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

A recent post of mine seems to have galvanized concerns about my image and general attitude towards so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). Here are the comments I am referring to:

Hanjo Lehmann

…you should take care of your image: not being a man who just hates anything that smells like “alternative medicine” but rather an experienced scientist and physician who sees things with appropriate skepticism.

Eelco_G

Edzard preaches for his own parish and does not reach the people he would like to reach. A little more wisdom and ability to put things into perspective would earn him much more respect.

Mike Grant

Hanjo made some valid points Edzard. Perhaps you should suppress your ego?

Socrates

If you want to persuade people it’s not enough just to be right. There are times to be antagonistic and times to be more understanding. And sweeping generalisations can get people’s backs up unnecessarily.

Please allow me to take this opportunity to explain my attitude, motivation, image, etc. a little better.

After SCAM and SCAM-research had previously been a mere hobby of mine, I took the Exeter chair in ‘complementary medicine’ in 1993. Ever since, I spent my time studying the subject. Between 1993 and 2012, I headed the worldwide most productive department of SCAM research. My team published several books for healthcare professionals and well over 1 000 peer-reviewed papers on SCAM. I personally gave about 500 lectures on SCAM to all sorts of audiences all over the world. None of these books, papers, lectures, etc. are in any way dismissive of SCAM. They are, I hope, rigorously scientific.

What I am trying to point out is this: for 20 odd years I have done more that anyone else to persuade, to be understanding, to promote sound evidence, to abstain from opinion, to suppress my “ego”, to reach people interested in SCAM, to see things with “appropriate skepticism”, to be polite, to avoid stepping on anyone’s toes, to be politically correct – while conducting the best science that the circumstances allowed.

What did it get me?

Was my work acclaimed by the SCAM community?

No.

Did my research receive the funding I had been promised?

No.

Did I manage to persuade the SCAM-community to think more critically?

No.

Did even my own university show any appreciation?

No, more than once, my peers even tried to influence the nature and/or direction of my research.

In 2012, I retired from my Exeter post because Charles’ intervention had been allowed to completely destroy my department.

Was I disappointed?

Yes, the only department worldwide that independently and critically investigated SCAM had ceased to exist. This certainly is disappointing!

Was I bitter?

No, on the contrary, I had voluntarily taken the decision to retire and I soon felt relieved to no longer have anyone breathing down my neck. I was looking forward to carrying on my work, free of the pressures and irritating voices trying to tell me what outcomes were expected of me. I was delighted to be free of the tedious task to fund-raise. I was happy to be relieved of all the tedious amount of admin.

Now, more than 10 years later, my work gives me great fun every day and often laugh tears about certain aspects of SCAM. Those who think or hope that I am a bitter old fool I must disappoint bitterly.

After retiring, I wrote a series of books and started this blog. On the very first post, dated 14/10/2012, I explained my decision:

Why another blog offering critical analyses of the weird and wonderful stuff that is going on in the world of alternative medicine? The answer is simple: compared to the plethora of uncritical misinformation on this topic, the few blogs that do try to convey more reflected, sceptical views are much needed; and the more we have of them, the better.

I am telling you all this to explain that

  • I have little patience with people who feel compelled to tell me what to do.
  • For me a blog is something entirely different than a peer-reviewed paper – the former is written quickly and tends to be be light-hearted, ironic, sarcastic, provocative, exaggerated, journalistic, etc., while the latter usually is carefully worded, scientific and bone-dry.
  • With my blog, I try to create an entertaining counterbalance to the plethora of uncritical misinformation on SCAM.
  • Therefore, I am deliberately critical of SCAM.
  • I do not hate anyone or anything.
  • I am not in the slightest concerned about my image.
  • I know very well what I am doing and quite confident that, during the last 30 years, I have reflected on issues around SCAM more deeply than most.

So, to those who still are concerned about my image or my approach to SCAM I say THANKS for your advice – but no thanks. And of those who doubt my science I ask, please study my peer-reviewed papers.

PS

Of course, none of this means that I make no mistakes, or that am not frequently troubled by self-doubt. So, please do carry on criticising me and my work, but don’t assume that I worry about my image.

11 Responses to Thanks everyone for your touching concerns about my image

  • Thank you Mr. Ernst for all of your work. As a mother and as a woman I have been bombarded with SCAM from all kind of directions. Saying NO to them became easier for me since I bought your book “Gesund ohne Pillen” and since I discovered your blog, it gave me professional arguments to react and be prepared everytime I was beeing explained why to use SCAM. I never trusted SCAM anyway because of a humanistic and scientific education I received back in the 80s but it has become more difficult since SCAM has invaded many spaces with marketing terms like alternative, functional or integrative medicine and everyone seems to sell related products. Please keep on going with your Aufklärung like a magician who explains his tricks so that we have a place of sanity in this crazy world.

    • many thanks

    • Greetings — I can say very much the same thing over here in North America. The book I happened on was “Trick or Treatment” co-authored with Simon Singh. I have sent many copies to ill-informed friends and acquaintances. The marketing gimmicks are getting worse all the time and our task is Sisyphean for sure, but Dr Ernst, Dr Gorski and all the rest keep me going.

  • If you want to spread a lie, it seems to be an effective strategy to blame your enemy of your own wrongdoing/character flaw/crime etc.. Far-right politicians do this all the time, as do the enemies of science and reason.
    I am very impressed that for many years, you seem to be able to shake off such attacks from your enemies quite easily.

  • What a delightful return serve. Please keep doing what you do, how you want to, and never bow to the whims of others just to be polite, or popular, or politically correct or even right.

  • Dr Ernst, your blog has helped me provide good information on various social media sites. Here I know I will find the most accurate assessments of the current state of evidence on SCAM products, procedures, and schemes, with references, always well written and accurate. Thank you so much for your work.

    I saw the kiddies’ attacks and didn’t know what to say at the time. It was like being in a Ted Talk and having some child yell out, “Doodyhead!”

    When a logical article based in factual information is attacked by people using very common logical fallacies right in the open, with no claim to knowing truth or having any facts or reason, what kind of response can there be? You were “attacked” by toddlers throwing sticks and stones from their parent’s basements, and toddlers do think they’re oh-so smart.

    Hanjo Lehmann, Eelco_G, Mike Grant and “Socrates”: They tend to use the Ad Hominem logical fallacy, the most basic. Most humans start using this as toddlers. What Hanjo, Eelco, and Mike don’t know is that this is the equivalent of passing gas in a crowded elevator. Don’t you agree, it would be best if they’re in the same elevator together, so they can be more effective switching the topic to the person making the argument, rather than talking about the topic. (There wouldn’t be a valid topic, which seems to be their aim.)

    “Socrates”? Uses sweeping generalizations against what he thinks are “sweeping generalizations”. Brilliant. For a middle schooler approaching adolescence. He’s using the Red Herring common falacy along with Ad Hominem, bravo!

    I await the kids learning. Maybe we’ll see them graduate to further logical fallacies such as:

    * Appeal to Tradition (“SCAM has been used for millions of years!”),

    * Bandwagon (“Scam is valid because so many people buy SCAM products every year!”),

    * False Dilemma (“It can’t be invalid because this one study said it works, and there is no other option, no study says it doesn’t work”),

    * Hasty Generalization (“3 people were helped by this product!”),

    * Appeal to Authority (“The expert RFK Jr wouldn’t support this if it were not true!”),

    * Straw Man (“You claimed all SCAM kills all people who use it, and that’s just doo doo!”), and

    * Appeal to Ignorance (“You can’t prove that to be false, therefore, that SCAM procedure does everything they say it does!” )

    Dr Ernst, do you think they’ll ever get to the age of logic?

  • All I can say is continue your excellent work as long as you can. Having just read your story I am hugely impressed by your life and achievements and I read your blog daily and share it when I can. Concerns about your ‘image’ just reflect the superficiality of those who are sucked into the SCAM world who base their beliefs on how things seem and not what they are. There are millions being duped.

    Nobel prize for science anyone????

  • Dear Dr. Ernst, Thank you for your serious research, books and blog entries. Please keep up the good and much-needed work!
    Those commenters made fools of themselves with the same sort of self-ignorance as when they peddle their unfounded beliefs.

    For example:
    @ Hanjo Lehmann

    > …you should take care of your image: not being a man who just hates anything that smells like “alternative medicine” but rather an experienced scientist and physician who sees things with appropriate skepticism.

    A: Yes, exactly what Edzard is doing. It is admirable that he can keep up such a scientific stance instead of rolling on the floor roaring with laughter, which is the more natural reaction among us lookers-on.

    @Eelco_G

    > Edzard preaches for his own parish and does not reach the people he would like to reach.

    A: Yes, it’s true that he doesn’t reach you. Unfortunately your kind of people seem to be immune against knowledge. I wonder how that is even possible.

  • As a clinical herbalist and educator in herbal medicine, I’ve found your blog to be an invaluable resource for myself and as a recommended reading for my students. Critical analysis sits at the apex of Bloom’s taxonomy, serving as a cornerstone for developing advanced cognitive skills. Your contributions through both your books and blog posts are instrumental in challenging the prevalent illogical assumptions within the field of alternative medicine. These resources have proven to be an excellent catalyst for fostering critical thinking skills.

    Your dedication to rigorous scientific scrutiny over the past three decades has not only advanced the discourse surrounding so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) but has also provided a much-needed counterbalance to the uncritical and often misleading information that proliferates in this domain. The nuanced distinction you make between the tone and intent of blog posts versus peer-reviewed papers is particularly enlightening, underscoring the importance of engaging with and critiquing these mediums appropriately.

    Your work continues to be a beacon for those of us committed to the principles of evidence-based practice and the promotion of sound scientific methodologies. The challenges and skepticism you’ve faced have undoubtedly contributed to the depth and rigor of your analysis, making your insights all the more valuable to the broader scientific and medical communities.

    I encourage you to maintain your critical stance on SCAM, as your voice is essential in the ongoing dialogue about the validity and efficacy of alternative medical practices. Your candid reflections on your journey, challenges, and the evolution of your views offer a compelling narrative that underscores the importance of persistence, critical inquiry, and scientific integrity.

    Keep up the exemplary work! Your efforts are recognized and deeply appreciated by those of us who strive to uphold the highest standards of educational excellence and scientific inquiry in the field of herbal medicine.

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