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Alternative view 2

The criteria for the Laing chair in complementary medicine at the University of Exeter currently held by Edzard Ernst include the following:

  • "to provide leadership within the national scene in the teaching of complementary medicine to graduate clinicians and medical undergraduates"
  • "the ability to speak for (my emphasis) complementary medicine to government, to the public, and within the university".

As a qualified and registered alternative medicine practitioner of 15 years, I was dismayed to discover that Ernst is not only falling short of his job remit but the shortcomings of the measures he advocates for evaluating homoeopathy have been well documented, not only for investigating complementary and alternative medicine but for conventional medicine as well. It is rather akin to looking for electricity through a microscope and when not finding it saying it does not exist.

Sir Maurice Laing originally funded the chair that bears his name at the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter because he was passionate about CAM. His wife, Hilda, had suffered for years from tuberculosis and was cured of this serious disease through the use of a CAM discipline, very possibly homoeopathy.

There is a significant body of high-quality scientific research supporting homoeopathy, which can now be added to more than 200 years of case histories - all of which verifies homoeopathy as a valid system of medicine.

Consequently, Ernst's "interventions" on behalf of homoeopathy/CAMs must be causing Sir Maurice to turn in his grave.

Michelle Shine, London NW7.

Readers' comments (37)

  • Ms Shine states that Professor Edzard Ernst is failing to meet the criteria of his appointment based solely on her disagreement with his research demonstrating the failure of homeopathy as a recognised treatment modality (if one discounts the placebo response).

    That homeopathy is disenfranchised from other CAMs when scrutinised using objective and extensive evaluation of the clinical evidence by Professor Ernst and his team is insufficient reason for such petulance.

    It is disingenuous of Ms Shine to imply Lady Laing 'very possibly used' homeopathy. On such level of evidence she 'very possibly' may also have used Shamanism, orthomolecular medicine, Kelloggs cornflakes or even stargazing as treatment modalities.

    Using the allegory of 'searching for electricity using a microscope' is a futile parallel to conventional medicine and its robust research techniques being used to judge homeopathy - and other CAMs (of which Professor Ernst is less dismissive).

    By such criteria one could abandon any level of science or medical knowledge to promote one's own beliefs. Thus the moon is made of green cheese, eating green leafy vegetables only benefit those who read the THE, and homeopathy is a science.

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  • There is indeed now a "significant body of high quality research" about homeopathy. And the outcome of that research is that the sugar pills don't work. There's a surprise.

    But one can hardly expect Michelle Shine to admit that since she makes her living by selling people medicines that contain no medicine. She makes the outrageous, and dangerous, claim that "All conditions can be treated (mental, emotional and physical)". She claims that a sugar pill is "our number one remedy" for malaria, an idea that endangers the public so much that, if it is not criminal, it ought to be,

    Ernst, on the other hand, has no financial interests to cloud his judgement. He has done a great service to everyone (including any honest CAM enthusiast) by assessing carefully and honestly what works and what doesn't. The only people not to applaud his efforts are those who are making money by selling treatments that don't work .(Well, perhaps also the odd vice chancellor who is getting bums on seats teaching students about things that don't work as though they were effective).


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  • What a low attack on Professor Edzard Ernst. If this is representative of the homeopathic community's response to someone who dares criticise their beliefs and practices then they should be hanging their heads in shame.

    An academic's first commitment is to honestly appraise, develop and report the evidence in their chosen field. Michelle Shine would appear to prefer to see Ernst promulgate the canards and deceptions of alternative medicine. That professors do exist in UK Universities who do appear to engage in uncritical indoctrination of discredited pseudoscience is no indictment of Ernst, but a dreadful reflection of the state of Higher Education and where it is going.

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  • It is an interesting point that Ms Shine raises. I would like to know which qualifications in complementary medicine are held by the current Chair. I assume they are ample, but someone may be able to clarify. I ask because I think I am not the only member of the public to be slightly bemused by the current chair holder's appetite for 'mud slinging' at CAMs. His arguments are, it is true, presented as contributions to scientific discussion but they tend to be very 'media-friendly' rather than academic in tone. (I recall, for instance, his comparison of homeopathy and 'witchcraft').
    I was cured of debilitating illness by a homeopath, after my GP advised me to resign from my job and predicted that I would need a wheelchair. After a course of homeopathy, I was soon back in full-time work, as witnessed by family, friends, neighbours and colleagues (plus a dash of clinical assessment by the GP who declared me fit). I made no other change in medication or lifestyle to account for my dramatice recovery and I most certainly did not 'believe in' homeopathy because I had never heard of it before (in fact the prediction of my well-meaning GP had made me feel extremely pessimistic).
    A single cured case does not constitute evidence but many thousands of such cases do and, since such cases abound, it is in the interests of humanity that our curiosity should be aroused and dispassionate observation (the very basis of science) used to understand this profoundly beneficial system of medicine so that as many people as possible may be helped by it.
    As for the explanation, the frontiers of science are forever extending. We can never predict the future but one thing I think most people would agree on is that the frontiers of science will not remain static the 21st century. Splitting the atom, am I right in thinking, provoked even more disbelief at the time than the action of the potentized remedy does today, among some (though by no means most) scientists?

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  • The core of research and scholarship is critical examination of ideas, methods, and theories.

    People who endow chairs, and centres at Universities, presumably hope to encourage scholarship: not uncritical advocacy, promotion and PR. The Rufford Laing foundation's website actually states that they fund "scientific research into efficacy of complementary health treatments", which is exactly what Edzard Ernst has been doing since he took the Laing Chair.

    To me this contemptible attack on Ernst for being a scholar rather than a booster demonstrates rather clearly the intellectual bankruptcy of Ms Shine, and of the practise she claims to be defending.

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  • Professor Ernst's own book (with Simon Singh) gives his background in studying and applying homeopathy.
    "There is a significant body of high-quality scientific research supporting homoeopathy, which can now be added to more than 200 years of case histories - all of which verifies homoeopathy as a valid system of medicine."
    Citations for this would be welcomed.

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  • Whether or not Ernst, or any of us, are scholars will be a moot point one humdred years from now. We will all be very dead and science will have moved on considerably, I hope, and history will judge us. Perhaps it will not bother!
    There is currently a great deal of rhetoric on both sides of the argument for and against homoeopathy, but everyone has the right to state their case. We are not in the school playground and have to take it all on the chin! But one thing we should all remember, despite the current 'fallout' of internet-based slanging matches and large and deeply offended egos, is that true scientific knowledge progresses in spite of these different viewpoints - indeed it often appears to thrive on them!
    If we all thought in exactly the same way, and studied in the same way, we would miss things - too much linear thinking! So attempting to silence your opposition is not really in everyone's best interests!
    There is a huge amount of verbal ping-pong going on at the moment - at some point we are all going to find it boring and move on, from trying to change other people's minds to focus on improving our own.
    Science is still in its infancy. None of us knows everything - otherwise there would be no research departments in universities at all! The main problem with homoeopaths is that they take into account the 'unknown' factor of the so-called Vital Force, which makes a huge difference to the way they think, and is why they clash with 'real scientists' so often. Real scientists just talk dismissively about the 'placebo effect' when they see homoeopathy working. But neither they cannot explain what the driver is behind this very powerful 'placebo effect'! Nor do they seem to feel it's necessary to investigate.
    A bit like saying the moon is made of Green Cheese, really...

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  • Further, the same site says: "The Rufford Maurice Laing Foundation provided a grant of £106,045 to support George Lewith’s part-time research position leading the Complementary and Integrated Medicine Research Unit (CAM) in 2007/08."

    This is at the University of Southampton.

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  • I think the best response to this rather poor letter would be to use Edzard Ernst's own words:

    "People mistakenly think I must be a promoter of complementary medicine - that I should have an allegiance to the camp. I don't. My allegiance is firstly to the patient - I feel that very strongly as an ex-clinician - and secondly to science. If in the course of that I have to hurt the feelings of homeopaths I regret that, but I can't help it."

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  • Jane Hammond: if Ernst's allegiance is 'firstly to the patient' and patients get better with homeopathy, how is denigrating homeopathy beneficial to patients?

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