Unintended consequences are outcomes of a purposeful action that are not intended or foreseen. They exist almost everywhere and often have effects that are the opposite of what was intended.

Just look at our current misery, the pandemic, for instance. Practically all epidemiologists advocated stricter and earlier preventative measures than the ‘anti-lockdown’ brigade in politics and elsewhere wanted and implemented. Had we listened to the epidemiologists, we would almost certainly have had fewer lockdowns and less economic downturn. The unintended consequences of the political decisions to be slow and less than strict with lockdowns are what we can currently observe in many countries:

  • repeated, longer, and less and less effective lockdowns,
  • huge economic damage,
  • more deaths,
  • more long-term illness;
  • financial hardship for many,
  • more psychological problems and frustration.

But I am not here to moan about politicians not listening enough to scientists. I want to vent my anger and concern about much of the research that is currently being published in the realm of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM).

What is happening here – slightly simplified and exaggerated to make my point – is (as often discussed previously) roughly this:

  • more and more enthusiasts of SCAM feel that they should conduct and publish some research;
  • they are largely ignorant of or willfully ignore the accepted standards of science;
  • they have little interest in cause and effect or critical thinking;
  • they aim to promote and not to test SCAM;
  • several SCAM journals have realized that there is good money to be earned from publishing utter rubbish;
  • more and more papers are being published that are flawed to the point of being meaningless;
  • the few relevant SCAM papers with sound science get drowned out and become all but invisible;
  • outsiders glancing at the literature get the impression that SCAM is swamped with rubbish and thus an area that is best avoided;
  • consequently, SCAM research is fast losing all credibility and is becoming the laughing stock of proper scientists;
  • eventually, the notion that ‘ALL SCAM IS RUBBISH’ must filter through into public life;
  • in the end, the pseudo-researchers of SCAM will have provided the nail in SCAM’s coffin.

The INTENDED consequence was to promote SCAM.

The UNINTENDED consequence will be to destroy SCAM.

This self-destructive course of SCAM might be applauded by some skeptics. However, if you believe (as I do) that there are a few good things to be found in SCAM, this development can only be regrettable.

What can be done to avert such a negative outcome?

I wish I knew!

But four productive steps might be the following:

  1. make sure researchers are adequately trained and supervised to do sound science;
  2. motivate funding agencies to stop supporting pseudo-science;
  3. ensure that journal editors and reviewers realize they have the responsibility to avoid publishing nonsense
  4. motivate Medline to de-list a few of the worst SCAM journals.


10 Responses to Unintended consequences of current research into so-called alternative medicine (SCAM)

  • This article is utter rubbish. As if the alternative medicine community were responsible for the consequences of the pandemic! All the alternative medicine people I know are following the procedures of social distancing and wearing masks, and none of them are disputing the epidemiologists. Where, what are the papers you’re speaking of? Evidence, please! And there are cranks in every field, conventional medicine included.

    • read it again slowly and try to understand what I wrote.

    • As if the alternative medicine community were responsible for the consequences of the pandemic!

      +1 for you can’t read.

      The only error I see in Prof Ernst’s piece is “The UNINTENDED consequence will be to destroy SCAM.” which fails to account for the fact that CAM is Religion. Because if (for instance) being busted operating the largest child molestation ring in the world couldn’t even slow Roman Catholicism then CAM certainly isn’t going to be ended just because it makes everything up as it goes along.

      But all that proves is that SCAMmers aren’t alone in putting wishful thinking before cold harsh fact; and I really can’t blame Prof Ernst for his hope even if it is wildly over-optimistic. People are morons. Because they choose to be. That is a very hard addiction to break in oneself, never mind impossible for others to break for you.

  • Still waiting to see any science to support the authorities’ requirements to quarantine the healthy i.e. lockdowns.

    As Scott Atlas said at the end of May, 2020
    “The disease has been responsible for 800,000 lost years of life so far. The national lockdown [in the USA] is responsible for at least 700,000 lost years of life every month, or about 1.5 million so far – already far surpassing the Covid19 total.”
    “Statistically, every $10 million to $24 million lost in US incomes results in one additional death.”
    Of course that was 7 months ago.

    So blaming the miniscule numbers of CAM practitioners doing research is a colossal misdirection of where the true blame lies.

  • – here, let me google that for you.
    The analysis at the link indicates that early adoption of lockdowns and indeed all sorts of other interventions is critical. Dithering has huge costs. Lockdowns and other restrictive measures have costs and here is where good government support of affected communities becomes critical.
    Atlas and others place the economy above people’s safety and play on this false dichotomy.

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