MD, PhD, FMedSci, FSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

Whenever I write something critical about an alternative therapy, chances are that I get hate mail, sometimes lots of it (and much of it is hilarious). It usually centres around themes such as:

  • Ernst is bought by ‘Big Pharma’.
  • Ernst is incompetent.
  • Ernst is a lousy scientist.
  • Ernst is a liar.
  • Ernst has an axe to grind.

However, one theme that comes up more often than any other is, I think, the allegation of my ‘lack of qualifications’. Here is an example posted as a comment to my recent article on acupuncture in THE SPECTATOR:

“Ernst’s appointment as a professor at the University of the Penisula, his apparent ‘qualifications’ in Complementary Medicine (including homeopathy as well as what he says here about acupuncture) are controversial to say the least and he lacks qualifications in evidence-based medicine too.”

[This particular quote is quite funny; the author not only was wrong about my qualifications but also re-named the University of Exeter ‘The University of the Penisula’ – begging the penetrating questions, who is Ula? And what has his penis to do with my professorship?]

If I have the time and the patience, I do like to respond even to the weirdest of attacks.

Why?

Because my attackers often claim that a non-response amounts to an ‘admission of guilt’ on my part. Yet, all too often, this strategy turns out to be a mistake, and the whole thing quickly degrades even further.

In the above-mentioned instance, I replied: “I never said that I had formal qualifications in acupuncture or homeopathy. I learnt these things as doctors learn most other techniques: initially by studying them and subsequently applying them, first with supervision and later independently. I once wrote as a footnote to a critical article on homeopathy: ‘CONFLICTS OF INTEREST: I AM A TRAINED HOMEOPATH’. Only a moron could miss that this was tongue in cheek. Moreover, it was correct: I was trained during several months working in a homeopathic hospital. It seems that this is the origin of all these false allegations against me. To accuse me of having no qualifications in these areas is, I think, akin to me accusing you of having no degree in particle physics.”

Rather than carefully considering what I had written, my attacker answered by bringing up a new lie: “You are not and were not a registered medical doctor in the UK at the time but were a professor of Complementary Medicine. (fact or ad hominem attack?) If this is so you deserve to be congratulated on a superb interview to get the job with your only ‘qualification’ being picking up a bit of knowledge here and there on CAM as a doctor.”

[One has to excuse the confusing language of the commentator who seems far too overwhelmed with emotion and excitement to express things clearly. What was meant, I think (mostly from previous, similar attacks), was the allegation that I was not even a GMC-registered physician when I took up the Exeter job.]

I have only little hope that it will deter future attacks of this nature but, for the sake of honesty, integrity and transparency, I will (yet again) try to clarify the situation regarding my ‘lack of qualifications’.

  • There is nothing controversial about my qualifications.
  • I have never claimed to hold qualifications that I did not earn.
  • I have no formal ones in alternative medicine, and I have never said otherwise.
  • I am not even sure that such qualifications existed when I was in my ‘qualifying years’ (late 1970s).
  • As for any degrees in EBM, they certainly all came in after that time (even the term ‘EBM’ was invented only later).
  • If you are qualified as a doctor, you do not need to have any extra qualifications to practice alternative medicine.
  • Neither does one need them to research alternative medicine.
  • As I stated many times before, I have received training in several forms of alternative medicine.
  • I consider myself competent to research most areas of alternative medicine.
  • I have been registered with the GMC since the late 1970s.
  • When it became clear that this registration was no longer needed to conduct the research I did at Exeter, I cancelled it to save the considerable annual expense.
  • I have also published a full memoir entitled ‘A SCIENTIST IN WONDERLAND’ where the background to many of these issues is discussed in more detail.

All that I need to say now to future ad hominem attackers: PLEASE FIND A DIFFERENT LINE OF ATTACK; THIS ONE IS GETTING BORING AND MERELY DISPLAYS YOUR IGNORANCE.

6 Responses to About my ‘controversial’ qualifications

  • I posted this reply to the mentioned comment:

    XXXX, your post is the logical fallacy of appeal to authority, in this case within the reverse form. Since you question the authors competence you obviously can not refute the arguments themselves. That in turn puts you yourself in the position of lack of qualification. According to the Kruger Dunnings effect you are not able to judge Prof. Ernst’s qualification since you lack the knowledge to do so.

    Finally, questioning a person’s qualification without refuting the arguments is an admittance of defeat.

  • Hmmm. Maybe he’d reject an Astronomer’s criticisms of Astrology

    • This type of rejection occurs frequently. When it occurs I sometimes apply it in reverse, e.g., I wrote: “If you think that what I’ve written is bullshit then think again. You haven’t yet attended one of my courses on Pink Unicorn Therapy therefore you are in no position to criticize it in any way whatsoever.”

  • *Sigh*

    I just luuuuurve the “Big Pharma Shill” or the “Big Pharma Conspiracy” clichés: having met many drug company reps over the years, they spend more time slagging off their competitors’ products than pushing their own and never tried to bribe me with anything more than some sandwiches from Sainsbury or a free pen – I may be cheap but I do have some standards! Have I missed out on some slush fund payments?

    No-one, despite me asking several people, has ever been able to explain what “Big Pharma Conspiracy” is, looks like or how it works. I also know from bitter experience that trying to get, say, a bunch of consultant psychiatrists to agree on pretty much anything is hopeless, so how the whole medical profession, let alone nursing and pharmacy, would do so and no one break ranks to reveal what is going on is just beyond me…

  • “I have no formal [qualifications] in alternative medicine, and I have never said otherwise.”

    Obligatory.

  • In truth, most practitioners of alternative medicine have no medical qualifications at all, so they haven’t a leg to stand on.

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