The intersection of technology and leadership

Book review: Suckers

I like catching up on some reading when I’m on a long-haul flight, so the trip to Agile 2012 gave me some time to do some reading. I picked this book called, Suckers from my local library intrigued by its title on telling the truth being Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM throughout the rest of the book). It’s a pretty detailed book, looking very well researched and I think gave me a pretty good comprehension of all the different CAMs out there including all the gritty details.

Some of the book didn’t really surprise me such as many institutes often set up and made to create “certifications” to allow people to credentialise themselves in fields that don’t really exist (sound familiar to you agile folk?). Although I tend to avoid CAM theories on the basis of not knowing so much, the book made be realise how much damage they could cause just by being there. For example:

  • People who don’t know what they are doing prescribing things that are completely inappropriate. Often triggered through some subscription-based service/product scheme.
  • Less harmful is where people take money for ailments that really do-nothing.
  • More harmful is when people put too much confidence in these therapies and skip medically researched alternatives that may actual help them. The book told of one sad story of a man with cancer skipping traditional treatment in lieu of a “machine that generated light” that cost the quack a fraction of what they sold it on for.
  • Risk around unknown substances making their way into these alternative medicines where they are not regulated, therefore all sorts of elements potentially find their way into the final solution. They cited a number of cases where people ended up poisoned from some “other” ingredient added to the final pill to make it cheaper to manufacture

Interestingly the book covered motives why people would go for CAM therapies such as a distrust of the government and medical industry (out to make money), people looking for a “silver bullet” solution and the face-to-face time they get from alternative therapists when face-to-face time with doctors in the UK sees downwards trends.

I learned that the CAM world is much bigger than I originally thought. Yes they cover traditional ones like homeopathy, acupuncture, Chinese medicine and chiropractic treatment but there are whole realms of things I didn’t realise people actually believe in such as magnetic treatments, “healing stone” therapy, light therapy, wind therapy, and Ayurvedic treatments. One big surprise for me was that chiropractic treatment has not scientific basis, and therefore isn’t a very well regulated industry so be careful if you’re going to get anyone to crack anything in your back. You only have one of them after all.

I would definitely recommend this book for anyone looking into Complementary and Alternative Medicines. It’s easy to read and very well suited for anyone living in the UK (as they refer to the UK medical system and legislation often).

1 Comment

  1. Adam Scott

    If you’d like to know more, Bad Science by Ben Goldacre is a very good read.

    I believe he came and spoke at a TW Away Day once, so you might have already had a taste.

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