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

It’s sad but true: not everyone likes THE ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE HALL OF FAME. Take this recent comment, for instance:

It is pathetic to see that Edzard only engages in the systematic harassment of his former colleagues or people who in most cases ignore him. Perhaps because he knows that his battle against homeopathy was totally lost in Germany, Switzerland and Brazil, as could be seen in the imminent failure of the “Questao Da Ciencia Institute”…  Edzard acts as a real bully against Dr. Jacobs by including her in a “hall of fame” to humiliate her before the hoolingans who applaud her, who are always the four guardian trolls who never contribute or benefit to the discussion… 

But then there are others who do appreciate it and recognize that it serves an important purpose: to alert the public to the fact that there is something deeply wrong with much of the published research in so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). Incidentally, this was also the theme of my last post on acupuncture and is the topic of many of my recent articles. Thus the aim of my HALL OF FAME is not to humiliate anyone; it is merely one of many of my attempts to protect the public from misleading information that has the potential to do much harm.

And therefore, I am not likely to close the HALL OF FAME any time soon.

Someone who has been waiting for ages to get admitted is the prolific psychologist Professor Harald Walach. He has in the past changed employment frequently.  After building up a research group in SCAM at the University Hospital in Freiburg he held a research professorship with the University of Northampton, UK from 2005-2009 where he directed the MSc Program of Transpersonal Psychology and Consciousness Studies. From 2010 to 2016, he worked at the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder), where he headed a postgraduate Master program training doctors in SCAM and cultural sciences. Currently, Walach is affiliated with three institutions:

  • Department of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Medical University Poznan, Poznan, Poland.
  • Department of Psychology, University Witten-Herdecke, Witten, Germany.
  • Change Health Science Institute, Berlin, Germany

In 2012, Walach was elected pseudoscientist of the year, a fact that should almost automatically unlock the HALL’s door for him. But let’s not be hasty; let’s have a look at his publications. My Medline search for ‘Walach H, clinical trial’ generated 40 hits of which 19 related to clinical studies of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). Here are their conclusions:

  1. Both physiotherapy and PPT improve subacute low back pain significantly. PPT is likely more effective and should be studied further.
  2. One treatment session of enhanced MMT physiotherapy or RegentK can lead to nearly full function and thus recovery of a ruptured ACL after 1 year.
  3. MBSR did not produce cardiac autonomic benefits or changes in daily activity in FM. Furthermore, the lack of an association between patient-experienced clinical improvement and objective physiological measures suggests that subjective changes in the wellbeing of FM patients over time are not related to alterations in the cardiorespiratory autonomic function or activity levels.
  4. Mindfulness therapy may prevent disability pension and it may have a potential to significantly reduce societal costs and increase the effectiveness of care. Accumulated weeks of unemployment and sickness benefit are possible risk factors for BDS.
  5. Mindfulness therapy is a feasible and acceptable treatment. The study showed that mindfulness therapy was comparable to enhanced treatment as usual in improving quality of life and symptoms.
  6. In conclusion, primary outcome analyses did not support the efficacy of MBSR in fibromyalgia, although patients in the MBSR arm appeared to benefit most.
  7. Homeopathic remedies produce different symptoms than placebo.
  8. We, therefore, conclude that homeopathic remedies produce more symptoms typical for a remedy than non-typical symptoms. The results furthermore suggest a somewhat non-classical pattern because symptoms of one remedy appear to be mimicked in the other trial arm. This might be indicative of entanglement in homeopathic systems.
  9. In patients with CFS, distant healing appears to have no statistically significant effect on mental and physical health but the expectation of improvement did improve outcome.
  10. Treatments with QUANTEC may be accompanied by beneficial health effects.
  11. The results showed that both remedies ‘produced’ significantly more symptoms than placebo. With regard to the specificity, the Calendula officinalis group displayed more remedy-specific symptoms than placebo. However, in the Ferrum muriaticum group more Calendula symptoms than placebo were also recorded.
  12. Homeopathic proving symptoms appear to be specific to the medicine and do not seem to be due to a local process.
  13. We conclude that in an unselected sample of headache patients some may indeed be susceptible to the low intensity type of electromagnetic radiation exemplified by sferics pulses.
  14. We conclude that Bach-flower remedies are an effective placebo for test anxiety and do not have a specific effect.
  15. Approximately 30% of patients in homeopathic treatment will benefit after 1 y of treatment. There is no indication of a specific, or of a delayed effect of homeopathy.
  16. There is no indication that belladonna 30CH produces symptoms different from placebo or from no intervention. Symptoms of a homeopathic pathogenetic trial (HPT) are most likely chance fluctuations.
  17. Chronically ill patients who want to be treated by distant healing and know that they are treated improve in quality of life.
  18. Mind machines do not have a specific effect on general well-being and physiological relaxation, although they may produce unusual psychological experiences; people with psychiatric illnesses should not use such devices.
  19.  Group evaluation showed no clearcut differences. The claim that homoeopathic potencies can produce symptoms other than placebo in healthy subjects should be put to further scrutiny.

So, as we see, Prof Walach has published many clinical trials on numerous SCAMs . Their majority arrived at positive conclusions. His TI is therefore sky-high. But he has also published studies that were dramatically negative, even some of homeopathy!

The main criterion for admission to THE ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE HALL OF FAME is to have published SCAM research that hardly ever concludes negatively. Does Walach fulfill it? Should he be allowed to join this illustrious group of people?

I have to admit, the decision was not easy in this case. However, after considering all the evidence, I have decided in favour of admission.

WELCOME PROF WALACH!

 

4 Responses to Prof Harald Walach joins ‘THE ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE HALL OF FAME’

  • There are some interesting sounding results here that MIGHT both be verifiable/ add to what we know eg 9 and 17’s findings of outcomes influenced by ‘expectation of outcome’ (esp with knowledge of distant healing), and 14 (Bach flower as effective placebo), but you’d have to delve into the actual papers. I think the Q about whether someone gets into Hall of Fame should depend on the QUALITY of the METHODS used in all the studies. Yes, all ‘positive’ is almost pathognomic. Those who ‘set out to prove what they already know’ often reveal themselves in poor methodology. Good scientists set up solid research questions and studies, and are often disappointed by the thumping negative or unexpected results.

    • true!
      but good or poor studies of implausible SCAMs are suspect, if invariably positive.
      for instance:
      if someone published 20 poor-quality studies of crystal healing, all with positive conclusions, I would guess that something might be odd.
      if someone published 20 high-quality studies of crystal healing, all with positive conclusions, I would guess that something might be very odd.
      my HALL OF FAME is therefore indiscriminate of methodological quality. it might include rogues and geniuses. I find the mixture more entertaining.
      [and in any case, most of my blog with its > 2000 posts is about analyzing the quality of new studies; the HALL OF FAME is meant to be different]

  • A general comment: I think the ‘Alternative Medicine Hall of Fame’ is an excellent, appropriate, and necessary thing. We need to know who the quacks are! And the wider that this knowledge can be disseminated, the better for public health!

    Contrary to being “systematic harassment” (as per the quote cited by Edzard), entries are added based on facts and evidence. Claims of ‘harassment’ don’t wash – it seems to me that such protests indicate a kind of reverse ad hominem argument, whereby the facts are not dealt with and instead the objector resorts to howling against the alleged motivations of Edzard.

    And TBH, as well being valuable, the ‘Hall of Fame’ provides a great deal of amusement also 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Recent Comments

Note that comments can be edited for up to five minutes after they are first submitted but you must tick the box: “Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.”

The most recent comments from all posts can be seen here.

Archives
Categories