DC's Improbable Science

Truth, falsehood and evidence: investigations of dubious and dishonest science

DC's Improbable Science header image 2

The Quacktitioner Royal gets a drubbing

April 20th, 2008 · 22 Comments

This blog, along with many others, has had plenty to say about the Prince of Wales’ unconstitutional meddling in public affairs. The lovely description, Quacktitioner Royal, was coined by NHS Blog doctor.

The Times published a letter from Edzard Ernst and Simon Singh on April 16th. In their forthcoming book, Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial, they go carefully through all the evidence for all sorts of ‘alternative’ treatments. They find some evidence that a handful of them work. For most the answer is ‘not enough evidence’, and for a number there is good evidence that many of them don’t work to any useful extent.

“Sir, For over two decades the Prince of Wales has been actively promoting alternative medicine and his Foundation for Integrated Health continues to encourage the use of treatments such as homoeopathy or reflexology.”"In light of this “rigorous scientific evidence”, we strongly advise that the Prince of Wales and the Foundation for Integrated Health withdraw the publications Complementary Health Care: A Guide for Patients and the Smallwood report. They both contain numerous misleading and inaccurate claims concerning the supposed benefits of alternative medicine. The nation cannot be served by promoting ineffective and sometimes dangerous alternative treatments.”

Thank heavens that someone has the courage to say it as it is.

If only the ineffectual and ill-educated people in the Department of Health wouold do the same. But no, instead they gave £37 000 to the Prince of Wales Foundation to write their make-believe guides. And £900 000 to write nonsense for the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (also known as Ofquack), and Skills for Health,

The next day The Times ran an article by their science editor, Mark Henderson, Prince of Wales’s guide to alternative medicine ‘inaccurate’. Natasha Finlayson, of the Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health, is quoted as saying “The foundation does not promote complementary therapies.”. That takes some beating for sheer bare-faced dishonesty.

Edzard Ernst appeared on the Today Program on 18th April. He was interveiwed by the formidable John Humphrys, along with Kim Lavely, Chief Executive, The Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health (FIH). Ernst points out that the FIH guide suggests that chiropractic is effective in asthma, and that acupuncture is good for addiction, whereas the evidence says the opposite. Lavely retorts, rather lamely (OK I’m biassed).

Lavely: ” . . . we didn’t attempt to give detailed evidence on every therapy”. “We think they [the public] have the right to know and what doesn’t”

Humphrys: “Well isn’t that the whole point? the professor is saying here is that these things do not work, at least in terms of the claims that are made for them, such as homeopathy and chiropractic . . . ”


Lavely: “There are no claims made in this guide for what works and what doesn’t. What we have said is that some therapies are used for some things but we aren’t saying they are effective for those things . . . “

So, one might ask, what on earth is the use of a guide is it that offers no indication of effectiveness? Lavely’s second quotation contradicts directly her first. A pretty pathetic performance.
Listen to the interview [mp3 file]


The Sunday Times, on April 20th, pblished a pretty good review of Trick of Treatment?. “Their case against the folly, vanity and damage of HRH et al. is hard to argue with.”

Of course, the letters column drew the expected response from the quacks, most verging on the hilarious.

Another blow for the alternative industry came in the same week, The authoratitve Cochrane review confirmed earlier reports that vitamin supplements not only do not help you but some actually increase mortality. The antioxidant myth nevertheless rumbles on, and on, and on. There is too much money in it for it to die easily.

Predictably enough, the conclusions were denied by the Health Food Manufacturers’ Association (HFMA). They wheeled out several pop singers to say how wonderful their products are. Read about that pathetic defence on Holfordwatch.

Who is behind HFMA? Incidentally, HFMA are strangely reticent about the identity of their 120 members. They will not reveal who they are. Does anybody out there know the answer? I’ll buy a good dinner for anyone who can root this out.  If it is anything like the ‘Health Supplements Information Service‘ it is likely to be backedby the very big pharmaceutical companies that the alternative industry loves to hate.

Take the test

Prince of Wales Guide

“Reflexologists work with a wide range of conditions including certain types of pain, particularly back and neck pain, migraine and headaches, chronic fatigue, sinusitis, arthritis, insomnia, digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome, and constipation, stress-related disorders and menopausal symptoms.”

Singh & Ernst

“The notion that reflexology can be used to diagnose health problems has been disproved and there is no convincing evidence that it is effective for any condition.”

Print Friendly

Tags: acupuncture · anti-oxidant · Anti-science · antioxidant · antiscience · antoxidant · badscience · CAM · conflict of interest · Dangerous advice · evidence · herbalism · homeopathy · Lavely · nutribollocks · nutrition · Prince of Wales · regulation · supplements · trust

22 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Martinus // Apr 20, 2008 at 23:25

    I’ve already had an email from Boots in response to the Cochrane review:

    “Dear Customer,

    You may well have heard yesterday’s news coverage regarding the Cochrane review and the use of vitamins and supplements. If so, we’d like to take this opportunity to reassure you, and all our Health Club members, that there is a huge and growing body of evidence to support the use of vitamin and mineral supplements in helping to maintain health and wellbeing.”

    please chat to the pharmacy team at your local Boots store for expert advice on the combination of vitamins that is right for you.

    Later it states: “Boots has been producing vitamins since 1882.” I must admit I’m wondering what vitamins were on the market at that date as I didn’t think any had been extracted by then.

    The whole spiel can be found at: http://view.ed4.net/v/XAHAWH/6ZL5H/4GN2WH/74269Q/MAILACTION=1

  • 2 Acleron // Apr 21, 2008 at 00:51

    Lavely states that she doesn’t want to patronise the British public, seems that she doesn’t mind misleading them.

  • 3 David Colquhoun // Apr 21, 2008 at 07:29

    Martinus: that is fascinating. No shame whatsoever. I notice that they don’t say anything about whether their pills actually do any good. And once again we see

    “please chat to the pharmacy team at your local Boots store for expert advice on the combination of vitamins that is right for you.”

    That seems to be code for “we’ll be nicked if we lie too much in advertisements but we can get away with it in private”, There is plenty of evidence that they do that for their vitamin B complex and their CoQ10 pills.. So much for ‘corporate social responsibility‘.

  • 4 Claire // Apr 21, 2008 at 10:13

    Spotted this in the Observer – http://lifeandhealth.guardian.co.uk/health/story/0,,2275099,00.html . Dismaying to find I’m in the demographic apparently driving this boom!
    “…And there is no sign of a slowdown as consumers – the majority women aged more than 35 years – are expected to continue sweeping ‘natural’ pills, potions and ointments off the shelves, according to new research. Sales are predicted to reach £265m in the next four years. Growth has been particularly rapid in the past five years, according to the British Lifestyles report by researchers Mintel as the market acquires ‘a greater reputation for offering legitimate alternatives to pharmaceutical-based treatments’…”

    Though perhaps not so surprising, as the most cursory survey of women’s magazines, sections of print media aimed at women etc will retrieve a haul of reports breathlessly extolling such products.

    Grr.

  • 5 censored // Apr 21, 2008 at 10:39

    Weasel Words.

    So next time Prince Charles has a headache, he can scatter beetroot on his car bonnet and sacrifice a toad, then print that “this therapy has been used for treating headaches”.

    Brilliant.

  • 6 Enmed // Apr 21, 2008 at 11:23

    It’s very interesting to read some of the things that are being said on this site and in particular to this thread.

    I think, as someone who has used all kinds of healthcare from allopathic to complete holistic, I believe there is a place for all of them.

    I’m not a scientist, but my understanding of Quantum physics is that we are all made of constantly moving energy particles. It would therefore make sense that healthcare is available to make sure that this moving energy can be maintained at maximum function, not just that we have good body mechanics to put our bodies right after they experience faults.

    I think, if you look back on history you will see that things that have become accepted “scientific” belief have mostly started out with the current belief systems deriding or laughing at them. It is not the fault of Energy Medicine pioneers that, scientic engineering has not yet reached the point of being able to produce equipment that “scientifically” proves the effect that holistic Energy medicine, can have on any manifested item.

    The other point that I would like to make very strongly is that most of the people on this site fall into the catagory of science worshipping. I think that again in history the most outstanding scientist are always willing to admit that their theories are what they believe to be the truth at that moment in time….ergo they don’t actually know either.

    It would be a great shame if narrow minded people manage to prevent others from continuing to explore, be pioneers and develope new ways of creating true wealth and abundance (and no I don’t mean the pounds and pence kind).

  • 7 Claire // Apr 21, 2008 at 11:54

    not directly relevant to this post but it seems a local education authority in Scotland is considering introducing the Buteyko breathing technique into schools, despite a lack of firm clinical evidence, which the authority acknowledges – http://www.sundayherald.com/news/heraldnews/display.var.2210558.0.schools_may_adopt_breath_technique.php

  • 8 David Colquhoun // Apr 21, 2008 at 12:36

    Sorry Enmed, but I fear that what you say about quantum physics is both inaccurate and irrelevant.
    The difference between us and alternative people is that we are quite happy to change our mind when the evidence changes, The alternative people just can’t or won’t produce the evidence. We aren’t stopping them. Quite on the contrary. If you ever produce the slightest reason to think that “energy medicine” is anything but empty words, please let us know.

  • 9 nash // Apr 21, 2008 at 14:08

    Enmed

    At the Quantum level, the two forces involved are the strong and weak nuclear forces. These are responsible for bonding atoms together. An atom is an atom regardless of whether it is in a human or in a piece of rock.
    When I die, the iron atoms in my body do not die, they are just recycled, but they will still have the same energy locked in them. The same goes for all the other elements in my body.

    At the atomic level, you are not same the person you were 2 years ago, such is the rate of replenishment of atoms in our bodies.

    Quantum Mechanics does not provide any evidence or workable theory for any alternative medicine.

  • 10 Muscleman // Apr 21, 2008 at 20:42

    In addition to Enmed. When you can show that quantum energy is available to be used or can affect the body in any way then either publish or patent it pronto.

    Hint Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation of the brain does not rely on quantum level effects.

  • 11 Mayrel // Apr 21, 2008 at 22:11

    Enmed:

    “It is not the fault of Energy Medicine pioneers that, scientic engineering has not yet reached the point of being able to produce equipment that “scientifically” proves the effect that holistic Energy medicine, can have on any manifested item.”

    We already have that equipment. It’s called a “human”.

    The process is quite simple:

    * You take a group of humans.
    * You give some of them “holistic Energy medicine”; you give some of them “nothing”.
    * You compare the results.

    Regardless of how “holistic Energy medicine” works, regardless of whether we have the equipment which can detect the processes of “holistic Energy medicine”, there is one simple truth: if it works, it works.

    To cite a scientific example outside of medicine: superconductors. Superconductivity was a complete surprise to the scientific community. No theory had predicted it, and immediately after its discovery, no theories could be reinterpreted to explain it.

    Nonetheless, once the scientific community had seen the reports and replicated the experiments, it didn’t, as so many quacks would expect, deny that superconductivity existed. It accepted the _fact_ of superconductivity even though there was, at the time, no theory to explain it. (And the theories we have now are shaky at best.)

    A similar situation applies today to quantum gravity. There is no known theory of quantum gravity that explains all the evidence. Yet scientists know, and are quite happy to admit, that gravity has effects at the quantum scale.

    Real scientists understand that when reality and theory disagree, theory is wrong.

    Reality tells us that “holistic Energy medicine” is statistically equivalent to placebo. The theory of the “Energy Medicine pioneers” tells us that it isn’t. The theory is wrong.

  • 12 The Quacktitioner Royal « A View From The West // Apr 23, 2008 at 08:57

    [...] to have a go at his father. Actually, I’ll just link to someone else’s dismemberment of The Quacktitioner Royal and add that I completely agree: the Prince Of Wales is a dangerous and meddlesome fool and his [...]

  • 13 christonabike // Apr 23, 2008 at 11:40

    I’m interested in the £900,000 worth of funding from the Department of Health mentioned in the Times article. How was this obtained? Surely any normal grant application process would have thrown it out? Any information on this?

  • 14 David Colquhoun // Apr 23, 2008 at 12:12

    Yes I’d like to know that too. As far as I know the DoH has no proper reviewing process such as that used by the research councils. I imagine that it was done on the whim of a civil servant whose grandmother was convinced she’d been cured by a homeopath (can’t do his chance of a knighthood any harm either).

  • 15 christonabike // Apr 23, 2008 at 12:18

    Pretty scandalous that £900,000 of public money can be allocated in this way, if that’s right. That sort of money could have funded, for example, a decent randomised trial of a CAM treatment. Or better, a treatment that might work.

  • 16 nash // Apr 23, 2008 at 14:27

    On last Fridays (18th April) edition of PM, it was stated that the £900,000 figure was wrong. It was £9,000 apparently. Even so, that is a waste of money.
    For 90p Ofquack can have this. “If you are feeling unwell, go to your doctor. Alternative Medicine is a waste of your time and money.”

  • 17 David Colquhoun // Apr 23, 2008 at 14:38

    No nash -it was £37000 for the “guide” and £900 000 for the CNHC (see links above and the shameful speech by Health Minister Ben Bradshaw (BA German, Sussex) on the FiH site.

  • 18 The Times, the Pittilo report (and damned sub-editors) // Aug 29, 2008 at 05:20

    [...] to have BSc degrees in them.  The Department of Health should have more sense that to use the Prince of Wales as its scientific [...]

  • 19 Teaching bad science to children: OfQual and Edexcel are to blame // Nov 29, 2008 at 16:58

    [...] least the courses are held on the Camborne campus, not the Duchy campus (de we detect the hand of the Quacktitioner Royal in [...]

  • 20 St Bartholomew’s teaches antiscience, but students’ revolt // Dec 9, 2008 at 08:25

    [...] After all, the bad advice given by the “Patients Guide” is rather well documented (see also here). If messrs Fowler and Carroll were really unaware of that, I’d argue that they aren’t [...]

  • 21 Medicines that contain no medicine and other follies // Jan 6, 2009 at 21:38

    [...] fringe forms of medicine work better than they do. They form efficient lobby groups and they have friends in high places. They long for respectability and they’ve had a surprising amount of success in getting [...]

  • 22 Most alternative medicine is illegal // Jan 15, 2009 at 10:43

    [...] Prince of Wales Foundation for Integrated Health, which notoriously offers health advice for which it cannot produce good [...]

You must log in to post a comment.