Friends of Science in Medicine
FSM Position Statement
New Maurice Blackmore Chair in Integrative Medicine established at University of Sydney
On 27 May 2015, the University of Sydney announced that it will create a Chair in “Integrative Medicine” funded by Blackmores, a leading provider of complementary medicines and supplements. The Chair will enable the university to “honour Maurice Blackmore (who was founder of the company), a pioneer of Australian naturopathy”. This controversial decision is troublesome for a number of reasons.
FSM strongly support independent, quality research into therapies which have not as yet been adequately tested, providing such research is investigating a scientifically plausible hypothesis using sound methodology. We welcome the University of Sydney or any other university pursuing such research. We see as valuable the university’s intention to study alternative and orthodox drug interactions as we already have examples of cross interference (e.g. St John’s Wort and a number of HIV drugs). Students will be informed of the evidence base or lack thereof for alternative and complementary approaches. So far so good—
However, the statement from Blackmores, “It is our hope that our support for this Chair will contribute towards a holistic approach in medical practice that combines modern western medicine with established and proven practices in the area of integrative medicine” and the very naming of the Chair, raises serious concerns to anyone who understands the principles behind the movement championing “Integrative Medicine”.
This is a movement, initiated by alternative and complementary practitioners, which would see them enter into a partnership with scientifically educated doctors, nurses and allied health clinicians. The intention of integrative medicine is not to test the efficacy or otherwise of alternative or complementary treatments, but to add these in parallel to medical therapies supported by credible scientific evidence of clinical effectiveness. This is, in fact, a wedge strategy that is already undermining the credibility of those general practices and clinics in Australia that have accepted such a partnership. In the name of Integrative Medicine many practices have introduced “alternative” pseudoscience based therapies (iridology, reflexology, homeopathy etc).
Many pharmacists have embraced this approach and will offer the services of a pseudoscientific practitioner in their stores. Such developments are potentially harmful. Good science can determine which medicines or procedures work and which do not, but that is not the goal of alternative practitioners who will not accept that science can be applied to their field (e.g. homeopaths refusing to accept the recent report of the NH&MRC). In addition, the press release infers that orthodox physicians do not practice holistic medicine which is certainly not true and is indeed insulting.
FSM is troubled by the university’s decision to honour Blackmores’ founder. We cannot see any reason for a prestigious university with a reputation for outstanding scientific achievement to provide commercially valuable endorsement by honouring a company that has, in the past, been criticised and indeed reprimanded for the lack of an evidence base to support the claims made for some of its products.
FSM cautiously support industry sponsored, evidence based research within tertiary institutions where true independence is transparent, and vigilance for the maintenance of this independence is overseen by a third party. A number of studies have demonstrated the potential for industry-funded research to become less independent over time. The university has provided assurances regarding independence for its scientists. It is important that an industry sponsor not use the acceptance of its funds to suggest that the university, in so doing, is endorsing the ethics and scientific credibility of the donor.
FSM hopes that this initiative will produce important information and that the industry sponsor will further commit to the importance of credible scientific evidence of clinical effectiveness being a pre-requisite for its products.
WELCOME FROM THE PRESIDENT OF FRIENDS OF SCIENCE IN MEDICINE
Welcome to our website. We hope you visit often. Our Association, Friends of Science in Medicine (FSM) was formed at the end of 2011 to emphasise the importance of having health care in Australia based upon evidence, scientifically sound research and established scientific knowledge.
The founders of FSM were and are concerned about the increasing number of health courses and interventions on offer to Australians that fall far short of this standard, as well as the inadequacy of the measures that are supposed to protect students and consumers from such practices.
This is no alarmist statement. Many supposed health treatments have no scientific evidence of their effectiveness, some have been shown to cause harm, while many could not possibly work as they are incompatible with well-established principles of physics, chemistry, physiology and pharmacology. Many are pseudoscientific; assuming the trappings of scientifically sound practices in order to gain the credibility of these without subjecting themselves to the well understood tests of scientific examination that have proved so effective in giving us medical procedures and medicines that really work.
We were particularly concerned that some of our universities were allowing pseudoscientific approaches to health education to be presented in health science courses without critical analysis of the principles behind them or of the claims of efficacy made for these procedures and treatments, including such practices as Homeopathy, Energy Medicine, Kinesiology, Chiropractic “subluxation” theory, Cranial Sacral therapy and more. All of these approaches lack scientific credibility, but apparent endorsement of them by our universities can confer undeserved credibility on useless and sometimes dangerous approaches to healthcare.
While suspect university courses provided the impetus for the creation of FSM, all aspects of the penetration of pseudoscience into our healthcare system concerns us. Many, such as Iridology, Reflexology, Rolfing, Homeopathy, much of traditional Chinese and Indian medicines, etc, are an affront to our knowledge of physiology and pathology and, relying as so many of them do on mysterious, undefinable, undetectable “energy”, could never be validated by scientific investigations as, virtually by definition, they have made themselves impossible to test.
We would emphasise, however, that FSM strongly supports the need to conduct independent and disinterested scientific evaluations of those “Alternative and/or Complementary” therapies where the anecdotal evidence for benefit is strong and the underlying explanations are not incompatible with modern biological and physical sciences. Much that is of current therapeutic benefit was developed by such an approach.
As Friends of Science in Medicine, we are also aware of and concerned by the discovery of cases where poor scientific methodology and the fraudulent manipulation of data have occurred within the medical/scientific establishment. Some individual researchers and some of the major pharmaceutical companies have been involved in these unacceptable practices. While FSM deplores such activities, it recognizes that there are already many and increasing checks and balances within Medicine that aim to minimise such incidents.The same cannot be said for Alternative and/or Complementary medicine, which is why FSM is concentrating its efforts in this area.
Valid scientific and medical research must adhere to well-established and widely recognized “best practice” protocols. FSM wants the evaluation of all potential health treatments to be subjected to similar standards for validation.
When we informed the scientific and clinical communities of the establishment of FSM and sought support, we were overwhelmed with encouragement from home and abroad. As of January 2014 we have over 1000 leading scientists, clinicians, lawyers and consumer advocates, (listed herein), as supporters.
FSM has no formal links to any industry or organisation and its executive members serve in a voluntary capacity.
Speaking with a strong voice provided by our constituency we will make every effort to ensure that Australians have access to interventions and medicines backed by science-based tertiary education and scientific evidence of their clinical effectiveness. FSM will work towards ensuring that precious public health dollars are not wasted funding spurious treatments, many of which have actually been proven to be ineffective and thus dangerous, despite their small direct risk.
With the efforts of hundreds of like-minded and knowledgeable Friends, we will strive to help the public understand the importance of a good evidence base for any treatment they are offered. We will advocate for regulatory changes that better protect the public from misleading, even fraudulent, health-related claims.
You will find much more about us, and the outcomes we seek, in the pages that follow. We issue a regular online newsletter to our Friends to keep them informed of our activities. We will keep the content fresh and would welcome your feedback about our work as well as about the effectiveness of this site.
Professor John Dwyer AO
Founding President FSM