2010 September

Jan's column: Professor of complementary medicine?

by Jan Scholten

An interview with Edzard Ernst has been published in the German journal "Homoeopatische Nachrichten". Ernst is the first Professor of Complementary Medicine in the United Kingdom at the University of Exeter. 

The interview is quite revealing. Ernst states: "I never completed any courses in homeopathy." Isn't that extraordinary? Imagine a professor in physics never having completed any course in physics; that would be impossible, he would never get appointed. In physics and other sciences, the professional body decides who can join them. Physicists generally know who is the best one to represent them. 

In homeopathy, however, it is not the homeopaths who decide about such appointments; it is the adversaries of homeopathy who appoint a professor. It is obvious that they do not like to have to do that at all, but when they do, they appoint someone who is against homeopathy and it is even better when this someone doesn't know much about the subject.

Ernst also states that he does not see fundamental problems with double-blind studies for individualized methods. This shows that he has not understood the basics of homeopathy, which does not seem to be a problem for him.

The problem is of course that homeopaths are not in charge of their own situation in universities; others decide what is going on there. I don't have the impression that this situation will change easily. So, lets just go our own way, doing the right thing: homeopathy.

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In an article published in the American Journal of Medicine and entitled: "Should We Maintain an Open Mind about Homeopathy?" Michael Baum and Edzard Ernst, addressing their colleagues, strongly criticised homeopathy:

"Homeopathy is among the worst examples of faith-based medicine... These axioms [of homeopathy] are not only out of line with scientific facts but also directly opposed to them. If homeopathy is correct, much of physics, chemistry, and pharmacology must be incorrect... To have an open mind about homeopathy or similarly implausible forms of alternative medicine (eg, Back flower remedies, spiritual healing, crystal therapy) is therefore not an option. We think that a belief in homeopathy exceeds the tolerance of an open mind. We should start from the premise that homeopathy cannot work and that positive evidence reflects publication bias or design flaws until proved otherwise... We wonder whether any kind of evidence would persuade homeopathic physicians of their self-delusion and challenge them to design a methodologically sound trial, which if negative would finally persuade them to shut up shop... Homeopathy is based on an absurd concept that denies progress in physics and chemistry. Some 160 years after Homeopathy and Its Kindred Delusions, an essay byOliver Wendell Holmes, we are still debating whether homeopathy is a placebo or not... Homeopathic principles are bold conjectures. There has been no spectacular corroboration of any of its founding principles... After more than 200 years, we are still waiting for homeopathy “heretics” to be proved right, during which time the advances in our understanding of disease, progress in therapeutics and surgery, and prolongation of the length and quality of life by so-called allopaths have been breathtaking. The true skeptic therefore takes pride in closed mindedness when presented with absurd assertions that contravene the laws of thermodynamics or deny progress in all branches of physics, chemistry, physiology, and medicine."

Baum M, Ernst E (November 2009). "Should we maintain an open mind about homeopathy?". Am. J. Med. 122 (11): 973–4.

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