MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

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!

15 Responses to Professor Harald Walach, pseudo-scientist of the year

  • Do we …. do we clap? (or might we squish a fairy in the process)

  • “…his attempt to render bullshit more respectable by pressing it through the channels of his university. The end result, …, is not that bullshit becomes non-bullshit, but that the university stinks.”
    I almost died of laughter! Too bad that this happens much too often; I have noticed it in both my home countries Canada and Sweden. I wish that universities would adopt a management policy for elementary intellectual hygiene.

  • Alex: I could not agree more! In my experience, universities are gradually run like the BMW factory: perhaps a tad less efficiently but mostly to make money.

  • Too bad that this happens much too often; I have noticed it in both my home countries Canada and Sweden..

    Same thing in Denmark. We have this department in one of our universities: http://www.sdu.dk/en/Om_SDU/Institutter_centre/Ist_sundhedstjenesteforsk/Forskning/Forskningsenheder/HMS/Forskningsomraader/Alternativ+behandling

    There is nothing in their list of purposes that suggest they want to find outt IF it works. Recently they started focusing on cancer.

    A project titled “Littereature study on the effects of complementary treatment of cancer” from 2008-2009 remains unpublished.

    About two years ago they contacted surgical deparments asking them to include patients in a project on healing as an individualised rehabilitation intervention for colorectal cancer patients. That’s all very well, but instead of calling it healing, they called it psycho-social intervention with healing as en example. And the study design was such that only a negative result would be informative. And surely when it hit the news, this was called a study about healing.

    Guess I am not a devoted fan of quackademics.

  • One problem is that only uncritical enthusiasts of alt med seem to be willing to pursue this subject on an academic level. For “real” scientists, alt med is a non-subject or a topic that can only hinder an academic career. As a result, all the uni departments are run by believers. In turn, uni courses are anti-scientific rubbish and academic research is more promotion than science. It may sound arrogant, but the Exeter unit was, in my view, the only exception worldwide.

  • I don’t think it sounds arrogant. The question you and your colleagues seeked to answer was the correct question: What works, and what doesn’t?

    The question of how to integrate altmed is irrelevant if it does not work.

  • Science should not allow new ideas which contradict the firmly established and conclusively proven mainstream paradigm. We already know that “alternative” ideas cannot possibly be true and therefore they should be rejected a priori. Even though Nobel laureate Luc Montagnier’s research claims that water has memory we know that this cannot possibly be true because it contradicts most established theories. People who challenge the scientific status quo should be ridiculed and discredited (e.g., in the mass-media, on the internet, and in social settings). It is obvious that the majority of scientists are highly trained in critical thinking and we can therefore rely on their judgment with absolute certainty. History has clearly shown that the majority was always right! We do not need any alternative treatments. The pharmaceutical industry provides us with great treatments which heal almost everything without significant negative side-effects — the rest is just bullshit (excuse my English – but this needs to be said).

    • Bertrand Rassel, that sounds like poorly executed satire, but I will address it.

      New ideas are OK. But when they are against well settled science, just hold them to proper, if not higher standards. Ask for basic things like replicability. Luc Montagnier’s claims should not blindly be held up just because he received a Nobel prize. Everything a Nobel laureate says does not automatically become gospel. This is science, not religion. He still has to play by the same rules of science after he got the Nobel prize, as he did before got it.

      Luc Montagnier’s claims are wrong in this case because they failed to replicate. All he had to do was replicate it before critical peers like everyone else. He didn’t. Nor could others. So he clearly made an experimental mistake. Lots of people do that. Nobel laureates aren’t immune to them. Do you seriously think anyone would argue against the result if everyone can replicate it?

      • Seems that in Azerbadjan they spell Bertrand Russel’s name with an A for the U??
        https://az.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bertran_Rassel

        Anyway, the joker using the Azerbadjani version of the famous polymath’s, right honourable Earl Russel’s name seems to have missed Nobel prize co-recipient, virologist Mr Montagnier’s own declaration* to the effect that the results of his two widely criticised, self-published unreviewed experiments could not be extrapolated to the products used in homeopathy.

        *The reference to Mr. Montagnier’s declaration starts at about 16:50 in the CBC documentary but I recommend everyone to watch the whole thing, not the least homeopaths.

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