Radio Freethinker

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The Crowned Prince of Snake Oil

Posted by Ethan Clow on July 29, 2011

Is it treason to suggest that Prince Charles is a snake oil salesman? If so, and even if not, I have applaud scientist Edzard Ernst in the UK for calling Charles a snake oil salesman and comparing alternative medicine like homeopathy to the aforementioned snake oil and remarking that such dubious treatments are potentially dangerous.

Prince Charles

Ernst also said to The Guardian:

“There are no official criteria for a snake oil salesman, but if they existed, I think Charles would fulfil them.” – source

This isn’t the first time Ernst and Charles have clashed over alternative medicine. Nor is it the first time that Charles has been associated with CAM (so-called Complementary and Alternative Medicine)

As early as 1983, Charles was on the alternative medicine band wagon. He gave a speech at the 150th-anniversary dinner of the British Medical Association where he stated that despite the success of modern medicine, the whole thing was “slightly off balance” further going on to say:

”It is frightening how dependent on drugs we are all becoming and how easy it is for doctors to prescribe them as the universal panacea for our ills.” – source

Which is typical of most alternative medicine proponents, pointing out the over dependencies’ on prescription drugs that “big pharma” has us on. If we want to talk about conflict of interest however, lets discuss the Royal Family’s obsession with homeopathy which has been going on for 3 (possibly 4 generations now) Charles has an organization called “The Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health” of which its mandate was to promote alternative medicine, like homeopathy.

The organization infuriated health practitioners when it started signing up GP’s to offer a wide range of herbal and alternative treatments. Far worse was how the organization and Charles promoted the potentially dangerous treatment of coffee enemas to treat cancer. That’s right. Coffee enema’s. It’s part of a treatment known as the Gerson therapy, a widely debunked and documented harmful treatment that doesn’t work.

Quote from The Guardian:

“Today the Gerson Institute, run by Max’s 82-year-old daughter Charlotte, has an office in California but runs its main clinic in Tijuana, Mexico, because the US forbids doctors to practise it. Treatment costs $4,900 a week and usually lasts for around three weeks.” – source

In 2006, Charles addressed the World Health Assembly in Geneva and urged them to adopt alternative medicine like homeopathy into their health plans.

“I believe that the proper mix of proven complementary, traditional and modern remedies, which emphasizes the active participation of the patient, can help create a powerful healing force in the world,” he said, addressing a theme that he has promoted for two decades through the Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Medicine. “Orthodox practice can learn from complementary medicine. The West can learn from the East and new from old traditions.” – source

Notice how he refers to science based medicine as “orthodox”, a term we might use to refer to a dogmatic religion. Notice also how he mistakes the nature of medicine by assuming there is a “western medicine” and a “eastern medicine.” I wonder what other “theories”  Charles thinks are geographic? Does he consider gravity a “western” or “eastern” theory?

It should be noted that as a “royal” Charles is supposed to stay out of political affairs and not weigh in on issues relating to funding, or advocacy of matters that are left to elected officials and/or professional experts. This isn’t bad advice for most people who aren’t experts in a given field. Charles’ job, as near as I can figure, is to stand around in photos, eat expensive food, live in expensive homes, take expensive trips and wave at people. He seems pretty good at that. He should stick to it and not give out worthless medical advice.

And for the record, I’m not a doctor either. However I’m not advising anyone to use a coffee enema to cure cancer. I generally defer to medical expert(s) on what sort of cancer treatment to take.

I mentioned how Ernst had tangled with Charles before. In 2008, Ernst, along with science advocate Simon Singh called on Charles to recall publications, published by his organization (one of which was produced with a £900,000 grant from the Department of Health) in which they misrepresented scientific evidence about therapies such as homoeopathy, acupuncture and reflexology.

For those that have read Simon Singh’s book Trick or Treatment: Alternative Medicine on Trial, will know that the book is dedicated to “HRH the Prince of Wales”.

As for Charles’ organization, The Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health, it shut down in 2010 amid fraud allegations and several members of the organization were arrested and convicted of theft. However, it re-launched recently as the College of Medicine although it is unclear if Charles is heavily involved. Not surprisingly, it has also been heavily criticized for its poor science.

Ernst was Britain’s first professor of complementary medicine, for 18 years he was in charge of a unit at Exeter University where he examined complementary medicine under scientific conditions. His criticisms over the effectiveness of so-called complementary and alternative medicine earned him the ire of Charles and the then chairman of the Foundation for Integrated Health, Sir Michael Peat. After complaints, Exeter University conducted a 13-month review of Ernst and ultimately found him innocent of any wrongdoing, however, they decided to close his department after 2010.

It’s funny ironic  clearly indicative of the intellectual honesty of someone like Sir Michael Peat that he would complain of conflicts of interest in regards to Ernst but see no problem with Charles actually selling the snake oil that he tries to have mandated into government health services. Yes, Charles owns a company called Duchy Originals which sells all manner of organic non-GM foods and tinctures.

To quote Steven Novella from his blog Neurologica:

“The con is an old one – virtually random ingredients are put into a pill, elixir, tincture, or salve and sold with incredible hype but no science. So-called snake oil marketers have a long tradition of knowing their marks and the market. Claims are designed to appeal to the broadest market, to have maximal allure, and to be just vague enough to evade any pesky regulations that may be in effect. Claims also tend to follow recent fads, using the buzz-words that are hot, and often try to wrap cutting-edge sciency terms in the cloak of ancient wisdom.” – source

He is referring to the Duchy Originals new detoxifier which claims to ” eliminate toxins and aid digestion. ” Of course, no specific toxins are mentioned and the website doesn’t offer any explanation for how such a concoction actually removes the “toxins.”

Dutchy Detoxifier

So how does it work? Why do you need it? What is the science behind its mechanism? What toxins are you removing? These questions are not answered. But aren’t they important questions? Should we not ask ourselves this before we take some tonic? Charles doesn’t seem to be much help in this. It’s almost as if he’s some un-qualified quack  trying to sell something based on his self proclaimed understanding of “medicine” that the majority of scientific experts consider bunk – but what do they know?



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