When the British Medical Journal (BMJ) asked me for an interview, I felt very honoured and obliged with great pleasure. The result was published in the BMJ earlier this year. I take the liberty of re-publishing it here on my blog because many of my readers do not see the BMJ, and I think it’s rather fun. Moreover, I hope it might provide my critics with more diverse material for ad hominem attacks – the constant allegations that I am in the pocket of ‘Big Pharma’, that I have never done any original research etc. etc. are getting just too boring.
HERE IT IS
Edzard Ernst is a champion of clear thinking in the often murky waters of alternative medicine. As Britain’s first professor of the subject at Exeter, he investigated claims made by its practitioners and found many to be devoid of supporting evidence. He was productive and highly visible and became a bit of an embarrassment to a craven university administration when he took on the Prince of Wales. He was frozen out, as he explains in his book A Scientist in Wonderland (subtitled A Memoir of Searching for Truth and Finding Trouble). Despite it all he, a German by birth, remains a phlegmatic Anglophile.
What was your earliest ambition?
As a young man I wanted to become a jazz musician. I practised enthusiastically—first on the clarinet, then on the drums—and if it had not been for my mother I might have ended up as a (not all that brilliant) drummer.
Who has been your biggest inspiration?
Hans and Sophie Scholl, two Munich University students and members of the White Rose resistance group who opposed Hitler by distributing leaflets at the university. On 23 February 1943, only five days after their arrest, they were executed.
What was the worst mistake in your career?
Most of my friends thought that leaving my chair in Vienna to become a researcher of alternative medicine was a grave error.
What was your best career move?
Leaving Vienna and becoming a researcher of alternative medicine.
Bevan or Lansley? Who has been the best and the worst health secretary in your lifetime?
Bevan is an undisputed hero who, in my view, cannot possibly be surpassed by the Lansleys of this world. The worst heath secretary will be the one who finally completes the Tory sell off of the NHS.
Who is the person you would most like to thank and why?
My mother for bringing me into this world and for steering me in the right direction with love and determination.
To whom would you most like to apologise?
To all the patients who, day in, day out, become victims of some form of quackery. It should have been my job to warn them and to point them towards treatments that actually work.
If you were given £1m what would you spend it on?
I might start a charity dedicated to counterbalance the overwhelming amount of misinformation about alternative medicine that consumers constantly have to endure.
When are you happiest?
When I manage to give to others in a way that is truly appreciated.
What single unheralded change has made the most difference in your field in your lifetime?
The intervention of the self proclaimed “enemy of the enlightenment” who advocates “integrated medicine” for the NHS that, for the most part, is unmitigated quackery. Prince Charles certainly made a difference in my field, albeit not in a positive way.
Do you support doctor assisted suicide?
Doctors should be able (but not obliged) to assist their patients in this way.
What book should every doctor read?
My memoir, A Scientist In Wonderland, of course. But not really—I find the idea of one book for all doctors a little bizarre.
What poem, song, or passage of prose would you like mourners at your funeral to hear?
When they are about to go home I’d like them to listen to the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band performing “I’m Going to Bring a Watermelon to My Girl Tonight.”
What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Research! During the past 20 years pen pushers of various kinds have managed to make it feel like a guilty pleasure.
If you could be invisible for a day what would you do?
I would try to do some mischief that benefits all of us, such as transferring all bankers’ bonuses to the NHS or vaccinating the children of “anti-vaxxers.”
Clarkson or Clark? Would you rather watch Top Gear or Civilisation? What television programmes do you like?
I have to admit that I do sometimes watch Clarkson, mostly to learn how to avoid coming across like a middle aged chauvinist. If, however, I want to have a good time in front of my TV I watch a Bond film, only to doze off after the opening sequence.
What is your most treasured possession?
My memories of friends and family, of good times and tears of laughter.
What, if anything, are you doing to reduce your carbon footprint?
Wearing one or, if necessary, two extra layers (sometimes even thermal skiing underwear) when an icy wind makes our Suffolk home too cold for comfort.
What personal ambition do you still have?
To be on the BBC Radio 4 programme Desert Island Discs. It would be such a fun way to link life, medicine, and music.
Summarise your personality in three words
Stubborn, compassionate, rational.
Where does alcohol fit into your life?
As a collector of fine Bordeaux wines, I can hardly deny that it often fits very well indeed.
What is your pet hate?
Administrators who seem to think that the prime role of everyone else is to accommodate their whims.
What would be on the menu for your last supper?
As long as the wine for the main course is a Chateau Latour from a good year, I don’t mind.
Do you have any regrets about becoming a doctor and academic?
If you weren’t in your present position, what would you be doing instead?
I would probably be sitting behind a drum kit making even more disturbing noises.