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Fakes. Cheats. Snake oil salesmen. Quacks. From time immemorial, people have been trying to sell poorly researched or just plain made-up remedies and medicines. Luckily, organizations like Vereniging tegen de Kwakzalverij (VtdK), translated as The Society Against Quackery, possibly the world’s oldest skeptic society, have been exposing hucksters and helping to defend their marks since 1881.

“Quackery is the practicing of treatments and/or diagnostic methods of which the value has not been scientifically proven,” says Dr. Cees Renckens, former president of the VtdK, serving as head of the organization for 23 years. “This is usually accompanied by loudly praising its results.” While the rise of modern medicine standards and protections has eliminated some of the more blatant flim-flam that was once passed off as medical science, Renckens says that quackery is still as much of a problem as it’s ever been, and is in some ways worse. “[Today’s] quacks hide behind appeasing terms such as alternative medicine, additive medicine, holistic medicine, complementary medicine, naturopathy, integrative medicine,” he says.

The VtdK formed around the same time that modern medicine began to be professionalized in the late 1800s. According to a history on the Society’s website, the Dutch Society for the Advancement of Medicine, which was founded in 1849, was having trouble policing the unlicensed and unqualified medical practitioners of the day. In an effort to raise awareness of the growing number of quacks operating in the Netherlands, they published a pamphlet in 1878 detailing how to identify a quack, and what to do about them. From this initial bit of literature, the Society Against Quackery was born.
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