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Medical Research Should Stop Now (And We Should Use What We Know)


Medical Research Should Stop Now (And We Should Use What We Know)

Vernon Coleman’s track record of spotting health dangers is second to none. Since the 1970s, when his first two groundbreaking books (‘The Medicine Men’ and ‘Paper Doctors’) were published, Dr. Coleman has been gaining friends among patients and enemies among doctors and drug companies.

In Paper Doctors Dr. Coleman argued that most medical research is done for the benefit of researchers and drug companies and that the money would be better spent on using the information we already have and encouraging the public to avoid known health hazards.

The following short essay is taken from his book ‘Paper Doctors’ which was first published in 1977 and is now once again available as a paperback.

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By Dr. Vernon Coleman

Most doctors in clinical practice accept the myth that medical research still has much to offer. Their attitudes have been carefully nurtured over many decades by the researchers themselves (many of whom, resting comfortably on the achievements of their predecessors, think of themselves as rather superior beings), by academics who combine teaching with research and who find the quiet waters of research preferable to the hectic and often disturbed and disturbing waters of clinical medicine, and by doctors in practice who have been brought up to have nothing but respect and admiration for the medical researcher.

The public’s attitude has been formed both by the medical profession and by science and medical writers anxious to provide their readers with hopeful and startling news. Initial scepticism which troubled the researchers of half a century ago has been replaced by an unreasonable and overwhelming faith that medical researchers will eventually produce all the answers and that spectacular cures are “just around the corner.” Progress, the public is told, is part of human nature. So great is the public’s faith in research that it is much easier for charitable organisations to collect money for research programmes than it is for them to collect money to provide medical and nursing care for the underprivileged sick.

Medical researchers have led us into a confused and confusing world where we no longer have either total free control over our own health or complete freedom to choose which avenues we wish to explore. The researchers have landed us with problems which we have to solve by accepting their solutions: in order to solve the problems created by doctors, we have to accept the solutions offered by doctors. And while we remain uncertain about what to do to solve these problems, the researchers fiddle happily in their laboratories. The scientists employed by our governments continue to look for simple answers to complex problems. The scientists employed by the pharmaceutical industry continue to produce marketable but medically unoriginal products which merely add to the world’s problems rather than help to solve them.

We need to spend a few decades consolidating our position and tidying our base camp before we set off on any further exploratory missions. We need to assess our medical methods, we need to assess previously ignored and unfashionable techniques which may now have more to offer than traditional medicine, we need to study methods of dealing with the various personal and environmental pollutants which are such important causes of illness and death, and we need most of all to find solutions to the problems which our own researchers have created.

In the Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine in 1972 Dr N.R.E. Fendall wrote “If I were asked to compose an epitaph on medicine throughout the twentieth century, it would read: brilliant in its discoveries, superb in its technological breakthrough, but woefully inept in its application to those most in need. Medicine will be judged not on its vast and rapid accumulation of knowledge per se but on its trusteeship of that knowledge.”

Speaking to a commemorative public meeting celebrating twenty years of the World Health Organisation, Lord Rosenheim said that we would make immense progress in health if within the next twenty years we could apply fully what we already know.

It is ironical that, when we have at last got the knowledge to help us ensure that medicine really does affect mortality rates for the first time in two centuries, we continue to search for answers which in reality we already have. Major causes of death in the younger age groups include cigarette smoking, various types of pollution, and accidents; and in the middle-aged groups, chest disorders, heart disorders and cancers. Most of these could be prevented if we applied the knowledge we have stored in our libraries.

It seems to me that one has to agree with the editorial writer in the Medical Journal of Australia who said in 1973: “Medical research can no longer be allowed to grow at random, reacting only slowly and inadequately to the changing needs of community health and the ever-changing patterns of diseases.” For ethical, financial and common-sense reasons we must call a halt. As Theodor Fox put it in The Lancet in 1965: “Today when so many progressive minds are preoccupied with ways of doing things, we too easily forget what ends these means are meant to serve.”

Meanwhile, however, the medical establishment is in the hands of the traditionalists like the late Henry Miller, the medically qualified Vice Chancellor of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, who, in his contribution to the book Medical History and Medical Care, published in 1971, wrote, “Most of the diseases that are easily preventable are being prevented” and, in an attack on a physician who had expressed well-reasoned fears about the development of medical technology, said “My impression is that he would prefer to be sick in a cottage hospital under the care of a physician in holy orders whose practice was uncomplicated by instrumentation of any kind.” Personally, I am not at all convinced that I would prefer to occupy a bed in a modern, well-equipped hospital rather than an old-fashioned cottage hospital where tender, loving care is high on the list of priorities. It is, at the least, a choice which demands some consideration, and I hope that the rest of this book will provide the open-minded reader with much food for thought.

About the Author

Dr. Vernon Coleman MB ChB DSc practised medicine for ten years. He has been a full-time professional author for over 30 years. He is a novelist and campaigning writer and has written many non-fiction books.  He has written over 100 books which have been translated into 22 languages. On his website,,  there are hundreds of articles which are free to read.

Featured image: Manor House Hospital in 1991 (left). Royal London Hospital completed 2016 (right).

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