Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine
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Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine

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by Paul A., M.D. Offit M.D.

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In Do You Believe in Magic?, medical expert Paul A. Offit, M.D., offers a scathing exposé of the alternative medicine industry, revealing how even though some popular therapies are remarkably helpful due to the placebo response, many of them are ineffective, expensive, and even deadly.

Dr. Offit reveals how alternative medicine—an unregulated


In Do You Believe in Magic?, medical expert Paul A. Offit, M.D., offers a scathing exposé of the alternative medicine industry, revealing how even though some popular therapies are remarkably helpful due to the placebo response, many of them are ineffective, expensive, and even deadly.

Dr. Offit reveals how alternative medicine—an unregulated industry under no legal obligation to prove its claims or admit its risks—can actually be harmful to our health.

Using dramatic real-life stories, Offit separates the sense from the nonsense, showing why any therapy—alternative or traditional—should be scrutinized. He also shows how some nontraditional methods can do a great deal of good, in some cases exceeding therapies offered by conventional practitioners.

An outspoken advocate for science-based health advocacy who is not afraid to take on media celebrities who promote alternative practices, Dr. Offit advises, “There’s no such thing as alternative medicine. There’s only medicine that works and medicine that doesn’t.”

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
According to infectious disease specialist Offit (Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure), half of Americans believe in the “magic” of alternative medicine, fueling a billion-a-year business that offers treatments that are at best placebos, and at worst deadly. He blasts untested, unregulated, overhyped remedies—like anti-autism creams and bogus cancer cures using “antineoplastons”—and dares to berate celebs like “America’s Doctor,” Mehmet Oz, who “believes that modern medicine isn’t to be trusted”; alternative treatment superstars Andrew Weil and Deepak Chopra, proponents of the natural world and wisdom of the ancients; and former Three’s Company star Suzanne Somers, who crusades for unproven menopause treatments, including her daunting regimen of “bioidentical hormone replacement therapy.” “There’s a name for alternative medicines that work,” one McGill professor notes: “It’s called medicine.” Offit insists that “making decisions about our health is an awesome responsibility. If we’re going to do it, we need to take it seriously.” With a fascinating history of hucksters, and a critical chronology of how supplements escaped regulation, Offit cautions consumers not to “give alternative medicine a free pass because we’re fed up with conventional medicine.” His is a bravely unsentimental and dutifully researched guide for consumers to distinguish between quacks and a cure. Agent: Gail Ross, the Ross Yoon Agency. (June)
Financial Times
“Offit is a rare combination of scientist, doctor, communicator and advocate. . . . What is needed is more people like [him] willing to engage the skeptics in a debate that just will not go away.”
Wall Street Journal
“An invaluable chronicle that relates some of the many ways in which the vulnerabilities of anxious parents have been exploited.”
on Autism's False Prophets Newsweek
“Few scientists are willing to touch this third rail of science publicity; Offit grabs it with two hands.”
Skeptical Inquirer
“Offit is a wonderful storyteller who makes his message come alive. Each chapter is a story that grabs the reader’s interest and holds it.”
Boston Globe
Do You Believe in Magic? is a briskly written, entertaining, and well-researched examination of those whom Offit considers ‘unclothed emperors’: purveyors of miracle cancer cures, fountains of youth, and the theory that vaccines cause autism.”
New York Times
“Over the last decade [Offit] has become a leading debunker of mass misconceptions surrounding infections and vaccines, and now he is taking on the entire field of alternative medicine, from acupuncture to vitamins.”
“Lively. . . . Informative and well-written, the book deserves a wide audience among the general public, scientists, and health care professionals.”
New Republic
“Important and timely . . . 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.”
Library Journal
Offit (chief, infectious diseases, Children's Hosp. of Philadelphia; Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All) examines alternative medical therapies that are popular today: acupuncture, homeopathy, chiropractic, herbs and supplements, and cancer cures. He discusses the history of these treatments and states that there is no evidence for their effectiveness. He also looks at celebrities such as Dr. Oz, Andrew Weil, Oprah Winfrey, Suzanne Somers, and Jenny McCarthy who endorse and sell alternative treatments. Using case histories to show the sometimes tragic outcomes of abandoning modern medicine, the author separates the therapies that work from those that are useless. Some alternative therapies do work in select cases, although the placebo effect may be involved. Offit notes that the placebo effect is a valid one, saying, "There's no such thing as alternative medicine. There's only medicine that works and medicine that doesn't." VERDICT This excellent, easy-to-read look at the alternative-medicine industry is highly recommended.—Barbara Bibel, Oakland P.L.
Kirkus Reviews
A pull-no-punches attack on the hucksterism of alternative medicine and an exposé of the federal government's failure to regulate the vitamin and supplement industry. Offit (Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia; Vaccinology and Pediatrics/Univ. of Pennsylvania School of Medicine; Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All, 2011; etc.) relates shocking stories of the harm done to people by promoters of false claims, and he doesn't hesitate to name names. His brief account of the lobbying and politics behind the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, called by the New York Times "The Snake Oil Protection Act," is particularly eye-opening. Offit casts an especially critical eye on celebrity promoters of alternative therapies. Among those who come under his scrutiny are former actress Suzanne Somers with her so-called anti-aging product line; TV's charismatic Dr. Mehmet Oz and his "Superstars of Alternative Medicine": Andrew Weil and Deepak Chopra; and osteopath Rashid Buttar, a prolific author and promoter of an unlicensed anti-autism cream. Offit also gives his take on various common products that practitioners of alternative medicine claim have therapeutic value--e.g., garlic, ginkgo biloba, saw palmetto, St. John's wort and milk thistle. Of special interest is his chapter on what has been learned about the value of the placebo response and how it explains the positive effects of some alternative therapies. The harm, he writes, comes when their promoters recommend against helpful conventional therapies, when they promote potentially dangerous therapies without warning, when they give patients false hopes and then drain their bank accounts, and, finally, when they promote magical thinking or scientific illiteracy. A rousing good read, strong on human interest and filled with appalling and amazing data.
From the Publisher
"This excellent, easy-to-read look at the alternative-medicine industry is highly recommended." —Library Journal Starred Review

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

Paul A. Offit, MD, is chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, as well as the acclaimed author of Autism's False Prophets, Vaccinated, and Deadly Choices.

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Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine 3.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the third book I have read by Dr. Offit. A few years ago I read "Autism's False Prophets," which I also highly recommend. I read that book because I have an autistic son and I am very skeptical of the "cures" for autism promoted by Jenny McCarthy and others. Dr. Offit writes in a matter that is quite easy to read but still manages to explain the value of science based medicine. "Autism's False Prophets" helped me confirm what I had already suspected. We have steered clear of the scientifically unproven treatments for our son and have relied on proven therapies (ABA, specifically) and our son is much better off. In "Do You Believe In Magic," Dr. Offit addresses the $32 Billion-dollar-per-year "supplemental" and "alternative" medicine industry. What is quite interesting is that Dr. Offit writes about some of his own frustrations with modern medicine and has empathy for those who seek better health through vitamins, supplements and so forth. But he also brings to light the how dangerously unregulated  this industry is. In fact, only .3%, or less than one out of every 300 supplements are tested for safety end effectiveness. I would also add that the comments made by the one who refers to Dr. Offit as a "shill for allopathic (mainstream) mediicine" were obviously written by someone who has not read this book. If you are a consumer and are concerned about the safety and quality of vitamins or supplements, it is worth your while to read this book. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Interesting book - I am sure the "alternative medicine " crowd will come out and vilify the author and his message - which is there are only two kinds of medicine: that which works, that which does not work, ( I would add: that for which the jury is still out. In any event - "alternative medicine is generally unregulated, non-proven, and not subject to the same scrutiny as the medical science we rely on to help us - - when it can. And often it can't. Of course, the alt med believers tend to think "big" Pharma and "big" Medicine have some sort of nefarious objective - which is to keep us kill us all. How sad for them to go through life with such an intellectually lazy viewpoint. I doubt the person below has actually read the book., but I would remind them that the plural of anecdote is NOT data. Enjoy the book! I did.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well worth reading. I learned a lot about the vitamin/supplement industry, and also some historical aspects of B17 were new to me. Definitely a book I want to read at least one more time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Offit tells it like it is. He uses sound, evidence backed science to show the POTENTIAL dangers of unregulated supplement industries and unfounded pseudo medical practices that pull billions of dollars from uninformed, misguided Americans (and other nationalities) every year.
TRyan2 More than 1 year ago
As other reviewers have stated, Offit does not accurately portray everything that he discusses.  When Offit says (on page 5) that multivitamins can be dangerous, he is simply trying to mislead people with such absurd  statements.  Considering all of the money that he has received from Merck, one would hope that he would  be grateful for that and not act deviantly.   Obviously that is not the case.  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is the worst kind of rubbish, lies and distortions by Dr. Paul "For Profit" Offit who makes millions of dollors each year from Merck and his own vaccine patents. He is against natural medicine because it actually makes people well without side-effects. Big Pharma is really afraid that intelligent people will be able to heal themselves. Don't waste your time or money on this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The main problem with this book is that Offit paints a one-sided, distorted picture of the situation. Many of his anti-vitamin claims are proven scientific falsehoods and have been refuted (google/bing "2 Big Lies: No Vitamin Benefits & Supplements Are Very Dangerous"). You are supposed to believe that he gives you the facts, due to his medical status, but -apart from very few exceptions- all you get is misinformation.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dr. Offit is a shill for allopathic (mainstream) medicine and the pharmaceutical industry. Of course he is going to do his best to discredit any and all forms of alternative medicine. It is a well known fact, and if you do the research you will see, that mainstream medicine and pharmaceuticals cause thousands upon thousands of more adverse effects and deaths than all the vitamins and supplements combined. They are much much more harmful than any vitamin or supplement. This book is nothing more than propaganda for the mainstream medical community who are trying to do damage control because so many people are sick and tired of being filled with poisonous drugs that do way more harm than good. Sorry Doc... ain't buying the bull. Dr. Offit (who has been nicknamed Dr. Vaccine by the media due to his statement that an INFANT could withstand 100,000 vaccines all at once) is trying to legally take away your right to access your vitamin supplements and wants them regulated like drugs. Wake up people... Big Pharma has a goal... to have every man, woman and child on prescription drugs. Oh.. and yes I DO believe in Magic... I am almost 60, have taken vitamins and supplements my entire life, stayed away from Drs. and hosptials, and never take prescription drugs.. and am in perfect health!