Quackwatch, Doctor’s Data, and the Streisand Effect

In 2003, Barbra Streisand objected to aerial images of her Malibu mansion being included in a project to provide a photographic survey of the California coastline. Lawyers filed a $50M lawsuit on her behalf. The resulting publicity greatly enhanced public awareness of Streisand’s property far beyond what would have happened had she and her lawyers left well enough alone. This phenomenon, wherein an attempt to suppress undesired or unflattering information has the unintended result of publicizing the information instead, has been dubbed: The Streisand Effect. Here’s one of the most recent examples.

Quackwatch is a non-profit organization founded and run by Stephen Barrett, M.D. Quackwatch aims “to combat health-related frauds, myths, fads, and fallacies.” Quackwatch took issue with an outfit called Doctor’s Data, Inc. arguing that their urine toxic metal testing is done in such a way as to defraud patients. According to the exchange of letters posted at Quackwatch, lawyers acting on behalf of Doctor’s Data insisted that Stephen Barrett withdraw the article linked above. Barrett replied (in part):

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: (http://www.quackwatch.org/t). 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.

The lawyers for Doctor’s Data again insisted on retraction without offering any specifics where they believe Barrett’s writing was in error.  Then on June 18 they filed a lawsuit against Quackwatch. And that’s where the Streisand Effect has kicked in. Google “Doctor’s Data,” and the first hit is the company’s website. The rest of the top twenty are links to Quackwatch’s coverage and account of Doctor’s Data’s lawsuit. The lawsuit has had the unintended effect of drawing substantial attention to Quackwatch’s criticism of Doctor’s Data. The incident has also inspired a Twitter feed (probably a parody, but given the behavior of Doctor’s Data, it’s hard to be certain) that threatens bloggers who criticize Doctor’s Data with similar lawsuits.

Donate to Quackwatch if you’d like to help them fight what appears to be a blatant attempt to shut them up.

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