Psychic Engineer

"Trick or Treatment", by Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst
A review of the book

Richard King, Chartered Engineer, Healer, Psychic, Havant, Hampshire


“Trick or Treatment” starts out as it means to go on, with an implication in the title of intended deception on the part of those who do not bow down to the great god of science, to whom/which the authors pay undue homage, while presumably, inadvertently, highlighting their limitations in its practice, as well as research abilities, reason and knowledge.

So, a great deal of “Trick or Treatment” comes across as anything between average science and logic, poor science and logic, and, in parts, ill-researched nonsense and gibberish.

As a professional engineer and author, having written engineering reports, aerospace manufacturing standards, project reports, a thesis, research papers, technical articles, a book (due for 2008 publication), etc., as well as reviewing technical books, peer reviewing research papers and so on, I endeavour to be careful with words, definitions, etc., and tend to expect similar standards from others. I am not perfect and do not expect perfection. On the other hand I do not expect errors at the rate of almost twenty in three hundred and fifty words as Singh and Ernst managed on their single page about Spiritual Healing.

If you are going to write about a subject, then research it properly; if you have not the time, expertise, or inclination, stay out of what you do not know or understand, otherwise you risk making a complete fool of yourself which, certainly on that subject, they did comprehensively.

What is the value of a book by authors who are error prone and haphazard in the definitions, reach of a subject, etc.? The most significant thing I learned from “Trick or Treatment” is that the authors only bring to bear a low level of science, that their literature search capability is poor, or very selective, and that they are out of their depth.

“Trick or Treatment” is billed as putting complementary therapy on trial but there is no even handed presenting of the evidence, let alone a dispassionate “summing up”, weighting of the evidence, in large part because much of the available evidence is either ignored, or not admitted. There is no Counsel for the other view, just two judges with an apparent clear bias and not well qualified in the subjects they are discussing, despite an appointment and research in a particular area. It is not so much a trial as a Kafkaesque mixture of kangaroo court, poor science and logic with a comedic turn, even if a rather black one.

My comments on homeopathy are, I trust, careful and measured as it is not an area in which I have a great deal of knowledge, or experience. However, I know and am aware of enough to understand some concepts which mainstream scientists baulk at, such as the memory of water. My knowledge of the physics and chemistry of water, which is a very anomalous substance, combined with knowledge and experience beyond the physical, means that I can accept the possibility more readily that limited mainstream scientists.

I would rate “Trick or Treatment” as below average and, in places, like the Spiritual Healing page, abysmal.

If I were marking “Trick or Treatment” as a student submission, I would certainly not give it overall marks above fifty percent and only a pass level on a “being kind”, allowing for effort, basis, though even that would be dubious.

The authors write, on page 36, "At this early stage of the book, many alternative therapists might feel optimistic that their particular therapy will emerge triumphant when we analyse the data concerning its efficacy.”

That is hardly likely given the title of the book, the notes on the leaf of the cover, the blurbs on the back of the book, let along those of us who are well aware of the shortcomings of a swathe of mainstream science, failure of logic, bias of definitions, etc.

On the subject of acupuncture, on page 53, the authors write, “Moreover we can gain an insight into the living dynamic body, thanks to endoscopes, X-rays, MRI scans, CAT scans and ultrasound – and yet scientists are still unable to find a shred of evidence to support the existence of meridians or Chi.”

There are, in fact, not just shreds of evidence but somewhat more than that. They can be found with relative ease via another relatively modern development, the Internet, though it does help to set up the search in such a way as to limit it to scientific research by suitably qualified people, reputable establishments, etc., plus the Google Scholar search facility and so on.