A physician takes an evidence-based approach to evaluating alternative medical treatments.
Tavel (Hell in the Heavens, 2013) brings a scientist’s skepticism to this personal health book. After guiding readers through an explanation of logical fallacies, from post hoc, ergo propter hoc to confirmation bias, Tavel sets out to demonstrate how such errors in logic have led people to embrace treatments that have not been proven in scientific studies. The book draws heavily on published studies, with frequent citations guiding readers to further information on everything from the effectiveness of yoga to the results of chiropractic treatment. While most of the treatments Tavel critiques from an evidence-based perspective are alternative and traditional therapies, he also has harsh words for major drug manufacturers who take advantage of the same logical flaws to promote their products. He looks back at the history of medicine, providing engaging, detailed narratives of both hoaxes and genuinely effective treatments. One of the book’s most effective sections addresses the complexities of the placebo effect, which shapes the perceptions of both medical treatments and the treatments’ actual effectiveness. The book is less successful in its efforts to guide readers’ behavior, as Tavel seems to expect scientific data to be sufficient to drive readers’ decision-making (of course, that’s not always the case). He recommends that readers avoid organic foods because they are more expensive and studies have not found higher nutrient content—a recommendation that doesn’t address the many other social or environmental factors that drive decisions to eat organic food. Although the book’s approach will not win over all readers, those who prefer regimented, peer-reviewed studies as a basis for making health decisions will find the book a useful tool for evaluating both mainstream and alternative treatments.
A persuasive, well-written evaluation of the logic and evidence that influence medical decision-making.