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Balance in reporting | Call You and Yours | Report on regulation | Cancer video

In the wake of the report by the Science and Technology Committee (STC) on the lack of evidence for homeopathy, and the Chinese medicine poisoning, the BBC carried at least three very bad reports. Being a strong supporter of the BBC that saddens me. 

Nevertheless it has to be said that the BBC does not always do very well on science reporting.  Too many of the reports are anonymous -you don’t know who to blame or who to write to.  Worse still, the BBC’s reports on its web site usually fail to link to original sources. This is unforgiveable: the ability to link to sources is the huge advantage of the web over print media.

you and yours

The problem of balance in media reports

The question of balance is important. Ofcom imposes an obligation that reporting should reflect  the balance of viewpoints. Section 5 of Ofcom’s broadcasting code says (emphasis is mine).

“Section 5: Due Impartiality and Due Accuracy and Undue Prominence of Views and Opinions”

“To ensure that news, in whatever form, is reported with due accuracy and presented with due impartiality.”

“Meaning of “due impartiality”: “Due” is an important qualification to the concept of impartiality. Impartiality itself means not favouring one side over another. “Due” means adequate or appropriate to the subject and nature of the programme. So “due impartiality” does not mean an equal division of time has to be given to every view, or that every argument and every facet of every argument has to be represented.”

The BBC Trust has a very similar definition of "due impartiality".

It seems to me that in practice producers tend to use "equal time"  too much, and that this often gives a quite misleading impression of the state of play of informed opinion.  Nevertheless, inappropriate use of “equal time” is so common that it would not be worth a formal complaint. This post concerns cases of very unequal time,

Somebody said recently, it is as though after an air crash one gave equal time to the air accident investigator and a representative gravity-deniers association.  That is scarcely an exaggeration of what happened on the BBC after the STC’s report. 

Worse still, far more time was given (especially on ‘Call You and Yours’) to the viewpoint that any scientist, indeed any informed person, would regard as quackery.

This post gives details of three examples of highly partial reporting and it is the basis of complaints to the BBC. But since complaints to the BBC about science reporting rarely get far, a complaint
is being sent also to Ofcom.

(1) Call You and Yours: a platform for herbalists

You and Yours is often quite a good programme, They did an excellent job on a "snoring remedy" which I had unearthed.  But on Tuesday 23 February they did a "Call You and Yours" phone-in programme which was badly researched and highly partial. 

The presenter, Julian Worricker, didn’t know enough about the topic to ask the right questions, though I’d guess that the blame for the poor quality must lie more with the person who decided that the only "expert" on the programme was a herbalist, and with the people who screened the phone calls.

The programme was billed as being a reaction to the case of a Chinese medicine practitioner who poisoned a patient, and to the publication of the report of Science and Technology Select Committee which damned homeopathy.

The programme can be heard here (at you own risk of bursting a blood vessel) Download mp3 file (43.6 Mb)

The major mistake was that the only "expert" on the programme was Michael McIntyre who is chair of the European Herbal & Traditional Medicine Practitioners Association. McIntyre is a well known advocate of alternative medicine, who constantly fudges the need for proper evidence. He is very keen to increase the respectability of herbalists (like all alternative practitioners, he is desperate to be accepted as a real doctor). In fact McIntyre doesn’t even represent all herbalists. . He failed to mention, and the presenter apparently didn’t know, that 2553 herbalists (as of 24 Feb) signed a petition that opposes the sort of pseudo-regulation the McIntyre wants so desperately.

"We the undersigned strongly object to the Government’s proposals to statutorily regulate herbalists and change section 12(1) of the 1968 Medicines Act."

Not to mention this was a serious error on the part of the researchers for this programme.

This was a programme about alternative medicine in which the ONLY expert was a notorious alternative medicine advocate. It was one of the most highly biassed programmes I have ever heard from the BBC. McIntyre most certainly does not represent the views of science or medicine, as shown, for example, by the submission from Sense About Science, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, the Institute of Biomedical Science, the Medical Research Society, the Medical Schools Council, the Physiological Society and the Royal College of Pathologists. The opinion of these not insubstantial people was not mentioned anywhere in the programme.

Here is a summary of the main points in the programme. It shows the bias very clearly. Furthermore the people who selected the phone calls seemed to pick almost all people who advocated alternative medicine.

(1) A lengthy anecdote relating a miraculous “cure” of fibromyalgia with homeopathy. No challenge or alternative interpretation was offered.

(2) A pharmacist (for heavens sake) who said she’d "seen results" from homeopathy and didn’t care whether or not it was placebo. She wasn’t challenged on the problem of lying about whether or not is placebo.  We’ve had cause before to worry about the quality of advice given my pharmacists.

(3) Another long anecdote from a nurse (!) claiming to have been "cured" if fibroids by acupressure and cupping. No challenge or alternative interpretation was offered.

(4) Then some emails read out, mostly pro-quack. Only one claiming no effect (in asthma) but that was an anecdote too. Mostly more miracle cures.

(5) Michael McIntyre has the first of several long speeches. advocating more research. There was an advertisement for his web site "promotes best practice" (allegedly). He talks quite seriously about "reflexology" and so on, as though it were real subject (it isn’t; its "principles" are made-up fantasies).

He said. "We need more research in how complementary medicine works".  Notice the inbuilt assumption that it does work. This is directly contradicted by the fact that the USA has spent over a billion dollars on CAM research and come up with not a single useful treatment.  Why did the researchers and the presenter not know about this, and challenge McIntyre?  Once again, the programme researchers seem to be Incompetent.

(7) A caller was mildly critical of fact the Norwich council can’t to anything about claims made by TCM shops (actually Trading Standards could, but generally don’t, but this wasn’t pointed out to the caller).

(8) A caller from Somerset makes the good point that alternative medicine becomes just medicine once it is shown to work.

(9) Michael McIntyre is challenged about evidence, and gives a lengthy speech about why proper RCTs aren’t necessary. They are necessary, but he isn’t challenged. Plus the usual excuse about lack of money for trials.  What about that billion dollars?

(10) The Somerset caller says why restrict yourself to herbs? Good point, but no response.

(11) McIntyre gives another long speech in which he propagates the myth that the impurities in herbal medicines are in some way helpful, or synergistic, This is the only justification that herbalists have for giving impure drugs, but there isn’t the slightest evidence to think it’s true. McIntyre should have been challenged about this, but wasn’t.

At no point was McIntyre challenged about the danger of giving drugs (herbal or otherwise) in unknown doses, as herbalists do. He should have been challenged.

(12) Worker (unspecified) in NHS psychiatry says placebos were used to get patients off drugs. The presenter misses the point by asking if the placebos should be paid for by the NHS. The question he should have asked is about ethics of deceiving patients, but presenter did not do this.

(13) A blatant advertisement from a "health food store" in Barnoldswick. The owners are "pharmacy technicians" (since most pharmacists seem to have difficulties about evidence,
this can’t be regarded as a high qualification). They plug the supplements (almost all unnecessary, a few dangerous) that they sell.

(14) McIntyre again. Says something more or less sensible about drug interactions.

(15) By this time I’d emailed and got in a quick bit about the valuelessness of anecdotes, but was .cut short before I could talk about regulation.

(16) McIntyre defends anecdotes, predictably enough. This time the presenter did raise a good point about how anecdotes should be verified by proper tests but McIntyre again evades the main point that most herbs have not been properly tested, and isn’t challenged.

(17) More emails. A man who takes sage for sore throats. One says "of course homeopathic remedies are placebos but placebos work"; "homeopathy is an extraordinary system for industrialising
the placebo effect, but used by responsible practitioners it has a valuable place". Once again the ethics of deceiving patients with hocus pocus in order to elicit a placebo effect was not raised.
And one caller raised the usual red herring about dogs responding. This, yet again, went unchallenged.  Why wasn’t it pointed out that it is the human who reports the state of the dog who has the placebo response?

(18) Then on to regulation. The researchers and presenter seemed to be quite unaware of the near-unanimous opinion of scientists and also of the Royal College of Physicians, that regulation in the form
proposed by the Pittilo report will be ineffective, and will do more to harm patients than to safeguard them.  There is more than one way to regulate, and this uninformed intervention was especially
unwelcome at a time when the government is considering the question.

(19) Lady with MS said that acupuncture didn’t do her any good at all, but she didn’t like to tell the acupuncturist. But the obvious conclusions were not drawn.

(20) Presenter asks McIntyre leading question "it does work for some and not for others ". No hint there that the ones it "works for" might be the ones who were going to get better anyway. McIntyre himself actual pointed out that some forms of MS (‘relapsing’) undergo spontaneous remissions but of course fails to draw the obvious conclusion that any. He apparent effect of acupuncture could well have been a spontaneous remission. He went on to say (without any evidence) that "acupuncture may help". He relied on the standard line that "more research needed", but failed to mention the vast amount of research that has already been done which shows that acupuncture is probably little more than a theatrical placebo. See, for example, the Nordic Cochrane Centre review and Barker Bausell’s book, Snake Oil Science.

(21) An email points out that anecdotes are no substitute for proper tests. McIntyre then misquotes Sir Michael Rawlins(chair of NICE). He claimed, as most quacks do, that Rawlins had endorsed anecdotes as an acceptable form of evidence in his lecture. This is not what he said at all. In fact Rawlins was referring to treatments that had already passed RCTs and saying that they should be followed up in the wider population of patients to see if they lived up to their initial promise. This interpretation of his words was published in the BMJ after I’d checked it was correct with Rawlins himself.

In the same lengthy speech McIntyre claimed "There really isn’t any dummy acupuncture". This is absolutely untrue, but was not challenged. Huge ingenuity has gone into devising retractable ‘stage dagger’ acupuncture needles, as well as trials that use real needles inserted in the "wrong" positions. One of the most consistent findings in CAM research is that sham acupuncture is not distinguishable from "real" acupuncture. McIntyre, needless to say, didn’t mention this, He should have been challenged but wasn’t.

(21) Declan Naughton (Kingston University) advocates greater "regulation". "If we have trained herbal practitioners" it will make it safer for everyone. Thw revelation of what is actually taught on these degrees shows that, on the contrary, they endanger patients, He claims that use of purified antibiotics leads to problems with drug resistance. There isn’t the slightest reason to think that resistance has anything to do with purification, This was a red herring but went unchallenged. I notice that Naughton has published in Medical Hypotheses, a journal for wild speculations that is not peer-reviewed

(22) Donald Kerr a TCM practitioner, supports McIntyre in looking for statutory regulation. "like the GMC". He is not challenged on the extent to which real medicine and TCM have a sound basis. Like most alternative medicine advocates, he goes for the usual diversionary tactic of criticising western medicine which he refers to as "prescriptive medicines" [sic]

(23) London herbalist Michael Simmons. His web site claims that "Medical Herbalists are trained in the same diagnostic skills as orthodox doctors b". This is simply not true, The fact that herbalists claim it is true mereyl shows how they endanger patients.

(24) Marc Seale, chair of the Health Professions Council (HPC) now appears. he says one very interesting thing "things like false advertising would be dealt with by the regulator". He also acknowledged that there is a strong feeling among scientists and physicians that statutory regulation would give a "false sense of legitimacy " to the area. This latter point was entirely missed by the programme and that seems like another example of incompetent research. But Seale still doesn’t seem to understand the problem, as outlined here and in a joint submission from Sense About Science, the
Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, the Institute of Biomedical Science, the Medical Research Society, the Medical Schools Council, the Physiological Society and the Royal College of Pathologists. This submission opposed regulation of the sort favoured by McIntyre and Seale, but wasn’t even mentioned. Once again, all the speakers were on the same side.

(25. Back once again to McIntyre, who lamented that after ten years of trying, he still hadn’t achieved statutory regulations for herbalists (to the joy of 2500 herbalists), That is simply because they have not fulfilled the requirements for statutory regulation, as laid out in the House of Lords report (2000). That was not mentioned either.  Agani the researchers appear not to have done their job properly.

(26) The presenter, Julian Worricker, refers to Prof. Edzard Ernst as a “divisive figure in this field”. That is a highly partial way to refer to the person who has done more than any other individual to bring together objectively the evidence for the effectiveness of alternative medicine.  Ernst has every scientist and every informed person behind him. 

(27) McIntyre again. He misrepresents Ernst’s views and misrepresents the strength of the evidence for the efficacy of herbal medicines, which are mostly untested.. But he is not challenged.

McIntyre goes on to misrepresent the BMJ Clinical Evidence paper which, he says, shows that 46% of all treatments are not proven to be effective. It is hard to be believe that McIntyre is really unaware that a large proportion of those that were not shown to be effective are CAM treatments, herbal medicine and the like. Professor John Garrow has pointed this out (see, also Healthwatch)

“It is true they chortle, but they have got their facts wrong. The 46% of treatments which are not proven to be effective is 46% of all treatments for 240 common conditions – and very few are used in the NHS. The great majority are treatments used by alternative practitioners. “

If McIntyre was not aware of this he should have been, If he was aware of it he was being less than honest. In any case the programme’s researchers should have been aware of it and McIntyrere should have been challenged. He wasn’t.

(28) A bizarre phone call from someone who seems to think that real medicines are not labelled with their ingredients

(29) Seale is asked if alternative medicine can be regulated like real medicine   He says they’ll check degrees. If the checking is done properly, he’ll find endless dangerous made-up material like that revealed here. No degrees on TCM would pass and the whole edifice would collapse.

(30) Another presenter says "it all depends on peoples’ experiences which side they are on".. No!  That is simply not true. Well it may have been be true of the phone callers, but is both misleading and untrue in general, The divide is actually between those who are aware of, and care about, evidence and those who do not.  Some people actually take the questions seriously, but this comment reduced the discussion to the level of the life style section in a downmarket women’s magazine. One expects more of the BBC.

(31) McIntyre pleads that herbal medicines must be all right because they are used widely on continental Europe. This non sequiter went unchallenged.

(32) Seale says we must wait for Department of Health consultation on Pittilo recommendations. Quite right. For the sake of patient safety, one must hope that the Department of Health will listen to the evidence, and not implement them, despite McIntyre’s success in putting one side of the story on this programme.

(33) McIntyre laments the fact that Europe is bringing in some very sensible regulations about herbal medicine.  Again he had free rein to air the views of some (not all) herbalists, with nobody there to support these sensible measures.

(2) Guilty plea in Chinese herbal ‘cancer’ case

This BBC web page gave a very unbalanced account of the case for and against statutory regulation< of traditional Chinese medicine. It simply echoed the (uninformed) view of the judge that "more regulation is necessary" but it was apparently quite unaware that the form of this regulation is at present under consideration by the Department of Health.

The vast majority of scientific and medical opinion is against the particular form of statutory regulation recommended by the Pittilo steering group, and the author of this anonymous report should have been aware of that.  Why was there no reference to the submission from Sense About Science, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, the Institute of Biomedical Science, the Medical Research Society, the Medical Schools Council, the Physiological Society and the Royal College of Pathologists? These are bodies whose views should not have been ignored, as also the individual submissions here and here. It may be acceptable for a judge to be unaware of this powerful body of opinion. It is not acceptable for BBC reporters to ignorant of it.

The web page does now contain a short statement from Sense about Science which goes a small way to redress the imbalance,  That was inserted only after a phone call to the BBC from a member of parliament.

(3) Woman claims that homeopathy cured her cancer

On February 23rd 2010m the BBC showed a an utterly irresponsible item. A homeopath, Gemma Hoefkens, claimed to have been cured of cancer by taking homeopathic sugar pills. There was nobody to point out the utter impossibility of this claim, just some not-very-probing questions fromt the presenter.

Hoefkens promoted her own web site during the interview.  It is illegal under the Cancer ACt 1939 to claim to be able to cure cancer and this video must come very close to breaking that law.  Some interesting inconsistencies in Hoefken’s account have been pointed out on the Ministry of Truth web site . This was a new low point in science reporting.


This complaint has been sent to the BBC. But the Ofcome web site says

“However, we cannot consider complaints about accuracy in BBC TV and radio news or complaints about impartiality in BBC TV and radio programmes. These complaints have to be dealt with by the BBC.”

This seems to preclude any independent outside adjudication. Not good.

Mark Henderson wrote a nice piece about impartiality in The Times (Feb 4 2010), “Science Matters: The BBC’s balancing act“. He expresses views that are, in many ways, similar to mine.

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26 Responses to Some truly appalling reporting of science by the BBC

  • […] ← MPs urge government to stop NHS funding, and MHRA licensing, of homeopathy Some truly appalling reporting of science by the BBC […]

  • martynnorris says:

    I did email the BBC to complain about “Call You and Yours” and got this rather poor excuse,

    “Dear Mr Norris

    Thank you for your recent e-mail.

    Within Call You and Yours this week 13 callers were included.

    There were many contributions throughout the hour which cast doubt on the efficacy of specific branches of alternative medicine and of alternative medicine as a whole.

    As you highlight, the programme also included calls from advocates of alternative medicine which many people, rightly or wrongly, believe has relieved their medical symptoms. However the programme is confident that both sides of this debate were treated with respectful scepticism.

    It’s also worth bearing in mind that the topic of Alternative medicine has been covered widely by Radio 4 and over time we have very much reflected a large array of differing opinions on it.

    Nevertheless, I fully appreciate that you feel strongly about this matter. Therefore I would like to assure you that we have registered your comments on our audience log. This is the internal report of audience feedback which we compile daily for all programme makers and commissioning executives within the BBC, and also their senior management. It ensures that your points, and all other comments we receive, are circulated and considered across the BBC.

    Thanks again for taking the time to contact us with your views.


    Paul Hunter
    BBC Complaints”

    I have emailed them again.

  • johncymru says:

    I have long been a supporter of the BBC, as it often seemed to be almost the only broadcast media organisation left with even a modicum of rationality. But over the last few years I have found myself in ever increasing despair over its treatment of science and medicine in general, let alone the joke that its science and medical reporting too often is. Sadly, it appears to get worse each year, what with its general dumbing down in so many areas, though science and medicine does appear to suffer more than other subjects, especially when it comes to the accuracy, or rather lack of, in its reporting. Is there actually anyone left at the BBC, especially in its news divisions, who has even an inkling of the scientific method or who even cares anymore. Enviously there is nobody there who understands the concept behind balance, beyond equating it, wrongly as you point out, with equal time. There are times when reading a science or medical article on its web site, as I don’t have a TV and rarely listen to its radio stations any more either, when I have to double check that I am still on its site and have not accidentally clicked through to somewhere like the mail. I can understand the desire, or even the very real need, to justify its funding, what with any government ready to jump on it at the slightest opportunity due to their almost pathological need to control the beeb’s message. But does that really have to be done at the cost of replacing honest conscientious journalism with sound bite journalism. When I read a particularly bad piece I sometimes wonder what Reith would make of todays BBC.

    But thank you David, for once again doing the necessary leg work work in highlighting this increasingly miserable state the BBC, especially its science and medical reporting, is sinking into.

  • Dangerous Conventional says:

    I agree, the BBC are giving far too much coverage to Michael McIntyre. There was a full hour of him on Saturday night on BBC 1. Frankie Boyle should have been on to provide more balance.
    Still, there is something that made me laugh. Ernst’s department in Exeter is under the axe.
    That’s what I call comedy gold.

  • @Dangerous
    I fear you are exposing the internecine warfare that exists in quasi-religious belief systems like alternative medicine. Over 2500 herbalists have signed a petition opposing regulation of the sort the McIntyre wants so desperately. Somebody like Goldacre, or even me, should have been there to ensure balance.

    The Exeter business is more serious. The one man who has done more to collate objectively the evidence about the effectiveness has become the subject of a hate campaign by people who prefer belief to evidence, simply because the evidence so often does not show what that hoped it would show, The attitude seems to be that if the evidence fails to back the idea that the sun revolves round the earth then burn the heretic with the telescope. Nothing illustrates more clearly the emptiness of alternative medicine than this hate campaign against the bringer of bad news.

  • Dangerous Conventional says:

    I thought NIMH’s press release on Ernst’s review on herbal medicine hit the nail on the head.

    Click to access ernst_report_pressrelease.pdf

    Somewhat surprised at those giving financial support to Exeter.I hope this isn’t true.
    It’s an easy hit to get a review published in a low impact journal.
    I would admit, Ernst has done some decent reviews on Crataegus and Boswellia. I feel the learned professor is wasting his time because they are never going to be prescribed in this country (unlike Germany, India etc.). Exeter will be probably one of many organisations that will disappear in the current economic climate.Whether that is a good or bad thing remains to be seen.

  • Dr Aust says:

    From the NIMH’s press release that DangerCon linked to:

    “The NIMH spokesperson pointed out that their members, all of whom are traditional herbalists, have diagnostic and clinical training at a degree level comparable to that of “orthodox” medical practitioners.”

    I’ll leave you all to think about that one, and what it tells us about the NIMH folk.

  • James8855 says:

    From the same NIMH press release:

    ““2. The Peninsula Medical School is a centre for research in complementary and alternative medicine based at Exeter University.”

    The Peninsula Medical School is, well, just that: a medical school, and one that is part of the University of Plymouth as well as the University of Exeter.

    It appears it also has a far, far wider research remit than the press release suggests: http://www.pcmd.ac.uk/research.php

    While these two errors of fact do not on their own demolish the views expressed in the rest of the press release – views which I freely admit I do not agree with – I do wonder at any organisation which does not take the time to avoid such simple errors.

    (And just for the record, I have no links with this medical school whatsoever)

  • Professor Terry Hamblin says:

    I don’t often listen to the BBC, its reports are horribly biased, but I did here this programme. I have never heard a more one-sided account. This was the Devil versus God with the Devil in the studio being interviewed by a leser demon and God allowed to phone in but being cut off when He quotes Scripture!

  • Dangerous Conventional says:

    Trust me! I’m a pharmacologist/biochemist.

  • Dr Aust says:

    Actually I’m a physiologist, DangerCon.

    The point is that I don’t think I am a medical practitioner…

    …unlike, it seems, the people at the NIMH.

    A delusion, incidentally, that they seem to share with a lot of chiropractors.

  • Dangerous Conventional says:

    Dr Aust,
    And I’m a pharmacist and former NHS prescribing adviser for 3 PCTs. Think I might know a little bit more about the efficacy and safety of medicines than a physiologist, don’t you think.
    Just been to a pharmacy meeting and the issue of how awful the quality of hospital discharges are was raised.I frequently audit them and they are horrific. Makes the discussion about homeopathy seem rather futile.Now that’s something that the BBC should be reporting.

  • Bogusman says:

    I gave up listening to You and Yours many years ago after it had done a few pieces that reflected my own areas of expertise. It proved itself to be run by incompetents with no interest in anything but sensational reporting. Obviously it may have improved over the years but I never felt it worth investing the time to find out. Unfortunately I suppose some people do still listen so it’s important that someone tries to keep them in check.

  • Allo V Psycho says:

    @DangerCon who wrote “And I’m a pharmacist and former NHS prescribing adviser for 3 PCTs. Think I might know a little bit more about the efficacy and safety of medicines than a physiologist, don’t you think”.
    Well, that’s as arrogant an appeal to authority as ever I read, especially since Dr Aust’s perfectly legitimate original point could have been made by anyone, irrespective of their expertise.
    In fact, from your postings here, I do not think you have a very secure grasp of the safety and efficacy of medicines. On the contrary, you seem to have an obsessive need to focus on the hazards of rational medicine, without considering the benefits, and, I think, a corresponding enthusiasm for irrational medicine. Qualifications are of little value without reflection and self awareness. Possession of an ‘idee fixe’ can trump rationality, as we can see from the existence of medically qualified homoeopaths.
    In the (vain) hope of returning to Dr Aust’s topic, do you think that NIMH members all have diagnostic and clinical training at a degree level comparable to that of “orthodox” medical practitioners?

    p.s. I am not even a physiologist.

  • Anti-D says:

    DC, you’ve got it wrong on 2500 herbalists signing the anti-regulation petition. The petition is open to the general public and overseas signatories too. If there were 2500 herbalists against regulation, it would be nearly all of them! (Which makes one wonder why government proposed regulation to start with…).

  • @Anti-D
    That;s a good point 9though I promise that I didn’t vote myself).

    Have you any idea how many herbalists support/oppose the McIntyre line?

  • Anti-D says:

    McIntyre, who is also a former president of the NIMH, has misinformed herbalists for years about regulation and has actively opposed any open debate (let alone a democratic vote) on the matter. Prof Pittilo (who recently passed away) was told by McIntyre that all herbalists supported regulation!

    Re numbers: I’d say that a quarter oppose regulation, half are keeping their heads down/sitting on the fence, while a quarter support regulation.

  • Dangerous Conventional says:

    Perhaps you’d like to answer NIMH’s point about some of the sources of funding that Exeter’s received. I was shocked and stunned.As for Ernst’s review of herbal medicine Postgraduate Medical Journal (2007;83:633–637) it was hardly in the Lancet or JAMA.
    Yet a positive review on Boswellia Ernst E., (2008) Frankincense: systematic review. BMJ 337:a2813. was in a high impact publication. So why would anyone wish to take an NSAID when diclofenac has serious cardiovascular complications (see latest GP software systems) when there is a safe and effective natural alternative.You’d have to be pretty arrogant and narrow minded to do that (see this website).
    Herbalists don’t have the diagnostic skills of a GP (you see I can criticise alternative medicine) but the training is of a surprising high standard. Far better than say a nurse armed and dangerous with a prescription pad.

  • Dr Aust says:

    I think Allo V’s last response to DangerCon says it all – nice one.

    Anyway, as a mere physiologist I think I’ve decided that I shall let DangerCon’s responses speak for themselves, as s/he makes my points about herbalists’ blind spots far better than I could myself.

  • Allo V Psycho says:

    “Perhaps you’d like to answer NIMH’s point about some of the sources of funding that Exeter’s received? OK. And you were “shocked and stunned”, Dangerous Con? It must require a little effort to work up that particular frenzy, surely? And since it isn’t Exeter University that is described as receiving the funding, you haven’t even read the NIMH release itself properly in your rush to be stunned.

    To repeat in part what James8855 said above:
    PCMD is not “a centre for research in complementary and alternative medicine based at Exeter University”. NIMH are wildly incorrect on that, and such ignorance is not reassuring. It is a large and successful medical school, jointly part of the Universities of Exeter and Plymouth, but also with an independent existence*. PCMD has a wide range of world class research, including ground breaking work on diabetes. I would be surprised if there wasn’t some pharmaceutical company funded research taking place somewhere within the medical school as a whole. However, unless you take the view that any pharmaceutical funding anywhere makes the whole of an organisation’s research in every area unreliable (i.e. every researcher in every medical school and University in the UK is corrupt) , that is irrelevant to Edzard Ernst. As far as I know**, he has not received any funding whatsoever from large drug companies, and the NIMH statement appears to me (as fair comment…..) to be an attempt to smear him.

    And one of the listed ‘funders’ is Boots! Those famous purveyors of alternative nonsense – “We don’t care if our products work, as long as you are stupid enough to buy them”. By your logic, he must be shockingly and stunningly in thrall to homoeopathic interests. After all, he has a homoeopathic background.
    Lastly, what is it with prescribing nurses? Are you feeling a little, well, jealous, that they can prescribe things a herbalist can’t?

    *slightly oddly (and I think ill advisedly), although staff are line managed by and work wholly within the Medical School (and might be working in, say, the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro), technically their contracts of employment are issued by either Exeter or Plymouth Universities, which may explain some of the confusion re Exeter, Pymouth and PCMD. This is why the Exeter VC could be influenced by the PoW to give Ernst grief.

    **Go over to the Bad Science Forums and PM me from there, and I’ll explain why I was in a position to know.

  • Haighy says:


    “So why would anyone wish to take an NSAID when diclofenac has serious cardiovascular complications (see latest GP software systems) when there is a safe and effective natural alternative.You’d have to be pretty arrogant and narrow minded to do that (see this website).”

    I’d be interested in the website you mention but the link doesn’t work. I’d love to check out what this safe and natural alternative is. If it’s natural, it *must* be good. Like anthrax and dog poo and polonium and ricin and neutron stars…

    Is it also as effective and well understood as ibuprofen/diclofenac/naproxen/aspirin? This is great news if so, as we have needed safer NSAIDs for years.

  • isobelmat says:

    Erm…I am a nurse. And have been ‘armed with a prescription pad’. Which, I might add, I did not ask for. I did not become a nurse to give out medications, my uses/talents/skills lie elsewhere. I had no choice as our esteemed managers bowed to pressure from GPs to releive them of the arduous task of signing pre-printed prescriptions by the dozen every day. Not my call. However, one of my learned GP colleagues did get rather irate when I suggested to parents of a 10 day old breast fed baby who he had diagnosed as having colic (what?) that they might consider NOT giving the calpol he had prescribed. It took the appropriate page in the BNF to shut him up. I am also an acupuncturist. Again, I am dismayed at my allopathic colleagues who display ignorance and arrogance in their claim to be a more ‘proper’ practitioner than I. There’s buffonary and malpactice on all sides, as well as an astounding lack of intellect and discernment. On All Sides.

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