The Trials of Edzard Ernst

Show me a hundred different scientific studies into the efficacy (or lack thereof) of any kind of therapy.  Will they all produce more or less the same findings?  No.  But why not?  If the randomised controlled trial (RCT) is the gold standard of assessment, surely it will just come up with truth, will it not?  Isn’t this the reason that Ernst says “Don’t shoot the messenger!” as if he didn’t play any personal role in producing those findings whatsoever, and his followers will point to his publications and say: “The science says…”

Almost as if “the science” just does itself, and Ernst’s role is rather like that of the sorcerer’s apprentice: once he has set it in motion he has no influence over the process or the outcomes…

And indeed this would be the case with all scientists, would it not?  It’s just pure science, and it simply reveals pure truth.  That’s the idea, that’s the suggestion whenever we have one study or another shoved under our noses by the cynics.  So if the cynics were right about CAM therapists – that we’re all just quacks – then all the scientific studies that have already been done (not just Ernst’s activities) would have demonstrated this beyond all doubt, would they not?  What would there be left to say?  Why bother paying him any longer? 

Back in the Real World

Of course the cynics are not suggesting that ALL scientific studies are just revealing pure truth!  How could they be, when some of them produce ‘findings’ that seem to confirm their prejudices, and some do not!  Clearly they cannot ALL be right!  So it becomes necessary to find crucial errors in the way some of those studies were designed or conducted, or the interpretation of the results…

“Really?  That can happen in Science?”

“Oh yes, but don’t worry!  Don’t lose your faith in the RCT and the Scientific Way!  If the results aren’t what we want them to be, clearly we need to do the Science differently until we get the results right!”  

For how likely is it, really, that the cynic’s PREJUDICES might be wrong in the first place?  Exactly, that couldn’t happen, because a cynic knows everything already and most especially knows for sure that anyone who doesn’t agree with them is wrong. So there is never any need to question The Science That Says The Right Thing (bless the messenger), only the Bad Science That Says The Wrong Thing (denounce the author, attack the methodology, the interpretation… call people nasty names…) yeah that’s way more scientific.  In fact the entire history of Science is full of that sort of abusive slanging match… and that’s just how scientists talk to each other, they have even less regard for people who are prepared to think outside of scientific paradigms.  Those are just Voodoo People, and should probably be burned or something.

Science says Nothing

“The Science” says nothing, mainly because there is no such thing as “The Science”.  This doesn’t make science useless, of course it doesn’t.  But it does mean that with any kind of study you read about in The Daily Rag, if you don’t know who funded it, what they are trying to achieve and whether this is part of a wider programme which hasn’t been mentioned deliberately in the press release or whether there were other trials which the authors of the press release decided not to tell The Daily Rag about because they contradict the trials that Say The Right Thing… then you only know what the press release says.

All the questions I raised about Ernst, and how on Earth he ever came to occupy that position are perfectly valid, but I know we’ll never get answers that haven’t just come from a fawning interview with an adoring hack or some dodgy press release that came from the Ernst camp anyway.  And I really can’t be bothered to exchange another pointless word with the cynics who don’t even understand the difference between skepticism and cynicism.  It is impossible to communicate in any useful way with any person who has convinced themselves before the conversation even starts that you must be a fraud, a fantasist or an idiot because you don’t already agree with them.

So I thought I’d do one last post about the boring old duffer but every time I considered it, it just seemed like a chore.  Somewhere along the line I realised that although I found it very annoying at first that he said things about hypnotherapy that were totally wrong, he’s really just another dull academic who knows nothing about it.   The fact that someone decided he could have a title that makes it sound like he’s knowledgable is irrelevant, he remains a nobody in the field of complementary therapy, his own university don’t even seem to like him, just about everything he says is negative and no ordinary member of the public I’ve ever mentioned him to has heard of him at all, so although he’s beloved by a few hacks and a small platoon of cynics, the rest of the world could not give a toss.

Therefore: neither do I.