MD, PhD, FMedSci, FSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

It is now about three years that I retired from my Exeter post. Sadly, my unit was closed down under circumstances that were not all that happy. But my university is doing its very best to keep up the good work, I am proud to report.

The university’s website informs us, for instance, that, during the ‘staff festival, alternative medicine is very much alive and kicking: Our complementary therapists will be offering 15-20 minute taster sessions in our complementary therapies yurt. The therapy taster sessions on offer will include: shaitsu bodywork, reflexology, indian head Massage, seated back massage and much more. To take advantage of these free taster sessions just pop along to the yurt on the day of the festival.

What about outside the festival? Fear not, the Exeter student guild offers homeopathy for those who need a quick, cheap, safe and effective cure of their ailments.

And what about research? Yes, even on the academic level, there still is lots going on. Only notoriously negative sceptics like David Colquhoun would dare to criticise its quality. He has analysed the scientific rigor of one specific paper here and concluded that:

(1) This paper, though designed to be susceptible to almost every form of bias, shows staggeringly small effects. It is the best evidence I’ve ever seen that not only are needles ineffective, but that placebo effects, if they are there at all, are trivial in size and have no useful benefit to the patient in this case..

(2) The fact that this paper was published with conclusions that appear to contradict directly what the data show, is as good an illustration as any I’ve seen that peer review is utterly ineffective as a method of guaranteeing quality. Of course the editor should have spotted this. It appears that quality control failed on all fronts.

David also made interesting and important comments about Simon Mills. Those of you who have read my memoir know that Simon, a top class critical thinker and fierce defender of traditional herbalism, has long been associated with Exeter; the website of the College of Medicine tells us that, at Peninsula Medical School (Exeter), he developed the first taught MSc programme in Integrated Health care at a UK medical school and co-founded the world’s first University centre dedicated to studying complementary health care. More about this particular story can be found here.

So, altogether a very satisfactory picture, I’d say: Exeter university is doing all that is necessary to train its staff and students in the all-important task of critical thinking. It is good to know that at least some British universities take their moral and ethical duties seriously.

I wish my university well and am proud that they carry on the good work that I have started.

17 Responses to Good news from the University of Exeter: alternative medicine is alive and kicking

  • I get the gag, but I am very concerned that many will not and assume you are lauding Exeter’s attention to CAM and pseudo-science.
    I strongly advise that irony is avoided in serious critique of academic institutions.
    They just don’t get it.
    Leave satire to the student revue. That’s where CAM belongs.

    I only pass on advice I was given when my gander was up and I spoke in terms of irony on matters dear to my heart.
    Only today we heard of a Nobel prizewinner who had to resign from UCL for a ‘joke’ which was not appreciated.

    Exeter University is a disgrace. That’s all that needs to be said.

  • The [point d’irony, aka ⸮](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irony_punctuation) should be used more often…

  • I’m waiting for the comments from those who don’t get the irony, but I agree with Richard that the approach may not be ideal. Irony is fine as a teaspoon-sized taster, but it’s a high-risk weapon for a whole post.
     
    As a Devonian born, I’m sorry to see my home county’s main academic institution is seeking to become the country’s hotbed of medical woo. Maybe they need to create a chair in parapsychology to expand the pot.

  • Your message comes through very clearly here in Texas where we are governed by intellectual giants. It just makes the last sentence particularly sad.

  • Intellectuals are people who believe that ideas are of more importance than values. That is to say, their own ideas and other people’s values.

    Gerald Brenan

  • Here’s a news flash: scientists can be wrong. That’s no big deal (unless the scientist is you), since research is self-correcting. Consequently, most errors by scientists become historical curiosities, with little long-term importance.

    Seth Shostak

  • 2.1 The University has in place robust mechanisms for ensuring accountability of its
    processes and decisions and for the management of risks. The University
    expects its members to abide by the seven principles identified by the Committee
    on Standards in Public Life2 (selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability,
    openness, honesty and leadership) and with the guidance to universities which
    has been provided by the Committee of University Chairmen in its Guide for
    Members of Higher Education Governing Bodies in the UK.
    3 The University of
    Exeter is mindful of the long history of the University as an academic community
    with a rich tradition of collegiality, of the institution’s impact on wider society, and
    its mission to ensure public benefit through our research and education. Further
    information about our governance is available to all staff and students in our
    Strategic Plan and on our website.4

    4.2 The University encourages, supports and enables students to develop as
    independent and active learners, who can also provide leadership, support and
    mentoring to others. The University aims to provide a working and learning
    environment which is free from unfair discrimination in which students and staff
    should be treated with dignity and respect whether at work or study, and offers
    them excellent resources and facilities to do this including a dedicated Disability
    Resource Centre and the support of an Equality and Diversity manager. Widening
    Participation forms one of the central themes of the Outreach activity of the
    University in which we aim to raise awareness of, and aspirations to, higher
    education both in general and at Exeter.

    What a load of old tosh eh Prof?

    • There are lot of despicable universities teaching rubbish in the US, such as Biola, but they at least admit openly that they require their professors to lie, and in that sense, they have more integrity than Exeter University is now displaying.

  • I am so sorry. There is hardly anything more painful in a person’s life than see one’s ideals, life’s work and efforts and sacrifices be destroyed by a bunch of self-serving clowns who are probably not educated enough to write their own names correctly.

    Prince Charles should be proud of himself. He has proved beyond the reasonable doubt that hard work is a waste of energy and that one need not have intelligence, integrity and morality to achieve one’s goals, regardless of how despicable they are, or quite probably *because* they are despicable, since those are the ones that don’t need any intellectual effort of any kind. Indeed, lack of intelligence and insight are probably an asset in his relentless endeavours.

    You have my empathy, Prof. Ernst, and the unquantifiable suffering this will likely cause in numberless patients, directly by gulling them and indirectly by the ruthless and rigorous misinformation and miseducation of students is on my mind.

    All that remains to be done now is to offer Deepak Chopra, George Vithoulkas, and Dr. Oz honourary degrees in critical thinking, declare the laws of physics obsolete and offer a specialist course in levitation and distance healing and philosophy of the New Physics to explain why they don’t work, even though they should, quite probably because of the bad vibrations you are sending out.

    I have to puke.

    • For their next festival, they should invite Jenny McCarthy to give leadership training. After all, she is a brilliant vaccines scientist who has done so much to bring back no end of infectious diseases, narrowly rescuing them from extinction. They should also contemplate the installation of a “walk of fame” and I nominate Manto Tshabala-Msimang as the first hero to be immortalised on it.

  • Heh… It’s already being shared on twitter by the pro #homeopathy crowd. 🙂

  • Yurt. Lol.

  • It is hard to believe, but it gets even better than this. The Dutch *government* (ministry of work) is paying people to follow a course to become a clairvoyant: http://www.standaard.be/cnt/dmf20150612_01727763

    Reality does indeed, at times, become more absurd than fiction. You just can’t make this stuff up.

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