Thursday, November 08, 2007

Pg. 69: R. Barker Bausell's "Snake Oil Science"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: R. Barker Bausell's Snake Oil Science: The Truth about Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

About the book, from the publisher:

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 Shermer's 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.
Among the early praise for Snake Oil Science:

"The book is aimed at the consumer, and it is written in a simple, entertaining style such that the consumer will understand it and enjoy reading it. So the consumer should and, I'm sure, will buy this book. But in addition I would also warmly recommend it to healthcare professionals who work in CAM or have an interest in this area. They will not easily find a harder hitting, more eloquent, or smarter critique of CAM!"
--Edzard Ernst, M.D., Ph.D., Complementary Medicine, Peninsula Medical School, UK

"Hang up your lantern Diogenes, an honest man has been found. Barker Bausell, a biostatistician, has stepped out of the shadows to give us an insider's look at how clinical evidence is manipulated to package and market the placebo effect. Labeled as "complementary and alternative medicine," the placebo effect is being sold not just to a gullible public, but to an increasing number of health professionals as well. Bausell knows every trick, and explains them in clear language."
--Robert L. Park, Ph.D., Professor of Physics, University of Maryland, and author of Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud

"At Skeptic magazine there is no topic for which we receive more requests to comment on than alternative and complementary medicine. It is big business with big claims and big demands on it to produce, but there is very little science behind most of it. Unfortunately, what has long been lacking is a well-written, clear, and concise analysis of its major claims to which we can direct our readers. That problem has now been remedied by R. Barker Bausell's authoritative and highly readable analysis Snake Oil Science, which should be read by anyone contemplating the use of any of the hundreds of alternative and complementary medical treatments out there that promise hope but usually deliver disappointment."
--Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine, monthly columnist for Scientific American, and the author of Why People Believe Weird Things

"Anyone who reads Bausell's rigorous scientific analysis of the risks and benefits of complementary and alternative medicine will be left wondering why they are spending so much on so many useless products."
--Jerome P. Kassirer, M.D., Tufts University School of Medicine, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus, New England Journal of Medicine, and author of On the Take: How Medicine's Complicity with Big Business Can Endanger Your Health

Learn more about Snake Oil Science at the Oxford University Press website.

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.

The Page 69 Test: Snake Oil Science.

--Marshal Zeringue