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September 5, 1986

Examining Holistic Medicine

Author Affiliations

Mount Sinai School of Medicine New York

Mount Sinai School of Medicine New York


edited by Douglas Stalker and Clark Glymour, 406 pp, with illus, $20.95, Buffalo, NY, Prometheus Books, 1985.

JAMA. 1986;256(9):1202-1203. doi:10.1001/jama.1986.03380090142038

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This book is dynamite, an absolute smash! It lays bare holistic medicine as constituting not a distinct concept of medicine, but instead a melange of banalities, truisms, exaggerations, and falsehoods, overlaid with disparagement not only of scientific conclusions but of logical reason itself.

The noble rhetoric of holistic medicine is separated from its ignoble performance: a mixture of lucrative diagnostic tests that don't diagnose and of therapies that not only don't work but often harm. A mixture of the primitive, the unscientific, and the irrational, holistic medicine is disrobed in this book as the ultimate consumer fraud— snake oil medicine.

The book is divided into four parts. Part 1 examines "engineers, cranks, physicians, and magicians," the "first holistic revolution" over a century ago and all the harm it did, and holistic nursing. Part 2 examines the holistic pseudophilosophy, including distortion of the concept of personal responsibility for health into a