Excerpt of SHAM by Steve Salerno
(Page 6 of 8)
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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 lifestylenot 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 circularthe 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.
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.