2 out of 4 stars
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When I saw Snake Oil is Alive and Well, I immediately selected it for reading because I’m aware of the pros and cons, use and abuse of similar natural remedies around the world. In this book, Dr Morton Tavel explains the mindset and problems with the thinking process that allow people to fall prey to misinformation and spurious marketing tactics in the health field. As a retired physician and cardiologist who has guided interns, he desires to conscientize the general public as well as medical personnel about this phenomenon. The author uses the term “Snake Oil” to symbolize all the attractive remedies that the sick fall prey to especially when they are desperate for a cure.
Firstly, Dr Tavel explicates the basic principles of research that include logical reasoning, the significance of numbers, interpretation of results, cause-effect relationships, etc. He then describes various misconceptions in the health field: effects of “placebo,” faith healing, alternative medicine, vitamins, nutrition, weight loss, evidence-based medicine, and more. Finally, he explains the relationship between science and religion.
In my opinion, as a researcher in the field of holistic health with decades of experience, the philosophy of science and research methodology mentioned in the first few chapters need to be updated according to the latest developments in these fields. Nevertheless, I appreciate Dr Tavel’s genuine concern for humanity and magnanimous sharing of his knowledge in the health field. He wants people to avoid spending their hard-earned money unnecessarily. It is true that people can be gullible and need to be discerning in their choice of therapy. I liked the author’s explanation of the effects of “placebo” and its reverse “nocebo.” However, I do not agree with everything that he writes. The physician seems to have worked mainly in the institutional set up in the USA.
I am annoyed with the author’s blanket judgment and unsubstantiated statements against systems of medicine such as Ayurveda, Acupuncture, and Homeopathy. He is himself falling prey to an unhealthy mindset with his biases and condescending tone. There was a time when people thought the earth was the center of the universe. Dr Tavel sees conventional Western and Allopathic system of medicine as the norm for rational treatment, which is an arrogant stance and seems disrespectful of physicians in traditional Eastern systems of medicine that wouldn’t have survived over the millennia if they weren’t effective. The author’s statements about Homeopathy are also unacceptable. It was founded by Dr Hahnemann, who was an allopathic physician and researcher in the 18th century in Germany. Dr Tavel does not respect the fact that there is a lot of ongoing scientific research on these systems of medicine and surgery outside the USA. They have advanced over the years just as Allopathy has evolved from traditional Hippocratic school of medicine with its cruel and absurd practices based on myths and superstitions.
After thoughtful and critical analysis of the contents, I rate Snake Oil is Alive and Well 2 out of 4 stars. It is a disappointment for me compared to its sequel Health Tips, Myths, and Tricks that I happened to read prior to this book and which I much appreciated. Dr Tavel’s arguments don’t appeal to me, and I hope he will substantiate his statements against other systems of medicine in the next edition. I found a few grammatical errors in this 233-page manual, and it will benefit from a round of editing. This book will be understandable to individuals who are educated, especially in the field of health care. I’m not quite sure whether people without a medical background will grasp or interpret the contents correctly.
Snake Oil is Alive and Well
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