A royal mess

July 1st, 2004 by Ben Goldacre in alternative medicine, bad science, dangers, death, herbal remedies, nutritionists, PhDs, doctors, and qualifications, references, statistics | 5 Comments »

Ben Goldacre
Thursday July 1, 2004
The Guardian

· I always thought the monarchy was there to remind us that inherited wealth and privilege are alive and well, and to stop us falling into the American trap of imagining that we live in a meritocracy: but apparently it’s there to set the health research agenda. Prince Charles is keen that we should not ignore the experience of the one person he met who got better with the Gerson nutritional regime for treating cancer. Let’s ignore the fact that the American Cancer Society regard it as dangerous; that in two years San Diego county hospitals treated 13 patients with campylobacter sepsis from the Gerson clinic, probably due to the raw calves’ liver injections; that several patients have been admitted comatose with low sodium levels; and that caffeine enemas are jolly dangerous and have been associated with severe colitis, infections and death. No. Let’s focus on the research already done on Gerson. One long-term study of 21 patients (by a naturopath, no less) found that only one was alive five years after treatment. In 1986, researchers found that despite their claims, some patients from the Gerson clinic were not even followed up. There are papers claiming efficacy for nutritional therapy that find a positive effect, but without bothering to give us the figures. Since then, a handful of studies have been done, suggesting a minor positive effect, but the flaws in their methodologies render them worthless.

· Let’s get this straight: research is not difficult, and it doesn’t need a lot of money. Lots of medical research is done by junior doctors, in their “spare time”. Alternative therapists are welcome to research money, but it would be nice if some of the money they get could go towards keeping follow-up records, which doesn’t cost much, and even do some proper statistics. So if you’re a quack and you’re angry about the lack of evidence supporting your ideas, here are some fun ideas for the holidays. Buy How to Read a Paper: The Basics of Evidence-Based Medicine by Trisha Greenhalgh (BMJ Books), an excellent introduction to how research works. It’s even available free online. Make friends with someone in a university or hospital, and you can use their audit department or statistics advisory service to help you design the study, often for free. But please, at least put the figures in your paper. And register your studies on the national database, so we can have a good laugh when you turn up negative findings.


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5 Responses



  1. Phil said,

    December 24, 2005 at 6:01 pm

    Hi,

    If you weren’t so negative to natural healing then when all your love ones (even your self) develop diseases in there (your) life time, then you will be able to help cure the problems.

    Have a Merry Xmas and stay positive.

  2. Ben Goldacre said,

    September 11, 2006 at 3:21 pm

    “If you weren’t so negative to natural healing then when all your love ones (even your self) develop diseases in there (your) life time, then you will be able to help cure the problems.”

    ladies and gentlemen, the alternative therapy movement. take a bow. nice.

  3. CarpingMoose said,

    July 9, 2009 at 3:57 am

    Just caught the end of Prince Charles giving the Dimbleby lecture. An example of intellectual rigor it isn’t.

    “We must see that we are part of the natural order, rather than isolated from it. To see that nature, is in fact a profoundly beautiful world of complexity, that operates according to an organic grammar of harmony and which is infused with an awareness of its own being, making it anchored by consciousness. It is an interconnected interdependent function of creation with harmony existing between all things.”

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  5. On Monarchy | A dragon's best friend said,

    June 3, 2012 at 1:17 am

    [...] and alternative medicine – the coffee cure being but one example. (Ben Goldacre commented here at the [...]