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27/08/2011 / Pedanto

Edzard Ernst Makes My Legs Turn to Jelly

If you don’t know this sexy man you soon should

A quick wikipedia summary:

Edzard Ernst (January 30, 1948 in Wiesbaden, Germany) is the first Professor of Complementary Medicine in the world, at the University of Exeter, England.

In 1993, Ernst left his chair in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PMR) at the University of Vienna to set up the department of Complementary Medicine at the University of Exeter. He became director of complementary medicine of the Peninsula Medical School (PMS) in 2002. He was the first occupant of the Laing chair in Complementary Medicine, retiring in 2011. He was born and trained in Germany — Ernst began his medical career at a homeopathic hospital in Munich

He likes to put a smack down on people who sell bullshit

At the sound of a quack he leaps into action with a grin and a slap

Being the contrarian that I am I went looking for people who don’t like him as much as me and I found them.

The alliance for Natural Health Europe attempt to discredit him below. They even have a picture of him without his moustache.

Is misunderstanding of science wilful?

To sumarise this article:

  1. Ernst says there is “no efficacy for homeopathy” and also says “homeopathy works…maybe as a very strong placebo effect”. This doesn’t explain why homeopathy works on animals
  2. Edzard Ernst used to work in a homeopathic hospital and has changed his views
  3. he and his colleagues rejected 99.8% of the available evidence on herbal medicine and concluded that “there is no convincing evidence that it is effective in any indication” (not true – try reading Trick or Treatment)
  4. A question on methodology which is must reproduce verbatim here so I may pick it apart:

“As we have pointed out before, the reason why Ernst’s assessments of natural healthcare are often negative is not simply that these healing techniques shrivel under the harsh light of scientific scrutiny.  Ernst’s methods, which we see applied in the same manner over and over to many different forms of natural healthcare, involve selecting what he deems to be high-quality studies and performing meta-analyses or systematic reviews on them.  Studies of studies, in other words. 

The problem comes when trying to separate out the ‘specific therapeutic effect’ from the plethora of related phenomena that must also be considered, and which together make up the ‘total therapeutic effect’ (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Variables operative during clinical trials that contribute to the ‘total therapeutic effect’  NOTE: WHAT THE FUCK ARE THE UNITS ON THE Y AXIS SUPPOSED TO BE?

The RCT can only separate out the specific therapeutic effect from the total effect if all of the other phenomena in the Figure 1 are independent of each other, and operate the same under experimental and real-life conditions.  But just think of the practitioner–patient relationship for a moment.  As we said in our earlier piece, “Crucially, the bio-physical-energetic interactions between practitioner and patient, as well as internal neurophysiological and metabolic processes, are likely to be very different in these two contrasting circumstances…it is perhaps no wonder that Ernst finds that treatment effects are so often lost in the overall noise of the experiment – falling foul to the netherworld of statistical insignificance.”

We submit that it is no coincidence that many of Ernst’s studies have been negative.”

My response will probably be forever unpublished so please see it here in all its glory

This will probably never make the article's comments board

I also went on  to say that even if it is true that Ernst has ignored 99.8% of the available studies on natural health that doesn’t mean his point is invalid. In fact a rigorous view of research is required to make valid conclusions. Ernst probably did not take into account this 99.8% (does anyone else feel that this is too high a number? He would have literally looked at one trial, and man cannot make meta-analyses by one trial alone) for a variety of reasons

  1. It was anecdote (often accidentally pluralised to data amongst the naturalistic community)
  2. It was not performed on a large sample, controlled for or randomised
  3. It was written by pillocks who were attempting to confirm their own biases.

I’m sorry for putting this up as a post but my comment would have never seen the light of day had I not. I am enough of a narcissist to think the world would be poorer because of that.

Please sponsor me for the Great North Run for MacMillan Cancer Support at It’s a good cause and my legs hurt.

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