The CFI/SF steering committee has talked a bit about creating book clubs and have decided that instead of a traditional book club we would try an online version. If you’ve already read this book I invite you to comment and if you haven’t I encourage you to do so.
As the first book we’ve chosen Snake Oil Science by R. Barker Bausall. This is a comprehensive survey of the current state of scientific research into “complementary and alternative medicine”. It contains a list and comments on all “High Quality CAM Trials published in in High Quality Medical Journals, January 2000 - February 2007. It’s a short list, containing only 22 papers and only one positive study. Because this list was short, the author went on to look at “High Quality Systematic Reviews”. There were of these. Bausall found 99 of them and provides details. A modest number of these are positive, but the on closer examination Bausall concludes “there is no compelling, credible scientific evidence to suggest that any CAM therapy benefits and medical condition or reduces any medical symptom (poin or otherwise) better than a placebo.
But more important than the specific conclusions he reaches is the discussion of the placebo effect including an entertaining presentation of how an honest but not scientifically trained (fictional) physician could be drawn into believing that acupuncture is effective. He makes a compelling case that placebo effects explain the apparent success of alternative medicine.
Bausall is well qualified to write this book. By training he is a “research methodologist” and was for several years the director of research at the University of Mayland’s NIH-funded “Complementary Medicine Program”.