How wonderful when independent scientists start to confirm your serious concerns regarding the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) after having highlighted the many concerns for a number of years, first with Western Sydney University (WSU) management, and later via this blog. All my efforts to date culminated in the NICM making the headlines as well as being nominated for the bent spoon award, whereupon WSU unfortunately responded by awarding the NICM’s main naturopathic funder with an honorary fellowship! It is thus extremely good news when other scientists start to ask questions.
Recently a peer reviewed publication of a clinical trial evaluating the effectiveness of acupuncture for allergic rhinitis (hay fever), resulted in a blog post by Prof Edzard Ernst disussing the merits of this study. This study was also sold on social media as; “…So, in a nutshell, acupuncture is a safe, effective and cost-effective treatment for allergic rhinitis which produces lasting changes in the immune system and hence improvements in symptoms and quality of life. Dr John McDonald”
The blog post by Prof Ernst ellicited such a stream of comments, mainly critique, from various scientists that I downloaded the paper and found to my surprise that the NICM was part of it. Usually when I see the NICM affiliation on any scientific paper I immediately tend to be sceptical. They are known to inflate results and then go and sell it to the public in a very misleading way or by being very liberal with the truth (almost all my previous blog posts deal with this aspect). For me this publication thus had the fingerprints of the NICM all over it.
Due to the volume of comments on Prof Ernst’s first blog post he published a second blog post entitled “Acupuncture for allergic rhinitis: scientific misconduct or just bad science?” where he concludes: “I am sure there are many more flaws, particularly in the stats, and I leave it to others to identify them. The ones I found are, however, already serious enough, in my view, to call for a withdrawal of this paper. Essentially, the authors seem to have presented a study with largely negative findings as a trial with positive results showing that acupuncture is an effective therapy for allergic rhinitis. Subsequently, McDonald went on social media to inflate his findings even more. One might easily ask: is this scientific misconduct or just poor science?”
One of my comments during the discussion of this paper was; “My experience at the NICM tells me that there is a 99% likelihood that this “mistake” was intentional. Why? My former colleagues at the NICM are highly intelligent, experienced people who knows their stuff. The co-author on this paper, CA Smith, have decades of experience in clinical trials etc. and she has even been named the researcher of the year in 2015; “Awarded for her excellence in research, Professor Caroline Smith has made a sustained and significant contribution to establishing the evidence base of acupuncture….” My golden rule. As soon as I see the NICM affiliation on any scientific publication I tend to look extremely cautiously and sceptically at their results and especially their interpretation of the results. There are many examples where they “misrepresent” their results.”
So is this scientific misconduct or just poor science? For me the former is more likely as I have shown that this is the NICMs modus operandi. They love to misrepresent, inflate, mislead etc. in order to convince the world that complementary medicine work beyond any doubt, while they know that there is very little benefit other than a possible placebo effect. Hence, they are intentionaly misleading the public. The above is just another example of how the NICM play the game by taking a negative/neutral research result and re-write it to make it sound positive and then sell it to the public as the next big thing in science. This is also why I need to continue to do what I do in order to protect the public from the NICM and also from WSU.
How will the NICM react to this critique? Although CA Smith was invited to respond, they will most likely remain quiet and continue with the status quo – much in the same way as the silent treatment that I am currently receiving as a response to my blog posts. Alternatively, because the NICM can never be wrong, they might decide to throw the poor student under the bus blaming him for all the issues in this particular publication. This option will be somewhat difficult because the WSU reseacher of the year, CA Smith, was supposed to teach the student how to write a paper, and I guess in this case how far you can bend the truth, and hence this option might make the researcher of the year look incompetent – dare I say guilty!
A third option will be to defend the paper by saying it went through the peer review process and all it’s findings etc. are thus absolutely correct. They will claim that the critique is welcomed but they just do not share it. Another possibility, one that I would prefer, will be for them to admit that they have intentionally made all the “mistakes” in the paper in order for them to mislead the public into believing that acupuncture works for hay fever – and then to retract the paper. And while they are at it they might just as well spill the beans on all the other publications where things aren’t what it seems. This possibility is for obvious reasons the least likely to happen.
In order to get some sort of response I’ve sent this information to a number of journalists who will hopefully follow up on this. I think it would also be good to know who peer reviewed this publication – I did ask the journal but I am not sure if they will disclose this information. And so the plot thickens!