Quacks Are Everywhere and Have Been For a Long time

05 Dec

One of the things I like about reading the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) is the section on articles published in the Journal 100 years ago. In November of this year an interesting article that was published on November 9, 1912 was republished. There was titled “Telepathic Diagnosis!”

It seems that Dr. J. A. Quackenbos uncovered the story of a telepathic Belgian woman who apparently had the power to diagnose diseases from afar. It seems to perform her magic she must be put into a quasi-trance by hypnosis and from there she can psychically travel to the afflicted person and look inside them and determine what their medical problem might be. Wow. Wish I could do that. It would’ve saved me countless hours of head scratching and worry over the past 40 years.

Patent Meds

Patent Medicines

At first glance you might think that Dr. Quackenbos is the origin of the term quack. But that’s not the case. It actually comes from the old Dutch word kwakzalver, which means  a person who chatters or prattles. From that the word quack, which means someone who fraudulently pretends to have medical skills that are not real, evolved. Quacks have been with us throughout history from the ancient patent medicine and snake oil salesman to the modern day manufacturers of pills and tonics and potions that are supposed to cure everything from schizophrenia to diabetes. Is all PT Barnum supposedly said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”


PT Barnum and Tom Thumb

PT Barnum and Tom Thumb



Posted by on December 5, 2012 in Medical History, Medical Issues


5 responses to “Quacks Are Everywhere and Have Been For a Long time

  1. Peg Herring

    December 6, 2012 at 5:24 am

    I enjoyed your post, especially since I’m researching for the next book in my Tudor series and found a news sheet put out by a man who apparently could cure anything. The drawings that accompany his claims are hilarious–if you aren’t the patient!


  2. Anne - Le French Book

    December 7, 2012 at 10:19 am

    Love this post. Is it the sucker or the quack in me? Anyway, it got me thinking about the word for quack in French (“charlatan”) and learned a new word for it, “bonimenteur,” which just rolls off your tongue and sounds very nice (as it should) when said with the proper accent. And in France, you call a sucker a “pigeon,” (pronounced pi-jee-ohn’… well something like that).


    • D.P. Lyle, MD

      December 19, 2012 at 7:45 pm

      And always remember—If you can’t ID the pigeon at the poker table, it’s you.


  3. Patti Shinners

    December 19, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    You didn’t mention Edgar Cayce, the miracle man of Virginia Beach, who was also able to Dx people all over the world by going into a trance. Thing is — his Dx were often confirmed by real, bona-fide doctors — and his Tx worked. He had no medical training on his own, didn’t take money for his services, and often wished he didn’t have that ability as he wore himself out giving to so many people. Yeah, quacks abound everywhere, but I don’t think Mr. Cayce was one of them.


    • D.P. Lyle, MD

      December 19, 2012 at 7:44 pm

      Oh, yes, dear old Edgar and his auras. A very interesting character.



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