Edzard studied psychology and medicine at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich. He is a qualified physician in Munich. He was Professor in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PMR) at Hannover Medical School (Germany) and Head of the PMR Department at the University of Vienna (Austria). He came to the University of Exeter in 1993 to establish the world’s first Chair in complementary medicine. Since 2012, he is Emeritus Professor at the University of Exeter and now lives in Cambridge, UK as well as in Brittany, France.
So-called alternative medicine: direct and indirect harm
So-called alternative medicine (SCAM) is frequently being promoted as gentle and intrinsically harmless. This notion is an excellent promotional gimmick, but unfortunately it is not true. Virtually all forms of SCAM can cause harm. For clarity, it seems reasonable to categorise them into direct and indirect harms.
Direct harm can, for instance, be caused by an acupuncture needle penetrating the lung and thus leading to a pneumothorax. Similarly, chiropractic neck manipulations can cause a dissection of the vertebral artery followed by a stroke or even death.
While these direct harms are certainly not negligible, the indirect harms of SCAM are of much greater concern. They consist, for instance, of forfeiting or delaying effective conventional therapies or of undermining rationality on a societal level.
It is concluded that, in view of the doubtful effectiveness of most SCAMs, risk/benefit analyses of these treatments will often fail to produce a positive result. Considering the current popularity of SCAM, it seems important to inform the public responsibly about these facts.