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Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine Hardcover – June 18, 2013

ISBN-13: 978-0062222961 ISBN-10: 0062222961 Edition: 1st

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Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine + Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1 edition (June 18, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062222961
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062222961
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (325 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #160,044 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Half of all Americans use some form of alternative medicine—megavitamins and supplements, acupuncture, homeopathy, faith healing, chiropractic manipulation. The popularity of these treatments is multifaceted. Many people believe “natural” remedies are safer and better than formulated pharmaceuticals. Some folks crave the personalized attention and extended time that alternative healers provide compared to conventional doctors, who might be hurried or aloof. Still others find alternative therapies to be spiritual and empowering. Physician Offit counters, “Don’t give alternative medicine a free pass.” Concentrate on the evidence. Any treatment—conventional or alternative—should be subjected to high standards of proof. The influence of money, celebrities, and politics props up alternative medicine. Desperation sometimes plays a role, too, as does disenchantment with mainstream medicine. He cites solid scientific studies that refute any benefit of vitamin C, ginkgo biloba, and saw palmetto in preventing the common cold, memory loss, or urinary symptoms, respectively. Offit praises the power of the placebo response—a major reason why some alternative medicine treatments actually work. --Tony Miksanek


“Important and timely . . . Offit writes in a lucid and flowing style, and grounds a wealth of information within forceful and vivid narratives. This makes his argument - that we should be guided by science - accessible to a wide audience.” (New Republic)

“Lively. . . . Informative and well-written, the book deserves a wide audience among the general public, scientists, and health care professionals.” (Science)

“Convincing.” (Forbes)

“This excellent, easy-to-read look at the alternative-medicine industry is highly recommended.” (Library Journal (starred review))

Do You Believe in Magic? is a briskly written, entertaining, and well-researched examination of those whom Offit considers ‘unclothed emperors’: purveyors of miracle cancer cures, fountains of youth, and the theory that vaccines cause autism.” (Boston Globe)

“Over the last decade [Offit] has become a leading debunker of mass misconceptions surrounding infections and vaccines, and now he is taking on the entire field of alternative medicine, from acupuncture to vitamins.” (New York Times)

“Offit is a wonderful storyteller who makes his message come alive. Each chapter is a story that grabs the reader’s interest and holds it.” (Skeptical Inquirer)

“A fascinating history of hucksters, and a critical chronology of how supplements escaped regulation. . . . A bravely unsentimental and dutifully researched guide for consumers to distinguish between quacks and a cure.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“A rousing good read, strong on human interest and filled with appalling and amazing data.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))

“Offit is a rare combination of scientist, doctor, communicator and advocate. . . . What is needed is more people like [him] willing to engage the skeptics in a debate that just will not go away.” (Financial Times, on Deadly Choices)

“Few scientists are willing to touch this third rail of science publicity; Offit grabs it with two hands.” (Newsweek, on Autism's False Prophets)

“An invaluable chronicle that relates some of the many ways in which the vulnerabilities of anxious parents have been exploited.” (Wall Street Journal, on Autism's False Prophets)

More About the Author

Paul A. Offit, M.D., is Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, as well as the Maurice R. Hilleman Professor of Vaccinology and Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. An expert in the field of vaccines, he is a recipient of many awards, including the J. Edmund Bradley Prize for Excellence in Pediatrics from the University of Maryland Medical School; the Young Investigator Award in Vaccine Development from the Infectious Disease Society of America; and a Research Career Development Award from the National Institutes of Health. His books include the recent Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure. Visit his website at

Customer Reviews

Very interesting book, very well written and with a lot of research background.
In his book, Dr. Offit lays out the evidence for and against the use of alternative medicine, vitamin supplements, and the like.
Dr. Offit clearly spelled out what is so very wrong about alternative medicine.
Robert A. Scala

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

97 of 117 people found the following review helpful By Dorit Rubinstein on June 29, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Dr. Offit's new book examines different ways Americans try to promote their health outside traditional medicine. He examines the use of vitamins and supplements, telling the story behind their (lack of) regulation, carefully analyzing the studies done on them, and addressing whether any vitamins are useful (and which) as well as potential dangers from mega doses. He examines alternative treatments for autism and cancer, among others. He addresses well known alternative healers and celebrities. He discusses why do some alternative treatments work in spite of the fact that they do not work empirically, detailing the studies of the placebo response. He discusses the relative spheres of alternative medicine and well, medical medicine, and suggests in what situations alternative medicine becomes problematic (for example, when alternative healers urge patients away from life-saving traditional medicine solutions, harming their health). He addresses empirical studies of all of the above and what science knows. And he does all that in an accessible, engaging, occasionally funny and always interesting style. The book brings to life interesting characters, tells tragic stories, and does not hesitate to criticize where justified. I learned a lot from this book and enjoyed it. I recommend it.
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92 of 116 people found the following review helpful By D. Cragin on June 23, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Have you ever wondered about the basis of alternative medicine? How did the various types get started?

E.g., How did chiropractic get started? It was in 1895 by a mesmerist, Daniel Palmer, who used magnets to treat his patients. When a deaf individual came into his office, Palmer wondered if his spine was misaligned and tried to realign it. When he did, the man's hearing recovered. This might have made sense except that the 8th cranial nerve which conducts nerve impulses from the ear to the brain doesn't travel thru the neck.

Or why according to accupuncture does the body have 12 meridians? Because there were 12 great rivers in ancient China. Why is the number of acupuncture points about 360? This was based on the number of days in a year. Offit is sensitive in his coverage, noting that the ancient physicians who started the practice were forbidden from dissecting human bodies and knew little about the internal organs or most importantly the nervous system.

Offit provides these and other fascinating tidbits that will give you a new perspective on alternative medicine. Offit provides both historical context as well as what modern science tells us about these practices. He discusses the scientific studies of the various disciplines of alternative medicine and what they have found.

As someone who teaches health-based risk assessment at two universities, it's great to see a thoughtful in-depth look at an area most of the public sees as risk-free. Whether you are scientist, health professional or somone with an inquiring mind about health, you'll learn much from reading this book.
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43 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Gene Sandow on August 17, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Before reading this book, I had read some articles condemning the author and the book, so I expected the worst. Of course, those who condemned this book were involved in the alternative medicine business, so could hardly be expected to be objective.On the other hand, I use a lot of nutritional supplements myself, and have been writing about nutrition and exercise for over 30 years. I was pleasantly surprised in reading this book to find that, contrary to expectations, the author was not out to blindly attack alternative medicine. In fact, the book is well researched, and the author's conclusions make a lot of sense. I agree about the importance of scientific, or "evidence-based medicine" in determining the ultimate value of any particular therapy, supplement, or treatment.The best parts of the book to me were those in which Dr.Offit exposes the greedy charlatans who take advantage of the desperation of people who seek out the way cures when conventional medicine cannot help them.But as Offit correctly points out, none of these modern day snake oil salesman can relieve their pain, either, although they will empty their bank accounts.I also like the way Offit exposes their frequent attacks on the money-hungry medical/drug company establishment, while conveniently not mentioning how they are getting rich off the money of trusting suckers.I would have given the book a 5-star rating save for one major fault. His chapter on vitamins was the weakest and most inaccurate portion of the book. Offit only suggests using four types of nutritional supplements: fish oil, vitamin D, calcium, and folic acid. The amount of vitamin D he suggests is fine for helping to build bone mass, but doesn't come close to the amount of vitamin D shown to have other preventive effects.Read more ›
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138 of 183 people found the following review helpful By Ren on June 18, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The saying goes that "alternative medicine" that works is known as medicine. Everything else is no better than placebo, and may even be dangerous to your health. Have you ever wondered why commercials on television and radio give you the "Miranda Quack Warning" that their products are not "intended" to treat, cure, or prevent a disease, but then they sell it to you with the promise of treating, curing, or preventing a disease? It's because, despite the millions of dollars that alternative medicine pulls in, the industry lacks the evidence to be licensed by the FDA, a process that, albeit is time consuming, is easy to do if you have the cash and the data.

In his book, Dr. Offit lays out the evidence for and against the use of alternative medicine, vitamin supplements, and the like. Yes, it's not all a "hate fest" against SCAM (Supplementary and Complementary Alternative Medicine). Dr. Offit lays out how some alt med became regular medicine once it was shown to work. Everything else remains SCAM.

Of course, there will be those who, even without buying let alone reading the book, will tell you that it's "crap" or that it's "awful" or that Dr. Offit "makes millions" from the vaccine he co-designed. If you do proper and responsible research into his actions (let alone his intentions) throughout the years, you will come to the rational agreement that he is a man in defense of science, medicine, and truth. On the other hand, if you have gone far deep into the rabbit hole of homeopathy, acupuncture, and megavitamins, then this book is not for you. It will give you an allergic reaction. Then again, maybe just the letter "F" cut out of the book and put into a gallon of water then shaken up real well will protect you from the truths and evidence in the book?

Overall, a great read, with plenty of personal stories interwoven in a narrative suited for everything from light reading to academic discussions. A must read.
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