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

plagiarism

The DAILY EXPRESS (DE) is not my favorite newspaper – perhaps even the opposite. During the last years, I have often been questioned by journalists on matters relating to so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). I do not recall, however, being interviewed by the DE (I might have forgotten, of course, but it certainly did not happen very often). I was therefore surprised to find that, in the last 13 years (this is as far back as I was able to search), the DE quoted me 22 times. Therefore, I decided to do a quick analysis of these 22 articles rating them (generously) for accuracy on a scale of 0 (totally inaccurate) to 10 (totally accurate).

 1. Title (date of publication): Tracking down the safe alternatives (25 March 2008)

Subject: a new regulatory body (the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC)) might help separate the cranks from the credible.

Quote: The CNHC has been described as complementary medicine’s equivalent of the General Medical Council – the body which sets standards for GPs. It will investigate complaints and therapists who fall below expected standards could be struck off. The new organisation has been set up by Prince Charles’s Foundation for Integrated Health and receives part funding from the NHS. The Prince, who is a fan of homeopathy, believes that complementary therapies should have a greater role within the NHS…

Edzard Ernst, the UK’s first professor of complementary medicine, is scathing, describing the £2million cost of founding the CNHC as a waste of money. He says the new body does not challenge the safety or effectiveness of the therapies. “This organisation could give the public false confidence. Some of these therapies can do more harm than good. It will give them a status they don’t deserve.”

My comment (score): The subject matter was relevant. The article seems correct and my comment is true; the CNHC did, in fact, turn out to be a waste of space. (10)

2. Title (date of publication): Chinese Medicine: A risky remedy? (19 May 2008)

Subject: How much do we really know about how they work and could they actually be harmful to our health?

Quote: Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is enjoying a boom with hundreds of shops appearing on high streets. The herbal medicine industry, which includes Chinese medicines, is worth an estimated £200million in the UK as thousands place their faith in ancient remedies for everything from acne to infertility…

Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter and co-author of the book Trick Or Treatment: Alternative Medicine On Trial, says: “People think that because something is ancient or natural it must be good. That’s simply not true. Plenty of these medicines have side effects and can be dangerous. “TCMs are grossly under-researched in the UK. China’s research is hard to access and hard to understand. TCMs are frequently contaminated with toxic heavy metals. “This is because of poor quality, because soil is contaminated and supplying procedures are unregulated. The most worrying thing about TCMs is that they are regularly found to contain synthetic prescription drugs, which in extreme cases, taken wrongly, can kill.”

My comment (score): The subject matter was relevant. The article seems correct and my comment is true. (10)

3. Title (date of publication): Alternative treatments face calls for regulation (17 June 2008)

Subject: Alternative medicines must be regulated to protect patients from harm, according to an influential group of experts.

Quote: A government-appointed steering group said it was ridiculous that eight years after regulation was first called for, nothing had been done. And in a report to UK ministers, who have reserved powers on regulating health professionals, they warned it must be introduced “without delay”…

Prof Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter, said there was no scientific evidence that homoeopathy works. Homoeopathy is the treatment of disease using minute doses of drugs diluted in water. Prof Ernst and author Simon Singh have pledged to give £10,000 to anyone who could prove, in a scientific way, that these treatments work as well as conventional medicines.

My comment (score): The subject matter was relevant. The article seems a bit confused. My comment seems to be from elsewhere and is out of context. (5)

4. Title (date of publication): Thank you for the music (28 June  2008)

Subject: Nerve disorder fibromyalgia left musician Emily Maguire housebound and in constant pain. As she prepares to play the Glastonbury festival she tells ABIGAIL JACKSON how her love of music pulled her through…

Quote: Dr Peter Fisher from the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital … has claimed to have success in treating fibro­myalgia patients with homeopathic remedies. He prescribed ignacia, used as a remedy for numerous complaints from depression and sleeplessness to backache. A month later, Emily says the pain was gone. “I couldn’t believe it,” she says. “I feel so blessed.”

Although Emily is confident that taking ignacia (as well as maintaining a healthy lifestyle) did the trick, there are growing concerns over whether homeopathic remedies have any effect. Last week Edzard Ernst, the UK’s only professor of complementary medicine, offered £10,000 for any proof of a successful homeopathic treatment.

My comment (score): The subject matter is basically a case report which is not very relevant. The article seems confused and goes from the positive effects of music to homeopathy. What the article reports about our £10, 000 challenge is not relevant. (3)

5. Title (date of publication): Charles hit by ‘dodgy’ detox quackery row (11 March 2009)

Subject: Prince Charles was accused yesterday of using “quackery” to exploit gullible people after his Duchy Originals label launched a controversial detox tincture.

Quote: Andrew Baker, chief executive of Duchy Originals… said: “Duchy Herbals Detox Tincture is traded as a food supplement and in accordance with all of the relevant sections of both UK and European food laws. It is a natural aid to digestion and supports the body’s natural elimination processes. It is not – and has never been described as – a medicine, remedy or cure for any disease.”

Prof Ernst said: …“Products like this are a dangerous waste of money. Charles is exploiting gullible people during hard times. It’s outright quackery.” The academic, who has been a professor at Exeter for 15 years, labelled the Prince’s firm “Dodgy Originals”.

My comment (score): The subject matter was relevant, in my view. The article and my comments are both correct. (10)

6. Title (date of publication): Homeopathy: A ‘cure’ that is all in the mind? (11 February 2010)

Subject: Imagine if an electronics store publicly admitted that an entire range of the products it sold didn’t work. It wasn’t that the DVD players were not very good quality, it simply didn’t have any evidence that they played DVDs at all.

Quote: A report published yesterday by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee said the products were no more effective than a dummy pill and recommended the NHS stop funding them. Back in October last year Paul Bennett, the professional standards director of Boots, appeared in front of the Committee’s inquiry into alternative medicine. When asked if he believed that homeopathic products worked he said: “There is certainly a consumer demand for these products. I have no evidence to suggest they are efficacious.”

Scientists say there is no evidence water has such a memory or that homeopathy works at all beyond a basic placebo effect. “The principles are simply implausible,” says Professor Edzard Ernst, Professor of Complementary Medicine at the Peninsular Medical School in Exeter. “It might be OK that the principle is implausible if the method still worked but rigorous clinical trials have demonstrated that the method doesn’t work. On both levels the result is negative.”

My comment (score): The subject matter was relevant. The article seems correct but my comment seems a bit confusing. (8)

7. Title (date of publication): Acupuncture ‘a waste of time’ for couples trying for a baby (10 March 2010)

Subject: Couples who have acupuncture to boost their chances of becoming parents are wasting their time and money, experts said yesterday.

Quote: New guidelines from the British Fertility Society, which represents fertility clinics, said there was “no evidence” that either acupuncture or traditional Chinese herbal remedies could improve the success rate of In-Vitro Fertilisation.

Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine at the Peninsula Medical School, based at the universities of Exeter and Plymouth, said: “This is a long-overdue clarification. Infertile women have been misled for some time now to think that traditional Chinese medicine can help them getting pregnant. This analysis shows two things very clearly: The totality of the acupuncture trials does not support this notion, and for Chinese herbs, we have no evidence at all. This will help infertile women not to waste their money.”

My comment (score): The subject matter was relevant. The article seems correct and my comment is true. (10)

8. Title (date of publication): Prince Charles’s charity in £150 000 fraud quiz (4 April 2010)

Subject: One of Prince Charles’s charities is being investigated by police amid ­allegations of a £150,000 fraud.

Quote: The Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health … which campaigns for the wider use of complementary therapies, has failed to file its annual return. According to the Charity Commission website it is 154 days overdue. A spokesman for the foundation said: “Due to staff and structural changes, there was a delay in preparing the 2008 accounts. While getting these accounts ready for filing, our auditors Kingston Smith questioned some of the transactions. A t their recommendation a complaint has been made to the police. ” … Dr Michael Dixon, medical director for the foundation, said: “We should not abandon patients we cannot help with conventional scientific medicine. If homeopathy is getting results for those patients then of course we should ­continue to use it.”

The complaint also claimed the foundation’s trustees allowed staff to pursue a “vendetta” against a prominent critic , Edzard Ernst, ­professor of complementary medicine at Exeter University. Republic accused the foundation of being partly responsible for the ­imminent closure of Professor Ernst’s department after he publicly attacked its draft guide to complementary medicines as “outrageous and deeply flawed”.

My comment (score): The subject matter was relevant. The article seems correct albeit slightly confusing (the ‘vendetta’ is not really relevant here) the quotes are somewhat beside the point; mine seems copied from elsewhere. (7)

9. Title (date of publication): Prince Charles’s charity amid £300k fraud inquiry (30 April 2010)

Subject: PRINCE Charles’s homeopathy charity has been shut down amid a Scotland Yard investigation into a £300,000 fraud.

Quote: The 49-year-old man was arrested on Monday with a 54-year-old woman, both on suspicion of the same offences, after an investigation into £300,000 of unaccounted funds in the charity’s books.

… while the foundation has enjoyed successes, sometimes working with the Prince’s Duchy Originals company to produce alternative health care products, it has also become embroiled in a series of controversies. Critics have accused it of promoting “unscientific” approaches to health care. In February, MPs on the Commons Science and Technology Committee called for an end to homeopathy treatment on the NHS, arguing there was no evidence to support its effectiveness. Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine at Exeter University, last year described a detox tincture made by Duchy Originals as “outright quackery” and regulators ordered the firm to withdraw misleading advertising claims about the effectiveness of two natural remedies.

My comment (score): The subject matter was relevant. The article seems correct and my comment seems copied from elsewhere and is beside the point. (8)

10. Title (date of publication): ‘Snake oil seller’ Prince Charles cost me my job, claims professor (26 July 2011)

Subject: A university professor, who labelled Prince Charles and other supporters of complementary medicine as “snake-oil salesmen”, last night accused the heir to the throne of costing him his job.

Quote: Edzard Ernst, a consistent critic of Prince Charles and his Duchy Originals food company, is stepping down from his post at Exeter University as Britain’s only professor of complementary medicine after a long-running dispute with the Prince about the merits of alternative therapies. He said: “Almost directly, Prince Charles has managed to interfere in my professional life and almost managed to close my unit.” He blamed Charles, a prominent advocate of alternative therapies such as acupuncture, herbal remedies and homeopathy, for undermining him and leading his bosses to lose faith in him.

A spokeswoman for Charles claimed last night that the Prince was unaware that his private secretary had complained about the professor. She declined to respond to the description of her boss as a “snake-oil salesman”.

My comment (score): The subject matter was relevant. The article seems correct and my comment is true. (10)

11. Title (date of publication): Do detox diets work? (10 January 2012)

Subject: Most of us overdo it during the festive season. No wonder January is the most popular month for detox diets which typically involve drinking pints of water each day, eating a very restricted diet and taking particular supplements.

Quote: The theory is toxins from unhealthy types of food and drink build up in the body and can lead to health problems. Purging these toxins is meant to leave you feeling full of energy and thinner.

The principle of detox goes back to medieval times but it is anti-science, agrees Professor Edzard Ernst, Britain’s first professor of complementary medicine, who works at Peninsula College of Medicine & Dentistry in Exeter. “You can’t overindulge on food and drink, then wave some magic wand,” he says. “The only thing that detox removes is money from your wallet.”

My comment (score): The subject matter was relevant. The article seems correct and my comment is true. (10)

12. Title (date of publication): Kevin Sorbo: Three strokes left me fighting for my life (28 February 2012)

Subject: Becoming a key speaker at a medical conference may seem an unlikely part for a Hollywood tough guy. Nevertheless that’s the role Hercules star Kevin Sorbo took after breaking his silence over three life-threatening strokes.

Quote: He made an appointment with his chiropractor. “I had been seeing this guy for eight years and he never cracked my neck,” recalls Kevin. “He knew I didn’t like it.” So he was surprised when the therapist did crack his neck. When he asked him why, the chiropractor responded by saying “I felt you needed it”. Irritated, the star paid his bill and started driving back to the home of his girlfriend, now wife, Sam. “I heard two very loud pops in the back of my head and my vision went crazy. I felt like I was falling backwards and I couldn’t stop. It was like that feeling you get when you stand up too quickly and get dizzy but multiplied by 10,” he says. Kevin managed to drive to Sam’s apartment and despite hearing two more “pops” went on to appear on a TV chat show after his agent insisted he could not pull out at the last minute. “I don’t remember what we discussed. I was on auto-pilot. The entire world was spinning, my head was throbbing. It was the best acting of my life, acting as though I was healthy.”

Whether or not the cracking technique is dangerous is a controversial issue. A study by Professor Edzard Ernst, director of complementary medicine at the UK’s Peninsula Medical School says: “Numerous deaths have occurred after chiropractic manipulations.” He thinks the risks of this treatment by far outweigh its benefit and adds: “In my view a chiropractor should not go near the neck.”

However Haymo Thiel, vice-principal of the Anglo-European College of Chiropractic, says: “There is risk in anything. It would be foolish to say not. But there is a difference between coincidence of timing and causation.”

My comment (score): Even though this is merely a case report, the subject matter seems relevant. The article seems correct and my comments are true. The Thiel comment at the end might serve as a nice example of false balance. (8)

13. Title (date of publication): Menopause: Natural remedies vs HRT (29 January 2013)

Subject: Are natural remedies best for the menopause, or is HRT still the strongest defence against its many unpleasant symptoms?

Quote: Since two major studies called hormone replacement therapy into question a decade ago – raising fears of breast cancer, stroke and heart disease – women confronting the menopause have faced a confusing choice.

“Few of the herbal remedies have been properly studied,” says Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine at the university of Exeter. “Some promising evidence has emerged for black cohosh and red clover, but even these are not as strongly beneficial as HRT.”

My comment (score): The subject matter was relevant. The article seems correct and my comment is true. (10)

14. Title (date of publication): How safe is our herbal medicine? (19 March 2013)

Subject: For many of us hoping to take care of our aches and pains, boost our immune system or improve our mood, herbal remedies are often the first resort. Seen as a healthier and more natural option than conventional medication few of us stop to ask how safe these supplements actually are.

Quote: High street health chain Holland & Barrett is the most recent to fall foul of these rules. In January it was ordered to recall a blend of black cohosh and agnus castus called Flash Fighters which it was selling as a food supplement. A spokesman for the chain confirmed: “The MHRA stated the product’s name implied it could be used to treat ‘hot flushes’.” He added that the store is undergoing the process of having Flash Fighters reclassified under the Traditional Herbal Medicine Registration Scheme (THR).

Professor Edzard Ernst, world’s first professor of complementary medicine, warns: “The notion that natural equals safe can be dangerously misleading.”

My comment (score): The subject matter was relevant. The article seems correct and my comment is true. (10)

15. Title (date of publication): Prince Charles SLAMMED as ‘immoral’ for peddling ‘rubbish’ alternative medicines (18 January 2018)

Subject: Charles is under fire from a renowned scientist who accuses him of being an “immoral snake oil salesman” for promoting alternative medicines in a shocking new book that lambasts the future monarch.

Quote: Professor Edzard Ernst, who previously accused Charles of “selling snake oil”, has now hit out with a new book called “More Harm than Good?” He scalds Charles for being a vocal supporter of homeopathy, lobbying health ministers to set up a register of holistic practitioners and making impassioned speeches at the World Health Assembly and British Medical Association. The authors of the book, Professor Ernst and Dr Kevin Smith, of Abertay University in Dundee, said alternative medicines are “immoral”. Professor Ernst said: “You can’t have alternative medicine just because Prince Charles likes it, because that is not in the best interest of the patients.

My comment (score): The basis for the article was a presentation of a new book at the ‘Science Media Centre’. The book merely mentioned Charles merely in passing. The article and our comments seem correct, however, they were not to focus of our presentation. (7)

16. Title (date of publication): Weight loss pills: Are they actually effective in helping you lose weight? (10 September 2018)

Subject: Weight loss pills claiming to help you lose weight, are widely advertised. But do they actually live up to their claims; are they effective in helping you to lose weight or are they simply a con?

Quote: More than one-third of adults are overweight in England alone, with nearly one-quarter obese, and growing numbers of people are turning to weight loss pills and products as a means to shed excess weight. Many weight loss pills claim to contain herbs or natural substances that speed up metabolism or make you feel full up to discourage you from eating. But according to the NHS, there is little evidence that some products sold by reputable retailers and over the internet actually work, and could even be packed with harmful substances. Even products marketed as ‘guaranteed, clinically-proven and 100 per cent natural’ come with no guarantees, the NHS warned.

Some manufacturers of weight loss products also only focus on positive trials, failing to mention the negative or failed trials. “Manufacturers cherry-pick and only ever mention the positive trials,” said academic physician and researcher Edzard Ernst. “They then also fail to mention the mostly poor quality of their studies. Desperate people are being misled to buy unproven treatments at considerable expense.”

My comment (score): The subject matter was relevant. The article seems correct and my comment is true. (10)

17. Title (date of publication): Prince Charles under fire for becoming patron of 175-year-old homeopathy group (26 June 2019)

Subject: The Prince of Wales has been criticised after being made a patron of a 175-year-old homeopathy group, which supports medical professionals with alternative treatments.

Quote: Charles has long advocated homeopathic medicine, which is seen as an alternative to regular chemical-based treatments. Homeopathy attempts to treat some conditions, including headaches and colds, so the body will get better by itself. But after Charles was accused of being an “immoral snake oil salesman” by a medical professor in 2017, it seems more are lining up to take aim at the future monarch for further endorsement of alternative medicine.

Professor Edzard Ernst, who made the initial criticisms of Charles last year, told the Guardian: “In view of Charles’s long love affair with homeopathy, this news is unsurprising. The question is whether this will change anything about the sharp decline homeopathy has taken in this and several other countries, and whether it will alter the verdicts of dozens of independent organisations which recently have certified it to be a pure placebo therapy.”

My comment (score): The subject matter was relevant. The article seems correct my quotes are borrowed from elsewhere. (7)

18. Title (date of publication): China sparks fresh coronavirus fears by turning to traditional medicine to fight virus (29 June 2020)

Subject: Chinese government papers have revealed that a shocking majority of the country’s cases have been treated with traditional medicine.

Quote: Coronavirus currently has very little universally approved and clinically proven treatments, but scientists have made some discoveries into potentially effective drugs.

Edzard Ernst, a retired UK-based researcher of complementary medicines, said that there is no science behind the recommendation to support it’s usage. He said to Nature: “For TCM there is no good evidence and therefore its use is not just unjustified, but dangerous.”

My comment (score): The subject matter was relevant. The article seems correct my quotes are borrowed from elsewhere. (7)

19. Title (date of publication): Prince Charles fury: Scientist’s shock claim royal ‘treated him like dirt’ exposed (1 July 2020)

Subject: Prince Charles is known to be enthusiastic about alternative medicines and therapies. Yet, Professor Edzard Ernst, who has several times criticised the royal for his influence in the world of pseudo-medicine, once claimed that the prince “silenced” and treated him “like dirt”, a shocking unearthed report revealed.

Quote: 

Prince Charles for decades has welcomed alternative medicines and therapies to apparently “cure” his ailments. One of the pseudo-sciences most popular with the prince appears to be homeopathy. Homeopathy is the largely discredited practice of treating illness with diluted substances to trigger the body’s own healing mechanisms.

In 2015, Professor Edzard Ernst, claimed he had been “treated like dirt” as a result of Charles trying to “silence” him. Prof Ernst is a staunch critic of using alternative medicines such as homeopathy as a direct means of treatment. He instead champions complementary medicine – the process of using alternative medicines to help alleviate the negative aspects of standard medicines – having held the first complementary medicine post in the world at the University of Exeter. His unscrupulous and rigorous application of evidence-based science and outspoken views found him at loggerheads with Charles.

My comment (score): The subject matter was only marginally relevant. I am pretty sure that I never said Charles treated me like dirt. I did say, however, that my university did treat me like dirt when dealing with the complaint from Charles’s first private secretary, Sir Michael Peat. My comments are borrowed from elsewhere. (4)

20. Title (date of publication): Prince Charles’ ‘plot’ with Andy Burnham for UK healthcare unveiled: ‘He was open to it’ (23 October 2020)

Subject: Prince Charles was once in agreement with Andy Burnham on the future direction of the UK’s healthcare, letters have revealed.

Quote: …this is not the first time Mr Burnham has been caught up in a divisive matter over healthcare. In 2009, the Greater Manchester Mayor was the Health Secretary under then Prime Minister Gordon Brown and was found to be corresponding with the Prince of Wales about the UK healthcare system. Charles has a reputation for being a “meddling” royal, particularly after his so-called ‘black spider memos’ to Government ministers were published in 2015.

Professor of complementary medicine Edzard Ernst told The Guardian in 2015: “The letters demonstrate yet again that Prince Charles relentlessly meddles in UK health politics and thus disrespects his constitutional role. “His arguments in favour of CAM [complementary and alternative medicine] and in particular homeopathy, show a devastating lack of knowledge and understanding; they are ill-informed, invalid and embarrassingly naive – but at the same time they are remarkably persistent.”

My comment (score): The subject matter was relevant. The article seems confusing my quotes are borrowed from elsewhere. (7)

21. Title (date of publication): Meghan Markle warning: Charles’ business blunder exposed amid new career move (17 December 2020)

Subject: Meghan Marle has just moved into the business sector after investing in a start-up – but she should be careful to avoid Prince Charles’ previous industry error which triggered a public outcry.

Quote: The Duchess of Sussex has ventured into the investment sector this week. It was announced that she has invested in Clevr Blends, a California-based sustainable start-up which sells four flavours of instant oat milk lattes. The company says its produce is sustainable, ethically sourced and healthy with organic ingredients, while its shipping materials are 100 percent recyclable.

However, Meghan’s father-in-law was accused of exploiting the public when Britain was still recovering from the recession with his Duchy Originals line. The UK’s first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst, dubbed the Duchy Originals detox tincture — which was being sold on the market at the time — “outright quackery”. The product, called Duchy Herbals’ Detox Tincture, was advertised as a “natural aid to digestion and supports the body’s elimination processes” and a “food supplement to help eliminate toxins and aid digestion”. The artichoke and dandelion mix cost £10 for a 50ml bottle.

My comment (score): The subject matter seems fairly irrelevant and far-fetched. My quotes belong to a different story. (2)

22. Title (date of publication): Prince Charles rejected by experts before Gwyneth Paltrow’s long Covid row: ‘Witchcraft’ (25 February 2021)

Subject: Prince Charles was rejected by scientists for his views on “witchcraft” alternative medicine well before Gwyneth Paltrow became embroiled in a row over her unapproved treatments for long Covid.

Quote: Gwyneth Paltrow has been urged to stop spreading misinformation by the medical director of NHS England after she suggested on her blog Goop that long Covid could be treated with various alternative medicines. The Hollywood star described how she herself had caught coronavirus and had since suffered with “long-tail fatigue and brain fog”. However, she claimed to have successfully treated it with “intuitive fasting”, herbal cocktails and regular visits to an “infrared sauna”.

The Prince of Wales has been specifically called out for advocating the controversial treatments, too. He was branded an “immoral snake oil salesman” by renowned scientist Professor Edzard Ernst in his book ‘More Harm Than Good?’ Prof Ernst founded the department of Complementary Medicine at the University of Exeter, became the world’s first academic on the subject and has founded two medical journals. Over the years, he has published a lot of critical research exposing methods that lack documentation of efficacy. The expert lambasted Charles for lobbying health ministers to set up a register of holistic practitioners and making impassioned speeches at the World Health Assembly and British Medical Association. He said: “You can’t have alternative medicine just because Prince Charles likes it, because that is not in the best interest of the patients. “The quality of the research is not just bad, but dismal. It ignores harms. There is a whole shelf of rubbish being sold and that is simply unethical.” His co-author, Dr Kevin Smith ‒ a senior lecturer at Abertay University specialising in Complementary and Alternative Medicine and genetics ‒ agreed that these alternative medicines are “immoral”. He added: “We certainly are very worried about the future King being a proponent.

My comment (score): The subject matter seems fairly irrelevant and far-fetched. My quotes belong to a different story. (2)

________________________________________

When I set out doing this analysis, I expected to find rather poor reporting by the DE. Yet, I was pleasantly surprised. Quite a lot of it is good. A few things did nevertheless occur to me:

  • I find it remarkable how often Prince Charles is the focus of these stories. Occasionally, my various disputes with Charles were ‘pulled in’ even though they do not really fit into the context of the article.
  • It is noticeable, I think, that the quality of the reporting deteriorated quite dramatically over time.
  • The DE repeatedly borrows quotes from other publications and even from different stories altogether. This seems to me to be lazy and rather poor journalism.

My point is that there is really no need for lazy or poor journalism on SCAM. Journalists should do their work properly; they can always reach me via the contact option of this blog (I invariably reply swiftly). I feel they owe it to their readers to do at least this minimal and quick amount of effort.

 

I have published many books, and I am proud of most of them. There is little truly special about this; countless people have written more and better books than I. Yet, I think I outdo them all!

Let me explain.

I was looking on the Amazon site recently and, to my great surprise, there it was:

The book that I never wrote

Yes, I kid you not: a book published in my name that was never written by me. The publication details provided on the Amazon site were unremarkable:

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Wentworth Press (25 July 2018)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ German
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 78 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0270059261
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0270059267
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 15.6 x 0.41 x 23.39 cm
  • Best Sellers Rank: 715,308 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • 9,695 in Encyclopaedias (Books)

The narrative description foremost told me one thing: I am not the author of this book:

This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important, and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it. This work was reproduced from the original artifact, and remains as true to the original work as possible. Therefore, you will see the original copyright references, library stamps (as most of these works have been housed in our most important libraries around the world), and other notations in the work.

This work is in the public domain in the United States of America, and possibly other nations. Within the United States, you may freely copy and distribute this work, as no entity (individual or corporate) has a copyright on the body of the work.

As a reproduction of a historical artifact, this work may contain missing or blurred pages, poor pictures, errant marks, etc. Scholars believe, and we concur, that this work is important enough to be preserved, reproduced, and made generally available to the public. We appreciate your support of the preservation process, and thank you for being an important part of keeping this knowledge alive and relevant.

As my name is fairly unique – I have never heard of another chap called EDZARD ERNST – this is most unusual, you must admit.

Naturally, this book fascinated me, and I decided to order a copy.

Yesterday, a hard copy of the book arrived on my doorstep. Now things became a little clearer: it is a re-edition of a German original first published in 1865. Its author is EDUARD ERNST and not Edzard Ernst. The author’s name on the book cover is thus a misprint.

What next?

Write to the publisher, of course!

I tried but had little success. It seems that two companies by the name of Wentworth Press existed, one based in Australia and one in the US. Both seem to have gone out of business some time ago – at least I could not find email addresses (if a reader happens to know more, please let me know).

So, it seems that I might be the only author of multiple books who can pride himself that, for one of them, he did not write a single line. I have been plagiarized several times but the opposite has never happened before.

What a question, you might say. And you would be right, it’s a most awkward one, so much so that I cannot answer it for myself.

I NEED YOUR HELP.

Here is the story:

Ten years ago, with the help of S Lejeune and an EU grant, my team conducted a Cochrane review of Laertrile. To do the ‘ground work’, we hired an Italian research assistant, S Milazzo, who was supervised mainly by my research fellow Katja Schmidt. Consequently, the review was published under the names of all main contributors: Milazzo, Ernst, Lejeune, Schmidt.

In 2011, an update was due for which the help of Dr Markus Horneber, the head of a German research team investigating alt med in relation to cancer, was recruited. By then, Milazzo and Schmidt had left my unit and, with my consent, Horneber, Milazzo and Schmidt took charge of the review. I was then sent a draft of their update and did a revision of it which consisted mostly in checking the facts and making linguistic changes. The article was then published under the following authorship: Milazzo S, Ernst E, Lejeune S, Boehm K, Horneber M (Katja had married meanwhile, so Boehm and Schmidt are the same person).

A few days ago, I noticed that a further update had been published in 2015. Amazingly, I had not been told, asked to contribute, or informed that my name as co-author had been scrapped. The authors of the new update are simply Milazzo and Horneber (the latter being the senior author). Katja Boehm had apparently indicated that she did no longer want to be involved; I am not sure what happened to Lejeune.

I know Markus Horneber since donkey’s years and had co-authored several other papers with him in the past, so I (admittedly miffed about my discovery) sent him an email and asked him whether he did not consider this behaviour to amount to plagiarism. His reply was, in my view, unhelpful in explaining why I had not been asked to get involved and Horneber asked me to withdraw the allegation of plagiarism (which I had not even made) – or else he would take legal action (this was the moment when I got truly suspicious).

Next, I contacted the responsible editor at the Cochrane Collaboration, not least because Horneber had claimed that she had condoned the disputed change of authorship. Her reply confirmed that “excluding previous authors without giving them a chance to comment is not normal Cochrane policy” and that she did, in fact, not condone the omission of my name from the list of co-authors.

The question that I am asking myself (not for the first time, I am afraid – a similar, arguably worse case has been described in the comments section of this post) is the following: IS THIS A CASE OF PLAGIARISM OR NOT? In the name of honesty, transparency and science, it requires an answer, I think.

Even after contemplating it for several days, I seem to be unable to find a conclusive response. On the one hand, I did clearly not contribute to the latest (2015) update and should therefore not be a co-author. On the other hand, I feel that I should have been asked to contribute, in which case I would certainly have done so and remained a co-author.

For a fuller understanding of this case, I here copy the various sections of the abstracts of the 2011 update (marked OLD) and the 2015 update without my co-authorship (marked NEW):

 

OLD

Laetrile is the name for a semi-synthetic compound which is chemically related to amygdalin, a cyanogenic glycoside from the kernels of apricots and various other species of the genus Prunus. Laetrile and amygdalin are promoted under various names for the treatment of cancer although there is no evidence for its efficacy. Due to possible cyanide poisoning, laetrile can be dangerous.

NEW

Laetrile is the name for a semi-synthetic compound which is chemically related to amygdalin, a cyanogenic glycoside from the kernels of apricots and various other species of the genus Prunus. Laetrile and amygdalin are promoted under various names for the treatment of cancer although there is no evidence for its efficacy. Due to possible cyanide poisoning, laetrile can be dangerous.

OBJECTIVES:

OLD

To assess the alleged anti-cancer effect and possible adverse effects of laetrile and amygdalin.

NEW

To assess the alleged anti-cancer effect and possible adverse effects of laetrile and amygdalin.

SEARCH METHODS:

OLD

We searched the following databases: CENTRAL (2011, Issue 1); MEDLINE (1951-2011); EMBASE (1980-2011); AMED; Scirus; CancerLit; CINAHL (all from 1982-2011); CAMbase (from 1998-2011); the MetaRegister; the National Research Register; and our own files. We examined reference lists of included studies and review articles and we contacted experts in the field for knowledge of additional studies. We did not impose any restrictions of timer or language.

NEW

We searched the following databases: CENTRAL (2014, Issue 9); MEDLINE (1951-2014); EMBASE (1980-2014); AMED; Scirus; CINAHL (all from 1982-2015); CAMbase (from 1998-2015); the MetaRegister; the National Research Register; and our own files. We examined reference lists of included studies and review articles and we contacted experts in the field for knowledge of additional studies. We did not impose any restrictions of timer or language.

SELECTION CRITERIA:

OLD

Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and quasi-RCTs.

NEW

Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and quasi-RCTs.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS:

OLD

We searched eight databases and two registers for studies testing laetrile or amygdalin for the treatment of cancer. Two review authors screened and assessed articles for inclusion criteria.

NEW

We searched eight databases and two registers for studies testing laetrile or amygdalin for the treatment of cancer. Two review authors screened and assessed articles for inclusion criteria.

MAIN RESULTS:

OLD

We located over 200 references, 63 were evaluated in the original review and an additional 6 in this update. However, we did not identify any studies that met our inclusion criteria.

NEW

We located over 200 references, 63 were evaluated in the original review, 6 in the 2011 and none in this update. However, we did not identify any studies that met our inclusion criteria.

AUTHORS’ CONCLUSIONS:

OLD

The claims that laetrile or amygdalin have beneficial effects for cancer patients are not currently supported by sound clinical data. There is a considerable risk of serious adverse effects from cyanide poisoning after laetrile or amygdalin, especially after oral ingestion. The risk-benefit balance of laetrile or amygdalin as a treatment for cancer is therefore unambiguously negative.

NEW

The claims that laetrile or amygdalin have beneficial effects for cancer patients are not currently supported by sound clinical data. There is a considerable risk of serious adverse effects from cyanide poisoning after laetrile or amygdalin, especially after oral ingestion. The risk-benefit balance of laetrile or amygdalin as a treatment for cancer is therefore unambiguously negative.

END OF ABSTRACT

I HOPE THAT YOU, THE READER OF THIS POST, ARE NOW ABLE TO TELL ME:

HAVE I BEEN PLAGIARISED?

P S

After the response from the Cochrane editor, I asked Horneber whether he wanted to make a further comment because I was thinking to blog about this. So far, I have not received a reply.

One of the perks of researching alternative medicine and writing a blog about it is that one rarely runs out of good laughs. In perfect accordance with ERNST’S LAW, I have recently been entertained, amused, even thrilled by a flurry of ad hominem attacks most of which are true knee-slappers. I would like to take this occasion to thank my assailants for their fantasy and tenacity. Most days, these ad hominem attacks really do make my day.

I can only hope they will continue to make my days a little more joyous. My fear, however, is that they might, one day, run out of material. Even today, their claims are somewhat repetitive:

  • I am not qualified
  • I only speak tosh
  • I do not understand science
  • I never did any ‘real’ research
  • Exeter Uni fired me
  • I have been caught red-handed (not quite sure at what)
  • I am on BIG PHARMA’s payroll
  • I faked my research papers

Come on, you feeble-minded fantasists must be able to do better! Isn’t it time to bring something new?

Yes, I know, innovation is not an easy task. The best ad hominem attacks are, of course, always based on a kernel of truth. In that respect, the ones that have been repeated ad nauseam are sadly wanting. Therefore I have decided to provide all would-be attackers with some true and relevant facts from my life. These should enable them to invent further myths and use them as ammunition against me.

Sounds like fun? Here we go:

Both my grandfather and my father were both doctors

This part of my family history could be spun in all sorts of intriguing ways. For instance, one could make up a nice story about how I, even as a child, was brain-washed to defend the medical profession at all cost from the onslaught of non-medical healers.

Our family physician was a prominent homeopath

Ahhhh, did he perhaps mistreat me and start me off on my crusade against homeopathy? Surely, there must be a nice ad hominem attack in here!

I studied psychology at Munich but did not finish it

Did I give up psychology because I discovered a manic obsession or other character flaw deeply hidden in my soul?

I then studied medicine (also in Munich) and made a MD thesis in the area of blood clotting

No doubt this is pure invention. Where are the proofs of my qualifications? Are the data in my thesis real or invented?

My 1st job as a junior doctor was in a homeopathic hospital in Munich

Yes, but why did I leave? Surely they found out about me and fired me.

I had hands on training in several forms of alternative medicine, including homeopathy

Easy to say, but where are the proofs?

I moved to London where I worked in St George’s Hospital conducting research in blood rheology

Another invention? Where are the published papers to document this?

I went back to Munich university where I continued this line of research and was awarded a PhD

Another thesis? Again with dodgy data? Where can one see this document?

I became Professor Rehabilitation Medicine first at Hannover Medical School and later in Vienna

How did that happen? Did I perhaps bribe the appointment panels?

In 1993, I was appointed to the Chair in Complementary Medicine at Exeter university

Yes, we all know that; but why did I not direct my efforts towards promoting alternative medicine?

In Exeter, together with a team of ~20 colleagues, we published > 1000 papers on alternative medicine, more than anyone else in that field

Impossible! This number clearly shows that many of these articles are fakes or plagiaries.

My H-Index is currently >80

Same as above.

In 2012, I became Emeritus Professor of the University of Exeter

Isn’t ’emeritus’ the Latin word for ‘dishonourable discharge’?

I HOPE I CAN RELY ON ALL OF MY AD HOMINEM ATTACKERS TO USE THIS INFORMATION AND RENDER THE ASSAULTS MORE DIVERSE, REAL AND INTERESTING.

Everyone knows, I think, that smoking is bad for our health. Why then do so many of us still smoke? Because smoking is addictive – and addictions are, by definition, far from easy to get rid of. Many smokers try acupuncture, and acupuncturists are making a ‘pretty penny’ on the assumption that  their treatment is an effective way to stop the habit. But what does the best evidence tell us?

A new randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial with 125 smokers was conducted to determine whether ear acupuncture with electrical stimulation (auriculotherapy) once a week for 5 consecutive weeks is more effective than sham treatment.

The results showed that there was no difference in the rate of smoking cessation between the two groups. After 6 weeks, the auriculotherapy group achieved a rate of 20.9% abstinence which was not significantly different from the 17.9% in the sham group.

The authors  of this study concluded that “the results … do not support the use of auriculotherapy to assist with smoking  cessation. It is possible that a longer treatment duration, more frequent sessions, or other modifications of the intervention       protocol used in this study may result in a different outcome. However, based on the results of this study, there is no evidence that auriculotherapy is superior to placebo when offered once a week for 5 weeks, as described in previous uncontrolled studies.”

Of course, they are correct to state that, theoretically, a different treatment regimen might have generated different outcomes. But how likely is that in reality?

To answer this question, we might consult the Cochrane review on the subject (which incidentally is close to my heart: I initiated it many years ago and was its senior author until it was plagiarised by my former co-worker and my name was replaced by that of his new boss [never a dull day in alternative medicine research!]).

The latest version of this article concludes that “there is no consistent, bias-free evidence that acupuncture, acupressure, laser therapy or electrostimulation are effective for smoking cessation, but lack of evidence and methodological problems mean that no firm conclusions can be drawn. Further, well designed research into acupuncture, acupressure and laser stimulation is justified since these are popular interventions and safe when correctly applied, though these interventions alone are likely to be less effective than evidence-based interventions

This is a very, very (yes, I meant very, very) odd conclusion, I think. If I had still been an author of this plagiarised paper, I would have suggested something a little more straightforward: 33 studies of various types of acupuncture for smoking cessation are currently available (if we include the new trial, the number is 34). The totality of this evidence fails to show that acupuncture is effective. Therefore acupuncture should NOT be considered a valid option for this indication.

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