MD, PhD, FMedSci, FSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

fritzsche

Last week, it was announced that Claus Fritzsche had killed himself on 14 January 2014 at the age of 49. He was an industrious blogger and evangelic promoter of alternative medicine who seemed to spend much of his time and energy to defame those who disagreed with him. In this capacity, he certainly did tirelessly direct ‘ad hominem’ attacks in my direction. When it was revealed, about two years ago, that several German homeopathic firms paid him generously for this activity, his sponsors withdrew with plenty of egg on their faces, and subsequently Fritzsche’s insults became less frequent.

I never met Fritzsche in person but, over the years, I had many email exchanges with him. Invariably, these were unpleasant, to put it mildly. One might admire his tenacity but, from my perspective, it was hard to like Fritzsche. During the last months of his life, I refused to have contact with him, even via email – not because I failed to find our correspondence interesting or amusing, but because our exchanges always ended with some sort of escalation of aggression from his side.

Why then does his death sadden me so deeply?

Any death is a sad event but, if a death is so unnecessary and wasteful, it is particularly depressing. Fritzsche clearly had many skills and a lot of talents. He was young, intelligent and probably was a pleasant person to know personally, at least that is what some people who knew him have said. Alright, we did not agree on many things, but that does not mean that he was a bad person. He just seemed extremely irrational and tragically delivered the ultimate proof for his irrationality through his suicide.

Nobody knows what motivated Fritzsche to kill himself [when Walach speculated that his financial situation following the disclosure of the nature of his sponsorship had anything to do with it, he finds himself yet again way beyond the established facts]. Presumably, he suffered from depression, and presumably he was deeply insecure, and perhaps he was also desperately lonely.

Suspecting that this was the case, I now wish I had continued writing emails to him. Having argument after argument, even at the risk of getting yet again insulted and attacked, might have just been what was required to prevent him sliding into the abyss. I feel sorry for breaking off email contact when, in a strange sense, he might have needed me and the type of irritation people like me seemed to cause him.

One thing that unites all (well, almost all, in my experience) proponents of alternative medicine is their intense dislike for BIG PHARMA. Essentially, they see this sector as:

  1. Driven by profit
  2. Employing unethical means to maximise profit
  3. Not caring for the needs of patients
  4. Attacking alternative medicine for fear of losing profit

And, of course, they claim that alternative medicine, LITTLE ALT MED, is fundamentally different from the cynically capitalist, malign BIG PHARMA.

I have no intention to defend the ways of the pharmaceutical industry – neither on this blog nor anywhere else. This industry is usually responsible to their share-holders and that constellation can lead to excesses which are counter-productive to our needs, to put it mildly. However, what I will question is the notion that LITTLE ALT MED is fundamentally different from BIG PHARMA.

Ad 1

We all have to make a living; to some extend at least we are therefore all driven by our desire to earn money. In alternative medicine, there are certainly not as many mega-enterprises as in the pharmaceutical industry but nobody can deny that many sizable firms exist which make a profit selling alternative remedies of one type or another.

And those parts of alternative medicine which are not into the sale of remedies, you may well ask – think of acupuncture, for instance. Well, those therapists are not exempt either from the need to make a living. Sure, this is on a different scale from BIG PHARMA, but it constitutes still a need for profit. If we multiply the relatively small sums involved by the vast number of therapists, the grand total of LITTLE ALT MED might approach similar orders of magnitude as that of BIG PHARMA.

Ad 2

Ok, but the alternative sector would not employ unethical means for securing or maximising profits! Wrong again, I am afraid.

My 20 years of experience of LITTLE ALT MED have let me witness several incidents which I would not hesitate to call unethical. One of the most recent and least pleasant, from my point of view, was the discovery that several German homeopathic manufacturers had given money to a ‘journalist’ who used these funds to systematically defame me.

Ad 3

What about the charge that BIG PHARMA does not care for the suffering patient? LITTLE ALT MED would never do that!!! Sadly this is a myth too.

Alternative practitioners and their organisations make a plethora of therapeutic claims which are not substantiated. Who would deny that misleading patients into making wrong health care decisions is not the opposite from ‘caring’? What seems even worse, in my view, is the behaviour that might follow the exposure of such behaviour. If someone is courageous enough to disclose the irresponsibility of bogus claims, he might be attacked or even taken to court by those who, in reality should be in the dock or, at least, do their utmost to get their house in order.

Ad 4

Finally, we have the notion of BIG PHARMA trying to suppress LITTLE ALT MED. I call this a myth too because I see absolutely no evidence for this rumour. Even those who circulate it can, when challenged, not produce any.

And, anyway, we all know how many of the big pharmaceutical firms buy into the alternative medicine market as soon as they see a commercially viable opportunity. Does that look like suppression?

So, what is the conclusion? BIG PHARMA can behave badly, no doubt, and when they do, I am as disgusted as the next man. However, LITTLE ALT MED also can behave badly – in fact, wherever there is money to be made, some people will behave badly some of the time.

Perhaps we should not judge an entire sector just by the bad actions of some of its members, but perhaps we should also consider whether or not it has done any good. Who would doubt that BIG PHARMA has helped to save lives – millions of lives?!

And now ask yourself: can we honestly say the same about LITTLE ALT MED?

Last Friday, it was announced in Vienna that Prof Harald Walach is the recipient of a prestigious award. The Austrian ‘Society for Critical Thinking’ wanted to officially recognise Walach for his “unique effort to introduce science-free theories into academia“.

Walach is professor at the Europa-Universitaet Viadrina where he investigates alternative medicine as well as much more exotic subjects. During recent months, Walach made  headlines because he had published research allegedly showing that, with the use of a “Kozyrev mirror“, one can open channels of time and space and make telepathy a reality.

In the laudatio, it was pointed out that Walach’s claim to fame is his attempt to render bullshit more respectable by pressing it through the channels of his university. The end result, the speaker stressed, is not that bullshit becomes non-bullshit, but that the university stinks.

Most of Walach’s research is in the area of the more implausible end of the alternative medicine spectrum, e.g. homeopathy and spiritual healing. He also is the editor in chief of a journal specialised in alternative medicine which virtually never publishes a negative result and where he frequently promotes his bizarrely irrational concepts.

Crucially, Walach is a member of the scientific advisory board of CAM-media-watch a blog run by Claus Fritzsche and sponsored by the homeopathic manufacturer Heel who also happens to be the donor for Walach’s university chair. Fritzsche and Walach have many things in common, not just the sponsor or the obsession with irrationality but also the fact that they frequently and unfairly attack me and my work.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Walach for this remarkable award — they could not have found a more deserving pseudo-scientist!

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