Excerpt from SHAM by Steve Salerno, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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SHAM

How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless

By Steve Salerno

SHAM
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  • Hardcover: Jun 2005,
    288 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2006,
    288 pages.

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Americans for some reason assume that Recovery groups work, when in fact there is little or no hard evidence of their ability to help people recover from anything, as this book will document. Consider, for the time being, this one fact: The results of a 1995 study conducted by Harvard Medical School indicated that alcoholics have a better chance of quitting drinking if they don't attend AA than if they do. Americans seldom hear about such results, in part because AA and its sister organizations have actively opposed independent research that could test their programs' effectiveness.

The dearth of good science can be recognized throughout SHAM. In her revealing book PC, M.D.: How Political Correctness Is Corrupting Medicine, psychiatrist Sally Satel complains bitterly about the faulty (or nonexistent) research underlying the nostrums and home remedies that contemporary SHAM artists preach. "We have a generation of healers who unflinchingly profess to know everything that's good for everybody," Satel told me in an interview. "They make no distinctions between science, pseudoscience, and pure fantasy. They liberally dispense their dubious prescriptives as if they'd been blessed by an NIH double-blind study." Tony Robbins, for example, contends that diet is an integral part of a successful lifestyle–not an eyebrow-raising notion, except that he goes on to counsel his audiences on the "energy frequency" of popular foods. The energy frequency of Kentucky Fried Chicken, for example, is "3 megahertz." Satel knows of no such food term and has no idea what it could possibly mean in any case. I checked with Yale University's Dr. Kelly Brownell, one of the nation's foremost experts on diet and nutrition. He was similarly mystified.

This is not to say that all SHAM rhetoric is patently false. In fact, there are whole categories of self-help precepts that can't possibly be disputed. That's because they're circular–the guru who espouses them is saying the same thing in different ways at the beginning and end of a sentence. The conclusion merely restates the premise.

Here's a perfect illustration, from Phil McGraw's New York Times number one best seller Self Matters: "I started this process by getting you to look at your past life, because I believe that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. That being true, the links in the chain of your history predict your future." The "that being true" makes it sound as if McGraw is rousing to some profound conclusion. But he isn't. The part after "that being true" merely repeats what he said in the first sentence, with slightly altered wording. It's not a conclusion at all. It's what logicians call a tautology. I am reminded of Larry Bird's priceless response to an interviewer who besieged the Indiana Pacers executive with statistics. The reporter demanded to know what Bird made of them and what they implied about the Pacers' chances in an upcoming play-off series. "All I know," Bird replied wearily, "is that we win 100 percent of the games where we finish with more points than the other guy."

Other SHAM kingpins, or ambitious pretenders, achieve a certain contrived plausibility by using puffed-up, esoteric-sounding jargon. In August 2004, Dan Neuharth, PhD, the author of Secrets You Keep from Yourself: How to Stop Sabotaging Your Happiness, told the readers of the magazine First for Women that "avoidance is a knee-jerk response to a core fear that threatens your ego." Translation: We avoid things we're really afraid of.

Excerpted from Sham by Steve Salerno Copyright © 2005 by Steve Salerno. Excerpted by permission of Crown, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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