“LITTLE H”

By Edzard Ernst

BIG PHARMA is evil and LITTLE ALT MED is benign, or isn’t it? After researching alternative medicine for roughly two decades, I can produce more than enough examples to demonstrate that the latter assumption is erroneous. Let’s take for example homeopathy, or “LITTLE H”, as we might call it for the purpose of this blog.

The name LITTLE H is not entirely absurd because homeopathy makes, of course, much less money than the pharmaceutical sector; nevertheless, I estimate the annual worldwide sales of homeopathic products to be in the region of 2 or 3 billion pounds. Not bad, considering that there are virtually no costs for drug development or raw materials; remember: homeopathic remedies are so incredibly diluted that they typically contain precisely nothing. So the earnings of LITTLE H are easy and the profits are high.

No wonder then that LITTLE H is trying to safeguard its big income.

The strategy to promote homeopathic trade seems clever. The often stated fact that homeopathic products are biologically implausible and do not work beyond placebo is currently countered by the notion that the Swiss government has just released a report which demonstrates the effectiveness of homeopathy. The evidence is, in fact, so strong and reliable, it is claimed, that the Swiss government made homeopathy refundable. If you go online, you find such claims so often that you might eventually even believe them e.g. those made by Dana Ullman.

Yet the truth is quite different: the Swiss government’s decision to include homeopathy for a short trial period was forced by a referendum and not by evidence. What is more, the report in question has just been disclosed in the SWISS MEDICAL WEEKLY as a “case of research misconduct” .

But that has nothing to do with LITTLE H, I hear you think. Perhaps, but what would you say, if several German manufacturers of homeopathic preparations have been paying a journalist around £40 000 annually to systematically blacken the name of those who dare to question that homeopathy is more than an elaborate placebo-therapy?

As I am one of the key targets of this systematic attempt of character assassination – my name appears multiple times on almost every blog on the website in question – I have known about this story for some time.

At First I felt that this sort of thing must be ignored; if I went after everyone who published untruths or insults about me, I would be doing nothing else. And anyway, who cares about some freak throwing dirt around? That, at least, was the advice of virtually all my friends; the worst, they thought, would be to give these strange people publicity by acknowledging their existence.

However when, in a single blog-post by the homeopathy-sponsored mud-slinger, we counted no less than 31 insulting untruths, or grossly misleading statements about me and my research I changed my mind. As I had contact with the DEUTSCHE HOMOEOPATHISCHE UNION (DHU), Germany’s largest manufacturer of homeopathic preparations and one of the firms that was financing the defaming-bonanza, I formulated a polite email alerting my contact to this bizarre situation and pointed out that this sort of thing might not be in the best interest of their public image.

The response confirmed that the DHU were paying the character assassin for running the blog but that he had total editorial freedom over its contents. Therefore the DHU were in no position, they alleged, to interfere. Nevertheless, they seemed concerned about libellous statements, and a meeting was arranged to resolve the issue; consequently I decided it would be only fair to abstain from going public until we had discussed the matter in person.

Meanwhile, a German investigative journalist got wind of all this [no, I did not tip him off] and published the whole sleazy story with all the depressing details in a German daily paper. As a result, another firm sponsoring the character assassin, WELEDA, discontinued their financial support of the mud-slinger. Intriguingly, my meeting with DHU was then called off – I was informed that this was for reasons unrelated to these latter developments…

So what sort of untruths does this LITTLE H-sponsored character assassin tell about me?

As the material is in German, I better tell my readers who might not master this language. Essentially, he repeats ad nauseam that I am a very bad scientist, that my results cannot be trusted, that I have lied about my past as well as about my qualifications, that I ”deliberately and dishonourably mislead my readers and the public”, that my “fan-club” are “atheistic fundamentalists”, that I “enjoy a very bad reputation within the scientific community”, that I react to criticism by conducting ad hominem attacks, that I am never prepared to engage in a constructive dialogue, and that all of this is politically motivated.

If BIG PHARMA would be found out tomorrow to do such a thing to an academic scientist who is critical about the value of this or that drug, the world media would be all over the culprit; all hell would break lose – and rightly so, in my view. But this is not BIG PHARMA, it is only LITTLE H – and homeopathy is benign.

Isn’t it just!

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0 Responses to “LITTLE H”

  1. While we know that the pharmaceutical industry is far from perfect in many, many respects it is interesting to see evidence of the tactics quacks claim used against them used against skeptics.

    In reality I suspect big pharma feels no need to discredit quackery (quackery manages that itself much better in many respects) but I wonder if the idea that they do this makes quacks think that skeptics are “fair game”?

    Without any real evidence they assume we are in the pocket of big pharma. The Shill gambit appears frequently. Perhaps they feel such tactics are justifiable because they mistakenly belief they are being used against them?

    Regardless the above example is despicable and a surrendering of the shaky moral high ground those promoting natural medicines and alternative treatments believe they inhabit.

  2. I had someone laying into Edzard Ernst on my blog earlier today. As is typical, she was making personal attacks, questioning his credentials while failing to make a single point regarding his actual research or its findings. She also – as is also customary on this type of comment – insinuated that I and Edzard Ernst have ulterior motives (“WHO HIRED HIM YOU AND WHY?”).

    http://josephinejones.wordpress.com/2012/07/19/the-alliance-for-natural-health-lay-into-skeptics-including-me/#comment-1932

  3. Wonderer says:

    Cute foto………………….!? Shame about the lighting. Quite homeopathic prose.

  4. john says:

    I am an EBM and CAM fan wherever they are appropriate.

    It is reported in the newspapers time and time again than when the doctors go on strike, the death rate drops. Maybe homeopathy works because there is nothing in it – if it is true that there really is no unbenown effect of the diluted solution to us.

    Food for thought…

  5. jdc says:

    It is reported in the newspapers time and time again than when the doctors go on strike, the death rate drops.

    @john,

    Why do you think the death rate drops? What do you think happens to the people who might otherwise have died during the strike? What do you think would happen if doctors went on strike long-term?

    Full Fact have a piece on striking doctors. This bit in particular might be of interest to you:

    The main explanation for this correlation is that during a doctors’ strike elective surgeries – that is non-emergency procedures – are postponed or cancelled. All forms of surgery carries a risk, and the cancellation of these operations could mean that the deaths that might have resulted from certain procedures might have occurred in later months instead.

    However this doesn’t mean that a doctors’ strike is somehow safer for patients.

    Former King’s Fund Chief Executive (and Full Fact Trustee) Baroness Neuberger has pointed out on Radio 4’s More or Less that if a strike were to carry on for a long time – six months or more – death rates would be expected to return to rise as a consequence of the failure to carry out those elective surgeries.

  6. Cybertiger says:

    Wibble!

  7. JDK says:

    @john

    CAM is only appropriate when there is, a) nothing actually wrong with you, or b) regression to the mean makes your “illness” improve anyway with no need of medical intervention. In either case, I would prefer to hold on to my hard earned cash than invest in quackery. In fact there is no such thing as CAM, if it works it’s called MEDICINE. If not, it isn’t.

    Competing interest; Ph.D. in Immunopharmacology.

  8. john says:

    @JDK

    When there is nothing wrong with you and it would have got better anyway because of regression to the mean…

    Oh please, change the record! I’ve had arthritis for decades and it only got better after I tried so called alternative therapies which should have been mainstream.

    Dr Marcia Angell has something to say about people spending their hard earned cash on drugs as well in her book “The Truth About Drug Companies”. Here is an excerpt from Amazon:

    “During her two decades at The New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Marcia Angell had a front-row seat on the appalling spectacle of the pharmaceutical industry. She watched drug companies stray from their original mission of discovering and manufacturing useful drugs and instead become vast marketing machines with unprecedented control over their own fortunes. She saw them gain nearly limitless influence over medical research, education, and how doctors do their jobs. She sympathized as the American public, particularly the elderly, struggled and increasingly failed to meet spiraling prescription drug prices. Now, in this bold, hard-hitting new book, Dr. Angell exposes the shocking truth of what the pharmaceutical industry has become–and argues for essential, long-overdue change.

    Currently Americans spend a staggering $200 billion each year on prescription drugs. As Dr. Angell powerfully demonstrates, claims that high drug prices are necessary to fund research and development are unfounded: The truth is that drug companies funnel the bulk of their resources into the marketing of products of dubious benefit. Meanwhile, as profits soar, the companies brazenly use their wealth and power to push their agenda through Congress, the FDA, and academic medical centers.”

    Could it be that all this attack on CAM is a ruse to hide the facts about the drug industry?

  9. Pipsquawk says:

    Ernst says,

    “If BIG PHARMA would be found out tomorrow to do such a thing to an academic scientist who is critical about the value of this or that drug, the world media would be all over the culprit; all hell would break lose …

    Ha, ha, ha ….

    Ever heard of Andrew Wakefield?

    Ha, ha, ha ….

  10. edzard ernst says:

    andrew wakefield: all hell did break lose [eventually]! he was struck off and now lectures to alt med + anit-vaxers in america! i think he proves my statement – even though his story is, of course, quite different from the one above: there was no commercial interest paying a character assassin.

  11. Pipsquawk says:

    edzard ernst said,

    “there was no commercial interest paying a character assassin.”

    So who was it who was reviewing,

    “the external issues that might have the potential for serious impact upon the group’s business and reputation”,

    http://bit.ly/LIs8xZ

    Who?

    I agree; all hell had broken loose at GSK!

  12. Pipsquawk says:

    LITTLE Harma simply cannot compete with BIG Pharma …

    http://bit.ly/MmHDML

    … where “crime pays” in a very BIG way. The CEO of GlaxoSmithCrime was awarded annual pay & perks of £6.7 million – and a knighthood – AFTER his company were awarded a criminal fine of $3 billion. Any thoughts, Professor Ernzt?

  13. edzard ernst says:

    do you have a point, PIPSQUAWK? I am not saying that BIG PHARMA is fine,i am saying LITTLE H is doing unethical stuff.

  14. Pipsquawk says:

    Any thoughts about James Murdoch and the possibility that the media baron was a hired assassin for BIG Harma?

  15. Pipsquawk says:

    The professor asks,

    “do you have a point, PIPSQUAWK?”

    And PIPSQUAWK’s point is that LITTLE Harma is not half as malignant as BIG Pharma … and that you should indulge in a little bit of honest broking for a change.

  16. jdc says:

    If Pipsquawk is so keen on the idea of someone writing a blog post about GSK and James Murdoch then perhaps Pipsquawk should go ahead and write it, rather than moaning about what others choose to write about. (Or perhaps Pipsquawk isn’t actually that interested in the subject of Murdoch and GSK and is merely indulging in tedious whataboutery.)

  17. jdc says:

    @John,

    You ask “Could it be that all this attack on CAM is a ruse to hide the facts about the drug industry?”

    Do you really think that’s the likeliest reason for criticism of CAM? Could it be that people write about the wrongs of CAM because they find them interesting and think others might too? Some of them also write about the wrongs of Big Pharma – they could hardly be accused of attacking CAM in order to protect the drug industry now, could they?

    So what is your explanation for their motivation in writing about CAM? Why might Ben Goldacre, who has been critical of Big Pharma, write critically about CAM? Certainly not in order to deflect criticism the drug industry that he has often criticised.

  18. john says:

    @jdc

    “Competing interest; Ph.D. in Immunopharmacology
    In fact there is no such thing as CAM, if it works it’s called MEDICINE. If not, it isn’t.”

    What you said would be true if you did not have a competing interest or argue that if it works it should be medicine! There is compelling evidence that not all medicine works or they are ethical. So you can bring in medicine when it suits you and we are not allowed to mention it when it doesn’t?

    Ah, Ben Goldacre to the rescue again! Yes, he is at least even handed and is amusing with it as well.

    But I personally think that it is a waste of his brilliant mind to petty himself with policing the ethics of health industry when he could be inventing the next neurological miracle cure or similar and going for the Nobel Peace Prize.

    wE can not discuss CAM in a vacuum without discussing the short comings of the drugs/medical industry. Because they are intrically related; people seek alternatives because they are not getting their needs met through the system, especially in UK where everyone is entitled to treatment.

    You are absolutely right in theory and principle that any treatment should be scrutinized and evidence based but it is a malaise of the present climate that in practice this hardly exists in most industries and financial gains override ethics.

    At the end of the day, the majority of the people choose with their feet and seek those treatments that work for them whether they are EBM or CAM.

  19. Cybertiger says:

    @jdc: “Competing interest; Ph.D. in Immunopharmacology”

    You what? I think you’ll find that jdc is a barman from Bradford who moonlights as an administrative assistant. Don’t take him too seriously.

  20. JDC and JDK being two different commenters…

  21. john says:

    Ah thanks, that explains!

  22. Pipsquawk says:

    @The Prof

    James Murdoch or your LITTLE character assassin? LITTLE Harma or GlaxoSmithCrime? Which are the greater threats to public health?

    I suspect the professor is more bothered about the LITTLE threats to himself than any genuine threat to public health. “Poor me, poor edzard!”. Of course, that’s the real point of the professor’s little blogs.

  23. edzard ernst says:

    Is there anyone out there who takes PipsQuawk seriously?

  24. wE can not discuss CAM in a vacuum without discussing the short comings of the drugs/medical industry. Because they are intrically related; people seek alternatives because they are not getting their needs met through the system, especially in UK where everyone is entitled to treatment.

    Except discussion of CAM is not done in a vaccuum. The short comings of drugs/”medical industry” are unrelated to whether or not a specific modality of CAM can do what it claims. However when CAM is discussed in the context of EBM it’s shortcomings are exposed. When submitted to the rigour of the randomised controlled trial and meta analysis CAMs shortcomings should be obvious for all to see.

    In my opinion the only relevant point to perhaps address is that of patient centred care. As we know most of CAM is disproved the reason people must keep going back is because of the practitioner (I use the term loosely) and client relationship. Maybe there medicine has something to relearn from quackery.

    It would also be nice if those who support the use of CAM could indicate which part of the process of EBM they believe is logically flawed? As that’s the meat of the argument. If it isn’t logically flawed, then short of a global conspiracy of ridiculous proportions, CAM doesn’t work.

    No amount of whataboutery or misdirection will change that.

  25. Ah, Ben Goldacre to the rescue again! Yes, he is at least even handed and is amusing with it as well.

    But I personally think that it is a waste of his brilliant mind to petty himself with policing the ethics of health industry when he could be inventing the next neurological miracle cure or similar and going for the Nobel Peace Prize.

    Ben is a psychiatrist BTW. They aren’t generally renowned for their eminence in the fields of neurology or neuroscience.

  26. Pipsquawk says:

    @john

    Ah, Goldacre!!

    I’ve just come across this smug LITTLE piece by Dr Ben – written in November 2005.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2005/nov/02/health.science

    Goldacre finishes his polemic with,

    “It is self-evident to anybody who understands biomedical research, and if you don’t get it then you have only two choices: you can either learn to interpret data yourself and come to your own informed conclusions; or you decide who to trust. Choose wisely.”

    Trust!? In my opinion, wise choices would NOT include a future Nobel Peace Prize winner, Professor Ernst, or his dubious LITTLE sidekick, Professor David Colquhoon.

    PS. Strange that Goldacre should trust a smug LITTLE character assassin like Brian Deer more than a non-scientist of the calibre of Melanie Phillips.

  27. Pipsquawk says:

    edzard says,

    “Is there anyone out there who takes PipsQuawk seriously?”

    Is this a LITTLE attempt at character assassination?

  28. Pipsquawk says:

    “Poor me, poor edzard!”

    The professor is not the first to pursue the corrupt “poor me” tactic against the LITTLE character assassin (aka cogent critic). Other illustrious assassinees of dubious provenance include Paul ‘bigprofit’ Offit, Simon ‘allinthemind’ Wessely (aka Ben’s boss) along with the battling child protecting professors, Sir Roy Meadow and David Southall.

  29. Pipsquawk says:

    @Endless Psych

    “One has to have character for it to be assassinated”

    I think you may have mischaracterised the character in your failed assassination attempt.

  30. Pipsquawk says:

    Very little media fuss was made of the exoneration of Professor John Walker-Smith …

    … or of his diabolical character assassination. I note the lack of fuss was particularly characteristic of the ‘poor me’ brigade and their vile disciples.

  31. edzard ernst says:

    i was told just now by my contact that DHU [one of the firms supporting the character assassin] have discontinued their support.
    Now the others should follow suit.

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