I completed a book proposal for Dangerous and Expensive Bullshit this spring and am actively looking for an agent with my publicist, Erin Barnes. Once we have an agent, we’ll work with them to find a publisher and then I’ll really dive into the writing. I’ve shared the overview below; if you’re a literary agent who is interested in representing me, please drop me a line.
Go to any bookstore in the world or online and take a glance through the “Health” section. While there may be some mundane books on health and illness, you will find many more on exciting breakthroughs ranging from the miraculous powers of stem cells to the healing properties of cannabis. These books claim it is relatively easy to cure yourself from any disease known to plague humankind provided you are willing to follow their advice and buy the necessary tools. Several promise to not only extend your lifespan but to reverse the aging process and make you sexier. With illness and old age conquered it would seem immortality is just around the corner.
The facts, however, present quite a different story.
If one could buy health and longevity, the United States should be leading the world. The US spends more money on healthcare than any other nation on the planet, an astounding 3.5 trillion dollars per year, 18% of our gross domestic product. This includes over 36 million hospital stays, 48 million inpatient surgical procedures, and 4.5 billion medication prescriptions. US consumers spend an. additional $30 billion on complementary and alternative medicine (including self-help books), $30 billion on supplements, and an astounding $60 billion on diet-related products. Despite all of this spending, the US ranks 45th in longevity and has been experiencing a decline in life expectancy since 2014. It also ranks last or near the bottom on almost all measures of healthcare amongst developed nations.
Why does all this spending on health not translate to better health? Because spending money on healthcare products and services is not the same as buying health. Ironically, medical errors are one of the leading causes of death in the US, killing 50,000-100,000 people every year. If you thought natural meant safe, think again. There are over 20,000 emergency room visits annually related to supplements, many of them life-threatening. Despite all the money spent on diets, the US is home to more obese people than any other nation and loses 300,000 of its citizens to obesity-related deaths. Finally, at the risk of stating the obvious, people do age, the leading causes of death do kill people, and the mortality rate for humans and other forms of life on this planet remains steady at 100%. While it is true that medical research has made some astounding victories that have prolonged our lives, most of these occurred in the 19th and early 20th centuries, with public sanitation, vaccines and the discovery of antibiotics. In contrast, and despite the claims of books and news stories, we have made relatively little recent progress on curing the illnesses most likely to kill us today.
Could it be that you can’t believe everything you read about health? Is it possible that the people we entrust our lives to—doctors, pharmaceutical companies, alternative medicine experts, news media and others—may not always have our best interests in mind?
When the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic began there was a disappointing but predictable glut of misinformation and bogus products. However, because COVID-19 was new, fast, and deadly, the consequences of ignoring the truth became obvious to most people (even the media and politicians). Unfortunately, the consequences of ignoring the truth, what I would call toxic misinformation, are not as immediate or obvious for most of the illnesses and healthcare decisions we face.
We don’t just need more information. We need an antidote to toxic misinformation.
Dangerous and Expensive Bullshit is not like other books in the “Health” section. It is not selling any product, recommending any diet or pushing its author as a health guru. It doesn’t claim to cure incurable illnesses, reverse aging or boost sex appeal. It is not an attack on any particular form of snake oil nor on mainstream medicine. Its goal is not to debunk bogus treatments currently in vogue because these fads will soon be replaced (and because I would like to avoid lawsuits).
Rather, it is based on the radical premise that people concerned about their health don’t need more experts, they need more respect! I believe that the average citizen is courageous enough to handle the truth, intelligent enough to find the information they need, and wise enough to make their own decisions. I would go one step further by stating that one’s optimal wellbeing depends upon taking an informed and active role in their own healthcare decisions.
Unfortunately, our educational system does not provide the skills or knowledge needed to make sound healthcare decisions. This book will help people find their voice as the leader of their healthcare team and advocate for their family from a place of confidence. Part of this book is about knowledge. We will cover the basics of how the body works, how science and research work, and how people make decisions. Part of this book is about skills. We will learn how to evaluate medical claims and scientific evidence, how to determine if someone really is an expert, and how to get doctors to listen. Part of this book is about attitude. We will develop the determination to be fierce advocates for ourselves and families.
I am a researcher and physician. I understand that many of the topics we are going to dive into are intimidating. I will do my best to make this book inviting, engaging, nonthreatening and even fun. While I know a lot about some of the topics, I will ask for help from other smart people when I need to and provide reliable external references for my claims. If people finish this book and think I’m their new guru, I’ve failed. If they finish this book and feel like they’re their own guru, I’ve succeeded.