I devoured Edzard Ernst's A Scientist in Wonderland
in a single sitting yesterday. It's not "polished prose" - more memoir than full autobiography - and I was aware that I was only getting one side of the story, but I found it to be an utterly enthralling and very human book.
Prof. Ernst comes across as an idealist who spent a lot of his young adulthood trying to find his mission in life, frequently approaching, but not quite finding, it. The first half of the book details this.
In the second half, which deals mostly with his time as the Laing Professor of Complementary Medicine at Exeter University, it seems that Ernst found his mission. Many apologists for pseudomedicine try to hide behind the assertion that it cannot be amenable to scientific testing for a variety of reasons, common excuses being individualisation of treatment and testing interfering with the "subtle energies" . Ernst's description of how he accommodated the objections of spiritual healers in order to test their claims gives the lie to the validity of these excuses.
In this part, we see the close-mindedness that characterises so many of those who espouse pseudomedicine and their fear of having their particular "modality" exposed as indistinguishable from placebo. I wonder if Ernst is perhaps over-generous when he describes these people as being mostly well-intentioned. The one who clearly comes across as not being well-intentioned is (Prince) Charles Windsor, who comes across as using the influence he has due to accident of birth in a petty, disingenuous and downright spiteful manner. What was also disappointing (and which must have been devastating to Ernst) was the comprehensive failure of the university authorities to stand up to this royal bully.
I can only highly recommend this marvellous little book. It is full of remarkable anecdotes, the humour (much of it self-deprecating) shines through even the darkest times, and we are left, as Ernst was, with nothing but the sheer integrity that has guided his often difficult path through life.