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

Our new book entitled MORE HARM THAN GOOD? THE MORAL MAZE OF COMPLEMENTARY AND ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE is out. At the moment merely as an e-book, but in a few days the paperback will be available too. Yesterday, Kevin Smith and I were invited to a press briefing at the London SCIENCE MEDIA CENTRE.

On this occasion, Kevin and I explained to the journalists what our book is about. Essentially, it is an analysis of the many ethical issues in alternative medicine. We picked out just a few points which we thought might be of interest. I briefly discussed the fact that much of the research in this area is misleading to the point of being unethical. Kevin explained that this also applies to education and discussed the ethics of commerce.

In the latter context, Kevin briefly mentioned Prince Charles because he had come out with a range of ‘Dutchy Originals Herbal Tinctures’. I never mentioned Charles with a single word, and neither did the subsequent discussion focus on him.

Altogether, we all thought that the press briefing went well. We had good questions, and the journalists showed keen interest in our ethical perspective on alternative medicine.

This morning, I am surprised to see that THE TELEGRAPH, THE DAILY MAIL and apparently also the EXPRESS (I haven’t seen it yet) all carry articles about my alleged war with Prince Charles. The TELEGRAPH’s headline is: Professor reignites war with Prince Charles over homeopathy support. 

While it is, of course, entirely fine that the press reports about this particular aspect, I find it nevertheless disappointing that the essential messages of our book were lost. Nobody can be truly surprised about this, I think.

The real surprise lies elsewhere.

The newspapers cite Clarence House coming to the defence of Prince Charles. A spokesperson is quoted stating “Unfortunately the book misunderstands and misrepresents this position which The Prince has reached after years of talking to experts in many different areas of medicine.”

Yes, that is surprising!

Our book only became available hours before this comment was made. Someone in Clarence House must be a very fast reader.

8 Responses to More harm than good?

  • HRH may have ‘talked to experts’, but he has ignored anything which introduces cognitive dissonance and refuses to enter into any meaningful debate. He is suffering from DKE (see recent posts).

    I have written and asked him to provide the evidence on which he bases his opinion that homeopathy provides any benefit (beyond TLC/placebo responses). His secretary replied promptly that HRH, ‘does not enter into correspondence on the subject’. Likewise, when HRH wrote a guest editorial for the JRSM, myself and journalist Nick Ross responded, somewhat provocatively – yet there was no other response.
    ‘Nuff said.

  • Surely the storm of controversy is counterproductive. It merely stirs up the interest of the rigid, anti-authoritarian, ultra unorthodox, combative personality immune to logic or persuasion?
    Best left to smolder and die.Self deluded practitioners offering a non treatment intended for no real disease for people with no real brains.

  • It will be a great read which I’m looking forward to, and thank you for your continued efforts to battle criminal fraud…something the ‘authorities’ refuse to do properly.
    I think I would have left off the question mark however.
    Since “Alt-logic” practitioners and their ignoramus-followers can neither recognize logic, science or ethics and can only use obfuscating and ad hominem arguments they deserve no quarter…so perhaps the title should have been:
    “All harm, no good….prove otherwise assholes!”

  • Prof Ernst, brilliant book. Before I read your book, co-authored by Kevin Smith, I saw myself as a CAM apologist, now, I’m not so sure.

    I have personally seen my family members benefit from CAM therapy (used only for chronic back pain) and this sparked my interest in CAM initially. Whether they improved due to placebo, due to the get-better-anyway effect or for another reason was irrelevant to me and irrelevant to them, they improved.

    I thoroughly enjoyed your rational ethical arguments and case examples. They have provided me with a strong armoury in the debate surrounding the use of CAM but I feel a lot of stones have been left unturned.

    I wanted you and Smith to delve into the grey-er areas of medicine/CAM:

    – CAM as an option when conventional medicine doesn’t have the answer
    – Chronic MSk pain and CAM (not acute pain that normally resolves)
    – Implausibility, to me, shouldn’t equate to unethical behaviour as you elude to in your first chapter. We know little about the pharmacodynamics of many a drug in modern medicine. Some ‘implausible’ therapies also have positive evidence from systematic reviews (such as acupuncture for oocyte retrieval – as you mention in your Desktop Guide to CAM) – should we ban these, even though we know they have positive results? Does that align with utilitarianism?
    – What is the alternative to no CAM? People may have nowhere to turn for their chronic back pain when conventional medicine falls short of a solution and feel let down. Surely this doesn’t add to a society’s utility?

    A great read and I have recommended it to other medical students and family members.

    If you have a response to any of my comments that would be greatly appreciated.
    Best wishes,

    Toby

    • “What is the alternative to no CAM?”
      the alternative is better conventional medicine with empathy, time and compassion.

      • Agreed. In an ideal world. We are far from there, with GP appointments being limited to 10 minutes.

        I wish your book touched upon your own reviews of positives of CAM and the ethics behind the practice of these. I understand by trait you are a critic, but it would have been useful for me to understand the principalist or non-consequentialist arguments for:

        – Acupuncture for chronic back pain, dental pain, idiopathic headache, oocyte retrieval, OA of the knee (now withdrawn by NICE)
        – Alexander technique for chronic back pain
        – Hypnotherapy as an analgesic, for IBS, chronic pain
        – Massage for low back pain
        – Osteopathy for low back pain

        All the things you mention in your Desktop Guide. Denying patients access to these evidence-based CAM approaches could be seen as unethical if CAM therapists are honest and in their practice?

        I went to the College of Medicine’s Foundation Course (got a bursary… I wouldn’t have gone if I had to pay!) to see what is being promoted. The thing I found most interesting, was the number of GPs that were looking to ‘improve their toolkit’ due to not having the available solutions to many common GP presentations (tension-headache/back pain/neck pain and other MSk-related issues).

        The truth is, at the moment, many primary practitioners feel as though they don’t have the toolkits to help patients with certain chronic conditions.

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