Killing Us Softly: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine by Paul Offit - review by Simon Singh

Simon Singh

Modern Mountebanks

Killing Us Softly: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine


Fourth Estate 322pp £13.99

First of all, I have to admit that Paul Offit, the author of Killing Us Softly, is a hero of mine. Not only is this American paediatrician one of the world’s foremost experts on infectious diseases, but he is also the co-inventor of a rotavirus vaccine, which protects against gastroenteritis, a condition that results in half a million deaths every year.

Moreover, rather than restricting himself to his clinic and his laboratory, Offit has spent the last decade battling the forces of pseudoscience, working hard to defend the interests of patients against a tide of irrationality. In particular, he has stood up to those who have trashed vaccination programmes and peddled misinformation about autism, and he is probably best known as the author of Autism’s False Prophets. Despite the fact that he wrote that book to increase understanding and to support families (he even donated his royalties to the Center for Autism Research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia), its publication resulted in countless emails containing abuse and threats. When one man wrote, ‘I will hang you by your neck until you are dead,’ an armed guard began to escort Offit to meetings.

Although Killing Us Softly touches on autism and continues to criticise those who promote unproven or disproven treatments, it is a much broader attack on snake oil of all types, ranging from homeopathy to herbal medicine, from therapeutic touch to cancer quackery. There have been several books in recent years

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