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34 MIN READ TIME

Alternative Medicine Is a Playground for Apologists

EDZARD ERNST

“ What will you do if your conventional medical colleagues turn out to be skeptical about your research?” This question created an embarrassed silence during the press conference arranged in 1993 by Exeter University on the occasion of my appointment to the first chair in “complementary medicine.” I had already explained how I would conduct my research into alternative medicine and all had gone well, but nobody had anticipated this question. My answer was spontaneous: “I don’t worry about that, because I will be more skeptical than they are.” There was a somewhat relieved giggle in the room, and even Sir Maurice Laing, the sponsor of my chair and a known proponent of alternative medicine, smiled.

At the time everyone seemed to think that I had wriggled out of a tight spot, and nobody seemed to believe that, for me, the answer was as truthful as it was obvious—how else could one approach research into such a controversial subject?

I had come from Vienna, where I had been head of a large department of rehabilitation medicine. We had routinely used alternative treatments such as acupuncture and spinal manipulation, but I was keenly aware that most of these therapies are not solidly grounded in evidence. In fact, it was precisely the plethora of open questions that fascinated me about the Exeter post. It was clear to me that progress in alternative medicine had to come from applying the tools of science to it. And it was equally clear to me that, as a scientist, one needed to be skeptical.

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About Skeptical Inquirer

40th Anniversary Celebration ISSUES IN SCIENCE & SKEPTICISM BILL NYE NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON LAWRENCE M. KRAUSS and more!

Other Articles in this Issue


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PSYCHIC VIBRATIONS
Sheaffer’s “Psychic Vibrations” column has appeared in the Skeptical Inquirer
NOTES ON A STRANGE WORLD
Massimo Polidoro is an investigator of the paranormal, lecturer, and
THE SCIENCE OF SCIENCE COMMUNICATION
Why Really Smart People Are Often the Most Biased in Their Opinions
BEHAVIOR & BELIEF
Stuart Vyse is a psychologist and author of Believing in
SCIENCE WATCH
Kenneth W. Krause is a contributing editor and “Science Watch”
SKEPTICAL INQUIREE
Benjamin Radford is a research fellow at the Committee for
ISSUES IN SCIENCE & SKEPTICISM
We had another Reason Rally in Washington, DC, this year
If you cherry-pick scientific truths to serve cultural, economic, religious,
Twenty years ago, I became actively involved in the skeptical
“ These are the times that try men’s souls.” This
I am delighted to contribute an essay to celebrate the
Around 1992, I discovered a new sphere to explore— skeptical
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REVIEWS
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