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Snake Oil Science: The Truth about Complementary and Alternative Medicineby R. Barker Bausell
Synopses & Reviews
Millions of people worldwide swear by such therapies as acupuncture, herbal cures, and homeopathic remedies. Indeed, complementary and alternative medicine is embraced by a broad spectrum of society, from ordinary people, to scientists and physicians, to celebrities such as Prince Charles and Oprah Winfrey.
In the tradition of Michael Shermers Why People Believe Weird Things and Robert Parks's Voodoo Science, Barker Bausell provides an engaging look at the scientific evidence for complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and at the logical, psychological, and physiological pitfalls that lead otherwise intelligent people (including researchers, physicians, and therapists) to endorse these cures. The books ultimate goal is to reveal not whether these therapies work (as Bausell explains, most do work, although weakly and temporarily) but whether they work for the reasons their proponents believe. Indeed, as Bausell reveals, it is the placebo effect that accounts for most of the positive results. He explores this remarkable phenomenon: the biological and chemical evidence for the placebo effect, how it works in the body, and why research on any therapy that does not factor in the placebo effect will inevitably produce false results. By contrast, as Bausell shows in an impressive survey of research from high-quality scientific journals and systematic reviews, studies employing credible placebo controls do not indicate positive effects for CAM therapies over and above those attributable to random chance.
Here is not only an entertaining critique of the strangely zealous world of CAM belief and practice, but it also a first-rate introduction to how to correctly interpret scientific research of any sort. Readers will come away with a solid understanding of good vs. bad research practice and a healthy skepticism of claims about the latest miracle cure, be it St. John's Wort for depression or acupuncture for chronic pain.
"A biostatistician, author and Senior Research Methodologist at the University of Maryland, Bausell looks at the alternative methods used by more than 36 percent of Americans to treat pain and illness by posing the question, 'Is any complementary and alternative medical therapy more effective than a placebo?' In short, his answer is no; what, then, is actually happening in patients (and professionals) who swear by the medical utility of such complementary and alternative medicines ('CAMs') as acupuncture, deep breathing exercises and megavitamin therapy? Step by step, Bausell builds a rigorous case against CAM, beginning with a look at the history of CAMs and placebos, then the 'poorly trained scientists' and flawed studies (among more than 300 analyzed for this book) that have historically supported CAM's efficacy. A breakdown of the placebo effect's hows and whys follows (are people hardwired for susceptibility?), along with a look at 'high-quality studies' and 'systematic reviews' (including an Italian study that finds natural opioid secretion in the brain responsible for the perceived benefits of placebos) which largely support Bausell's answer. Entertaining and informative, with plenty of diverting anecdotal examples, Bausell offers non-professionals and pros a thorough look at the science on CAM, along with a complementary lesson in the methods of good medical research." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
About the Author
R. Barker Bausell, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore, was Research Director of a National Institutes of Health-funded Complementary and Alternative Medicine Specialized Research Center where he was in charge of conducting and analyzing randomized clinical trials involving acupuncture's effectiveness for pain relief. He has also served as a consultant to Prevention and Discover magazines.
Table of Contents
1. The Rise of Complementary and Alternative Therapies
2. A Brief History of Placebos
3. Natural Impediments to Making Valid Inferences
4. Impediments That Prevent our Physicians and Therapists From Making Valid Inferences
5. Impediments that Prevent Poorly Trained Scientists from Making Valid Inferences
6. Why Randomized Placebo Control Groups Are Necessary in CAM Research
7. Judging the Credibility and Plausibility of Scientific Evidence
8. Some Personal Research
9. How We Know that the Placebo Effect Exists
10. A Bio-Chemical Explanation for the Placebo Effect
11. Do CAM Therapies Work Or Are They Placebo Effects?
Evidence From High Quality Randomized Placebo Controlled
12. Do CAM Therapies Work Or Are They Placebo Effects?
Evidence From High Quality Systematic Reviews
13. How CAM Therapies Are Hypothesized to Work
14. Tying Up a Few Loose Ends
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