Snake Oil Science:
The Truth about Complementary
and Alternative Medicine
by R. Barker Bausell

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 book's 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.


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  • Petro-Canada hawks magnetic bracelets.

    Petro-Canada markets SAKURA magnetic bracelets
    This is an official complaint to Health Canada, the Competition Bureau,
    and the ASC in regards to the Petro-Canada flyer that  came with my
    recent Petro-Canada bill.
    The complaint is based on fraudulent advertising of magnetic bracelets.
    Direct complaints to us about any other questionable Petro-Canada health
    promotion to:

    Text of the flyer:

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    SUBSTANCE OF COMPLAINT: 1. FIRST OF ALL I RESENT MY PETRO-CANADA DOLLARS TO BE SQUANDERED ON SUCH RUBBISH. OUR GAS PRICES ARE HIGH ENOUGH, WE SHOULD NOT BE SUBSIDIZING ANY MASS MAILINGS THAT INCLUDE FRAUD OR QUACKERY. 2. SECONDLY THERE IS NOT ONE WORD OF TRUTH FOR ANY OF THE CLAIMS MADE IN THE FLYER - NOT ONE!!!! OUR HEALTHWATCHER.NET WEB SITE WILL FEATURE THIS FLYER AS A NOMINEE IN OUR COMPANY QUACK-OF-THE-MONTH CLUB CONTEST. I use Petro-Canada for 99% of my fuel needs for my automobile. I think that I will be applying for another credit card this month. If PETRO-CANADA or its investor relations department would issue a public apology to holders of Petro-Canada credit cards in the next mailing for the promotion of a fraudulent product, we will remove all references to these magnetic bracelets from our site. Thank you very much.