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It was a great delight to visit Amsterdam on 25 October to speak at a meeting off the Vereniging tegen de Kwakzalverij (Society against quackery).  Unfortunately their excellent web site is in Dutch, so the best you can do at the moment is to use the Google translation, with its frequently hilarious renderings.  Better translations coming soon, I hope.


Op weg naar het einde?

Niet-reguliere geneeswijzen in de 21ste eeuw in internationaal perspectief

Towards the end?

Non-mainstream medicine in the 21st century in an international perspective

The Dutch society has 1800 members and is the oldest and biggest such society in the world. I very much hope that their web site will soon have an English version.  That is only appropriate since the origin of the word quack is from the Dutch Kwakzalver.  (Kwak=Chatterer, salesman, zalf = salve, ointment). (In contrast the noise made by a duck is simply described by the OED as being “imitative”, though the great Michael Quinion thinks the two usages may be connected.

De Kwakzalver, Jan Steen (1626-1679) Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. Click to enlarge

The Quack doctor, Jan Steen (1626-1679). Click to enlarge

Translations of some key parts will be posted here soon.  My talk was about Support for alternative medicine in government and universities in the U.K

The meeting started with the announcement of the winner of the Meester Kackadorisprijs.

The Master Kackodoris prize

The Meester Kackadorisprijs is awarded to individuals or institutions who promote quackery and who should know better (the quacks themselves are never nominated). The short list for the 2008 prize included the vice chancellor of the Free University of Amsterdam

Prof. dr. Lex Bouter, rector magnificus Vrije Universiteit

The vice-chancellor was on the short-list for the prize because of his part in a recent paper, “Effects of acupuncture on rates of pregnancy and live birth among women undergoing in vitro fertilisation: systematic review and meta-analysis.” (Manheimer E, Zhang G, Udoff L, Haramati A, Langenberg P, Berman BM, Bouter LM, Brit Med J 336, 545-9) [Available free]

This paper has been cited all over the world, but it seems not to have been very good.  See for example the magnificent analysis of it in “Yawn, still one more overhyped acupuncture study: Does acupuncture help infertile women conceive?” .  See also the Cochrane review (it could all be placebo). The fact that the vice-chancellor appears to have been only a ‘guest author’ anyway does not count as an excuse.  The large number of citations received by this paper should, incidentally, be seen as another nail in the coffin of attempts to measure quality by citation rates.

In the event, vice-chancellor Bouter did not win the Kackodoris prize  this year.  In a speech at the start of the symposium, it emerged that he had been narrowly beaten by the Dutch Christian Radio Association for its assiduous promotion of quackery.

The chair of the Dutch society, Cees Rencken, is doing a great job.  I hope that it will soon be better known outside the Netherlands.

And it’s time we had a UK equivalent of the Kackadoris prize. There will be no shortage of worthy candidates.

Frits Van Dam (Secretary) and Cees Renckens (Chair) of VtdK 
(photo: Sofie van de Calseijde)

Some pictures of Amsterdam

(meetings photos: Sofie van de Calseijde)


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10 Responses to The original Dutch anti-quackery society: vice-chancellor narrowly misses prize

  • Mike Eslea says:

    Good idea! Something like Randi’s Pigasus awards would be cool. Maybe we could get Ben Goldacre to spend some of his Bad Science spondulicks on a natty bronze Detox Barbie

  • stavros says:

    “The Meester Kackadorisprijs is awarded to individuals or institutions who promote quackery and who should know better”

    I am afraid I already know who would win such a prize (easily) in the UK… A certain university in the old city of Westminster maybe?

  • OK so we already have one nomination, Professor Geoffrey Petts.
    Keep them rolling in.

  • lecanardnoir says:

    Andy Burman, Chief Executive of the British Dietetic Association, for joining the council of the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (Ofquack). (Since resigned).

  • Dr Aust says:

    I guess it would be pointless to nominate the Heir to the Throne as he fairly obviously doesn’t know better, though his credentials for promoting quackery are second to none.

    I like the idea of giving it to a Vice Chancellor of one of the Woo-friendlier Universities.

    “Dans ce pay-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres” Voltaire, Candide

  • Mojo says:

    The society against quackery has been on the receiving end of legal threats, BTW:


  • Alan Henness says:

    I don’t envy the judges in trying to whittle down what would be a rather long ‘short list’! Just how do you decide which is the quackiest of quackery?

    However, I think it should be the Universities and Colleges for promoting quackery as science that get the prize every time (until they stop). At least journalists have an excuse for not knowing the difference between quack science and real science, but Universities and Colleges really should know better.

  • webbed feet says:

    This is such a good idea there really should be a British equivalent. The major problem is going to be getting only one winner when the competition is so strong.

    Perhaps a long-list could be drawn up and the merits and otherwise of the candidates subject to a web debate followed by public voting. It should not prove too difficult to attract media attention so the light of media-ridicule could result in a widespread beneficial effect. Vice-chancellors could be forced into very public discussion that will bring their institution into disrepute resulting in a consideration of standards rather than income. It is similarly not difficult to think of individuald who are making a good living by peddling the indefensible.

    The track record suggests a few threats of legal action but it is difficult to believe that anybody would actual go to court. After all a good is defence is what is said is accurate. Those on the list would have to quote scientific evidence to support their position – not something to worry about.

    How could this be organized – a site such as this or Bad Science are possibilities

  • John Hooper says:

    Great post. Not least for including the two Steens. Pragmatic lot those Dutch. I suggest that homeopathy is “een huishouden van Jan Steen” (yeah, I looked it up on the Miasmic Herald).

    There will never be agreement on who qualifies for “Quack Of The Year”.

    Even the short list would run to hundreds and the long list would be very long indeed.

    Can I suggest a compromise to “unblock” this dilemma (which I think was the aim of a particularly pointless “proving”, although I could well be wrong as the objective evidence is not exactly crystal clear).

    I suggest we create a small wooden duck from the remains of the beached ship Helvetia – bang it, shake it, dilute it and potentise it to a homeopathic 200C magic potion.

    We could then give ALL of the very long long list nominees a homeopathic first prize. After all they can hardly reject something created in line with their pseudoscience. Could they ?

  • John Hooper says:

    Saw a good quote today on an Ozzy skeptics site:

    “””The following words come from a publication called Pseudodoxia Epidemica, written by Sir Thomas Browne in 1646.

    In between paragraphs ridiculing urine therapy and astrology (both unfortunately still with us), he had this to say about “Saltimbancoes, Quacksalvers, and Charlatans”:

    “For their Impostures are full of cruelty, and worse than any other; deluding not only unto pecuniary defraudations, but the irreparable deceit of death.”

    I doubt if anyone has phrased it better in the last 362 years.

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