After asking fans of his podcast, The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, what myths in medicine they would like to see explored, Dr. Steven Novella produced a lecture series with The Great Courses company entitled Medical Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths: What We Think We Know May Be Hurting Us. The course is twenty-four lectures, each thirty minutes long, and can be purchased in DVD, audio CD, video file format, and audio file format, and covers everything from homeopathy to toxins to magnets to altered states of consciousness, in addition to a myriad of nutritional topics. Dr. Novella disentangles fact and fiction, recognizing kernels of truth in many of these myths and misconceptions, and exploring their origins and their impact.
Core Content ★★★★★
As one might expect from Dr. Novella, whose blogs and interviews are always thorough and clear, the information he presents throughout the lecture series is simple, direct, and generally well explained. The accompanying booklet includes highlights of each lecture for a refresher, recommendations for further reading, and an extensive bibliography of his references. Only in the final lecture, “Roundup—Decluttering our Mental Closet,” does Dr. Novella breeze through many more minor myths without delving too deeply into them, but, again, the booklet gives direction for those who are interested in learning more.
Peripheral Content ★★★☆☆
(not available in audio formats)
Most of this provided simple references to accompany the core content. Images were high-quality stock photos, illustrations were animated models of moderate quality, and the props and physical examples were clear and easy to understand. Although many added to the lectures and clarified the speaker’s points, most seemed unnecessary. While I won’t begrudge the desire for color and variety, I do wish more of these had been integrated visual aids.
Audio and Visual ★★☆☆☆
The A\V was clear, but only adequate. HD would have been appropriate for the price (see below). I don’t know enough about how The Great Courses collects and constructs all their lecture series, but I got the distinct impression while watching that there existed no video editor, and perhaps no cameramen as well. The odd camera cuts and beats in speech took some getting used to, but considering the series to be a filmed lecture, rather than a documentary, made such bumps more forgivable. The audio was well balanced: I never had to jump on the volume remote to adjust for sections that were too loud or too quiet.
Cost-Reward (It depends.)
As an individual, I am grateful for catching the initial sale on this set. The current, regular prices are simply too high for me, and I would expect would also be too high for most middle class and lower-income families. However, the price does not devalue the product itself, even with the less-than-stellar A\V. As a collection of medical myths fully discussed by a highly knowledgeable professor, this lecture series is a valuable addition to any student’s, teacher’s, dietitian’s, and/or skeptic’s library, so I would ask my readers not to be so deterred by the price as to call “sour grapes.” If you find the price too high for yourself, consider renting it, borrowing it from your library (or first asking them to get a copy if they do not already have one), asking your company or organization to purchase a copy (an excellent option for schools and well-organized skeptical, social, or professional groups), or going in with others such as close friends or family to purchase it. So, price-wise, high for individuals, and fair for organizations.
Overall, the series is informative and clear, and the presenter, engaging and sincere. While the production quality does not warrant the price, the content makes up for this, and the series as a whole provides an excellent reference and learning tool for the lay person and teaching tool for the professional.
Total Score ★★★★☆
Buy it if you can; borrow it if you can’t. Either way, it’s well worth watching.