Reviewed by Ian Lipke
The substance of Brad McKay’s book is all there in the title. This is a book about fake medicine, about misunderstood ideas about wellness, and the criminals who play on our concerns about our health in the interest of lightening our wallets. McKay’s views are clear, almost black and white, for which he will no doubt draw criticism.
The justification for writing the book currently is evident in the following excerpts from the opening pages:
The COVID-19 pandemic has taught humanity the devastating impact the spread of misinformation can have on our health…we as a society still haven’t discovered a sure-fire way to sift fact from fiction…’You can have alternative music, alternative fashion, alternative ideas. You can’t have alternative facts’ (Josh Thomas, Please Like Me).
McKay has a point of view and is consistent in promoting it. He says that he understands the lure of alternatives to modern medicine (5), but his condemnation is so forceful that I wonder if he really does. He leads off with a long story from his youth which sets the scene for the chapters that follow. While his arguments are always concise and focused, his initial chapters draw attention to idiopathic diseases that fail to follow the obvious cause and effect model, and Dr Google, who seems to wear the crown of misrepresentation. Before getting down to ‘tin-tacks’, the author explains what suckers we are for a classic fairy tale and details the fraudulent behaviour of one Belle Gibson.
It struck me that McKay seems to be padding-out his text in the first fifty pages. He is an experienced broadcaster, interviewer, and public commentator, and would find no difficulty at all with writing around a subject. After all, in the book so far, he has written nothing original, pleasant though the writing has been. Chapter 5 heralds a change in focus. The new chapter identifies and discusses the ‘influencers’ on our behaviours. Chief among these are the slick and sophisticated women and men who often make outrageous but profitable claims about a product or service. He instances Sarah Stevenson, who, employing social media to its fullest, claimed to have reversed her cervical dysplasia (54).
McKay next tackles traditional Chinese medicine. To say he is not a devotee of rhino horn and pangolin scales, herbal combinations, acupuncture (meridian lines do not exist!), moxibustion and cupping, is the supreme understatement. He is not quite as damning of Taichi and Qigong. “But we need to think rationally – all medical treatments need to be based in science and evidence. Facts don’t care about tradition” (87).
There’ll surely not be a reader who has not grasped that McKay is a tried-and-true traditionalist. His comments on vitamins and other supplements are as one would expect, uncomplimentary. However, he reserves his most virulent attacks for ‘alternative medicine’. Labelling his chapter ‘quacks’ (in large, capital letters in case someone missed the point), he attacks naturopathy, applied kinesiology, iridology, traditional Chinese medicine, homeopathy, and acupuncture. “Therapies that have previously been debunked persevere as part of the curriculum of our highest educational facilities. It should be a national outrage” (114). Mc Kay is particularly critical of naturopathy. “I would have had more success talking to …[a] poodle” (143).
A chapter McKay provocatively calls Sexist Medicine contains a wide-ranging selection of discrete topics such as facials, non-toxic tampons, natural breast enlargements, and diets. A chapter immediately following deals with detoxes and cleansers, and the book concludes with the author’s opinions of anti-vaccine groups and what he calls the COVID-19 conspiracy. It does not take a Rhodes scholar to work out McKay’s position on each of these topics.
This is a book composed of stimulating material. Highly recommended.
By Dr Brad McKay
$32.99; 304 pp