Professor Edzard Ernst attacked by paid writers.

A consortium of pharmaceutical companies in Germany have been paying a journalist €43,000 to run a set of web sites that denigrates an academic who has published research into  their products. 

These companies, who make homeopathic sugar pills, were exposed in the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung in an article, Schmutzige Methoden der sanften Medizin (The Dirty Tricks of Alternative Medicine.)

This story has not appeared in the UK media. And it should. Because it is a scandal that directly involves the UK’s most prominent academic in Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

The newspaper accuses the companies of funding the journalist, Claus Fritzsche, to denigrate critics of homeopathy. In particular, the accusation is that Fritzsche wrote about UK academic Professor Edzard Ernst on several web sites and then linked them together in order to raise their Google ranking. Fritzsche continually attacks Ernst of being frivolous, incompetent and partisan.

The newspaper said,

It is simple to use Google to pillory someone: all it needs is a professional-looking Web page in which a person’s credibility is undermined. Then the name of the person to discredit should be mentioned in the text as often as possible. The page will be automatically ranked in the top results when someone searches for the person. For people whose credibility is their capital, such as journalists and academics, this digital character assassination is particularly devastating. [My translation]

Edzard Ernst was the first  Professor of Complementary Medicine and held the Laing Chair at the University of Exeter in South-West England. The chair was set up by Sir Maurice Laing in 1993 to provide  rigorous research into alternative medicines. Laing realised that high quality research was required if various forms of alternative medicine were to become mainstream. Ernst said in an inte rview that Laing believed that “it was more important to conduct good research to a standard that would be acceptable even to sceptics, than to bend over backwards in an attempt to generate positive findings”.