In Memoriam: Wallace Sampson, MD

I have some sad news for my readers today. It's even sadder given that it's only been two and a half weeks since I last had to mourn the passing of one of our own, a champion of science-based medicine, a regular commenter of five years, lilady. Unfortunately, this time around, it is my sad duty to inform you that Dr. Wallace Sampson has passed away at the age of 85. I knew about it late last week, but I wanted to wait until official obituaries were published, such as this one in the Mercury News.

I first encountered Wally (as his friends called him) through his writings deconstructing various forms of quackery on websites like Quackwatch and warning how unscientific medicine was worming its way into medical academia. Indeed, his 2003 article on the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, now known as the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, was one of the earliest articles I read that convinced me that this sham of an abomination of a waste of taxpayer dollars must be defunded. It is a classic that applies today every bit as much as it did 12 years ago. It was something that I had a hard time believing at first, but his writings and warnings both alarmed and educated me. They were a major influence on my development as a skeptic. Later, when my not-so-super-secret other blog was formed, I found myself having the opportunity to work with Wally as one of the founding bloggers there. Although he had a bit of difficulty adjusting to the style and culture of blogging, I did my best to help teach him the ropes. In turn, he served as the voice of experience, the man with the in-depth personal knowledge of history that we needed. Even though it's true that we butted heads on a couple of occasions, I never doubted his dedication to science-based medicine. Unfortunately, after a couple of years, Wally had problems with his health and keeping up with a weekly publishing schedule; so unfortunately he could no longer provide regular material.

Wally Sampson was an inspiration whose efforts predated mine by decades. He made his name in the anti-quackery movement back in the 1970s, when I was a teenager. Long before his tenure at Science-Based Medicine, he was the founding editor of the peer-reviewed journal Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine and a founding member of the Bay Area Skeptics. He edited a book, Science Meets Alternative Medicine: What the Evidence Says about Unconventional Treatments. What's little known about him is that he was one of the earliest skeptics involved in showing that laetrile was ineffective, even testifying in front of the FDA, and he stated that there is no dichotomy between "Eastern" and "Western" medicine long before I ever started saying it. There's even a PBS special, A Day with Wally Sampson, where he discussed alternative medicine.

Sadly, Wally spent the last three months of his life in the hospital after complications from heart surgery. I learned from one of his family members that eventually after his long hospital course he realized that he wasn't getting better and would probably never leave the hospital; so he asked for palliative care only and died on Memorial Day. Truly, a giant of medical skepticism has left us. We will not soon see his like again. The best I or anyone else can do is to try to carry on and hope that we can accomplish in the time we have left half of what he did.

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What sad and shocking news! Wally was a friend as well as a healthfraud guru to me. For a number of years I've tried to arrange a lunch or dinner meeting with him (and, occasionally, Rita) on my annual trips to the San Francisco Bay area. This always resulted in an informative, frequently humorous, discussion.

No doubt many who knew him longer and more intimately than I will have much to say about this terrific guy over the next days and weeks. For now, I wish to express my own grief and to extend my deepest sympathy to Rita and the rest of Wally's family.

I only met this freindly man once, but I admired him greatly and like Orac enjoyed his attack on the NCCAM and on Pubmed, selecting so may altmed journals but rejecting the SRAM, thoroughy.

By Cees Renckens (not verified) on 31 May 2015 #permalink

Deepest condolence to the Orac and, of course, the minions. Sad also that the Nash family met with tragedy. Well spoken tribute nonetheless; though I disagree that "we will not soon see his like again," as we already are.

I did not know this. Thanks for posting this tribute. I have missed his contributions to Science Based Medicine the last few years and wondered about him from time to time. I always looked forward to his articles there. They were uniquely informative and entertaining. This is a great loss.

By Robert W Donnell (not verified) on 01 Jun 2015 #permalink

My condolences, Orac, and all those who knew him well. A nice tribute that gives just a glimpse of all that he did. Hard coming on the heels of lilady's passing.

I'm sorry to hear this.
His writing influenced my beliefs about alt med greatly.

By Denice Walter (not verified) on 01 Jun 2015 #permalink

Wally was a great friend and a perfect advisor to Bay Area Skeptics on medical matters. He is greatly missed.

Rick Moen

By Rick Moen (not verified) on 01 Jun 2015 #permalink

We lost a dear friend as a result of stent surgery recently. My heartfelt condolences to all those touched by Doctor Sampson's loss.

This is very sad news indeed. Dr. Sampson sounded like a wonderful advocate for SBM. I'm sorry I never got to meet him.

On a happier note . . .
Kerri Rivera, lieutenant to ex-Scientologist and Genesis II Church leader Jim Humble and promoter of bleach cures for autism, has erased her Facebook profiles and shut down her e-mail and websites. This follows the conviction of Daniel Smith of Spokane, WA for selling the same bleach cures last week, as well as critical news coverage. The admins for her book's official Facebook page insist that Kerri is taking time off, even though her actions of abandoning her social media seem a bit drastic.

By Pareidolius (not verified) on 01 Jun 2015 #permalink

I had great respect for Wally too. His knowledge and experience will be missed.

My condolences to you and all the other contributers to SBM.

I read all the early postings there, although I haven't been able to keep up lately, and I very much appreciated his scholarly and well written contributions.

By squirrelelite (not verified) on 01 Jun 2015 #permalink

See Noevo: "Did Dr. Sampson ever talk much..."

Try clicking on the blue letters in the article, they will lead you to much of what he wrote. In other words: read his stuff, and don't expect us to spoon feed it to you.

Here is a link to a video featuring Dr. Sampson (hosted by Alan Alda) dealing with alternative medicine.

Click link and scroll down to episode 10, "A Different Way To
Heal." Dr Sampson first appears @ 2:00.

By Dan McPeek (not verified) on 01 Jun 2015 #permalink

I'm sorry to hear this. I always enjoyed his posts at that other blog I read from time to time. He was a good man and a credit to the fight against quackery and woo. My condolences to his family and friends.

I'm disappointed in you, Orac. Don't you know it's possible to never be sad, never be depressed, always feel good -- and all through the power of quantum physics and epigenetics?

Am I doing this right yet?

By Rourke Decker (not verified) on 02 Jun 2015 #permalink

Wally and Quack Watch launched me on a dedicated journey to apply critical thought to medicine... First as a spectator and then, as a patient. A founding father, if you will. Between losing lilady, someone who taught me so very much, and now this sad loss, we know we have a legacy to continue, online but also in our own spheres, whatever they are. RIP

By thepragmatist (not verified) on 21 Jun 2015 #permalink