Fake Medicine

Recommendation: This is a fun whistle stop tour through idiocy

Where to read: On public transport, start a fight, why not

Read with: Nomad The Empiricist #2 West Coast IPA

In brief: Educated professionals shitting on idiots is probably not productive but we are all at the ends of our collective tethers after COVID and in the mood for some vindictive debunking of anti-vaxxers and other quacks. This fits the bill perfectly.

Fake Medicine is a fun read if you are a little over the irrational bullshit we’ve all been putting up with over the last couple of years (decades).

McKay covers a lot of ground but the fun really kicks off in the sections where he lets loose on the wellness industry and key figures like Belle Gibson and Sarah Stevenson who have promoted fad diets as cures to cancer or in the case of Sarah’s Day, one of the precursors to cervical cancer. “Wellness warriors” like these are spreading anti-intellectualism on platforms such as Instagram either because they are genuine and deluded or because they are cynical and exploiting desperate people for their own gain.

Equal scorn is heaped on unproved nonsense in traditional Chinese medicine, which routinely contains hazardous and undisclosed substances (nine out of ten samples in a recent study had non-labelled ingredients including animal products and, in half of samples, heavy metals). If you allow me a digression, this is particularly galling because traditional medicines like this are the major driver behind the poaching of endangered animals like pangolins and rhinos. In my book, anything that involves those ingredients should be banned and anyone buying or selling should be fined back into the Stone Age (or jailed, to be honest). Further, and returning to McKay’s point, there is absolutely no evidence in favour of most techniques espoused in TCM – where there is evidence, it has been absorbed into conventional medicine.

McKay also goes on a John Oliver-worthy rant about supplements and multi-vitamins and miracle ingredients (which turn into nothing more than very expensive pee), various forms of quackery like reiki, and the genuinely dangerous practice of chiropractic spinal manipulation, particularly where children are concerned.

Last but not least, and most delightfully cathartic, is a set of chapters on ant-vaxxers, featuring the various unhinged rantings of Pete Evans and the Covid-19 conspiracy theories which have been so pervasive and so detrimental to public healthy and public good generally. As with most of this book, it seems designed more to harangue than to persuade but, in all honesty, that was part of the appeal.

Having gone on quite the lengthy rant, the inclusion of McKay’s closing thoughts on how medical communication and public trust in science might be improved seems a tad incongruous. I also wish it was both longer and slightly more thought through – as is often the case, McKay seems far more adapt at describing the problem than at proposing solutions.

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