Still seeking proof

July 10, 2008

In our book Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial, Simon Singh and I evaluate the evidence for or against some 40 alternative therapies. We stress that several are backed by encouraging evidence while others are not.

In the case of homoeopathy, we conclude that "there is a mountain of evidence to suggest that homoeopathic remedies simply do not work", which should not be surprising because they "typically do not contain a single molecule of any active ingredients".

Homoeopaths have reacted by stating that:

  • we misrepresent data
  • we are bought by big pharma
  • I was fired by the General Medical Council
  • I am a bad scientist, a fraud and a quack.

Now Michelle Shine has added to this long list of insults and lies by claiming that I am "falling short of (my) job remit" and that I cause Sir Maurice Laing (who endowed my chair) "to turn in his grave" (Letters, 3 July).

During many meetings, Sir Maurice encouraged me to conduct the most rigorous research possible, regardless of what it might find. Shine points out that my remit is to "speak for complementary medicine to government, the public and within the university". But this is precisely what I have done during the past 15 years, publishing about 1,000 articles in medical journals. However, to speak "for" a subject does not mean telling untruths. We all seem to have got used to homoeopaths misleading the public, but British scientists and academics are bound to insist on the best evidence available to date.

If Shine is so certain that homoeopathic remedies are more effective than placebos, she should prove it. In return we will give her £10,000 of our private savings (http://www.trickortreatment.com/challenge.html).

Alternatively, homoeopaths could admit that they are not into scientific evidence and instead they might establish the "Reformed Church of Homoeopathy".

Edzard Ernst, Professor of complementary medicine, Peninsula Medical School, Universities of Exeter and Plymouth.

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