I never supposed to do basic and necessary questions as a scientist could cause such fierce controversy and involve me in my research and political intrigue ideological disputes arising from the highest level. " Who speaks so is Edzard Ernst, probably the most detested by the defenders of pseudomedicina worldwide scientist. The reason is simple: the fruit of their work leaves them without arguments. Ernst (Wiesbaden, Germany, 1948) was the first to submit a so-called alternative therapies to the rigors of science systematically, to reach a conclusion remedies like homeopathy are nothing more than placebo and those who prescribe violate ethics health.
In his scientific journey against pseudoscience, Ernst had to face the memory of his mother and the Prince of Wales, both fervent homeopaths. The German researcher has dedicated 20 years to the critical study of these therapies - "two decades of endless conflict" - from acupuncture to the laying on of hands, and his team has published more than 350 papers on the subject His memoirs, A scientist. in Wonderland (A scientist in Wonderland, Imprint Academic), published this year, provide the best account of the difficulties that someone seeking to unravel critically alternative therapies will face threats, lack of institutional support, pressures high places, loneliness ... and countless scientific difficulties.
Alternative therapists and their supporters seem a bit like children playing doctors and patients, "says Ernst
The tests that are performed daily in all hospitals in the world usually handle very clear protocols to test whether the drug works or not: to a group you give the drug and the other a placebo. But how to study if it really works laying on of hands to cure or alleviate the suffering of the sick? That was the first question asked Ernst-landed in 1993 in the chair of Complementary Medicine at the University of Exeter, the first of its kind. At that time, it has had in the UK many healers (14,000) as GPs. The placebo designed with the healers themselves actors who would pretend to be laying their hands. As healers saw that the count was going to expose began with the drawbacks, criticism and rejection methods: finally, was that the actors also had healing abilities and that the placebo worked better than the professionals.
Ernst became interested in the critical study of alternative therapies after working in a homeopathic hospital in Munich, in his native country, where this pseudoterapia has a deeply rooted practice and medical graduates. From his experience there, in his memoirs trace a devastating account of the physicians who prescribe these fake drugs that have never proven medically useful: they do "because they can not cope with the often very high demands of conventional medicine" . "It's almost understandable that if a physician has trouble understanding the multifactorial causes and mechanisms of disease or not master the complex process of arriving at a diagnosis and finding effective treatment, be tempted to use instead concepts as homeopathy or acupuncture, whose theoretical basis is much easier to understand, "writes the scientist, who is still very combative in his blog.
Thanks to its critical spirit, the chair of Exeter became the forefront of serious investigation into the so-called complementary medicine, and there came some of the studies that have shown their ineffectiveness and dangers, such as osteopaths and chiropractors manipulating the spine causing serious problems to patients. Not to mention, the simplest and most dangerous of risk: leaving the harsh but effective treatments, such as chemotherapy, therapies supposedly harmless but let the patient die.
That post had been created to keep doing science uncritical advocates seeking alternative therapies, such as Charles, where it simply asks them to patients if they feel better than before this or that treatment. Above them, writes that appear to have "little or no understanding of the role of science in this. Alternative therapists and their supporters seem a bit like children playing doctors and patients. " When the results began to dismantle these remedies, advocates of complementary medicine began to attack at all levels, from the personal to the public.
The researcher believes that some of the doctors who prescribe homeopathy do so because they find it too difficult to reach serious diagnoses using the tools of medicine
Hence the greatest challenge of his career that had emerged and significant impact on UK: their confrontation with Prince Charles, who for years has pressed ministers to include homeopathy in the British health system. Finally, after Ernst publicly accused him of being nothing more than a salesman Hair Growth, the heir to the throne managed to stay without his place in Exeter, after a painful process that the University would acquitted despite the pressures.
In the end, after many fights, victories and disappointments, Ernst concludes that their work serves to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of the therapy, but not to convince his supporters: "Slowly but surely, I resigned myself to the fact that for some fans alternative medicine, no explanation will suffice. For them, alternative medicine seemed to have become a religion, a sect whose central tenet must be defended at all costs against the infidel. " Of course, the experience helped him recognize and remove all dialectical traps used by this group, which are gutted in his memoirs. Fallacies as conventional medicine kills more that science is unable to understand or that these remedies are good because they are natural and ancient conveniently removed.
Finally, Ernst, who previously was studying the terrible past of Nazi science at the University of Vienna, draws a parallel between the two phenomena: "When abused science, kidnapped or distorted in order to serve systems of political beliefs or ideological, ethical standards slip. The resulting pseudo-science is a hoax perpetrated against the weak and the vulnerable. We owe it to ourselves and those who come after us, stay in the fight for the truth no matter how much this may cause us problems. "