Bravewell and the Prince

Quackery in the UK has friends in the highest places. Despite constitutional restrictions on the monarch’s role in politics, our heir to the throne, Prince Charles, has decided to meddle most wholeheartedly in how public healthcare is provided.

The main channel for this interference is the Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health. This organisation claims not to promote alternative medicine, but instead to “offer healthcare which makes use of all appropriate therapeutic approaches, healthcare professionals and disciplines.”

Strip away the rhetoric and what is revealed is the uncritical promotion of the public funding of quackery, fraudulent treatments and pseudoscience. ‘Integrated health’ is an idea borrowed from the American rebranding of alternative medicine. Rather than marketing quackery as ‘alternative’, it became ‘complementary’ and then ‘integrative’. Quite how it is possible to integrate science with nonsense, reason with irrationality and thought with ignorance is never made clear.

Professor David Colquhoun has been recently exploring the rise of ‘integrative medicine’ in the USA. He says,

Remember that the terms ‘integrative’ and ‘complementary’ are euphemisms coined by quacks to make their wares sound more respectable, There is no point integrating treatments that don’t work with treatments that do work.

His blog entry charts the penetration of quackery into medical schools. Being America, money is the major motivational factor involved here and we are shown where the money to corrupt is coming from. One of these sources is the Bravewell Collaborative, a ‘charity’ run by the wife of the billionaire boss of Morgan Stanley. Bravewell conducts ‘initiatives’ to change the way physicians are educated. They want to ensure that American doctors are taught baloney treatments such as homeopathy and herbalism. Research is not the major focus – rather cash ‘Leadership Awards’ are made to those academics and doctors who ‘champion’ quackery in previously prestigious medical schools, such as Yale.

And so it is rather disturbing to see that Prince Charles has signed an agreement to “establish a partnership with the Bravewell Collaborative focused on improving the health of the public in both countries by advancing the use of integrated health.”

We are beginning to see what this means. Already, the Prince’s Foundation are offering all-expenses-paid ‘Fellowships’ to GPs and academics to become promoters of quackery within the NHS.

What we will not see is this money being used to understand if any alternative medicine actually works and to conduct research into the impact of quackery on the public health. Only one department in a medical school in the UK appears to undertaking proper academic research into this area under the Professorship of Edzard Ernst at Exeter University. Despite the fevered imaginations of homeopaths, this department is not awash with the dirty money of pharmaceutical companies and no doubt would benefit greatly from the committed income of philanthropic billionaires. But Prince Charles is no fan of Ernst as he has been rather effective at establishing a sound evidence base into the effectiveness of various alternative therapies – and that evidence base is not good news for quacks.

What Prince Charles and his mindless followers feel unable to grasp is the difference between the critical appraisal of alternative medicine and the unquestioning promotion of organisations like Bravewell. Ernst is an academic and has a ‘love of truth’ that our Prince feels so ready to abuse. Uncritical promotion will not serve patients well. It corrupts the notions of patient choice, informed consent and medical ethics. If Charles genuinely cares about the health of the nation he will one day reign, his ignorant fairy tale fantasies of magical cures need to be abandoned in favour of proper intellectual enquiry. At the very least, he could stop meddling in the politics of healthcare and simply shut up.

34 Comments on Bravewell and the Prince

  1. It says a lot that Prince Charlie wishes to change his name if Mama ever pops her cloggs before he does. I suspect that all this is just a vain last minute attempt to ingratiate himself with at least some sector the community. After all he doesn’t want his coronation procession to be like Dubbya’s drive to the Whitehouse. At the moment it will be a bit sparse, popuated by doddery oldsters and Japanese and ‘Merkin tourists. Add in the massed phallanxes from the SoH etc and their worried well patients and it will look much better.

  2. It is most refreshing to have someone who is not influenced by the chemical companies,mediocre medics and horribly biased scientists who cannot think of the unproven.The latest report from a very emminent chemist in Texas claims that water DOES have a memory.Could it be possible that the wretched French biologist who said this 15 years ago,and died ridiculed,was on the right track?

  3. No, it’s not fucking possible that water has a memory. It is possible, however, that you, anonymous, are a fucking idiot.

  4. If it’s not too oxymoronic, I find Kim Lavely’s statements about integrated health all-encompassing in their ambition but incoherent. Of course housing, employment, environmental and socio-economic conditions impact on our health in addition to diet and lifestyle but while healthcare providers can – and do – attempt to address matters of diet, stress and lifestyle, the other issues of public policy are surely outside the healthcare remit. This is not to say that different goverment departments should not cooperate in a ‘joined-up way’ but to attempt to draw all these public policy matters into a concept of healthcare seems to me to lack clarity and focus.

    But the real logical leap, IMO, is to suggest therapies proven to be no more effective than placebo, e.g. homeopathy, have some vital role to play in improving our collective health.

    I also take issue with sweeping statements about ‘delegating’ our health to doctors and medicine: I can’t be the only one to have family members and friends afflicted by cancer, lupus, asthma and allergy, despite pretty good diets, non-smoking, moderate alcohol consumption and exercising. Illness doesn’t just happen to people who ignore all diet and lifestyle health advice.

    There are areas of healthcare where people at present find it difficult to ‘delegate’ their health problems due to insufficient provision, e.g. as documented by the 2007 House of Lords report on allergy. This might be one reason why people then turn to therapies for which there no good evidence. It’s concerning to me to see that Bravewell ‘pioneering doctor’ Andrew Weil dismisses allergen immunotherapy for severe, recalcitrant hayfever, given that there is evidence of efficacy, in favour of dietary approaches (elimination of dairy)etc for which the evidence appears less convincing:

  5. O dear,”dr kill” seems to have a problem.Lets hpope he’s not a genuine doctor.Open your mind to possibility particularly when the message comes from such a distinguished source in Texas.He is one of your own perhaps a little brighter?

  6. Well said dr kill, spot on.

    Due to the fact that the word “integrated” is being used in institutional verbiage, perhaps the best thing to do is for the scientists to move the word to their side of the board and take ownership of it. If it is used to describe things like teamwork in a medical setting, the public understands there are always weak parts of any team.

  7. Is it completely fair to say that herbalism is ‘baloney’ – I have always understood that so called medical herbalism performs rather better than other alternative modes of treatment. Not in all cases, by any means, but a number of plants are known to have medically active chemical properties, or so I have always thought.

    I would not necessarily object if my doctor was familiar with which ones were useful and which were not.

  8. Sadly I cannot obtain the publication I need for a few weeks when the owner returns.The scientist concerned was supporting Rustum Roy’s enlightened article in the Guardian.Another piece was in The New Scientist on 11/6/03.I think by Lional Migram then more on11/12/2007 by Vaki Gizalashki.I think it would be pleasant if language could be moderated.

  9. Graham, Herbalism in general is bunk because of the way plant products are handled and dispensed. We all know plants are an important part of the pharmacy industry. They extract, refine, and produce products from plants in a way that is replicable, therefore predictable.

    I can extract salicin by boiling up some bark. BUT asprin as more predictable and safe.

    Am I a nutcase if I drink my herbal headache remedy? Probably not. But I would call it marginally safe behaviour.

  10. Hi Bob,

    I am aware of the issues you mention. Just felt the term ‘baloney’ was perhaps a little strong, and that herbalism was not best paired with homeopathy under that banner.

    Without wishing to endorse the practice to any great extent, I would say that at very least, herbalism has potential to work, albeit imprecisely. I feel no such thing could be said of homeopathy.

    What are your thoughts on the standardisation of herbal products?


  11. In my view, pharmaceuticals are standardized herbal products since there is demonstrably no benefit to be derived from taking them in their unprocessed form.

    I’m for evidence based drugs.

    The companies that currently push so-called natural remedies do it in a way so as to avoid regulations that would otherwise make their products safe. It puzzles me when they tout benefits that are irreproducible.

  12. I agree with you in principle, Bob, though perhaps not specifically the part about pharmaceuticals being standardised herbs. The example of aspirin you gave is, after all, a synthesised form that has not actually been in contact with a plant.

    But I’m also for evidence based… well, everything really.

    Another example is the fairly well studied St. John’s Wort. Sometimes it is sold in bottles that boast of x amount of hypericin per capsule, as standard. I have a friend who happens to have a qualification in medical herbalism, hence my interest, and this person takes a dim view of such products. I rather felt the opposite way myself.

    How does a product such as St. John’s Wort, sold in a standardised form but still basically raw plant matter, manage to avoid stringent laws concerning it’s effectiveness? Is this simply the old trick of stating the ‘reputed’ or ‘traditional’ use on the label, without making any specific claim, whilst simultaneously purporting scienciness through prominent declarations of ‘standardisation?’

    Thanks for your thoughts, in any case.

  13. By the end of this W/E Ihope to furnish you with details of yet another rated scientist who believes in “water memory
    I use all forms of medicine.Without traditional I would be dead,without Osteopathy I would be crippled(medics made booboo in early 50’s),without Chiropractice I would have limped since age of 17.It would be fair to tell you that my cousin has the Nobel Prize for chemistry.Whilst ignorant myself I have had access to some of our greatest Scientific brains.It is interesting to note that they NEVER mock my “potty” theories but give me every encouragment to continue to think laterally,something useful just may come up.
    This site is so important,there are thousands of “quacks” out there and the public need protecting.But let us debate not insult.

  14. I am happy to debate. If you are sincere in debating then do not use the anonymous identity. Good debate requires a consistent and recognisable identity so that threads can be followed. You do not need to tell us who you are to form an online identity. Such little things help debate by allowing people to see that you mean to stand behind what you say and judge your sincerity.

  15. The other thing bagsus is that I would really like the comments on my articles to be a discussion of those articles. I hope you make the connections.

  16. Canard,agreed.Please forgive this bit of fun it is not intended as in any way suggestive,I admire your work.BUT an anagram of Le Canard Noir is “Cranial Drone”!!!!!

  17. Bagsus, you have been promising ’eminent’ names. More suitable adjectives might be ‘fraudulent’, ‘incompetent’ or ‘inane’. I will let you work out which is which.

  18. Anonymous who wrote
    “It would be fair to tell you that my cousin has the Nobel Prize for chemistry.”

    And is your dad bigger than my dad?

    Is your big brother going to bray our heads in?

    Grow up.

  19. Anonymous

    re Chiropractors

    When I started bodybuilding I was given the following advice.

    “When you pull a muscle or your back go to a physio, failing that go to an osteopath. Only go to a chiropractor if you don’t want to walk again.”

    Last year my boss pulled a back muscle, after his 2nd visit to a chiropractor he couldn’t stand up for nearly a week! He then went to a physiotherapist and on the 1st visit she got him moving again and he was able to walk out without any pain.

  20. Nash,we clearly have had very different experiences so have literally hundreds of friends and aquaintences.It was never my intention to suggest that my contacts made me in any way more knowledgable than others.It merely allows me access, on rare occasions ,to men and women who I can talk to and learn from.
    I repeat there are thousands of quacks out there but your attitude will only provoke them I think.

  21. Bagpuss

    What you wrote suggested that you were more knowledgeable because of your contacts, and it came across in a very childish manner.

    As to provoking people. It goes two ways.

    As to anecdotes, can you see why they don’t pass muster?

  22. Nash,lets just agree to differ,we will clearly never read from the same textbooks.I’m sure you are very knowledgable so am I.My “eminent” contact I promised has inspected this site.Much he enjoyed but was appalled by the insults unleashed on distinguished colleagues whom he respects, but disagrees with on many issues.He has guided me to a more open forum .

  23. I am resending the comment below, as it seems to have got lost in the post for a week now…

    “I am not the previous Anonymous commentator;

    I just wanted to say that the language and tone of writing, explicit or implicit, of most sceptics in those 3-4- ‘main’ sites and blogs (many of them moderators; more like the thought police I say) leads me to assume that you suffer from exactly the same napoleonic / holier than thou syndrome like the people you are pointing your swords towards, only you are blood-thirsty.

    Have you not realised by now when you look back at your writings that they could have easily been written for a tabloid attempting to get the crowds angry with whatever you are writing against? Its pure filth and libel.
    And I hope someone will find the time to bother to sue your asses again and again, until you stop treating your blogs as your own private playground where you can bully and call all others whatever names you like.

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