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Medicine from another planet

Edzard Ernst is unsure whether to laugh or cry at a recent white paper on acupuncture

Sometimes I have to kick myself. The things I have to read in my job far too often seem unreal, almost as though alternative medicine is from a different planet.

Recently, for instance, the Society for Acupuncture Research issued a ‘White Paper’ entitled ‘Paradoxes in Acupuncture Research: Strategies for Moving Forward‘. The strategy is based on a consensus developed during a conference in 2007.

The authors want to ‘chart guidelines for the next decade’. Guess what, ladies and gentlemen, the next decade is well on its way; three of the 10 years have passed already! Am I right in missing a sense of urgency in ‘moving forward’?

But it gets worse, much worse, I’m afraid. After sketching the research strategy for the next years, the last sentence of the press release reads as follows: ‘Such a strategy … will strengthen the evidence base for … acupuncture’.

At this stage, I am not sure whether to cry or laugh. How long will it take the board of directors of the Society for Acupuncture Research to realize that research is not a tool to ‘strengthen’ the evidence for acupuncture, but to test it? This single word can make a lot of difference – the difference of being from this or another planet.

Professor Edzard Ernst is professor of complementary medicine at the Peninsula Medical School, University of Exeter

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