This is a book that should make us all sit up and listen.
Most of the previous publications on alternative and complimentary medicine that I have read, seem to be based on opinion and/or anecdotal evidence. 'Trick or Treatment' is quite different. Edzard Ernst, one of the two authors, is the first Professor of Alternative and Alternative Medicine in the world. Under his leadership the faculty at Exeter University has carried out extensive and definitive research, on a large scale, to test the efficacy of a range of alternative and complimentary treatments including, amongst others, homeopathy and acupuncture. Both Professor Ernst and his co-author Simon Singh are adamant that neither of them had any previous bias, no vested interests were involved, and no assumptions were made in advance. The aim was solely to find out through exhaustive and objective research, whether the claims of success made by alternative medical practitioners are soundly based on scientific evidence alone.
The results of Ernst's research at Exeter are clear. And what results! The book provides conclusive proof that most alternative 'medicines' and practices are, with some exceptions, worse than useless, other than having a placebo effect; in some instances they can actually cause harm. As the authors remark, they mostly "relieve nothing more than cash from the patients pocket". Some herbal remedies are proven to have beneficial properties. For those of us who love the stuff but suffer from "Go away, you stink of Garlic", we can now (genuinely and righteously) counter with " but I HAVE to take it, it's for my heart, you see".
Perhaps the most surprising result from Exeter is the one that deals with the most widely used and, up to now, perhaps the most respected of all the alternative practices eg. Homeopathy. The authors give hard evidence that homeopathy has little or no efficacy; in most cases the claims of success are apparently false, either by design or more probably through self-delusion.
Trick or Treatment is dedicated - with a well-savoured irony, I suspect - to the Prince of Wales, who has so strongly advocated the inclusion of certain alternative and complimentary treatments within the NHS. The Prince would be well advised to read this book; it may serve to curb his enthusiasm for alternative practices, and homeopathy in particular. After all, the website for his own Foundation for Integrated Health states " We strive to ensure that our judgements and decisions are founded on reason, and informed by evidence" Well, here is a book that provides precisely that - both evidence and objectivity. It would be nothing short of a travesty if substantial funds were diverted from effective and conventional treatment on the NHS, in order to support unsubstantiated and unproven alternatives. If the Prince's Foundation, or other supporters of Complimentary and Alternative medicine, can counter the conclusions reached in Trick or Treatment with sound evidence-based research of their own, let us hear it loud and clear.
In general this book is written with a clarity and precision that makes it easy for the average person to grasp the whole research process. It is not only a fascinating read the first time round, but the information within makes it a book you will want to refer back to, time and time again.