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