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!