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The Prince of Wales’ Foundation for Integrated Health shut down amidst scandal in April 2010. In July, we heard that a new “College of Medicine” was to arise from its ashes. It seemed clear from the people involved that the name “College of Medicine” would be deceptive.

Now the College of Medicine has materialised, and it is clear that one’s worst fears were well justified.

coll med logo

At first sight, it looks entirely plausible and well-meaning. Below the logo one reads

“There is a new force in medicine. A force that brings patients, doctors, nurses and other health professionals together, instead of separating them into tribes.”

"That force is the new College of Medicine. Uniquely, it brings doctors and other health professionals together with patients and scientists.”

It is apparent from the outset that the well-meaning words fall into the trap described so clearly by James May (see What ‘holistic’ really means). It fails to distinguish between curing and caring.

As always, the clue lies not in the words, but in the people who are running it.

Who is involved?

After a bit of digging on the web site, you find the names of the people on the Science Council of the “College of Medicine”, The preamble says

“Good medicine must be grounded in good science as well as compassion. The College’s Science Council brings a depth of knowledge from many senior figures.”

But then come the names. With the odd exception the “science council” is like a roll-call of quacks, the dregs left over from the Prince’s Foundation. The link (attached to each name) gives the College’s bio, My links tell a rather different story.

It seems that the "Scientific Council" of the College of Medicine could more properly be called an "Antiscientific Council".

There are a few gaps in this table, to be filled in soon. One can guarantee that a great deal more will appear about the College on the web, very soon.

The Governing Council of the College is equally replete with quacks (plus a few surprising names). It has on it, for example, a spiritual healer (Angie-Buxton King), a homeopath (Christine Glover), a herbalist (Michael McIntyre). Westminster University’s king of woo (David Peters), not to mention the infamous Karol Sikora. Buxton-King offers a remarkable service to heal people or animals at a distance.

Meanwhile, it seemed worthwhile to provide a warning that the title of the College is very deceptive. It hides an agenda that could do much harm.

It is, quite simply, the Prince of Wales by stealth.


28 October 2010

Professor Sir Graeme Catto, who has, disgracefully, allowed his name to be used as president of this “College” has said to me “There are real problems in knowing how to care for folk with chronic conditions and the extent of the evidence base for medicine is pretty limited”.

Yes of course that is quite true. There are many conditions for which medicine can still do little. There is a fascinating discussion to be had about how best to care for them. The answer to that is NOT to bring in spiritual healers and peddlers of sugar pills to deceive patients with their fairy stories. The “College of Medicine” will delay and pervert the sort of discussion that Catto says, rightly, is needed.

29 October 2010

I need a press card. I see that the BMJ also had a piece about the “College of Medicine” yesterday: Prince’s foundation metamorphoses into new College of Medicine, by Nigel Hawkes. He got the main point right there in the title.

As was clear since July, the driving force was Michael Dixon, Devon GP and ex medical director of the Prince’s Foundation. Hawkes goes easy on the homeopaths and spiritual healers, but did spot something that I can’t find on their web site. The “Faculties” will include

“in 2011, neuromusculoskeletal care. Two of the six strong faculty members for this specialty are from the British Chiropractic Association, which sued the author Simon Singh for libel for his disobliging remarks about the evidence base for their interventions.”

The College certainly picks its moment to endorse chiropractic, a subject that is in chaos and disgrace after they lost the Singh affair.

One bit of good news emerges from Hawkes’ piece, There is at least one high profile doubter in the medical establishment, Lord (John) Walton (his 2000 report on CAM was less than blunt, and has been widely misquoted by quacks) is reported as saying, at the opening ceremony

“I’m here as a sceptic, and I’ve just told my former houseman that,” he said. The target of the remark was Donald Irvine, another former GMC president and a member of the new college’s advisory council.”

31 October 2010. I got an email that pointed out a remarkable service offered by a member of College’s Governing Council. Angie Buxton-King, a “spiritual healer” employed by UCLH seems to have another web site, The Beacon of Healing Light that is not mentioned in her biography on the College’s site. Perhaps it should have been because it makes some remarkable claims. The page about distant healing is the most bizarre.

Absent Healing/Distant Healing

"Absent healing is available when it is not possible to visit the patient or it is not possible for the patient to be brought to our healing room. This form of healing has proved to be very successful for humans and animals alike."

"We keep a healing book within our healing room and every night spend time sending healing to all those who have asked for it. We have found that if a picture of the patient is sent to us the healing is more beneficial, we also require a weekly update to monitor any progress or change in the patients situation. Donations are welcome for this service."

I wonder what the Advertising Standards people make of the claim that it is “very successful”? I wonder what the president of the College makes of it? I’ve asked him.

Other blogs about the “College of Medicine”

30 October 2010. Margaret McCartney is always worth reading. As a GP she is at the forefront of medicine. She’s written about the College in The Crisis in Caring and dangerous inference. She’s also provided some information about a "professional member" of the College of Medicine, in ..and on Dr Sam Everington, at the Bromley by Bow Centre….

It is one of the more insulting things about alternative medicine addicts that they claim to be the guardians of caring (as opposed to curing), They are not, and people like McCartney and Michael Baum are excellent examples.

19 January 2011

Prince of Wales to become honorary president of the “College of Medicine?”

Last night I heard a rumour that the Prince of Wales is, despite all the earlier denials, to become Honorary President of the “College”. If this is true, it completes the wholesale transformation of the late, unlamented, Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Medicine into this new “College”. Can anybody take it seriously now?

Text messages to Graeme Catto and Michael Dixon, inviting them to deny the rumour, have met with silence.

Herbal nonsense at the College

29 July 2011. I got an email from the College if Medicine [download it]. It contains a lot of fantasy about herbal medicines, sponsered by a company that manufactures them. It is dangeroous and corrupt.

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33 Responses to Don’t be deceived. The new “College of Medicine” is a fraud and delusion

  • The Chairman of Council is Dr Michael Dixon of course. This really is the Princes Foundation resurrected from the fraud scandal that closed it. Their Governing Council if full of supporters of superstitious medicine. I note Christine Glover is there, the homeopathic pharmacists – no mention of that though. Don’t want to frighten anyone.

  • Gosh. It really is all the usual suspects, isn’t it?

    For instance, I see that their Governing Council includes Karol Sikora and David Peters (DC blog passim), and that the Advisory Council includes noted altmed fan Peter Hain MP (ditto).

    Indeed, the single notable UK Alt.Reality – sorry, Alt “medicine” – figure that ISN’T there would seem to be the Heir to the Throne.

    I wonder why he is missing?

  • This is not really different from the fights between colleges of education, and those who deal in content. The former are, in my opinion, well-meaing, but totally destructive of the process.

  • The scientists, medics, pharmacists etc on the Science Council will be taken by the general public as bona-fide unbiased, objective, and dispassionate professionals. Even when they are described like this:
    ‘He examines the philosophical problems associated with Quality of Life measures and makes a philosophical critique of Evidence-based Medicine.’ Another was an Honorary Senior lecturer in Primary Healthcare at your Institute and the Advisory Council has some apparently big hitters that would certainly impress the layman. This is the battleground on which the acceptance and respectability of outfits like the College of Medicine (CoM) will be won or lost. Academics, such as yourself, critical of alternative medicine/IH and who have the inside track on the standing of those on the Science Council will most likely only have their views dissipated to a smaller audience.
    I see that this CoM venture (unlike previous attempts to inveigle ‘IH’ into Higher Education) has successfully managed to associate itself with Russell Group Universities. This battle will almost certainly be lost unless those involved with e.g. academic Units of Primary Health Care or who have advised the Government, in an expert capacity, can be persuaded to resign. Unfortunately, I suspect that your attempt to embarrass them (the small number that can be embarrassed) into doing the right thing will be more than counterbalanced by the gong that is guaranteed if this venture succeeds. Sorry to be so pessimistic.

  • “IH” was already in the Russell Group, CrewsControl – George Lewith and Paul Little are from the Univ of Southampton, for instance, and their are many other outposts. Russell Group VCs have no aversion to Woo if the Woo research can attract research grants. It isn’t as bad here as in the US, where the US Govt spends millions of $$ via NCCAM funding (typically poor quality) Woo-research. But basically for VCs it is cash that does the talking.

    What is notable, at least to a scientist, is that real biomedical scientists are conspicuously absent from the list above – which is the Science Council, after all – except for Mustafa Djamgoz. Indeed, as a physiologist it is his presence there that I find the most depressing thing of the lot.

    Hospital physicians and hospital based-clinical academics (as opposed to people from “health service research”, or general practise, or “health systems technology”) are also relatively scarce, the exceptions being Professors Cox (a psychiatrist) and Lalvani (a respiratory physician and infectious disease doctor). I wonder if the two of them know quite what they have signed up to? The statements on the website say explicitly that the College is “not specially about CAM” – oh yeah? – but I find it difficult to think anyone could believe that once they have looked through the names and interests of the people stacking the various governing Councils. But it is certainly possible some of them don’t know.

  • In this, my 60th year on the planet, I am deeply saddened to witness just how demented so many of my cohorts still are.

    Earlier this day, I saw a news item (ABC Nightline) from America that showed droves of people attending so-called revivalist meetings in which some men, purporting to be on a mission from god, pretended to heal the ill and infirm. Of course, as usual, evidence for any actual healing of verified medical conditions was not to be found.

    Look, I understand the need for people to make a living, but must this living be obtained by the exploitation of one’s fellows?

    Is there no shame?

  • I am not quite in my 60th year yet, but am as saddened as you by our cohorts, Moochie.

    The temptation to spin the woo is great. In my work as a therapist I was constantly aware of the complete readiness, not to say eagerness, of many of my clients to believe every single word I said. It would be very easy to just step over the boundary… they would willingly follow. It’s not just stupidity, or gullibility – it’s the desperate longing for AN ANSWER. When it is so easy to give an answer, it is not surprising that many people make a killing out of peddling them. As for shame, those who feel it find a way to justify what they are doing to themselves, and those who don’t feel it, don’t feel it, and there is not much we can do about that.

    We can educate people about evidence and not being gullible as much as we like (and we should), but I doubt we will get even near eradicating that longing for AN ANSWER.

  • “Absent Healing”???

    You couldn’t make it up. Oops! She just did!

  • What about “Absent Minded Healing” …?

    That’s where you get better without anyone noticing that you’re getting better.

  • Prof. DC.
    I know evidence is important to you, and I share that commitment. So, I am somewhat surprised to see Michael Loughlin referred to as a “Post-Modern Theorist”. The evidence demonstrates otherwise.
    Have you read a single publication by Loughlin? I am sure you must have, given your commitment to evidence; so I’d be grateful if you might point us to evidence for Loughlin’s alleged Post-Modernist credentials.
    Only, I have read quite a bit of Loughlin’s work, since he was first referred to by you here, and I find that rather than being an anti-science, anti-evidence post-modernist theorist he is quite the contrary. He is a philosopher who has published many damning criticisms of post-modernism, in various contexts (including Health). Moreover, his own views seem to be more than respectful of evidence. He is clearly a realist, (in philosophical parlance), who meets those those who propound antirealist and relativist views with a healthy dose of scepticism. This scepticism has led him to engage very critically and in some detail with anti-realists and relativists in many articles published in peer reviewed journals, and in his book (many of those he engages with might be legitimately characterised as post-modern theorists).
    So, I put it to you that the evidence suggests that Loughlin is not a post modernist.
    Regarding his alleged ‘hatred’ of Ben Goldacre, again I’m somewhat surprised at your line here.
    Loughlin seems to be wanting to ask one thing of the EBM movement: what is your account of evidence? We can all employ the word evidence, but unless we’re clear as to what it is that counts as evidence then our employment of that term becomes empty and simply rhetorical. Loughlin makes this request as someone who’s own philosophical predilections and beliefs (which is clear if you read his work) are such that he clearly has no problem with the demand of medicine being evidence based (or any other domain of enquiry).
    But, of course, here is the problem: Unless we clarify what we mean by evidence, then we’re simply employing the term as a buzzword.

  • @inlightoftheevidence

    Thanks for that comment. Yes, i have read several of Loughlin’s articles, thanks largely to my long correspondence with Andrew Miles.

    Perhaps I should have said “post-modernist influenced”. Certainly Loughlin rushed to the defence of an out-and-out postmodernist article which Goldacre (and also I) had dissected. The quotation from Loughlin at http://www.dcscience.net/?p=2881 seems to me, on its own, quite enough to preclude his views from being taken seriously in discussions of health matters.

    I’ll confess that I find his views, and those of Miles, quite hard to understand. They seem to be a mixture of libertarianism and post-modernist influence, that is not really very helpful.

    The matter of what constitutes evidence is, of course, crucial but I don’t think that philosophers have made much contribution to that discussion. Certainly I find statisticians far more useful. RA fisher, Bradford Hill and their successors have defined rather well what we mean by ‘evidence’. In contrast, most working scientists are unaware of the arguments that go on between philosophers, and I’m not convinced they are missing much. Only too often, in a vain attempt to improve on what Fisher taught us about randomisation in the 1930s, they promulgate ideas that would actually harm progress if anyone took any notice of them. Luckily, they don’t.

  • Thanks very much for taking the time to raply David. Is your correspondence with Miles published, or available in full anywhere?

    Just to re-iterate. I see no evidence for Loughlin being either a post-modernist theorist or influenced by post-modernism. His published work clearly demonstrates that he is very critical of post-modern arguments. In addition, when he advances his own views these are clearly views that would be antithetical to those with post-modern predilections.

    I must confess to being rather surprised at your own predilection for ad hominem attacks, given your expressed commitment to evidence. However, that aside maybe we could clarify a few things (please bear with me here):
    Derrida was a post-modernist par excellence, we might say. Now, I believe his theory of meaning and Deconstruction in general to be demonstrably and irretrievably flawed. However, at the same time, I would argue that the criticisms of Derrida advanced by the American philosopher John Searle miss the mark and are based in wilful misunderstandings of Derrida’s writings (this is not necessarily _my_ view, but it is a sustainable position to take and one taken by many). If I am to argue this, would it thereby follow that I am influenced by Derrida or post-modernism? Of course not. I would simply be concerned that one’s identification of flaws in Derrida’s theories not serve as illegitimate justification for the belief that any and all dismissals of Derrida are correct.
    Put another way, however poor argument ‘x’ is that fails to justify invalid argument advanced by those who set out to criticise argument ‘x’.
    Loughlin’s defence of that paper is clearly based in a belief that the critics were advancing poor arguments. It does not follow (and is simply factually incorrect to say) that he thereby is a post-modern theorist or is influence by post-modernism.
    This is a stance taken by the rational. It is a stance I would expect from those who genuinely respect science and evidence.

    But this isn’t the real issue here, is it? As someone expressly committed to evidence (as am I) I think you weaken your own position by engaging in this sort of indiscriminate mud-slinging. Let’s resist the attaching of labels to people and engage in a rigorous but fair manner with their arguments.
    Or is it your view that libertarians and post-modernists (and those influenced by them) should be dismissed before being heard?

  • @inlightoftheevidence

    Postmodernists have been heard. They absurd pretensions were demolished once and for all by the superb work of Alan Sokal. Apart from his wonderful book (part of the header picture on this blog. i recommend strongly his essay Pseudoscience and Postmodernism: Antagonists or Fellow-Travelers?

    In the case of Loughlin, anybody who writes as he does about Goldacre isn’t worthy of serious consideration in my view.

    Returning to the subject of this post. perhaps you can explain why he should choose to ally himself with the anti-scientific quacks that form the backbone of the “College of Medicine”. I certainly can’t explain it.

  • Hi again David (if I may).
    Of course, it serves your interests to ignore the points I put to you about your factually inaccurate depiction of Loughlin, your tendency to ad hominem attack and your tendency to sloppy reasoning (e.g. Loughlin criticises someone who is criticising post-modernism, therefore he must be a post modernist (despite evidence to the contrary)). But I, naively maybe, hoped for and expected more from you.

    I have been explicit and clear that I have no interest in defending post-modernism. Indeed, in addition to the work you link to immediately above, I could give you my own detailed criticisms of some of the central tenets of post modernism. But, once again, this is beside the point. Indeed, why I asked in my original posting if you had read Loughlin was because he approvingly cites Sokal when he advances his own criticisms of post-modernism. You must have missed this.

    You say:

    “In the case of Loughlin, anybody who writes as he does about Goldacre isn’t worthy of serious consideration in my view.”

    You realise how this comes across, right? This is base tribalism. It doesn’t even gesture in the direction of rational debate. Are the words of Ben Goldacre simply beyond criticism? If so, are they so in principle? I ask this as someone who admires Goldacre’s work, admired and enjoyed his book, and recommend it to many people. He is not beyond reproach. No one should be.

    Your final paragraph. Why not write to Loughlin and ask him (rather than surmising and then posting those speculations on your blog as if they were facts)? I suspect he will answer that he has not “allied himself” with these people. One is not automatically allied to the views of one’s colleagues, simply in virtue of them being colleagues; nor is one allied to the views of a journal editor, in virtue of having published in their journal.

    Which brings me to another point. The link you kindly provided us with to the views of Loughlin is actually to the journal editor’s comments about Loughlin’s paper, it is not a quote from Loughlin.

  • @inlightoftheevidence

    I dispute your comment about tribalism. It is much simpler than that. I simply agree with Goldacre and find Loughlin’s comments quite offensive. The context was Loughlin’s reaction to Goldacre’s comment on a paper by Holmes et al. with the title “Deconstructing the evidence-based discourse in health sciences: truth, power and fascism” [download reprint]. Of this paper, Goldacre said

    “Even from looking at the title, you just know this academic paper from the September edition of the International Journal of Evidence-based Healthcare is going to be an absolute corker. And it uses the word “fascist” (or elaborate derivatives) 28 times in six pages, . . .”.

    My own comments were rather less flattering. The paper is post-modernist through and through and Loughlin leapt to its defence, hence my comment. Perhaps it would help if you were to tell us your own opinion about Holmes et al.

    Concerning you last point, Loughlin is himself an author of the paper from which I quoted (here it is again), He is quoting himself, presumably approvingly.

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