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Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine
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Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  2,389 ratings  ·  415 reviews
In Do You Believe in Magic?, medical expert Paul A. Offit, M.D., offers a scathing exposé of the alternative medicine industry, revealing how even though some popular therapies are remarkably helpful due to the placebo response, many of them are ineffective, expensive, and even deadly.

Dr. Offit reveals how alternative medicine—an unregulated industry under no legal obligat
ebook, 336 pages
Published June 18th 2013 by Harper (first published January 1st 2013)
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Abi Tottman Read Ben Goldacres book Bad Science he explains who clinical trials work and how to understand them in very easily written way which is also rather…moreRead Ben Goldacre´s book Bad Science he explains who clinical trials work and how to understand them in very easily written way which is also rather funny. (less)

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4.07  · 
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 ·  2,389 ratings  ·  415 reviews

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Aug 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
As a person who suffers from a chronic health condition, I’ve tried EVERYTHING to alleviate symptoms. Acupuncture, supplements, ayurveda, homeopathy, reiki. Name an alternative medicine, I’ve done it. And while some treatments mitigated pain, none--as promised--eradicated my condition. What finally helped? The correct, evidence-based medical treatment. I’ve spent THOUSANDS experimenting with potentially harmful therapies. Therapies that barely worked. Boy, do I wish I had read Dr. Paul Offit’s D ...more
Jakob J.

The most frustrating thing about alternative medicine, is that there is, in reality, no such thing. If alternative medicine is beneficial, then it’s medicine, and there’s nothing alternative about it. The alternative in alternative medicine refers to it being an exclusive, proudly divergent industry from conventional medicine with its clinical trials, replicable studies, and recalls of harmful or ineffective drugs; and make no mistake, it is a massive and lucrative industry. To top it off, the c
Jonathan Hiskes
Sep 06, 2013 rated it did not like it
Offit delivers an impassioned call against the misuse of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), documenting troubling cases of people taking megadoses of vitamins without medical supervision, and fraudulent hucksters deceiving families desperate for miracle cures. This may be a public service, but it doesn't advance knowledge on the proper role for CAM, as Offit focuses only on irresponsible practitioners. He is more than a little arrogant in mocking non-mainstream, non-Western bodies of ...more
Elizabeth  Fuller
Jul 29, 2013 rated it liked it
On one hand, I agree with just about everything the author says in this book. On the other hand, I can't help feeling that he's preaching to the choir (of which I'm a member), and I doubt that what he says here, and the way he says it, will do much to change the views of those who do "believe" in alternative medicines.

Still struggling to figure out what he could have done differently to pull those folks in and give them something to shift their mindsets, but not quite sure what it would have be
Diane S ☔
Jun 30, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: roadrallyteamb
3.5 I have always had a great deal of curiosity for alternative therapies, so many people have claimed it has made a huge difference in their lives. After reading this book I think it might be a case of mind over matter. Offit tackles everything from the laetrile nightmare that cost so many people their lives, to Dr. Oz and his menage of alternative mystics and n to Suzanne Sommers and her multi million
empire based on the supposed assumption that not only did she recover from cancer by going her
Kris Patrick
Jul 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
Probably a four star book but I'm giving it a bonus star for dedicating 2 full pages to what an idiot Indiana's own Dan Burton is. I could probably write a ten page essay on my personal experiences related to Do You Believe in Magic, but it's summer and who wants to write that let alone read that. As someone who has dealt with rheumatoid arthritis for over fifteen years, I needed this book. It helped me reconcile a lot of my conflicted thinking. I've let media and individuals trick me into belie ...more
Jul 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biology, non-fiction
This book is like a vaccine against quackery.

Offit names several of these quacks, and describes the tragic consequences of their alternative (non-)medicine.

It contains demystifitude of these truly awful myths:
* Acupuncture
* Chiropractics
* Homeopathy
* Mega vitamins
* "Supplements"
* "Natural" medicine
* Anti-vaccine
* Antineoplastons
* Bogus cures for autism
* Bogus cures for cancer
* Chronic Lyme Disease

And debunkment of these truly awful people:
* Dr. Oz
* Dr. Mercola
* Deepak Chopra
* Andrew Weil
* Jenny
May 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-i-own, science
This is a fairly brief survey of alt-med/pseudoscientific quackery. It covers a bunch of the Greatest Hits of Woo: Suzanne Somers, Deepak Chopra, Dr. Oz, cancer quackery (Burzynski, laetrile), the lack of regulation of the supplement industry, autism, and the placebo effect.

The only real flaw of the book is that it could easily have been twice as long, if not longer. In only 250 pages, Dr. Offit only gets to touch on a lot of the issues surrounding alternative medicine. If you've been a regular
I highly recommended this book for any science-minded person with questions about alternative medicine. The main thrust of the book talks about specific therapies, celebrity spokespeople, and practitioners who peddle risky false-cures and are certainly extremely dangerous. I alarmed to see how many of these absurd people and treatments persist today. This book sent me down a PubMed rabbit hole reading about clinical trials and lit reviews of most treatments mentioned in the book.

[Note: Before t
Text Addict
Written in a clear and conversational tone, this book explains a lot about what's going on with the "alternative medicine" movement in the US. I actually found myself staying up late reading it because it was both so absorbing and so appalling that I couldn't put it down.

It's not likely to convince those who already believe in these things - but it also tackles some things that might have flown under the radar of even informed citizens, such as myself. I hadn't known, for instance, that studies
Dec 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book was fascinating! I didn’t expect to get sucked in as much as I did. There was a recent Parks and Recreation episode where Leslie Knope says “All we have on our side are facts and science, people hate facts and science!” It’s all I kept thinking when reading this book! Most of the situations in this book highlight the fact that people are drawn to shiny advertisements and hearsay more than science. I agree, it seems like the author picked out some of the craziest situations with the mos ...more
Aug 18, 2013 rated it it was ok
I am not sure what I was expecting from this book..but I felt like this was a repeat of a lot of other things I have read.. he is repeating the same stories about a lot of people.. I don't know why he bothered to put the 'sense' of alternative medicine in the title as he seems to have no use for any kind of it.. I would like to think that there is value in some supplements but I guess I need to do my own exploring to find that out for sure.. and maybe it is because I am a fan of Dr. Oz - Dr. Wei ...more
Stewart Tame
Sep 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Excellent book! Offit does a great job of surveying the various alternative medical treatments out there from the anti-vaccine movement to chelation therapy to laetrile and all points in-between. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of alternative cures don't actually work; if there's good evidence they do then they usually become part of plain old medicine in general. Offit does go into detail about the placebo effect and the pros and cons of using alternative treatments to trigger it. All in all, ...more
Jun 27, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting, but extremely one sided an annoying. The author seems totally on the side of big pharma and the FDA. He does acknowledge though that a lot of modern medicine (aspirin, for example) comes from old folk remedies and herbal treatments. But he seems to think if it isn't FDA approved as a drug, then it's useless. The FDA has done just as much harm as good. Drug recalls, anyone? In his view, if the FDA does it, it was just to lack of long enough trials or "oops", but if some trying to hel ...more
Oct 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Lisa by: book club
Shelves: nonfiction, 5-star
Paul Offit states, "The purpose of this book is to take a critical look at the field of alternative medicine--to separate fact from myth.... There's only medicine that works and medicine that doesn't."

Offit begins with the "Laetile" treatment for cancer which resulted in the deaths of many including actor Steve McQueen.

Offit takes on so called celebrities Oprah and Dr. Oz who hold out questionable therapies to a desperate public who distrust modern medicine based on the long and questionable ear
Jul 26, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“Snake Oil, Hustlers and Hambones'; Flimflam; Quackery and Nostrums; Hucksters." One can provide a sense of Dr. Paul Offit's book by cherry picking words from the titles in his bibliography. Offit provides an energetic profile of some of the worst charlatans in the current iteration of nutritional pseudo-science. He names names: the celebrities Suzanne Somers, Jenny McCarthy; the mad doctors, Andrew Weil, Joe Mercola, and from Oprah's inner circle, Mehmet Oz. He details the invention of a new di ...more
May 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
I found a lot of value in this book. Living in the mecca of snake oil vendors (Utah), I decided years ago to not buy into all the claims of magic juice that cures whatever ails. The fancy double speak was underwhelming and did nothing to answer questions I had. Yet even when I took a hard line, I've still found myself wandering the homeopathic aisles at stores, comparing labels and walking away completely befuddled.

Offit breaks the book up into 12 easy to read and understand chapters. He explai
Jul 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, science, medicine
I deeply appreciated Dr. Offit's analysis of the current 'alternative medicine' mindset that permeates far too much of America's thoughts. As I read through the accounts, the claims, the scientific evidence, I found myself noting people I wish would read this book - friends who don't vaccinate, friends who believe Chronic Lyme Disease is a 'thing', friends who are suspicious of doctors and yet don't question the practitioners of 'alternative medicine' (which will now forever be in quotation mark ...more
Douglas Wilson
Jun 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I am a pediatrician in San Diego and have been in private practice for 40 years I am a Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at UCSD School of Medicine. This book is one of many written by Dr. Offit that I have read. He is a major contributor to the process of refuting and debunklng the pseudoscience that is the underpinning for most of the alternative medical theories. This book is an outstanding addition to that process.
Feb 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

“When religion was strong and science was weak, men mistook magic for medicine. Now, when science is strong and religion weak, men mistake medicine for magic.” Thomas Szasz

This is another one of these refreshingly insightful and eloquently written books that smash all the BS out there with hard, scientific fact. It brings to mind many of the recent classics in the genre, such as, “Bad Science”, “Trick Or Treatment” and even last year’s “The Angry Chef”, which are just some of the books that have
Sarah Beth
I received an Advance Reader Copy from HarperCollins.

Dr. Offit's book is a harsh indictment of alternative medicine, the majority of which he views as quackery that in many cases has no, or worse, harmful, effects. Offit argues that people who are desperate to improve their health or that of their loved ones fall for the false promise of healing from someone who offers strict guidelines that are clear and easy to follow, a personalized plan to wellness, and frequently the promise of ancient wis
Baal Of
Aug 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, non-fiction
Good exploration of the bullshit and fraudulent claims of SCAM (so-called alternative medicine) marred by the chapter on the placebo effect in which he makes a lot of excuses, ignoring evidence that the placebo effect disappears when controlled for objective vs. subjective measures, and the fact that placebo is triggered by interventions that actually work, making the use of known fake treatments ethically dubious. Offit started as a true-believer who then decided to actually put his beliefs to ...more
May 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, owned
Today’s post is on “Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine” by Paul A. Offit, M.D. It is 305 pages long including notes and a bibliography. It is published by HarperCollins. It is a review of all current alternative medicine from the perspective of a doctor working with very sick people day in and day out. There Be Spoilers Ahead.

From the back of the book- A medical expect- the chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelph
Marian Deegan
Aug 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I have followed Dr. Paul Offit's advocacy for vaccination for years. He is the Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and the Maurice R. Hilleman Professor of Vaccinology, and a Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He has been awarded the J. Edmund Bradley Prize for Excellence in Pediatrics bestowed by the University of Maryland Medical School, the Young Inv ...more
Aug 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Required reading for anyone spending a significant amount of money on "alternative medicine" and/or considering an unorthodox treatment for cancer or other long-term ailments where conventional medicine offers less than ideal treatments and/or prognoses for patients.

The book systemically dismantles a whole realm of alternative therapies, starting with ancient now obviously discredited "cures" from ancient times, but progressing rapidly to modern times. Offit makes a compelling case again acupun
Sep 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
A long long time ago, in a galaxy far away, I worked under contract to the National Center of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Occasionally, the hotline was short staffed and they would put me (with limited training and more than a hint of sarcasm) on the phone lines where inevitably I would get the calls asking about male supplements.

To avoid any further discussion--THEY DO NOT WORK. If they did, they would hand these out in fourth grade and they would probably be in the water supply. T
Paddy Srinivas
Jul 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book was a good addition to my current knowledge on alternative medicine. The book does not explain why placebo effect is so powerful, but correctly identifies the reason why alternative medicine works.
The book's intention is noble. But the delivery could have been less combative.
I really loved the chapters on Suzanne Somers (so called natural lifestyle) and Jennie McCarthy (Vaccine's link to Autism). The author calls a spade a spade. No sugar coating here. Because euphemisms destroy the
John Schwabacher
Apr 30, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-group
Lots of specifics about fakes and fake remedies. Lots of information about how our regulations have gotten so screwed up that we allow "supplements" to be sold with virtually no regulation.

This book is somewhat depressing, since there doesn't seem to be any movement to reverse any of the heinously bad decisions that have been and continue to be made.

I would have been interested to see something about whether other countries are going down a different path than the USA: are we uniquely stupid? I
Oct 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book gets 5 stars based on importance alone; the great writing (you know I love some sarcasm!) is bonus.

What the title doesn't tell you is that it's a comprehensive recount of the (many, many) studies behind the wide range of alternative medicines we're offered today. Just the facts, ma'am. The biggest question: Are we confusing publicity with science? And what is that doing to us?

As someone who is fascinated by (and totally believed) alternative health options, my jaw dropped more than a
Dec 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Here are some of the main ideas I came away with:

1. There is no such thing as alternative medicine. If it works, it's medicine, if it doesn't, it isn't an alternative.

2. A chemical is a chemical regardless of the source.

3. For some reason, many untested and unproven treatments are comprised of similar therapies. Common ones are huge vitamin doses, often intravenous antibiotics, and coffee enemas (I hope I never hear that last phrase again, the horror).

4. People who take multivitamins are more li
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Paul A. Offit, MD is the Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Dr. Offit is also the Maurice R. Hilleman Professor of Vaccinology, and a Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He is a recipient of many awards including the J. Edmund Bradley Prize for Excellence ...more
“On January 18, 1897, Indiana state representative Taylor I. Record argued in favor of changing the value of pi. Pi, which can be rounded to 3.14159, is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Tyler believed that the number was inconveniently long; in House Bill 246, he asked that it be rounded up to 3.2. The bill passed the House but was defeated in the Senate when the chairman of Purdue University’s math department successfully pleaded that it would make Indiana a national laughingstock. The value of pi in Indiana remains the same as in every other state.” 5 likes
“Subjects were given vitamin E, beta-carotene, both, or neither. The results were clear: those taking vitamins and supplements were more likely to die from lung cancer or heart disease than those who didn’t take them—the opposite of what researchers had anticipated.” 1 likes
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