Podcast: Don’t treat that fever—Dr. Paul Offit on why many of medicine’s most popular practices are ‘overkill’

screenshot breaking a fever treatment and causes
Vaccine skeptics, alternative health advocates and anti-GMO activists are regularly lambasted for ignoring evidence that challenges their ideology. As it turns out, they’re not the only ones who refuse to change their minds when confronted with new data: modern medicine is often guilty of the same intellectual sin, pediatrician and vaccine expert Dr. Paul Offit writes in his new book Overkill: When Modern Medicines Goes too Far.

Never afraid of controversy, Offit argues that many standard practices in modern medicine, for example treating a fever when you’re sick, are at best unhelpful and at worst actually dangerous. Enduring a fever is of course a miserable experience, but it helps our immune system fight off deadly bacterial and viral infections. Blocking this important immune response with antipyretics (aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen) may lead to 40,000 additional flu-related deaths every year.

Credit: HarperCollins

A similarly contrarian case can be made for antibiotics. While clearly necessary to kill harmful bacteria, the research shows that patients often don’t need to finish an antibiotic course, and doing so encourages the spread of drug-resistant bugs and brings us closer to losing antibiotics for good. Many doctors nonetheless continue prescribing them for far longer than necessary to treat their patients.

Related article:  Newly passed biosafety bill in Uganda aims to ensure 'safe development' of GMO crops

But that’s just the beginning, Offit claims. From heart stents and surgery for knee arthritis to prostate cancer exams, research has shown that these practices are pointless or more harmful than helpful—yet physicians and patients refuse to adjust to the evidence.


On this episode of Science Facts and Fallacies, Offit joins GLP editor Cameron English to explain why and how modern medicine continues to promote fifteen common medical interventions that “have long been considered gospel despite mounting evidence of their adverse effects.” Offit also gives his take on the coronavirus pandemic, the possibility of developing an effective immunization and how the anti-vaccine movement might react to the COVID-19 crisis.

Paul Offit is a pediatrician specializing in infectious diseases and the co-inventor of the rotavirus vaccine RotaTeq. Visit his website and follow him on Twitter @DrPaulOffit


Cameron J. English is the GLP’s senior agricultural genetics and special projects editor. He is a science writer and podcast host. BIO. Follow him on Twitter @camjenglish

Outbreak Daily Digest
Biotech Facts & Fallacies
Genetics Unzipped
Infographic: Deaths from COVID-19 are far higher than reported estimates

Infographic: Deaths from COVID-19 are far higher than reported estimates

More than 2.8 million people have lost their lives due to the pandemic, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis ...

Gilles-Éric Séralini: Activist professor and face of anti-GMO industry

The French biologist and his research team--funded by the Rodale ...
vandana shiva

Vandana Shiva: ‘Rock Star’ of GMO protest movement has anti-science history

In a 2012 interview, Bill Moyers referred to Vandana Shiva as ...
News on human & agricultural genetics and biotechnology delivered to your inbox.
glp menu logo outlined

Newsletter Subscription

Optional. Mail on special occasions.
Send this to a friend