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Nonsense intolerance

Edzard Ernst is encouraged by some strong words from the Government’s chief scientific advisor on ‘pseudoscience’ in healthcare

In numerous discussions about CAM, I have felt an increasingly strong sensation of frustration. This feeling is often boosted when I see how the press are dealing with this particular subject. As a result, I have to admit, I have grown less and less tolerant with people who clearly promote nonsense.

Recently, unexpected support came from the Government’s chief scientific advisor Professor John Beddington. Here is what he said in his speech delivered at the Annual Conference of Scientists Working in the Civil Service on 3 February 2011.

‘There is I believe a pernicious tendency at the moment to equate pseudo-science, the cherry picking of information, essentially scientific nonsense, with proper science. And we’re seeing that throughout the community. ….we are grossly intolerant, and properly so, of racism.

‘We are grossly intolerant, and properly so, of people who are anti-homosexual or are anti-gay in the vernacular … we are not grossly intolerant of pseudo-science, the building up of what purports to be science by the cherry-picking of the facts and the failure to use scientific evidence and the failure to use scientific method.

‘We should not tolerate what is potentially something that can seriously undermine our ability to address important problems. … I think that we have failed probably over the last five or ten years to actually essentially show that degree of intolerance of poor scientific inference and the pretence that there is some kind of scientific validity in what are manifestly not. ….so I’d urge you and this is a kind of strange message to go out but go out and be much more intolerant.’

As doctors we have become, I think, far too tolerant to the excesses of anti-science and pseudoscience in healthcare. I therefore join Beddington in his call for more intolerance in this area.

Professor Edzard Ernst is professor of complementary medicine at the Peninsula Medical School, University of Exeter

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