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

Ernst’s law

This could (and perhaps should) be a very short post:

I HAVE NO QUALIFICATIONS IN HOMEOPATHY!

NONE!!!

[the end]

The reason why it is not quite as short as that lies in the the fact that homeopathy-fans regularly start foaming from the mouth when they state, and re-state, and re-state, and re-state this simple, undeniable fact.

The latest example is by our friend Barry Trestain who recently commented on this blog no less than three times about the issue:

  1. Falsified? You didn’t have any qualifications falsified or otherwise according to this. In quotes as well lol. Perhaps you could enlighten us all on this. Edzard Ernst, Professor of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) at Exeter University, is the most frequently cited „expert‟ by critics of homeopathy, but a recent interview has revealed the astounding fact that he “never completed any courses” and has no qualifications in homeopathy. What is more his principal experience in the field was when “After my state exam I worked under Dr Zimmermann at the Münchner Krankenhaus für Naturheilweisen” (Munich Hospital for Natural Healing Methods). Asked if it is true that he only worked there “for half a year”, he responded that “I am not sure … it is some time ago”!
  2. I don’t know what you got. I’m only going by your quotes above. You didn’t pass ANY exams. “Never completed any courses and has no qualifications in Homeopathy.” Those aren’t my words.
  3. LOL qualification for their cat? You didn’t even get a psuedo qualification and on top of that you practiced Homeopathy for 20 years eremember. With no qualifications. You are a fumbling and bumbling Proffessor of Cam? LOL. In fact I think I’ll make my cat a proffessor of Cam. Why not? He’ll be as qualified as you.

Often, these foaming (and in their apoplectic fury badly-spelling) defenders of homeopathy state or imply that I lied about all this. Yet, it is they who are lying, if they say so. I never claimed that I got any qualifications in homeopathy; I was trained in homeopathy by doctors of considerable standing in their field just like I was trained in many other clinical skills (what is more, I published a memoir where all this is explained in full detail).

In my bewilderment, I sometimes ask my accusers why they think I should have got a qualification in homeopathy. Sadly, so far, I  have not received a logical answer (most of the time not even an illogical one).

So, today I ask the question again: WHY SHOULD I HAVE NEEDED ANY QUALIFICATION IN HOMEOPATHY?

My answers are here:

  1. I consider such qualifications as laughable.  A proper qualification in nonsense is just nonsense!
  2. For practising homeopathy (which I did for a while), I did not need such qualifications; as a licensed physician, I was at liberty to use the treatments I felt to be adequate.
  3. For researching homeopathy (which I did too and published ~120 Medline-listed papers as a result of it), I do not need them either. Anyone can research homeopathy, and some of the most celebrated heroes of homeopathy research (e. g. Klaus Linde and Robert Mathie) do also have no such qualifications.

I am therefore truly puzzled and write this post to give everyone the chance to name the reasons why they feel I needed qualifications in homeopathy.

Please do tell me!

Did you know that I falsified my qualifications?

Neither did I!

But this is exactly what has been posted on Amazon as a review of my book HOMEOPATHY, THE UNDILUTED FACTS. The Amazon review in question is dated 7 August 2018 and authored by ‘Paul’. As it might not be there for long (because it is clearly abusive) I copied it for you:

Edzard Ernst falsified his qualifications to get a job as a professor. When the university found out they fired him. This book is as false as the Mr Ernst

Over the years, I have received so many insults that I stared to collect them and began to quite like them. I even posted selections on this blog (see for instance here and here). Some are really funny and others are enlightening because they reflect on the mind-set of the authors. All of them show that the author has run out of arguments; thus they really are little tiny victories over unreason, I think.

But, somehow, this new one is different. It is actionable, no doubt, and contains an unusual amount of untruths in so few words.

  • I never falsified anything and certainly not my qualification (which is that of a doctor of medicine). If I had, I would be writing these lines from behind bars.
  • And if I had done such a thing, I would not have done it ‘to get a job as a professor’ – I had twice been appointed to professorships before I came to the UK (Hannover and Vienna).
  • My university did not find out, mainly because there was nothing to find out.
  • They did not fire me, but I went into early retirement. Subsequently, they even re-appointed me for several months.
  • My book is not false; I don’t even know what a ‘false book’ is (is it a book that is not really a book but something else?).
  • And finally, for Paul, I am not Mr Ernst, but Prof Ernst.

I don’t know who Paul is. And I don’t know whether he has even read the book he pretends to be commenting on (from what I see, I think this is very unlikely). I am sure, however, that he did not read my memoir where all these things are explained in full detail. And I certainly do not hope he ever reads it – if he did, he might claim:

This book is as false as the Mr Ernst

While researching my previous post, I came across this website. It is so wonderful that I just have to show you some excerpts:

START OF QUOTE

…there really are people who spend a lot of time and energy attacking homeopathy from the sidelines of the Internet and in print. They call themselves “skeptics”. Who are they and how did they originate?

…The skeptical movement is an offshoot of the Communist Party. (Really: see the top two links below.) Its top organizers were hired by pharmaceutical company and medical industry representatives to recruit malcontents in bars to spread hate propaganda against non-conventional medical systems. One of the first such skeptic groups referred to itself as “Skeptics in the Pub”. Not surprisingly, their rants against homeopathy sound like the drunken cacophony of soccer hooligans.

A “who’s who” tour would not be complete if we neglected to mention Sense about Science. This group features a prominent spokesperson who is an advertising “consultant” to pharmaceutical and oil companies. It’s been scrubbed from their website as of this writing, but they get large donations from Big Pharma.

It’s impossible not to encounter ties to the prevailing medical industry among any of the individuals or groups who currently identify themselves with the skeptic moniker. The mainstream media, which depend on advertising revenues from pharmaceutical companies and are always in search of a scandal are often co-opted by business interests that have little regard for the welfare of the average individual…

Media skeptics frequently and fraudulently make claims that there are “no studies” that support homeopathy (or any other non-conventional treatment) and therefore no evidence to support its efficacy. This is, to put it plain, a lie. As well as 200 years and roughly 25,000 volumes of clinical literature, there are almost 200 random controlled trials that indicate a positive outcome for Homeopathy, even though this form of investigation is not compatible with homeopathic methodology, which individualizes treatments, and many more studies of other types showing positive outcomes. (See Homeopathy’s Best Research.)…

Since media skeptics are not researchers, scientists or people with any solid knowledge of any body of medical endeavour, it’s a foregone conclusion that this virtual Popcorn Gallery of respondents is completely insensible to any form of rational dialogue. As much as they would like to think that they have a mission in upholding the tenets of “science”, their propaganda tactics do not make them a party to the dialogue between holistic medical systems such as homeopathy and sincere scientific investigation.

To quote Josef Stalin, they are “useful idiots” for the propaganda machine, but are not bona fide participants.

END OF QUOTE

As though this is not funny enough, the site also lists several ‘Supporting Organizations’:

Regular readers of this blog will find plenty of things that are familiar to them in my new book ‘SCAM’. Many of the thoughts in there were originally conceived on this blog; and quite a few ideas might even be inspired by your comments. In this way, SCAM can be seen as a big ‘thank you’ to all of my readers.

SCAM, of course, stands for ‘So-Called Alternative Medicine’ which might be the name best suited to my field of research. In the book, I explain why I chose this terminology:

Why do I call it SCAM? Why not just ‘alternative medicine’ or one of the many other possible names for it? … Mainly because, whatever it is, it is it is not an alternative:

  • if a therapy does not work, it cannot be an alternative to medicine;
  • if a therapy does work, it does not belong to alternative medicine but to medicine.

Therefore, I think, that so-called alternative medicine or SCAM is not a bad term to use.

I would be lying to you, if I said I did not want you all to buy my new book – which author does not want people to purchase his product? So, to entice you to do exactly that (and while you are at it, get one for your sister, cousin, grandma, etc. as well), here are two tiny snippets from ‘SCAM’, the preface and the postscript:

PREFACE

I should perhaps start with a warning: this book might unsettle you. If you are a true believer in so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), you may find the things I am about to tell you disturbing. My book was not written for true believers. In my experience, they often are emotionally or intellectually unable to rationalise and to change their minds. Any attempt at opening their eyes and making them think critically might therefore be a waste of time.

This book was written for everyone who has an interest in SCAM and is open to consider the evidence. Yet it is not a guide-book that tells you which SCAM can be employed what condition. It is a compilation of 50 essays about SCAM in more general terms. I ordered them loosely under seven headings and have tried to write them in such a way that they can be read independently. This necessitated a certain amount of repetition of crucial themes which, I hope, is forgivable. My main aim in publishing this book is to stimulate your ability to think critically about healthcare in general and, of course, about SCAM in particular.

The book is based on my 25 years of research in SCAM. It quotes numerous investigations by my team and by other researchers. It also discusses many recently published examples of pseudo-science, misleading information and unethical SCAM-promotion. The text avoids technical language and should be easily understood by anyone. The ‘glossary’ at the end of the book provides additional explanations of more complex issues and terminology. Throughout the book, I use hints of irony, touches of sarcasm, and sometimes even a degree of exaggeration. This makes certain points clearer and might even make you smile from time to time…

POSTSCRIPT

Some people say that I am fighting a losing battle and insist that SCAM cannot be defeated. It will be around for ever, they say.

I quite agree with the latter parts of this statement. Humans seem to need some degree of irrationality in their lives, and SCAM certainly offers plenty of that. Moreover, conventional medicine is never going be totally perfect. Therefore, disgruntled consumers will always search elsewhere, and many of them will then find SCAM.

However, I disagree with the first part of the above assumption: I did not write this book with the aim of fighting a battle against SCAM. I can even see several positive sides of SCAM. For instance, the current SCAM-boom might finally force conventional healthcare professionals to remember that time, compassion and empathy are some of their core values which cannot be delegated to others. Whatever the current popularity signifies, it is a poignant criticism of what is going on in conventional healthcare – and we would be ill-advised to ignore this criticism.

In the preface, I stated that my main aim in publishing this book was to stimulate my readers’ ability to think critically about SCAM and healthcare generally. My book is therefore not a text against but as a plea for something. If reading it has, in fact, made some of my readers a little less gullible, it … could improve both their health and their bank balance.

In the current issue of the Faculty of Homeopathy‘s Simile publication, Dr Peter Fisher, the Queen’s homeopath, re-visits the old story of the ‘Smallwood Report’. To my big surprise, I found the following two paragraphs in his editorial:

A prepublication draft [of the Smallwood report] was circulated for comment with prominent warnings that it was confidential and not to be shared more widely (I can personally vouch for this, since I was one of those asked to comment). Regrettably, Prof Ernst did precisely this, leaking it to The Times who used it as the basis of their lead story. The editor of The Lancet, Richard Horton, certainly no friend of homeopathy, promptly denounced Ernst for having “broken every professional code of scientific behaviour”.

Sir Michael Peat, the Prince of Wales’ Principal Private Secretary, wrote to the vice chancellor of Exeter University protesting at the leak, and the university conducted an investigation. Ernst’s position became untenable, funding for his department dried up and he took early retirement. Thirteen years later he remains sore; in his latest book More Harm than Good? he attacks the Prince of Wales as “foolish and immoral”.

END OF QUOTE

Sadly it is true that Horton wrote these defaming words. Subsequently, I asked him to justify them explaining that they were being used by my university against me. He ignored several of my emails, but eventually he sent a reply. In it, he said that, since the university was investigating the issue, the truth would doubtlessly be disclosed. I remember that I was livid at the arrogance and ignorance of this reply. However, being in the middle of my university’s investigation against me, never did anything about it. Looking back at this part of the episode, I feel that Horton behaved abominably.

But back to Dr Fisher.

Why did his defamatory and false accusation in his new editorial come as a ‘big surprise’ to me?

Should I not have gotten used to the often odd way in which some homeopaths handle the truth?

Yes, I did get used to this phenomenon; but I am nevertheless surprised because I have tried to correct Fisher’s ‘error’ before.

This is from a post about Fisher which I published in 2015:

In this article [available here in archive,org – Admin] which he published as Dr. Peter Fisher, Homeopath to Her Majesty, the Queen, he wrote: There is a serious threat to the future of the Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital (RLHH), and we need your help…Lurking behind all this is an orchestrated campaign, including the ’13 doctors letter’, the front page lead in The Times of 23 May 2006, Ernst’s leak of the Smallwood report (also front page lead in The Times, August 2005), and the deeply flawed, but much publicised Lancet meta-analysis of Shang et al…

If you have read my memoir, you will know that even the hostile 13-months investigation my own university did not find me guilty of the ‘leak’. The Times journalist who interviewed me about the Smallwood report already had the document on his desk when we spoke, and I did not disclose any contents of the report to him…

END OF QUOTE

So, assuming that Dr Peter Fisher has seen my 2015 post, he is knowingly perpetuating a slanderous untruth. However, giving him the benefit of the doubt, he might not have read the post nor my memoir and could be unaware of the truth. Error or lie? I am determined to find out and will send him today’s post with an offer to clarify the situation.

I will keep you posted.

Yesterday, I received the following interesting tweet from my friend Natalie Grams:

Edzard, YOU are just influenced by ideological biases (they told me so yesterday – so it must be true;-)

If I understand it correctly, Natalie was a guest in a public discussion about homeopathy somewhere in Austria during which my name must have been mentioned, and some homeopath or homeopathy-fan made the above allegation about me. Sadly, I was not present (but it is typical that allegations against me are rarely made to me in person) to discuss it further.

I am very much used to allegations against me and, in a strange way, have even grown to enjoy them. Here are some of my favourites:

  • I have undeclared ties to the pharmaceutical industry.
  • I am incompetent or not even qualified.
  • I was employed at Exeter to ditch alternative medicine.
  • I have never done any original research.
  • I sit in the ivory towers of academia.
  • I have no clinical experience.
  • I am basically a liar.

Even though they have been repeated ad nauseam, all of these accusations are untrue and have been refuted so often that I do not want to go into them again (for those interested, see for instance here, here, here and here).However, the allegation that I am ‘influenced by ideological biases’ is a new one, at least to me. And therefore, it might deserve some serious consideration.

Let’s start by getting our definitions straight:

  • An ideology is a system of ideas and ideals.
  • Bias is an inclination or prejudice for or against one person or group, especially in a way considered to be unfair.

Now let’s see how these two terms apply to me and my work.

  • According to the definition above, I am clearly influenced by an ideology. Yes, I do have ideals! For instance, I believe in science, want to see sound evidence, hope to improve healthcare, insist that patients deserve the best treatments available, and feel that ethics are of paramount importance in healthcare.
  • To make things worse, I am even proud of this ideology and I pity those who do not share it.
  • What about bias? Do I hold a grudge against one person or a group of people? As I just stated, I pity those who do not share my ideals, and if I am brutally honest, I do not like charlatans, liars or entrepreneurs selling false hope.
  • The question is whether this attitude is unfair. Personally, I do not believe it is, but I have to not deny that this is merely my perspective. There may be – and clearly are – other viewpoints.

So, to conclude this somewhat rambling post, I ready to admit that the Austrian homeopaths might have had a point:

FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF A CHARLATAN, I PROBABLY DO SEEM TO BE INFLUENCED BY ‘IDEOLOGICAL BIASES’.

I have to admit that I had little hope it would come. But after sending my ‘open letter’ twice to their email address, I have just received this:

Click to enlarge

 

 

As you might remember, the AACMA had accused me of an pecuniary undeclared link with the pharmaceutical industry. Their claim was based on me having been the editor of a journal, FACT, which was co-published by the British Pharmaceutical Society (BPS). When I complained and the AACMA learnt that the journal had been discontinued, they retracted their claim but carried on distributing the allegation that I had formerly had an undeclared conflict of interest. When they finally understood that the BPS was not the pharmaceutical industry (all it takes is a simple Google search), and after me complaining again and again, they sent me the above email.

The full details of this sorry story are here and here.

So, the AACMA have done the right thing?

Yes and no!

The have retracted their repeated lies.

But they have not done this publicly as requested (this is partly the reason for me writing this post to make their retraction public).

More importantly, they have not apologised !!!

Why should they, you might ask.

  1. Because they have (tried to) damage my reputation as an independent scientist.
  2. Because they have not done their research before making and insisting on a far-reaching claim.
  3. Because they have shown themselves too stupid to grasp even the most elementary issues.

By not apologising, they have, I find, shown how unprofessional they really are, and how much they lack simple human decency. On their website, the AACMA state that “since 1973, AACMA has represented the profession and values high standards in ethical and professional practice.” Personally, I think that their standards in ethical and professional practice are appalling.

Yesterday, a press-release about our new book has been distributed by our publisher. As I hope than many regular readers of my blog might want to read this book – if you don’t want to buy it, please get it via your library – I decided to re-publish the press-release here:

Governments must legislate to regulate and restrict the sale of complementary and alternative therapies, conclude authors of new book More Harm Than Good.

Heidelberg, 20 February 2018

Commercial organisations selling lethal weapons or addictive substances clearly exploit customers, damage third parties and undermine genuine autonomy. Purveyors of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) do too, argue authors Edzard Ernst and Kevin Smith.

The only downside to regulating such a controversial industry is that regulation could confer upon it an undeserved stamp of respectability and approval. At best, it can ensure the competent delivery of therapies that are inherently incompetent.

This is just one of the ethical dilemmas at the heart of the book. In all areas of healthcare, consumers are entitled to expect essential elements of medical ethics to be upheld. These include access to competent, appropriately-trained practitioners who base treatment decisions on evidence from robust scientific research. Such requirements are frequently neglected, ignored or wilfully violated in CAM.

“We would argue that a competent healthcare professional should be defined as one who practices or recommends plausible therapies that are supported by robust evidence,” says bioethicist Kevin Smith.

“Regrettably, the reality is that many CAM proponents allow themselves to be deluded as to the efficacy or safety of their chosen therapy, thus putting at risk the health of those who heed their advice or receive their treatment,” he says.

Therapies covered include homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic, iridology, Reiki, crystal healing, naturopathy, intercessory prayer, wet cupping, Bach flower therapy, Ukrain and craniosacral therapy. Their inappropriate use can not only raises false hope and inflicts financial hardship on consumers, but can also be dangerous; either through direct harm or because patients fail to receive more effective treatment. For example, advice given by homeopaths to diabetic patients has the potential to kill them; and when anthroposophic doctors advise against vaccination, they can be held responsible for measles outbreaks.

There are even ethical concerns to subjecting such therapies to clinical research. In mainstream medical research, a convincing database from pre-clinical research is accumulated before patients are experimented upon. However, this is mostly not possible with CAM. Pre-scientific forms of medicine have been used since time immemorial, but their persistence alone does not make them credible or effective. Some are based on notions so deeply implausible that accepting them is tantamount to believing in magic.

“Dogma and ideology, not rationality and evidence, are the drivers of CAM practice,” says Professor Edzard Ernst.

Edzard Ernst, Kevin Smith
More Harm than Good?
1st ed. 2018, XXV, 223 p.
Softcover $22.99, €19,99, £15.99 ISBN 978-3-319-69940-0
Also available as an eBook ISBN 978-3-319-69941-7

END OF PRESS RELEASE

As I already stated above, I hope you will read our new book. It offers something that has, I think, not been attempted before: it critically evaluates many aspects of alternative medicine by holding them to the ethical standards of medicine. Previously, we have often been asking WHERE IS THE EVIDENCE FOR THIS OR THAT CLAIM? In our book, we ask different questions: IS THIS OR THAT ASPECT OF ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE ETHICAL? Of course, the evidence question does come into this too, but our approach in this book is much broader.

The conclusions we draw are often surprising, sometimes even provocative.

Well, you will see for yourself (I hope).

The ‘Dr Rath Foundation’ just published a truly wonderful (full of wonders) article about me. I want to publicly congratulate the author: he got my name right [but sadly not much more]. Here is the opening passage of the article which I encourage everyone to read in full [the numbers in square brackets refer to my comments below].

Professor Edzard Ernst: A Career Built On Discrediting Natural Health Science? [1]

Professor Edzard Ernst, a retired German [2] physician and academic, has recently [3] become a prominent advocate of plans that could potentially outlaw [4] the entire profession of naturopathic doctors [5] in Germany. Promoting the nonsensical idea that naturopathic medicine somehow poses a risk to public health, Ernst attacks its practitioners as supposedly having been educated in “nonsense” [6]. Tellingly, however, given that he himself has seemingly not published even so much as one completely original scientific trial of his own [7], Ernst’s apparent attempts to discredit natural healthcare approaches are largely reliant instead on his analysis or review of handpicked negative studies carried out by others [8].

  1. When I was appointed at Exeter to research alternative medicine in 1993, I had already been a full professor at Hannover, Germany and subsequently at Vienna, Austria. If anything, coming to Exeter was a big step down in terms of ‘career’, salary, number of co-workers etc. (full details in my memoir)
  2. I am German-born, became an Austrian citizen in 1990, and since 2000 I am a British national.
  3. I have been critical about the German ‘Heilpraktiker’ for more than 20 years.
  4. This refers to the recent ‘Muensteraner Memorandum’ which is the work of an entire team of multidisciplinary experts and advocates reforming this profession.
  5. ‘Heilpraktiker’ are certainly not doctors; they have no academic or medical background.
  6. This is correct, and I stand by my statement that educating people in vitalism and other long-obsolete concepts is pure nonsense.
  7. Since I am researching alternative medicine, I have conducted and published about 40 ‘scientific trials’, and before that time (1993) I have published about the same number again in various other fields.
  8. This refers to systematic reviews which, by definition, include all the studies available on a defines research question, regardless of their conclusion (their aim is to minimise random and selection biases)  .

I hope you agree that these are a lot of mistakes (or are these even lies?) in just a short paragraph.

Now you probably ask: who is Dr Rath?

Many reader of this blog will have heard of him. This is what the Guardian had to say about this man:

Matthias Rath, the vitamin campaigner accused of endangering thousands of lives in South Africa by promoting his pills while denouncing conventional medicines as toxic and dangerous, has dropped a year-long libel action against the Guardian and been ordered to pay costs.

A qualified doctor who is thought to have made millions selling nutritional supplements around the globe through his website empire, Rath claimed his pills could reverse the course of Aids and distributed them free in South Africa, where campaigners, who have won a hard-fought battle to persuade the government to roll out free Aids drugs to keep millions alive, believe Rath’s activities led to deaths.

The Dr Rath Foundation focuses its promotional activities on eight countries – the US, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, South Africa, Spain, France and Russia – claiming that his micronutrient products will cure not just Aids, but cancer, heart disease, strokes and other illnesses…

I am sure you now understand why I am rather proud of being defamed by this source!

 

 

A recent comment by a chiropractor told us this:

“If the critics do not take step 2 [point out what’s right and support] then they are entrenched carpet bombers who see reform and reformers as acceptable collateral damage. That makes them just as much a part of the problem when it comes to reform as the subbies.”

Similar words have been posted many times before.

So, are we critics of chiropractic carpet bombers?

Personally, I find the term very distasteful and misplaced. But let’s not be petty and forget about the terminology.

The question is: should I be more supportive of chiropractors who claim to be reformers?

I feel that the claim to be a reformer is hardly enough for gaining my support. I prefer to support clinicians who do the right things. And what would that be?

Here is a list; clinicians would receive my  support, if they:

  • adhere to the principles of evidence-based medicine;
  • follow the rules of medical ethics.

What does that mean in relation to chiropractic?

I think it means that clinicians should:

  • use interventions that demonstrably do more good than harm,
  • make no false claims,
  • advocate the best available treatments for their patients,
  • abstain from treating patients for which their therapy is not demonstrably effective,
  • obtain fully informed consent from their patients which includes information about the nature of the condition, about the risks of their treatments, about other therapeutic options.

As soon as I see a chiropractor or a group of chiropractors who fit these criteria, I will support them by publicly stating that they are doing alright (as should be normal for responsible healthcare practitioners). Until this time, I reject being called a carpet bomber and call such name-calling a stupid defence of quackery.

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