Alternative medicine plan is 'waste of money'

January 28, 2010

Two professors are at loggerheads over the value of a new project to advance the science behind complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), after one claimed that it was dominated by partisan groups and likely to prove a waste of taxpayers' money.

The £1.46 million European-Union funded CAMbrella project aims to develop a "roadmap for future research" in the field.

A group of 16 scientific partners from across Europe met last week to begin work.

But the project was criticised by Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter, who said he feared it would be a "waste of money".

"It lacks critical input and is dominated by CAM-believers," he said, adding that the funding would be better spent on "a few rigorous studies".

But his criticisms were rejected by George Lewith, professor of health research and head of a complementary and integrated medicine research unit at the University of Southampton, who is participating in the project.

He insisted that it was a "legitimate endeavour" that would provide useful information for policy decisions. He added that all those involved in the consortium were experts in CAM and many had published papers that were critical of the efficacy of the therapies.

He said Professor Ernst "always errs on the side of being very negative - and that is the problem he has with almost every other researcher in the field ... He is out on a limb because he is so consistently negative ... his view of the data is almost entirely inconsistent with everyone else in the field."

In response, Professor Ernst said that "CAM enthusiasts frequently confuse critical thinking with negativity".

The spat comes as another campaigner against CAM and "pseudoscience", David Colquhoun, professor of pharmacology at University College London, revealed details on his blog of the content of a now-defunct BSc in homeopathy at the University of Central Lancashire. Among the material released by Uclan after a long legal battle are slides on the homeopathic treatment of cancer. It is illegal for homeopaths to claim they are able to treat the disease.

zoe.corbyn@tsleducation.com.

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