Guest post by Frank Van der Kooy

Something happened in 2008. Something, or a number of things, triggered an exponential rise in the number of rhinos being killed in South Africa. Poaching numbers remained quite low and was stable for a decade with only 13 being killed in 2007. But then suddenly it jumped to 83 in 2008 and it reached a total of 1 175 in 2015. To explain this will be difficult and it will be due to a number of factors or events coinciding in 2008. One possible contributing factor, which I will discuss here, is the growing acceptance of TCM in western countries! For example: Phynova recently advertised a new product as being the first traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) being registered in the UK. By directing customers to a separate site for more information regarding their product they ‘accidently’ linked to a site which ‘advertised’ rhino horn (this link has since been removed). Another example is a University in Australia who published a thesis in 2008, in which they described the current use of Rhino horn as a highly effective medicine, just like you would describe any other real medicine. Surely this will have an impact!

But first a bit of background, so please bear with me. There are two ‘opposing’ aspects regarding TCM that most members of the public do not seem to understand well. Not their fault, because the TCM lobby groups are spending a huge amount of effort to keep the lines between these two aspects as blurred as possible. The first aspect is the underlying pseudoscientific TCM principles; the yin and yang and the vitalistic “energy” flow through “meridians” and much more. Science has relegated this to the pseudosciences, just like bloodletting, which was seen as a cure-all hundreds of years ago. Unfortunately, the pseudoscientific TCM principles are still with us and based on these principles almost every single TCM modality works! From acupuncture to herbs to animal matter (including rhino horn) – everything is efficacious, safe and cost effective. Evidence for this is that close to a 100% of clinical trials done on TCM in China give positive results. Strange isn’t it! People in China should thus no die of any disease – they have ‘effective’ medicine for everything! This is the world of TCM in a nutshell.

The second aspect of TCM is the application of the modern scientific method to test which of the thousands of TCM modalities are really active, which ones are useless and which ones are dangerous. Decades of investigation have come up empty-handed with one or two exceptions. One notable exception is Artemisia annua which contain a single compound that is highly effective for the treatment of malaria, and once identified and intensely studied, it was taken up into conventional medicine – not the herb, but the compound. If you investigate all the plants in the world you are bound to find some compounds that can be used as medicine – it has nothing to do with TCM principles and it can most definitely not be used as evidence that the TCM principles are correct or that it based on science.

These two aspects are therefore quite different.

In the TCM world just about everything works, but it is not backed up by science. It is huge market ($170 billion) and it creates employment for many – something that make politicians smile. In the modern scientific world, almost nothing in TCM works, but it is based on science. It is however not profitable at all – you have to investigate thousands of plants in order to find one useful compound.

Many TCM practitioners and researchers are avidly trying to combine the positives of these two worlds. They focus mainly on the money and employment aspect of the TCM world and try and combine this with the modern scientific approach. They tend to focus on the one example where modern science discovered a useful compound (artemisinin) in the medicinal plant Artemisia annua, which was also coincidently used as an herb in TCM – as evidence that TCM works! Here are some examples:

“To stigmatise all traditional medicine would be unfair. After all, a Chinese medicine practitioner last year won a Nobel prize.” No, a Chinese scientist using the modern scientific method identified artemisinin after testing hundreds or even thousands of different plants.

This year, Chinese medicine practitioners will be registered in Australia. ….. Chinese herbal medicine is administered routinely in hospitals for many chronic diseases. …… This has led to recognising herbs such as Artemisia as a proven anti-malarial ……” No, the compound artemisinin is a proven anti-malarial!

There has been enormous progress in the last 20 years or so. I am sure you are familiar with the use of one of the Chinese herbs in managing resistant malaria.” No, very little progress and no, the compound artemisinin!

So this is a game that is being played with the simple intention to blur the lines between these two aspects regarding TCM – but the real reason might simply be “A new research-led Chinese medicine clinic in Sydney, better patient outcomes and the potential for Australia to tap into the $170 billion global traditional Chinese medicine market”

Prof Alan Bensoussan the director of the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) and registered in Australia as a TCM and acupuncture practitioner is a champion in blurring this line. Alan has been instrumental in lobbying the Australian regulatory agency that a long tradition of use is all you need to be able to register new products. He was also influential in establishing the Chinese medicine practitioner registry in Australia, in 2012, and thereby legitimising TCM in Australia. He has been actively chipping away at the resistance that the Australian public have against these pseudoscientific healthcare systems such as TCM – one can argue that he has done so quite successfully because they are expanding their operations into the Westmead precinct of Sydney with a new TCM clinic/hospital.

Enough background; so what does all of this have to do with Rhino horn? (and for that matter other endangered species). We have to remember that in the TCM world just about everything works and that includes rhino horn! Searching Western Sydney University’s theses portal for Xijiao (Chinese for Rhino horn) I found a thesis published in 2008 from the NICM and co-supervised by Alan; “Development of an evidence-based Chinese herbal medicine for the management of vascular dementia”

On page 45-46: “Recently, with fast developing science and technologies being applied in the pharmaceutical manufacturing area, more and more herbs or herbal mixtures have been extracted or made into medicinal injections. These have not only largely facilitated improved application to patients, but also increased the therapeutic effectiveness and accordingly reduced the therapeutic courses …… lists the most common Chinese herbal medicine injections used for the treatment of VaD. “

“Xing Nao Jing Injection (for clearing heat toxin and opening brain, removing phlegm) contains ….. Rhinoceros unicornis (Xijiao), …… Moschus berezovskii (Shexiang), …..”

“…. Xing Nao Jing injection has been widely applied in China for stroke and vascular dementia. …. After 1-month treatment intervention, they found the scores in the treatment group increased remarkably, as compared with the control group …… “

They list two endangered species; the Rhino and the Chinese forest musk deer (Moschus berezovskii). But what is truly worrying is that they don’t even mention the endangered status or at least recommend that the non-endangered substitutes, which do exist in the TCM world, should be used instead – or maybe use fingernails as a substitute? It is not discussed at all. Clearly they are stating that using these endangered animals are way more effective than western medicine (the control group) for the treatment of vascular dementia! This is deplorable to say the least. Statements like this fuels the decimation of this species. But this shows that they truly believe and support the underlying pseudoscientific principles of TCM – they have to, their ability to tap into the TCM market depends on it!

As a scientist you are entitled to discuss historic healthcare treatments such as bloodletting. But make sure to also state that this practice has been shown to be ineffective, and quite dangerous, and that modern science has since come up with many other effective treatments. If it is stated that bloodletting is currently being used and it is effective – then you will simply be promoting bloodletting! The same goes for Rhino horn and this is exactly what they have done here. But then again they live in a world where all TCM modalities are active!

How to solve this problem of growing acceptance of TCM in western countries? A simple step could be that people like Alan publicly denounce the underlying pseudoscientific TCM principles and make the ‘difficult’ switch to real science! Admittedly, he will have to part with lots of money from the CM industry and his Chinese partners, and maybe not built his new TCM hospital! But for some reason I strongly doubt that this will happen. The NICM have successfully applied a very thin, but beautiful, veneer of political correctness and modernity over the surface of complementary medicine. Anyone who cares to look underneath this veneer will find a rotten ancient pseudoscientific TCM world – in this case the promotion and the use of endangered animals.

After reading chapter two of this thesis one cannot believe that this is from an Australian University and paid for by the Australian taxpayer! The main question though: Can I directly link this thesis with the increase in rhino poaching? This will be very difficult if not impossible to do. But that is not the problem. Promoting the pseudoscientific principles of TCM in Australia expands the export market for TCM, and hence will lead to an increased need for raw materials, including the banned Rhino horn. That Rhino horn has been a banned substance since the 1980’s clearly does not seem to have any impact looking at the poaching statistics. In an unrelated paper published in 2010 the ingredients in the Xingnaojing injection is listed as “…. consisting of Chinese herbs such as Moschus, Borneol, Radix Curcumae, Fructus Gardeniae, ….” No full list is given in the paper – dare I say because it contains Rhino horn as well? The drug Ice is also banned, but if you are going to promote it at a ‘trusted’ university, then you shouldn’t be surprised that Ice production increases and more of it flows into Australia – even if it is illegal. The same goes for Rhino horn!

36 Responses to Promoting Rhino horn as medicine at an Australian university: Has this contributed to the exponential rise in Rhino poaching?

  • Trouble is… anything that can ‘clean heat toxin, remove phlegm, and open the brain’ is going to find a ready market.

  • The Nobel Prize for the discovery of artemisinin was well deserved recognition for Asian medical science. If only all medical science in the region was as good.

    The fact that virtually all clinical trials in China of TCM are positive clearly shows an endemic cultural bias at work.

    If rhino horn has valuable medicinal properties then scientists like those involved in the discovery of artemisinin need to clearly demonstrate the fact.

    The fact that rhino horn might conceivably have medicinal properties is one more reason for clamping down on the vile trade which threatens the existence of the wonderful animal.

    • That would be the scientific thing to do but unfortunately that is not going to happen. As soon as you study TCM’s you will find that most do not work – and that means the TCM market will collapse. Something that they do no want.

      Anyway, I do not believe that the “medicinal” value of rhino horn is the main driver for poaching, the horn has simply become a commodity similar to gold or blood diamonds – I believe the value is something like $60 000/kg.

      The original cause of a problem, in this case medicinal use, is not necessarily the reason that the problem is maintained or even exacerbated, in this case the horn becoming a commodity – so maybe one should call a bunch of economists instead of scientists to try and solve this problem.

      • Virtually no TCM has been found to have genuine medicinal properties. Not surprising when it is based on a totally false belief system not unlike the ancient Greek ‘4 humours’ theory which makes no sense scientifically. It would be just as (in)effective as rhino horn to chew your fingernails!

        • But how do you convince them of this? I’ve tried to reason with them using science but to no avail – this is now at an Australian university, so I can just imagine how difficult it will be at a Chinese Uni. I’ve tried to poke fun at them although I think this might work counter productive and it will only strengthen their resolve. (See below). So what is left? At the moment I am thinking along the lines of creating an exit strategy because that is in my view what is lacking. How can people escape that world without loss of income while saving face?

          • I used to believe that all these alternative practitioners were charlatans but I now believe that some of them and their followers are like religious fanatics, immune to reason or evidence. Certainly you may be right about some wishing to give it up but afraid to lose face and income. There are plenty of ex-priests and pastors, after all. What is so frustrating, is that a respected university should do such an irresponsible thing as to endorse TCM with the consequent devastating affect on African rhino.s

          • Well- since, as we know, these beliefs and similar constitute religion, not science, any attempt at rational argument is pointless. All I do is 1.Keep demanding evidence from THEM, or 2. Just have fun with their stupidity.
            One aggressive bonehead on the ‘Neon Nettle’ site -like ‘Natural News’ but with added hippies – told me ‘You are a twat’. Not one of the hippies then.
            He and others on the site who believe that an invisible ‘them’ are controlling things-usual suspects like fluoridation, vaccination, GM, contrails etc- then started shouting abuse at me, saying that I’m insane because I disagreed with them, that I should be locked up in a psychiatric ward, or at least change my psychiatrist, and that they believed I was sitting behind a desk being paid to troll. In other words, using language and insults very similar to the kind of Stalinist dictatorship they claim to be pluckily fighting against. In fact the abusive bonehead’s photo- par for the course ‘thug dad and daughter’- seemed to me to sit very uneasily with his co-opting of the yin/yang symbol.

    • I would not say “was well deserved recognition for Asian medical science”. I would say that they embraced modern science and by using it they discovered a life saving molecule – and that I believe with all the stigma, politics and economics going on in China deserves the Nobel prize – it is truly a life saving molecule

  • I read this and being Australian was shocked enough that this was happening in my backyard to follow the links Frank posted.

    What I found was not promotion of rhinoceros horn but a thesis project of a RCT of an entirely different (no rhino just Ginseng, Gingko and Crocus) herbal medicine for vascular dementia. The student – like all before them – had simply done a literature review of products that had been tested and promoted for the condition as part of the thesis, which included one paragraph on the research of the offending product. Ideally the student probably should have mentioned this briefly – but I did note that they did explicitly mention that one of the criteria in choosing the formulation for their RCT was that it could not contain endangered plant or animal species – perhaps they thought this covered the issue?

    At any rate, Frank’s drawing a long and bitter bow suggesting this somehow amounts to a university promoting rhino horn.

    I usually find your posts informative Edzard – even if I don’t agree with them all. But this is gutter journalism (bloggism?) by someone who seems more interested in attacking a former employer than in informing his audience. Even the Daily Express would blush at this piece.

    • In Prof. Ernst’s defence, the paper in question is worded so as to uncritically endorse the various claims of these concoctions including the one with rhino horn, despite the obviously highly suspect and dramatic “effects” stated. My only criticism of the Prof’s piece is that he violates Betteridge’s Law of Headlines, which states that if a headline ends with a question mark, the answer is always “No”.
      An edit would be in order

      • I believe the keyword here is “uncritically”. Not sure if you refer to the thesis or the blog post regarding the “highly suspect and dramatic effects”. If it is the latter please enlighten us!

        In regard to Betteridge’s Law – does that mean that the answer to any question being asked is by default, no?

    • I understand your critique. If I write in a scientific publication that Rhino horn is a strong medicine against whatever disease without saying anything else – then I will be promoting rhino horn as medicine! It is really simple.

      If only they added a short discussion regarding the controversy with the use of Rhino horn as “medicine” then there would have been no story to tell. But they did not! This blog post is therefore about a university supporting the underlying pseudoscientific principles of TCM (and that includes rhino horn) – and that is a problem. There is unfortunately many other examples that I can give, especially regarding homeopathy and acupuncture.

      For example: Based on this thesis they are currently performing a RCT – it is called “Sailuotong for vascular dementia”.
      Their aim: to sell TCM to the public (because they usually get positive results) otherwise they would have taken the scientific approach and provided the names of the herbs instead.

      I am all for using the modern scientific approach to identify possible bioactive compounds but I am against trying to sell the TCM principles to the public. This thesis is not about Ginseng, Gingko and Crocus but it is about the TCM principles.

      • If your objection was TCM principles and theory and suggest that therefore any PhD or research examining Chinese medicine is wrong that was not reflected in the title nor the conclusion of your post. You accused a university of deliberately promoting rhino horn and suggested this thesis was complicit in threatening rhinoceros populations. That is quite clearly what you chose to focus your article on.

        Regardless of the ‘value’ you personally see in performing RCTs on Chinese medicines, all I can see is a paper that probably should have included a small further comment in their discussion on a single point item that was really not the focus of their thesis (mentioned only once in a descriptive overview of one study uncovered in their review). Are you suggesting that PhD students should not include every piece of research they find in their review if they find it objectionable? Are you suggesting that a PhD student is complicit in the rhino trade if they overlook making an additional statement in a section of their thesis that was mentioned once (which in reality was probably an oversight)? Did your thesis unpick every single potential isolated problem with every item uncovered in your literature review?

        Should it have been picked up in review or examination as a minor revision? Probably. Does it mean they were trying to promote rhino horn? Of course not.

        This seems far more about personal conflict between you (Frank, not Edzard) and your former employer. If you have issues with them, it is your right to say what you will and to let your grievances be known. But you’re often accusing others of reaching and speaking beyond the data, while at the same time making grandiose claims that aren’t supported by yours. Attack TCM principles by all means, but false accusations of egregious acts (and promoting rhino horn is egregious) to support your case are neither scientific nor ethical.

        • “You accused a university of deliberately promoting rhino horn and suggested this thesis was complicit in threatening rhinoceros populations.” – yes I do!

          “Are you suggesting that PhD students should not include every piece of research they find in…” you have to read chapter 2 of the thesis. You are, as a scientist, entitled to report on anything people use as medicine. But you have to give a balanced view – give the pros and cons. Clearly rhino horn as medicine is controversial – everyone knows this – just add one sentence about this controversy from a scientific perspective and the student would have been okay. It doesn’t matter if you mention it as part of your review or where ever in your thesis but you have to say something. They know about the substitute, buffalo horn, they mention it as a component of another TCM injection in chapter 2. But they just don’t mention anything at all. Why – because they run the risk of specifying a TCM that do not work and that can get them into trouble with their funders.

          “Are you suggesting that a PhD student is complicit in the rhino trade if they overlook making an additional statement in a section of their thesis that was mentioned once..” Nope, I think the blame is on the supervisors. Again everything in TCM is active and based on this premise they cannot put anything on paper that a specific TCM might be inactive – they run the risk of losing a lot of funding.

          “Does it mean they were trying to promote rhino horn? Of course not.” Indirectly yes, but they are indeed promoting the pseudoscientific principles of TCM (and that unfortunately includes rhino horn and other endangered species) – simply to tap into that massive market. In the TCM world you cannot specify a exact modality and say that it doesn’t work – you might lose a collaborator or two. They do the same with homeopathy and acupuncture!

          “This seems far more about personal conflict between you..” I would not say that. What they are doing at the NICM is pretty much what is happening all over the world at Universities that promotes all sorts of unproven complementary medicines for the sake of funding. Granted I’ve worked there and granted I was shocked out of my wits that this can take place at a Australian university – but on the positive side, I’ve learned so much of how not to do science.

  • Do TCM people have contingency plans for when Rhinos and musk deer disappear and horn no longer available? They should set up sustainable farms so their own supply of horn is available. As if!

    • Apparently you can use buffalo horns but then you will need a higher dose! But I think the idea that it comes from a Rhino is the important aspect – and hence the substitute will not really catch on.

    • They will just escalate the abuse of other endangered animals, like tigers, which are slaughtered to sell their gallbladders for bogus medicinal value.

  • I’ve posted a similar post on reddit/r/Naturopathy and reddit/r/ChineseMedicine (I’ve removed the swearwords):

    On Naturopahy:
    does rhino horn and other animal matter fall under naturopathy?

    Yes. Post removed.

    On ChineseMedicine:
    Ok, so you hate Chinese medicine/acupuncture. What exactly are you trying to accomplish here?

    [–]zeissbickham 3 points 10 days ago
    Because it’s easier to @#$ on things and blame others than take actionable initiatives like supporting education of the populace a la Yao Ming. The West isn’t where your problem is, OP. It’s a billion plus people not knowing that their actions are having consequences in far flung regions of the world that they know nothing about. You’re barking up the wrong tree if you’re trying to guilt trip people here on this sub – we already know about species on the brink of extinction. Your keyboard slacktivism is duly noted, however.

    [–]Fogsmasher 2 points 10 days ago
    Nah, he’s got some bug up his ass about TCM in general. Check out other posts in his blog and it’s full of circular logic about how TCM is @#$ and can’t possibly work so therefore we shouldn’t do research. If there is research that says something works then it’s crap research because everyone knows the basis for TCM is impossible.

    [–]zeissbickham 3 points 10 days ago
    Check out other posts in his blog. I’ll take your word for it – sounds like a waste of time. As does @#$posting on random subs, which is a waste of Frank’s time. So be it.
    Thanks for the reply!

    • Mr Smasher-
      I don’t think he has a ‘bug up his donkey’ about TCM , as you put it, without reason.
      Research costs in time and money and effort, all of which may be better employed elsewhere.
      ‘Meridians’ and ‘energies’ seem to exist to about the same extent as unicorns do. If you disagree, tell us where in the body they are. And while you’re about it, ask other acupuncturists why they believe they’re in other, different locations.
      There’s very little research being done nowadays into N-Rays and alchemy for much the same reason, i.e. they don’t exist or have any rational basis. In fact there is ongoing, intelligent research into at least one area of TCM, i.e. Chinese magic powders and such, many of which turn out to have high levels -usually undeclared – of dangerous and banned ingredients.Or does that kind of research not impress you?

  • This is the comment that I got from the Deputy Dean and Director of Research, School of Medicine at Western Sydney University who hosts the NICM regarding this blog post.

    “Remove me from your vitriolic commentaries, please”

    So clearly no discussion and no debate. And that is a pity because this article at least deserves a bit of debate.

  • The sheer wickedness of Western Sydney University verges on the unbelievable. Has anyone pointed this out to its vice-chancellor yet?

    • I’ve tried my best for the past 12 months (I’ve send my first letter to the VC on the 31st of July 2015) but unfortunately it was met with a lot of resistance. I’ve noticed quite recently that a well known CM company donated AUS $ 5 million to the NICM for research into “integrative medicine” and what university will say no to that!

      • after criticising this donation, the VC wrote to me and invited me to come on some advisory board for the endowed chair. subsequently, I received 2 or 3 emails from the chair of the future board. then I never heard again from them. this was many months ago.
        can you tell me the names of the VC and/or the chair of the advisory board? this would enable me to pick up the old correspondence.

        • I think you might be referring to the Chair in CM at Sydney University and and not the Chair at Western Sydney University. The former uni is a well known uni, and it attracted a lot of media attention, and the latter is sort of a minion uni. But I can be mistaken as well. The VC at Western Sydney Uni is Barney Glover at

          The 5 million is quite recent – in the past 6 weeks or so. It hasn’t even been reported in the media yet

  • Dear Edzard,

    An interesting article yet I feel that you have missed an important part of the issue with rhinos been poached to extinction not only during past 8 years but the last 40 years! I am a private rhino owner and a wife of the largest private rhino breeder from South Africa, a country where most of rhinos are poached simply because the rest of rhino range states have lost their rhino populations despite been under so-called protection of the CITES ban on trade in rhino horn. I support very much demand reduction campaings for the use of rhino horn but in the same manner as it is done for the use of meat or alcohol and cigarets, without outlawing those products. I also believe that legalisation of trade in ethicaly harvested horn where rhino stays alive and horn grows back is the way to save the species from been poached to extinction. After all, there is a demand for rhino horn, not rhino’s life.

    To better understand the issue with rhino poaching, it’s important to learn the history of rhino conservation. South African rhino model in late 60’s was a revolutionary step which encouraged private rhino ownership and allowed trophy hunting, trade in live rhinos and domestic trade in rhino horn, which not only made significant contribution to the future security of its rhinos, but increased rhino breeding and dispersal across the country and throughout the world- working as a buffer for the rhinos’ survival in national parks and reserves.

    The sudden change in the once-bright future for rhinos in South Africa coincided with the national moratorium on the trade in rhino horn introduced in February 2009. Over 6000 rhinos have been poached in South Africa in the last 7 years. This is in contrast to only a few hundred poached over the previous 40 years. By any standards this was a fatal change! From the other side, as South Africa had a domestic legal trade in rhino horn, over 20000 rhinos were poached outside the country, while we lost only a few hundred.

    Here comes a question- If the international ban on trade in rhino horn is so good for rhinos, why then do rhinos get poached at a rate of three a day, with no sing that the extent of poaching is declining?

    For those who support the ban on trade in rhino horn it is worth taking time and think of an answer- Does a rhino benefit from the ban on trade in horn? Are there any examples?

    Thank you.

    • Hi Albina

      Legalising the trade in Rhino horn is indeed seen by many as the only way to save the Rhino. Harvest the horn in a sustainable way – and I would largely agree with it. But then again you have the two main users of the horn, those that use it for “medicinal” purposes and those that trade in it as with any other commodity. The former group (apparently the smaller group) would be happy to harvest the horn in a sustainable way whereas the latter group might not be – for the simple reason, if you flood the market the horn becomes pretty much worthless. The scarcer the Rhino becomes the more valuable the horn becomes – so they benefit financially by reducing the total number of rhinos.

      There is obviously many more factors that play a role but I guess they will eventually legalise the trade in Rhino horn. It will be interesting to see what happens then.

      • Joanna McInnes-
        Further to your frustration re trying to argue logic with people who are immune to it-
        I’ve just read the story in Stephen Burgess’s ‘Health Robbers’ book about when Cleveland announced that it was to start fluoridisation of the city’s water on June 1.
        On the day, it seems there was a large number of phone calls from people whose African violets had wilted, whose goldfish had died, whose dog was constipated.
        The problem was that, owing to a glitch, the process had been put back to July.
        Did any of these people step back and re-think their position on fluoridisation?
        What are the chances do you think?

        • That is amusing and very revealing about human nature! A similar example of people jumping to conclusions due to our pattern-seeking brains, is the ‘anti-vaxxers’ who are convinced despite all evidence to the contrary, that their children’s illness or autism is due to vaccinations that happened to coincide with the onset of symptoms.

    • I think that you in turn are partly missing the point here.
      The banning of rhino hunting may or may not have an effect, but that isn’t under discussion here. That’s important, but separate.
      What IS under discussion on this site is whether the basic stupid belief in the sexual potency of rhino horn should be allowed to go unchallenged, and whether official bodies like universities should be seen -inadvertently or otherwise – to allow such beliefs to slip in under the radar along with other magical Eastern claptrap.

  • I’ve received this comment from Sydney University via the NICM. I thought that I’ll share it here as well. As usual the main issue – the full support of the pseudoscientific principles of TCM by an An Australian uni is not addressed.

    “Hi there,

    The following rebuttal was posted on Social Media in response to article by Frank Van Der Kooy. Although it is critical to expose unscrupulous practices in the research of complementary medicine, it is also crucial to publish rebuttals for balanced and transparent discourse which is apparently the aim of the Professor Edzard Ernst and Frank Van Der Kooy. The following was penned by an academic at Australian University academic at Sydney University, Dr Joanna Harnett.

    Hi all,
    After my initial surprise and horror (desired effect achieved by the blogger) that any Australian University would investigate the role of an endangered species (plant or animal) in the treatment of disease prompted me to explore the validity of claims in this blog.

    The research being accused of promoting rhino horn use is the basis of a PhD thesis that contains a literature review of vascular dementia and current treatments. This is followed by a systematic review of the published literature on the use of Chinese and complementary medicines in the treatment of dementia. One paragraph in the >250 page thesis reports the findings of a formula containing rhino horn. The students review conclusion states: “In summary, although the outcomes of clinical trials conducted using TCM on VaD have been positive, it is difficult to accept these findings because no strong scientific evidence to support CHM use is available. Many problems, such as publication bias, poor randomisation, lack of attention to blinding, poorly defined outcome measures, and weak statistical analysis were noted. The quality of TCM trials must be improved urgently.”
    The review discussion would have been strengthened by deploring the use of rhino horn.

    The review forms the basis of a well-designed and rigorously conducted RCT that specially states the EXCLUSION of any endangered plant or animal in the formulation used as a criteria for the study.

    Importantly, Gingko, Ginseng and Crocus are trialled in this study NOT rhino horn.

    How the blogger even found rhino horn in the document and extrapolated that the UWS was promoting and potentially contributing to the use of rhino horn is very unclear.”

  • The original comment was posted by Susan Arentz, a naturopath from the NICM, and I am not entirely sure if Dr Joanna Harnett know that her comments, which was apparently posted on a closed Facebook group, has now been made public. I am currently in contact with her regarding this issue. Nevertheless, I inadvertently did not copy the final paragraph of her comment so here it is:

    “I have spoken with Alan Bensoussan on a number of occasions and like most people I hold him in high regard. I would have been very disappointed had the claims being mad been true. I fear a political agenda predates the basis of this blog rather than a genuine concern for any ethical or scientific misconduct by the UWS, the PhD student or his supervisors.”

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