In the news: Edzard Ernst

August 6, 2004

You know you are getting it right when you get flak from both alternative therapists and mainstream medical scientists, says Edzard Ernst, the UK's only professor of complementary medicine.

Professor Ernst, who holds the chair in complementary medicine at Exeter University and is director of complementary medicine at the Peninsula Medical School, which is run by Exeter and Plymouth universities, is robust in his application of scientific processes to the sometimes twilight world of alternative medicines and therapies.

He said: "I am not disappointed when a healing study shows no specific healing effect but a strong placebo effect. What would disturb me would be if someone said it was rotten science.

"There are rumours that I am paid by the pharmaceutical industry. But then mainstream medicine and science criticises me when I get positive results.

So, as long as both sides criticise me, I must be doing something right."

There may be more flak heading Professor Ernst's way this week after he was quoted in newspapers attacking the lack of evidence to support claims made for some more exotic remedies advertised on the web, such as shark cartilage.

Professor Ernst's background is in mainstream medicine but he points out that on the Continent, and particularly in his homeland Germany, much of what the UK describes as alternative medicine is seen as everyday. He said:

"As a boy I received homeopathic treatments. In Britain you have the National Health Service, which defined what 'proper' medicine was."

Things were changing in the UK, said Professor Ernst, who joined Exeter 11 years ago. But he warned against integrating alternative medicines into the mainstream without scientific testing. He said: "Complementary medicine will not succeed or it will become evidence-based medicine. But what some are trying to do is integrate this medicine today and do the research tomorrow."

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