The Charité in Berlin is a medical school with considerable tradition and reputation. It, therefore, seems a little baffling that this institution agreed to the creation of a professorship in anthroposophical medicine, a branch of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) that is not only highly implausible but also not supported by sound clinical evidence of doing more good than harm.
The TAZ (a well-known and usually reliable German news outlet) has looked into this issue and just published a report of which I translated the main passages (the additions in brackets were added by me):
In December 2010, after a discussion, the Software AG (an anthroposophical Foundation) offered to finance an anthroposophical professorship at the Charité, according to documents available to the taz. The foundation writes on its website that it wants to use its money to advance the “academization of anthroposophic medicine.” A professorship at a famous institution like the Charité seems like a major prize. The Charité is offered the prospect of 250,000 euros per year.
Investing this money is apparently so important to the Foundation that it spends five years courting the Charité for the professorship. When things don’t go fast enough for them, the project manager writes sharp emails to the Charité administration in December 2016: they are “quite irritated and correspondingly annoyed.” They would be happy “if this never-ending story can finally find a positive conclusion.”
The Foundation apparently has already had an idea of who could take up this professorship early on – although professorships are not actually allowed to be advertised “ad personam,” i.e., tailored to a person. In May 2012, it proposes to include the anthroposophical Havelhöhe Hospital in Berlin (we reported about this place before). It would make a clinical area available for this purpose. There had apparently already been an exchange of views on this.
The contract for the “establishment of a temporary W2 endowed professorship for five years” is dated April 15, 2015. It also states that Charité must indicate that the professorship is funded by the Software AG Foundation. Which it then fails to do.
At this point, the professorship has already been publicly advertised. Very specific requirements are formulated in the advertisement: Among other things, expertise in gastroenterology and oncology is desired, as well as research interest in chronic inflammatory bowel diseases. These happen to be the specializations that the medical director of Havelhöhe Hospital has to show: Harald Matthes (we have met him before on this blog).
Matthes lands as “primo et unico loco” on the appointment list, i.e. as the first-ranked and only candidate. Whether anyone else has applied for the professorship at all, the Charité does not want to answer. Normally, there are three people on an appointment list, unless the requirements for the professorship are too niche. When the Faculty Council votes on filling the professorship, it has to take two ballots because the necessary majority is not reached in the first vote. In March 2017, Matthes is finally appointed professor at the Charité. For proponents of anthroposophic medicine, this has historic significance: “It is tantamount to a knighthood for anthroposophic medicine,” says a chronology of the umbrella organization.
Before his appointment, Harald Matthes negotiated a special request: He wants to remain chief physician in Havelhöhe, which is why he formally took a five-year leave of absence on the first day of his professorial career at Charité. This concept is called the “Jülich Model”. Harald Matthes is not the first to exercise his professorship in this way. It is unusual, however, to cooperate with a private hospital; normally, cooperation is arranged with other research institutions.
Matthes’ employer, Havelhöhe Hospital, also benefits financially from the deal. The Charité transfers a large part of the foundation’s money to Havelhöhe – the documents mention an amount equivalent to a W2 salary. In a letter, the dean of the Charité at the time, Axel Radlach Pries, called Matthes’ wishes “unusual and going beyond previous models of endowed professorships at the Charité.”
Also unusual is that Harald Matthes does not teach any courses at Charité, according to the internal course catalog, even though the contract available to taz specifies nine semester hours of teaching per week. In the Jülich model, two hours of teaching per week are the rule.
So Harald Matthes is the big winner in this: He gets a professorial title without many obligations, while at the same time, money flows to his hospital.
But what does the Charité get out of it? The contract for the establishment of the professorship states that new aspects will thus flow into research, teaching, and patient care. Matthes himself says he is convinced that he is contributing to the scientific progress of the institution. Before his professorship expires after five years, he will ask for an extension in August 2021. “I would like to point out that my work and results in research, teaching, and clinical care have led to international recognition and contributed to the reputation of Charité,” he writes. At the time, he is working on the so-called ImpfSurv study, for which people are asked about possible side effects from the Corona vaccine using an online questionnaire. He gets a lot of media attention for it.
In April 2022, for example, Matthes appears on MDR television, his name superimposed under “Charité Berlin.” He presents the interim results of his study: the serious side effects are much more frequent than the Paul Ehrlich Institute, which is responsible for vaccines, would indicate. Only: This cannot be said at all.
The study has methodological flaws, the Charité distances itself from the statements of its professor. People had participated twice in the survey, and it was not scientific to conclude that there was a connection between symptoms and vaccination without the assessment of a doctor. The study is discontinued.
Before that, when the study was still running, the evaluation commission met several times to discuss the extension of the endowed professorship. In doing so, it “thoroughly reviewed all of Prof. Matthes’ achievements.” What exactly the commission recorded is not known. The document released to the taz is extensively redacted.
What is certain is this: In February 2022, the commission votes for the extension for another five years. Anthroposophy may keep its professorship at the Berlin Charité until at least 2027. The anthroposophical foundation now transfers 293,000 euros per year for this.