About Dr. Jeremy Howick
Oxford philosopher and medical researcher, Dr. Jeremy Howick has conducted groundbreaking studies about placebos and why we need unbiased experiments. He has degrees from Dartmouth College, the London School of Economics, and the University of Oxford. He has over 60 academic publications in top journals such as the British Medical Journal, Annals of Internal Medicine, and The Lancet. His textbook The Philosophy of Evidence-Based Medicine spearheaded a new sub-discipline. He collaborates about placebo treatments and the need for rigorous evidence with the National Institutes of Health in the United States, the National Institutes of Health Research in the United Kingdom, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research in Canada, and Harvard University. He has won three teaching awards, appears regularly on television and has written for the Times, the Huffington Post, and TheConversation. He is currently working on a mega-study of the benefits of doctor empathy.
How he became interested in this stuff
Jeremy was introduced to the power of belief by his first rowing coach Scott Armstrong at Dartmouth College. At just over six feet tall he was short and an unlikely candidate to be a champion heavyweight rower (the average international rower is closer to six and a half feet). Scott coached him to work hard and believe in himself and within a few years he was a varsity rower at Dartmouth. He had ambitions to compete internationally but didn’t succeed at first – the stress levels associated with trying for the Canadian team were overwhelming and drained his energy. Desperate, he took advice from his mother to visit a traditional Yoga instructor in Montreal called Dr. Bali. Dr. Bali said if he could learn to focus his mind he would save energy, be able to achieve his goals, and even be healthier. He was skeptical, but Dr. Bali was over 70 years old and still strong as a bull. And he wanted to row for Canada so was willing to suspend his skepticism for a bit. He followed Dr. Bali’s routine and represented Canada at the World Rowing Championships, and Oxford in the Oxford Cambridge Boatrace. Rowing also provided his first experience that taught him how beliefs could heal. During his stint as an international rower he was subjected to random drug tests where he had to provide urine samples. In these circumstances athletes are instructed by their coaches to be very careful about anything they ingest because some athletes have been tested positive for taking routine cough or allergy medication. He developed an allergy to the cat his mother bought for his sister. He visited the doctor who diagnosed him with a cat allergy and prescribed a nasal spray. He read the ingredients on the package and one of them was ‘corticosteroid’. Since ‘corticosteroid’ contained the word ‘steroid’, it scared him – would he test positive for the nasal spray? He contacted Rowing Canada to find out but they were taking their time to reply. In the meantime he was suffering. His allergies were making him miserable, he couldn’t sleep, and the quality of his training deteriorated. As a last resort he accepted his mother’s suggestion to meet her friend, a herbal doctor. He thought it would be hogwash and quackery. The herbal doctor suggested that he keep his head and neck warm, and that he drink ginger tea. It worked! But how did he really know that it was really effective? Or was it just a ‘placebo’? Or had his allergies disappeared spontaneously? How would you tell whether it was just a placebo anyway? You can’t make a substance that looks, smells, and tastes like ginger tea but that is not ginger tea. Moreover, because you can’t patent ginger tea, people are less likely to be interested in researching whether it is effective. Since his experience with ginger tea he has gone on a journey to discover the power of the body to heal itself. Achievements along his journey include a PhD in the Philosophy of Medicine, where he investigated the underlying assumptions behind clinical trials, becoming a clinical epidemiologist to investigate the healing power of placebo treatments, and the harms done by over treatment. He is currently an award winning Oxford philosopher and medical researcher. This combination allows him to uncover hidden assumptions about things we take for granted and at the same time conduct studies to tell us what works. Jeremy learned many of his lessons as a competitive rower – he competed at the World Rowing Championships for Canada, won a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games, and represented Oxford in the Oxford Cambridge Boatrace. He has taught hundreds of students the benefits of mindfulness as a qualified Yoga instructor. He believes in authenticity and the method he uses to maintain his own health is by practicing and teaching Yoga. He is aware of the growing evidence-base for Yoga, however he recognizes that you might have your own methods and that is okay.
Dr. Howick’s research has been widely reported in the media, including BBC News, Channel 5 (UK), ITV, and other media outlets all over the world. He has written articles about his work for The Times of London. He appears regularly on the radio and television (he was a professional model and has extensive experience in front of video and still cameras), and is an evidence expert for www.sciencemediacentre.org.
He is a regular speaker at both academic conferences and popular science events (see Keynotes and Events).
Awards and Honors
2012 – 2015
(£243,600) National Institute for Health Research National School for Primary Care Non-Clinical Fellowship, Hosted at the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford, United Kingdom
North American Primary Care Research Group ‘Pearls’ (best presentations from previous annual conference).
Oxford Learning Institute Teaching Award for Innovative Use of Weblearn, University of Oxford, United Kingdom
(£8000) Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences Internal Award, University of Oxford, United Kingdom
2008 – 2011
(£174,407) Joint Medical Research Council (MRC) / Economics and Social Science Research Council (ESRC) Postdoctoral Fellowship, hosted at the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford, United Kingdom
2007 – 2008
(£11,000) University of Oxford Bridging Fund Scholarship, University of Oxford, United Kingdom
London School of Economics Departmental Teaching Award Winner for two consecutive years, London School of Economics, United Kingdom
Distinction, University of Oxford, United Kingdom