Rites, rights and ancient sites


R. Baker Bausell. Snake Oil Science: The Truth About Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Oxford University Press, 2007.

Ben Goldacre. Bad Science. Fourth Estate, 2008

Simon Singh and Edward Ernst. Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial. Bantam Press, 2008

Helen L Berger. Teenage Witches: Magical Youth and the Search for the Self. Rutgers University Press, 2007.

Jenny Blain and Robert Wallis. Sacred Sites, Contested Rites/Rights: Pagan Engagements with Archaeological Monuments. Sussex Academic Press, 2007.
Three important critical/sceptical books on alternative and complementary medicine, two from the UK and one from the US. Of the British writers Singh and Ernst provide a detailed critical examination concentrating on acupuncture, homeopathy, chiropractic and herbal medicine, with shorter sections on other remedies. Ernst is Professor of Complementary Medicine at Exeter University and a former medical doctor who used AM (Alternate Medicine). However, with the exception of some herbal treatments the verdict is decidedly negative, with a very strong critique of homeopathy. There are a few slight hiccups, such as Singh and Ernst’s uncritical treatment of ‘The Amazing Randi, but not many, I suspect.

Goldacre, a science journalist covers much the same ground though in more vigorous and up front fashion, and covering a rather wider field, providing an important critique of alternative medicine, "nutritionists" and the diet industry, but also analysing the role of the drugs companies and other problems in mainstream medicine. Both Singh and Ernst's and Goldacre express strong concerns about the promotion of AM by celebrities and the provision of uncritical and ‘sectarian’ AM courses at some British Universities. Names are named.

The American writer Bausell in his detailed critical study of AM and complementary medicine, devotes much space analysing the range of properly conducted double-blind trials, and suggesting that all these therapies are based on the placebo effect, which is given a detailed study. These are all important sceptical contributions, with probable ramifications beyond their main area of study. . It will be interesting to see if the positions taken here can be scientifically refuted or whether AM practitioners will simply engage in special pleading and torturous logic.

Sociological study of teenage witches in the US, UK and Australia, by an American and an Australian sociologist suggesting that most take Wicca as a religion rather than as a source of instrumental magic unlike many of the commercial products aimed at them. It attracts young people looking for a self constructed spiritual/religious worldview rather than the one provided for them by the channels of official authority, and can be used as an ideological underpinning for understanding anomalous personal experiences. Academic but not impenetrable and parts could certainly be of use to parents of teenage witches.

The authors who are academics (anthropologist and sociologist and archaeologist and art historian respectively) and Heathens, examine the often conflictional relationship between archaeologists and various Pagan or neo-Pagan groups. Though the authors are generally measured in their tones, they still overlook the simple fact that if any of the communities whose remains or monuments are the topic of this discussion have any living descendants at all, they are going to be among the common ancestors of the vast bulk of humankind, with all the diverse beliefs and customs that entails, and thus such remains and monuments are the ‘common property’ of all humankind and not the private property of any particular religious group, however worthy. Much of this debate tells us much more about modern sensibilities and sentimentalities than the beliefs of our collective ancestors. -- Peter Rogerson.

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