Born October 18, 1844, chemist Harvey W. Wiley lived in a time when snake oil cures and unsafe manufactured food were common. He campaigned for the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906, which is the legal basis of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. When it passed he became that agency’s first commissioner.Another public outcry for regulation erupted years later when Harry Thompson Brundige did an undercover investigation of medical diploma mills that was first published on October 15, 1923. Many doctors and chiropractors nationwide were found to have false paperwork. Brundige was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and a scandal erupted. Wiley and Brundige would have been disappointed if they had lived to see the passage of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, which went into effect October 25, 1994. It significantly weakened the FDA by allowing vitamins and supplements to be sold without proof of efficacy. An effort to close this loophole stalled in Congress early in 2010, in part because of tremendous pressure from the alternative medicine lobby.
(This essay originally appeared in a slightly different form on Skepticality episode #140)
Tim Farley is a JREF Research Fellow in electronic media.