Selling Sickness‘s goal was to convince the reader that pharmaceutical companies manipulate perception to create an impression of disease where none exists. I was going to say it failed, but no, it didn’t. It actually has some pretty good examples of how pharma manipulates perceptions. I just find it’s own view problematic as well. E.g. Pharma is trying to make the diagnosis of Female Sexual Dysfunction equivalent to male impotence, when it clearly isn’t, and that’s bad. But Selling Sickness’s implication that the components of FSD (low libido, anorgasmia, pain during intercourse) should not be taken seriously by medics is ridiculous. Sexual pleasure is important to many people in its own right, and any of those issues could be a symptom of a serious underlying problem. Testosterone is a bad treatment for low libido because it’s a major hormone with far reaching effects, but it is an excellent treatment for low testosterone, a serious health problem for which low libido may be the most obvious symptom.
Selling Sickness talks about how pharma companies manipulate disease definitions (by sponsoring educational conferences and key decision makers), but it doesn’t explain anything else about how those decisions are made, or what would happen in the absence of pharma money. Without that information it’s hard to draw conclusions. Which I guess is how I feel about the book as a whole: its advocating a very specific point of view rather than informing you on the topic as a whole. There’s nothing wrong with that, except that it (rightly) condemns pharmaceutical companies for doing the same thing.
*Obviously there’s a lot of variation and some doctors respond to those symptoms properly. My sense from the literature and anecdata from my friends is that they’re going against the grain when they do so.
ETA: Slate Star Codex provides an example of pharma criticism done right, because he talks about the cracks in the system capitalism is filling.