QUACKERY, the pretensions or practice of a boastful pre tender to skill which he does not possess, especially medical skill. Although this dictionary definition does not attach the condition that the quack practises for gain, such is usually the fact.
The existence of quackery pre-supposes four factors (I) an evil, usually an obstinate disease, (2) a sufferer from such an evil, (3) a person—the quack—who claims special knowledge or power to cure the particular evil, (4) a person—the orthodox medical practitioner—who holds out little or no hope of cure.
Inasmuch as the sufferer has no knowledge whether the quack or the orthodox practitioner is more justified in his statement and is anxious to leave no stone unturned to be rid of his trouble, there is small cause for wonder that the quack has a great following.
Other factors play a part, the desire for cheapness, for the quack medicine or treatment can be obtained—at all events in the first instance—at a relatively low price ; rebellion against authority especially when authority gives an unpleasant decision; the hope which, as in the old fable, lies at the bottom of Pandora's box of human ills ; the element of mystery which the quack usually employs ; the natural repugnance to surgical operation when such is the only remedy recognized by the orthodox practitioner; the desire for secrecy particularly in respect of venereal disorders. It may be imagined from the foregoing that such diseases as cancer, venereal diseases, kidney and bladder complaints, diseases of the skin and respiratory tract, chronic rheumatism, chronic indigestion supply the largest proportion of the quack's clientele; still, no common disease is free from a fringe of quackery.
The agents employed by quacks in various ages repeat them selves. In the case of cancer, the same chemical substances, the same corrosives have been employed, the same articles of diet have been inculpated over and over again. And though the agents have been shown repeatedly to be useless—even injurious—they come daily under the notice of those whose duty it is to investi gate suggested cures and causes of cancer. Other agents are
vegetable substances often derived from distant and little occupied parts of the world, called by local names, and for the most part unrecognizable by botanists. The tendency to repetition is un justifiably taken by the public as a sign of their efficacy in the face of medical antagonism, whereas the truth is that the agents lend themselves to the secrecy which is one of the characteristics of the cancer curer and to the production of a medicine or oint ment which can be sold at a price. It is a common story that the "cure" has been handed down from parent to child through many generations and often that it has been imparted to the present owner in return for some remarkable service.
Besides the use of chemical and vegetable substances the quack often turns to profitable account the current scientific tendency of the day. With the advance in knowledge of electricity he builds up what he terms a special form of electrical treatment and though his apparatus may be of the crudest kind and unable to generate electricity in appreciable quantity, the mystery attaching to his method of treatment and the pseudo-scientific language which he employs are not without effect upon the mind of the patient who is already more than half convinced in his favour. Similarly, with the discovery of radium, so-called radium treatments were devised for many complaints in which the amount of radium concerned was in the region of the limit of detectability. In the case of chronic rheumatism "magnetic belts," which give no more than a barely detectable electric current, have been recommended widely, as well as radium plasters which in all' contained perhaps a thousandth of a milligram of radium. When it is recognized that the commercial value of such an amount of radium at current prices would be under twopence, the profitable side of such a variety of treatment becomes obvious.