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Trick or Treatment – Simon Singh & Edzard Ernst *****

It’s typical, isn’t it. You wait for years for a good book on bad medicine, and then two come out close together – Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science and this. Don’t worry, though, about choosing between them – every sensible person ought to get both.
Although Ben Goldacre comes from a medical background he takes a wider viewpoint than just bad medical science, where this book looks specifically at alternative medicine. The outcome is electrifying to everyone who thinks and has used or considered using anything like homeopathy or acupuncture. Singh and Ernst don’t set out with any malice – Ernst has worked for many years in alternative medicine – but they show devastatingly how proper trials have shown these alternative treatments to rarely be better than a placebo, and often to have negative or even life-threatening consequences.
It really is striking – the vast majority of alternative medical treatments are proved to be on a par with snake oil. Apart from anything else, this ought to be required reading for doctors -a surprising number encourage alternative treatment – for celebrities who endorse this kind of medication and particularly the media which all too often is wide-eyed and idiotic on the subject of alternative treatments. In the UK, Prince Charles who has bumbled on about the subject for many years, ought to be forced to copy this book out by hand until he gets the point.
All in all, one of the most important popular science books of the year, and what’s more it’s very readable too. By combining Ernst’s expertise on the subject and Singh’s superb science writing we have a book that is as entertaining as it is informative, and the emphasis on real testing will be a delight to anyone who enjoys the saying ‘data is not the plural of anecdote.’ More than recommended – essential.

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Review by Brian Clegg


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