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Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Review: Medical Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths: What We Think We Know May Be Hurting Us

If you've had a good Western style education, you've probably had a great inoculation to the usual insane myths that go around. For instance, you probably understand that vaccine have a positive ROI even for the individual. You probably know that it's viruses that cause the common cold, not physically getting cold. (In fact, staying indoors is much more likely cause you to catch the common cold than going outside to exercise)

What surprised me, however, when I checked out Medical Myths from the library was that despite all that, I still harbored a number of myths that Professor Novella managed to debunk. For instance, like most people, I thought that acupuncture was a uniquely Chinese tradition. It's not, and Dr. Novella provides a succinct and thorough history and evolution of acupuncture. In addition, I always thought that regular nasal irrigation was at worst harmless. It turns out that it's not harmless, and can in fact cause a sinus infection. However, nasal irrigation while you're infected with a cold and have congestion is a good idea.

Furthermore, the lectures contains lots of information about sham supplements, some of which aren't even conformant to the philosophies they espouse. For instance, Zircam happily advertises itself as a homeopathic medicine. It turns out that it contains zinc, which is well known to help with colds. However, that doesn't mean it's safe: it turns out that the amount of active ingredient in this "homeopathic" medicine is so high that it could potentially cause deafness in certain people. Ouch.

The series of lectures is filled with lots of information like this, and Professor Novella is an excellent lecturer, never boring. You'll learn about all sorts of myths (as well as bad TV depiction of medical phenomena), and wonder to yourself, "How can anyone believe that?" Then you'll get hit with a zinger like one of the factoids I described above. It's great humbie pie and very much worth reading.

This series of audio lectures has mixed reviews on Amazon, but mostly from people who have an axe to grind (i.e., anti-vaccination people, etc). If the quality of your work is to be judged by the kind of enemies you make, I'd say that Professor Novella has a lot to be proud of.

Highly recommended.

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