November 1, 2013
Throughout the 20th century, anti-quackery crusaders investigated, exposed, and attempted to regulate allegedly fraudulent therapeutic approaches to health and healing under the banner of consumer protection and a commitment to medical science. “From Quackery to Complementary Medicine: A History of Combating Alleged Health Fraud Since the Early 20th Century” reveals how efforts to establish an exact border between quackery and legitimate therapeutic practices and medications have largely failed, and details the reasons for this failure. Digging beneath the surface, I show how efforts to combat alleged medical quackery have been connected to broader debates among medical professionals, scientists, legislators, businesses, and consumers. I also expose the competing professional, economic, and political priorities that have encouraged the drawing of often arbitrary, vaguely defined boundaries between good medicine and "quack medicine." Beginning with early twentieth-century patent medicines and ending with recent debates surrounding complementary and alternative medicine, I examine how new treatments that claim to save lives and ease suffering may also leave the public open to false claims and potentially injurious practices. While modern-day “quackbusters” strive to control and shape the medical marketplace, legislators are caught in a persistent tension between preserving individual freedom and protecting the public from fraud.
Eric W. Boyle is currently Chief Archivist at the National Museum of Health and Medicine and Lecturer at the University of Maryland. Eric earned his Ph.D. in the History of Science, Technology and Medicine from the University of California Santa Barbara. He worked as Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s History of Medicine program and finished a postdoctoral fellowship with the Office of History at the National Institutes of Health where he conducted research on his current book project, In the Belly of the Beast: A History of Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health. His book, Quack Medicine: Combating Health Fraud in Twentieth-Century America, was published in January 2013.