Snake Oil Science: The Truth About Complementary and Alternative Medicine

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Oxford University Press, Jul 31, 2009 - Medical - 352 pages
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.

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - neurodrew - LibraryThing

Subtitled “The Truth about Complementary and Alternative Medicine” In short, the truth is all the effects can be explained by the placebo effect, and there are negative results universally when well ... Read full review

Snake oil science: the truth about complementary and alternative medicine

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

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 ... Read full review


The Rise of Complementary and Alternative Therapies
A Brief History of Placebos
Natural Impediments to Making Valid Inferences
Impediments That Prevent Physicians and Therapists from Making Valid Inferences
Impediments That Prevent Poorly Trained Scientists from Making Valid Inferences
Why Randomized Placebo Control Groups Are Necessary in CAM Research
Judging the Credibility and Plausibility of Scientific Evidence
Some Personal Research Involving Acupuncture
A Biochemical Explanation for the Placebo Effect
What HighQuality Trials Reveal About CAM
What HighQuality Systematic Reviews Reveal About CAM
How CAM Therapies Are Hypothesized to Work
Tying Up a Few Loose Ends

How We Know That the Placebo Effect Exists

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About the author (2009)

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.

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