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Australasian ScienceCitation Cold Case

One of the regular tactics of the supporters of pseudoscience is to quote people from real science who seem to be supporting an unorthodox position. The quotes are inevitably either selective extracts taken out of context, supposed quotations offered without reliable citations, or simple fabrications made on the assumption that nobody will bother (or sometimes be able) to check.

The following quote appears on many alternative medicine web sites:

"The thing that bugs me is that the people think the FDA is protecting them. It isn't. What the FDA is doing and what the public thinks it's doing are as different as night and day".- Dr. Herbert Ley, Former FDA Commissioner, 1970. (Sometimes the year is given as 1969.)

I once asked for a reference so that I could see the context in which Dr Ley made this remark. The first "reference" I was given said

"Dr. Herbert Ley, former FDA Commissioner, in testimony a United States Senate Hearing on the matter. He said, "The FDA 'protects' the big drug companies and are subsequently rewarded, and using the government's police powers they attack those who threaten the big drug companies." He then went on to say, "People think that the FDA is protecting them. It isn't. What the FDA is doing and what the public thinks it is doing are as different as night and day."

The words between the quotation marks were different in the two cases but at least I now had the clue that the original comments should be somewhere in the Congressional Record, in the minutes of the committee. As the online records of the Congressional Record only go back to 1994 and I live a long way from Washington DC, I though it reasonable to ask for a proper citation. (The sort of citation you have to make in undergraduate assignments to get passing grades.) I was referred to a book called "Racketeering in Medicine", which seems to be the source of the first quote above. When I asked again for something a bit more official, I was pointed to this on a cancer quackery site:

"1965 Senator Edward Long holds U.S. Senate hearings where Dr. Herbert Ley, FDA Commissioner testifies that the FDA "protects" the big drug companies and are subsequently rewarded, and using the government's police powers they attack those who threaten the big drug companies. "People think what the FDA is protecting them. It isn't. What the FDA is doing and what the public thinks it's doing are as different as night and day."

But this says 1965 and at that time Dr Ley was an Associate Professor at Harvard. He did not become FDA Commissioner until July, 1968. Senator Long retired from the Senate at the end of 1968, and Dr Ley left his position at the FDA at the end of 1969. Asking for clarification of this anomaly produced a reference on another quackery site to a book published in 1974 (now out of print) which was apparently quoting a newspaper article from 1970. As the next reference I received cited both the years 1965 and 1970, I gave up the cause as hopeless.

So here is the story so far. Dr Ley may have said something in 1965 (when he was not working at the FDA), or in 1969 (when he was FDA Commissioner), or in 1970 (when he was a former Commissioner). He may have appeared before a US senate hearing in 1965 (when he was working at Harvard), or in 1969 or in 1970. The Senator named as chairing the hearing retired at the end of 1968, so he could not have been chairing any meetings in 1969 or 1970. In 1965, when Senator Long was a Senator, Dr Ley could not have appeared in the rôle of FDA Commissioner. As both men are now dead, it is not possible to ask either of them directly for clarification.

Attacking the FDA and equivalent organisations in other countries is essential for the progression of quackery. Regulation and rules are bad for business. The sort of people making the attacks have no problem telling lies as many of the potions and nostrums they try to sell are obviously fraudulent and they know it. The "quotation" from Dr Ley is just another case of lying. It would be so simple for someone to supply a valid citation if the statement had ever been made to a Senate hearing, but the failure of any of the retailers of the lie to substantiate the claim is strong evidence that Dr Ley never said what the quacks say he said. I am, of course, open to correction on this by anyone who can point me to the relevant chapter and verse in the Congressional Record, but I won't be holding my breath while waiting. As one person said to me: "Why does it matter when or where he said it? All that matters is the FACT that he said it".

This article was published as the Naked Skeptic column in the July/August 2012 edition of Australasian Science
Australasian Science



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