Thursday, May 01, 2008

Lying? Who exactly is lying?

Okay I take back my 'surrender'. I don’t surrender to the ‘logic’ of Ernst and Singh anymore and vow to fight them on the beaches if necessary. Why this turnaround? Because I read an interview with the Professor Ernst in The New Scientist on the 28th April 2008 that irritated me – to put it euphemistically.

When asked to explain the ‘huge popularity’ of alternative medicine: Ernst replied: ‘…people are being lied to. Practitioners of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) often fail to explain what the evidence shows and does not show. It is the triumph of advertising over rationality:’ Okay Prof – you’ve indirectly accused me of lying and if theres is one thing I cannot abide it's being accused of lying. By all means call me ignorant, naïve, gullible, stupid, ‘new age’, complementary, alternative, homeopathic, idealistic or weird – but how dare you accuse me of lying?

I have met hundreds if not thousands of homeopaths in my career. Some have indeed believed in some strange things, some have been very naive indeed in my opinion, but I have never met a homeopath whom I thought was lying to his/her patients. They may have said things to patients that Ernst thinks is untrue but that is very different from lying which is the deliberately not telling the truth. If it is just a matter of your English not being up to scratch, Prof Ernst, just let me know and I'll take back what I say here.

TO: ‘often fail to explain what the evidence shows and does not show’
I SAY: How often does any doctor spontaneously and without being asked ‘explain’ the evidence behind any course of action? Ernst is fully aware that many drugs and even surgical techniques in orthodox medicine are not evidence based. Doctors (unlike lawyers) don’t discuss ‘evidence’ with patients unless specifically asked. To use this to support an accusation of lying is disingenuous to say the least.

TO: ‘the triumph of advertising over rationality’
I SAY: This clumsy rephrasing of Oscar Wilde’s witty description of second marriages as the ‘triumph of hope over experience’ is as ridiculous and unfair criticism of alternative medicine as I have ever seen in print because:

Advertising of CAM is mild and reasonable compared to advertising of orthodox drugs. Has Ernst ever seen how drugs are advertised on TV and in newspapers or magazines? Apparently he hasn’t seen the idiotic green arrows showing how apparently drugs reach the throat, head etc. not to mention other puerile and anatomically incorrect graphic representations of how drugs apparently work. Which of course bears no resemblance to what they actually do physiologically. To accuse CAM practitioners of using advertising to ‘triumph over rationality’ is not even worthy of being called a sick joke.

Homeopathy, one of Ernst and Singh’s least favourite forms of CAM has been attacked and insulted since its inception in the UK in the early 19th century. Frederick Foster Hervey Quin, the man who brought homeopathy to England, became the first of a sequence of Royal homeopathic physicians persisting to the present day and built the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, once applied to join the Athenaeum Club. When his nomination was considered a certain Dr. Paris, president of the Royal College of Surgeons said: “A pretty pass we have come to when quacks and adventurers are proposed as members of this club.” The following day, the good Dr Paris was challenged either to retract his comments in writing or justify his language with pistols at 12 paces. He wrote the apology.

Now I think being accused of lying is even worse than being called an ‘adventurer’ or ‘quack’ so I hereby challenge Professor Ernst to a duel, albeit with words rather than pistols - but that is only for legal reasons ;-) where he can attempt to justify calling homeopathic doctors liars. Alternatively he can retract this outrageous slur. Otherwise - bring it on!

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