Views & Reviews Review of the Week

Take this with a pinch of salt

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: (Published 18 March 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b1098
  1. Robert Bud, principal curator of medicine, Science Museum, London
  1. r.bud{at}

    An account of the lack of evidence behind many of the renowned discoveries of medical science, and indeed for their effectiveness, is reviewed by Robert Bud

    This sceptical history of medicine and drugs is both serious in intent and entertaining in delivery. It is also provocative, unbalanced in its choice of examples, and occasionally inaccurate. The serious message is lurking throughout but is only expressed near the end: “The moral is not that doctors once did foolish things. The moral is that even the best of people let themselves down when they rely on untested theories, and that these failures kill people and stain history.”

    Most of the rest of the book is made up of well told stories chosen to persuade the reader of the truth of this conclusion. These stories are best read as a myth cycle—not in the sense of myth as untruth but as interpretations of often well known events, with meaning and a moral for the present. The message that many drugs have been used without evidence …

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