Scientist ‘silenced by Charles’

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Published: Tuesday 20th January 2015 by The News Editor

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One of Britain’s most controversial scientists and critics of alternative medicine has told how he was “treated like dirt” as a result of the Prince of Wales trying to “silence” him.

In his new book, A Scientist In Wonderland, Professor Edzard Ernst talks candidly about the loss of his post at the University of Exeter and the role royal influence played in it.

German-born Prof Ernst set up the UK’s first chair in complementary medicine at the University of Exeter in 1993.

But his rigorous application of evidence-based science and outspoken views soon found him at loggerheads with supporters of alternative therapies such as homeopathy, including the Prince of Wales.

After being investigated over a complaint made by Charles’s former private secretary, Sir Michael Peat, he retired early in 2011 and his department was closed.

In his book, Prof Ernst describes the episode as “the most unpleasant period of my entire professional life”.

The trouble started in 2005 when Prof Ernst publicly attacked a draft report by economist Christopher Smallwood that had been personally commissioned by Charles.

He described the report, which claimed complementary and alternative medicine (Cam) was cost effective and should be available on the NHS, as “complete misleading rubbish”.

But Prof Ernst was himself strongly criticised for disclosing the report’s contents before they had been fully reviewed and published.

On September 22, 2005, Sir Michael wrote an official letter of complaint on Clarence House notepaper to the University of Exeter’s vice chancellor, citing a “breach of confidence” after the professor had been sent an early and incomplete draft of the report for comment.

Over the next 13 months, Prof Ernst says he was subjected to interrogations, “dozens of cross-examining emails and letters” and “treated as guilty until proven innocent”.

Eventually he was told by the Vice Chancellor that a formal disciplinary warning “would not be appropriate”. At the same time, he received a stern warning not to misbehave again.

He wrote: “I had been interrogated, investigated, treated like dirt for 13 months, and exonerated in the end. But even while acknowledging that I had not been guilty of any misdemeanour , my vice chancellor had issued an unambiguous warning to me: if I even thought of applying my personal ethical standards in any similar situation in the future, I would not be so lucky as to get away with it again.

“Prince Charles’s attempt to silence me, it seemed, had been successful.”

In the years that followed, he says, support for his department dried up to the point where it could no longer function.

Speaking about the book to journalists in London, he said: “I was innocent, but all support broke down. My unit of 20 co-workers was systematically destroyed.”

Asked if he felt badly treated, he added: “Badly is an understatement. My line manager said to me ‘I know we’re treating you like shit’. That is a quote.”

Prof Ernst, who has had 48 books published and more than 1,000 articles in peer-reviewed journals, remains steadfastly opposed to unproven alternative treatments, and openly critical of the Prince of Wales.

In a chapter of his new book entitled Off With His Head, he writes: “Prince Charles has continued to promote alternative medicine indefatigably, often showing himself unwilling or unable to distinguish between real health care and blatant quackery, between medicine and snake oil, or between the truth and some half-baked obsessions of his own.”

He argues that while Charles no longer courts publicity as much as he used to, he continues to be an active proponent of alternative medicine while “hiding” behind the facade of the College of Medicine.

The charity, which advocates a holistic way of looking at health “making the connection between mind, body and spirit”, arose from the ruins of the Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health which was disbanded in 2010.

Prof Ernst insists he is not against all alternative or complementary therapies, and claims there is evidence that some, including certain herbal treatments and acupuncture, can be effective. Others he dismisses as a waste of time and money and potentially dangerous.

He is especially scornful of homeopathy, which is based on extreme dilutions of substances that are supposed to help the body heal itself. Currently doctors can refer patients for homeopathy treatment on the NHS.

“For homeopathy we should be closing the book,” said Prof Ernst. “They’ve had 200 years to prove that it’s anything more than a placebo. That proof has failed, so let’s now move on.

“Homeopathy is an example of a harmless treatment being quite harmful.”

A Scientist In Wonderland is published on January 20 by Imprint Academic.

Published: Tuesday 20th January 2015 by The News Editor

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