The Emperor's New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth by Irving Kirsch, Basic Books/Perseus Books Group, Philadelphi, PA, 2011; 240 pages, ISBN 978-0465022007, paperback $15.99.

A specialist in the placebo effect discusses his findings, based on extensive review of decades of pharmaceutical trials by manufacturers and regulators, that antidepressants' effects are no better than placebos that, in fact, they are active placebos. A meta-analysis of published trials shows that antidepressants are very slightly better than placebos, but meta-analysis of all trials shows there is not a statistically significant difference.  When antidepressants are tested against active placebos (placebos that cause similar side effects to the medication), there is no difference at all.  A professor of psychology at the University of Hull, UK, and professor emeritus at the University of Connecticut, the author also discusses the placebo effect more generally, gives a critical evaluation of the chemical imbalance theory of depression, and suggests other ways to deal with all but sever depression that have proved equally effective, such as exercise and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

Interestingly, his persuasive scientific argument came as no surprise to drug manufacturers, though it has been upsetting and controversial to many in the medical and psychiatric community. An epilogue discusses the pressures researchers in the field face when researching and publishing this type of unpopular subject matter, especially from those in the medical/psychiatric/psychological community whose research and journals are largely funded by the pharmaceutical companies and whose practice largely consists of prescribing antidepressants and similar drugs. – Sarah Belle Dougherty

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