It has been reported that King Charles’ charity, formerly the Prince’s Foundation, is compelled to return £110,000 to the Indian government. The funds were earmarked for an NHS alternative medicine clinic championed by Charles, which never materialised. The proposed clinic was aimed at integrating Indian traditional medicine into the UK’s healthcare system.
But why did the plan fail?
The answer is simple: the National Health Service (NHS) did not approve it.
The history of the UK ‘Ayurvedic Centre of Excellence’ goes back several years. Here is an excerpt of my book ‘CHARLES, THE ALTERNATIVE KING‘ where I discuss it as one of Charles’ many pipe dreams in the realm of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM):
In 2018, India’s prime minister Narendra Modi paid a visit to the Science Museum in London where he inspected the ‘5000 Years of Science and Innovation’ exhibition. The event was hosted by Charles and included the announcement of new ‘Ayurvedic Centres of Excellence’, allegedly a ‘first-of-its-kind’ global network for evidence-based research on yoga and Ayurveda. The first centre was said to open in 2018 in London. Funding was to come partly from the Indian government and partly from private donors. The central remit of the new initiative was reported to be researching the effects of Ayurvedic medicine.
Dr Michael Dixon (yes, you may have met him several times before, e.g. here, here, or here) commented: “This is going to be the first Ayurvedic centre of excellence in the UK. We will be providing, on the NHS, patients with yoga, with demonstrations and education on healthy eating, Ayurvedic diets, and massage including reflexology and Indian head massage. And all this will be subject to a research project led by Westminster University, to find out whether the English population will take to yoga and these sorts of treatments. Whether they will be helped by it and finally whether it will reduce the call on NHS resources leading to less GP consultations, hospital admissions and operations.”
On its website, the College of Medicine and Integrated Health announced that a memorandum of understanding with India’s Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH) had been signed “to create centres of excellence in the UK … Dr Michael Dixon agreed the joint venture to provide the UK centres, which will offer and research traditional Indian medicine… The Indian government will match private UK donations to fund the AYUSH centres in the UK”. In November 2019, the following press release by the president of India offered more details:
The Prince of Wales called on the President of India, Shri Ram Nath Kovind, at Rashtrapati Bhavan today (November 13, 2019).
Welcoming the Prince to India, the President congratulated him on his election as the head of the Commonwealth. He said that India considers the Commonwealth as an important grouping that voices the concerns of a large number of countries, including the Small Island Developing States.
The President said that India and the United Kingdom are natural partners bound by historical ties and shared values of democracy, rule of law and respect for multi-cultural society. As the world’s pre-eminent democracies, our two countries have much to contribute together to effectively address the many challenges faced by the world today.
The Prince planted a Champa sapling – plant native to the subcontinent which has several uses in Ayurveda – in the Herbal Garden of Rashtrapati Bhavan. He was taken around the garden and shown different plants that have medicinal properties. The Prince showed a keen interest in India’s alternative model of healthcare.
The President thanked the Prince of Wales for his support for Ayurveda research. The Prince of Wales Charitable Foundation and the All India Institute of Ayurveda signed an MOU during the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the UK in April 2018. Under the MOU, the All India Institute of Ayurveda and the College of Medicine, UK will be conducting clinical research on Depression, Anxiety and Fibromyalgia. They will also be undertaking training programme for the development of Standard Operating Protocol on “AYURYOGA” for UK Health professionals.
END OF EXCERPT
Charles’ initiative, encompassing Ayurveda, yoga, naturopathy, and homeopathy, was intended to be a landmark project, with the Indian government contributing £110,000 to the King’s Foundation for its implementation. However, the NHS, responsible for St Charles Hospital, never endorsed the project. Despite initial talks, the proposed collaboration did not progress, and the clinic failed to materialise. According to the west London clinical commissioning group (CCG), which oversaw the hospital at the time, there was no official involvement, and discussions ceased in 2020.
Under charity law, funds designated for a specific project cannot be diverted without donor permission and regulatory approval. The King’s Foundation has acknowledged the need to return the remaining budget to the Indian government but has not disclosed when this decision was made or why the funds were not promptly returned.
The initiative faced opposition from the NHS, as a year before the clinic’s launch, NHS England’s CEO Simon Stevens had issued guidance discouraging the prescription of homeopathy and herbal remedies, citing their limited efficacy and misuse of NHS funds.
Despite the failed project, connections between key figures persist. Dr Michael Dixon played a significant role in finalising agreements with the Indian government. The King’s Foundation defended its actions, stating that due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the project shifted online, resulting in reduced costs. They claim to have contacted the Indian government for the return of unused funds, emphasising that the money remains in a restricted account.
As the controversy unfolds, questions arise about the intersections between alternative medicine advocacy, royal endorsements, and international collaborations within the context of public healthcare.
An article in the Daily Mail reported that the original plan proposed that Ayush treatments would be provided to patients, who would be referred by local GPs, at St Charles Hospital in Kensington. Isaac Mathai, who runs Soukya, a homeopathic yoga retreat in Bangalore which Charles and Camilla have visited, was an adviser to the project at St Charles Hospital.
The Indian government made a payment from the budget of the Ayush Ministry, which Mr Modi has used as a tool of diplomacy to promote Indian medicine and culture worldwide, to the King’s Foundation. It was proposed the charity would use its expertise to help set up the clinic. But the NHS at no point agreed to the plans.
A spokesman of the west London clinical commissioning group (CCG), which administered St Charles Hospital at the time, said: ‘Provision of homeopathy and herbal treatments were not considered as part of the project by the CCG. The aim of the project was to test the use of yoga and massage to support the overall health and wellbeing of patients with long-term conditions.’ A King’s Foundation spokesman added that the initial intention had been to deliver Indian traditional medicine at St Charles Hospital.
The last few days, I spent much of my time answering questions from journalists on the subject of Charles lll. [interestingly, almost exclusively journalists NOT writing for UK newspapers]. Unsurprisingly, they all wanted to know about the way Charles managed to close down my research department at Exeter University some 10 years ago.
The story is old and I am a bit tired of repeating it. So, nowadays I often refer people to Wikipedia where a short paragraph sums it up:
Ernst was accused by Prince Charles’ private secretary of having breached a confidentiality agreement regarding the 2005 Smallwood report. After being subjected to a “very unpleasant” investigation by the University of Exeter, the university “accepted his innocence but continued, in his view, to treat him as ‘persona non grata’. All fundraising for his unit ceased, forcing him to use up its core funding and allow its 15 staff to drift away.” He retired in 2011, two years ahead of his official retirement. In July 2011, a Reuters article described his “long-running dispute with the Prince about the merits of alternative therapies” and stated that he “accused Britain’s heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles and other backers of alternative therapies on Monday of being ‘snake-oil salesmen’ who promote products with no scientific basis”, and that the dispute “had cost him his job – a claim Prince Charles’s office denied”. Ernst is a republican, and has supported Republic, an organisation which campaigns for the abolition of the British monarchy.
Re-reading it yesterday, I noticed that the text is not entirely correct (a full account can be found here). Let me explain:
- There never was a formal confidentiality agreement with signature etc. But I did feel bound to keep the contents of the Smallwood report confidential.
- The investigation by my University was not just ‘very unpleasant’, it was also far too long. It lasted 13 months! I had to take lawyers against my own University!
- In addition, it was unnecessary, not least because a University should simply establish the facts and, if reasonable, defend its professor from outside attacks. The facts could have been established over a cup of tea with the Vice Chancellor in less than half an hour.
- When my department had been destroyed in the process, I retired voluntarily and was subsequently re-employed for half a year to help find a successor. In retrospect, I see this move as a smart ploy by the University to keep me sweet and prevent me from going to the press.
- A successor was never hired; one good candidate was found but he was told that he had to find 100% of the funds to do the job. Nobody of high repute would have found this acceptable, and thus the only good candidate was not even tempted to accept the position.
- The snake oil salesman story is an entirely separate issue (see here) that happened years later.
- It is true that Charles’s office denied that Charles knew about his 1st private secretary writing to my Vice Chancellor asking him to investigate my alleged breach of confidence. However, as Sir Michael Peat started his letter with the words “I AM WRITING … AS THE PRINCE OF WALES’ PRIVATE SECRETARY…, I find this exceedingly hard to believe.
- Even though Charles did a sterling job in trying, I did not become a republican. I do have considerable doubts that Charles will be a good King (his reign might even be the end of the monarchy), and I did help the republican cause on several occasions but I never formally joined any such group (in general, I am not a joiner of parties, clubs or interest groups).
To one of the journalists who recently interviewed me, I explained that I do not in the slightest feel sore, bitter, or angry on a personal level. Going into early retirement suited me perfectly fine, and thanks to that decision I enjoy life to the full. The significance of this story lies elsewhere: Charles’ intervention managed to permanently close the then worldwide-only department that systematically and critically investigated so-called alternative medicine. If you know another, please let me know.
It is not often that I publish a paper with a philosopher in a leading journal of philosophy. In fact, it is the first time, and I am rather proud of it – so much so that I must show my readers (the article is freely available via the link below and I encourage everyone to read the full text) the abstract of our article entitled WHY HOMOEOPATHY IS PSEUDOSCIENCE (Synthese (2022) 200:394):
Homoeopathy is commonly recognised as pseudoscience. However, there is, to date, no systematic discussion that seeks to establish this view. In this paper, we try to fill this gap. We explain the nature of homoeopathy, discuss the notion of pseudoscience, and provide illustrative examples from the literature indicating why homoeopathy fits the
bill. Our argument contains a conceptual and an empirical part.
In the conceptual part, we introduce the premise that a doctrine qualifies as a pseudoscience if, firstly, its proponents claim scientific standing for it and, secondly, if they produce bullshit to defend it, such that, unlike science, it cannot be viewed as the most reliable knowledge on its topic. In the empirical part, we provide evidence that homoeopathy fulfils both criteria. The first is quickly established since homoeopaths often explicitly claim scientificity.
To establish the second, we dive into the pseudo-academic literature on homoeopathy to provide evidence of bullshit in the arguments of homoeopaths. Specifically, we show that they make bizarre ontological claims incompatible with natural science, illegitimately shift the burden of proof to sceptics, and mischaracterise, cherry-pick, and misreport the evidence. Furthermore, we demonstrate that they reject essential parts of established scientific methodology and use epistemically unfair strategies to immunise their doctrine against recalcitrant evidence.
And here is our conclusion:
At the beginning of the paper, we noted that homoeopathy is commonly named one of the prototypical pseudosciences. However, there has been, to date, no comprehensive discussion as to what makes it a pseudoscience. Moreover, the problem is not trivial since the most well-known and influential demarcation criteria, such as Popper’s falsifiability criterion and Kuhn’s problem-solving criterion, cannot account for it, as we have shown. We have tried to fill this research gap using a novel bullshitology-based approach to the demarcation problem. Following this approach, we have argued that homoeopathy should be regarded as pseudoscience because its proponents claim scientific standing for it and produce argumentative bullshit to defend it, thus violating important epistemic standards central to science.
The death of our Queen is a sad event, even for those who are far from being Royalists. It is the end of an era; she was unique and symbolized the UK both nationally and abroad. I met her once (in fact, she expressed the wish to meet me when she visited Exeter University [full story here]). She was charming and very well-informed; we talked longer than the protocol allowed and, eventually, she was urged to move on by the officials.
In the last 24 hours, many people have written to me and asked whether I will now change the title of my recent biography of Charles. Others have asked whether Charles will continue to promote so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). Some journalists inquired about what sort of monarch Charles will become.
To all these questions, I have answered: “I DON’T KNOW”. All I can offer regarding my predictions about the future of the monarchy is a short passage from the final chapter of my biography of Charles that briefly touches upon some of these issues. Here it is:
It is clear to many observers that Charles has the urge to make a positive contribution to the future of his country. Most agree that he is full of goodwill. In some areas, for example, the Prince’s Trust , he was highly successful in his endeavor. In the field of alternative medicine, however, success has evaded him. One might ask, therefore, how he could have channeled his enthusiasm, influence, and hard work in a more productive direction. In my view, this would not have been difficult and could have been achieved by operating along the following lines:
- Work not against but alongside the medical and scientific establishment.
- Involve some of the country’s top scientists.
- Raise sufficient funds for rigorous research projects conducted at leading universities.
- Encourage his team of science advisers to defend unpopular views and, if necessary, contradict Charles’ views.
- Focus on treatments that are biologically plausible and supported by encouraging evidence, e.g. rational phytotherapy (chapter 15).
- Make sure that the potential harm of alternative medicine is fully investigated and that the findings are adequately publicized.
- Become a defender of science and reason.
Some of these principles are not all that dissimilar to those of the US Bravewell Collaborative (chapter 20). Charles would only have needed to follow their example. It seems that he and his advisers did not consider this to be viable.
As he becomes king, Charles could have looked back at his activities around alternative medicine in the knowledge that – like with some of his other ‘good causes’ – he has provided tangible benefits to the people. Many of the negative headlines that Charles had to endure about his involvement in alternative medicine could have been different, his reputation within the world of science would be intact, and the alternative medicine community might respect him even more.
According to his own statement, Charles will stop his lobbying once he is king. When asked if his campaigning would carry on when he is king, Charles replied: “No, it won’t. I’m not that stupid.”  If that happens, alternative medicine will have lost one of its most enthusiastic supporters. In this case, I will look back on this period with a degree of sadness.
Despite everything, I still believe that alternative medicine has a few hidden gems to discover. To find them, we foremost need good science. To conduct the research, we need people with influence to support it. Charles could have so easily been that person. Instead, he took consistently poor advice and chose to follow a different path. He pursued a largely anti-science agenda and promoted the uncritical integration of unproven treatments into the NHS. In this way, I am afraid, he became an obstacle to progress in healthcare and generated more harm than good. My predominant feeling about that is sadness over a missed opportunity.
I had totally forgotten this amusing little episode: According to THE GUARDIAN, Jacob Rees-Mogg (JRM) once tweeted that I should be locked up in the Tower of London!
If you are not from the UK, you may not know this Member of Parliament. So, let me explain.
JRM is the MP for North East Somerset and currently the ‘Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency’. His personal net worth is estimated to be well over £100 million. I probably don’t need to add much more about JRM; there is plenty about him on the Internet and on social media, for instance, this little gem:
Some of JRM’s medically relevant voting records are revealing:
- He voted against raising welfare benefits five times in 2013.
- He voted against higher benefits over long periods for those unable to work as a result of an illness or disability: 14 votes over 5 years.
- Between 2012-2016, he voted 52 times to reduce the spending on welfare benefits.
- He voted to exempt pubs and clubs where food is not served from the smoking ban in October 2010.
- He voted against a law to make private vehicles smoke-free if a child is present.
- He voted against allowing terminally ill people to be given assistance in ending their lives.
Wikipedia mentions that Rees-Mogg is against abortion in all circumstances, stating: “life begins at the point of conception. With same-sex marriage, that is something that people are doing for themselves. With abortion, that is what people are doing to the unborn child.” In September 2017, he expressed “a great sadness” on hearing about how online retailers had reduced pricing of emergency contraception.
In October 2017, it was reported that Somerset Capital Management, of which Rees-Mogg was a partner, had invested £5m in Kalbe Farma, a company that produces and markets misoprostol pills designed to treat stomach ulcers but widely used in illegal abortions in Indonesia. Rees-Mogg defended the investment by arguing that the company in question “obeys Indonesian law so it’s a legitimate investment and there’s no hypocrisy. The law in Indonesia would satisfy the Vatican”. Several days later, it was reported that the same company also held shares in FDC, a company that sold drugs used as part of legal abortions in India. Somerset Capital Management subsequently sold the shares it had held in FDC. Rees-Mogg said: “I am glad to say it’s a stock that we no longer hold. I would not try to defend investing in companies that did things I believe are morally wrong”.
In a nutshell, JRM seems to stand for pretty much everything that I am against. But that is no reason to send me to the Tower of London. So, what exactly was JRM referring to when he wanted me locked up?
The Guardian article explains: At a press conference to mark his retirement [Ernst] agreed with a Daily Mail reporter’s suggestion that the Prince of Wales is a “snake-oil salesman”. In the living room of his house in Suffolk he unpacks the label with the precision on which he prides himself. “He’s a man, he owns a firm that sells this stuff, and I have no qualms at all defending the notion that a tincture of dandelion and artichoke [Duchy Herbals detox remedy] doesn’t do anything to detoxify your body and therefore it is a snake oil.” Far from regretting the choice of words and the controversy it has generated, he appears to relish it.
Looking back at all this bizarre story, I am surprised that JRM did not advocate chopping my head off in the Tower of London. He must have been in a benevolent mood that day!
In a previous post, I reported about the ‘biggest ever’, ‘history-making’ conference on integrative medicine. It turns out that it was opened by none other than Prince Charles. Here is what the EXPRESS reported about his opening speech:
Opening the conference, Charles said:
“I know a few people have seen this integrated approach as being in some way opposed to modern medicine. It isn’t. But we need to combine this with a personal approach that also takes account of our beliefs, hopes, culture and history. It builds upon the abilities of our minds and bodies to heal, and to live healthy lives by improving diet and lifestyle.”
Dr. Michael Dixon, Chair of the College of Medicine, said:
“Medicine, as we know it, is no longer affordable or sustainable. Nor is it able to curb the increase in obesity, mental health problems and most long-term diseases. A new medical mindset is needed, which goes to the heart of true healthcare. The advantages and possibilities of social prescription are limitless. An adjustment to the system now will provide a long-term, sustainable solution for the NHS to meet the ever-increasing demand for funding and healthcare professionals.”
Charles very kindly acknowledges that not everyone is convinced about his concept of integrated/integrative medicine. Good point your royal highness! But I fear Charles did not quite understand our objections. In a nutshell: it is not possible to cure the many ills of conventional medicine by adding unproven and disproven therapies to it. In fact, it distracts from our duty to constantly improve conventional medicine. And pretending it is all about diet and lifestyle is simply not true (see below). Moreover, it is disingenuous to pretend that diet and lifestyle do not belong to conventional healthcare.
Dr. Dixon’s concern about the affordability of medicine is, of course, justified. But the notion that “the advantages and possibilities of social prescription are limitless” is a case of severe proctophasia, and so is Dixon’s platitude about ‘adjusting the system’. His promotion of treatments like Acupuncture, Alexander Technique, Aromatherapy, Herbal Medicine, Homeopathy, Hypnotherapy, Massage, Naturopathy, Reflexology, Reiki, Tai Chi, Yoga Therapy will not adjust anything, it will only make healthcare less efficient.
I do not doubt for a minute that doctors are prescribing too many drugs and that we could save huge amounts by reminding patients that they are responsible for their own health while teaching them how to improve it without pills. This is what we learn in medical school! All we need to do is remind everyone concerned. In fact, Charles and his advisor, Michael, could be most helpful in achieving this – but not by promoting a weird branch of healthcare (integrative/integrated medicine or whatever other names they choose to give it) that can only distract from the important task at hand.
Today, a 3-day conference is starting on ‘INTEGRATIVE MEDICINE’ (IM) in London. Dr. Michael Dixon, claims that it is going to be the biggest such conference ever and said that it ‘will make history’. Dixon is an advisor to Prince Charles, chair of the College of Medicine and Integrated Health (CoMIH, of which Charles is a patron), and joint-chair of the congress. The other co-chair is Elizabeth Thompson. Both have been the subject of several previous posts on this blog.
Dixon advertised the conference by commenting: “I am seeing amongst by younger colleagues, the newly trained GPs, that they have a new attitude towards healthcare. They are not interested in whether something is viewed as conventional, complementary, functional or lifestyle, they are just looking at what works for their patients. Through this conference, we aim to capture that sense of hope, open-mindedness, and patient-centred care”. I believe that this ‘history-making’ event is a good occasion to yet again review the concept of IM.
The term IM sounds appealing, yet it is also confusing and misleading. The confusion starts with the fact that our American friends call it integrative medicine, while we in the UK normally call it integrated medicine, and it ends with different people understanding different things by IM. In conventional healthcare, for instance, people use the term to mean the integration of social and medical care. In the bizarre world of alternative medicine, IM is currently used to signify the parallel use of alternative and conventional therapies on an equal footing.
Today, there are many different definitions of the latter version of IM. Prince Charles, one of the world’s most ardent supporter of IM, used to simply call it ‘the best of both worlds’. A recent, more detailed definition is a ‘healing-oriented medicine that takes account of the whole person, including all aspects of lifestyle. It emphasizes the therapeutic relationship between practitioner and patient, is informed by evidence, and makes use of all appropriate therapies’. This seems to imply that conventional medicine is not healing-orientated, does not account for the whole person, excludes aspects of lifestyle, neglects the therapeutic relationship, is not informed by evidence, and does not employ all appropriate therapies. This, I would argue is a bonanza of strawman fallacies, i.e. the misrepresentation of an opponent’s qualities with a view of defeating him more easily and making one’s own position look superior. Perhaps this is unsurprising – after all, Dixon has been once named ‘a pyromaniac in a field of (integrative) strawmen’.
Perhaps definitions are too theoretical and it is more productive to look at what IM stands for in real life. If you surf the Internet, you can find thousands of clinics that carry the name IM. It will take you just minutes to discover that there is not a single alternative therapy, however ridiculous, that they don’t offer. What is more, there is evidence to show that doctors who are into IM are also often against public health measures such as vaccinations.
The UK ‘Integrated Medicine Alliance’, a grouping within the CoMIH, offers information sheets on all of the following treatments: Acupuncture, Alexander Technique, Aromatherapy, Herbal Medicine, Homeopathy, Hypnotherapy, Massage, ,Naturopathy, Reflexology, Reiki, Tai Chi, Yoga Therapy. The one on homeopathy, for example, tells us that “homeopathy … can be used for almost any condition either alone or in a complementary manner.” Compare this to what the NHS says about it: “homeopathic remedies perform no better than placebos (dummy treatments)”.
This evidently grates with the politically correct definition above: IM is not well-informed about the evidence, and it does use inappropriate treatments. In fact, it is little more than a clumsy attempt to smuggle unproven and disproven alternative therapies into the mainstream of healthcare. It does render medicine not better but will inevitably make it worse, and this is surely not in the best interest of vulnerable patients who, I would argue, have a right to be treated with the most effective therapies currently available.
The conference can perhaps be characterized best by having a look at its sponsors. ‘Gold sponsor’ is WELEDA, and amongst the many further funders of the meeting are several other manufacturers of mistletoe medications for cancer. I just hope that the speakers at this meeting – Dixon has managed to persuade several reputable UK contributors – do not feel too embarrassed when they pass their exhibitions.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
… Dr. Ernst goes on digressions that mostly seem intended to make Prince Charles look bad. There’s a long chapter on Laurens van der Post, who influenced Prince Charles as a youth, and a lot about somewhat unsavory things he did. So what? …
This made me think. I read the chapter again and find it hard to agree with the comment. To me, this chapter is a short (~2000 words) and essential part of the book. Judge for yourself; here are a few excerpts from it:
“It seemed to have been a union of mutual needs, between a Prince longing to find meaning in his existence and a storyteller who could weave apparent answers out of thin air.” Laurence van der Post was oozing charm and charisma and sensed that “for the Prince, there was a missing dimension”, as Jonathan Dimbleby put it. By 1975, the two men had formed such a close rapport that van der Post felt able to counsel him about spiritual matters, urging him to explore the ‘old world of the spirit’ and ‘the inward way’ towards truth and understanding. Van der Post suggested the two make a seven week journey into the Kalahari desert. This, he believed, would introduce Charles to the spirit world. Preparations were made in 1977 but, in the end, the plan had to be abandoned. Instead, the two later went to Kenya where they spent 5 days of long walks and “intense conversation”.
Van der Post urged Charles to play “a dynamic and as yet unimagined role to suit the future shape of a fundamentally reappraised and renewed modern society”, a reappraisal that would be “so widespread and go so deep that it will involve a prolonged fight for all that is good and creative in the human imagination.” An aspect of this fight, he claimed, would be “to restore the human being to a lost natural aspect of his own spirit; to restore his relevance for life and his love of nature, and to draw closer to the original blueprint and plan of life…”
Laurence left an interview for posthumous publication; in it, he expressed his hope that Charles would never become king, as this would imprison him, it would be more important that Charles continues to be a great prince. “He’s been brought up in a terrible way … He’s a natural Renaissance man, a man who believes in the wholeness and totality of life … Why should it be that if you try to contemplate your natural self that you should be thought to be peculiar?”
“For 20 years they had most intimate conversations and correspondence … with a steady flow of reassurance and encouragement, political and diplomatic advice, memoranda, draft speeches and guidance for reading”. Van der Post introduced Charles to the teachings of Carl Jung and his concept of the ‘collective unconscious’ that binds all humans together regardless whether they are Kalahari bushmen or princes. On the behest of van der Post, Charles began to record his dreams which van der Post then interpreted according to Jung’s theories. In the late 1970s van der Post tried to convince Charles to give up all his duties and withdraw from the world completely in search for an ‘inner world truth’. This plan too was aborted.
All biographers agree that van der Post was the strongest intellectual influence of Charles’ life.
- Charles sought van der Post’s advice and spiritual guidance on numerous occasions.
- When William was born, he made van der Post his godfather.
- When Charles’ marriage to Diana ran into difficulties, the couple was counselled by van der Post.
- Charles invited Laurence regularly to Highgrove, Sandringham and Balmoral.
- Charles visited van der Post on his deathbed.
- After Laurence’s death, Charles created a series of annual lectures hosted in van der Post’s memory which he hosted in St James’ Palace.
Charles’ notions about medicine were unquestionably inspired by van der Post. Laurence. He, for instance, bemoaned the inadequacy of conventional medicine and wrote: “Even if doctors did … use dreams and their decoding as an essential part of their diagnostic equipment and perhaps could confront cancer at the point of entry, how are they to turn it aside, unless they are humble enough to keep their instruments in their cases and look for some new form of navigation over an uncharted sea of the human spirit?” As we will see in the next chapters, van der Post’s influence shines through in many of Charles’ speeches. Moreover, it contributed to the attitude of many critical observers towards Charles. Christopher Hitchens is but one example for many:
“We have known for a long time that Prince Charles’ empty sails are so rigged as to be swelled by any passing waft or breeze of crankiness and cant. He fell for the fake anthropologist Laurens van der Post. He was bowled over by the charms of homeopathic medicine. He has been believably reported as saying that plants do better if you talk to them in a soothing and encouraging way… The heir to the throne seems to possess the ability to surround himself—perhaps by some mysterious ultramagnetic force?—with every moon-faced spoon-bender, shrub-flatterer, and water-diviner within range.”
The following chapters will show that Hitchens might not have been far off the mark.
Yes, I do feel that the chapter is essential for the book. It explains how Charles’ love affair with alternative medicine got started and why it would become so intense and durable. Without it, the reader would not be able to understand the rest of the book. Moreover, it is important to demonstrate that van der Post was a charlatan and an accomplished liar. This is relevant because, in later life, Charles’ skill to choose adequate advisors was often wanting.
Now that the first reviews of, and numerous comments on my new book are in, I thought I bring my readers up to date and perhaps contribute to some fun. My favorite quote comes from a comment on Harriett Hall’s review: “Nothing much new here about Chucky Windsor’s credulity…”
Perhaps I shouldn’t, but I think it is funny and thus I chose it as the title of this post. Apart from being funny, it also has a more serious background. Virtually everyone who contacted me and gave me feedback said that they knew about Charles’ advocacy of alternative medicine. So, the ‘nothing much new’ comment is apt. Yet, they all added that, before reading my book, they had no idea how deeply Charles was involved and how profoundly anti-scientific and irrational his thinking seems to be in this area. Jonathan Stea, for instance, tweeted: “I just finished reading it—review coming soon. Excellent book. I didn’t realize Prince Charles was so stubbornly in love with pseudoscience and trying to promote it for decades under the guise of alternative/integrative medicine.”
Another comment was made on my own blog: “I am an avid consumer of this and other science blogs, books, podcasts and any other media I encounter. One of my earliest exposures was your book Trick or Treat, which I credit with greatly expanding my knowledge of a subject I had dabbled in but had begun to question. I deplore the PoW’s promotion of quackery. I am American and have no dog in the value of Royalty debate. BUT, I don’t see the need to use such a deeply unflattering (and possibly photoshopped) photo of the PoW. I do not think that such a decision is in line with your list of “nots”, and I think it hinders the impact it might otherwise have on fence-sitters. It disappoints me and while I have purchased multiple copies of many of your books to pass on to friends, family, and believers, I will pass on this one.” The photo is perhaps not flattering but there a many out there that are even worse. In any case, it is the publisher who decides on the title page. In the present case, I merely asked them to make my name on the title page a little less prominent than it was on the draft.
And then there were people who emailed me directly, as this medical colleague:
Dear Dr Ernst,
as a GP and ex oral surgeon from a world famous medical school(Edinburgh), also an experienced alternative practitioner,with 51 years in NHS, more than your own clinical exposure, I’m saddened by sponsored? skewed assaults on healing modalities maybe also representing a threat to financial paradigms: I absolved myself of scientific trials “for profit only”, in deference to holistic patient care, & the Hippocratic Oath
Medscape and Ernst deserve each other. What a sad old fellow, desperate to live down his homeopathic past by producing a steady stream of deeply prejudicial anti-homeopathy propaganda. What kind of person dedicates his life to hate speech against the second most popular medical therapy worldwide? No doubt, he’s convinced himself that it’s a noble endeavor. Sad and comical.
Fortunately, the book reviews were more intelligent. They confirm what I mentioned above: reviewers were amazed at the depth of Charles’ irrationality. Harriett Hall expressed it as follows: “Charles’ efforts to promote alternative medicine have been mentioned many times on SBM, but readers may not appreciate the depth of his folly. I know I didn’t, until I read this book. The full story has never been told until now.” And Paul Benedetti wrote: “In short, readable chapters, Ernst unblinkingly presents how Charles has written books and articles promoting alternative medicine and spearheaded organizations, colleges, and foundations, giving full-throated support to one unproven, often bizarre, alternative health cure after another.”
One of the nicest pieces of praise came from someone who posted this comment on Amazon:
This is a revelatory critique of where vague well-intentioned but ill-informed health ideas promoted by a powerful person do or don’t get us.
Professor Ernst’s explanations are admirably clear – and no-one is more qualified than he to write on this topic. It’s difficult to imagine a more devastating comment on the bad conseqeunces of ill-informed ideas and actions, than that found in the last two paragraphs on Page 88.
There is a great deal of valuable information here on ‘alternative medicine’ approaches, in addition to the explanations of HRH Prince Charles’ involvement with them. A most worthwhile book for anyone wanting to find out more about alternative/complementary treatment modalities.
Yes, publishing a book can be a mixed blessing. The author works tirelessly for many months (for next to no pay) only to get aggressed – not for factual errors (that would be perfectly alright) or unfounded arguments (that would be welcome) but for allegedly being in it for the money or producing ‘prejudicial propaganda’. In the case of the new book, this had to be expected. I hesitated for an entire decade writing it (hoping someone else would tackle the task) because I knew that it would be far from straightforward to criticize the future king of one’s own country.
All the more reason to take this occasion and thank those who stand by me, who find my book relevant, who agree that it is instructive, and who feel that it deserves a wide readership.