Scourge of Snake Oil Salesmen Bids an Early Farewell

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Science  05 Aug 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6043, pp. 687
DOI: 10.1126/science.333.6043.687

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When Edzard Ernst became professor of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, he thought he was in for a quiet life. Eighteen years later, he has publicly clashed with the heir to the British throne, been investigated for an alleged breach of confidentiality, and forced to retire early in a deal to save the department he helped build. Many see Ernst, 63, as the world's leading figure in research on CAM. But Ernst's fierce and often undiplomatic criticism of unproven therapies has also made him many enemies. At a farewell press briefing in London last week, Ernst called Prince Charles a "snake oil salesman"—a headlinemaking sneer he doesn't regret.

  • * Kai Kupferschmidt is a writer in Berlin.