Samuel Hopkins Adams, Articles on the Nostrum Evil and Quackery

As part of related research into consumer protection, I recently scanned in a copy of Samuel Hopkins Adams’ seminal articles on the patent medicine industry. These articles, which appeared in Collier’s magazine starting in 1905, helped build the record for the 1906 Pure Food and Drugs Act, and for amendments to that law in 1912.
There are fourteen articles in the series and in them you will see how little has changed in the world of quackery. Adams focused much of his attention on the relationship between publishers and quacks, a problem that exists to this day (publishers are one of the most reliable opponents of consumer protection laws). Here, he points out the idea that publishers will lose their contracts with patent medicine quacks if “hostile legislation” is passed.
In this first article, Denialism readers will recognize two key strategies used by today’s nutritional supplement sellers: claims of universalism/universal cures, and the idea that doctors are suppressing remedies in order to protect their professional racket. Enjoy. Uncorrected OCR follows.
This is the introductory article to a series which will contain a full explanation and expire of patent-medicine methods, and the harm done to the public by this industry, founded mainly on fraud and poison.  Results of the publicity given to these methods can already be seen in the steps recently taken by the National Government, some State Governments and a few of the more reputable newspapers.  The object of the series is to make the situation so familiar and thoroughly understood that there will be a speedy end to the worst aspect of the evil.
Gullible .America will spend this year some seventy-five millions of dollars in the purchase of patent medicines. In consideration of this sum it will swallow huge quantities of alcohol, an appalling amount of opiates and narcotics, a wide assortment of varied drugs ranging from powerful and dangerous heart depressants to insidious liver simulauts; and, far in excess of all other ingredients, undiluted fraud. For fraud exploited by the skillfulest of advertising bunco men, is the basis of the trade. Should the newspapers, the magazines and the medical journal refuse their pages to this class of advertisements, the patent medicine business in five years would be as scandalously historic as the South Sea Bubble, and the nation would be richer not only in lives and money, but in drunkards and drug.fiends saved.
“Don’t make the mistake of lumping all proprietary medicines in one
indiscriminate denunciation,” came warning from all sides when this series
was announced. But the honest attempt to separate the sheep from the
goats develops a lamentable lack of qualified candidates for the sheepfold.
External remedies there may be which are at once honest in their claims
and effective for their purposes; they are not to be found among the
mu~h-advertised ointments or applications which :fill the public prints.
~ut!cura may be a useful preparation, but in extravagance of advertising
1t nvala the most clamorous cure-all. Pond’s Extract, one would naturally
suppose, could afford to restrict itself to decent methods, but in the recent
ep~demic scare in New York it traded on the public alarm by putting forth
“~1aplay:• advertisements headed, in heavy black type, “Meningitis,” a
d1aease In which witch-hazel is about as effective as molasses. ~his is
fairly comparable to Peruna’s gh9ulish exploitation, for profit, of the yellow.
fever. scourge in New Orleans,· aided by various southern newspapers of
tan~mg, which published as news an “interview” with Dr. Hartman,
president of the Peruna Company.
prominent Chicago newspaper and spread before its advertising manager a full-page advertisement, with blank spaces in the center. “We want some good, strong testimonials to fill out with,” he said. “You can get all of those you want, can’t you Y” asked the newspaper
manager. “Can youf” returned the other. “Show me four or five strong ones from
local politicians and you get the ad.”
Fake Testimonials That day reporters were assigned to secure testimonials with photo.graphs which subsequently appeared in the full-page advertisement as
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A CONTRACT €0NTA·I-NING THE RED CI:.AUSE ‘l’he “Red Clause” is shown in heavy type, beginning with the words “It Is mutually agreed . • .” The Gazette bus recently decided to exclude all
patent-medicine advertising from its columns.
promised. As for the men who permitted the use of their names for this purpose, several of them afterward admitted that they had never tasted the “Compound,” but that they were willing to sign the testimonials for the joy of appearing in print as “prominent citizens.” Another Chicago news.
paper compelled its political editor to tout for fake indorsements of n nostrum. A man with an inside knowledge of the patent-medicine business made some investigations into this phase of the matter, and he declares that such procurement of testimonials became so established as to have the force of a system, only two Chicago papers being free from it. To·day, he adds, a similar “deal” could be made with half a dozen of that city’s dailies. It is disheartening to note that in the case of one important and high·class daily, the Pittsburg Gazette, a trial rejection of all patent. medicine advertising received absolutely no support or encouragement from the public; so the paper reverted to its old policy.
One might expect from the medical press freedom from such influences. The control is as complete, though exercised by a class of nostrums some· what differently exploited, but essentially the same. Only “ethical” prepa.rations are permitted in the representative medical press, that is, articles not advertised in the lay press. Yet this distinction is not strictly adhered to. “Syrup of Figs,” for instance, which makes widespread pretense in the dailies to be an extract of the fig, advertises in the medical journals for what it is, a preparation of senna. Antikamnia, an “ethical” proprietary compound, for a long time exploited itself to the profession by a campaign of ridiculous extravagance, and is to·day by the extent of its reckless use on the part of ignorant laymen a public menace. Recently an artie!~ announcing a startling new drug discovery and signed by a physician was offered to a standard medical journal, which declined it on learning thnt the drug was a proprietary preparation. The contribution was returned to the editor with an offer of payment at advertising rates if it were printed as editorial reading matter, only to be reject~d on the new basis. Subse.quently it appeared simultaneously in more than twenty medical publica.tions as rending matter. There are to-day very few medical publica.tions which do not carry advertisements conceived in the same spirit and making much the snme exhaustive claims ns the ordinary quack “ads” of the daily press, and still fewer that are free from promises to “cure” diseases which are incurable by any medicine. Thus the medical press is as strongly enmeshed by the “ethical” druggers as the lay press is by Paine, “Dr.” Kilmer, Lydia Pinkham, Dr. Hartman, “Hall” of the “red clause,” and the rest of the edifying band of life-savers, leaving no agency to refute the megaphone exploitation of the fraud. What opposition there is would naturally arise in the medical profession, but this is discounted by the proprietary interests.
The Doctors Are Investigating
“You attack us because we cure your patients,” is their charge. They assume always that the public has no grievance against them, or rather, they calmly ignore the public in the matter. In his address at the last convention of the Proprietary Association, the retiring president, W. A. of Piso’s Consumption Cure, turning his guns on the medical profession, delivered this astonishing sentiment:
“No argument favoring the publication of our formulas was ever uttered which does not apply with equal force to your prescriptions. It is in you to want to know these formulas, for they are good. But you must not ask us to reveal these valuable secrets, to do what you would not do yourselves. The public and our law-makers do not want your secrets nor ours, and it would be a damage to them to ha1Je them.”
The physicians seem to have awakened, somewhat tardily, indeed, to counter-attack. The American Medical Association has organized a Coun.cil on Pharmacy and Chemistry to investigate and pass on the “ethi~l” preparations advertised to physicians, with a view to listing those wb1ch
are founrl to     be reputable and useful TJ1at tl · · d d
-. · us Is regar e as a directIt t)
assau on 1e propnetary mterests is suggested b tJ t ts
the verge of frenzy in some cases, emanatincr fro~ t~eo;ro es ‘ e oq~ent to ~an~facturers control. . Alre~dy the council has issued s:ru~r~:~:f~~~~c;r::~ 1ep01 ts on products of Imposmgly scientific nomenclature. and rno y t
follow.     ‘ re are o
What One Druggist Is Doing
Largely f~r trade reason~ a few druggists have been fightin the nos.trums, but without any considerable effect Indeed •t · · ~
tb t 1 d . · , I IS surpnsmg to see
~ peop e are ~o eep!y Impressed with the advertising claims put forth duly as to be Impervious to warnings even from -t A t
· 1     exper B. cu -ratet th E
s ore, e cononuca Drug Company of Chicago st rt d ·
and displayed a sign in the winuow readincr · ‘ a e on a campaign
o ·
What is
/<’01· you embarrass us, as our honest ans1cer must be that
1( you mean     to as7e at what price we sell it that is an entirely different proposition. ‘
When sick, consult a !J.OOd physician. It is the onl ro er course. A:zd pou ~ll find it cheaper in the enJ fha! self-medtcatton 1vtth worthless “patent” nostrums.
This was followed up by th , . f .
prominent nostrums that they ~::1esme: 8 In ormmg all applicants for the
was unable to get rid of ite wa: I~g m~!l~Y· Yet, with all this that trums comprise one· third f . s . pa en .-me Icme trade, and to-day nos.thirds of that of the averaoge~:~enlltnte busmess. They comprise about two.
. 1 ti . a s ore.
I.egJs a on IS the most b · -d .
Jlt’Deral public or the aw k o ~Ious/~~e .Y’ pen~ID~ the e~lightenment of the lion proceeds slow! a enmg o . 1e JOUrnalistic conscience. But practical termsya:n~2~~vo6oso~~amtst ~p:osition, which may be measured e last report of the Pro ;ie ‘ a s.a .e ~n the other side. I note in statement that “th P h tal!’ AssoCiations annual meeting the signifi.Most of the I . ~ t•eaviest expenses were incurred in legislative eg~s a Ion must be done by states, and we have seen
in the case of the Hall Catarrh cure contract how readily this may be con· trolled. .
Two government agencies, at least, lend themselves to the purposes of the patent-medicine makers. The Patent Office issues to them trade-mark registration (generally speaking, the convenient term “patent medicine” is a misnomer, as very few are patented) without inquiry into the nature of the article thus safeguarded against imitation. The Post-Office Depart· ment permits them the use of the mails. Except one particular line, the disgraceful “Weak Manhood” remedies, where excellent work has been done in throwing them out of the mails for fraud, the department bas done nothing in the matter of patent remedies, and has no present intention of doing anything; yet I believe that such action, powerful as would be the opposition developed, would be upheld by the courts on the same grounds that sustained the Post Office’s position in the recent case of “Robusto,” namely:
That the advertising and circular statements circulated through the mails were materially and substantially false, with the result of cheating and defrauding those into whose hands the statements come;
That, while the remedies did possess medicinal properties, these were not such as to carry out the cures promised;
That the advertiser knew he was deceiving;
That in the sale and distribution of his medicines .the complainant made no inquiry into the specific character of the disease in any individual case, but supplied the same remedies and prescribed the same mode of treatment to all alike.
Should the department apply these principles to the patent-medicine field generally, a number of conspicuous nostrums would cease to be patrons of Uncle Sam’s mail service.
Some states have made a good start in the matter of legislation, among them Michigan, which does not, however, enforce its recent strong law. Massachusetts, which has done more, through the admirable work of its State Board of Health, than any other agency to educate the public on the patent-medicine question, is unable to get a law restricting this trade. In New Hampshire, too, the proprietary interests have proven too strong, and the Mallonee bill was destroyed by the almost united opposition of a “red-clause” press. North Dakota proved more independent. .After Jan. I, 1906, all medicines sold in that state, except on physician’s prescriptions, which contain chloral, ergot, morphin, opium, cocain, bromin, iodin or any _ of their compounds or derivatives, or more than 5 per cent. of alcohol, .must so state on the label. When this bill became a law, the Proprietary Association of .America proceeded to blight the state by resolving that its members should offer no goods for sale there.
Boards of health in various parts of the country are doing valuable edu·
cational work, the North Dakota board having led in the legislation. The
Massachusetts, Connecticut and North Carolina boards have been active.
The New York State board has kept its hands off patent medicines, but the
Board of Pharmacy has made a cautious but promising beginning by
compelling all makers of powders containing cocain to put a poison label
on their goods; and it proposes to extend this ruling gradually to other
dangerous compositions.
Health Boards and .Analyses
It is somewhat surprising to find the Health Department of New York
City, in many respects the foremost in the country, making no use of care
fully and rather expensively acquired knowledge which would serve to pr11·
teet the public. More than two years ago analyses were made by the chemists of the department which showed dangerous quantities of cocain in a number of catarrh powders. These analyses have never been printed. Even the general nature of the information has been withheld. Should any citizen of New York going to the Health Department, have asked: “My wife is taking Birney’s Catarrh Powder; is it true that it’s a bad fhing?” the officials, with the knowledge at hand that the drug in question is a maker of cocain fiends, would have blandly emulated the Sphinx. Outside criticism of an overworked, undermanned and generally efficient department is liable to error through ignorance of the problems involved in its admin.istration; yet one cannot but believe that some form of warning against what is wisely admittedly a public menace would have been a wiser form of procedure than that which has heretofore been discovered by the formula, “policy of the department.”
Policies ·change and broaden under pressure of conditions. The Health Commissioner is now formulating a plan which, with the work of the chem.ists as a basis, shall check the trade in public poisons more or less con.cealed behind proprietary names. .
It is impossible, even in a series of articles, to attempt more than an exemplary treatment of the patent-medicine frauds. The most degraded and degrading, the “lost vitality” and “blood disease” cures, reeking of terroriza.tion and blackmail, cannot from their very nature be treated of in a lay journal. Many dangerous and health-destroying compounds will escape through sheer inconspicuousness. I can touch on only a few of those which may be regarded as typical: the alcohol stimulators, as represented by J:’eruna, Paine’s Celery Compound and Duffy’s Pure Malt Whiskey ( adver.tised as an exclusively medical preparation) ; the catarrh powders, which breed cocain slaves, and the opium-containing soothing syrups which stunt or kill helpless infants; the consumption cures, perhaps the most devilish of all, in that they destroy hope where hope is struggling against bitter odds for existence; the headache powders, which enslave so insidiously that the victim is ignorant of his own fate; the comparatively harmless fake as typified by that marvelous product of advertising effrontery, Liquozone; and, finally, the system of exploitation and testimonials on which the whole vast system of bunco rests, as on a flimsy but cunningly constructed foundation.

Did I call this or What? Mike Adams blames medicine for school shooting.

Crazy Luddite Libertarian Mike Adams is following his usual script, ghoulishly using the school shooting in Newton to pillory his usual bogeymen he blames for anything. True to form he is blaming psychiatry and medications for the school shooting. What was it I said yesterday?

At some point it is likely he’ll find a way to blame his other favorite bogeymen, GMOs, pharmaceuticals, doctors (especially psychiatrists), and scientists.

Did I call this or what?
What is really stunning is how the cranks have continuously, and incorrectly flogged the IOM’s “to err is human” study for the last decade. Depending on the crank, they claim the study shows that either doctors or drugs are responsible for 100k deaths a year, but I’m pretty sure no one has actually ever read it. The study actually suggests that medical mistakes may have contributed to between 44-98k deaths a year (they always cite the high end), but, you have to actually look at what the mistakes are. Drug related mistakes or “adverse drug events” were estimated by the IOM to be responsible for 10% of these preventable errors. A large portion of the errors are the failure to intervene or failure in timely diagnosis. Which means, the IOM on review of a hospitalization felt that a death may have been caused by a failure to intervene. In other words, it’s very strange that the cranks use a study to call doctors a killer, when the study actually shows one of the most common medical errors was the failure to medically intervene. For example, such a mistake may be not recognizing a stroke and providing the appropriate medication in time.
The IOM study was meant to show how doctors could do better, that we could implement systems to prevent mistakes that were too common in medical practice. But the cranks wave it around to say, “medicine doesn’t work!” when the study frequently blames the failure to provide an appropriate medical intervention for the deaths. Anyone else see the problem with their logic?
Doctors just can’t win with these people, but that’s ok. We’ll be fine. We have the medications and technology that actually work, and as studies like the IOM’s show, we’re also willing to admit we can do better.

Irony meters just exploded all over the world – Natural News has article on how to spot a scam guru

Mike Adams, HIV/AIDS denialist, anti-vaccine crusader, germ theory denialist, and most recently, promoter of a child-protective services vaccine/sex trade conspiracy, actually has a contributor-submitted article on how to spot a scam guru.
The advice in the article isn’t terrible. Don’t believe inflated claims. Don’t believe people who say “anyone can do it” or create fake organizations to legitimize themselves. I just can’t figure out what it’s doing at Natural News. It also is missing some other signs you are being scammed by a false guru such as:

  1. You are at Natural News
  2. You are listening to Mike Adams
  3. You listen to people referred to as “gurus”

Any other ironies I’m missing here?

Homeopathy is an embarrassment to everyone living in this century

Zite has failed me. For some reason under the “science” heading it referred me to thisold hpathy article on homeopathic treatment of burns. I realize this site has been a source of idiocy for years but I think this is a true gem. It makes me want to cry for humanity. Orac, don’t look, it will make your brain explode. The question is, how should you treat burns? Most normal, sane people, in the treatment of the acute burn would suggest cooling the tissue, thus ending the process of damage from the exposure to heat, as well as adding the secondary benefit of soothing the injury. What do they recommend at
Heating it.
No I’m not joking.
No they’re not joking.

In my first year of homoeopathic training a general discussion led the lecturer to describe a treatment for burns. He explained that he had been dining with a friend who had burnt herself and had immediately, to his horror, held the burnt area of her hand in the heat of a candle for a little while. The friend had then explained to him that the normal treatment of using cold water was ineffective, but that the application of heat to a burn meant that it would not blister, and although it did hurt more on the initial application it healed far more quickly and painlessly thereafter. This she demonstrated a little while later when he saw to his amazement that the burned area was not even red and she was experiencing no pain.
His explanation was that left alone a burn, ‘burnt’, as in the vital force would produce heat. By applying cold water this burning effect was reduced and the vital force had to summon even more heat. If instead we assist the vital force by applying heat the job would be done more quickly.
This is really nothing more than elementary homoeopathy… like cures like… similar similibus curentur…. And yet some in the group were surprised, and some argued that this would be dangerous with anything other than a very slight burn…

Sigh. Do we really need to break down why this is a bad idea?
Continue reading “Homeopathy is an embarrassment to everyone living in this century”

Don’t mess with your neck doing yoga either

For some reason the NYT is all about neck injury lately. In yesterday’s discussion of a possible chiropractic induced injury, Russell asked:

But given all the other stresses people put on their necks, from accidents such as headbumps, from purposeful athletics such as whacking soccer balls, and from just craning one’s head in odd positions when performing various kinds of mechanical labor, it puzzles me that the risk from a chiropractor would be much greater than the risks from these other kinds of use/abuse. Of course, this is not excuse for the chiropractor, who is imposing that risk, likely on those more susceptible to injury, under false pretense or treating disease. It’s more a general lament that we each carry so much haphazard anatomy.

Interesting he should mention this as today the NYT has an article How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body describing many ways that neck hyperextension during this popular exercise can also create similar injuries to the vertebral and carotid arteries.

The mechanism is similar…
Continue reading “Don’t mess with your neck doing yoga either”

EU Panel Spanks Some Specious Claims

The Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Dalton reports:

European scientific authorities Thursday rejected dozens of health claims made by food companies, in a sign of how tricky it will be for them to get some of their most popular claims past a European Union drive to bring scientific rigor to the health foods.

A panel of the European Food Safety Authority issued nearly a hundred opinions on health claims, about two-thirds of which were negative. The rejections included claims on special bacteria that are supposed to aid digestion and boost the immune system, beta carotene additives for sunscreen and shark cartilage for healthy joints.

The panel rejected two-thirds of the claims, and half of these were rejected because the substance in question wasn’t adequately described, the EFSA said in a statement. The claims that were accepted related mainly to vitamins and minerals known to promote health, dietary fiber, fatty acids for lowering cholesterol and sugar-free gum that is good for the teeth.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has posted these opinions, and a survey of them shows an interesting regulatory model. Information online includes:

“General Function” health claims such as “calcium is good for your bones” are defined by article 13.1 of the Regulation. These claims are based on generally accepted scientific evidence. A consolidated list of these claims is currently being evaluated by EFSA.

“New function” health claims defined under Article 13.5 of the Regulation are based on new scientific evidence and/or for which protection of proprietary data is requested. They require applicants to provide scientific evidence substantiating the claim proposed for a specific product or substance.

Claims regarding disease risk reduction and child development or health. These kinds of claims, defined under Article 14 of the Regulation, require applicants to provide scientific evidence substantiating the claim proposed for a specific product or substance.

Criteria for setting nutrient profiles. Nutrient profiles are nutritional requirements that foods must respect in order to bear nutrition and health claims. Nutrient profiles are established by the European Commission and Member States.

I’d love to hear what ScienceBloggers think of the EFSA’s process and work. The opinions are all online here!

Vitamin Lead: All Natural Component in your Nutritional Supplements

Stephanie Rodgers of the Mother Nature Network reports on a recent study of lead content in popular multivitamins by Consumer Labs. According to the news summary (the report is subscription only):

Of the 300-plus children’s vitamins and prenatal vitamins tested for lead, only four were found to be lead-free. Those include TwinLab Infant Care, Natrol Liquid Kid’s Companion, NF Formulas Liquid Pediatric and After Baby Boost 2 (for lactating women). No multivitamins for adult women tested negative for lead, but the ones with the lowest concentrations include FemOne, Viactiv Multivitamin Milk Chocolate, Family Value Multivitamin/Multimineral for Woman, and Women’s Basic Multi.

Now, since there are trace amounts of lead in nearly anything, it’s hard to say what this report means. Sciblings, do any of you have access to the actual report?

It seems to me that the market would be really effective in eliminating vitamins that contained high levels of lead, if only the information about contaminants were easily available and consumers could choose safer alternatives.

What is Brain Wave Vibration?

Sounds like a more dangerous form of Scientology, according to the Chronicle’s Scavenger Blog:

…Lee’s yoga focuses on Brain Education, or as one official put it, “using your brain well.” Part of this training includes the head-shaking Brain Wave Vibration exercise…Participants take basic yoga classes and are reportedly encouraged to attend pricey workshops, retreats and healing sessions. The group also sells followers $4,000 healing turtles, $800 healing necklaces and $90 vibrating power brains, according to a Boston TV station.

Popular Woo Mongers Bankrupt…in Berkeley!

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Elephant Pharmacy, a “holistic” drug store has closed and will file for bankruptcy. Why should you care? Elephant was an upscale store based in the Bay Area, the epicenter for wooishness. If this type of business fails here, how well will woo do elsewhere?

There’s something to be said for the idea that perhaps people know that woo doesn’t work, and maybe they cut back when the economy goes bad. Could the popularity of alternative medicine be a reflection of economic exuberance? Will individuals act more rationally when they have less money to spend?

The comments on the Chronicle site are fun to read. Gives you an idea of the atmosphere here on alternative medicines.