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On 23rd May 2009, the Financial Times magazine published a six-page cover story about pseudo-scientific degrees by Richard Tomkins. The online version has the text but doesn’t do justice to the prominence that it was given. The print version had a much better title too, The Retreat from Reason. This article, which was some time in gestation, appeared shortly afte the last degree in homeopathy in the UK closed its doors. So perhaps it should have been called The Return of Reason. What’s interesting is that it has become commonplace for the mainstream newspapers to print articles like this and to dump some of their whackier lifestyle articles.

FT Magazine cover

The print version had a much better title too, The Retreat from Reason, with a two-page spread..

First 2 pages

They published the entire ‘Patients’ Guide to Magic Medicine‘ as a sidebar on page 4.

sidebar, page 4

To these has now been added, inspired by Jack of Kent,

Libel: A very expensive remedy, to be used only when you have no evidence. Appeals to alternative practitioners because truth is irrelevant

One part of the article that I particularly enjoyed is this.

George Lewith, professor of health research at the University of Southampton’s medical school, is also director of the Centre for Complementary and Integrated Medicine, a private practice with ­clinics in Southampton and London’s West End, so it is no surprise that he is ready to speak out in support of complementary therapies. In fact, Southampton University – a member of the elite Russell Group – does not offer degree courses in complementary medicine, but Lewith defends the idea of offering them in principle, on the basis that, done properly, they produce better-trained practitioners. “Without the new universities’ involvement we might be faced with the quackery we saw in the 1940s and 1950s, when these people were outside medicine and were practising in an alternative fringe culture,” he says.

Sorry George, you are still an “alternative fringe culture”. And universities are realising that, and shutting down courses all over the place.

A response in the Finacial Times

The FT published one response in its letter column, A bilious attack on complementary medicine.

“Sir, Like many journalists, Richard Tomkins has been over-impressed by the scientific credentials of Professors David Colquhoun and Edzard Ernst as they carry on their absurdly over-stated, arrogant and irresponsible campaign against complementary medicine (“The retreat of reason”, May 23)”

and then the trump card

“Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”

That’s the line used by quacks again and again and again (see, for example, integrative baloney @ Yale). I guess they have never heard of type 1 and type 2 errors. But that is a bit technical for homeopaths, so put it more simply. There is a quite remarkable absence of evidence for tooth fairies. So they must exist. Get it?

The letter is from Allen Parrott of Yeovil. Could that be the Allen Parrott of the British Acupuncture Accreditation Board? If so he is “is an adult educationist who was Dean of Adult and Community Education at Yeovil College and a lecturer in the School of Education at Exeter University. As well as his work for the Board, he is currently working as an educational adviser for the Kent, Surrey and Sussex Deanery in the NHS.”. So no reason to worry about the standards of education in Yeovil, then.

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11 Responses to Patients’ Guide to magic medicine in the Financial Times

  • Personally I associate the line:

    “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”

    – with that well-known CAM enthusiast – and, er, UCL graduate – Dr John Briffa, who tends to quote it regularly.

  • The obvious reply to:
    “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”
    is
    “but, my friend, absence of evidence is (obviously) an absence of evidence, and whereas ‘alternative’ medicine has a distinct absence of evidence, ‘real’ medicine does not.”

  • Wow, quoted extensively in the FT David. Where does that put you on that list of the powerful people?

    Did the journalist do any original research or just wander the blogs ‘borrowing’ stuff? I’m not complaining mind, the good word should be spread by all means possible.

  • hmm well roughly speaking I dictated a lot and he got the fee, I don’t mind though because he did a good job of it. And also because, since the article was started, he lost his FT job (like so many other journalists).

  • It’s a problem. We don’t buy newspapers and if they start trying to charge for reading online we will desert them for news.bbc.co.uk. Also more of us like me use ad blocking software so we don’t even see the ads on the web pages to be able to click on them.

    Should I buy the FT because they ran the article or boycott them because they fired the journo? Ethical dilemmas . . .

  • Buy a real paper newspaper every day,or they will vanish. You can take it out to lunch with you and you don’t need to charge its battery.

  • I’m addicted to my daily broadsheet – habit of a lifetime. One of the advantages of being on a University campus is that some shops sell subsidised newspapers. Can’t knock the Guardian for 30 pence a day.

  • “You can take it out to lunch with you and you don’t need to charge its battery.”

    And you also get the cryptic crossword…yes, I’m one of those sad people who turn to the crossword page first!

  • Absence of evidence is definitely not evidence of presence, which is what the CAM lobby would have us believe.

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