The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine


Alternative Medicine Critic Wallace Sampson Has Passed Away at Age 85

May. 31, 2015 by | Comments (6)

Dr. Wallace Sampson speaking about acupuncture in a television interview. Watch video below.

I’m sad to note the recent passing of a longtime leading critic of alternative medicine, Dr. Wallace Ira Sampson (March 29, 1930–May 25, 2015). Our colleagues at the Skeptical Inquirer reported the news on their Facebook Page on Wednesday, saying, “We were deeply saddened to learn of the death of our friend and CSI Fellow, Wallace (Wally) Sampson, earlier this week.” An obituary has since been published by the San Jose Mercury News. It reports that Dr. Sampson “passed away peacefully on May 25, 2015 at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center”—the very hospital at which he served as Director of Oncology from 1991 to 1997.

Dr. Sampson was a key player in the anti-quackery activist movement which predated, grew up alongside, and (beginning in the mid-1970s) combined to a significant extent with the movement for organized scientific skepticism. (For some details of the California Council Against Health Fraud and other early quack-busting groups, see this short history.) He was the founding Editor of the peer-reviewed journal Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine, a Founding Fellow and board member (emeritus) of Institute for Science in Medicine, a blogger and editor emeritus at Science-Based Medicine, and a founding member of the Bay Area Skeptics. Many of his articles and interviews are available here in a collection of links compiled by the Institute for Science in Medicine.

It’s sometimes supposed that skepticism’s interest in medical misinformation and misguided treatments is a recent innovation. The truth is that questionable and fraudulent health claims have been central preoccupations for generations of skeptical activists. Scrutiny of claims of alternative medicine is a critical tradition that reaches back through Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. and beyond. Quackery has always been a public health issue; quack-busting, a vital public service. Four decades ago, Wallace Sampson and his colleagues made sure that the evaluation of alternative health claims would remain a central concern for modern organized skepticism. It falls to us to continue that work, now and for generations to come. It’s certain that work will be needed.

I understand that a tribute to Sampson will appear later this week at Science-Based Medicine. I will add links to this and to any additional tributes as they appear.

In the meantime, I share this video, below. In this television segment hosted by Michael Shermer, Dr. Sampson speaks out about the practice of acupuncture and the metaphysics of Traditional Chinese Medicine:


Tributes are now appearing from his skeptical colleagues who specialize in health-related controversies.

Skeptic columnist Harriet Hall has shared a reflection over at CSI (formerly CSICOP). “The skeptical community has lost a shining star,” Hall writes:

Wallace Sampson was my mentor. He was responsible for launching my writing career and for making me who I am today. He is gone, but his work in science and skepticism will never be forgotten. Thank you, Wally. Requiescat in pace.

Health blogger “Orac” (David Gorski) also has a tribute posted, in which he credits Sampson as a “major influence on my development as a skeptic.” Although they “butted heads on a couple of occasions,” Orac praises Sampson’s decades of service in the battle against quackery:

Truly, a giant of medical skepticism has left us. We will not soon see his like again. The best I or anyone else can do is to try to carry on and hope that we can accomplish in the time we have left half of what he did.

In a tribute at Science-Based Medicine, Steven Novella praises Sampson’s “gentle demeanor, knowledge, wit and wisdom,” saying,

He carried the banner of defending science and reason within medicine for a generation, and his is one of the giant shoulders on which SBM currently rests. … Wally was fighting against health fraud back when it was still called health fraud, rather than “alternative medicine”…. I would often go to him for perspective on the long range trends in our struggle to promote science in medicine. He had put in the decades of service necessary to have such perspective.

I personally owe Wally a great deal for my own career battling medical pseudoscience.

Daniel Loxton

Daniel Loxton is the Editor of INSIGHT at and of Junior Skeptic, the 10-page kids’ science section bound within Skeptic magazine. Daniel has been an avid follower of the paranormal literature since childhood, and of the skeptical literature since his youth. He is also an award-winning author. Read Daniel’s full bio or his other posts on this blog.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Get eSkeptic

Be in the know!

Subscribe to eSkeptic: our free email newsletter and get great podcasts, videos, reviews and articles from Skeptic magazine, announcements, and more in your inbox twice a week. It’s free. We never share your address. Unsubscribe any time.

Sign me up!


Skeptic cover art by Pat Linse

Art of the Skeptic

In celebration of Skeptic magazine’s 100th issue, we present sage graphic art advice for skeptical groups and a gallery of art reflecting more than 47 years of skeptical activism from Skeptic’s long time Art Director, Pat Linse

Detecting Baloney

Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic) by Deanna and Skylar (High Tech High Media Arts, San Diego, CA)

The Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic)

For a class project, a pair of 11th grade physics students created the infographic shown below, inspired by Michael Shermer’s Baloney Detection Kit: a 16-page booklet designed to hone your critical thinking skills.

FREE PDF Download

Wisdom of Harriet Hall

Top 10 Things to Know About Alternative Medicine

Harriet Hall M.D. discusses: alternative versus conventional medicine, flu fear mongering, chiropractic, vaccines and autism, placebo effect, diet, homeopathy, acupuncture, “natural remedies,” and detoxification.

FREE Video Series

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Understanding the difference could save your life! In this superb 10-part video lecture series, Harriet Hall M.D., contrasts science-based medicine with so-called “complementary and alternative” methods.

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Myths of Terrorism

Is Terrorism an Existential Threat?

This free booklet reveals 10 myths that explain why terrorism is not a threat to our way of life or our survival.

FREE PDF Download

The Top 10 Weirdest Things

The Top Ten Strangest Beliefs

Michael Shermer has compiled a list of the top 10 strangest beliefs that he has encountered in his quarter century as a professional skeptic.

FREE PDF Download

Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future (paperback cover)

Who believes them? Why? How can you tell if they’re true?

What is a conspiracy theory, why do people believe in them, and can you tell the difference between a true conspiracy and a false one?

FREE PDF Download

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

Mind altering experiences are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be dangerous…

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Myths About Evolution

Top 10 Myths About Evolution (and how we know it really happened)

If humans came from apes, why aren’t apes evolving into humans? Find out in this pamphlet!

FREE PDF Download

Learn to be a Psychic in 10 Easy Lessons

Learn to do Psychic “Cold Reading” in 10
Easy Lessons

Psychic readings and fortunetelling are an ancient art — a combination of acting and psychological manipulation.

FREE PDF Download

The Yeti or Abominable Snowman

5 Cryptid Cards

Download and print 5 Cryptid Cards created by Junior Skeptic Editor Daniel Loxton. Creatures include: The Yeti, Griffin, Sasquatch/Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster, and the Cadborosaurus.

Copyright © 1992–2021. All rights reserved. | P.O. Box 338 | Altadena, CA, 91001 | 1-626-794-3119. The Skeptics Society is a non-profit, member-supported 501(c)(3) organization (ID # 95-4550781) whose mission is to promote science & reason. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. Privacy Policy.