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

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Here is an open letter published yesterday, initiated by SENSE ABOUT SCIENCE and signed by many UK scientists and other experts. If you agree with it, you can still add your name to the signatories (see below):

 

 

Dear Mr Johnson

We urge you to start publishing the government’s evolving plans for coronavirus testing, and the evidence they are based on.

Testing is key to understanding the risks and to how people can get back to work and normal life. It is what major decisions will be based on, but there are also limits to what it can tell us.

People are frustrated and confused about the scientific and logistical challenges of testing and what the government is doing about it. The internet and media are awash with rumours and the public are valiantly trying to work their way through fragments of information. People in senior positions in healthcare, in government departments, in research and in the related industries are struggling to see whether their input is needed and how to give it.

Why is testing delayed? Is there a shortage of tests? Is there a shortage of chemicals? Do they only work 30% of the time? Will there be tests to see whether someone’s had the virus? Can people test themselves or does it have to be done by a clinic? These are just a handful of the many questions being asked. Scientists and government representatives are trying to answer them but it’s a losing battle with volume and reach.

The UK government’s response to this epidemic started by levelling with people in a clear way about the emerging evidence and transparency on the government’s evolving thinking about that evidence. Of course, continuing to tell people what is happening has become complex and challenging. But that won’t be brought under control by limiting communication to behavioural instructions or by your efforts to clamp down on misinformation. The government cannot clamp down on misinformation without substituting information in its place. Would the government please maintain its commitment to evidence transparency and put its evolving plans and evidence on testing on an open site where the public, experts and government agencies can follow them and to which those who are trying to address confusion can direct people.

Yours faithfully

Tracey Brown OBE, director, Sense about Science

Carl Heneghan, director, Centre for Evidence Based Medicine

Justine Roberts, CEO, Mumsnet

Emma Friedmann, campaign director, FACSaware

Professor Sarah Harper, The Oxford Institute of Population Ageing, University of Oxford

Mairead MacKenzie, Independent Cancer Patient Voices

Rose Woodward, Founder, Patient & Advocate, Kidney Cancer Support Network

Dr Bu’Hussain Hayee PhD FRCP AGAF, Clinical Lead for Gastroenterology

I.Chisholm-Bunting, School of Nursing and Allied Health

Rachael Jolley, editor in chief, Index on censorship

Caroline Fiennes, director, Giving Evidence

Dr Ritchie Head, director, Ceratium

Tommy Parker, KiActiv

Professor Annette Dolphin FRS, FMedSci, President of British Neuroscience Association

Dr James May, Vice Chair, Healthwatch and GP

Peter Johnson, Patient representative with respiratory conditions

A. P. Dawid, FRS Emeritus Professor of Statistics, University of Cambridge

Stafford Lightman FMedSci FRS, Professor of Medicine, University of Bristol

Dr Christie Peacock CBE PhD FRAgS FRSB Hon DSc, Founder and Chairman, Sidai Africa (Kenya) Ltd

Caroline Richmond, Medical journalist

Professor Stephan Lewandowsky FAcSS, Chair in Cognitive Psychology, University of Bristol

Hugh Pennington CBE, Emeritus Professor of Bacteriology, University of Aberdeen

Prof. Wendy Bickmore FRS, FRSE, FMedSci, Director: MRC Human Genetics Unit, University of Edinburgh

Benjamin Schuster-Böckler, PhD, Research Group Leader, Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research

Dr Max Pemberton, Daily Mail columnist and NHS Doctor

Diana Kornbrot, Emeritus Professor of Mathematical Psychology, University of Hertfordshire

Professor Patrick Eyers, Chair in Cell Signalling, University of Liverpool

Lelia Duley, Emeritus Professor, University of Nottingham

Edzard Ernst, Emeritus Professor University of Exeter

Ianis Matsoukas, Biomedical Sciences, University of Bolton

Dr Lorna Gibson, Radiology Registrar, New Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh

Sylvia Schröder, Senior Research Fellow, UCL

Dr Emma Dennett, St George’s University of London.

Ellie Wood, School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh

Sophie Faulkner, clinical doctoral research fellow / occupational therapist

Dr Maya Hanspal, research assistant, UK Discovery Lab

Dr John Baird, University of Aberdeen

Martin Stamp, managing director, Ionic Information

Saša Jankovic, Journalist

Kate Ravilious, Freelance Science Writer

Charise Johnson, policy advisor

Dr Sophie Millar, University of Nottingham

Bissera Ivanvoa, Research Assistant in Linguistics, The University of Leeds

Baroness Jolly, House of Lords

Dr. Simon Keeling MSc, PhD, RMet, FRMetS, The weather centre

Laurie van Someren, Aleph One Ltd

Prof Chris Kirk, former Hon. Sec. Royal Society of Biology.

Sergio Della Sala, Professor of Human Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Edinburgh

Dr. Wilber Sabiiti,Senior Research fellow in Medicine, University of St Andrews

Prof. Bob Brecher, Director, Centre for Applied Philosophy, Politics and Ethics, University of Brighton

Dr Sabina Michnowicz, UCL Hazard Centre

David Orme, Research Assistant, Cortex Lab

Rebecca Dewey PhD, Research Fellow in Neuroimaging

Dr Ricky Nathvani, Imperial College London.

Rita F. de Oliveira, Senior lecturer Sport and Exercise Science, London South Bank University

Prof Christopher C French, Head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit, Goldsmiths, University of London

Kirstie Tew, Lead Scientist, KiActiv®

Dr Ben Martynoga, Freelance writer

Nigel Johnson, Patient representative with respiratory conditions

Dr Mimi Tanimoto – Science Communications Consultant

Till Bruckner, TranspariMED

Lesley-Anne Pearson, The University of Dundee

Sue O’Connell, retired consultant microbiologist, Health Protection Agency

Hao Ni, Associate Professor, Department of Mathematics, UCL, The Turing Fellow, the Alan Turing Institute

Dr Simon Underdown, FSA, FRSB, Director – Centre for Environment and Society

Matthew A Jay, PhD Student in Legal Epidemiology, University College London

Michael Butcher, Chairman, dataLearning Ltd

Professor Tom Crick, Swansea University

Dr J K Aronson, Consultant Physician and Clinical Pharmacologist, Centre for Evidence Based Medicine

Dr Thomas O’Mahoney, Anglia Ruskin University

Professor Ianis G. Matsoukas PhD (Biomedical Sciences), University of Bolton

Emeritus Professor Nigel Brown, Blackah-Brown Consulting

Danae Dodge, Ask for Evidence Ambassador

Ieuan Hughes, Department of Paediatrics, University of Cambridge, Addenbrooke’s Hospital

Mandy Payne, Freelance Medical Editor

Lyssa Gold, University of St Andrews

Please email hello@senseaboutscience.org with your name and description if you wish to add yourself to the letter.

[If you do not like black humour or sarcasm, please do NOT read this post!!!]

Donald Trump just announced that, at Easter, he wants to see churches packed, his way of saying the lock-down is over because it is damaging the economy. Many others have put forward similar arguments and have pointed out that caring for the vulnerable, sick, old, etc. creates an economic burden that might eventually kill more people than it saves (see for instance ‘Economic crash could cost more lives than coronavirus, study warns‘).

Many people have also argued that homeopathy is unjustly vilified because it is truly a wholesome and safe medicine that should be used routinely. The notion here is that, alright, the evidence is not brilliant, but 200 years of experience and millions of fans cannot be ignored.

I have been wondering whether these two lines of thinking could not be profitably combined. Here is my suggestion based on the following two axioms.

  1. The economy is important for all our well-being.
  2. Homeopaths have a point in that the value of experience must not be ignored.

What follows is surprisingly simple: in view of the over-riding importance of the economy, let’s prioritise it over health. As it would look bad to deny those poor corona victims all forms of healthcare, let’s treat them homeopathically. This would make lots of people happy:

  • those who think the economy must take precedent,
  • those who fear the huge costs of saving corona patients (homeopathy is very cheap),
  • those who argued for decades that we never gave homeopathy a fighting chance to show its worth.

There is a downside, of course. There would be a most lamentable mortality rate. But, to paraphrase Dominic Cummings, if a few oldies have to snuff it, so be it!

Once we get used to this innovative approach – I suggest we call it integrative medicine – we might even consider adopting it for other critical situations. When we realise, for instance, that the pension pots are empty, we could officially declare that homeopathy is the ideal medicine for anybody over 60.

What do you think?

 

Boris Johnson said we should take the coronavirus ‘on the chin’ and count on ‘herd-immunity’. This, he claimed, is what his scientific advisers recommended.

I find this very hard to believe and have many doubts and questions.

To start with, I doubt that this is what Johnson’s scientific advisers recommend – it is a solution that SOME of his scientific advisers recommend. And it is a solution that seems easy to follow. It is, however, by no means the only strategy for tacking the pandemic; it is just one of several options.

The fact that all other countries have opted for other solutions, suggests to me that it is an unusual path to go down to. The modellers who obviously like it had to make a number of assumptions; that’s what modellers always have to do and rarely tell us about. But what if not all of these assumptions are correct?

The herd-immunity strategy counts on the fact that, once a certain percentage of the population has taken the infection ‘on the chin’, it is immune and therefore the transmission of the virus within such a population will be dramatically reduced or even zero. The percentage of the population needed for that to happen depends on how contagious the virus is. For the measles virus, herd immunity requires 90% of the population to be immune. For the coronavirus, the figure is said to be 60 – 70%. Is that an assumption or a fact? If it is a current fact, would the figure change, if the virus mutates? Could it be that a mutated virus can re-infect formerly immune people?

But let’s postulate that the herd-immunity assumption is both correct and stable. Johnson’s herd-immunity strategy would thus require that about 40 million Brits get infected with the virus to generate the required herd-immunity. Assuming a mortality rate of 1 – 2%, this means that Johnson is cheerfully accepting 400 000 – 800 000 fatalities.

But, as I said, this scenario is based on wild assumptions. It applies only if the virus does not mutate. And it only applies, if we do not run out of intensive care (IC) beds. However, running out seems possible, perhaps even likely, considering that we have only about half of the French and just one third of the German IC capacity. Sod’s law has it that both might happen. In this case, we might easily have far in excess of 800 000 fatalities. How should we take that ‘on the chin’, Mr Johnson?

Sadly, this is not all; I have further doubts about our PM’s ideas.

The present strategy regarding diagnosis of coronavirus cases is to self-isolate once suspicious symptoms start. Even if someone is seriously ill (with high fever etc.), they are told to stay at home and sit it out. This means we will never know whether these patients had or had not suffered from a coronavirus infection. How then can we ever be sure that the 60% target of infection has been reached? And if we are uncertain about it, how can we be sure that herd-immunity will work in the way the modellers predicted?

Moreover, we now know that people who caught the virus are infective BEFORE they develop symptoms. If that is so, the strategy of self-isolation will be far less effective than predicted. And, given this fact, are we not much more likely to have a sharp peak of cases early on which would make us run out of IC capacity? When that happens, even the pessimistic death rates might turn out to be too optimistic.

It seems to me that Johnson’s herd-immunity strategy is risky to the point of being reckless. It also seems to me that there are very good reasons why other countries have not adopted it.

But what is the solution?

In my view, the solution cannot be to uncritically adopt the theories and assumptions of modellers. This is not a computer game; we are talking about human lives, many human lives!

I wish I new what the best solution is – but I don’t. I merely fear that ‘taking it on the chin’ is not a solution at all. In any case, a wise move for Johnson and his team might be to consider that foreigners might be at least as clever as they are. Subsequently they could carefully study the actions of those countries which managed to bring down their death-rates despite being attacked by the coronavirus.

The objective of this analysis was to evaluate the impact of chiropractic utilization upon use of prescription opioids among patients with spinal pain. The researchers employed a retrospective cohort design for analysis of health claims data from three contiguous US states for the years 2012-2017.

They included adults aged 18-84 years enrolled in a health plan and with office visits to a primary care physician or chiropractor for spinal pain. Two cohorts of subjects were thus identified:

  1. patients who received both primary care and chiropractic care,
  2. Patients who received primary care but not chiropractic care.

The total number of subjects was 101,221. Overall, between 1.55 and 2.03 times more nonrecipients of chiropractic care filled an opioid prescription, as compared with recipients.

The authors concluded that patients with spinal pain who saw a chiropractor had half the risk of filling an opioid prescription. Among those who saw a chiropractor within 30 days of diagnosis, the reduction in risk was greater as compared with those with their first visit after the acute phase.

Similar findings have been reported before and we have discussed them on this blog (see here, here and here). As before, one has to ask: WHAT DO THEY ACTUALLY MEAN?

The short answer is NOTHING MUCH! And certainly not what many chiros make of them.

They do not suggest that chiropractic care is a substitute for opioids in the management of spinal pain.

Why?

There are several reasons. Perhaps the most important ones are that such analyses lack any clinical outcome data, and that comparing one mistake (opioid-overuse) whith what might be another (chiropractic care) is a wrong apporoach. Imagine a scenario where half to the patients had received, in addition to their usual care, the services of:

  • a paranormal healer,
  • a crystal therapist,
  • a shaman,
  • or a homeopath.

Nobody would be surprised to see a very similar result, particularly if all of these practitioners were in the habit of discouraging their patients from using conventional drugs. Or imagine a scenario where half of all patients suffering from spinal pain are entered into an environment where they receive no treatment at all. Who would not expect that this regimen does not dramatically reduce the risk of filling an opioid prescription? But would that indicate that zero treatment is a good solution for managing spinal pain?

The thing is this:

  • If you want to reduce opioid use, you need to prescribe less opioids (for instance, by re-educating doctors to do as they have been told in med school and curb over-prescribing).
  • If you discourage patients to use opioids (as many other healthcare professionals would), many will not use opioids.
  • If you want to know whether chiropractic is effective in managing spinal pain, you need to conduct a well-designed clinical trial.

Or, to put it simply:

CORRELATION IS NOT CAUSATION!

 

Yesterday’s blog disclosed the fact that the German ‘Natur und Medizin’, an organisation of the ‘Carstens Stiftung’, had published slanderous lies about me. Consequently, I published an ‘open letter’ urging them to correct their mistake so that they would spare us the agony and cost of using legal action.

I never doubted for a minute that they would do this (I do not assume they are stupid, just a tiny bit dishonest) – and, as it turned out, I was correct. Here is a reminder of what they had originally published:

… er ist dafür bekannt, dass er kein gutes Haar an komplementären Therapieverfahren lässt. Notfalls greift er auch zu absichtlichen Falschdarstellungen[17], erfindet Daten[18] oder behauptet einfach, klinische Studien, die nicht die Negativ-Ergebnisse erbringen, die er erwartet, seien schlicht und ergreifend Betrug.[19]…

My rough translation:

… he [Edzard Ernst] is known for not finding anything positive in SCAM. If all else fails, he uses deliberate misrepresentation [17], invents data [18], or simply claims that clinical trials which did not generate the negative findings he expected are simply falsifications [19]…

The corrected new text passage is a little longer and now reads as follows (my rough translation):

… he [Edzard Ernst] is known for not finding anything positive in SCAM. Analyses of his publications by independent scientists draw the conclusion that he represents case-reports demonstrably wrongly [17] and that he arbitrarily alters or omits data [18]. He claims occasionally that high-quality studies of SCAM which do not generate the negative findings he expected appeared to be scientifically sound, but are nevertheless not believable [19]…

… er ist dafür bekannt, dass er kein gutes Haar an komplementären Therapieverfahren lässt. Analysen seiner Publikationen durch unabhängige Wissenschaftler gelangen zu der Schlussfolgerung, dass er Fallberichte nachweislich falsch darstelle[17] und Daten willkürlich verändere oder auslasse[18]. Er selbst behauptet mitunter über methodisch hochwertige Studien zur Komplementärmedizin, die nicht die Negativ-Ergebnisse erbringen, die er erwartet, sie sähen zwar nach wissenschaftlichen Maßstäben überzeugend aus, seien aber dennoch ‚unglaubwürdig‘.[19]… 

I would like to take this occasion to sincerely thank the ‘Natur und Medizin’ and the ‘Carstens Stiftung’ for this – much obliged guys, you made my day!

  • They have shown wisdom in not wasting money on expensive lawyers (even though my brother, who is a lawyer, might have enjoyed the windfall).
  • They have shown courage to hide behind papers like the one by Robert Hahn which have been discussed on this blog and elsewhere and found to be deluded.
  • They have shown strength by not meekly apologising to me about their attempt to slander me and my work.
  • They show leadership and innovative spirit by employing Jens Behnke, the author of the above lines, who does not seem to let the truth get in the way of a good story.

Last not least, my personal thanks to dear Jens (after your generosity, I am thinking about dedicating an entire blog post to you; your employer needs to know what a genius they have in you – watch this space) for yet again having demonstrated that the phenomenon known as ERNST’ S LAW is 100% correct.

A team of chiropractic researchers conducted a review of the safety of spinal manipulative therapy (SMT) in children under 10 years. They aimed to:

1) describe adverse events;

2) report the incidence of adverse events;

3) determine whether SMT increases the risk of adverse events compared to other interventions.

They searched MEDLINE, CINAHL, and Index to Chiropractic Literature from January 1, 1990 to August 1, 2019. Eligible studies were case reports/series, cohort studies and randomized controlled trials. Studies of high and acceptable methodological quality were included.

Most adverse events are mild (e.g., increased crying, soreness). One case report describes a severe adverse event (rib fracture in a 21-day-old) and another an indirect harm in a 4-month-old. The incidence of mild adverse events ranges from 0.3% (95% CI: 0.06, 1.82) to 22.22% (95% CI: 6.32, 54.74). Whether SMT increases the risk of adverse events in children is unknown.

The authors concluded that the risk of moderate and severe adverse events is unknown in children treated with SMT. It is unclear whether SMT increases the risk of adverse events in children < 10 years.

Thanks to their ingenious methodology, the authors managed to miss 11 of the 13 studies included in the review by Vohra et al which reported 9 serious adverse events and 20 cases of delayed diagnosis associated with SMT. Another review reported 15 serious adverse events and 775 mild to moderate adverse events following manual therapy. As far as I can see, the authors of the new review make just one reasonable point:

We recommend the implementation of a population-based active surveillance program to measure the incidence of severe and serious adverse events following SMT treatment in this population.

In the absence of such a surveillance system, any incidence figures are not just guess-work but also a depiction of the tip of a much bigger iceberg. So, why do the authors of this review not make this point clearly and powerfully? Why does the review read mostly like an attempt to white-wash a thorny subject? Why do they not provide a breakdown of the adverse events according to profession? The answer to these questions can be found at the very end of the paper:

This study was supported by the College of Chiropractors of British Columbia to Ontario Tech University. The College of Chiropractors of British Columbia was not involved in the design, conduct or interpretation of the research that informed the research. This research was undertaken, in part, thanks to funding from the Canada Research Chairs program to Pierre Côté who holds the Canada Research Chair in Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation at Ontario Tech University, and from the Canadian Chiropractic Research Foundation to Carol Cancelliere who holds a Research Chair in Knowledge Translation in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Ontario Tech University.

This study was supported by the College of Chiropractors of British Columbia to Ontario Tech University. The College of Chiropractors of British Columbia was not involved in the design, conduct or interpretation of the research that informed the research. This research was undertaken, in part, thanks to funding from the Canada Research Chairs program to Pierre Côté who holds the Canada Research Chair in Disability Prevention and Rehabilitation at Ontario Tech University, and funding from the Canadian Chiropractic Research Foundation to Carol Cancelliere who holds a Research Chair in Knowledge Translation in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Ontario Tech University.

I have often felt that chiropractic is similar to a cult. An investigation by cult members into the dealings of a cult is not the most productive of concepts, I guess.

I very regularly get comments criticising me for being negative and destructive rather than using my time being positive and constructive. Here is a recent such remark:

Edzard, with his string of qualifications, should offer a remedy to the coronavirus. Ok, I get it, homeopaths are “quacks” but what has Edzard got to offer. Talk is cheap. Rather than warming on the “inability” of the homeopaths to prove their worth, Edzard should prove that he is better than them but sadly he is simply someone who has no substance. What good is he to mankind and the patients when he cannot offer a solution but rather finds faults with “quacks”. That even a beggar can do better than him. Until he is able to offer a cure, he has no business going around finding fault with others.

It is true that many if not most of my posts are about disclosing bogus claims of practitioners of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) or revealing the limitations of SCAM research. I see why SCAM proponents see this as a negative activity. However, I view it as a positive contribution: if I show today that this or that claim or therapy is not evidence-based, I might prevent some patients from using it tomorrow. In turn, this would prevent them from wasting their money and – more importantly – would guide them towards making prudent therapeutic decisions which, in some cases, could even save lives.

Other critics of my work are keen to point out that I should not constantly criticise SCAM but rather do something about the many weaknesses of conventional medicine. I feel that my work might be helpful for that as well. Let me explain.

Pointing out how much of SCAM is bogus begs the question, why then are so many people using it? One answer which I have often given (here and elsewhere) is that consumers are looking not so much for effective treatments but for what used to be called the ‘art’ of medicine:

  • compassion,
  • undersatnding,
  • empathy,
  • sufficient time with their clinician,
  • a warm therapeutic relationship.

These are things they often do not find when consulting their conventional physicians, and these are things they often get from their SCAM practitioner. This insight should lead to the next logical step, namely to boost compassion, emapthy, etc. in conventional medicine.

Clearly, these qualities are at the core of good healthcare, and clearly we do not require SCAM for patients to benefit from them. The science and the ‘art’ of medicine are not mutually exclusive; there is no good reason why they should not go together. And it is time to put the ‘art’ back into science-based medicine. Delegating it to SCAM practitioners is a disservice to patients.

So, what good is my work to mankind and patients? This is a question that I cnnot answer. All I can do is hope that my criticism will make a small contribution towards improving future healthcare.

 

It has been reported that, in China, patients affected by the coronavirus are being treated with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Treatments in Wuhan hospitals combine TCM and western medicines, said Wang Hesheng, the new health commission head in Hubei, the province at the centre of the epidemy. He said TCM was applied on more than half of confirmed cases in Hubei. “Our efforts have shown some good result,” Wang said at a press conference on Saturday. Top TCM-experts have been sent to Hubei for “research and treatment,” he said. Some 2,200 TCM workers have been sent to Hubei, Wang said.

Another website confirmed that TCM has been applied to more than half of the confirmed patients of corona or COVID-19 infection in Hubei. It’s also used in the prevention and control of COVID-19 at the community level. “Since the beginning of the outbreak, the government has attached importance to both TCM and Western medicine by mobilizing the strongest scientific research and medical forces in both fields to treat the patients,” said Wang Hesheng. “By coordinating the resources of traditional Chinese and Western medicine, we strive to improve the cure rate and reduce fatalities by the greatest possible amount to effectively safeguard the safety and health of the people,” Wang noted.

China Daily added that many of the medical workers also have participated in the fight against the SARS outbreak in 2003, said Huang Luqi, president of China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences. Three national-level TCM teams, organized by the National Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine, also have been dispatched to Hubei, said Huang, head of the TCM team at Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital.

The TCM workers have treated 248 confirmed and suspected novel coronavirus patients, and 159 of them have shown improvement and 51 have been discharged from the hospital, Huang said at a daily news conference in Wuhan. More than 75 percent of novel coronavirus patients in Hubei, and more than 90 percent of patients in other regions of the country, have received TCM treatment, he said. “We hope that Hubei province and Wuhan city can increase the use of TCM in treating confirmed and suspected novel coronavirus patients,” Huang said. TCM can shorten the course of disease for patients with severe symptoms, reduce the possibility of mild infections becoming severe, help with patient recovery and disease prevention and offer psychological support to patients, he noted.

__________________________________________________________________

No information is available on the nature of the TCM treatments used. Moreover, the reported response rate (159 of 248) sounds far from encouraging to me. In fact, it could reflect merely the natural history of the disease or might even hide a detrimental effect of TCM on the infection. What we need are controlled studies, without them, reports like the ones above are mere useless and potentially harmful propaganda for boosting China’s TCM-trade.

In 2011, the following leading researchers of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) – no I was not invited – had a meeting in Italy, did a brainstorm and decided what we would need to know about SCAM by 2020 (today, in other words):

They proposed 6 core areas of research that should be investigated to achieve a robust knowledge base and to allow stakeholders to make informed decisions:

  1. Research into the prevalence of SCAM in Europe: Reviews show that we do not know enough about the circumstances in which SCAM is used by Europeans. To enable a common European strategic approach, a clear picture of current use is of the utmost importance.
  2. Research into differences regarding citizens’ attitudes and needs towards SCAM: Citizens are the driver for CAM utilization. Their needs and views on SCAM are a key priority, and their interests must be investigated and addressed in future SCAM research.
  3. Research into safety of SCAM: Safety is a key issue for European citizens. SCAM is considered safe, but reliable data is scarce although urgently needed in order to assess the risk and cost-benefit ratio of SCAM.
  4. Research into the comparative effectiveness of SCAM: Everybody needs to know in what situation SCAM is a reasonable choice. Therefore, we recommend a clear emphasis on concurrent evaluation of the overall effectiveness of SCAM as an additional or alternative treatment strategy in real-world settings.
  5. Research into effects of context and meaning: The impact of effects of context and meaning on the outcome of SCAM treatments must be investigated; it is likely that they are significant.
  6. Research into different models of SCAM health care integration: There are different models of SCAM being integrated into conventional medicine throughout Europe, each with their respective strengths and limitations. These models should be described and concurrently evaluated; innovative models of SCAM provision in health care systems should be one focus for SCAM research.

‘Look, half the work is done! All you need to do is fill in the top part so we can legally say the bottom part.’

The researchers then added:

We also propose a methodological framework for SCAM research. We consider that a framework of mixed methodological approaches is likely to yield the most useful information. In this model, all available research strategies including comparative effectiveness research utilising quantitative and qualitative methods should be considered to enable us to secure the greatest density of knowledge possible. Stakeholders, such as citizens, patients and providers, should be involved in every stage of developing the specific and relevant research questions, study design and the assurance of real-world relevance for the research.

Furthermore, structural and sufficient financial support for research into SCAM is needed to strengthen SCAM research capacity if we wish to understand why it remains so popular within the EU. In order to consider employing SCAM as part of the solution to the health care, health creation and self-care challenges we face by 2020, it is vital to obtain a robust picture of SCAM use and reliable information about its cost, safety and effectiveness in real-world settings. We need to consider the availability, accessibility and affordability of SCAM. We need to engage in research excellence and utilise comparative effectiveness approaches and mixed methods to obtain this data.

Our recommendations are both strategic and methodological. They are presented for the consideration of researchers and funders while being designed to answer the important and implicit questions posed by EU citizens currently using SCAM in apparently increasing numbers. We propose that the EU actively supports an EU-wide strategic approach that facilitates the development of SCAM research. This could be achieved in the first instance through funding a European SCAM coordinating research office dedicated to foster systematic communication between EU governments, public, charitable and industry funders as well as researchers, citizens and other stakeholders. The aim of this office would be to coordinate research strategy developments and research funding opportunities, as well as to document and disseminate international research activities in this field.

With the aim to develop sustainability as second step, a European Centre for SCAM should be established that takes over the monitoring and further development of a coordinated research strategy for SCAM, as well as it should have funds that can be awarded to foster high quality and robust independent research with a focus on citizens health needs and pan-European collaboration.

We wish to establish a solid funding for SCAM research to adequately inform health care and health creation decision-making throughout the EU. This centre would ensure that our vision of a common, strategic and scientifically rigorous approach to SCAM research becomes our legacy and Europe’s reality. We are confident that our recommendations will serve these essential goals for EU citizens.

As I know all of the members of the panel personally, I am not surprised by the content of this document. That does not mean, however, that I do not find it remarkable. In my view, it is remarkable because of the nature of the 6 items that we allegedly need to know by 2020, and because of the fact that, even though none of them seem particularly demanding, today we have clarity or sound information on none of them. I also thought that both the research topics and the research methods were on the woolly side and, to a large degree, avoided what would be standard in conventional medicine. The ‘vision’ of the 13 researchers thus turns out to be the view of 13 partially sighted people on an array of platitudes.

Being just a bit sarcastic, the document could be seen as a plea for letting SCAM researchers:

  • continue to play on their far from level playing field,
  • use their preferred and largely inadequate methodologies,
  • pretend they do cutting edge science,
  • continue to avoid the real issues,
  • enjoy a life free of demanding challenges,
  • have pots of EU money for doing largely useless work.

In a word, I am confident that their recommendations would not have served any essential goals for EU citizens.

I am currently studying DD Palmer’s TEXTBOOK OF THE SCIENCE, ART, AND PHILOSOPHY OF CHIROPRACTIC. It is a 1 000 page volume full of ignorance, repetition, allegation, pomp, overstatement and utter nonsense. I strongly advise everyone to stay well clear of it.

However, skimming through this accumulation of flimflam, I was repeatedly reminded of the origin of the anti-vax stance to which so many chiropractors still subscribe. Yes, I did mention this before: Far too many chiropractors believe that vaccinations do not have a positive effect on public health.

In his book, originally published in 1910,  Palmer tried (unsuccessfully, I fear) to explain the basic principles of chiropractic. Most chiropractors would have read at least some of this ‘textbook’. It therefore stands to reason that Palmer’s views still colour those of today’s chiropractors.

Here are a few quotes about immunisation directly from the book:

  • On May 14, 1796, Jenner first committed the crime of vaccination…
  • No person is improved by being poisoned by either smallpox or vaccination.
  • [Vaccination] is the biggest piece of quackery and criminal outrage ever foisted upon any civilized people. Medical ignorance by which criminal outrages are murdering our children all over this country…
  • Vaccination and inoculation are pathological; Chiropractic is physiological.
  • Compulsory vaccination is an outrage and a gross interference with the liberty of the people in a land of freedom.

The question is, where did Palmer get this from? What is the reason for his anti-vax attitude? Reading the book, I get the impression that it might have been based on two main pillars: 1) his amazing ignorance and blinkered view on most things and 2) his deep antipathy of conventional medicine. To show you a little of the latter, here are just two further quotes:

  • It is a pity that the medical profession are possessed of arrogance instead of liberality; that instead of encouraging and fostering advanced ideas, they stifle and discourage advancement; that they only adopt advanced ideas when they are compelled to do so by public opinion.
  • The physician believes in his prescriptions; the pharmacist in the hidden power of drugs – superstitious therapeutics.

To this, I am tempted to add: … and chiropractors believe in the drivel written by DD Palmer over 100 years ago.

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