American Health Quackery
Collected Essays of James Harvey Young
This study of American medical fraud finds quackery in the 1990s to be more extensive and insidious than in earlier and allegedly more naive eras. The author argues that the modern quack is not an outrageous hawker of magic remedies operating from the back of a carnival wagon, but a trained technician who knows how to use antiregulatory sentiment and ingenious promotional approaches to succeed in a "trade" that is both bizarre and deceitful. This collection of essays discusses recent health scams and reconsiders earlier ones. Liberally illustrated with examples of advertising for patent medicines and other "alternative therapies", the book links evolving quackery to changing currents in the scientific, cultural and governmental environment. Young describes varieties of quackery, such as frauds related to the teeth, nostrums aimed at children, and cure-all gadgets with such names as the Electreat Mechanical Heart. The case of Laetrile illustrates how an alleged vitamin for controlling cancer could be lobbied into a national mania, with many state legislatures passing laws giving the cyanide-containing drug special status.
AIDS is shown to be the most recent example of an illness that, tragically, has panicked some of its victims and members of the general public into putting their hopes in fake cures and preventives. Young discusses the complex question of vulnerability - why people fall victim to health fraud - and considers the difficulities confronting governmental regulators.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
"This wonderful book contains collected essays of America's foremost historian of the patent medicine and health quackery industries.... These essays demonstrate Young's excellent scholarship as well as his marvelous sense of humor and his witty use of the language.... A fitting testimony to the excellent research and writing of the author."--"Choice"
Quackery is thriving in the high-tech 90's, according to Young (American Social History/Emory Univ.), author of Toadstool Millionaires (1961), which traced the history of quackery in America up to the Food and Drugs Act of 1906, and Medical Messiahs (1967), which brought the story forward to 1966. Here, Young has edited and updated some of his articles and lectures from the past 25 years, bracketing them with two new essays - one a personal piece on his own continuing fascination with the subject, the other a timely discussion of quackery and AIDS. Young looks at quackery's appeals within the context of America's intellectual history, noting how quackery has benefited from our belief in liberty and in the natural right to succeed. His concern about the persistence of medical fraud is evident in his lecture to health professionals reminding them of their duty to serve as the first line of defense against it, and in his speech before the FDA's policy board urging more vigorous enforcement of regulations. Numerous 19th-century advertisements for patent medicines are included here, inviting comparisons with current nutrition claims and alternative-therapy promotions. Young discusses cancer quackery at some length (especially the Laetrile episode) and observes that it has succeeded by playing on fear, promising painless treatment, claiming miraculous scientific breakthroughs, attributing all cancers to a single cause treatable by a single therapy, and accusing the medical community of conspiring to suppress new therapies. In recent years, AIDS has provided other opportunities to capitalize on fear, ignorance, and suspicion of government, and Young writes knowledgeably about the present crisis. Expert words on a fascinating subject. (Kirkus Reviews)