Review: A Scientist in Wonderland by Edzard Ernst

PUBLISHED: 14:44 05 February 2015 | UPDATED: 14:44 05 February 2015

A Scientist in Wonderland

A Scientist in Wonderland


Annette Shaw reviews A Scientist in Wonderland by Edzard Ernst

Edzard ErnstEdzard Ernst

Where to start with this one? It’s the autobiography of Edzard Ernst, Emeritus Professor since 2012. Prior to that he was chair of complementary medicine at Exeter University, a post he had held since 1993. The position was created to develop research into the safety and effectiveness of alternative therapies. So how did that, on the launch of the book, become a national news story picked up by The Telegraph, the Daily Mail, and The Spectator?

Professor Ernst had a run in with HRH Prince Charles, explained in some depth in a chapter beginning on page 135. However, in the previous 134 pages Professor Ernst wrote of his life in post-war Germany. In the book’s Prelude he says, “... like many children German children of that era, I was acutely aware of the awkwardness and unease that my elders displayed when it came to discussions that touched on the country’s recent history.” Fast forward three decades and Professor Ernst is Head of the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Department at the University of Vienna. In 1994 he submitted an article which was subsequently published in the Annals of Internal Medicine and feels this as the most important paper he has ever presented. It charts his historical research beginning in 1938 as Hitler’s troops march into Austria and the Anschluss is completed.

As a publicity campaign the royal story has done the trick but this book is well worth reading for anyone with an interest in German history, and for the six chapters that give an insight into the politics of medicine. The writing is really good and on occasions shows frankness and vulnerability: “To my dismay, within the space of just a few months, I had developed three stress-related illnesses. The situation was not only making my work more and more difficult, it was progressively robbing me of my health.” And Professor Ernst does acknowledge that alternative medicine is not the only problem. On page 32 he writes (as a junior doctor in Germany addressing the medical director of the Munich homeopathic hospital) “His reply to my question, “What precisely causes the improvement of our patients?” amazed me with its disarming honesty. “It’s mostly due to the fact that we discontinue all the useless medications they had been taking previously.”

A Memoir Of Searching For Truth and Finding Trouble

Published by Imprint Academic £14.95

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