MD, PhD, MAE, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

It is hardly surprising that I receive plenty of complaints about the things I publish. After all, so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) is dominated by emotions and not by rationality. When I was still in post at Exeter, my peers received complaints about me all the time. Now that I write articles for several newspapers and journals (not to mention this blog), the flow of complaints to the editors is continuing nicely. Consequently, I am in a good position to offer a beginner’s guide to complaining to everyone who is fed up with me and my work.

Foremost, such a complaint must have a clear structure. Here is one that I advise considering:

  1. Introduction
  2. Self-aggrandizement
  3. Your objection
  4. Ad hominem
  5. Generalizations
  6. Threats

Allow me to take you through these headings one by one.

Introduction

The recipient of your complaint (e.g. a newspaper editor) needs to know why you are addressing him or her. This means you ought to clearly state your aim at the outset. Something like “I am writing to you to complain about an article recently published in your paper” would probably suffice. But you probably find it hard to be concise – and who could blame you: you are fuming with anger and overflowing with emotion.

I am sure the recipient of your complaint will understand that you have to use a few colorful sentences to introduce the subject properly. If you feel like elaborating that you have been a reader of the paper since 1972, or that you slept badly last night, or that your last dinner was indigestible, or why you are opposed to COVID vaccinations – by all means, please go ahead. The editor will be delighted to receive a little background and can thus empathize with your concerns.

Self-aggrandizement

Despite these efforts, there is always the danger that the editor reading your complaint does not take you seriously. This must be avoided at all costs. Therefore, you must make sure he/she understands how important you truly are. As your complaint is healthcare-related, it is helpful to stress your unique standing in this area. Do not worry if you have not studied medicine, are not a scientist, or understand buggar all about anything. The least you must do is to state that you have years of experience in health. Such phraseology is non-commital – after all, you probably have been ill once or twice – and it makes it clear that you know what you are talking about.

Your objection

Now it is time to state what you actually object to and why. This might not be as easy as it sounds. Most people who complain about my work are unable to pinpoint what exactly it is that they don’t like. They never dispute a concrete fact or finding I presented but they disagree with my stance in general terms. Therefore, they cannot define a precise error or misinterpretation in my text. In such cases, it might be best to claim that you have read several or all of my articles and you are scandalized by my general attitude, ignorance, or malice. You might add that my articles systematically defame SCAMs that:

  • have clearly stood the test of time,
  • are used by millions,
  • are holistic,
  • have cured your goldfish, etc.

Do never include any actual data in your complaint. This can only expose you to criticism; and that’s the last thing you want to achieve.

Ad hominem

The less specific material you complain about, the more important it is to display true conviction by going on a personal attack. I can highly recommend the ad hominem principle for this purpose. Go for it!

In a previous post, I listed some ideas that might help you here. You could claim that:

  • I am not qualified
  • I only speak tosh
  • I do not understand science
  • I never did any ‘real’ research
  • Exeter Uni fired me
  • I have been caught red-handed (not quite sure at what)
  • I am on BIG PHARMA’s payroll
  • I faked my research papers

Feel free to come up with your own ideas; use your imagination. I am sure the editor who reads your inspired lines will thank you for it.

Generalizations

Now that you have thoroughly dealt with me (Prof Ernst) as a person, you need to generalize in order to lend more relevance and impact to your complaint. You could point out, for example, that not just I but all scientists or skeptics are corrupt, ignorant, etc. Or you might explain that, in any case, science is over-rated and cannot be trusted. Such enlightened remarks are important because they put things into perspective and show that you are well-informed.

Threats

To end your letter, it is advisable to ensure that the editor who is trying to make sense of your complaint cannot dismiss it easily. For this purpose, I find it helpful to add a few actual threats. The editor needs to know that he would disregard your concerns at his own peril.

For instance, you could state that, if this paper/journal in question should dare to ever again publish a single line of Ernst’s writings, you will never again buy this publication. If you want to sound alarmingly dangerous, add that you will tell all your friends to do likewise. And if you wish to scare the hell out of the poor editor, tell him/her that you will file a report with the ombudsman.

______________________________

 GOOD LUCK

 

10 Responses to How (not) to write a complaint: a guide for beginners.

  • In the ‘Ad Hominem’ section, you might want to add the argument ‘I don’t have personal experience’.

    For some reason, I found that the best way to insult people and make them angry is to explain their Personal Healing Experience with things like placebo effects, regression to the mean and the (self-limiting) natural history of an ailment.

    In their own words: “I used [quack treatment X] just a few times and I feel much better now! How on earth can you deny that it works?! You should first try it for yourself before calling me a liar!”

    And oh, I think the tag ‘satire’ at the bottom can be safely left out.

  • Dear host of this webpage,
    I would like to complain in the strongest terms about this article!!1!!! It is so utterly stupid that I even lost interest for the lovely Earl Grey that I just prepared and was about to enjoy!
    The author, Prof. Ernst, may be an expert on so-called alternative medicine, but he definitely lacks any certified qualification when it comes to linguistics, so how is he qualified to give any advice about writing efficient complaints??!
    I have been following this webpage for MANY years and have written FAR MORE THAN ONE statement myself. More importantly, I consider myself an expert on both, reading and writing, since I learned it at a very young age and have practised both for decades.
    Freely composed complaints clearly have stood the test of time and are used by millions, if not BILLIONS of humans on a daily basis. I know from personal experience that many people feel so much better after uttering a freely composed complaint. So what should be wrong with it? This is so stupid. Prof. Ernst obviously has no clue what he is talking about – again. He never did any linguistic research and the few silly books and fake articles do not qualify him to write about this intricate topic.
    This is typical for the arrogant self-proclaimed “scientists”, they think that they know everything. If you continue publishing blog posts like this, I will definitely quit visiting this (admittedly free) webpage!!

    • excellent!
      you are a quick learner

    • Jashak,

      “The author, Prof. Ernst, may be an expert on so-called alternative medicine…”

      Try moving the position of “so-called”, and add a little word decoration, to increase its effectiveness:

      The author, Prof. Ernst, may be a so-called ‘expert’ on alternative medicine…

      And don’t forget: a short time after flouncing off, resuming commenting using a new or a recycled pseudonym.

      Best regards,
      Dr Pierre Trollinski

  • Oh Dr. Ernst…you have me rolling on the floor! I absolutely love the way your mind works. (This one’s a keeper!)
    Thank you so very much for the laughs.
    Cheers,
    Dave Nette

    • THANKS
      but most of the time my mind does not work – it is simply numbed by the ignorant claims of SCAM proponents.

      • but most of the time my mind does not work – it is simply numbed by the ignorant claims of SCAM proponents.

        As a remedy, I recommend regularly flexing those satirical neurons in your brain. It worked for me!

  • A customer at The Spread Eagle in Thame once told John Fothergill, innkeeper and model for Basil Fawlty, that he would never go there again.
    Fothergill replied, ‘Can you tell all your friends not to come here, either?’

    If only the SCAM world could actually keep away, but they have to keep coming back and showing they don’t know what evidence is.

  • Liking your post John!

    Chiropractor Groundhog Day. Round and round we go. Reminds me of the movie.

    One synapse short of a neuron; those who continue to argue the facts despite the science.

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