Review – Splitting: The Inside Story on Headaches

Posted January 10, 2023 by Nicky in Reviews / 7 Comments

Cover of Headaches by Amanda EllisonSplitting: The Inside Story on Headaches, Amanda Ellison

This is very much a book for a layperson, and I sometimes worry about the author being overly glib or just not thinking things through. At one point, for example, it states that antibiotics are “not very effective” against viruses. The substances commonly thought of as antibiotics — penicillin, streptomycin, etc — are of course actually antibacterials, and are not at all effective against viruses, and it’s irresponsible to suggest that they are at all effective in that situation, given that they’re completely pointless.

If you’re going to refer to antivirals as “antibiotics” (which some people might do, arguing that “anti-biotic” means “anti-life” — assuming you believe that viruses are alive), then it’s irresponsible in the other direction to suggest that they’re not very effective. It might lead to someone not taking antivirals when they should. I know this sounds like an extremely minor point in a book unrelated to infectious disease, but it’s really important, and a good scientist should not cut this kind of corner, even (or perhaps especially) when communicating to laypeople.

When it comes to discussing neurotransmitters and so on, the author is fairly precise… so far as I can tell, being more interested in infectious disease than human biology for the sake of human biology. Given her carelessness about other things, though, it does leave me with doubts.

I did appreciate the chapter on tension headaches, which I’m prone to. There’s even an interesting point about the fact that stomach ulcers generating histamine, which — given a stomach ulcer is one of the potential causes of some of my health issues, and given my high levels of stress — is worth exploring. But, by and large, I’m not impressed with this book. Writing for laypeople should not mean being cavalier about facts.

Rating: 2/5

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7 responses to “Review – Splitting: The Inside Story on Headaches

  1. Alys

    > I know this sounds like an extremely minor point…

    I don’t think it’s minor!

    > it’s really important, and a good scientist should not cut this kind of corner, even (or perhaps especially) when communicating to laypeople.

    Yes, this, definitely!

    • I guess my blog audience is much more attentive to this kind of thing, though! Normally I have to be like “I know it’s a really small nitpick, but” and justify it! XD

  2. Faranae

    It’s not minor at all! It’s the kind of little red flag I look for when I’m assessing non-fiction books, because if the author has been sloppy in an area I’m confident in, what about the areas I don’t know?

    Since I get migraines and the distinction between migraines and headaches is rather blurred, I would have been interested in this book, but I think I’ll skip it.

    • Yep, exactly! But so often when reviewing I feel like I have to guard against someone turning up and being all “you’re being mean, the book isn’t about that thing, why would the author know to make it accurate?”

      There’s quite a bit on migraines in the book, in fact! (Both ones accompanied by a headache and non-headache ones, even though it’s supposedly about headaches…) But yeah, I think it’s probably a skip. Knowing how informed you generally are, I doubt it has anything knew for you. I know someone I follow elsewhere mentioned a book about migraines recently — shall I dig it out? They’ve had a migraine almost constantly for over a year now, and they’re a scientist, so I trust their rec. I don’t know if it’s more history/social-focused or more medical/science-focused, mind you…

      • Faranae

        That book sounds interesting either way! I never mind reading an accurate refresher, even just so I have options on books to suggest to others. I don’t know how many times I’ve basically done my first semester of Japanese again trying out new textbooks or learning resources so I can let people know what’s out there and actually useful to get themselves started.

        And I totally get you about the whole review defense problem. It might not sound believable, but I hold back and rewrite so much on my own reviews because I want to pick my battles, especially with fiction. And I know you’ve seen some of those battles play out. XD

          • Faranae

            I forgot to actually say thank you for the link to the book! Thank you!!

            And I never thought about it as self-soothing, but maybe that’s why I re-read things like the Japanese grammar dictionary or Dana’s “The Seaman’s Friend”, neither of which are really meant to be read cover to cover…

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