Objectors are not arrogant 2

September 4, 2008

Lord Winston's recent BBC programme Superdoctors was a masterly explication to a lay audience of how stem-cell treatment for advanced heart disease can be evaluated in a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial.

It was impossible not to be impressed by the courage and altruism of the patients who understood that they might be in the placebo group, and the care taken by the medical and support staff to maximise the probability of a statistically sound conclusion, either for or against.

In contrast, the authors of the Pittilo report to the Department of Health Steering Group on the statutory regulation of so-called alternative medicine are preoccupied with how they might get official recognition for - rather than producing evidence to defend - the efficacy of their "treatments". There are good reasons for this because carefully controlled clinical trials have failed to show efficacy in acupuncture, homoeopathy and the power of prayer.

The fundamentals of acupuncture and homoeopathy therapy are based on irrational principles, and they bear the same relationship to human biology as astrology does to astronomy, independent of their uselessness.

Pittilo attacks the arrogance of members of the University of Central Lancashire for defending their institution against this unreason. Many universities would regard that as a cardinal aim - it makes me proud of my home town that these academics are protesting, especially when their leadership appears to be so pusillanimous.

And no, I don't get and never have got a penny from the pharmaceutical industry for my research.

Peter J. Brophy, Professor of veterinary anatomy and cell biology University of Edinburgh.

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