9 August 2013


Paul Offit. Killing Us Softly: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine. Fourth Estate, 2013.

Dr Offit’s book covers much the same ground as those reviewed HERE. He is no more impressed with much of alternative medicine than any of the other authors, and his account of the promotion of alternative medicine is just as alarming as in those.
He examines a variety of alternative cures, but devotes special attention to the various quack cancer cures, the anti-vaccine movement the promotion of a variety of mainly diet/supplement based therapies for autism.

He explores the role of celebrities in the promotion of many of these nostrums, and the unspoken question is how many of them, especially those close to their sell by date, use this to make money and keep themselves in the public eye. It is not much of a surprise to see that Oprah Winfrey and her ilk have been active in promoting a number of quack causes, one wonders if there is any barmy notion that Ms Winfrey has not promoted at some time or another?#

This is a really sad litany, the promotion of false hope to the desperate parents of dying children, the promotion of “natural” cures that cause more harm than help, the social danger caused by the anti vaccine movement etc.

It isn’t just celebrities that get in other the act, politicians jump on the bandwagon. This seems to be a problem particularly in the United States, where politicians, in the absence of strong party discipline, are just up for sale to the highest bidder. Of course we do have the late and not especially lamented Tony and Cherie Blair and their strange friends, and above all Prince Charles who doesn’t just promote the stuff but sells his own brand Duchy Herbals Detox Tincture. For calling Charlie a snake oil salesman, one of the authors referred to in the link above, Dr Edward Ernst, was forced to take early retirement. I’m retired already and thus can say what I like.

Some of the people in this business were just that, snake oil salesman from the start, but as Offit points out many were properly qualified doctors, or front ranking figures in other fields such as the late Linus Pauling. It may well be that the self confidence going well past bordering on arrogance allows these people to make exceptional discoveries but also to make disastrous errors of judgement, compounded by lack of any ability to accept that they are wrong.

Perhaps this also applies to a number of other people that Offit names and shames. Maybe to be charitable they are self-deluded, though the more cynical may point out their curious ability to delude themselves into being very wealthy indeed. It is interesting to note that one of those featured in this book can be found as a cheerleader on the promotional blurb of just about any book spouting new nonsense of any description.

Of course Offit accepts that some 'alternative medicines' work, there are herbs, which are well, er, just raw drugs, and the placebo effect can be very powerful. The conclusion should be that there is no problem with non-invasive therapies carried out in parallel to scientifically demonstrated treatments, but the promotion of alternatives to real treatments, and the ingestion of untested stuff is very problematical indeed. – Peter Rogerson.

1 comment:

  1. Odd book for Magonia to be reviewing, doesn't really fit the themes here...

    Anyhow could care less for this predictable review of Rogerson's and his swooning over Offit and the latter's whitewashing of the crimes of establishment medicine. Offit ought to get a job making fortunes for himself and Big Pharma/Biotech... Oh hang on now.

    Yes there is much quackery and swindling from the alternative medical circuit, agreed. However the alternative medicine crowd has nothing on the gangsterism, profiteering, intimidation and organized deceit of Big Pharma and its control of Western medicine; from R&D at the universities and private institutes to the doctors, from the medical journals to the huge health bureaucracies in the US, UK and beyond to the hospitals. You wouldn't know the first thing about the maiming and manslaughter, if not outright iatrogenic murder of Big Corporate Medicine, going by Offit and his ilk. From Neosalvarsan to thalidomide, to the disastrous side-effects of many anti-depressants, cholesterol drugs, high blood pressure medication and AIDS drugs (the latter include drugs such as RTIs that even the manufacturers warn are potentially fatal). Yes vaccines too. There have been so many scandals, bribes, cover-ups, frauds over the decades. They are ongoing.

    This has nothing to do with loony conspiracy mongering, although the Alex Jones types do unfortunately gravitate to this kind of thing, and they are used to smear the rest of us with the same brush. The rest of us is inclusive of geneticists, pathologists, immunologists, biophysicists and the like of the highest rank and reputation. The world over.

    Is Rogerson going to be reviewing Ben Goldacre's recent Bad Pharma? After all he was a recent True Believer in Big Medicine, but bad experiences with anti-depressants that he prescribed opened up a whole Pandora's Box. What about so many other exposés of Big Bad Medicine by numerous medical science figures and investigative journalists, doctors and the like over the years? From Marcia Angell's (former editor at the New Engand Journal of Medicine) The Truth about Drug Companies to R Strand's Death by Prescription, and so many others. But hey what do they know?

    Offit who has a vested interest in pushing vaccines, apparently knows better. Well I'm sure his bank manager agrees. Offit has made how much moola exactly from his involvement in the patenting and sale of Merck's RotaTeq vaccine? What of the conflict of interest considering Offit served on the CDC's ACIP? What's interesting and revealing about Offit is not only or so much what he says, but what he leaves out, and that can easily fill an encyclopedia.

    Killing us softly alright. Oh the cruel irony.