A critical look at so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) – Prof. Edzard Ernst

We welcome Prof Edzard Ernst, formerly Professor of Complementary Medicine at the University of Exeter, the first such academic position in the world. He is founder of three medical journals and has been a columnist for many publications. His work has been awarded with 17 scientific awards (most recently the John Maddox Prize in 2015 and the Ockham Award in 2017) and two Visiting Professorships. During the last 25 years, Prof Ernst’s research focused on the critical evaluation of almost all aspects of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). He does not aim to promote SCAM, but provide objective evidence, reliable information and critical assessments of this work.

‘So-called alternative medicine (SCAM) can be defined as an umbrella term for a diverse range of therapeutic and diagnostic modalities which have little in common – other than being “outside” the mainstream of medicine. More than 400 different modalities have been counted. Well-known examples include acupuncture, chiropractic, herbalism and homeopathy.

In my lecture, I will use but a few examples and explain that, for most SCAMs, there is no convincing evidence of effectiveness. I will also demonstrate that many SCAMs have been associated with serious risks. Finally, I will show that only very few SCAMs generate more good than harm. It follows, I think, that integrating more and more of SCAM into routine healthcare is ill-advised.’ – Prof Ernst

This talk was co-hosted with Cambridge BioSoc.

Misinformation in the Digital Age – Prof. Stephan Lewandowsky, Dr Jon Roozenbeek, Prof. Sander van der Linden

We welcome Professor Sander van der Linden, Dr Jon Roozenbeek and Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, our expert panel on misinformation in the digital age. We tackle questions including “how can we fight against misinformation?” and “how does fake news affect our society?”

Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, Chair of Cognitive Psychology at the University of Bristol, is an expert in cognitive science focusing on questions such as “what determines whether people accept scientific evidence?” and “how does misinformation persist and spread within society?” Dr Jon Roozenbeek is an expert on the interplay between the media and our construction of identity, as well as working extensively alongside Professor Van der Linden on novel methods for countering misinformation online.

Professor Sander van der Linden, Associate Professor of Social Psychology in Society at the Department of Psychology is also Director of the Cambridge Social Decision-Making Lab. Professor Van der Linden’s work focuses on the psychology of human judgement and how people form misperceptions of the world around them.

Alongside Dr Roozenbeek, Professor Van der Linden developed an innovative new method of combatting fake news online – “The Fake News Game”. Check it out here.

The Cambridge Scientific Society was founded in 1995, with the goal of promoting all branches of science at a level both stimulating to those studying science and accessible to those with an arts background. Today, SciSoc is the most active science society at Cambridge, and with more than 1000 permanent members (and a much larger email database), the largest. Often, the Society is a platform for the first public exposure of new research and findings. Past speakers include Nobel Laureates James Watson, Sir Tim Hunt and Sir John Walker, eminent scientists Sir Roger Penrose, Sir Richard Friend, Sir John Beddington and Peter Atkins, popular author Matt Ridley, and former Universities and Sciences minister David Willetts among many others.

On The Ethics of Vaccination – Prof. Julian Savulescu

Arguably the best chance of escape from the COVID-19 pandemic is vaccination. But growing vaccine hesitancy has already jeopardised herd immunity for diseases such as the measles. A new vaccine, for a disease that poses a lower risk than measles, for much of the population, is likely to be subject to similar concerns. Indeed, polling suggests that up to 60% of Americans would not take the vaccine right away.

This talk explores if and when a mandatory vaccination programme can be acceptable, and argues that it would be premature for COVID-19 vaccinations. The speaker goes on to suggest that if a voluntary programme is insufficient, a payment model could be used to increase uptake whilst preserving autonomy.

Professor Julian Savulescu is holder of the Uehiro Chair in Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford. His research surrounds the ethics of various new and emerging technologies, such as new methods of reproduction and enhancement of physical and cognitive performance through drugs or genetic manipulation. We would once again like to express our many thanks for his time.