“I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it would be such as oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.”
And so it goes on …
It really is extraordinary to what lengths people will go to try to keep the world within their comfort zones. Whatever happened to the concepts of open mindedness and free choice?
Today we have Michael Baum, emeritus professor of surgery at University College London, along with 12 other doctors, writing to 476 primary care trusts urging them to discontinue the funding of complementary therapies. Never mind that an estimated 50% of GPs recommend their patients for complementary treatment, these 13 people clearly believe they have the right to dictate national policy on the matter. Signatories to the letter include Nobel Prize-winner Sir James Black, Sir Keith Peters, president of the Academy of Medical Science, and Edzard Ernst, the UK’s first “professor” of complementary medicine. The letter describes homeopathy as an “implausible treatment for which over a dozen systematic reviews have failed to produce convincing evidence of effectiveness”.
Seems these august gentlemen have got their facts just a little bit wrong here, which ought to royally backfire on them, but probably won’t because so few people bother to read beyond the sensationalist headlines and examine the data on which the conclusions are based. For example, linked from this article on the BBC’s website, is one from November last yearpublicising the Bristol Homeopathic Hospital study in which 70% of 6,500 patients reported positive health changes with homeopathic treatment. The article mentions last year’s Lancet meta-analysis, saying:
“The Swiss-UK review of 110 trials found no convincing evidence the treatment worked any better than a placebo.”
Again, factually incorrect. The review gathered a total of 220 trials for examination, but its conclusions were based solely on a comparison of just 8 homeopathic trials (selected from a total of 110) with 6 conventional medical trials (out of a total of 110). 8 undisclosed trials at that, making it impossible to determine whether what was being measured even falls within an acceptable definition of “homeopathy”. Further, the authors of the study declared their bias from the outset. They believed homeopathy to be placebo and there appeared to be no attempt to do any more than support that opinion. The quality of this study has been so widely condemned by serious academic scientists that it prompted the following comments from Mikel Aickin PhD, Research Professor at the University of Arizona:
“The Lancet article appears to be part of a recent trend, in which medical journals are publishing articles of exceedingly low quality to justify attacks on controversial therapies.”
“There is unsettling evidence that we are now in the midst of a methodological degeneration in biomedical science. This appears to be occurring in, of all places, our fundamental approach to inference – using observation and evidence to decide how to act or believe. That it might be happening in medical research makes it of more than just academic interest.”
(Aickin, Mikel. The End of Biomedical Journals: There Is Madness in Their Methods. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine Oct 2005, Vol. 11, No. 5: 755-757)
Edzard Ernst is quoted in the BBC article as saying, “I believe we need one single standard in medicine and that is the standard of evidence based medicine.” Indeed. Couldn’t agree more. Perhaps these 13 devotees of evidence-based medicine should take a closer look at their “evidence” before pontificating so loudly and publicly? If we’re to take their conclusions as representative of the quality and rigour of scientific investigation found in the upper echelons of the medical elite then biomedical science is, as Mikel Aickin suggests, in very deep doodoo.