MD, PhD, FMedSci, FSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

It has been pointed out that many of the discussions we have on this blog are like pigeon chess. The term comes from a comment made by Scott D. Weitzenhoffer about Evolution vs. Creationism: An introduction: “Debating creationists on the topic of evolution is rather like trying to play chess with a pigeon — it knocks the pieces over, craps on the board, and flies back to its flock to claim victory.”

Debating a fan of alternative medicine is frequently just like that: ignorant of the basics of science and logic, he nevertheless insists on playing with you, knocks over the pieces, defecates on the board, flies back to his flock to boast of victory, only to come back a little later to start over again.

The sequence of events is comically stereotypical: in order to start this game, the evangelist of alternative medicine does his best to appear rational and interested in the subject. Once a discussion has commenced, he begins to make more and more irrational claims. When asked to provide evidence for them, he evades the challenge. Instead, he issues all sorts of accusations to you. Some of the favourites include:

  • being not competent to discuss the issue at hand,
  • having a closed mind,
  • being paid by BIG PHARMA,

As the accusations continue, it can be almost impossible to remain polite. Your reminders to produce evidence for the evangelist’s irrational claims become more and more pressing. He then decides to focus on a triviality and pesters you with questions about it which are too silly to answer. Consequently, the temperature of the exchange rises until his accusations become offensive or turn into overt insults (in the past I have sometimes deleted insulting comments and I intend to continue doing this on hopefully rare occasions). The aims of the evangelist are 1) to arrive at a point where you lose your temper and 2) to distract from the fact that he is unable to provide any evidence for his outlandish claims. Eventually your patience is exhausted and you finally start paying him back in the same coinage as he dispensed.

At this stage, the evangelist indignantly shouts:

  • YOU HAVE INSULTED ME!!!
  • YOU HAVE INSULTED ANYONE WHO DISAGREES WITH YOU!!!
  • THIS SHOWS WHAT A BAD, BAD PERSON YOU ARE!!!

Consequently, you give him a real piece of your mind and tell him what you really think of people who are belligerent,  ignorant on their chosen subject, provocatively irrational and unable or unwilling to learn. The reaction of the evangelist is predictable: he says THAT’S IT, I AM NOT TALKING TO YOU ANYMORE, announces that he is the winner of the argument, and flies off triumphantly promising never to return.

Finally!

We all give a sigh of relief. The evangelist has now returned to his fellow conspiracy theorists where he defames you the best he can. Eventually he disappoints your hope of peace and rationality by returning to the table. He pretends nothing has happened and starts over again.

So, what is the solution?

I am not sure there is an ideal way out.

Personally I intend to do the following in future (and I invite others to follow my example): before I reach the point where I lose my temper completely and regrettably, I will refer the evangelist to this blog post entitled ‘A method of ending discussions with belligerent twits’. At the same time, I will inform him (rarely it is a ‘her’) that I am about to break off the discussion with him because I fear that otherwise I might be openly rude, and perhaps even tell him: YOU ARE A FLAMING IDIOT WHO POSTS FAR TO MUCH NONSENSE TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY.

This, I hope will get my message across without actually ever tempting me to post a rude word again.

Failing this, I will block him completely, a measure to which so far I only needed rarely to resort.

60 Responses to A method of ending discussions with belligerent twits

  • If it is your site Dr Ernst then you can do what you like with the comments, and only allow those comments that praise and agree with you, if that is what you prefer. Lovely!

  • Talking of which, whatever happened to Mr Logos- Bios? It became impossible to deal with him on any rational level, but it’s nevertheless instructive to learn of the existence of such persons. ‘Know your enemy’ etc. His admiration of the Fake President and his ‘government’, seemingly tangential to this blog ( although given homeopaths’ support for Trumpand his grotesque scorn for science and his hatred of iscientists, I believe it was especially revealing)was his use of the phrase ‘the leftist media’) was grimly funny.Iqbal- level stupidity dressed up occasionally in florid language to impress the gullible( in this respect, if no other, he was one step ahead of his hero,choosing not simply to shout the chiropractic equivalent of ‘Build wall! BIIIG WAAALLL!’).

  • Ernst

    “Personally I intend to do the following in future (and I invite others to follow my example): before I reach the point where I lose my temper completely and regrettably, I will refer the evangelist to this blog post entitled ‘A method of ending discussions with belligerent twits’. At the same time, I will inform him (rarely it is a ‘her’) that I am about to break off the discussion with him because I fear that otherwise I might be openly rude, and perhaps even tell him”

    You really make an effort. Why not continue with the procedure that you follow now: remove the post under moderation if it seems to question your position on alternative medicine and picks holes into your credentials. I see this happening many times, including today.

    After all, you are the owner of this blog and having supporters that cheer you on is quite good for the ego, especially now when not being the Chief of Complementary medicine has taken away with it many trappings of power and official ego massagers!!!!!!!

    • Ah,Iqbal! You live! Thanks to homeopathy? Who knows!

    • Alan Henness- as I said before, one stricture on this blog that I rather disagree with is that we should address anyone who posts only by their real, or chosen, name, and resist the temptation to have a bit of fun. Thus-albeit he seems to have absented himself- depriving us of Doc Dale’s being referred to as ‘Not A Doc’ Dale for instance. ( I had one or two of my own, but modesty forbids).As usual with top-class humour, there’s a joke and a pithy point and a razor sharp criticism wrapped up in one concise phrase, without the need to descend to the inelegance of ‘dimwit’ or, as EE has been called,by a proper doctor no less, ‘wanker’. For instance, referring to Norman Tebbit in the House of Commons as a house-trained polecat’ was deeply funny and perceptive, and part of British politics, whereas calling him a ‘shitferbrains’ would probably have led to the kind of mass brawl occasionally evident in distant lands and shown on the television.

    • @Iqbal

      Why not continue with the procedure that you follow now: remove the post under moderation if it seems to question your position on alternative medicine and picks holes into your credentials.

      You are the author of hundreds of posts, all published on this site, that question Prof. Ernst’s position on alternative medicine and pick holes in his credentials. Don’t you harbour even the vaguest notion that this comment might be just a shade on the outrageous side?

      I see this happening many times, including today.

      I suspect that EE might be willing, after all. to share with us your post of today that you claim he blocked, so we can all judge for ourselves how unreasonable that action was. So far it seems to me he lets through far more of your nonsense than the tolerant readership deserves.

      • “You are the author of hundreds of posts, all published on this site, that question Prof. Ernst’s position on alternative medicine and pick holes in his credentials.”
        CORRECTION: “…and TRY TO pick holes in his credentials…”

      • Ernst

        Frank says: “I suspect that EE might be willing, after all. to share with us your post of today that you claim he blocked, so we can all judge for ourselves how unreasonable that action was.”

        Says what, you?

  • Classic example of pigeon: Jeremy Marchant

    Jeremy Marchant on Tuesday 02 May 2017 at 21:54
    Hello all

    I can’t say I’ve read all of the above, or anything like it. But I feel I have read enough to make the following observation.
    I very much doubt whether ‘Greg’ has any interest in homeopathy, or any interest in the content of the, er, discussion. Or, if he does, homeopathy just provides a useful vehicle with which to achieve his real purpose.

    ‘Greg’ strikes me as a classic example of the person who engages in exchanges such as the above, so that he can show to us that he is invariably right. It is this need―this overweening attachment to being right which is the big thing here. It doesn’t really matter whether the subject in hand is homeopathy or the price of fish.

    Greg is actually playing a game (a game in the sense of transactional analysis) which I have already written on―humorously, I hope―in the context of LinkedIn ‘discussions’. Permit me to draw attention to it *.

    The game is called Bring it on! There are two players: White and Black (many people can be Black, but White stands alone). The choice of colours is taken from chess. White’s first play is to make a statement which is simple, and either stupid or contentious or both. If it’s not contentious, he won’t be able to goad others into responding. If it isn’t simple, he won’t be able to contribute himself and will soon be found out by a piscine expert.

    Black cannot resist and piles in with posts. The description of the game is quite long, so may I refer you to the webpage on my site already cited.

    Anyway, the nature of the subject (say, homeopathy) is so slippery and so rich with pseudo-science that White will always be able to craft a superficially plausible reply to anything Black posts. This will just infuriate Black who cannot resist responding, possibly with a less than judicious reply which White can then gun for with his self-righteousness.

    It is a game that Black will find almost impossible to win. For it is always possible for White to come up with something to avoid answering a direct question or avoid providing explicitly requested evidence, whilst introducing new obfuscating material. As a last resort, White will resort to questioning Black’s parentage.

    It’s important to see that, once Black makes his/her second response he/she is colluding with White in the fight and might ask him/herself whether this is, in fact, the best use of their time (given they won’t win unless White gives in which, short of illness, is highly unlikely).

    * http://www.emotionalintelligenceatwork.com/games-people-play-on-linkedin-2/

    Reply

    Greg on Wednesday 03 May 2017 at 07:17
    Jeremy, this is not black and white.

    You are mistaken:I very much doubt whether ‘Greg’ has any interest in homeopathy, or any interest in the content of the, er, discussion. Or, if he does, homeopathy just provides a useful vehicle with which to achieve his real purpose.

    Bjorn Geir has identified me as the wrong person: Mr Greg Cope, Homeopath and Acupuncturist (Australia). Mr Thomas Mohr and Edzard Ernst accepted this erroneous finding and now disseminate this incorrect information on this website.

    Thank you for adding your name here: one more clueless man.

    Reply

    Greg on Wednesday 03 May 2017 at 07:54
    Hello Jeremy, please would you provide a link to the *scientific evidence* for your science of ‘games people play’.

    This is such old stuff Jeremy but I look forward to discussing it with you.

    End of thread

    What happened to Jeremy? He landed on this site, deposited his ‘analysis’, and flew off.

    • Greg- where does Jeremy refer to the ‘science’ of the games that people play? And in what sense has he landed on the board, taken a crap, and then flown away? As far as I can see, he’s simply made a point, and then left a gap for others to respond should they wish. You appear to be simply seizing on the pigeon/chess point because it seems fashionable, not because it actually applies to the point he made, or the manner of its making. just as Colin recently shouted ‘Fake news’ at a post regarding a news item he didn’t like, omitting unfortunately to point out what, if anything, was ‘fake’ about it. It was simply a half-witted attempt to suggest some kind of rigorous analysis on his part.

    • “What happened to Jeremy? He landed on this site, deposited his ‘analysis’, and flew off.” Greg, you show an understanding of the pigeon chess fallacy on the same level as your understanding of things medical.

    • Greg

      The pigeon chess metaphor depends on the idea that the pigeon can’t really play chess. Jeremy’s comments were perfectly reasonable observations that match my experience over a couple of decades.

      That he doesn’t continue to comment here is really his own business. Perhaps he has, you know, a life.

  • I think Iqbal has confused posts that are merely held in moderation until Edzard gets round to approving them with blocking posts.

    In the past, this site has occasionally lost posts during submission, so I copy what I’ve just written in case such a glitch occurs and I can re-post it.

    However, a homeopath will always invent a conspiracy for anything better explained by cock-up.

    • In no way of course could any of the sceptics on here ever be accused of acting like belligerent twits.
      Watch out that the demonisation and abuse of homeopaths achieve little other than generating sympathy for the very people you are targeting.
      It would be interesting to see if there are any sceptics out there who disagree with this demonisation and abuse tactic.
      I won’t hold my breath as demonisation and abuse may not just be restricted to homeopaths. It could come to any sceptic who steps out of line.

      • “demonisation and abuse tactic”
        I am afraid you misunderstand my plan; I do not want to abuse anyone but protect us from abuse.
        this blog is relatively young, yet it has some 28 000 comments. I do encourage comments, particularly those that do not agree with my views. but debates need to be constructive, otherwise they are not worth the effort. my initiative aims at rendering the discussions more constructive and remind pigeons to crap elsewhere.

      • Well, a homeopath could choose to engage with the discussion in a rational manner, make pertinent comments and stick to a line of reasoning. That they do none of these things is no one’s fault but their own.

        Unfortunately, we have the word oxymoron in our vocabulary for a reason.

      • Skye

        You are welcome to pick up any of the points that Greg and Iqbal have failed to manage.

        Give it a try.

      • What homeopaths and other AltMed types categorise as “demonisation and abuse” is what we generally classify as “asking for evidence and pointing out where errors lie”. It’s much like the comments that Blessed Lynne removes from the WDDTY Facebook page which she classifies as “abuse”. It is always a tricky one when harsh reality gets in the way of one’s treasured beliefs and, as such, the narrative must be contorted in order that it may conform to your worldview.

    • Surely a homeopath expects her/his contribution to be diluted to non-existence, but asserts it’s a valid point nevertheless?

      • Rich Wiltshir- exactly the point that some of us have made when leaving 1-star reviews for homeopathy books on Amazon. They’re much more effective than those silly 5-star ones.

  • There are two types of pigeon.

    Those who crap once or twice on a particular thread, then fly off never to be heard of again. One-shit wonders. They have the instinctive sense, born of cowardice, not to hang around to be shown up as shit-twits.

    Then there are those who do not fly off. Their shit is never-ending, ever repeating. These hardcore shit addicts are beyond the fear of being revealed as idiots. They have no control over their need to defend the indefensible.

    I feel a mixture of deep contempt and profound pity for the addicts, in particular.

    • Pottymouth

      Foul mouthed posts like this I find offensive and can’t believe they have been allowed. Considering the topic of this article all this comment does is exposes the school yard antics continually at play here. Especially the child like bullying that goes on towards people that have a different view other than what is continually being regurgitated by the author and his minions.

      • Sarahnz -as Stephen Fry, and others, say- So what? You do not have the right not to be offended in matters such as these, either in content or expression.And for Dog’sake, will you people grow up and stop accusing your opponents of that which your side is often found doing.Nobody on this side of the argument has ever tried to destroy the career of an honest, qualified critic in the way that the homeopathic cultists attempted to do with Dr Simon Singh.Stop being so touchy, grow up, at least try to act the age of your sock size.

      • Sarahnz

        The Tone Troll is a close friend of the Pigeon Chessplayer.

      • If you find the truth offensive then you have a problem. Telling it like it is is not bullying.

        • Leigh Jackson- to be fair, I think she’s objecting to Mr Pottymouth- an example of baby language I find endearing, so I shan’t take umbrage. Albeit I do think she’s probably a bit grumpy about criticism of homeopathy.
          Come to think of it, I think I will take some umbrage. People say it may cure depression and all sorts.

      • Sarahnz, your support of charlatans and snake oil salesmen and women for “their different view” is like agreeing with any thief, psychopath or lying dictator for their “different point of view.” Common sense and science based education allows most of us to tell the difference. Medicine is based on science based facts, not beliefs and superstitions. I agree that vulgarity does not usually help an argument but sometimes polite rationality obviously does not work so frustration stimulates various forms of humor, be it dark or satirical.

        • Well if we’re going to split hairs you all need to be reminded that conventional medicine is the leading cause of death in the world and that is fact… Look it up! Pretend all you want

          How many people die from CAM?

          • TOO MANY!

          • Sarahnz said:

            How many people die from CAM?

            Wrong question, of course. But if you to bring up iatrogenic harm, please only do so if you also detail the numbers of lives saved by conventional medicine, the number of people living longer and with a higher quality of life because of conventional medicine, the number of babies who survive birth because of conventional medicine and the number of those who are suffering less and in less pain because of conventional medicine.

            And then give the same numbers for homeopathy or whatever quackery you’re into so we can make a proper comparison.

          • Sarahnz- I’m utterly astonished at how many of you cultists bring up this completely bogus point. Or am I? Some of you are even insane and desperate enough to quote easily checked figures- lies of course. But then, as withTrump collaborators, we hear that the WHO and government organisations or whoever are ‘all in it together’, and funded by Big Pharma, or Jews, or spacemen, or like whoever. Do you have it in you to be embarrassed?Do you agree that Alan Henness’s reply to you was perfectly courteous and rational, not a potty- mouthed playground antic, and deserving of an honest and rational reply? Do you have anything to back up your claims?

          • @Sarahnz

            Just in case the previous three comments don’t spell it out clearly enough for you, your statement that “conventional medicine is the leading cause of death in the world and that is fact… Look it up! ” is sheer nonsense. You need to look things up better; or preferably put the source of your information in your comment. Citing sources is known as basic scholarship.

  • It’s difficult to know what IsleofSkye (one person, I imagine, not the entire population), means exactly by ‘demonisation’, ‘abuse’ and ‘belligerence’, since- as we know- so many People of Woo see any criticism or request for an answer or explanation as a declaration of war.

    • To be fair, when they’re pushing stuff that distracts folk from evidence-based attention, I declare war against the tosspots.
      However, it’s arena dependant. I’ve friends and associates who are into this stuff, but they never try to push the stuff while I’m around, so it would be ineffective of me to seek battle. I settle for my t-shirts and badges that aim to let the silent sceptic know they’re not alone.

      • Rich Wiltshir- fair enough stance.Although even a T-shirt slogan can get in people’s faces a bit, making them say ‘Yes mate, but why are you telling me? Just keep it to yourself’.

        • Barrie: yes it depends on the t-shirt & “audience”.
          Most of mine of free-thinking to show silenced atheists they’re not alone, however some are more general, such as “dataset beats data point beats madeyuppy.”
          Vast majority of reactions are supportive, appreciative and occasional touching in the tales they share.

    • Yeah, they usually call it bullying here in North America. Any dissenting opinion is “bullying.”

      And I always preferred Isle of Lucy. (A Spinal Tap joke. Hope someone got it.)

    • I wish to confirm to Barrie that I do not speak for the good people of the Isle of Skye. If I decide to call myself Mars and get past moderation then please note that I dont speak for Martians either.

      As far as I am concerned there is a lot of going round in circles which can be quite entertaining if it is not my posts getting deconstructed line by line. In effect this is just bleating ‘Sceptics good -Homeopaths bad’ or ‘Homeopaths good Sceptics bad.’ Keeps it all polarised and nice and simple I suppose. No one though ever concedes anything. No homeopath ever says that Edzard ever has a point and no sceptic will say any thing that could be remotely positive to do with homeopathy or homeopaths. How about some shades of grey- in this context?

      • IsleofSkye – you seem to want to equate opinion (homeopathy treats disease) with fact (no good scientific study shows evidence for homeopathy beyond placebo effects). There is no fact purported by homeopaths to concede…

      • IsleofSkye- the reason I never say anything good about homeopaths and their beliefs is that I can’t think of anything.
        The reason this blog seems to you to go round and round in circles is greatly to do with the way that homeopaths keep refusing to answer requests for evidence of their claims. It’s easy to b break this circle. Simply supply us with the incontrovertible evidence that most of you claim exists, but the rest of us are too blind or opinionated to see, and it all stops.
        And stop telling us, as one chap did in a book reviewed on Amazon, that it’s ‘ a bit too difficult for Science to understand just yet’.We don’t appreciate being spoon-fed, like babies.
        Sorry Sarahnz if this offends you ( no I’ m not), but it’s way past time when, as our American chums say, you should ‘shit or get off the pot’.

  • If I decide to call myself Mars and get past moderation

    Well, that’s an odd thing to say. It doesn’t require much to ‘get past moderation’ here.

    Anyway, you ask us to consider shades of grey. Where do we find those? On the one hand we have fantasists, fools and charlatans who believe in magic sugar or water and cannot string together a logical train of thought. On the other hand we have rational knowledge and the bleedin’ obviously correct.

    One is wrong the other is right. That happens sometimes. And homeopaths don’t even get points for trying.

    • the earth is a little round and at the same time quite flat?

      • Edzard- As I understand it, the Earth is slightly grapefruit- shaped, being slightly flattened at the Poles. Maybe this the ‘grey area’ requested by the flat- Earthers?

    • Simon Baker- it’s a source of confusion for me also. Are we talking about the ‘shades of grey’ which would accommodate the woman on the US TV discussion panel who hadn’t yet decided whether the Earth is round? And then tried to escape her state of flusterment by claiming she was far too busy putting food on the table for her child to bother herself with such questions?Are we talking about the shades of grey which people use to call for Creationism to be taught in Science classes? The Earth is spherical – more or less- or it isn’t. Homeopathy works or it doesn’t. Any call for a middle ground in such matters is nothing more than an attempt by some people to normalise their foolishness, and to be allowed to claim equality in a metaphorical boxing match in which they are being pounded senseless and are about 1,000 points behind. As they say- everyone has the right to an opinion, but no one has the right to have their opinion respected..

  • All you have to do then is convince all the medical professionals and politicians about the bleeding obvious and how it is a threat to public health. They should come on this blog and read the posts from all the belligerent twits.

    • “threat to public health” er… slight difference between these words and the position common to this blog that homeopathy should not be publicly funded, I think.

      BTW, IsleofSky, you seem to confuse bluntness with belligerence, and reasonable requests for evidence with twittery. You appear to be very confused.

  • The only thing I am confused about Frank is whether you understand the meaning of belligerence and bluntness. Or maybe there are some grey areas in your understanding.

    • Do you seriously believe in homeopathy, and if so, do you consider it a religion? I am genuinely curious.

      • Homeopathy or maybe the Homeopathic consultation sometimes works. Some believe in this process like others believe in a shamanic or religious ritual. Maybe some just need to express themselves in this process which is quite different from counselling. Insisting to the homeopathic community that it doesn’t work and that they should see a specialist doesn’t help when just about everyone using CAM is a refugee from the NHS system. After countless GP and Specialist appointments and tests many like me formally trusting in EBM give up if treatments don’t work or they can’t identify the problem. There are just too many of us who have been forced to try CAM. Most don’t come on here though.

  • What is most humorous about the author and this website is how he knocks the hell out of alternative medicine and therapies yet never provides readers with any alternatives, despite claiming to be an expert.

    For example: it’s like needing new tyres for your car and the salesman keeps on telling you that, I’m sorry this tyre, that tyre, and that tyre is not suitable for your car either. So you ask We’ll what tyre do you recommend then and he says… No comment.

    Anyone can pick holes in anything that’s easy, but to offer alternatives and provide useful workable information, to complete the equation that’s what is really needed. So all the author is doing is adding negativity and problems to this world without providing any real solutions.

    • Medicine.

      But, it can’t solve every problem.

      You might want to read about the ‘Nirvana Fallacy’.

      I say ‘want’, perhaps I mean ‘ought’.

  • You comment is humorous. Medical research searches for improvements and alternatives and new treatments all the time. It would be wonderful if it was easy, but it ain’t easy at all. That’s the thing about “alternative” medicine, it’s soooo easy. Just stick some pins in yourself, or try a sugar pill dipped in water, or click a few bones. Yeah, that’ll do it obviously, that will solve all my problems – soooo easy!!!!! . Why didn’t anyone ever tell me before? I mean, all those researchers, they are wasting their time – it’s all been sorted already!!!!!!

    Ain’t life wunnerfull?

  • I always find this pigeon analogy kind of weird and pointless because “to claim victory” implies that pigeon knows what it did. It doesn’t. It just knocks over pieces, craps on the board and flies away without claiming victory.

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