John Diamond


And other preoccupations

John Diamond was a broadcaster, journalist, and columnist who died recently from his cancer (see his account of his illness, C). At the time of his death he was writing a book on one of his main preoccupations, the inadequacies of complementary medicine, and the first few chapters of this work are included here; the sixth and final chapter breaks off poignantly with the words: "Let me explain." The volume, which is edited by Diamond's brother-in-law Dominic Lawson, is filled out with a number of Diamond's occasional pieces written since 1988.

The attack on complementary medicine is written with Diamond's usual verve and wit and it's difficult to realize that he was seriously ill at the time. He doesn't make any criticisms that one hasn't heard or read before, but his views carry added weight because he was writing in a situation in which many others would have been tempted to look to the alternatives—as, indeed, numerous correspondents kept advising him to do. It isn't that he was an uncritical defender of orthodox medicine, but, as he says, there are plenty of books pointing out the shortcomings of the conventional approach but little on the opposite side.

As a conscientious journalist, Diamond believed in getting his facts right; I spotted no unsubstantiated allegations in his statements about alternative medicine. Unfortunately, this is not true of the foreword contributed by Richard Dawkins, who writes a sarcastic piece implying that no double-blind randomized-controlled trials of homeopathy have been carried out. In reality, a number of such trials have been done, and some have shown positive results for homeopathy. It is open to critics to point out possible shortcomings in this work and to say that it doesn't conclusively demonstrate the validity of homeopathy, but by blandly ignoring its existence Dawkins has simply shown that he hasn't done his homework, which is inexcusable in a scientist.

The remainder of the pieces in the book cover a wide range of subjects, including Diamond's illness but also fashion, cars, restaurants, and television among other matters. Much of this is very funny; indeed, he makes fun of his illness, although, as Dominic Lawson tells us, the John Diamond who appeared in his column in The Times was in some ways an idealized version of himself, designed to help him cope with his illness; it is hardly surprising that he had his black moods which he did not reveal to his public. But we can be grateful that he remained true to his own principles and beliefs, or lack of beliefs. Religious people sometimes tell us that there are no atheists in foxholes, but Diamond's example shows us the vapidity of such remarks.

Book review by Anthony Campbell. Copyright © Anthony Campbell (2001).
%T Snake Oil
%S And other preoccupations
%A Diamond, John
%I Vintage
%C London
%D 2001
%G ISBN 0-09-942833-4
%P 285 pp
%K medicine, journalism
%O paperback

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