Lena's Reviews > Suckers: How Alternative Medicine Makes Fools of Us All

Suckers by Rose Shapiro
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's review
May 23, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: non-fiction, medical, skepticism

I live in a community where complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is so mainstream that many of my friends use acupuncturists or naturopaths for primary care, and hardly any of the parents I know have vaccinated their children. Given this environment, reading Rose Shapiro's in-depth examination of the history of CAM and the flawed philosophies behind it made me feel like a creationist who has finally understood evolution for the first time.

Indeed, early on in this book, Shapiro puts forth the theory that CAM has become something of a religion to its adherents, with the practitioner providing the many of the benefits of the sympathetic pastor from times past. In addition, Shapiro makes it clear that adherence to CAM practices requires a level of faith equal to that of religion, particularly when one considers that even the CAM-friendly NCCAM has yet to prove efficacy of a single CAM treatment, despite a research budget of close to a billion dollars.

Shapiro's book begins with a historical look at the ancient Greek idea of the "four humours," a concept that underlies not just ancient systems of Chinese and Ayervedic medicine, but also the current craze for "balancing" the body, hormones, energy fields, or whatever else strikes the modern CAM practitioner's fancy as needing to be balanced.

From there, she crisscrosses the globe with in-depth discussions of past and current CAM practices. It was particularly interesting to me to learn that the "5,000 year-old wisdom" of Traditional Chinese Medicine used to rely heavily on bloodletting, and the fine-needle acupuncture practiced today didn't appear until the 17th century. In addition, 95% of the TCM known in the West comes from beliefs and practices that were carefully selected by the Communist Party as a way to deal with the shortage of genuine medical doctors after the war while simultaneously promoting Party ideals. Shapiro also reveals that the much-ballyhooed cases of "acupuncture anesthesia" referenced by true believers usually fail to mention such patients almost always receive pharmaceutical sedatives in addition to their acupuncture.

Next, Shapiro takes a close look at the deeply flawed reasoning behind various forms of homeopathy, the historical arc behind the quack "electro-diagnostic" machines such as the Vegatest, and the numerous problems with potency and contamination in herbal supplements. Having taken a number of Chinese herbal formulas in the past, I was particularly shocked to discover that a 1998 study revealed that 32% of Asian patent medicines were either adulterated with undeclared pharmaceuticals or contained toxic heavy metals hundreds or thousands of times above accepted safety levels.

Shapiro does a good job of explaining why CAM can seem effective even if it isn't really doing anything beyond making the patient feel cared about, which is certainly an area in which conventional medicine often falls short. Though many would argue that the comfort and illusion of relief CAM provides to its many adherents far outweigh the risks of what are usually harmless practices, her chapter on CAM cancer treatments reveals the very real dangers that the magical thinking behind CAM can pose to those desperate for any glimmer of hope.

This was a particularly painful chapter for me to read as a friend recently opted to eschew chemo in favor of the Gerson diet, a treatment Shapiro examines which claims to "naturally reactivate the body's magnificent ability to heal itself." This program succeeded only in costing my friend precious treatment time—while he was busy juicing 14 times a day, his one small tumor grew into two large ones.

When he chose to go on the Gerson diet, my friend was unaware that people who promote these kinds of programs very often record only the positive case studies in their results. In addition, he was under the influence of the widespread CAM belief that conventional medicine is a corrupt industry that cares only about profit, and therefore regularly suppresses or refuses to research promising new alternatives. Like many conspiracy beliefs, there are enough real world examples of genuine corporate malfeasance give this theory credibility. But Shapiro picks away at this common belief by pointing out that the highly effective polio vaccine was adopted despite putting the iron lung industry out of business, the fact that herbs themselves are not patentable has not stopped many very effective drugs from being developed from them, and the reality that the well-funded NCCAM has failed to prove efficacy of any CAM treatment is definitely not for lack of trying. In addition, it becomes very obvious over the course of the book that CAM practitioners who earn very good livings promoting expensive, unproven treatments to desperate patients are far more guilty of being driven by greed than conventional medicine has ever been.

Because I spent much of my adult life as a die-hard subscriber to CAM beliefs like the one above, one of the most valuable parts of the book for me was the chapter entitled "How to Spot a Quack." Her clear listing of the fundamental belief set underlying most CAM practices, including "feeling worse is a sign of getting better" and that all illness can be attributed to one "universal diagnosis," helped root out the remaining irrationality I was holding onto from having spent so long in a community where many consider these kinds of ideas to be fundamental truths.

Though this book helped me finally put to rest that lingering tug I experienced whenever some friend told me how much better they felt after their latest colon cleanse or candida detox, it also left me feeling more than a little depressed about how badly I'd been deceived by the 20+ CAM practitioners I've seen over the years. I'm pretty certain that most of them were well-meaning people who genuinely believed in the efficacy of their treatments, but I can't help noticing that not a single one offered to give me my money back when they failed to cure the problems they repeatedly assured me would be gone within just a few months.

Though Shapiro covers some of the same ground as Barker Bausell in Snake Oil Science, Suckers is far more of a page-turner. There is more storytelling and less detailed science (though lots of footnoted references if you want to look it up yourself), and Shapiro seasons her engaging form of medical journalism with some very funny quotes and details that make the book particularly hard to put down.

This book is a UK publication, and the copy I ordered on Amazon came directly from England. If you are interested knowing the full story behind what the back cover refers to as the "dangerous global delusion" of CAM, however, this book is well worth seeking out.
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 68) (68 new)

Lena I was only able to find a few copies on Amazon myself, one of which I am now impatiently waiting for. I'll keep you posted!

message 2: by rivka (new)

rivka Sounds like an excellent book. Too bad most of the CAM (that's a useful acronym) believers I know won't read it. ;)

Lena You're probably right about that, Rivka. But even if they did read it, many of them would still find ways to justify their beliefs in CAM anyway--witness Deepak Chopra's dismissal of the 1800 patient study debunking healing prayer. Funny how the mind works like that.

message 4: by Lisa (last edited Jun 06, 2008 07:10PM) (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Lena, Yeah, I voted for this review too. Normally I don't like so much information about a book in a review, but in this case I found it very interesting. You might have done my work for me though; I'm not running out to read the book myself, although I might recommend it to a few people because of your review. ;-)

P.S. The trick is not to tell them what the book's conclusions are. I'm wicked. ;-) (as in mischievous) Too bad about the title though.

message 5: by rivka (last edited Jun 06, 2008 07:54PM) (new)

rivka That would get them to read about 2 pages. ;)

Lena, true. We have an incredible ability to ignore evidence that contradicts our deeply-held beliefs. Then again, you say it worked for you. So who knows?

Lena Lisa, I usually don't write reviews that are this long, but since Ginnie pointed out that this is not an easy book to find, I thought it might be helpful to give a little more detail.

And since the title pretty much makes it obvious where the author is coming from, it's hard to be too discreet. But I assure you that I haven't even scratched the surface of the fascinating tidbits revealed in this book, assuming, of course, you are as interested as I am in things like how the Vegatest machine really decides whether or not your allergic to bananas, and what a small UK study discovered when they sent two groups of hard-partying women to a detox center and split them into a test detox group and a red meat-alcohol-crisps and chocolate group. If you want to find out the results, you'll have to read the book for yourself ;-)

Rivka, I'm not sure what you mean by "you say it worked for you," so let me clarify: despite having seen more than 20 practitioners, CAM most definitely did not work for me (which is why I'm now reading books like this one;-)

That's not to say spending an hour with a caring person once a week didn't occasionally make me feel a bit better emotionally, but it made no permanent changes in my underlying physical condition.

I stuck it out as long as I did, however, because everybody I knew believed that CAM was superior in all ways to conventional medicine and if I just found the right program, I'd eventually be cured. I'd talk about how TCM hadn't worked and a friend would insist that I try 5-Element acupuncture because it was much better. When that failed, someone else would say that Japanese acupuncture was the best kind. When that didn't work, someone else would suggest homeopathy, crystal healing, the candida diet, fill in the blank. It honestly goes on forever. It was only through my discovery of Skepdoc Harriet Hall that I suddenly began to realize that there might be some problems with my underlying beliefs.

Sheryl Lena, great review!
i think this points to a broader human trait-the need to ascribe to something. I think open minds are more useful than closed ones and CAM is an attractive option for those looking for something to believe in (like religion in some respects, but that' a hot topic).
Personally, I believe that there is much we do not understand about medicine, traditional or alternative. Acceptance of uncertainty is a development milestone for individuals and institutions. Sherwin Nuland's latest book, which I am just reading, talks about this at length. The problem is essentially the same no matter what the discipline; dogma is counter productive except for those who stand to profit.

message 8: by Lena (last edited Jun 07, 2008 07:06AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lena I very much agree with you, Sheryl. What's most fascinating to me is how CAM plays to both sides of this issue: on the one hand, it asks us to be open-minded, claiming that we still have much to learn about this mysterious universe and the fact that science can't prove the existance of Qi doesn't mean it's not there.

At the same time, however, CAM practitioners prey on people's desire for certainty by telling them that all of their problems come from one cause that they can DEFINITELY cure if the client just sticks with their expensive program long enough. My MD was actually the only one who said he really wasn't sure why I was experiencing my symptoms; all the CAM practitioners had no problem insisting they knew the reason (oddly enough, none of them agreed with each other, either.) It's this false certainty in particular that I think makes CAM so terribly dangerous to cancer patients.

Books Ring Mah Bell excellent review, Lena. The author should give you a portion from sales, as I am also off to find a copy!

Trevor Excellent review. This book is truly shocking. I'm still trying to get my head around the idea that Chiropractic is the major cause of stroke in people aged under 45. I had thought Chiropractic was at the less extreme end of CAM, almost conventional. The stories about it in this book are frightening.

message 11: by Lena (last edited Jun 07, 2008 07:56AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lena I agree, Ginnie, that Snake Oil is a very valuable book. It taught me how to really read and evaluate a scientific study, which is a crucial thing to know how to do since CAM proponents love to point to deeply flawed studies as proof of their validity.

Shapiro's book was also very important for me, however, because her fascinating historical survey of discredited CAM techniques helped me finally get that the fact that something is popular doesn't mean it actually works. The widespread acceptance of things like bloodletting and mesmerism didn't stop them from ultimately being tossed aside when genuinely effective techniques came along...though I read somewhere that a few modern CAM practitioners have recently been returning to leeches...let's just hope we've come far enough as a species to ensure that one doesn't take off again.

Trevor, that stroke thing still has me totally freaked out, too. But what I found most fascinating in that chapter was that the founder of chiropractic was originally trying to start a religion. The detailed history Shaprio gives into how his messianic urges combined with his son's mercinary realization that there was a LOT of money to be made in training new chiropractors is one of the more enlightening parts of the book.

message 12: by Sheryl (last edited Jun 07, 2008 08:14AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sheryl Hi--just a quick comment about leeches. Leeches have once again achieved some popularity for certain afflictions in the modern day not just by CAM practitioners but by traditional medics too. Both leeches and maggots can be cost effective alternative (for those that can take it!) for wound healing and limb reattachments. The FDA recognized both as medical devices in 2004. Leech's saliva contains chemicals that prevent blood clotting (necessary for them to keep the blood flowing) which in turn accelerated wound healing by the same mechanism. Modern science has extracted one key component, Hirudin, and made a business of selling it as a powerful anti-coagulant alternative to heparin.

So...same creature but smarter and more targeted application. From sorcery to science...and back!

message 13: by Lena (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lena Fascinating. I'd heard there was such a thing as "pharmaceutical maggots," but I was unaware of genuinely useful leech applications. I stand corrected.

message 14: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Vegan Ah, Ginnie, a close friend of mine lives in Bloomington Indiana, and their library is superb; it has a much larger book collection than my public library system in San Francisco.


that this is not an easy book to find, I thought it might be helpful to give a little more detail.

And since the title pretty much makes it obvious where the author is coming from, it's hard to be too discreet

I agree, and I really appreciate your review. I did put the book on my to-read list. Thanks.

message 15: by Anna (new)

Anna Fabulous, enthralling review, Lena! There are so many people who could benefit from reading this book, including (up to a point) me [she said sheepishly]. Just terrific...thanks for posting it.

message 16: by rivka (new)

rivka Rivka, I'm not sure what you mean by "you say it worked for you," so let me clarify: despite having seen more than 20 practitioners, CAM most definitely did not work for me (which is why I'm now reading books like this one;-)

No, no! I meant that the book worked for you, not CAM! ;) But maybe that's not really true -- sounds like you were pretty skeptical before you opened the cover.

Maggots and leeches aren't the only remedies that have gone from folk remedy to real medicine (via such outré techniques as the scientific method, double-blind testing, and the like). I recommend Honey, Mud, and Maggots to anyone who is interested in the subject.

Sheryl Rivka,
Thanks for heads-up on Honey, Mud and Maggots. I'm going to get that one and read it too. I'm interested in folk remedies that were perhaps considered fringey and alternative at one time, that lead to accepted treatments eventually. While I think outright deception is inexcusable, I do think there are elements of CAM that can teach us new ways of looking at old problems that could contribute the next generation of treatment approaches or drugs for a particular condition.
A couple of centuries ago, and old doc started munching up foxgloves and giving it to patients who seem to have weak hearts and swollen limbs (often called 'dropsy' in those days). The treatment either killed or cured and I am sure, was reviled by the establishment at the time. The active ingredient in the flower was eventually extracted and manufactured, and is still a leading medicine for the treatment of heart failure. The therapeutic window is small, hence the kill or cure effect. Modern techniques allow us to monitor dosing and titrate for effect without death. CAM an teach us, but as the book says, we must beware of charlatans who take information out of context and prey on our deepest fears to rake in the cash.

message 18: by Lena (last edited Sep 27, 2010 10:09AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lena So glad you enjoyed the review, Anna. But trust me, when it comes to this subject, I doubt anyone could feel much more sheepish than me ;-)

You're right, Rivka, I had begun to be skeptical before I started reading this book. But before reading it, I had no idea just how deeply embedded CAM beliefs still were in my world view.

Sheryl, I agree that there is value in researching scientifically plausible things like herbs to gain the benefit of folk wisdom. The problem with the vast majority of CAM, however, is the wide-spread rejection of science that allows its adherents to continue practicing even after their treatments have been definitively disproved in high-quality studies.

I personally think most of these people aren't charlatans, but rather people who really don't understand science and are instead caught up in a kind of magical thinking. Indeed, once someone has spent several years and thousands of dollars in pursuit of an education in some of these things, it's going to be very hard for them to accept evidence that shows they've wasted their time. Inbuilt cognitive biases will ensure that they remember the people they think they've helped and conveniently forget those they haven't.

With regards to scientific testing of some of these methods, there's been a very interesting series of posts over on the blog Science-Based Medicine:


One of the authors raised some important questions about whether it is ethical to test scientifically implausible treatments on sick and frightened people. In a multi-part post discussing a problem-plagued, NCCAM-funded, Columbia-run study on the impact of something called the "Gonzales Regimen" on pancreatic cancer patients, he makes a good argument for the fact that research money needs to be spent on testing things that have a genuine scientific basis for actually working, and not simply treatments that have widespread popular appeal. I have to say, it's a compelling argument--particularly when you consider that the definitive debunking of homeopathy has done little to stop people from using it.

Sheryl Lena, great points and I didn't mean to imply that charlatans are as widespread as it sounds. That's just one of the aspects that bothers me the most. Thanks for the blog ref-sounds interesting. On the face of it I may have an issue with the premise that we should investigate only the most scientify plausable hypotheses as I believe the greatest advances in medicine come from the edges. Sometimes we overestimate the power of science to enlighten. Most of our traditional medicines present somewhat of a conundrum with regard to how they work (rarely acknowledged but widely known). The difference is that they have been shown to work to some degree for some people, unilke many CAM approaches. There is so much to talk about here.... But I'm typing on an iphone in a car park so have to stop :)

message 20: by Lena (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lena That's a pretty impressive comment from an iphone!

You raise an interesting point about advances coming from the edges. I do think there is value in studying as much as possible, but when you are dealing with a limited number of research dollars, I can see the argument for focusing on those treatments that don't depend on some as-yet-undiscovered mystical force for their efficacy.

Trevor I have to share this with you.


message 22: by Lena (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lena Absolutely brilliant. I LOVE those guys!

message 24: by Lena (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lena Priceless. I think maybe I'll become a toothyologist...

Trevor I was going to say it can't hurt, but actually...

message 26: by Anthony (new) - added it

Anthony Buckley I once wrote a book on Nigerian traditional medicine, but was shocked to be told that impecunious Nigerian students sometimes used the book as a source of recipes. I have a lingering guilt that I might be responsible for poisoning people. It is of interest that I never once took one of my herbalists' medicines, believing that they were positively dangerous.

It is my opinion that prayer is pretty effective in curing a variety of illnesses. This, however, is probably due to the placebo effect. However, I am in general suspicious of ingesting anything. One very sensible thing my Nigerian herbalists told me was that medicines are mostly poisons. So most "good" medicine could also be used as "bad" medicine.

I would go further and suggest that one should avoid medicines (surgery too) unless it is absolutely unavoidable. The body heals itself pretty well, and one should try to rely on clean-living and healthy exercise.

message 27: by Lena (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lena Fascinating story, Anthony. Though I don't think you should hold yourself responsible for the brain design flaws that perpetuate belief in that sort of thing.

As for the body healing itself, it's hard to argue with clean living and healthy exercise. But there are limits to the body's ability to overcome certain all-too-common maladies, and I think it's important to recognize the very real value that modern medicine can provide for some conditions. Unfortunately, there are far too many illnesses that we haven't yet figured out, and I think it's those people who are most susceptible to the siren song of CAM.

message 28: by Gwen (new)

Gwen Haaland Wow, this is all food for thought. Thanks for sharing your excellent review Lena.

message 29: by Anthony (new) - added it

Anthony Buckley Lena wrote: "I don't think you should hold yourself responsible for the brain design flaws that perpetuate belief in that sort of thing...."
I was being a bit hard on West African medicine in my earlier remarks, so it certainly rather unfair to regard traditional African medicines as due to "brain design flaws". Very many Yoruba people had quite a sophisticated understanding of local flora, and it is likely that quite a bit of the traditional medicine did in fact work. In any case, being impecunious, the students I mentioned had little choice but to create medicines for themselves. For example, many students used to hack the bark of mango trees on the university campus to brew up to create a cure for their malaria. My problem is not that they made their own medicines but that I feel a responsibility for having given them the recipe.

message 30: by Lena (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lena Thanks, Gwen - glad to hear it!

I appreciate the clarification, Anthony. Herbal medicine is one of the more interesting aspects of CAM for me because many plants do have genuine impact on physiologic processes and have been helpful healing tools for people who had access to little else.

One of the key things I've come to understand, however, is that the fundamental idea that "natural must be better" touted by many naturopaths and herbalists is seriously flawed. They argue that herbs are best taken in their original form, rather than in the purified, synthesized versions created by pharma companies, because if nature designed them that way, then that must be what's best. While I think its important to consider how interactions between the active ingredient in the herb and the rest of the herb may impact its efficacy, the potency of an active ingredient in an herb is going to vary wildly on the basis of where it's grown and seasonal weather variations. Add to that the fact that the American herbal supplement industry is completely unregulated and it becomes next to impossible to know how much of a given active herbal ingredient you are taking with the average over the counter American supplement.

Pharmaceutical companies, on the other hand, for all their problems, are actually required to prove the potency of their products, making it much more certain a patient can actually get the dose of active ingredient they are hoping to.

I realize this comment has wandered rather far afield from your own, but it's something I've been thinking a lot about lately because I am surrounded by so many people who will pop unregulated, unstandardized herbal supplements without batting an eye, but think all synthesized drugs are Evil. Yes, herbal medicine can be genuinely helpful, but I do think that in many cases the lab has made some significant improvements over nature in this area.

Trevor As Anthony says, most medicines are poisons, and I'm sure that this is still true. So, you would think people would be interested in dosage. What I find fascinating about the fact that 'herbal' medicines are not regulated for dose is that people seem to assume that no amount of 'natural' can harm you. In Australia in 2003 there was a huge recall of herbal medicines due to people becoming very sick after taking a CAM travel sickness medications. The company later proved to be doing virtually nothing to ensure that any of their 'medicines' had any of the supposed active ingredient in them at all. However, in the case of these particular tablets there was, in some tablets, far too much of the active ingredient.

But if you are interested in depressing reading - http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/0...

message 32: by Lena (last edited Sep 27, 2010 01:50PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lena Very interesting, Trevor. It's pretty much the same here. There's this overall perception that supplements are both benign and good for you at the same time - after all, if they were dangerous, they wouldn't be permitted to be sold, right? Most people have no idea how completely unregulated the industry is, thanks to intense lobbying from politicians in supplement manufacturing states crying "health care freedom!"

Then, of course, there is this terribly ironic story of the health guru who claimed he was poisoned by his own supplement when the manufacturer miscalculated the dose of Vitamin D:


You just can't make this stuff up.

Trevor It may have damaged his kidneys but for a man in his 60s it does seem to have kept his hair remarkably dark.

message 34: by Lena (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lena Miraculous, isn't it?

message 35: by Paul (new)

Paul Bryant Sitting here at my desk working away at administering clinical trials, which is what my company does, for all the evil big pharma companies, so I thought I'd take a break and check out some reviews on GR and this is what came up.... !

All of CAM is a giant placebo effect. But... the placebo effect is very strong and is not understood by science.

message 36: by Lena (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lena I am honored to have a minion of Big Evil Pharma comment on my review.

message 37: by Gwen (new)

Gwen Haaland You & your reviews rock Lena!

message 38: by Lena (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lena *blush*

Thanks, Gwen!

Trevor It's true - and Paul is one of my all time favourite evil minions too.

message 40: by Paul (new)

Paul Bryant Well gee shucks - here's a funny thing though - do you remember the story about the clinical trial which went wrong 4 years ago - it was a phase one in which healthy volunteers are given the new drug - story is here


but you don't need to read it, suffice to say that all of the volunteers got very ill and two nearly died. And their heads swelled up to twice their normal size. And all of that made blaring headlines for about a week. Papers couldn't get enough of it.

What was the outcome? (Apart from someone getting fired at TeGenero). The outcome was that hospitals got lots and lots of applications to be in clinical trials. What? Yes. It was because people saw in the news stories how much the volunteers were being paid! they realised that guys were paying for their two year round the world trip of a lifetime by being in a phase one trial for ten days and they thought - I could use a piece of that!

message 41: by Lena (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lena Wow - absolutely amazing. Talk about thinking you'll be the exception.

message 42: by Petra Eggs (new)

Petra Eggs Great review. I think you might enjoy Bad Science, another debunking book - he names names and brands and didn't get sued so the book is reliable (also very readable).

My favourite scam CAM is homeopathy, I just can't see how anyone can believe in its efficacy but the British royal family (noted for many things, brains not being one of them) swears by it. That said, even after seeing doctors on two continents and paying out a fortune, it was the only thing that got rid of a cough that had troubled me for nearly a year. Does that make me a sucker? Ha!

message 43: by Lena (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lena Thanks for the reminder about Bad Science, Petra - it's been on my mental list for a while but I keep forgetting to add it.

Re: homeopathy, a friend who edits a journal about CAM told me about a recent study demonstrating that people who saw homeopaths really did get better faster than people who didn't - the only problem was that they got better regardless of whether the remedies they were provided were actually homeopathic or just straight sugar pills (yeah, I know they're all straight sugar pills, but humor me for a moment). It seems it was the 1-4 hour consultation with someone who appears to care about their malady that actually made the difference - who would have imagined?

message 44: by Lena (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lena Oh, my. That sounds terribly unpleasant - the eyeball pressing, I mean.

One thing about many of the homeopathic remedies that are sold in drugstores is that some of them actually do contain active ingredients. Advertisers have figured out that homeopathy is a buzzword some people are looking for so they'll add "homeopathic formulas" to other concoctions and call the whole shebang homeopathic. Don't know if yours fell into that category, or if maybe it was the delayed effect of all that eyeball pressing, or if maybe the cough would have gone away on its own in two days without the remedy. But unless you happen to have another dimensional Petra floating around somewhere who didn't take the remedy that you can check with, I guess there's really no way to know for sure, is there?

Trevor I read somewhere that placebos work even when we have been told they are placebos. I mean, a doctor can say, "Oh, so you have a sore arm - well, there's nothing I can really do for you, but you might like to try this sugar pill - I mean, it can't hurt" and then people say that even though they knew it was a placebo things still got better. We are terribly strange creatures, both endlessly fascinating and awfully amusing.

message 46: by Lena (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lena I read about that study as well, Trevor, but I think the press has rather missed the point on that one.

The problem with that study is that the patients were actually told quite a bit more than just that they were being given a sugar pill. They were told they were participating in a study about the powers of the mind to heal the body, or something like that. So it wasn't, "Here's a sugar pill that isn't supposed to do anything," it was "Here's a sugar pill that may activate your body's natural healing process."

The press has completely skipped over the impact this suggestion has on results, which strikes me as having rather defeated the point of the whole process.

Terribly strange creatures, indeed.

message 47: by Anthony (new) - added it

Anthony Buckley You might be interested in an article I banged out on traditional healing in Ulster. When I was researching it, I came across lots of rather sad people who were desperate to get cures. And indeed, many of the cures listed in my article are for chronic illnesses not decisively curable by ordinary medicine. The people who practised what is called in Ulster "The Cure" were actually rather reluctant healers who found people knocking on their doors seeking help. Those who went in for divine healing were a bit more enthusiastic and even had to advertise their services.

message 48: by Lena (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lena Thanks for the link, Anthony. I'll be interested to check that out.

message 49: by Anthony (new) - added it

Anthony Buckley Hi Lena
I'm embarrassed now. It was one of the first things I ever got published, so I am aware that it is a bit cumbersome. Hope you enjoy it.

message 50: by Maurice (new)

Maurice Volaski "a community where complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is so mainstream that many of my friends use acupuncturists or naturopaths for primary care, and hardly any of the parents I know have vaccinated their children."

Do you see a contradiction here?

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