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Pseudo-arguments, strawmen and smoke-screens

Professor Edzard Ernst challenges his critics to show him the evidence

As you know, I’ve been running this blog for some time now. As you don’t know, I’m still enjoying it. I’m learning every day – not least about the pseudo-arguments, strawmen and smoke-screens some of my opponents tend to use in discussions on this blog and elsewhere.

When I point out that therapy X does not work or is not safe, for instance, here is but a small selection of what they usually come up with:

• Typical! Ernst only wallows in negative news. He is not promoting complementary and alternative medicines and should therefore resign.

• What about mainstream treatments? Many of them also don’t work and most do plenty of harm.

• Ernst is neither competent nor qualified to speak about this subject.

• Ernst must be bought by Big Pharma.

• Thousands have used this treatment, so it must work and has to be safe.

• It cured Peter Hain’s son from his asthma, so it must be good.

• It works in animals, therefore it cannot be a placebo.

• Some high tech equipment has shown how it works, e.g. in the human brain.

• Ernst insists on the scientific method, but we are talking holism and individualised approaches which defy science.

Some readers might ask, what is so unusual about a bit of ‘rough and tumble’? Isn’t this quite normal when you have differences of opinion?

Not really! Imagine discussions about a mainstream intervention. Pulse publishes them regularly. Do statins, diuretics etc work and are they safe? Would anyone use any of these arguments then?

In medicine, we use evidence to show that treatment X is effective and safe. Thus proper arguments tend to be supported by proper facts. So, the next time anyone disagrees with me doubting that acupuncture, chiropractic or homeopathy is as good as it is made out to be, why don’t you try some evidence for a change?

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

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