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Observations Reality Check

Assaulting alternative medicine: worthwhile or witch hunt?

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 15 February 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e1075

Rapid Response:

Re: Assaulting alternative medicine: worthwhile or witch hunt?

Ray Moynihan's balanced piece about the assault on alternative medicine suggests that the witch hunt is mostly targeted at taught courses in complementary and alternative medicine. In fact the witch hunt has a wider target which includes any research concluding that CAM may be beneficial.

Following the publication of the CACTUS trial in the BJGP (Paterson et al 2011), of which I am a co author, David Colquhoun and his cohorts launched a campaign of derogatory and inaccurate criticism. Some of these attacks were in the public sphere, on blogs, radio and print media, and in the BMJ (McCartney 2011, Paterson 2011). Others were behind closed doors. As one example, the editor of the BJGP was repeatedly asked to retract the paper which Colquhoun compared to Andrew Wakefield's paper linking MMR and autism, thus implying that our paper was fraudulent. The BJGP received 4 pages of critical correspondence, and none of the letter writers engaged with the challenging clinical problem (the management of people with medically unexplained symptoms) we were trying to address. Colquhoun claimed that I am an uncritical advocate of complementary medicine, conveniently ignoring a paper I had co authored earlier in the same year which concluded that there was no statistically significant evidence that cranial osteopathy leads to sustained improvement in various aspects of the quality of life of children with cerebral palsy (Wyatt et al 2011).

On the positive side, I was supported by my Dean and the editor of the BJGP, although others in their position might have capitulated to the pressure. The torrent of critical comment has given the CACTUS study more publicity than we could ever have achieved without it.

Nicky Britten

McCartney M. Press repeats journal's hype over acupuncture. BMJ 2011;343:d4606 (20 July)

Paterson C, Taylor RS, Griffiths P, Britten N, Rugg S, Bridges J, McCallum B, Kite G. Acupuncture for 'frequent attenders' with medically unexplained symptoms: a randomised controlled trial (CACTUS study). Br J Gen Pract 2011; DOI: 10.3399/bjgp11X572689.

Paterson C, Britten N, Rugg S, Taylor RS, Griffiths P, Bridges J, McCallum B, Kite G. Charlotte Paterson and colleagues respond to Margaret McCartney. BMJ 2011:343:d5052

Wyatt K, Edwards V, Franck L, Britten N, Creanor S, Maddick A, Logan S. Cranial osteopathy for children with cerebral palsy: a randomised controlled trial. Arch Dis Child 2011 ; 96: 505-512.

Competing interests: No competing interests

05 March 2012
Nicky Britten
Professor of Applied Health Care Research
University of Exeter
Veysey Building, Salmon Pool Lane, Exeter EX2 4SG