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Eek! I've turned into a health dinosaur

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Something terrible happened.

When I studied health in the post-revolutionary but pre-reunification early 1980s I looked up to the authors of the classic texts in health critique. Vicente Navarro. Howard Waitzkin. Ivan Illich. David Mechanic. Perhaps even Ilona Kickbusch. But certainly the Boston Women's Health Book Collective.

It seemed that in the nearly three decades since those inspiring days things started to balance out. Health, not disease, became the centre of the discourse. What was advocated as a fringe perspective (the 'social model of health' and even more radically, 'salutogenesis') became part of the global mainstream. We moved on.

I thought.

Last week our reference librarian sent me an announcement that they were presented (freebie!) with an e-book. 'Health' was its title. Nice, I thought. Our librarian added:

This will be available shortly, and has chapters by many eminent Australian researchers on public health issues.  Please see more information at:

I read it. And sent a reply to our librarian:

This is a dangerous book, self-aggrandising some dinosaurs of backward clinical traditions in Australia (expect maybe for Tony McMichael). Perhaps it is modern and up-to-date here, and if that is the case, Australia is about 26 years behind the rest of the world.
It is a biased and unfounded text, and if I had been an editor (or librarian to decide on suitability for a collection) I would have rejected it instantly, despite all the Big Names.
Thanks anyway for bringing this to my attention. The New Public Health Crusade must continue!

Understandably this baffled our librarian. She wanted an explanation. Why was this a dangerous book? Did it equal 'Mein Kampf' perhaps?

The book is dangerous in that it perpetuates a paradigm of health that is clinical, disease-oriented and technocratic. The science of health has moved significantly beyond such an outdated perspective. Australian governments, health advocates and consumer organisations have a tough time battling the forces of the medical-industrial complex that represent views that essentially hark back to an era where reliance on expert medical power left Australia one of the most conservative and authoritarian health systems in the world.

The remnants of that history still impact on many health reform efforts, most notably on how this country chooses to deal with mental health, disability issues and health (care) resource allocation.

I am not even starting to point out that current notions around the ‘preventative health agenda’ are firmly grounded in such stale ideas: it is not health that needs to be prevented; health needs to be promoted and disease prevented. Precisely the authors of the volume that I criticise are in support of a rhetorical campaign of ignorance where ‘health promotion’ needs to be removed from the discourse and ‘preventative health’ needs to be pushed onto the medical care platform. Abhorrent!
I agree with you that it is not the role of a library to censor material; it shouldn’t advocate usage of some of its resources either. Of course you should maintain any resource as part of the collection in order to stimulate healthy debate. But not where it serves the powers that were and seem to remain.

OMG, I realised after I had clicked the 'send' button. I am starting to sound like Vicente, Howard, or David. I have become a dinosaur myself - of the countercultural kind.



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