Edzard Ernst is one of the world’s most well known debunkers of all things alternative in treatments. In a recent blog posts he yields to some wishful thinking on the future of medicine and what advances, if actually discovered, might lead to Nobel Prizes.
- Measles eradicated
- Vaccination against aids ready for routine use
- Identification of the cause of dementia leads to first effective cure
- Gene-therapy begins to save lives in every day practice
- Cancer, a non-fatal disease
- Healthy ageing becomes reality
As he says, there are none of those ideas that inherently raise eyebrows. While unlikely, none are impossible. Then he makes a list of some things we are never going to see attached to a Nobel.
- Yet another homoeopath wins the Nobel prize
- Chiropractic subluxation confirmed as the sole cause of many diseases
- Chronically ill patients can rely on bach flower remedies
- Chinese herbs cure prostate cancer
- Acupuncture makes pain-killers obsolete
- Royal detox-tincture prolongs life
- Craniosacral therapy proven effective for cerebral palsy
- Iridology, a valid diagnostic test
And he explains why he feels that way.
I only need to study the past and realise which breakthroughs have occurred within the previous 100 years. Mainstream scientists and doctors have discovers insulin-therapy that turned diabetes from a death sentence into a chronic disease, they have developed antibiotics which saved millions of lives, they have manufactured vaccinations for deadly infections, they have invented diagnostic techniques that made early treatment of many life-threatening conditions possible etc, etc, etc.
None of the many landmarks in the history of medicine has ever been in the realm of alternative medicine.
What about herbal medicine? Some might ask. Aspirin, vincristine, taxol and other drugs originated from the plant kingdom, and I am sure there will be similar such success-stories in the future.
But were these truly developments driven by traditional herbalists? No! They were discoveries entirely based on systematic research and rigorous science.
Progress in healthcare will not come from clinging to a dogma, nor from adhering to yesterday’s implausibilites, nor from claiming that clinical experience is more important than scientific research.
I am not saying, of course, that all of alternative medicine is useless. I am saying, however, that it is time to get realistic about what alternative treatments can do and what it cannot achieve. They will not save many lives, for instance; an alternative cure for anything is a contradiction in terms. The strength of some alternative therapies lies in palliative and supportive care and not in changing the natural history of diseases.
Before we spend money, time, and other resources to test a potential treatment, the treatment must have some prior plausibility. Chirpractic subluxation, reiki, acupuncture, and other forms of ‘energy medicine’ fail this test miserably. Iridology, tongue diagnosis, and hair analysis have nothing to test.
Wikipedia lists a cornucopia of alternative treatments conveniently alphabetized and linked. From Acupressure to Vinyasa yoga they are all on one page. They are nearly all totally unproven, or as with acupuncture, proven to be as effective as placebo (in other words, as effective as no treatment at all). As Ernst says, perhaps some of them do have some functional medicinal, however you need to look very closely, and use a great deal of imagination, to find any with the prior plausibility that would justify money spent on further studies.
So no, don’t hold your breath waiting for a Nobel Prize to be awarded to a homoeopath or an iridologist.