We live in a time when health-related pseudoscience and misinformation are rampant and doing real damage. the pandemic clarified this fact. One of the ways pseudoscience and misinformation have been allowed to spread is through the guise of “alternative medicine.” That is to say by definition, alternative medicine encompasses health practices that exist outside of conventional health care. In reality, these approaches to health are either unproven or disproved, and they are often pseudoscientific in terms of their theoretical rationales and the body of support on which they are based.
Although regulated health professionals, including psychologists, are required to promote and practice evidence-based health care as dictated by their codes of ethics and legal standards of practice, people can get and get their health information from sources other than healthcare professionals, such as via social media and celebrities. Unfortunately, celebrities often have a big platform from which to amplify pseudoscience and misinformation. And some are very powerful.
Biography by Ernst
This brings us to the heir to the British Royal Family throne, Prince Charles, who has been the most persistent champion of alternative medicine in the UK and perhaps even the world. To better understand exactly how Prince Charles came to fight for alternative medicine and its associated societal impact, I have just finished reading Dr. Edzard Ernst’s fascinating new book, Charles, the Alternate Prince, an Unauthorized Biography.
For those less familiar with Dr. Ernst, he is a retired physician and scientist, and is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading experts in alternative medicine. In part, he earned this title by experiencing alternative medicine as a patient, clinician, and scientist, where, according to a recent analysis, he was class as the most cited researcher in the category “Complementary and Alternative Medicine”.
Not only does Dr. Ernst’s expertise make him the perfect person to write a book that details Prince Charles’ love affair with alternative medicine, but what makes this book so interesting is that Dr. Ernst also details the convergence of their respective timelines. For example, in 1993, Dr. Ernst was appointed Chair of Complementary Medicine at the University of Exeter, responsible for scientifically investigating all aspects of alternative medicine. Prince Charles knew about the post and was even peripherally involved in its creation – he was also involved in its disbandment 20 years later.
The structure of the book follows Prince Charles’ alternative medicine-related activities in roughly chronological order. Since the 1980s, Prince Charles has made strenuous attempts to boost the image of alternative medicine, make alternative therapies more accessible to the general public, lobby for financial coverage of alternative medicine, and influence politicians for his support. . In the book, whenever a new type of alternative medicine is encountered, Dr. Ernst incisively contrasts Prince Charles’ perceptions with the scientific evidence available at the time. Thus, most chapters are divided into four parts: (1) a short introduction to the subject of alternative medicine, (2) Prince Charles’ perspective, (3) an overview of the evidence, and (4) a commentary. on the consequences.
In particular, the “evidence” section of each chapter provides a valuable and concise overview of the current state of the evidence base for a variety of alternative medicine approaches, such as osteopathy, chiropractic, herbal medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic medicine and homeopathy, among others.
The least explicit, but equally important, layer of the book is its ability to shed light on various propaganda tactics used to buttress alternative medicine, such as the use of pseudoscientific journals and logical fallacies (e.g., appealing to nature, appealing to tradition) to appease the public. For example, at least two chapters are dedicated to helping people understand the deceptive nature of “integrative medicine,” which is a brand-changing approach that seeks to integrate alternative medicine with conventional health care to give it a veneer. of scientific legitimacy. Dr. Ernst describes how integrative medicine can endanger public health and mislead patients, for example via the bait and switch tactic of offering evidence-based treatments (e.g. exercise ), then move on to promoting unsupported, pseudoscientific treatments (e.g., homeopathy).
After reading the book, I was both surprised and pleased to learn that despite Prince Charles’ status and influence, most of his lobbying efforts to promote alternative medicine for more than half a -century ended in failure, as the importance of evidence-based health care was still too strong to be overcome. Nevertheless, it is unfortunately the less tangible aspects of the widespread promotion of alternative medicine that can have equally disastrous consequences through the dissemination of false information. Indeed, if the pandemic has had a positive side, it is that it has highlighted the dangers of tolerating a culture that allows pseudoscience to go unchecked. Dr. Ernst’s new book is a must-read for those interested in how pseudoscience, masked as alternative medicine, can unmask itself.