You may not like it, but we do seem to live in the age of the ‘alternative truth’. It might necessitate reconsidering some of our definitions. A lie, for instance, was formerly defined as making an untrue statement with intent to deceive. Does that definition need to be revised in the age of the ‘alternative truth’?

Laura Kuenssberg, the political editor of the BBC, seems to think so. She recently published an interesting new definition of a lie: “… outright lying … is relatively rare. It is too easily found out. Only one senior politician still in the game has ever privately told me something that was utterly, entirely, and completely untrue.” She wrote this in an article about our PM, Boris Johnson who, by old standards, would probably qualify as a habitual liar. And as the BBC political editor cannot easily call him that, she conveniently moved the goal post and defined a lie to be something “utterly, entirely, and completely untrue”.

So, here we have it, the age of alternative truths has redefined the lie!

But I am not starting to write political rants – tempting though it often is – there is enough to rant about in so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). The questions I asked myself are these: how does SCAM measure up to the new Kuenssberg definition, and how gullible have we become?

Let’s play a little game to find out, shall we?

I provide 10 statements commonly used by the SCAM fraternity, and I ask you to consider which of them is “utterly, entirely, and completely untrue”.

  1. Chiropractic manipulations have been proven to do more good than harm.
  2. Acupuncture is effective for chronic pain.
  3. Homeopathy is supported by sound evidence.
  4. Homeopathic remedies act as nano-particles.
  5. Natural means safe.
  6. Integrative medicine is in the best interest of patients.
  7. Chiropractic subluxations do exist.
  8. Detox is a concept that makes sense.
  9. SCAM practitioners treat the root causes of disease.
  10. SCAM is cost-effective.

Next, please count the number of statements that are “utterly, entirely, and completely untrue”. This will give you a figure between 0 and 10. I propose that it can be used as a measure of gullibility.

I suggest the following grading:

  • 10 – 8 = not gullible
  • 7 – 5 = gullible
  • 4 – 2 = very gullible
  • 1 – 0 = dangerously gullible.

And here you have the ‘Edzard Ernst measure of gullibility’!


6 Responses to The Laura Kuenssberg definition of a lie + the Edzard Ernst measure of gullibility

  • Probably a score of 10.


    1) In an individual case, rather than a statistical overview or metanalysis, a person might have benefitted in some way from a manipulation, for some unknown reason.
    2) No definition given of “effective”.
    3) A very small amount of decent studies might have yielded a positive result, but the vast preponderance of good studies don’t.
    4) Nonsense.
    5) “There’s nothing more natural than a rattlesnake bite”.
    6) Untrue. It confuses the issue and is likely to impoverish patients without providing any benefit.
    7) Zero evidence or plausibility.
    8) It only makes sense if you have ingested a toxin – a rattlesnake bite, perhaps….
    9) Nonsense.
    10) For its practitioners, yes.

  • You left out the only rationalist option;
    10: It is all total bullshit.

    Any other option allows for wavering and the ingress of irrationality. There is only one medicine; the reason I am still alive, well, and enjoying life (sometimes too much and too often. 😁)

  • 10 SCAM is cost-effective. True if you are a US insurance company. False elsewhere.

    • I do have to take a slight issue with number 8. If the word detox has a capital letter D at the beginning, it becomes a brand of disinfectant. I have some in the cupboard under my sink, so I am absolutely sure it is real.

  • Does autophagy during fasting have as a component of it’s function, DETOXIFICATION intracellularly? Has this some benefit to the person’s physiological functions. Was not fasting a cornerstone of early ( late 19thC to early20th C) Naturopathic practice where claims were made for the beneficial effects of fasting without any knowledge, as now, of the intracellular processes?

  • Detoxification as a process has some validity but the context and method must be considered- AUTOPHAGY during fasting seems to meet the criteria.

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