These days, I live in France (some of my time) and I am often baffled by the number of osteopaths and the high level of acceptance of osteopathy in this country. The public seems to believe everything osteopaths claim and even most doctors have long given up to object to the idiocies they proclaim.
The website of the Institute of Osteopathy in Renne is but one of many examples. The Institute informed us as follows (my translation):
In addition to back pain, the osteopath can act on functional disorders of the digestive, neurological, cardiovascular systems or conditions related to ear, nose and throat. Osteopaths can promote recovery in athletes, relieve migraines, musculoskeletal disorders such as tendonitis, or treat sleep disorders. Less known for its preventive aspect, osteopathy also helps maintain good health. It can be effective even when everything is going well because it will prevent the appearance of pain. Osteopathy is, in fact, a manual medicine that allows the rebalancing of the major systems of the body, whatever the age of the patient and his problems. The osteopath looks for the root cause of your complaint in order to develop a curative and preventive treatment.
Who are osteopathic consultations for?
Osteopathic consultations at the Institute of Osteopathy of Rennes-Bretagne are intended for the following types of patients and pathologies
BABY / CHILD
GERD (gastric reflux), plagiocephaly (cranial deformities), recurrent ENT disorders (sinusitis, ear infections…), digestive, sleep and behavioural disorders, motor delay, following a difficult birth…
Prevention, comfort treatment of osteoarthritis, musculoskeletal pain, functional abdominal pain, digestive disorders, headaches, dizziness, postural deficiency, facial pains…
Musculoskeletal pain (lumbago, back pain), digestive disorders, preparation for childbirth, post-partum check-up.
Prevention and treatment of MSDs (musculoskeletal disorders) linked to workstation ergonomics, stress, pain due to repetitive movements, poor posture at work, etc.
Scoliosis, prevention of certain pathologies linked to growth, fatigue, stress, follow-up of orthodontic treatment.
Musculoskeletal pain, tendonitis, osteopathic preparation for competition, osteopathic assessment according to the sport practised, repetitive injury.
In case you are not familiar with the evidence for osteopathy, let me tell you that as good as none of the many claims made in the above text is supported by anything that even resembles sound evidence.
So, how can we explain that, in France, osteopathy is allowed to thrive in a virtually evidence-free space?
In France, osteopathy started developing in the 1950s. In 2002, osteopathy received legislative recognition in France, and today, it is booming; between 2016 and 2018, 3589 osteopaths were trained in France. Osteopaths can be DO doctors, DO physiotherapists, DO nurses, DO midwives, DO chiropodists, or even DO dentists.
Thus, in 2018, and out of a total of 29,612 professionals practising osteopathy, there were 17,897 osteopaths DO and 11,715 DO health professionals. The number of professionals using the title of osteopath has roughly tripled in 8 years (11608 in 2010 for 29612 in 2018). There are currently around 30 osteopathic schools in France. About 3 out of 5 French people now consult osteopaths.
But this does not answer my question why, in France, osteopathy is allowed to thrive in a virtually evidence-free space! To be honest, I do not know its answer.
Perhaps someone else does?
If so, please enlighten me.
I have often warned that, even if chiropractic manipulations were harmless (which they are clearly not), this would not necessarily apply to those who administer them, the chiropractors. They can do harm via interfering or advising against conventional interventions (the best-research example is immunization) or by treating conditions that they are not competent to tackle (like ear infections), or giving advice that endangers the health of the patient.
Italian authors reported the case of a 67-year-old woman, who had been suffering from low back pain due to herniated discs, decided to undergo chiropractic treatment. According to the chiropractor’s prescription, the patient drank about 8 liters of water in a day. During the afternoon, she developed headaches, nausea, vomiting, and fatigue, for which reason she consulted the chiropractor, who reassured the patient and suggested continuing the treatment in order to purify the body. The next day, following the intake of another 6 liters of water, the patient developed sudden water retention, loss of consciousness, and tonic-clonic seizures; for this reason, she was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit with a coma from electrolyte alterations.
The diagnosis of water intoxication was stated based on the history reported by the family members; according to the clinical findings, the hydro-electrolytic alterations were adequately corrected, allowing the disease resolution. Once resolved the intoxication, the patient underwent surgery to treat a shoulder dislocation and a humerus fracture which occurred due to a fall consequent to the tonic-clonic seizures.
The Judicial Authority thus ordered a medico-legal evaluation of the chiropractor’s behavior in order to identify any professional liability issue.
The Italian authors commented that this case is peculiar since it shows the dangerous implications for the patients’ health and safety deriving from the prescription of a large quantity of water intake, without any control by the chiropractor, and thus underestimating the risks of such a practice, as evidenced by the suggestion to continue the water intake aiming to detoxify the body from pharmacological substances. As a consequence, the patient developed a severe form of hyponatremia, leading to life-threatening complications that could have been otherwise avoided.
The medico-legal evaluation of the case led to the admission of professional liability of the chiropractor, who
thus had to pay the damages to the patient.
It is, of course, tempting to argue that the patient was not very clever to follow this ridiculous advice (and that the chiropractor was outright stupid to give it). One might even go further and argue that most patients trusting chiros are not all that smart … one could … but it is far from me to do so.
Two chiropractors conducted a retrospective review of publicly available data from the California Board of Chiropractic Examiners. Their aim was to determine categories of offense, experience, and gender of disciplined doctors of chiropractic (DC) in California and compare them with disciplined medical physicians in California.
The DC disciplinary categories, in descending order, were
- fraud (44%),
- sexual boundary issues (22%),
- other offences (13%),
- abuse of alcohol or drugs (10%),
- negligence or incompetence (6%),
- poor supervision (2%),
- mental impairment (.3%).
The authors concluded that the professions differ in the major reasons for disciplinary actions. Two thirds (67%) of the doctors of chiropractic were disciplined for fraud and sexual boundary issues, compared with 59% for negligence and substance misuse for medical physicians. Additional study in each profession may reveal methods to identify causes and possible intervention for those who are at high risk.
The two authors of this paper should be congratulated for their courage to publish such a review. These figures seem shocking. But I think that in reality some of them might be far higher. Take the important matter of competence, for instance. If you consider it competent that chiropractors treat conditions other than back pain, you might arrive at the above-mentioned figure of 6%. If you consider this as incompetent, as I do, the figure might be one order of magnitude higher (for more on unprofessional conduct by chiropractors see here).
The abstract of the paper does not provide comparisons to the data related to the medical profession. Here they are; relative to doctors, chiropractors are:
- 2x more likely to be involved in malpractice,
- 9x more likely to be practising fraud,
- 2x more likely to transgress sexual boundaries.
The frequency of fraud is particularly striking. Come to think of it, however, it is not all that amazing. I have said it before: chiropractic is in my view mostly about money.
It has been reported that B.C.’s chiropractors are deeply divided about the future of their profession, disagreeing on everything from false advertising to the use of routine X-rays.
Chiropractors attending an extraordinary general meeting of the College of Chiropractors of B.C. were split nearly down the middle on a series of non-binding resolutions addressing actions the College has taken in recent years. By the narrowest of margins, with at most 54% support, the members voted in favor of the college’s moves to limit the use of diagnostic X-rays and ban claims that aren’t supported by scientific evidence. The question that remains is who represents the bulk of the profession in B.C. — chiropractors advocating for what they describe as evidence-based practice targeting the musculoskeletal system, or “vitalists” who argue that chiropractic treatment can help with everything from immunity to brain function.
The modernizers see it as “a deliberate attempt to take over the college by a small group of chiropractors with no respect or knowledge of regulation … funded by organizations out of the province and out of the country,” Victoria chiropractor Clark Konczak told the virtual meeting.
At issue was a series of policies the college introduced in the wake of what Konczak called “the smoothie episode.” He was referring to a video posted on Facebook in 2017 by the then-vice chair of the college’s board, Avtar Jassal, in which he falsely suggested fruit smoothies are better than vaccines at preventing the flu.
Earlier this year, the college introduced amendments that bar chiropractors from performing routine and repeat X-rays, saying radiography is only scientifically supported when there are red flags that something is seriously wrong. The policy change on X-rays was the flashpoint in the long-simmering tension within the profession. A group of chiropractors has filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court, alleging the college is preventing them from providing “safe, ethical, and effective care to their patients.” Their legal action has backing from national and international vitalistic organizations. During the recent meeting, a group of chiropractors argued unsuccessfully for the new X-ray policy to be tossed. Some suggested that chiropractors who don’t perform X-rays as a matter of routine are actually harming their patients. Another extraordinary general meeting has been called for July 20 to vote on resolutions calling for the removal of four college board members.
As I have often pointed out, chiropractic is all about money. The ‘chiro-wars’ have been going on for quite a while now, and they are by no means confined to B. C. or Canada. In a nutshell, they suggest to me that a significant proportion of chiropractors prefer money to progress.
Bernie Garrett is a professor of nursing at the University of British Columbia. He is being mentioned here because he has written a book entitled THE NEW ALCHEMISTS which deals (mostly) with so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). It is a well-written, informative, critical, and evidence-based text that I can recommend wholeheartedly. It will be available in the UK on 29 July but you can pre-order it already.
On Amazon, It is being advertised with the following words:
How to identify and see through deceptive and unethical health marketing practices Health scams come in all shapes and sizes-from the suppression of side-effects from prescription drugs to the unproven benefits of ‘traditional’ health practices-taking advantage of the human tendency to assume good intentions in others. So how do we avoid being deceived? Professor of Nursing, Bernie Garrett explores real-world examples of medical malpractice, pseudo and deceptive health science, dietary and celebrity health fads, deception in alternative medicine and problems with current healthcare regulation, ending with a simple health-scam detection kit. And he looks at how these practices and ineffective regulations affect our lives.
The book is written for the interested layperson. But I am sure that healthcare professionals will like it too, not least because it is fully referenced. Its aim is to inform and prevent consumers from being deceived and exploited by charlatans, an aim shared with this blog – while reading the book, I often got the impression that Bernie Garrett might be a regular reader of my blog.
This does not mean that I did not learn a lot from reading Bernie’s book. On the contrary, there was a lot that I did not know before and that is worth knowing. For instance, were you aware that you can earn a ‘Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine, Advanced Diploma’ or Reiki master qualification for $ 12.99 in a 6-hour online course (if you want to know where you’ll have to get Bernie’s book)? Well, I didn’t.
Yes, I did enjoy reading this book, and I share Bernie’s views on SCAM. In his overall conclusions, he writes: “The sad truth is, many health fraudsters are highly skilled manipulators, and do not always end up being held to account for their crimes, and many continue to profit from them.” Because this is so, it is good to have another splendid book that will help us in our struggle to inform the public responsibly.
RNZ reported that New Zealand doctors spreading misinformation about Covid-19 may lose their job. Medical Council chair Dr Curtis Walker said a small number of doctors were peddling conspiracies. “It’s questioning the severity of Covid, it’s questioning the safety of vaccination, it’s questioning whether the whole thing is a conspiracy theory. You know you name it, this is what’s been put out there.”
The council has received 13 complaints about medical staff from the public this year – although that included instances of multiple complaints about the same doctor. It comes after it was reported last month that dozens of heath professions, including GPs, signed an open letter opposing the Pfizer vaccine.
NZ Royal College of General Practitioners president Dr Samantha Murton said while people could choose not to get vaccinated there were serious consequences if the virus breached the borders. “If those vulnerable people are being given misinformation, they may choose to do something that’s really detrimental to their health. What worries me the most is the poorer people, the people who are at higher risk. If they’re getting this … misinformation then it’s potentially putting their lives in jeopardy.”
Kate Hannah, who researches misinformation at the University of Auckland, said anyone could be sucked in – including highly educated people such as doctors. Most misinformation originated overseas – with people here adapting it to target particular demographics, she said. “And in doing so it targets people’s lived experiences of things like racism in the health system or racism more broadly, or say women’s experiences of the health system where they may have experiences of previously not being listened to.”
Ways to spot misinformation included if someone was trying to sell you something; was asking for donations; or the information was presented to elicit an emotional reaction. “If it’s written in a way that makes you feel upset or scared, or nervous or fearful, you know that’s not normally how we convey good quality public health information. Good quality public health information should provide you with information and make you feel reassured and calm and like you can make good decisions.” Other red flags included asking for personal information or to sign up to receive regular updates – ways to separate you from your current community or sources of information, Hannah said. Covid conspiracies could act as as a gateway, exposing people to online communities espousing far right ideology, misogyny, racism and transphobia, she said.
Willful misinformation about a serious health matter amounts to a violation of medical ethics. It, therefore, stands to reason that healthcare professionals who engage in such activities should be reprimanded. If that is so, it applies not just to COVID-19 but to any medical misinformation. Moreover, I should not just apply to doctors, but to all healthcare professionals.
If we do this systematically, it would mean that also providers of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) might get struck off their professional register, if they make unsubstantiated claims in cases of serious illnesses.
Not realistic, you say?
Why not? After all, medical ethics cannot be bent to protect the interests of SCAM professionals.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
According to one website, electromagnetic fields (EMFs) are “the new smoking“:
For decades, a group of cigarette companies referred to as ‘Big Tobacco’ financed bogus scientific studies claiming smoking was perfectly safe. This tricked doctors, scientists, politicians, and smokers into a false sense of security. There were early warning signs that smoking was dangerous, but it took 50 years for the government to finally take action. Today we’re facing an even bigger health threat… EMFs. Even if many doctors, politicians and Big Wireless still claim that EMFs are perfectly safe, the early warning signs could not be clearer:
- Many leading EMF scientists say EMFs should be classified as a “Class 1” definite carcinogen (just like smoking and asbestos)
- The best functional medicine doctors like Dr. Dietrich Klinghardt, MD, PhD have observed that EMFs are at the very root cause of “Mystery” symptoms including insomnia, fatigue, depression, and digestive issues.
- New technologies like the “5G” (fifth generation) networks are being rolled out at a frantic pace, while exactly ZERO biological studies prove their safety.
- EMF “safety” standards haven’t been updated since 1996, and are based on short-term exposure to ONE device.
The Atox Bio Computer is one of many devices marketed as the solution. It is a little device that supposedly protects any person who is gullible enough to buy it from electrosmog and other EMFs. It was developed by the Russian physicist, Alexander Tarasov. Worn around the neck, the device allegedly acts by “converting negative information into positive”. Alarmingly, the Atox is also promoted as protection against ionizing radiation. Pseudo-scientific explanations are given for the mode of action, in which there is talk of an ominous “energy-information component” of radiation:
“The revolutionary insight of Dr. Tarasov is that any electromagnetic radiation of any origin consists of two components, the physical and the energy-information component. Whereby the energy-information component precedes the physical vibration and primarily affects the human organism or its bioenergetic field.”
Sounds weird? Yes, I agree! But it must be true because it is supported by a real professor from a leading medical school. In 2007, it was reported in a press release that Prof. Dr. Michael FRASS examined the ATOX Bio Computer and found that 90% of people with too low and 100% with too high initial values achieved normalization of their vegetative performance. Altogether, 92.9% of the persons benefited by wearing the ATOX biocomputer.
With regard to the ratio of sympathetic to parasympathetic impulses, 100% of the people with too low and 82.3% with too high initial values normalize their range of the total autonomic power. Overall, 84.2% of the treated individuals showed a positive course under the influence of ATOX biocomputer. According to Frass, this means that people with a high stress factor have a very high probability of returning to normal values of the autonomic system with the help of the ATOX biocomputer.
Considering the fact that such findings, if true, would necessitate to re-write large parts of the textbooks of physics and medicine, it is surprising that Frass does not include them in his CV. Perhaps he is a deeply modest scientist? Or maybe he does not want to spoil his chances for a Nobel?
Prof. Frass has, of course, featured on this blog before. For instance, because his many studies of homeopathy are invariably positive, or because his results have been shown to contain a few (pro-homeopathy) ‘errors’, or (most recently) because he published a trial of homeopathy that claimed lung cancer patients live longer if they are treated with homeopathy. The latter study is now under investigation for fraud.
Had such an investigation been initiated in back 2007 when Frass came out with his ATOX Bio Computer study (which incidentally was never properly published [at least I could not find it on Medline]), we would now not need to worry whether some desperate cancer patients did take Frass’ ‘science’ seriously.
A PROVOCATION is an action or speech that makes someone annoyed or angry, especially deliberately. In law, provocation is when a person is considered to have committed an act partly because of a preceding set of events that might cause a reasonable person to lose self-control.
An INSULT is an expression, statement, or behavior which is disrespectful or scornful. Insults may be intentional or accidental. An insult may be factual, but at the same time pejorative.
An AD HOMINEM ATTACK is an attack on the character of a person who tends to feel the necessity to defend himself or herself from the accusation.
Despite all my attempts to keep the exchanges on this blog reasonably polite, civil, and respectful, I seem to have been less than successful. This, of course, is not least my fault. I am as prone to lose my temper as anyone else, and I admit that, after decades of discussing with irrational people, my patience wears thin.
What should we do about it?
To start with, we need to understand what typically happens. In most cases, things start with a provocation. Let’s consider a recent example. As a response to my perfectly non-provocative post entitled A LOOK AT MY OWN PUBLICATIONS, I got this response:
“Surprisingly, not many of these papers are in the ‘top 100’. I am not sure whether this is meaningful and if so how I should interpret this.”
Perhaps your fame was overshadowed after Hahn showed that you manipulate data and now you are taken seriously into account only by foreign lobbies (such as the “Questao da Ciencia Institute”) and German lobby that you run from your country. It’s normal, Ernst, it’s not surprising that your colleague Natalia Pasternak pathetically cites your book in her article to justify the elimination of homeopathy in Brazil.
As we had discussed Robert Hahn’s misunderstanding of my research several times previously on this blog, my response was to simply post one of the posts that had dealt with the issue. The comment that followed was even more insulting than his previous one. My reaction was to ban the author.
This course of events is fairly typical. Normally, the sequence is as follows:
- I (or someone else) post something that displeases a reader.
- He responds with a provocation.
- I give him back accordingly.
- Things escalate until he posts one or more full-blown insults or ad hominem attacks.
- Eventually, I ban the author.
I wonder how these unpleasantries might be avoided.
- I could phrase my posts in a way that is less provocative to fans of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). I have often considered doing this. So far, I have mostly decided against it, because I feel a certain amount of provocation is healthy and needed to stimulate discussions. If I changed my style, it would be at the cost of the interest this blog often attracts.
- I could refuse to give back in the same coinage as I receive. This is precisely what I very often try. Yet, sometimes I fail. Sorry!
- I could be much stricter and ban people at the first signs of misbehavior. This, I fear, would take much of the spice and excitement out of our discussions and reduce the entertainment value of my blog.
There is no easy solution, as far as I can see.
For the time being, I will try harder to be polite and civil, and I do beg all of my readers to do the same. Other than this, there is not much that I will change. Oh, I almost forgot: there is also this previous post of mine which I usually send to people who, in my view, have overstepped the mark. It might serve as a caution that I am considering banning that person if things don’t improve.
Bottom line: thanks everyone for your efforts to control your aggressions!
An article in the Daily Mail (I know, not my favorite newspaper either) reported about a UK court case against the father of an 11-year-old daughter who objected to her being given conventional life-saving treatments for her leukemia. The man was said to be worried about possible side effects and wanted to explore homeopathic and natural therapies, while his estranged wife favored the conventional approach.
Mr Justice Hayden decided that there is ‘no basis’ for the man’s homeopathic option and that specialists can lawfully carry out the conventional treatments. But the father said he believed that previous chemotherapy had already weakened his daughter’s immune system and that the conventional treatment proposed has further side effects. He, therefore, wanted to try homeopathic and natural therapies, including ozone therapy. ‘I am not waiting for her to deteriorate and get worse,’ he told the judge. ‘Chemotherapy is not the only way. There are so many other different therapies I am hoping to try – anything as long as it doesn’t really affect her.’
A specialist treating the girl told the judge that the treatments proposed are the best option and that they know of no homeopathic options which would help. Mr Justice Hayden approved Great Ormond Street’s plan and said doctors should start the treatments as soon as possible. ‘If she receives no treatment then her life expectancy is weeks,’ he said. ‘There is no basis for the father’s homeopathic option.’
This case highlights the indirect risks of homeopathy and similar treatments in an exemplary fashion. The therapies per se might be harmless but the therapists are clearly not. There are enough homeopaths who are deluded enough to persuade their patients that homeopathy can alter the natural history of even serious conditions such as cancer. And, as we have discussed recently, these irresponsible fools are not just from the ranks of the lay-homeopaths (homeopaths who have not been to medical school) who might not know better; they also include medically trained homeopaths and even professors at leading medical schools.
You may have noticed that my patience with homeopathy, homeopaths, and other providers of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) has diminished. In fact, I do not think much of quacks of all shades and no longer muster much understanding. It is better, so I mean after approximately 30 years of discussions with snake oil salesmen and other charlatans, to offer such people Parole. Facts are facts, and no one should be allowed to ignore that without contradiction.
That was not always the case.
When I began as Chair of Complementary Medicine at Exeter in 1993, I was optimistic. It was clear to me that my task of scrutinizing this field would not be easy and could occasionally bring me into conflict with enthusiasts. But I was determined to build bridges, to remain polite, and to muster as much understanding as necessary.
And so I began to build a multidisciplinary team, conduct research, and publish it. My goal was to do as rigorous science as possible and, if avoidable, not to step on anyone’s toes in the process. Especially with regard to homeopathy, my general attitude was quite positive. Accordingly, my articles were as favorable as the evidence allowed. My goal was to emphasize the good aspects of homeopathy wherever possible.
What, you find that hard to believe?
Then you are in good company!
Homeopaths like to claim that I was out to malign not only homeopathy but all of SCAM from the beginning. That this assumption is not true, I tried to demonstrate in an article entitled ‘Homeopathy and I’. In this paper, I merely extracted typical passages from my publications. From them, you can probably see how my attitude slowly changed over the years. See for yourself (sorry for the length of the list):
- 1. homeopathic remedies are believed by doctors and patients to be almost totally safe (Ernst E, White A. Br J Gen Pract 1995; 45: 629-30)
- 2. it might be argued that arnica … is ineffective but homeopathy may still work (Ernst E. BMJ 1995; 311: 510-1)
- 3. homeopathy, I fear, has soon to come up with … more convincing evidence (Ernst E. Forsch Komplementarmed 1995; 2: 32)
- 4. future evaluations of homeopathy should be performed to a high scientific standard (Ernst E. Br Homeopath J 1995; 84: 229)
- 5. the best way forward is clearly to do rigorous research (Ernst E, Kaptchuk TJ. Arch Intern Med 1996; 156: 2162-4)
- 6. the most pressing question, ‘Is homeopathy clinically more effective than placebo’, needs to be answered conclusively (Ernst E. Br J Clin Pharmacol 1997; 44: 435-7)
- 7. there is evidence that homeopathic treatment can reduce the duration of ileus (Barnes J, Resch KL, Ernst E. J Clin Gastroenterol 1997; 25: 628-33)
- 8. the published evidence to date does not support the hypothesis that homeopathic remedies … are more efficacious than placebo (Ernst E, Barnes J. Perfusion 1998; 11: 4-8)
- 9. the claim that homeopathic arnica is efficacious beyond a placebo effect is not supported by rigorous clinical trials (Ernst E, Pittler MH. Arch Surg 1998; 133: 1187-90)
- 10. … the trial data … do not suggest that homeopathy is effective (Ernst E. J Pain Sympt Manage 1999; 18: 353-7)
- 11. … the re-analysis of Linde et al. can be seen as the ultimate epidemiological proof that homeopathic remedies are, in fact, placebos (Ernst E, Pittler MH.J Clin Epidemiol 2000; 53: 1188)
- 12. … homeopathy is not different from placebo (Ernst E, Pittler MH. J Clin Epidemiol 2002; 55: 103-4)
- 13. … the best clinical evidence … does not warrant positive recommendations (Ernst E. Br J Clin Pharmacol 2002; 54: 577-82)
- 14. the results of this trial do not suggest that homeopathic arnica has an advantage over placebo (Stevinson C, Devaraj VS, Fountain-Barber A, Hawkins S, Ernst E. J R Soc Med 2003; 96: 60-5)
- 15. this study provides no evidence that adjunctive homeopathic remedies … are superior to placebo (White A, Slade P, Hunt C, Hart A, Ernst E. Thorax 2003; 58: 317-21)
- 16. … this systematic review does not provide clear evidence that the phenomenon of homeopathic aggravations exists (Grabia S, Ernst E. Homeopathy 2003; 92: 92-8)
- 17. … the proven benefits of highly dilute homeopathic remedies … do not outweigh the potential for harm (Ernst E.Trends Pharmacol Sci 2005; 26: 547-8)
- 18 Our analysis … found insufficient evidence to support clinical efficacy of homeopathic therapy (Milazzo S, Russell N, Ernst E. Eur J Cancer 2006; 42: 282-9)
- 19. … promotion can be regrettably misleading, or their effectiveness? (Ernst E. J Soc Integr Oncol 2006; 4: 113-5)
- 20. … homeopathy is not based on solid evidence and, over time, this evidence seems to get more negative (Ernst E, Pittler MH, Wider B, Boddy K. Perfusion 2006; 19: 380-2)
- 21. the evidence from rigorous clinical trials … testing homeopathy for childhood and adolescence ailments is not convincing enough for recommendations in any condition (Altunc U, Pittler MH, Ernst E. Mayo Clin Proc 2007; 82: 69-75)
- 22. … context effects of homeopathy … are entirely sufficient to explain the benefit many patients experience (Ernst E. Curr Oncol 2007; 14: 128-30)
- 23. among all the placebos that exist, homeopathy has the potential to be an exceptionally powerful one (Ernst E. Br J Clin Pharmacol 2008; 65: 163-4)
- 24. … recommendations by professional homeopathic associations are not based on the evidence (Ernst E. Br J Gen Pract 2009; 59: 142-3)
These quotes speak for themselves, I think. But what was the reason for the change? As far as I can judge in retrospect, there were three main reasons.
1. The data became clearer and clearer
When I started researching homeopathy, at least the clinical evidence was not clearly negative. In 1991, Jos Kleinjen had published his much-noted systematic review in the BMJ. Here is its conclusion:
At the moment the evidence of clinical trials is positive but not sufficient to draw definitive conclusions because most trials are of low methodological quality and because of the unknown role of publication bias. This indicates that there is a legitimate case for further evaluation of homoeopathy, but only by means of well performed trials.
Subsequently, more and better clinical trials were published, and the overall picture became increasingly negative. Kleinjen, who had become somewhat of a hero in the realm of homeopathy, re-reviewed the evidence in 2000 and concluded that there are currently insufficient data to either recommend homoeopathy as a treatment for any specific condition or to warrant significant changes in the provision of homoeopathy.
The 24 citations above reflect this development quite nicely. Today, there is no longer much doubt that highly-diluted homeopathic remedies are pure placebos. This is perhaps most clearly expressed in the now numerous statements of high-ranking international bodies.
2. The lack of understanding on the part of homeopaths
So the evidence is now clear. But it may not fully explain why my patience with homeopaths diminished. To understand this better, one must consider the utter lack of insight of today’s homeopaths (think, for example, of the incredible Ebola story).
It is of course understandable that a homeopath would be less than enthusiastic about the increasingly negative evidence. But homeopaths are also physicians or at least medically untrained practitioners (lay homeopaths). As such, they have an obligation to acknowledge the overwhelming evidence and act accordingly. That they quite obviously do not do so, is not only regrettable but also highly unethical and shameful. In any case, I find it difficult to have much patience for such people.
3. Personal attacks
In the many years that I have now been scrutinizing SCAM, I have become used to being attacked. The attacks and insults I have received, especially from homeopaths, are legion. For example, when we published our arnica study, we were threatened with letter bombs. However, one should keep one thing in mind: ad hominem attacks are a victory of reason over unreason. If one is personally attacked by one’s opponent, it only shows that he has run out of rational arguments.
Perhaps the most impressive example of an attack was not directed against me personally, but across the board against all who dare to doubt homeopathy. Christian Boiron is the boss of the world’s largest homeopathic manufacturer, Boiron. In an interview he was once asked what he thought of homeopathy critics; his answer: “Il y a un Ku Klux Klan contre l’homéopathie” (There is a Ku Klux Klan against homeopathy).
Yes, many of these attacks even have something comical about them; nevertheless, they are not likely to increase my patience with homeopaths. This does not mean, however, that I will soon hang my opponents from the nearest tree in the old KKK tradition. I’ll gladly leave such tasteless ideas to Christian Boiron.