If I search on Amazon for books on ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE, I get between 50 000 and 60 000 volumes, depending on what country I am in. As a very rough guess, I estimate that about 95% of them are rubbish – not just useless, but dangerous. Because of this lamentable situation, I am delighted each time I come across one that belongs to the other 5%. And in recent years, there have been quite a few.

No, I am not about to advertise another book of mine; I am about to commend to you


(I don’t often publish book reviews here, but I feel that might change.)

The new book is advertised with the following words: “Dr Brad McKay, Australian GP and science communicator, has seen the rise of misinformation permeate our lives and watched as many of us have turned away from health experts. Too often, we place our trust in online influencers, celebrities and Dr Google when it comes to making important health decisions. Fake Medicine explores the potential dangers of wellness warriors, anti-vaxxers, fad diets, dodgy supplements, alternative practitioners and conspiracy theories. This book is an essential tool for debunking pseudoscience and protecting you and your loved ones from the health scams that surround us. Protect your mind, body and wallet by fighting fake medicine.”

They describe the book fairly accurately. McKay covers all of these subjects with considerable skill. His book is well-suited for people who are newcomers to the critical assessment of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM); the text is free of jargon or long-winded technical explanations. Instead, the author mostly tells stories of events that actually happened to him. Several happened to him in a most personal fashion, as his experience as a young gay Australian with a form of conversion therapy administered by religious zealots, or the story where he took some highly dodgy Chinese medicine to boost his energy levels.

Lots of people have done similarly foolish things, I know, but not many are doctors and can thus put their experience in a medical perspective. And crucially, not many can write as entertaining as Brad. I had thought I knew most of what there is to know about SCAM, but I did learn something new from Brad: did you know what GISH GALLOP is? Well, I didn’t!

One of the most useful parts of the book is chapter 16 where Brad tells everyone what they can and should do to stop fake medicine in its tracks. And he does mean EVERYONE! – not just skeptics or sceptics or activists or scientists. This book is truly written for laypeople. If you don’t belong to this group, buy it anyway and give it to someone from your circle of friends who needs it. I am sure there are a few.



3 Responses to A new book on ‘Fake Medicine’

  • OK, I’ve bought the Kindle Edition. I wanted to buy a hard copy, but it seems the print edition doesn’t come out until the end of July in the UK.

    I see in the Introduction that he is the host of the Australian edition of Embarrassing Bodies, a fascinating show in which people who are far too shy to go to their GP, take all their clothes of and expose their nether regions on national television (I exaggerate).

    Actually some interesting medical things emerged in those shows, like the little girl with a bad, and persistent growth of warts on her toe, who turned out to have a complicated immunological deficiency requiring a bone marrow transplant (and we might remember the terribly sad case of the ‘Tree Man’, not from Embarrassing Bodies, who was a very much worse example of something similar).

    Mention of Embarrassing Bodies brings me in a nice segue to Dr. Christian Jessen and his documentary “Cure Me, I’m Gay”, which although journalistic more than medical, was interesting. It has long been a thought in the back of my mind that “therapies” designed to change the direction of the sex drive, given names like “Reparative Therapy” and “Re-integrative Therapy” ought to come under scrutidy as SCAM, since they are presented in a medical context. Writer and polemicist Wayne Besen, who was an advisor to the Jessen documentary, points out that “gay conversion” falls somewhat into two categories (I was going to write ‘two camps’ but thought better of it): For those well off, there are the “therapies” presented in medical language and administered by psychologists. For the poor, there is what he calls “Pray away the gay” – ‘spiritual healing’ by a pastor. Neither works, but the former is surely within the remit of SCAM scrutiny. At least one case in the USA was successfully prosecuted under Consumer Fraud law.

    It must be noted that exploitative and fake approaches to ‘treatment’ for ‘gay conversion’ also had their day within mainstream medicine – many unfortunate men were subjected to horrible humiliating and completely useless “aversion therapy” treatments within Britain’s NHS. These ‘treatments’ were administered from an entirely theoretical base, with zero reliable published evidence of safety or efficacy. Jessen talks about this at the start of his documentary.

    I am currently finishing “The Rise and Fall of Modern Medicine”, and will enjoy Brad McKay’s book next.

  • I’ve now read “Fake Medicine”. I got a bit bogged down in “The Rise and Fall of Modern Medicine” and have taken a break from it!

    I’ve very much enjoyed “Fake Medicine”. It covers quite a lot of ground in a concise way, and is vividly written. I hope it sells very many copies, as it has the potential to do much good. When the print edition comes out in the UK at the end of July, I will probably buy a copy (Kindle is great, but I still like printed books!).

  • I read Fake Medicine on Kindle again last week, and enjoyed it again. I decided to order a hard copy, but for some reason it doesn’t seem to be available in print in the UK from Amazon or Waterstones. However, I was able to buy a copy on Ebay today. It’s a vividly written book.

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