Skeptical Evaluator of Alternative Medicine Faces Loss of Funding

Edzard Ernst, MD, PhD, is a former homeopath who saw the light and became a tireless advocate for scientific evaluation of alternative medicine claims. He became the world’s first professor of complementary medicine. He wrote (with Simon Singh) the excellent book Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine.  He has written innumerable articles for the media and for scientific journals.

For many years Ernst has led one of the world’s leading centers for alternative medicine research, The Centre for Complementary Medicine at the University of Exeter in the UK. Among other things, this center has done many rigorous systematic reviews of the literature. These reviews have acknowledged that there is good evidence for a few things (like St. John’s wort for mild to moderate depression,) but they have found no evidence to support the majority of alternative medical treatments. Where the evidence is lacking, they are not afraid to conclude that these things don’t work; whereas the NCCAM (National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine) in the US has been unwilling to discredit any treatment and instead consistently calls for “more studies.”

An article today in The Times http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/science/medicine/article7047382.ece announced that Ernst’s research center will close next year unless a new financial backer can be found. Ernst believes that he has become a persona non grata since he attacked a report that was commissioned by HRH Prince Charles. In an e-mail comment on the Timesarticle he clarified “the complaint letter was not on the foundation’s but HRH’s letterhead and that my VC does not even respond to my letter raising the issue of the missing £1.5 million.”

I sincerely hope that other funding sources will be found to continue this valuable work. If his university doesn’t come through, perhaps the skeptical community can find a way to help.

This article was originally published in Swift, the online newsletter of the James Randi Educational Foundation.

Dr. Hall is a contributing editor to both Skeptic magazine and the Skeptical Inquirer. She is a weekly contributor to the Science-Based Medicine Blog and is one of its editors. She has also contributed to Quackwatch and to a number of other respected journals and publications. She is the author of Women Aren’t Supposed to Fly: The Memoirs of a Female Flight Surgeon and co-author of the textbook, Consumer Health: A Guide to Intelligent Decisions.