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The Literature of Quackery: Amusement and Understanding

quackerOHSU Historical Collections & Archives announces the opening of its latest exhibit, "The Literature of Quackery:

Amusement and Understanding", a display from the library of Loren Pankratz, Ph.D., Clinical Professor, OHSU Department of Psychiatry. The exhibit is now available in the main lobby of the OHSU Library.


The exhibit features historically significant books, definitive histories of Quackery in America, books of entertainment and understanding of quackery, sbooks with quackery and artifacts from the Pankratz collection as well as a Spectro-Chrome apparatus owned by the OHSU HC&A Medical Museum.  


Using The National Council against Health Fraud suggested this definition [of Quackery]: Quackery is the promotion of health products, services, or practices of questionable safety, effectiveness, or validity for financial gain. 


The term "health" includes promotions aimed at enhancing beauty, physical performance, disease prevention, or health wellbeing, not simply treatments and cures. 


Your mother is not engaged in quackery when she tells you to eat her chicken soup.  She does not say it will cure you—only that you will feel better.  She does not sell it to the neighbors as a panacea for disease.  She does not say her recipe is being suppressed by the medical establishment.  She does not say it contains secret ingredients discovered by an aboriginal tribe or a Swedish chemist.  Your mother's chicken soup—and folk medicine—are not quackery. 


Medical care should be based on procedures and treatments shown to be safe and effective through a process of scientifically sound investigations.  We can easily be fooled by our theories, desires, and fears.  Trustworthy medical management emerges in the context of good science.


Consumers can choose any treatments they wish.  But they have the right to know the facts.  Quacks rely on feigned effectiveness by using testimonials and declaring that "it works."  They want you to try it and make up your own mind—bypassing the steps for establishing effectiveness and safety.  They use words like "natural," "wholistic," and "complementary."  Freedom of choice should not be promoted as a substitute for freedom from accountability.  The burden of proof rightly belongs on the product's proponent.  [Pankratz: 2011]


Materials will be on display through March 2011. Questions about the exhibit or the collections can be addressed to Karen Peterson, Archivist (503-494-3239 or ).

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