Saturday, July 07, 2007

Hey, who SAYS self-help gurus don't have credentials!

"Seniors, this is our book," asserts the press release from one David Wayne Silva in (redundantly) describing his "most recent book to date," More Senior Moments: Getting the Most Out of Your Golden Years, from vanity publisher* Outskirts Press.

"It contains our stories and our ideas," writes Silva. "It is about us. I just put it together."

Silva says that More Senior Moments, "defly constructed at 196 pages," is the result of coaxing his older friends and associates to open up "about their emotions and their physical problems, even touchy subjects like dressing themselves, sexual matters, loneliness and depression.... It is good that we can band together and help each other have more enriching lives while we accept the challenges of aging. Be Encouraged. You are not alone."

And then, down in the "about the author" section, where normally the writer of an advice book would establish his worthiness to give such advice, comes this:

"David Wayne Silva is a student of the human condition."

All right, I grant you, it doesn't end there. Silva goes on to say that he's been a teacher and "family counselor" (though he mentions no formal degrees or certifications, which leads me to think he may be using the phrase "family counselor" in a casual and possibly misleading way). But...student of the human condition? As your first qualification?

Actually, given the way self-help types tend to overstate/abuse credentials, I'm a little surprised that Silva didn't simply put a nice "ShC" after his name (as per the "PhD" model). Hmmmm. Makes you wonder: What others could we invent? LaL? (For "Loser at Love"? Perhaps suitable for sex-and-relationships maven Barbara De Angelis, shown, who's been married five times.) PoFSO? ("Peddler of Financial Snake Oil"? I could make nominations here too, but people are already on my case about certain other statements I've made in the blog of late.)

Of course, I'm not sure any of these made-up labels is much sillier than "metaphysician." And people are really using that one!

* For those unfamiliar with the term, this means that Silva paid to have his own book published, possibly (though I have no knowledge of this) because he couldn't find a "real" commercial publisher willing to take on More Senior Moments. Vanity publishing inverts the usual publishing paradigm, wherein, say, a Random House pays you an advance in order to tide you over while you write your book (or, in the case of major authors, as a sort of early reward for the huge sales they anticipate). Instead, vanity publishers charge x-amount in order to provide varying levels of service. In the most bare-bones scenario, you simply submit your manuscript and they publish it verbatim—typos, grammatical mistakes and all. But most latter-day vanity publishers offer different packages with escalating levels of amenities. Outskirts, for example, apparently has five of them: diamond, ruby, sapphire, emerald and pearl. Realize, of course, that the mere fact that you publish a book does not mean that bookstores will agree to carry it (though admittedly this isn't quite as big an obstacle in today's era of the internet and viral marketing). Through the years, vanity operations have often been criticized as predatory, in that they take advantage of people with no talent, and even less market potential, who nonetheless are determined to have their books see print.

42 comments:

RevRon's Rants said...

I think you're painting with overly broad strokes in your description of vanity presses, Steve. As one who works in the publishing business, and who devotes a significant percentage of my time to assisting authors who choose to independently publish their books, I am pretty familiar with the difference between independent publishing and vanity publishing - and the difference is significant. If you'd like to gain a broader perspective, you might want to check out www.authorsandpublishers.org, or our website.

I apologize for what was a bit of a hijack, but you hit pretty hard on a subject that's very important to me, and I felt you (and your readers) deserved a more balanced look at the topic.

Cosmic Connie said...

(I just about had this response finished when Ron came into my office and told me he'd already sent a response. But I'm plowing ahead anyway. Pardon any redundancies.)

Steve, I definitely agree with you about the fake credentials, and I have even written a bit about that myself.

However, don't be so quick to judge ALL authors who pay to have their books published, instead of BEING paid upfront by a publisher. I'll state my bias upfront, for those who don't know: Ron and I provide editing and book design services for authors who want to self-publish their books -- that is, become their own publishers. This is different from getting a "package deal" from a traditional vanity press. We are not publishers ourselves, in that we do not print, store, distribute or market books. We do direct authors to book manufacturers for printing, and we refer them to marketing and publicity specialists if they require those services. But we are not in a business partnership with any of these service providers.

People who go into traditional self-publishing with their eyes open, knowing that THEY are responsible for the book's success (and this includes marketing and publicity), can do pretty well. And yes, many authors do end up self-publishing because they're tired of the rejection slips from traditional publishers. But that doesn't mean their book is crap. (I'm not saying the "Senior Moments" book is NOT crap; I haven't seen it. But I am saying that self-published books can meet and exceed the standards of trade-published works.)

In some if not most cases, a trade publisher or agent rejects a manuscript because they don't see commercial potential. But commercial potential, as I think many of us know, does not mean merit.

Case in point: By special request from a member of the publicity team for a new book, I am taking a great deal of time over this weekend to carefully read and write my thoughts about this book. It was written by a "metaphysician" with a couple of dubious Ph.D.'s, a person whom you and I have both mentioned numerous times on our blogs. This book is now in the top 100 on Amazon. Reading it, I have seen so many things I would have edited out if that had been my job. I pointed them out to Ron.

He said, "The publishers don't give a damn about that. They just care about how much money the book will make for them."

And he's right, Steve. And you know it too.

Steve Salerno said...

OK guys, you can put away the broad-axes now. Sheesh. I did not intend to imply that ALL self-published work is worthless. And I certainly did not intend to imply that ALL (or even most) trade publishers are in business purely as a philanthropic act, for the love of words, readers and/or, for that matter, their authors. All businesses are businesses, and all businesses are, to some degree, mercenary. We know this.

However, let's not forget the primary focus of this blog--and for now, let's try to confine our feelings on vanity publishing to that context. The one thing traditional publishers do represent is some sort of filter between wacko/irresponsible authors and the unsuspecting public. No, it doesn't always work out that way, as we know (and as I document, fairly painstakingly, in SHAM; mainstream publishers publish plenty of self-help garbage). I am simply saying, here, that the vanity-publishing avenue is one more means by which the would-be guru can reach out directly into society in order to peddle his wares. And I am saying that, because vanity publishers basically will publish books by anybody willing to pay the freight, that is one less "check and balance" the consumer has going for him as he tries to puzzle through this miasma of conflicting (and often wortheless) material. Minimal though it may be, to some degree most traditionally published material is vetted--I know for a fact that my book was. On the other hand, if you go the self-published route, there is (in most cases) nothing at all that insulates the public against absolutely outrageous and unfounded claims. If I had self-published my book, for example, I could've put stuff in there about how Alcoholics Anonymous never cures anyone--I could've just made it all up--and there would've been no overriding "conscience" that forced me to prove a thing. This becomes all the more dangerous when I'm a self-help guru peddling, say, alternative-medicine "cures." Nonfiction is supposed to be nonfiction. And though there are slip-ups in trade publishing as well, the odds of such chicanery (or outright fraud) are far higher in self-publishing. Would you at least agree with that?

RevRon's Rants said...

I would agree that the odds of the kind of misinformation you describe are greater in the *vanity* publishing process than in the traditional publishing process, but not by much. Our vehemence arises from your lumping all independent/self publishing efforts in the same group with the vanity publishers.

First of all, traditional publishers' concern is less with accuracy than with liability. As you know, trade publishers will allow all measure of crap to be published under their banners, so long as doing so does not leave them culpable to the point that they are exposed as targets for litigation. Sadly, their editorial decisions are often guided as much by their legal counsel as by their editorial board.

Secondly, the author who chooses to independently publish his or her book must choose between doing it professionally or expediently. The books on which we've collaborated, for example, are far less likely to contain outrageous claims than those produced by mainstream publishers, because as professional editors and ghostwriters, we are very aware of the fact that our own reputations ride upon each project we undertake. Furthermore, we routinely refuse to work on projects which we feel hold real potential for harm to readers, or for clients whose integrity we doubt. Frankly, a professionally produced self-published book is more likely to be accurate in its presentation than is a book published by a mainstream publisher. Being removed from direct benefit from book sales numbers allows professional editors & ghostwriters like ourselves to concentrate solely upon the quality of the finished product. We eliminate the fatal flaws that can doom a book's success, but our livelihood is not tied directly to sales.

Vanity publishers, on the other hand, will print, bind, and publish anything that a paying client submits. Some offer "editing" services, but from what we've observed, these services are perfunctory, at best - barely a step above computer spelling and grammar checking.

Now... As to the broadhead axes, I think you would probably react as strongly if your efforts to expose the SHAM hucksters were equated to the activities of the hucksters themselves. Our devotion to our craft is as passionate as is your devotion to yours. We both strive for clarity in expression, and I felt that clarity was missing here. Thus, my response.

Cosmic Connie said...

Steve, if I sounded a bit snappish, I'm sure some of my crankiness comes from the "assignment" I alluded to in my last post. The book I am reviewing was published by a fairly major trade publisher of nonfiction/business/success books. Yet it is so full of what look to me like outrageous claims that it might as well have been published by a vanity press.

Of course, there is a legal disclaimer on the copyright page.

I agree with the larger point that publishing technology has in many ways made it easier for crap to get to the public. I was reacting to the fact that you seemed to be lumping all self-publishers and indie publishers together in one big landfill with the vanity presses.

Mary Anne said...

The whole reason I started reading the Sham blog was due to my ex-boyfriend getting his book published. He makes James Frey look like the poster child for honesty. He was a corporate shark who thinks the new way to make money is in "leadership seminars" with a "new age" slant. I know his publisher did not check any of his "credentials" or "facts." I never dreamed any publisher would touch his book, but he got an agent who called in a favor and he will be in bookstores soon. He is now courting Oprah.

moi said...

Regarding the Secret and the subject of viral marketing, - that phenomenon seems more dangerous to me than even publishing through a vanity press because of the image oriented nature of our culture these days. Are there any regulations at all on the internet as to what can be marketed and released, or can anyone viral market absolutely any ridiculous notion that they've come up with?

Steve Salerno said...

Folks (esp. Mary Anne, here), to be clear: I never said that commercially published books offer full protection against misstatements and even outright lies. I mean, come on! My critique of mainstream publishing, as embodied in the collective oeuvre of Dr. Phil, Dr. Laura, Marianne Williamson, John Gray, etc., occupies a good percentage of my own book, SHAM (which, in fairness, has ITSELF been attacked for "stretching the truth," though I disagree vehemently, of course). To make another of my infamous analogies, I don't think that sick people who go the route of conventional medicine are fully protected against fraud, abuse, and the waste of money, either--but I still uphold traditional medicine over so-called alternative medicine because, in the case of traditional medicine, at least there are some safeguards built into the process. And there has been some certain amount of research that underlies the treatment. That's all I'm saying about commercial publishing: There are a few more safeguards, and in most cases, a bit more research, built into the process. There's that, and (to broaden the focus a bit) there's the fact that, particularly when we're talking about novels or "serious nonfiction," people usually turn to vanity presses (or editorial middlemen) because they simply SUCK AT WRITING and have been given the cold shoulder by everyone in mainstream publishing. And that's another pet peeve of mine, too: the extent to which the literary universe has been taken over by non-writers churning out low-brow crap. It's a shame, and yet another form of sham. Yes, this is true everywhere--even on the NYT best-seller list--but if you really want to visit the Dodge City of Literary Merit, pick up, say, some self-published poetry. Let me know what you think....

Cosmic Connie said...

LOL, Steve, we are definitely in agreement about self-published poetry. Even Ron and I don't deal with poetry books, though we have been approached by more than one aspiring poet. (I do, however, have a Bad Poetry page on my old Cosmic Relief web site.)

I agree with you that there are a few more safeguards within traditional publishing, mostly because, as Ron pointed out, big publishers have more to lose. I'm also aware of your criticisms of mainstream publishing. But I also know that not everyone who turns to self-publishing (or vanity publishing) sucks at writing. Many do, of course. And some suck at the writing bit but may have a good book idea. Unfortunately, as has been noted here, vanity presses don't particularly care if the writing sucks or not, as long as the author is capable of writing a check.

And now I will duck out of this conversation and turn my attention back to the Amazon bestseller by a New-Wage guru who has been self-published AND vanity-published, and is now steadily being trade-published. Aloha, y'all!

RevRon's Rants said...

"people usually turn to vanity presses (or editorial middlemen) because they simply SUCK AT WRITING and have been given the cold shoulder by everyone in mainstream publishing"

Steve,

In the twenty-something books on which we've collaborated, our experience is that while the second part of this statement is pretty accurate, the first part is not. Even a talented writer needs an objective editor, and some of the best storytellers have a difficult time converting a well-told story into a cohesive literary work. Sure, we've had a couple of clients whose writing skills were badly lacking, but that has not been the case in the majority of projects.

As to the "cold shoulder," given that mainstream publishers receive hundreds of thousands of manuscript submissions every year, they can afford to filter out any that don't meet a set of specific criteria - even those submissions that are intriguing and brilliantly written. Add that to the fact that nowadays a successful book query/proposal is focused less upon the book's content than upon a marketing plan, and one begins to understand why authors become frustrated with the mainstream publishing process. An old friend, the late Herman Holtz, published over 60 books in his lifetime, and commented that in order for a book to be a real success, it had to be either very good or very bad... which one didn't particularly matter. We've seen (and discussed on this & Connie's blog) evidence to support his statement in the self-help industry, but it is applicable across the spectrum of genres.

Bottom line is that professional self or indie publishing is not just a route for second-rate writers to take. It is a very viable course for someone who has something significant to share, and is unwilling to wade through the bean-counter maze of mainstream publishing. We've had clients whose self-published works ended up being picked up by trade publishers after establishing a pattern of successful marketing. We've had clients who were marketing-savvy, and opted to self-publish so that they could control their own PR campaign. And we've had clients who didn't want to settle for 12% of retail price for their books, when they could self-publish and get significantly more.

There are any number of valid reasons for an author to opt for independent publication of their work, and the relative quality of that work isn't even near the top of the list. Again, I encourage you to have a look at www.authorsandpublishers.org or our website, to get a more realistic perspective on an industry that is far removed from that which you might be accustomed.

Cosmic Connie said...

I should probably clarify my previous comment, in case there was any doubt. When I wrote that vanity publishers don't care whether an author can write or not, as long as that person can write a check, I was referring specifically to traditional vanity publishers and not to people who provide services for independent or self-publishers.

Also, sometimes people turn to "editorial middlemen" simply because they realize their work needs polishing, not because they suck at writing or because their work is without merit. Sometimes they just want it in as good a shape as possible before presenting it to a trade publisher. In other cases they may be considering self-publishing. But again (and sorry to belabor the point), it's not fair to lump all self-published authors into one slush pile.

However, Steve, I think we can all agree with your original point re the phony credentials.

Dr Swill said...

"I still uphold traditional medicine over so-called alternative medicine because, in the case of traditional medicine, at least there are some safeguards built into the process"

What makes you so sure about that? Have you done any real investigating into this issue, or are you just going by instinct? The safeguards are, in fact, far fewer and flimsier than you perhaps realize.

Take anti-depressants, for example. Their efficacy has been hugely exaggerated, and their side-effects downplayed (including sexual dysfunction), for the simple reason that the drug companies fund almost all the studies, and they tend to bury any research that doesn't provide them with the findings they desire. A skeptic like Peter Breggin may go overboard, but a lot of his criticisms of the ostensibly scientific literature surrounding Prozac, Zoloft, et al, are well-founded, and have not been persuasively refuted. Most anti-depressants, in fact, are only slightly more effective than a sugar pill in alleviating mood disorders. But where in the mainstream do you hear how much of the Prozac effect is merely a placebo effect?

Now, to take the other side of the coin, try typing the name "Michael Gearin Tosh" and "cancer" into a Google search engine, and you'll read a most astonishing example of the success of an "alternative" medical strategy. A truly scientific culture would do everything in its power to investigate this story, and try to discover how Tosh did what he did. But instead, his story is passed over in silence. That in itself is evidence of a profoundly irrational, UN-empirical strain running through the mainstream of our culture.

Neither "mainstream" nor "alternative" medicine is one big monolith, any more than "mainstream" or "self" publishing can be monolithically described. You seem to believe in a huge gap in quality that doesnt truly exist. To reject SHAM or quack medicine ought not to entail a naive trust in "the mainstream" or "tradition" or anything of the sort. Likewise, you seem to me to tend to exaggerate the difference between New Age banalities and mainstream religious (i.e. Christian) platitudes. But from my point of view, they are equally vapid. Self-help could mean The Secret, but it could also mean Emerson's Essays. Christianity could mean the Gospels, but it could also mean incoherent, apocalyptic babblings like the Left Behind series. Let's not condemn or praise according to categories, but according to specific truth claims and arguments made by specific authors. In short, there is no real warrant for you distinctions between the mainstream or alternative medicine, or mainstream and alternative publishing strategies, or mainstream or New Age religions.

Steve Salerno said...

Wow. I sense a fair degree of hostility out there. Who'd a thunk that this (relatively innocuous) post--of all the things I've said on this blog--would unleash so much vituperation/vitriol?

It's OK, though, keep it comin'. I'm hard pressed even to attempt the answers that I feel these critiques deserve, but we might as well get it all "on the record" for some future grand debate.

RevRon's Rants said...

No hostility from this end, Steve. You made an assertion that - according to my experience with many mainstream and independently published projects - was overly broad, and thus inaccurate. Since my professional life is tied very closely to the industry, I thought it necessary to challenge your statements.

moi said...

I would like to add, in a non-hostile manner, that dr, Swill expresses some ideas that I completely sympathize with. I think his point of view ought to be considered.

Mary Anne said...

I'm not hostile, but am a bit sad that so many people are writing books that shouldn't be written. I have experience with corporate America and getting a book published is the new novelty. Get a book out to look cool to your corporate cronies. Somebody might actually read these books and think these people know what they are talking about, since they are successful in their chosen fields. That to me is scary and somewhat dangerous. Just because someone has run a successful company or made a killing on Wall Street, does not mean they should be giving personal advice. These people are not going the self-published or vanity routes either, because that does not look legit enough for them. They are getting agents to get them deals. A lot of small presses are picking them up along with major houses. It is a sickening and scary situation to me.

Anonymous said...

Sam slips on his black and white striped ref shirt:

I'm with Steve on this one - Ron waay over-reacted.

Dr. Swill (with the usual "Big Pharma" B.S.) should just stop - or go away. I've heard all that crap before and it's just nonsense. No - I won't argue the point with you - it's too silly for me to waste my time and you wouldn't accept reality anyway. People who try to muddy the waters of rational thought are despicable. I don't care if you believe what you're saying or not: I totally dislike you.

Moi, nothing personal, but you're starting to strike me as hella gullible to the arguments of con men.

Now I'm gonna put on The Circle Jerks' "I Wanna Destroy You", forget I saw any of this, and try to relax.

You look for some rational discourse after a hard day's work,....

Steve Salerno said...

Well, Mary Anne, I think it's safe to say that you and I are simpatico here. Which, as noted earlier, is one reason why I wrote MY book. There's an even bigger point to be made, of course, which is that in many cases, success is not translatable/transferable--it can't simply be broken down into a series of one-size-fits-all steps and passed from one person to another like some benign virus. In baseball, for example, there are terrific hitters who have made terrible hitting coaches (and/or managers), and there are terrible ballplayers who have made terrific coaches and managers. As much as we in America like to conceive successs as a succession of discrete teachable moments--indeed, we obsess over it--I still think that in the end, success and failure often are "just one of those things."

moi said...

Sam, my consideration of all of the arguments here on this thread are a part of rational discourse. Ignoring and invalidating the other point of view is when things start to go downhill, IMHO. And as you know, I have considered Steve's point of view for the months I have been reading his blog. I don't agree with him about everything he says, though, and why should I? (sorry Steve).

Steve Salerno said...

If we all agreed on everything...just how boring a place would the world be? Besides, often we need opposing viewpoints to help crystallize our own thoughts. I can honestly say I've learned a great deal over the two years (!!) I've been running this blog.

I guess I also have to say that, re-reading Sam's latest comment, it's probably more ad hominem than I'd like, even though I'm gratified to see Sam standing up for my honor. (I was somewhat rushed this morning when it came through.) But now that it's out there, and it's been replied to, we might as well let the chips fall where they may, at least for the purposes of this thread. We're all big boys and girls. Just let's try to keep it clean, please, if things get heated. I know that some of you think me rather juvenile for that caveat, but one thing I DO take pride in is the notion that we argue ideas here, not epithets.

RevRon's Rants said...

Even though (or especially because) a significant part of my livelihood comes from individuals who choose to self-publish their books, I admit to sharing Mary Anne's sadness that so many books that are simply not worth reading - or are actually destructive - are making it to bookshelves and readers' hands. I would, however, inject a small caveat: Who should be given the authority to decide which books are worthy? IMHO, the readers themselves are the only ones who should be given such power, and ultimately, they do have that power. It is through books like SHAM, forums like this, formal reviews, and word of mouth that we are able to share our opinions as to the relative worth of a book, or any other product. If a reader is willing to buy a given book without knowing anything about it beyond PR spin, they may also be likely to swallow the author's assertions. If we were somehow able to idiot-proof the system by which ideas are assimilated, shared, and integrated, better idiots would ultimately arise.

As noted before, we do screen projects, and will not collaborate on a project that we find objectionable. We don't see ourselves as censors, but neither do we wish to support a project that we think would have a negative result or reflect badly upon us.

As to anonymous... I think he/she wandered into the wrong room. While I thoroughly enjoy the exchange of ideas - and especially opposing viewpoints - that enjoyment is based upon a taste for intelligent discourse, where those viewpoints are supported with fact, or at least with reasonable justification. The playground neener-neener approach is best followed in other forums.

Finally, Mary Anne makes a very good point about the route to mainstream publishing. If an individual is willing to spend the money, they can easily hire an agent or publicist to help get their manuscript published. While most agents are very selective in whom they will represent, there are any number who have more industry contacts than scruples, and will take on projects that others would dismiss out of hand. A good clue as to selecting a respectable agent? If they ask you for money, they aren't the real deal. Good agents make their money from the deals they negotiate, not from client fees.

Publicists, however are an altogether different breed. The vast majority - barring those whose plate is already full - will promote anyone who can write sufficiently large checks. And they can be pretty successful in getting a manuscript the attention it needs in order to be picked up by a mainstream press. The bottom line - as always - is money. And let the buyer beware.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, guys/gals. I'll try to check myself.

But I've lost a lot of patience for people who don't acknowledge distinctions, and qualifiers, lately. Steve said there are "some safeguards" in place for medicine - which is true: peer review, for starters - while alternative medicine is just a bunch of claims. Then comes swill with "Are you so sure about that?" which is the first line con men use to deceive people nowadays. (Always with the cancer, too.) What's next? Are you even sure you're real? If not, they've got an indian guru for you to talk with.

moi,

Between the women's groups, the Secretons, and now this, you are painting a picture of just the kind of "open-minded" person these liars prey on: a woman who "feels" oppressed, is searching, and questioning things. Reality just won't do - and, damn it, you're gonna encourage others to look into that. I'm with Mary Anne - these strains make life "sickening and scary" - and less worth living, not more.

I don't agree with Steve on everything but I do appreciate his attempt to nail things down. I need to see much more of that, in my life, because I see the people telling us there's no foundation for anything as dangerous and mad (crazy). Instead of taking into account all we know, they want to point out all we may not know, eventually suggesting no one knows anything.

And that, my friends, is why The Circle Jerks have a career,...

Sam

Steve Salerno said...

Ron, like much of what you've said elsewhere in this dialogue (tri-alogue? quint-alogue? sexta-logue? Oh wait; that's something else entirely), the points you make here are excellent. I agree with you that mainstream publishing offers no protections against today's lowest-common-denominatorism. Your Bradburyian point about "who gets to decide" is particularly well taken.

RevRon's Rants said...

Sam -

It might be well to note that between having such an open mind that no common-sense filters are applied, and having a mind closed to anything beyond that which is supported by a familiar entity, there exists a huge gray area. The intelligent consumer takes *all* input with a grain of salt, and applies his or her own knowledge and intuition in ascribing value to that input. To reject something out-of hand, without thoroughly researching its potential merit, is no more astute than accepting an assertion without the same effort.

I've been party to the "peer review" you point to, both as a medical researcher and as a writer charged with documenting the FDA approval process, and I can assure you that while there is some degree of integrity in those processes, it is greatly compromised by the desires of those holding the purse strings. Research studies are typically funded by those with a vested interest in a specific outcome, and studies that do not support that outcome are either corrupted by modifications to research criteria or dismissed as invalid for any number of reasons, never to see the light of day (or peer review).

While I agree that the alternative medicine industry lacks even those modest constraints, I would suggest that a *clean* approach to both schools is the only viable means to establish the viability of a given treatment. Such an approach is sorely lacking at present, and to broadly dismiss an entire school of thought - especially those that have produced efficacious results for centuries - without applying objective methods of measuring their results - is foolish, especially when simultaneously accepting information acquired and published by an inherently compromised system.

Integrity is essential, but must be applied to *both* sides of an equation.

Dr Swill said...

"Steve said there are "some safeguards" in place for medicine - which is true: peer review, for starters"

Yes of course I am aware of peer review. Are you, anonymous, aware of the serious flaws and shortcomings surrounding the peer review process? If not, the following link might be a good start:

http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/publicat/cdic-mcc/22-2/e_e.html

An iron railing can prevent you from falling off a balcony. A pulpy, rotting wooden post can also be a "safeguard" of sorts, but if you confuse one with the other, and think you have iron in your fist when you actually have a flimsy piece of rotting wood, you might end up breaking your neck.

For more on sugar pills vs. Prozac, I refer you to this:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A42930-2002May6?language=printer

"Then comes swill with "Are you so sure about that?" which is the first line con men use to deceive people nowadays."

Which "con men" are you referring to? The ones who talk about The Secret and The Giant Within? Or the ones who simply invent new disorders and mental states out of whole cloth (like Oppositional Defiant Disorder)? Is ODD any more real and demonstrable than the "energy field" posited by Rhonda Byrne? Have you ever heard of "drapetomania"? Because it was once considered a legitimate mental disorder by the "scientific mainstream," as was homosexuality by the way.

To see what I mean, read this extremely funny and trenchant take on the pretensions of "mainstream," "scientific,"
"rational" psychiatry (written by a practicing psychologist by the way):

http://zmagsite.zmag.org/Oct2005/levine1005.html

And for an even more provocative take, the same author has a theory of depression that dovetails quite nicely with Micki McGee's theory of the rise of self-help in her book Self Help Inc.:

http://www.lipmagazine.org/articles/featawehali_levine.htm

"(Always with the cancer, too.)"

Tell me something: do you know exactly what cancer is? What exactly is it? Is breast cancer caused by a breast cancer gene? Or is it a collection of genes? Or is it a collection of genes intersecting with a particular environment? Or a particular carcinogen? Or various carcinogens? Can carcinogens alone cause cancer, or do certain gene combinations also have to be present? Is chemo always necessary? Is it possible that chemo is excellent treatment for some cancer types but not others? Does it make sense to lump all cancers together as a single disease, or are different types of cancer interrelated but still distinctly separate diseases?

If you've never seriously asked these questions, you should. Because there is far more disagreement about basic facts than you might suppose. Otherwise, you're just swallowing the cultural trend of the moment, a way of thinking (or non-thinking) not too dissimilar from what the SHAMsters do. You believe just something because you want to and it feels good to you to do so.

Steve Salerno said...

But, see, Ron and Swill, you folks basically mount the rebuttal that is always used in taking on the establishment: The major players are venal, the system is subject to manipulation (if not outright rigging), the processes are far from foolproof, etc. Fine. Just for the sake of argument, I give you the point without putting on a defense. BUT...when all is said and done, would you rather deliver yourself unto a flawed system--or Kevin Trudeau? Because I don't think there's much "gray area" between the two, as things are presently configured.

RevRon's Rants said...

I personally do my own research into whatever treatment is under discussion. If I have an infection, you'd better believe I'll be going for some antibiotics. But if an "approved" treatment has a track record of being ineffective or causing collateral injury, I'll look at every possible alternative before deciding.

I'll spare you the tale of my mother's experiences with both traditional and Chinese medicine; to summarize, her physician treated a long list of subsequent symptoms, while her overall health continued to diminish. When I finally convinced her to try my acupuncturist/herbal physician, her condition improved markedly. When her physician - who was also her friend - scorned her new approach, she ended treatments, rather than compromise the friendship. And her condition deteriorated again. IMHO, he was not much of a physician, nor much of a friend.

I grant that this is "anecdotal" evidence, but I've learned to trust what I can see as much as - or more than - what a "sanctioned" study, done by people with a vested interest in a certain outcome - reports. That's why I'd like to see the process cleaned up and opened up to pure research.

Dr Swill said...

"BUT...when all is said and done, would you rather deliver yourself unto a flawed system--or Kevin Trudeau? Because I don't think there's much "gray area" between the two, as things are presently configured."

Kevin Trudeau represents the dregs of what could be termed alternative medicine. Would I want to deliver myself to Kevin Trudeau? No. But I wouldn't want to deliver myself to (for example) Dr. Peter D. Kramer (acclaimed author of Listening to Prozac and Against Depression) either. Kramer's books have received astonishing acclaim in the mainstream press (and from most of his fellow shrinks), despite the fact that the "science" behind his claims is about as valid as Trudeau's. I am perfectly willing to compare the "mainstream" Kramer to the "alternative" Trudeau in the amount of spurious, pseudo-scientific inanities they espouse in the name of "truth".

Don't believe me? Read the following:

http://zmagsite.zmag.org/Jan2007/levine0107.html

You can name dozens of ostensibly alternative writers whose positions are untenable. And I can just as easily name dozens of ostensibly mainstream writers whose positions are equally flimsy. You simply don't see it because you are pre-disposed not to. Whatever this is, it isn't rational thinking.

And consider this: one person's "alternative" medicine is another person's medicine, plain and simple. Did you read what I wrote about Gearin Tosh, the man who lived 11 years, when his doctors all told him he had terminal cancer and would live a maximum of 2 to 3 years, tops, even WITH conventional therapy?
But Gearin Tosh didn't consider what he was doing to be "fringe," it was his doctors who thought that. One man's unregulated fringe treatment is another man's common sense, logical treatment. But the proof is in the pudding: Gearin Tosh lived almost a decade longer than the experts he consulted told him he could or would. The fact that he was widely denounced doesn't alter the truth: he lived 11 years, after he was given only a 1 percent chance of living more than two. This is a medical fact. It's the sort of fact that deserves an inquiry, and an explanation. After all it wasn't Gearin Tosh who wanted his treatment plan to be ignored. He WANTED and HOPED it would be thoroughly investigated scientifically. And to some extent it was, but not nearly enough.

For more info, go here:

http://www.whale.to/v/gearin1.html

That's an obvious difference that both Sam and Steve ignore. Kevin Trudeau doesn't WANT to have his ideas subjected to rigorous testing. Gearin Tosh DID - but his hopes went mostly unfulfilled. Why? Precisely because Sam's and Steve's attitude is so commonplace: that line of thought MUST be drivel, that MUST be nonsense and malarkey, therefore I don't have any duty to probe into it further.

One day, much that passes for "alternative" medicine will have become integrated into the mainstream. And much else that really has no value will eventually be relegated to the dustbin of history. Remember, it wasn't so long ago that Freudian psychology WAS psychology. Now practically nobody takes Freud seriously as a scientist, but not so very long ago it was believed that his theories were objective truths. It looks crazy in hindsight, but Freud's bizarre template for the human psyche was once believed to be science. Being thoroughly integrated into the mainstream of medical and psychiatric thought didn't save Freudianism from being what it always was: a curious, cultish pseudo-science. One day, the "chemical imbalance" theory of depression advocated by Peter Kramer and Eli Lilly will look just as misleading and lop-sided as Freud's obsolete map of the mind.

moi said...

"but Freud's bizarre template for the human psyche was once believed to be science. Being thoroughly integrated into the mainstream of medical and psychiatric thought didn't save Freudianism from being what it always was: a curious, cultish pseudo-science. "
Swill, I can vouch for what you say here. My mother was in Freudian analysis for 11 years. From my observation and her own admission, it was a crock of bs. Possibly made her worse.
Also, the depression industry is doing harm to many people IMO (though I think it helps people with extreme chemical imbalances) . Most psychologists take the research at face value and put their clients on meds rather than questioning the efficacy of their therapeutic approaches. This particular issue really pisses me off because just recently I witnessed the damaging effects effexor is having on a friend. The drug, he says, has done no good, yet he still stays on it, probably because he'e been brainwashed by his psychaitrist. Also, there was an article about the issue of going off meds in the NYT magazine recently. The whole process is hell, but they don't tell you that when they dole out the prescription, and they don't tell you about the kickbacks they receiving from the pharm. companies

RevRon's Rants said...

Now let's not get all carried away with dissing poor Sigmund. For someone to be able to project his own sexual obsession on the whole of humanity took sheer brilliance. He might have screwed everybody else up for a century, but by so effectively packaging and pitching his own issues, he managed to effect his own "cure," at least to outward appearances. And a good number of New Wage marketers are eagerly following his lead! :-)

Anonymous said...

Steve,

Give it up, man. It's like living amongst the Khmer Rouge:

Anyone that "knows things" is going to be, gleefully, hit over the head with a rock.

Life is too short,

Sam

Steve Salerno said...

Maybe so, Ron, but a cigar is never just a cigar. Ask Monica.

Steve Salerno said...

Sam, well, let's be careful here, before we anoint me a "seer." Even I have to admit that there are visitors to SHAMblog (in addition, of course, to our regulars) who make comments, and present facts and situations, that give me pause. No one should be so arrogant in his world-view that his kneejerk response upon hearing new and dissonant information is to immediately try to figure a way to defeat it or, failing that, disparage its source (i.e. the Ann Coulter/Sean Hannity Syndrome). I really do try to keep an open mind. However, I basically stand by my overall appraisal of the SHAMscape. And I appreciate your vote of confidence.

moi said...

I want to add, because I think I went over board in my last comment , that for some people, meds can be life savers. It's just that these drugs are so widely accepted, yet most people are not told, as I already mentioned, about the terrible withdrawal symtoms that can make it impossible to get off of them.
And about poor Freud, a cigar can be just a cigar if it's a montecristo. I once got ill after smoking several of those at a party after a trip to Cuba in 1999 (was legal). On the other hand, maybe it was all the mojitos.

RevRon's Rants said...

Rudyard Kipling stated, "... a woman is only a woman, but a cigar is a smoke."

Wonder how Monica would have changed his perspective... :-)

Steve Salerno said...

Methinks that, for all his writings on the jungle, ol' Rud spent insufficient time in the bush...

RevRon's Rants said...

I sense the same spiraling descent in this dialog that used to occur at the end of an all-night session of cramming for finals. You know... when the oldest, most lame joke in Henny Youngman's routine could cause everybody to laugh so hard that stale coffee spewed from their (our) collective nose. :-)

Back to SHAMdom...
I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, "Where's the self-help section?" She said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose. :-)

Steve Salerno said...

Ta-da-dum!

Reminds me of the joke about what Henny Youngman would sound like if he had a death wish: "Take my life...please!"

Normally, Ron, at around this time, wouldn't you be suggesting I turn to a bran muffin for solace?

Steve Salerno said...

Meanwhile, everybody else here is thinking...Henny Youngman? HENNY YOUNGMAN??

RevRon's Rants said...

"Normally, Ron, at around this time, wouldn't you be suggesting I turn to a bran muffin for solace?"

Nah. You seem pretty well composed today, Steve. But you might want to publish the recipe, 'cuz somebody (who shall remain anonymous) sounds like they need it. :-)

moi said...

Well, since we're already in the spiralling down mode, I think I should add that I once dressed as Monica L. at a Mardi Gras ball (MOMS) in N.O., replete with blue dress, stain , beret and cigar. It was an eventful evening. I can't remember exactly how it ended.

Anonymous said...

Here is a blog that shares the same sentiments by exposing a self help or "Personal or Life Coach"
http://www.blogtext.org/aurorab/article/13121.html