Edzard Ernst retires. Depressing story....

THE article on Edzard Ernst.

Research Intelligence - Alternative outcomes
By Paul Jump

As the first professor of complementary medicine retires, he recalls a rough ride. Paul Jump reports

Edzard Ernst admits he is pleased to be retiring as professor of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter - although his departure will be welcomed even more avidly by the numerous enemies he has made during his 18 years of subjecting complementary and alternative medicine (Cam) to scientific scrutiny.

The 63-year-old officially retired at the end of last month after producing well over 1,000 papers assessing the evidence for the efficacy of alternative treatments.

But although his outspoken conclusion is that only about 5 per cent of such treatments are "solidly based on positive evidence", he admitted in an interview with Times Higher Education that he had started out as a "friend" of Cam.

His first job after graduating from medical school was in Germany's only homeopathic hospital, the Hospital for Natural Healing in Munich, where he was so impressed by the efficacy of some treatments that he continued to practise them "on and off" during his subsequent rise through the medical establishment.

That rise culminated with his appointment in 1990 as chair of the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Vienna, where he had 120 people working under him. But his abiding interest in Cam convinced him to apply to become the world's first professor of complementary medicine when he saw the Exeter position advertised in 1993.

The £1.5 million to fund the position had been donated by construction magnate and Cam supporter Sir Maurice Laing. But although the philanthropist, with whom Professor Ernst became "good friends" before his death in 2008, was happy for him to subject Cam to rigorous analysis, practitioners remained opposed to his sceptical approach - despite the 700 invited lectures Professor Ernst gave on the scientific method.

"It looks to them as if we are always trying to disprove their beliefs. And in a way we are, because we are scientists. They understand alternative medicine as alternative to science, so to apply science to their field is quite upsetting for most of them," he said.

Continues here.


daz365 said…
His book, co written with Simon Singh 'trick or treatment' is one of the best exposés of alt med woo and a must for any critical thinker.

Best wishes for a long and happy retirement.
Zoon Odins said…
This is most likely out of context of this post, but not always do you get the opportunity to give thanks to people who influence others in new ways of thinking.

So thankyou. I'm sure you realise that not many authors have the capacity to (coherently) move from the origins of the Universe to Gay Sex within the space of 20 pages, it is a talent that you have not wasted!
Stephen Law said…
Well thanks Zoon. I guess you mean The Phil Gym.
Zoon Odins said…
I do! I'm lucky enough to work with a 6th form College that has a collective open minded-ness, seeing the positives of having thought provoking books such as yours. It really sets students up for University.

I'm currently drafting a book about the fallacies of History, one chapter focusing on that peculiar ‘Bible’ issue, and The Gym really inspires me to be slightly controversial, for example, the view on how if an alien came to earth – one that has learnt only the language in which we speak – and placed two books in front of ‘it’, one being the Bible, the other The Lord Of The Rings, what view would the alien have of both.

I’m also looking at comparing Hitler to Jesus, but that may be stretching the boundaries of ‘not getting death threats’…
"Depressing story"? You must be joking!
If ever there was a doctor who punched above his weight, it was Edzard Ernst. He received an inordinate amount of media attention as the 'Professor of Complementary Medicine who attacked Complementary Medicine', had huge media attention and published a book with Simon Singh. Many challenged his qualifications for being sufficiently expert on Evidence Based Medicine to do the job he was appointed to.

Others questioned the double standards he espoused when he trashed CAM and particularly homeopathy for lacking evidence when people like myself pointed out to him that huge swathes of conventional NHS interventions were not evidence based. Undaunted, he continued to trash CAM and even spoke against homeopathy to a House of Commons Committee. Fortunately, democracy prevailed and both this Government and the last agreed that GPs and local health authorities were better placed to decide what medical treatment THEIR patients should receive than Edzard Ernst of Exeter.

The '1000 papers' you cite have also been subject to criticism, but hey the fact that he kept going so long should be celebrated on this cite so you guys should have nothing to be 'depressed about' quite the contrary.

Personally I believe that there are many people and organisations who really benefit in many ways, from Ernst's 'contribution' to medicine. I'm sure a way will be found to keep his voice in the public eye.
Chris Holmes said…
It is understandable how many people who regard science as the best (or only) way to establish fact have been taken in by Ernst, who has always tried to pass himself off as objective when he is really an anti-CAM zealot.

There may be such a thing as "alt med woo", but there is certainly plenty more "drug company hype" which is far more dangerous in reality, and I'm sure those people were very grateful to old Eddie for working so hard to suggest that the real threat to the public was from herbs and acupuncture. In truth "evidence-based" medications kill thousands of people every year, so demanding that Boots The Chemist should clear their shelves of homeopathic remedies strikes most sane people and grandstanding, and with glaring double standards at that.

Science is more credible without him.