NEW REPUBLIC: The Quackish Cult of Alternative Medicine

Dr Paul Offit’s battle against charlatanism

by Jerome Groopman/ October 19, 2013

Not long ago, I cared for a middle-aged attorney who had a sarcoma. This kind of cancer arises from connective tissues like muscle and bone; if confined, it usually can be cured. But in this woman’s case, the malignancy was discovered after it had spread from her thigh to her lungs and liver. She initially was treated with chemotherapy, and the tumors shrank; but a year later, they grew again.

My patient told me that she was a clear-eyed and rational
person who made decisions based on facts: she would do so about her treatment, much the way she did in her practice as a lawyer. She underwent a series of increasingly arduous therapies, but her condition worsened as the cancer grew in vital organs, and she felt increasingly desperate. Friends, with what she acknowledged as good intentions, sent her reports from the Internet of “cancer cures,” which included cleansing her body of toxins with coffee enemas, ingesting solutions made from Chinese herbs, passing her plasma over resins. At one of our last appointments, my patient recounted how hard it was not to give in and chase illusory treatments. “I so much want to live,” she said.

Typically absent from the claims about many “alternative treatments” are their risks. The significant harms that they can pose form the fabric of Paul Offit’s important and timely book. 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.

Offit is a pugilist in the battle against charlatanism, and he lands punch after punch with hard facts about harms……

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