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Quack Quack

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Princess Fuzzypants here: The “true-believers “, whatever their persuasion or cult of choice- will not like this book. The conspiracy theorists will not buy into it either. But for the average person who wants to wade through all the noise of miracle cures and alternative life styles that will conquer all ills, Dr. Joe has written a truly eye-opening book.

I consider myself fairly savvy. I have a healthy skepticism for things that sound too good to be true. The overt cons are apparent and well documented in the book. Snake oil has always been snake oil. It is the ones that sound like there might be something to them that are dangerous. One runs across people all the time who boast that this or that is the panacea for what ails you. When relief is hard to find and hope is fading, people are vulnerable to a good story with anecdotal proof. But if this book over succeeds, it is in debunking much of the “evidence” with pure science. For most of us who have a minimal amount of scientific education- although from the book it sounds like that too is dwindling fast- much of what Dr. Joe points out is not common knowledge. And therein lies the trap. This book should be required reading for every self diagnosing person on the web. Sadly, the ones who need it most will avoid it like the plague.

For the rest of us, it provides some very solid and easy to understand debunking of many of the more popular trends in healing. Even the things that he says may have merit, and there are some, there is no backup from independent testing that could prove one way or the other. He says that is a shame because many things that are today accepted as true started out with skepticism. But when they were put through their paces, they showed promise.

Well researched, easy to read and entertaining but filled with important information, I give this book five very grateful purrs and two paws up.

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I love all books medical, the weirder the better. I appreciated this look into the medical charlatans of history and some of the absurd cures people ate up without question. However, I found the author to be pedantic and at times down right snide. I appreciate his quest for information and solid theories in the interest of medicine but his quest for pseudoscience sneers at the layman and his desire to believe in miracle cures.

His endless quest for the new "evidence based practice" medicine, while important in some fields, completely disregards some homeopathic techniques that have been around for thousands of years (i.e. acupuncture). In attempts to be tried and true he has purchased some of these outlandish products available today but clearly has not tested every single non-evidence based cure-all.

One can debunk things without being a snot about it and I found that in his writing to be extremely off-putting. His overuse of the same words also got obnoxious, particularly mountebank (a synonym for snake oil salesman) and nostrum repeatedly. Buy a thesaurus with the money you make from this book, sir.

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I loved this book. As with his previous books, the snippets are well written and in a conversational tone, with Dr. Schwarcz showing a sense of humor, although again, some of the attempts at humour fell flat. But this is more than compensated for by how interesting the topics of conversation are. I love the snippet format, that makes the book easy to pick up and read whenever some time pops up. Although very sciency, Schwarcz explains everything very clearly and does not use jargon. The book extensively discusses misinformation in an honest and appropriately blunt manner. The section on views on dealing with information and misinformation is priceless. I am not exaggerating when I say that this should be on posters and billboards. Overall, this book is well worth reading and provides captivating accounts of science, for people familiar or not with science. Thank you to Netgalley and ECW Press for the advance reader copy.

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This is a great book, and so very necessary in the world right now. Dr Schwarcz takes on so many different issues that are forced in to our lives on a daily basis and elegantly shows where the lies are.

A must have

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I was all kinds of excited when I was browsing Netgalley and came across Quack Quack: The Threat of Pseudoscience by Dr. Joe Schwarcz, the director at McGill University’s Office for Science and Society. The book aims to convince people of the importance of separating sense from nonsense, and it’s packed with plenty of examples of the kind of quackery that people are promoting and making lots of money off of.

The book’s main focus is the nonsense of the present, but it begins with a look at some of the quackery of the past. For example, “In the late 1800s, the Battle Creek Sanitarium was unquestionably the place to be for people who needed to be cured of diseases they never had.”

You might recall that drinking one’s own urine was one of the bizarre ideas people came up with for supposedly curing COVID. There’s a chapter devoted to autourine therapy (i.e. drinking one’s own urine), and apparently, there was a World Conference on Urine Therapy.

Then there’s the woman who thought fermented cabbage juice could cure anything and everything, let you regrow missing limbs, and let you live 400 years. Regarding that, Dr. Joe says, “Never before have I heard such concentrated hogwash in such a short time.” He writes that her claims are “full of baloney. Or bunkum. Or balderdash. Take your choice. I have other words too.”

A fair bit of the book is devoted to debunking the weird and wacky claims that people make about water. For example, there’s alkaline water, and Dr. Joe points out that even if it did change the pH of the blood (which it doesn’t), “you would not have to worry about illness because you would be dead.” There’s also the claim of double helix water, as opposed to regular water, which is supposedly weakened by flowing through straight pipes. Then there’s raw water, which can actually harm you depending on what bacteria happen to be contaminating it.

The author points out how companies that make these dodgy products will often string together a bunch of words that sound scientific but are actually meaningless. Regarding a device that’s claimed to energize water, he says, “In all my years of wading through swamps of claptrap I don’t think I have come across anything to match the stew of random, garbled, meaningless words cooked up on behalf of Alpha Spin.”

Dr. Joe explains that the most prevalent myth that he’s come across is that “natural” substances are somehow inherently superior to synthetic ones. He points out that chemicals are made out to be a bad thing, but all atoms are chemicals, so the notion of chemical-free doesn’t even make any sense. And if you thought homeopathic remedies were just another kind of natural product, Dr. Joe will explain to you just how wacky the idea behind homeopathy is.

The book concludes with a chapter with tips on evaluating information/misinformation, like “nonsensical lingo can sound very scientific”, “nature is not benign”, and “education is not a vaccine against folly.”

This book is hilarious. The things the author is talking about are funny, but it’s the way he talks about them that is absolute gold. I love his word choices, including mountebank, “mind-numbing claptrap”, poppycock, “mindless twaddle”, “woo-isms”, mumbo jumbo, balderdash, malarkey, puffery, and gobbledygook. There were plenty of bits that had me laughing, such as this after being urged not to knock a product before trying it: “Well, I’m knocking. We do not live in a scientific vacuum. We do not concoct ways to trap the tooth fairy.” It was rather difficult to limit myself when it came to the number of quotes I included in this review, since there were just so many great lines.

I loved this book. I think anyone with a science background will find it highly amusing, and I hope that it will convince some people to keep their money to themselves rather than hand it over to hucksters trying to make them think that they need a magic carafe to make double-helix water. Our world is desperately in need of more sense, and hopefully Dr. Joe’s book will help to put a bit of a dent in the shortage thereof.

I received a reviewer copy from the publisher through Netgalley.

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I almost want to dock a star for how much some of this hurt to read... the technobabble was, at times, excruciating. This means though, that I owe a debt of gratitude to the author for sifting through much more of it than was actually quoted in this book.
I share his concerns about general scientific illiteracy and outrage at the charlatans taking advantage of it.
Following this sort of thing has been a bit of a hobby of mine for years now, but the author still managed to dredge up a lot of insane products and regimens that I've never come across before.
I also appreciated the tendency to put in subtle jokes by using phrases and adjectives that went along with the "theme" of the section in his commentary.

I intend to come back and beef up this review before the book is published, but I'm short on time at the moment

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