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

politics

I have left the German skeptics organisation , GWUP, two days ago. This led to many questions and confusion. I therefore feel that I owe it to those skeptics who I may have upset or unsettled to offer a few clarifications (I do appologise, if this does not make much sense to those readers who were unable to follow the various disputes and discussions that took place, mostly in German, on Twitter).

1. Clarification – accusation of antisemitism: This accusation is completely absurd! In my opinion, the 1st re-Tweet that Bartoschek is using is not anti-Semitic. I have posted thousands of tweets, many of which are the opposite of anti-Semitic, as anyone can verify. Moreover, I have worked for the last 30 years to fight antisemitism and can probably show more results of this endeavor than my accuser.

2. Clarification – I can’t find the 2nd re-tweet that Bartoschek exhibits. No idea who found it and where! I can’t remember the text (but I do vaguely remember the graphic), and I certainly didn’t delete anything. I would delete if, if I could find it and be open about it. If it turns out that I am nevertheless at fault, I can only apologise.

3. Clarification – peer-review publications by Hirsch, Huemmler, Bartoschek (who I sarcastically called ‘the GWUP-elite’). After watching a long video of these gentlemen, I began to doubt whether they are true scientists (or even skeptics) at all. Hence my legitimate question. The answer seems to be largely negative.

4. Clarification – Bartoschek claims “Prof Ernst is on the side of the “anti-woke”. However, I have repeatedly emphasised that I do not believe in and even detest both ‘woke’ and ‘anti-woke’.

5. Clarification – Mr Hirsch is the ‘social media manager’ of the GWUP commissioned by Huemmler, the current chair of the GWUP. The fact that he spreads aggressive nonsense in this role under the pseudonym ‘Endgegner der Kommentarspalten’ is inadmissible.

6. Clarification – I have not gained the impression that the current division of the GWUP is primarily idiological in nature (both sides are not far apart in this respect), but believe that it is a rather ridiculous power struggle on a personal level.

7. Clarification – I have left the GWUP because I am sure that I can do my work better without it, because the current tone amongst GWUP members is unacceptable, because the GWUP is currently not converting its membership fees (I estimate ~200 000 per year) into meaningful activities, because the current GWUP ‘elite’ behaves neither as genuine sceptics nor as true scientists, and because I fear that things will only get worse after the AGM in May.

_________________________

My hope is that this is the last time I have to mention this sorry story here on my blog.

 

Traditional herbal medicine (THM) is frequently used in pediatric populations. This is perticularly true in many low-income countries. Yet THM has been associated with a range of adverse events, including liver toxicity, renal failure, and allergic reactions. Despite these concerns, its impact on multi-organ dysfunction syndrome (MODS) risk has so far not been thoroughly investigated.

This study aimed to investigate the incidence and predictors of MODS in a pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) in Ethiopia, with a focus on the association between THM use and the risk of MODS. It was designed as a single-center prospective cohort study conducted at a PICU in the university of Gondar Comprehensive Specialized hospital, Northwest Ethiopia. The researchers enrolled eligible patients aged one month to 18 years admitted to the PICU during the study period. Data on demographic characteristics, medical history, clinical and laboratory data, and outcome measures using standard case record forms, physical examination, and patient document reviews. The predictors of MODS were assessed using Cox proportional hazards models, with a focus on the association between traditional herbal medicine use and the risk of MODS.

A total of 310 patients were included in the final analysis, with a median age of 48 months and a male-to-female ratio of 1.5:1. The proportion and incidence of MODS were 30.96% (95% CI:25.8, 36.6) and 7.71(95% CI: 6.10, 9.40) per 100-person-day observation respectively. Renal failure (17.74%), neurologic failure (15.16%), and heart failure (14.52%) were the leading organ failures identified. Nearly one-third of patients (32.9%) died in the PICU, of which 59.8% had MODS. The rate of mortality was higher in patients with MODS than in those without. The Cox proportional hazards model identified renal disease (AHR = 6.32 (95%CI: 3.17,12.61)), intake of traditional herbal medication (AHR = 2.45, 95% CI:1.29,4.65), modified Pediatric Index of Mortality 2 (mPIM 2) score (AHR = 1.54 (95% CI: 1.38,1.71), and critical illness diagnoses (AHR = 2.68 (95% CI: 1.77,4.07)) as predictors of MODS.

The authors concluded that the incidence of MODS was high. Renal disease, THM use, mPIM 2 scores, and critical illness diagnoses were independent predictors of MODS. A more than twofold increase in the risk of MODS was seen in patients who used TMH. Healthcare providers should be aware of risks associated with THM, and educate caregivers about the potential harms of these products. Future studies with larger sample sizes and more comprehensive outcome measures are needed.

I do fully agree with the authors about the high usage of herbal and other so-called alternative medicines by children. We have shown that, in the UK the average one-year prevalence rate was 34% and the average lifetime prevalence was 42%. We have furthermore shown that the evidence base for these treatments in children is weak, even more so than for general populations. Finally, we can confirm that adverse effects are far from rare and often serious.

It is therefore high time, I think, that national regulators do more to protect children from SCAM practitioners who are at best uncritical about their treatments and at worse outright dangerous.

The 29th of February is an unusual date, and I will do something fittingly unusual today – something that I have never done before: I will with a heavy heart resign from an organisation of skeptics.

After I had observed the self-destructive debates within the GWUP for almost one year without saying a single word about it (hoping they would soon dissolve into thin air), I published a comment a few days ago. Soon after, I was aggressed, defamed, wrongly denounced as an anti-Semite, and blackmailed by leading members of that organisation.

Confronted with these events, it was inevitable that I would have doubts about my previous plan to remain a member until the upcoming general assembly in May. While I was contemplating, I received a Tweet on 27/2/2024 from someone under the pseudonym Endgegner der Kommentarspalten; it included this sentence:

Einer der verschwörungsideologischen Clowns, die seit gut einem Jahr Kulturkrieg in der GWUP mit rechtsextremen Talking Points spielen und Märchen von einem “woken Putsch” herbeiphantasieren?

My translation:

One of the conspiracy ideological clowns who have been playing culture war in the GWUP for a good year with right-wing extremist talking points and fantasising about a “woke coup”?

Next, I watched a long discussion on youtube between the new chair of the GWUP, my accuser (Bartoschek) and Sebastian Hirsch. There I learnt that the latter is, in fact, nobody else than Endgegner der Kommentarspalten. He was recently put in charge of Twitter account for GWUP by the chair.

At this point, I lost the hope that the GWUP might be saved. It seems to be in the hand of thugs who call not me personally but their opponents ‘ideological clowns who have been playing culture war’. They claim that they want to keep politics out of the GWUP, yet almost all they do is engaging in politics.

Since the former formidable chair, Amardeo Sarma, left and the rift started, the GWUP has done nothing wothwhile, as far as I can see. On the GWUP website, we are told that (my translation):

  • The GWUP aims at promoting science and scientific thinking.
  • The GWUP investigates parascientific theories according to the current state of scientific knowledge and reports publicly and comprehensibly on its findings.
  • The GWUP aims to disseminate scientific and critical thinking and scientific methods, explain them in a generally understandable way and clearly distinguish real science from parascience. The GWUP thus wants to contribute to reducing society’s susceptibility to parascientific ideas and promises.
  • The GWUP is an internationally orientated society. It is happy to work with like-minded individuals, organisations and institutions.

GWUP stands for ‘Gesellschaft zur wissenschaftlichen Untersuchung von Parawissenschaften’ (Society for the Scientific Investigation of Parasciences). The people currently in charge claim to be scientists but most of them are not (talking about science or publishing books for the lay reader about it does not, in my view, make you a scientist!). The leadership of the GWUP, it seems to me, is currently dominated by small-minded inward-looking guys with no international perspective who are in the middle of a mega-ego trip.

Instead of fighting parascience, they feel entitled to fight their colleagues. Instead of doing their job, they open the door to parascience. Instead of being scientists, they are using skepticism as an excuse for their machinations. Instead of running a scientific organisation, they turned it into a veritable kindergarden. In a nutshell: to the utmost delight of German parascientists, they have completely lost the plot.

I do not believe that the general assembly can turn things around. More likely, matters will get worse and it will come to a complete split. Personally, I cannot – not even until May – remain a member of an organisation where the man officially put in charge of the Twitter account feels entitled to collectively call his opponents ‘ideological clowns who have been playing culture war’. This remark in itself might not be all that significant but, for me, it is the ‘last straw’ and a symptom of a deep and irreversible rot.

So, I have come to the conclusion that I can do my work better without any further GWUP-hindrance. Therefore, I will now email my resignation as a member of the GWUP.

I have been called just about everything during my professional life (not to mention the private one). Yesterday, a new addition arrived: a German psychologist who chose to misunderstand a re-Tweet (or is that re-X these days?), Sebastian Bartoschek, implied I am an anti-Semite.

My re-Tweet quoted without any comment by me a Holocaust survivor stating “The Nazis made me afraid to be a Jew, and the Israelis made me ashamed to be a Jew”.

My re-Tweet was meant to make people reflect critical about the horrendous atrocities that is currently happening in Gaza. However, Bartoschek decided it was anti-semitism and demanded I explain myself. As I had previously had an unpleasantly unproductive encounter over an entirely different matter with him, I did not quite see why I should comply to the wishes of this guy. What followed was a rather ridiculous triade by Bartoschek. It included him alerting DIE WELT that someone who sometimes writes for the paper propagates anti-semitism.

A third party (I don’t know who) must have suggested that this amounts to denunciation. Bartoschek replied: “If asking someone why they share anti-Semitic content is denunciation for you, then so be it.” Eventually he sent me this Tweet:

To EdzardErnst – I’ll wait until 11 a.m. tomorrow, Sunday, for a statement. After that, I’ll write about it without it.

This is why I feel that I am blackmailed. Either I explain what I feel is too obvious to explain, or he will write about the matter in what can be expected to be a defaming way.

Well, I prefer to write about it myself by stating categorically that I am definitely not an anti-semite. What is more, I can prove it. I have since many years published numerous articles (around 30, I guess) that make my position entirely clear; to mention just three:

So, now it will be great fun to see whether Bartoschek has lost his marbles and what version of the truth he will tell in his own write-up of the story.

WATCH THIS SPACE.

 

A recent post of mine started an interesting discussion about the research of the NCCIH. Richard Rasker made the following comment:

The NCCIH was initially established as the Office for Alternative Medicine (OAM) for mostly the same reason that Edzard’s department at Exeter was founded, i.e. to study alternative modalities, and determine once and for all which ones were effective and which ones weren’t. Unfortunately, OAM and its subsequent incarnations were taken over by SCAM proponents almost right away, with its core mission changed into validating (NOT ‘studying’) SCAM modalities – a small but crucial difference that will all but guarantee that even long-obsolete and totally ineffective quackery will continue to be ‘researched’ and promoted.

So what’s the score now, after more than 30 years and well over 4 billion dollars in taxpayers’ money? How many SCAM modalities have they managed to ‘validate’, i.e. definitively proven to be effective? The answer is: none, for all intents and purposes. Even their research into herbal medicine – one of the most effective (or should I say: least ineffective) SCAMs out there – is best described as woefully lacking. Their list of herbs and plants names just 55 species of plants, and the individual descriptions are mostly to the tune of ‘a lot of research was done, but we can’t say anything definite’.

I think I can contribute meaningfully to this important comment and topic. Several years ago, my Exeter team – together with several other researches – systematically reviewed the NCCIH (formerly NCCAM)-sponsored clinical trials. Specifically, we focussed on 4 different subject areas. Here are the conclusions of our articles reporting the findings:

      1. ACUPUNCTURE

Seven RCTs had a low risk of bias. Numerous methodological shortcomings were identified. Many NCCAM-funded RCTs of acupuncture have important limitations. These findings might improve future studies of acupuncture and could be considered in the ongoing debate regarding NCCAM-funding. [Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies Volume 17(1) March 2012 15–21]

       2. HERBAL MEDICINE

This independent assessment revealed a plethora of serious concerns related to NCCAM studies of herbal medicine. [Perfusion 2011; 24: 89-102]

       3. ENERGY MEDICINE

In conclusion, the NCCAM-funded RCTs of energy medicine are prime examples of misguided investments into research. In our opinion, NCCAM should not be funding poor-quality studies of implausible practices. The impact of any future studies of energy medicine would be negligible or even detrimental. [Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies Volume 16(2) June 2011 106–109 ]

       4. CHIROPRACTIC

In conclusion, our review demonstrates that several RCTs of chiropractic have been funded by the NCCAM. It raises numerous concerns in relation to these studies; in particular, it suggests that many of these studies are seriously flawed. [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21207089]

The overall conclusion that comes to my mind is this:

The NCCIH has managed to spend more money on SCAM research than any other institution in the world (in the 20 years that I ran the Exeter research unit, we spent around £2 million in total). The NCCIH has wasted precious funds on plenty of dubious studies; arguably, this is unethical. It has misappropriated its role from testing to validating SCAMs. And it has validated none.

PS

As some of the above-cited papers are not easily accessible, I offer to send copies to interested individuals on request.

Yesterday, someone (hopefully) unknown to me (hiding under the pseudonym ‘Queristfrei’) tweeted this rather bizarre comment [in German, my translation]:

This trivialisation of the unjust GDR state, in which people died for political reasons, shows how “lost” the people are who @amardeo, @Skepges, @EdzardErnst and the @Skepges respect and defend. That’s historical fabrication to the power of ten! #GWUP

Normally, I would have discarded the comment as just one of those many irrelevant idiocies posted by cranks that I am constantly exposed to on social media. However, the mention of the GWUP, the German skeptics organisation, links it to the current woke-motivated destruction of the GWUP and thus gives it special significance.

‘Woke’ and the various related terms are in fashion and polute discussions on far too many subjects. To be blunt, I don’t like ‘woke, WOKE, anti-woke, unwoke, wokerati’, etc. – so much so that, for the purpose of this post, I will invent an umbrella term that captures all of these words: ANTI-UNWOKERATI, AUWEI for short (yes, there might be a German root in this abbreviation. I know it is a silly acronym but, in my mind, the subject deserves nothing serious).

As already mentioned, I am anti-AUWEI which means I am as much anti-woke as anti-antiwoke. Or, to put it differently, I feel that the world would be a better place, if ‘woke’ had never become en vogue. Here I have listed (in no particular order) several reasons why I dislike AUWEI:

  • AUWEI means different things to different people and is thus a fertile basis for misunderstandings.
  • Every Tom, Dick and Harry uses the AUWEI terminology pretending to be an expert without expertise.
  • Much of what is said and written in the name of AUWEI is pure bullshit.
  • AUWEI has become an ideology.
  • Even worse, it is a straight jacket of the mind that makes us pre-judge a subject regardless of the evidence.
  • Worse still, it is abused by all the wrong politicians.
  • AUWEI serves many as a replacement for evidence.
  • Even worse, it often seems to be an alternative to critical thinking.
  • Most AUWEI-obsessed people seem to have lost their humor (or never had any).
  • AUWEI renders complex issues falsely simple.
  • AUWEI inhibits free thought.
  • AUWEI inhibits nuances and puts you in one camp or another – black or white.
  • AUWEI is unnecessarily devisive.
  • AUWEI invites intolerance and unproductive dispute.

Personally, I like to make up my own mind about things; to do this, I want to see the evidence. Once I have understood it, I go where the evidence leads me – not where AUWEI dictates me to go.

There are many AUWEI subjects that do not interest me and perhaps even more that I find outright silly. Personally, I don’t want AUWEI to tell me that I must have an opinion on them or quietly follow that of my AUWEI ‘peers’.

No, really; AUWEI is not for me.

The French ‘National Assembly’ has yesterday adopted a major law aimed at reinforcing the prevention and combat against sectarian aberrations in France. This marks a significant step forward in strengthening the protection of citizens against abuse and manipulation by charlatans, gurus and other sectarian movements.

This bill, the result of particularly fruitful work and debate in both chambers, reflects the Government’s commitment to meeting the expectations of the victims of these sectarian movements.

Some of the key measures voted through by parliamentarians include:

  • The enshrinement in law of the powers of MIVILUDES (Interministerial Mission of Vigilance and Combat against Sectarian Aberrations);
  • The reinforcement of the penal response with the creation of the offence of placing or maintaining in a state of psychological or physical subjection;
  • The creation of an offence of incitement to abandon or refrain from treatment, or to adopt practices which clearly expose the person concerned to a serious health risk;
  • Support for victims, with the extension of the categories of associations that can bring civil action;
  • Information for the judiciary, with the introduction of an “amicus curiae” role for certain government departments in legal cases relating to cults.

Despite sometimes heated debates, particularly around article 4, fuelled by the opinion of the Conseil d’Etat, the adoption of this law by the National Assembly bears witness to a shared desire to protect the rights and freedoms of individuals while providing better protection for our fellow citizens against sectarian aberrations.

This bill is part of a multi-annual national strategy for 2023-2027 resulting from the conference on sectarian aberrations held in spring 2023. It is a major step towards strengthening the penal arsenal and protecting victims.

_______________

Sabrina Agresti-Roubache, Secretary of State for Citizenship and Urban Affairs, commented:

“Long-awaited by victim support associations, this text aims to strengthen our legal arsenal in the fight against sectarian aberrations. I’m delighted that all the articles have been adopted, particularly Article 4, which creates an offence of incitement to abandon or abstain from treatment. There have been some passionate debates in the Chamber, but I’d like to reiterate the basis of this bill: the State is not fighting against beliefs, opinions or religions, but against all forms of sectarian aberrations, these dangerous behaviors which represent a threat to our social cohesion and put lives at risk.”

_______________

Obviously, we shall have to see how the new law will be applied. But, in any case, it is an important step into the right direction and could put an end to much of so-called alternative medicine that endangers the health of French consumers.

Other nations should consicer following the Franch example.

Millions of US adults use so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). In 2012, 55 million adults spent $28.3 billion on SCAMs, comparable to 9% of total out-of-pocket health care expenditures. A recent analysis conducted by the US National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) suggests a substantial increase in the overall use of SCAM by American adults from 2002 to 2022. The paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, highlights a surge in the use of SCAM particularly for pain management.

Data from the 2002, 2012, and 2022 National Health Interview Surveys (NHISs) were employed to evaluate changes in the use of 7 SCAMs:

  1. yoga,
  2. meditation,
  3. massage therapy,
  4. chiropractic,
  5. acupuncture,
  6. naturopathy,
  7. guided imagery/progressive muscle relaxation.

The key findings include:

  • The percentage of individuals who reported using at least one of the SCAMs increased from 19.2% in 2002 to 36.7% in 2022.
  • The use of yoga, meditation, and massage therapy experienced the most significant growth.
  • Use of yoga increased from 5% in 2002 to 16% in 2022.
  • Meditation became the most popular SCAM in 2022, with an increase from 7.5% in 2002 to 17.3% in 2022.
  • Acupuncture saw an increase from 1% in 2002 to 2.2% in 2022.
  • The smallest rise was noted for chiropractic, from 79 to 86%

The analyses also suggested a rise in the proportion of US adults using SCAMs specifically for pain management. Among participants using any SCAM, the percentage reporting use for pain management increased from 42% in 2002 to 49% in 2022.

Limitations of the survey include:

  • decreasing NHIS response rates over time,
  • possible recall bias,
  • cross-sectional data,
  • differences in the wording of the surveys.

The NCCIH researchers like such surveys and tend to put a positive spin on them, i.e. SCAM is becoming more and more popular because it is supported by better and better evidence. Therefore, SCAM should be available to everyone who wants is.

But, of course, the spin could also turn in the opposite direction, i.e. the risk/benefit balance for most SCAMs is either negative or uncertain, and their cost-benefit remains unclear – as seen regularly on this blog. Therefore, the fact that SCAM seems to be getting more popular is of increasing concern. In particular, more consideration ought to be given to the indirect risks of SCAM (think, for instance, only of the influence SCAM practitioners have on the vaccination rates) that we often discuss here but that the NCCIH conveniently tends to ignore.

Mercury is a highly toxic chemical that threatens the health of humans and the environment. When it is released into the environment, it enters the food chain where it accumulates, particularly in fish. Exposure to high levels of mercury can cause harm to the brain, lungs, kidneys and the immune system. For these reasons, dental amalgam fillings which contain mercury have long been criticized. This is particularly true in the realm of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) where, as discussed repeatedly, amalgam has long been a subject of both concern and misinformation, e.g.:

In the EU, dental amalgam might soon be merely of historical interest.

It has been announced that the EU Parliament and Council reached a provisional political agreement on the Commission’s proposal to address the remaining uses of mercury in products in the EU in line with commitments set out in the EU’s Zero Pollution Ambition.

In spite of viable mercury-free alternatives, around 40 tonnes of mercury are still used in the EU annually for dental amalgam as current rules only forbid the use of dental amalgam for treating teeth in children under 15 years old as well as pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Negotiators agreed to phase out the use of dental amalgam in the EU by 1 January 2025 except if deemed strictly necessary by the dental practitioner based on the duly justified specific medical needs of the patient.

EU countries that have not yet adjusted their reimbursement system to cover alternatives, may postpone the phase-out up until 30 June 2026, to avoid negative repercussions for low-income individuals that would otherwise be socio-economically disproportionally affected by the phase-out.

The export of dental amalgam will also be prohibited from 1 January 2025, whereas the manufacturing and import into the EU will be banned from 1 July 2026.

After the agreement, rapporteur Marlene Mortler (EPP, Germany) said: “After an intensive week of negotiations, we were able to reach an agreement today to ban dental amalgam containing mercury. This is an important step towards a mercury-free future. I am very pleased with the result – because we have ensured that such dental amalgam may only be used in medically necessary cases. Some Member States have been granted an exemption in order to mitigate the socio-economic consequences of the amalgam phase-out. After all, the ban on dental amalgam must not mean that low-income EU citizens can no longer afford adequate dental treatment in these countries. Another key point of this agreement is the decision that lamps containing mercury may only be exported to countries outside the EU until 30 June 2026. This will ensure that products that are already banned in the EU are not sold to third countries and have environmentally harmful consequences there.”

The deal still has to be adopted by the EU Parliament and Council, after which the new law will be published in the EU Official Journal and enter into force 20 days later.

Yestderday, it was announced that King Charles has cancer. He had been in hospital for surgery for his enlarged prostate. Initially, the news was positive, as it was confirmed not to be prostate cancer. However, during the investigations, a cancer was discovered that apparently is unrelated to the prostate. Since the announcement, many journalists and other people have written to me asking what I think about it and what treatment Charles is likely to receive. I therefore decided to write a short post about the matter.

As a physician and human being I am very sorry whenever I hear that anyone has fallen ill, particularly if the condition is serious and potentially life-threatening. That this includes Charles goes without saying. Equally it is self-evident that I wish that all goes well for him, that the treatment he reportedly has already started is not too arduous, that he keeps in good spirit, that he has empathetic support from all his family and recovers quickly and fully.

Charles will, I am sure, have the best treatment anyone could wish for. Will he use so-called alternative medicine (SCAM), for example, the Gerson therapy, one of the SCAMs he once promoted as a cure of cancer? Of course not! He will receive the most effective, evidence-based care that is currently available. Will he thus not try any SCAM at all? I am confident that he will use SCAM wisely, namely not as a cure but as a supportive measure. In my book on this very subject, I go through all the relevant evidence and conclude that, while SCAM is most certainly not a cancer cure, it can have a place in supportive cancer care. Depending on the symptoms that develop during and after the conventional treatments, certain SCAMs can, according to fairly sound evidence, be helpful in improving wellness and quality of life.

Going through a battle against cancer is often a most humbling experience. Therefore, I am hopeful that, as he recovers from his ordeal, Charles will see that modern medicine – he once described it as being out of balance like the leaning tower of Pisa – is not just effective, empathetic and caring but also not nearly as unbalanced and unholistic as he often proclaimed it to be. In that sense, the experience might reform our king, and – who knows? – he might, after all, turn out to be not the self-proclaimed enemy but a true friend of the Enlightenment.

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