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Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine Hardcover – August 17, 2008

3.8 out of 5 stars 130 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Noted science writer Singh and British professor of complementary medicine Ernst offer a reasoned examination of the research on acupuncture, homeopathy, chiropractic, herbal medicine and other alternative treatments. Singh (Fermat's Last Theorem) and Ernst work hard to be objective, but their conclusion is that these therapies are largely worthless. As they examine the research on various alternative therapies, the authors explore the principles of evidence-based medicine on which their conclusions are based, including clinical trials and the placebo effect; they also explore related ethical issues. The authors report that many patients will improve with any alternative remedy—but no more than those given a placebo. Exceptions exist; some herbal remedies (e.g., St. John's wort, echinacea) can be helpful though not always advisable, and chiropractors can relieve low back pain under certain circumstances. This is a stimulating and informative account that will be indispensable to anyone considering an alternative treatment, though it may not dissuade true believers. 16 illus. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“Entertaining as well as informative. . . . The examination of evidence is comprehensive, forensic, and for champions of these therapies, damning.” (Toby Murcott - Nature)

“Physicians should recommend the book to their patients, and it will help health practitioners provide patients with sound advice.” (New England Journal of Medicine) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (August 17, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393066614
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393066616
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (130 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #830,090 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Simon Singh is an author, science journalist and TV producer. Having completed his PhD at Cambridge he worked from 1991 to 1997 at the BBC producing Tomorrow's World and co-directing the BAFTA award-winning documentary Fermat's Last Theorem for the Horizon series. In 1997, he published Fermat's Last Theorem, which was a best-seller in Britain and translated into 22 languages.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an excellent book, and I would have given it a 5 star except for the fact that there is no reference given to many of the studies that are quoted in the book.

One of the authors, Prof. Edzard Ernst, was a professor of Complementary Medicine at Exeter University, he used to be a homeopath practitioner as well, happily doling out homeopathic "medicine" to his patients until one day, he decided to look at the science underpinning homeopathy and found there was none. He is therefore an insider of Complementary Medicine and has found that practice wanting.

He is very similar to Prof. R. Barker Bausell of Maryland University, who used to be the statistician at NIH responsible for analyzing the data in the NIH funded Complementary and Alternative Medicine Specialized Research Center, where after a couple of years of work there, found that there was no scientific proof that Complimentary/Alternative Medicine was better than placebo, he left the Center and wrote the book "Snake Oil Sciene" (ISBN 978-0-19-531368-0, available here at Amazon)

Both these books very clearly showed the claims of Complementary/Alternative Medicine do not stand up under the glaring light of science. Both were written by insiders, insiders who are scientists, and insiders where their honesty requires them to write these two books.

I will not add to what other reviewers have said except to voice my own personal opinion as to why CAM has been getting popular among the general population.

I think most patients want reassurance from their doctors that everything is alright.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought this book after hearing one of the authors interviewed on the radio, and I'll confess I was a little disappointed in it. I was expected an even-handed review of the current state of research into "alternative medicine" (of which I am no fan!) but really felt that the authors were writing in a persuasive style. Maybe because some of their language (using words such as "bogus" and "fake") was a little aggressive and did not lend an impartial, objective tone to the writing. I still found it interesting, but wondered whether evidence which did not support what appeared to be their "case" was withheld or underemphasized, such was the tone of the book. That is my only complaint, I enjoyed reading the book, I liked the anecdotes and background information on the selected therapies - actually I was surprised by how many "alternative" therapies had been found to be effective for some conditions, how many had simply not been properly researched yet, how many started off in the "alternative" camp but after they were found effective have made their way into mainstream, and how many work although we have no idea why (eg acupuncture)! I did enjoy the discussion of the "placebo" effect. I did feel that much was made of the risks and ineffectiveness of some "alternative" treatments (eg chiropractic) and would have liked a comparison with the risks, side effects and effectiveness of "mainstream" treatments for the same conditions (eg chemotherapy, surgery). (They did do this for some conditions, but not all.) I suppose the authors would say that their focus was on " do alternative therapies work" rather than "does mainstream medicine work" ? Fair enough, I guess.
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Format: Hardcover
I have been meaning to write a review of Trick or Treatment for some months now and had a lot of sophisticated ideas how to phrase it. In the meantime, I had sent my mother a "care package", with dried cranberries, organic Earl Grey tea and a copy of Trick or Treatment. She called me last weekend and said:

"This book is so full of suspense and so extraordinarily well written. I understand what you mean now. I guess I will have to give up my beloved Arnica globules then. It *does* make sense that they cannot work if there is nothing in them. To bad that the German version does not come out until next year, I have some friends who should read this book."

There, that sums it up: Singh and Ernst obviously struck the right tone and paced the book appropriately for the educated user of "alternative medicine" to follow and accept the conclusions of many careful trials. That is excellent, because I myself somehow never muster the patience to go through the details, why this or that "alternative" is not even worth trying.

The only point that I found irritating (and so did my mum) is the sparseness of literature. Few sources are cited and they only refer to the chapter rather than a specific statement. This is something that would be worth amending in future printings and/or in other language additions. I want all necessary references in the book I am reading and don't want to be refered to another book of the author for background.

A must read for:

Any person in the medical field, so they understand who and what contributes to healing (the colour of the pill often as much as the ingredient).

Anyone with a longer lasting medical condition (since they are the prime "target" for most of the CAM methods and practitioners).
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