.
Irrational, unscientific beliefs and practices abound in naturopathy, likening it more to a cult than to a valid form of health care. These beliefs and practices are not merely at the fringes but are the standards of the field. They are advocated by the leaders themselves.…
Naturopathy involves many nonsensical diagnostic practices that mainstream medicine considers quackery but naturopaths consider standard.…
The duration and setting of naturopathic clinical training, even overlooking its content, is inadequate for producing competent primary care physicians. This is clear from a comparison of the training of medical doctors to that of naturopaths. Just as a newly graduated medical doctor, no matter how well-intentioned, would not be allowed to assume the role of a primary care physician, neither should this be allowed for a naturopath whose training is clearly inferior.
The American Cancer Society writes: “Available scientific evidence does not support claims that naturopathic medicine is effective for most health problems. Most of the claims of effectiveness are based on individual cases, medical records, and summaries of practitioners’ clinical experiences.” The NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine notes: “Some beliefs and approaches of naturopathic practitioners are not consistent with conventional medicine, and their safety may not be supported by scientific evidence. For example, some practitioners may not recommend childhood vaccinations that are standard practice in conventional medicine.” That rather tends to support the conclusion that, by the dictionary definition and like all naturopaths, Christopher Maloney is a quack.