Real Secrets of Alternative Medicine

Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.
Mark Twain

It is essential that anyone suffering significantly from emotional distress, or who is ‘feeling on the edge’, seeks professional help immediately.

An excellent guide with this title is provided by the Royal College of Psychiatrists and should be consulted if indicated: Feeling on the Edge

Placebists, whether professional or lay, do care and may be able to offer the solace of consolation, hope and love by engaging with the ethical use of placebos,. They should not offer professional medical services or treatment of specific conditions. At all times clinical care is the responsibility of clinicians. Placebists offer condimentary care. This may serve as an adjunct to conventional care which may provide benefit, but you must be the judge. Such care will not provide completion of any convention medicine and cannot be regarded as ‘complementary’. Real Secrets of Alternative Medicine does not endorse non-scientific medical systems that are alternative to conventional medicine, nursing and the professions regulated by the HPC. CAM systems cannot be integrated with conventional medicine without undermining and harming the scientific basis for healthcare.

Inquiries about talks and lectures :


Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.
Charles Mackay. London 1841.
A seminal book exposing many delusions and follies which for a time gripped wide swathes of the population: The South Sea Bubble, alchemy, witch-hunts, prophecies, fortune-telling, magnetisers and the influence of imagination in curing disease, haunted houses and even the influence of the shape of hair and beards on politics and religion.

Consumer Health: A Guide to Intelligent Decisions.
Drs. Stephen Barrett, William London, Manfred Kroger, Harriet Hall, Robert Baratz. Ninth edition, McGraw-Hill, New York 2012.
Patients rightly demand further and better information before they make important healthcare choices. They are concerned about immunisation, prescription drugs and surgery. The authors of this introductory and reference book comment ‘Health concerns can be overwhelming, especially for people confronted with medical crises. Quackery is more pervasive and far trickier than most people realise. Consumer advocacy calls for justice and fair play. Consumer Health offers a panoramic view of the health market place. It explains and supports the scientific methods that are essential for validating claims about how products and services affect health. The key to intelligent decision-making is to use relevant and accurate sources of information.’ Consumer Health is highly recommended for the libraries of camees and those doctors and health professionals who have to advise them.

The Skeptic’s Dictionary.
Robert Todd Carroll. John Wiley & Son. New Jersey. 2003.
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Not only reviews alternative medicine, but many other strange beliefs, amusing deceptions and dangerous delusions. ‘A wealth of evidence for doubters and disbelievers.’

Essentials of Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Wayne B Jonas, Jeffrey S. Levin. Lippincott Williams and Wilkins. Baltimore 1999.
Does what it says on the tin. Sets out good reviews of disciplines now taught and practised as CAM, including how to evaluate them. ‘Evidence’ is considered, but of the anecdotal kind. This will not have much appeal to scientists.

Bad Science.Ben Goldacre.
Fourth estate. London 2008.
The Guardian columnist lays down issues of scientific shenanigans, reprehensible reporting and mendacious misrepresentation.

Bad Pharma.
Ben Goldacre. Fourth Estate. London 2012.
An exposure of the trickery behind much of the global pharmaceutical industry, and the failures of universities, academic institutions, regulators and governments to do anything about distorted evidence.

Michael Specter. Duckworth Overlook, London, 2010.                                                                                Exposes irrational pseudo-science that interferes with critical thinking and decision making.

Neuroscience and Philosophy.
Maxwell Bennett, Daniel Dennett, Peter Hacker, John Searle. Columbia University Press. 2007.
The authors do not all agree on current trends in cognitive-neuroscience, philosophy and human nature. For example, Hacker opines psychological attributes cannot be ascribed to the brain, but rather they have to be related to the whole body (p.106). It is a mereological fallacy to confuse the part with the whole, or the function of a part with the aim of the whole. (Greek: meros, part + logos, study, science). Searle opines ‘Consciousness consists of subjective, qualitative, unified mental processes that occur inside the physical space of the cranium in the actual human brain, presumably localised mostly in the thalamocortical system’ (p.114). The debate presented here will assist understanding of philosophical and scientific controversies. Possibly.

Why People Believe Weird Things.
Michael Shermer. Souvenir Press, London. 2002.
The definitive debunking of scientific creationism, Holocaust denial, superstitions, conspiracy theories, cults, the darker side of wishful thinking, and pseudoscience.

The Placebo Effect.
Ed. Prof. Anne Harrington. First Harvard University Press 1999.
Based on a conference held at Harvard in 1994, but still a definitive account for further study. ‘At a time when quackery costs the nation an estimated $30 billion a year, such research couldn’t be more timely.’ Peter Gorner, Chicago Tribune.

Placebo Effects.
Prof. Fabrizio Benedetti. Oxford University Press, 2009.
A world authority’s original and thorough review of the main psychological and biological mechanisms behind placebo effects, and the ethics and clinical practicalities of using them.

Quacks: Fakers and Charlatans in Medicine.
Roy Porter. Tempus Publishing. Stroud, Gloucestershire. 2003.
Its cover blurb claims: ‘The Classic Account of Medical Malpractice in English History.’And that is no misrepresentation! Essential reading.

Testing Treatments; Better Research for Better Healthcare.
Imogen Evans, Hazel Thornton & Iain Chalmers. The British Library, London, 2006.
‘The best available introduction to the methods, uses, and value of fair testing.’ Health Affairs.

Trick or Treatment?
Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst. Bantam Press. London 2008.                                                                   Dedicated to the Prince of Wales, Professor Ernst and Dr Singh recount many years of research into CAM – what works, and what does not. ‘The World’s most honest and accurate examination of Alternative Medicine.’ And that is no hyperbole.

Magic for Dummies.
David Pogue. Wiley Publishing Inc. NJ. 1998.
Reveals some practical prestidigitationary secrets, but more pertinently, emphasises the importance of performance and psychology.

The House of Lords Report on CAMs:

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee: Evidence Check 2: Homeopathy.
Stationery Office. London. 2010.
Setting out a thorough review of the evidence and political implications, but ignored by an embarrassed government which felt it must pander to the irrational.

The Quantum Universe: Everything that Can Happen Does Happen.
Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw. Allen Lane 2011, Penguin Books, London 2012.
‘As breezily a written accessible account of the theory of quantum mechanics as you could wish for.’ The Observer. Essential reading if you are dealing with camists who claim they are utilising ‘quantum fields’. They may not know what they are talking about.

Suckers. How Alternative Medicine Makes Fools of Us All.
Rose Shapiro. Vintage, Random House Group. London. 2008.
Explains what it says on the tin.

Snake Oil Science.
R. Barker Bausell. Oxford University Press Oxford, 2007.
The scientific evidence for CAM is discussed by the former Director of the National Institutes of Health CAM Research Center (US) – ‘together with the logical, psychological and physiological pitfalls which lead some otherwise intelligent people to endorse these cures.’

Religion for Atheists.
Alain de Botton. Penguin Books, London, 2012.
CAMs are belief systems. Instructive parallels can be drawn with the search for meaning and truth entered into by considerations of religion. De Botton rejects the supernatural claims of religions just as orthodox medicine generally rejects the supernatural claims of CAM – but the best bits can be appropriated!

The Silent World of Doctor and Patient.
Jay Katz. Free Press, 1984; Revised: Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 2002.
A fundamental text for those studying issues of informed consent, the doctor-patient relationship, mutual communication and decision making, medical paternalism and the traditional patient silence and compliance in which medicine has been practiced. Katz (1922-2008) was both a doctor and Professor Emeritus in Law, Medicine and Psychiatry at Yale University.

Homoeopathy and its kindred Delusions.                                                                                  
Oliver Wendell Holmes.
Two lectures delivered in Boston in 1842, the year before Hahnemann died. A comprehensive review of what Hahnemann actually wrote – and an insightful critique of homeopathy. Essential reading for homeopaths. No one who has not read these lectures should in any way endorse the use of homeopathy save from the stance of the most egregious ignorance.

In the Name of God.
Cameron Strauth, Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Press, New York. 2003.
A study of the outcomes from faith healing, anti-medical cultists and ‘the fight to save children from faith-healing homicide.’
On this topic also see Dr Stephen Barrett:

Alternative medicine providers show their greedy side.
Steven Saltzberg. side/?utm_source=followingweekly&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20130902.
An insightful analysis of how proponents of CAM are seeking to have camistry funded by US health insurance and government programmes on the grounds that to do otherwise would be ‘discrimination’. Saltzberg says this is an issue now because:

‘Unbeknownst to most people outside the Washington beltway, two pro-CAM lobbying groups slipped a clause into the the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), section 2706, that attempts to force insurance providers to cover a wide range of quack practices.  This section requires that insurers “shall not discriminate with respect to participation under the plan or coverage against any health care provider who is acting within the scope of that provider’s license or certification under applicable state law.
Some in Congress have realized how truly bad an idea this is, and just a few weeks ago, a new bill was introduced to get rid of it, HR 2817.  The American Medical Association supports the new bill. This has some CAM proponents alarmed.
Over at the Huffington Post, John Weeks, an outspoken apologist for questionable medical practices, offers the predictable, whining claim that this is all about “discrimination” by legitimate health care providers (the big, bad AMA) against poor, defenceless integrative medicine providers.
Make no mistake: this is all about greed.  The CAM industry sees Obamacare as a chance to reap huge profits, by forcing insurance companies to pay for ineffective treatments, including many that are wildly implausible.
Homeopaths, naturopaths, acupuncturists, reiki practitioners, energy healers, and other CAM practitioners don’t want to subject their methods to rigorous tests of effectiveness.  They know that their methods have failed scientific scrutiny, time and time again.  So now they want to force health care providers to pay for anything the patient wants. “Our patients believe us,” they argue, “so pay us.”
Forcing health care providers to pay for anything a patient wants, even if it doesn’t work, is guaranteed to drive up costs, without any benefit to patients.  Let’s ditch this bogus “discrimination” clause in the ACA, and insist that all medical care be held to the same high, scientifically rigorous standards.’