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

Edzard

Cervical spondylosis is a chronic degenerative process of the cervical spine characterized by pain in neck, degenerative changes in intervertebral disc and osteophyte formation. The present study was aimed at evaluating the effect of wet cupping (Ḥijāma Bish Sharṭ) in the pain management of cervical spondylosis.

This Open, randomized, clinical study was conducted on 44 patients.

  • Subjects in the test group (n = 22) received a series of three-staged wet cupping treatment, performed on 0, 7th and 14th day.
  • Subjects in the control group (n = 22) received 12 sittings of Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS): 6 sittings per week for two weeks.

The outcomes were assessed with the help of VAS, Neck Disability Index (NDI) and Cervical range of motion.

Intra group comparison in test group from baseline to 21st day were found highly significant (p < 0.001) in terms of VAS, NDI, Flexion, Extension and Left rotation score. While in Right rotation, Left rotation and Left lateral flexion score were found moderately significant (p < 0.01). Statistically significant difference was observed between two groups at 21st day in VAS scale, NDI, and Cervical range of motion score (p < 0.001).

The authors concluded that Ḥijāma Bish Sharṭ was found better in the management of pain due to cervical spondylosis than TENS. It can be concluded that Ḥijāma Bish Sharṭ may a better option for the pain management of cervical spondylosis.

Wet cupping is the use of a vacuum cup applied to the skin which has previously been lacerated. It draws blood and can thus be seen as a form of blood letting. It has been used in various cultures for the treatment of joint pain and many other conditions since antiquity.

The authors point out that, in Unani medicine, it is believed to reduce pain and other symptoms by diverting and evacuating the causative pathological humours (akhlāṭ-e-fasida). Galen (Jalinoos) mentioned wet cupping as a very useful modality in evacuating the thick humours (akhlāṭ-e-Ghaleez) (Nafeesi, 1954; Qamri, 2008). Wet cupping works on the principle of diversion and evacuation of morbid matter (imala wa tanqiya-i-mawād-i-fasida). It opens the pores of the skin, enhances the blood circulation, nourishes the affected area with fresh blood, improves the eliminative function and facilitates the evacuation of morbid matter from the body.

There are several studies of wet cupping, most of which are as flawed as the one above. This new trial has several limitations, e.g.:

  • It makes no attempt to control for placebo effects which could well be more prominent for wet cupping than for TENS.
  • It did not inhibit the influence of verbal or non-verbal communications between therapists and patients which are likely to influence the results.
  • The sample size is far too small, particularly as the study was designed as an equivalence study.

But some might say that my arguments a petty and argue that, regardless of a flimsy study, wet cupping is still worth a try. I would disagree – not because of the flaws of this study, nor the implausibility of the long-obsolete assumptions that underpin the therapy, but because wet cupping is associaated with infections of the skin lacerations which occasionally can be serious.

 

It does not happen often, but when it does, it should be aknowledged. I am speaking of papers from chiropractors that make sense. If you are interested in chiropractic, I do encourage you to read the articles of which I will here only present bits of the conclusions:

Part 1

The chiropractic profession is weighed down by the burden of historical theories regarding spinal manipulative therapy (SMT), which, for some in the profession, have all the characteristics of dogmatic articles of faith. In our opinion, the unlimited scope of practice, which is still advocated by some chiropractors, and which has not been met with unequivocal political rejection, an over-reliance on SMT in the management of MSK disorders, and an over-emphasis on the technical intricacies of SMT represent weaknesses within chiropractic. We argue that these are obstacles to professional development and the major causes of professional stagnation both intellectually and in the market place.

We also discussed what we consider to be threats to the chiropractic profession. Science, the impact of EBM, and accountability to authorities and third party-payers all pose threats to the traditional chiropractic paradigm and, thus, to those within the profession, who practice within such a paradigm. In the marketplace, competition from other professions that provide care of patients with MSK disorders, including SMT, and are better positioned to be integrated into the wider health-care system/market represent a threat. Moreover, finally, the internal schism in chiropractic represents a threat to professional development, as it prevents the profession moving forward in unison with a coherent external message.

We have described those weaknesses and threats, knowing full well, that we do so from our perspective of chiropractic as EBM with a limited MSK scope of practice, i.e. from outside the subluxation frame of reference.

We recognize that for those who look at SMT from the perspective of traditional, subluxation-based chiropractic, things will look very different: What we identify as weaknesses may be seen by others as the pillars of chiropractic practice, and what we see as threats could appear as just peripheral and ephemeral distractions to the enduring core of chiropractic ideas. Such is the character of the schism at the heart of chiropractic.

None-the-less, having described what we identify as serious weaknesses and threats arising from the profession’s relationship to SMT, it has not escaped our attention that it also gives rise to several strengths, which serve the profession and its patients well. In turn, it follows that a number of opportunities are presenting themselves for the future of SMT and chiropractic.

Part 2

The onus is now on the chiropractic profession itself to redefine its raison d’être in a way that plays to those strengths and delivers in terms of the needs of patients and the wider healthcare system/market. We suggest chiropractors embrace and cultivate a role as coordinators of long-term and broad-focused management of musculoskeletal disorders. We make specific recommendations about how the profession, from individual clinicians to political organizations, can promote such a development.

___________________________

For readers in a hurry:

Progress is an inevitable threat to obsolete and useless practices of any kind. In that, chiropractic is no exception.

Some abstracts of medical papers are so bizarre that they must not be tempered with, I find. This is one of them:

Rationale:

This case report aims to provide clinical evidence on the effectiveness of integrating chiropractic and moxibustion techniques for treating pseudomyopia accompanied by elevated intraocular pressure resulting from cervical spine issues because the application of complementary medicine modalities for managing such vision disorders currently lacks adequate investigations.

Patient concerns:

A 6-year-old patient presented with blurred vision, intermittent ocular discomfort, and upper cervical discomfort.

Diagnoses:

Spine-related increased intraocular pressure and pseudomyopia.

Interventions:

The patient received integrative treatment of chiropractic and walnut-shell moxibustion 3 times a week for a total of 10 treatment sessions.

Outcomes:

The patient exhibited progressive improvements in visual acuity and reductions in intraocular pressure over the treatment period, with unaided vision exceeding 2 lines of improvement in visual acuity charts and normalized intraocular pressure after 10 treatment sessions. These therapeutic effects were sustained at 3-month follow-up.

Lessons:

The integrative use of chiropractic and walnut-shell moxibustion demonstrates considerable potential in alleviating symptoms of pseudomyopia, reducing intraocular pressure, and restoring visual function in spine-related pseudomyopia cases.

Pseudomyopia is a spasm of the ciliary muscle that prevents the eye from focusing in the distance. It differs from myopia which is caused by the eye’s shape or other basic anatomy. Pseudomyopia may be either organic, through stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system, or functional in origin, through eye strain or fatigue of ocular systems. It is common in young adults after a change in visual requirements, such as students preparing for an exam, or a change in occupation. The condition is often transitory and it is necessary to request psychiatric consultation in each case of pseudomyopia. Comorbidity of anxiety and depressive disorders is more common in pseudomyopia cases. In addition, as the severity of psychiatric symptoms increases, the amount of accommodation also appears to increase.

A few question, if I may:

  • Walnut-shell moxibustion? Yes, it exists! Moxibustion with walnut shell spectacles is a characteristic therapy of Guang’anmen Hospital, developed on the basis of walnut shell moxibustion, and mainly composed of an eye moxibustion frame, a walnut shell soaked with wolfberry and chrysanthemum liquid, and moxibustion strips. Moxibustion with a walnut shell was first recorded by Shicheng Gu for treating surgical ulcers in the Qing dynasty. Then, moxibustion with walnut shell spectacles was reformed by us, combining Shicheng Gu’s experience with our clinical practice, and is mainly used for the treatment of optic nerve atrophy and myopia.
  • The authors state that, “based on traditional Chinese medicine principles, moxibustion is known to warm meridians, dredge collaterals, relax tendons, and enhance blood circulation”. Is this true? Well, based on TCM, anything goes, but it does not make it true.
  • How can we know whether chiropractic or walnut-shell moxibustion or both caused the outcome? We can’t!
  • Can we be sure what caused the child’s problem? No!
  • Do we know whether the outcome was not a spontaneous recovery? No!
  • The authors claim that “cervical spine imbalance leads to visual impairment”. Is that correct? Not as far as I know.
  • The authors state that “the patient in this case, presenting with pseudomyopia, elevated intraocular pressure, and neck pain, likely had a cervical spine-derived condition. Currently, such spine-derived vision disorders lack sufficient clinical recognition.” Is this true? No, I’d say such spine-derived vision disorders might not even exist.
  • Why would anyone publish a paper about the case? Search me!

 

Lumbar stabilization exercises (LSEs) are said to be beneficial for chronic mechanical low back pain (CMLBP). However, further research focusing on intervention combinations is recommended. This study examined the effect of kinesio tape (KT) with LSEs on CMLBP adult patients.

A randomized blinded clinical trial was conducted. Fifty CMLBP patients of both genders were assigned into one of two groups and received 8 weeks of treatment:

  • group A (control): LSEs only,
  • group B (experimental): KT with LSEs.

The primary outcome was back disability, measured by the Oswestry disability index. Secondary outcomes included pain intensity, trunk extensor endurance, and sagittal spinal alignment, as indicated by the visual analog scale, Sorensen-test, and C7–S1 sagittal vertical axis, respectively. The reported data was analyzed by a two-way MANOVA using an intention-to-treat procedure.

Multivariate tests indicate statistically significant effects for group (F = 4.42, p = 0.005, partial η2 = 0.148), time (F = 219.55, p < 0.001, partial η2 = 0.904), and group-by-time interaction (F = 3.21, p = 0.01, partial η2 = 0.149). Univariate comparisons between groups revealed significant reductions in the experimental group regarding disability (p = 0.029, partial η2 = 0.049) and pain (p = 0.001, partial η2 = 0.102) without a significant difference in the Sorensen test (p = 0.281) or C7–S1 SVA (p = 0.491) results. All within-group comparisons were statistically significant (p < 0.001).

The authors concluded that the combination of KT and LSEs is an effective CMLBP treatment option. Although patients in both groups displayed significant changes in all outcomes, the combined interventions induced more significant reductions in back disability and pain intensity.

One of the main reason for conducting a controlled clinical trial is to determine whether the intervention, rather than some other factor, was the cause of the observed outcome. Yet, these trials can be designed in such a way that they mislead us on precisely this point. The present study is an example for such a case.

The authors leave us in no doubt that the KT was the cause of the positive outcome. However, they might be entirely wrong. Here are some other possibilities:

  • the extra attention might have done the trick;
  • the ritual of applying KT must have an effect;
  • the expectation of the patient could have influenced the outcome;
  • verbal or non-verbal communication between the patient and the therapist would have had an effect.

I know, it is often difficult to control for such influences in clinical trials. But, if it proves to be impossible [and in the case of KT it probably is possible], one should at the very least be cautious when drawing conclusions from the results. I suggest something like this:

The combination of KT and LSEs generated better outcomes than LSE alone. Whether this is due to specific effects of KT or non-specific context effects remains unclear.

Postoperative gastrointestinal dysfunction (PGD) is one of the most common complications among patients who have undergone thoracic surgery. Acupuncture has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat gastrointestinal diseases and has shown benefit as an alternative therapy for the management of digestive ailments. This study aimed to explore the therapeutic effectiveness of acupuncture as a means to aid postoperative recovery of gastrointestinal function in patients undergoing thoracoscopic surgery.

In total, 112 patients aged 18-70 years undergoing thoracoscopic surgery between 15 June 2022 and 30 August 2022 were randomized into two groups.

  • Patients in the acupuncture group (AG) first received acupuncture treatment 4 h after surgery, and treatment was repeated at 24 and 48 h.
  • Patients in the control group (CG) did not receive any acupuncture treatment.

Both groups received the same anesthetic protocol. Ultrasound-guided thoracic paravertebral block (TPVB) was performed in the paravertebral spaces between T4 and T5 with administration of 20 mL of 0.33% ropivacaine. All patients received patient-controlled intravenous analgesia (PCIA) after surgery.

Median time to first flatus [interquartile range] in the AG was significantly less than in the CG (23.25 [18.13, 29.75] vs 30.75 [24.13, 45.38] h, p < 0.001). Time to first fluid intake after surgery was significantly less in the AG, as compared with the CG (4 [3, 7] vs 6.5 [4.13, 10.75] h, p = 0.003). Static pain, measured by visual analog scale (VAS) score, was significantly different on the third day after surgery (p = 0.018). Dynamic pain VAS scores were lower in the AG versus CG on the first three postoperative days (p = 0.014, 0.003 and 0.041, respectively).

The authors concluded that addition of acupuncture appeared to improve recovery of postoperative gastrointestinal function and alleviate posteoperative pain in patients undergoing thoracoscopic surgery. Acupuncture may represent a feasible strategy for the prevention of PGD occurrence.

Yes, I agree, acupuncture appeared to have an effect.

But did it?

I doubt it!

  • It could have been the expectation of an acupuncture benefit – the placeno effect – that did the trick.
  • It could have been the extra attention of the acupuncturist.
  • It could have been the gentle persuasion of the acupuncturist.
  • It could have been all manner of influences.

We will never know!

And because we cannot know, we should design studies better such that

  • they lead to a conclusive result,
  • they are not a waste of precious resources,
  • they cannot mislead us into thinking that acupuncture is more than a theatrical placebo.

Guest post by Alain Braillon

I am not sure to understand the aim of the publication in the BMJ about traditional medicine entitled “India’s struggle to integrate traditional medicine into modern healthcare”.(1)

Indeed, not only it uncritically reported the establishment of the WHO Global Traditional Medicine Centre in Gujarat (1) but it also by-passed that diarrhea is a leading cause of child mortality in India, as in many poor countries. Oral rehydration salts are an inexpensive and lifesaving treatment for child diarrhea but they are widely underused.(2) This hardly acceptable and understandable state of affairs is driven by perceptions that patients do not want oral rehydration salts.(2) Obviously, the perceptions that healthcare professionals must provide culturally appropriate care can have devastating  consequences.

Furthemore the case is also a political one with corruption. How could Krishna  and the BMJ’s reviewers ignore a decision   of the Supreme Court of India?(3)  The Court has temporarily banned Patanjali Ayurved – named after a Hindu mystic best known for his writings on yoga – from advertising some of its traditional ayurvedic products.
India’s ruling party is  the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi   glorifies Hindu traditions. Modi inaugurated Patanjali’s ayurvedic research facility in 2017.  Baba Ramdev, a guru and  the “marketing ambassador” of Patanjali’s business had received an estimated $46 million in discounts for land acquisitions in states controlled by the BJP.(4)

In 1861, Cheever warned in the journal that is now the New England Journal of Medicine that although “savages” could have great powers of observation, they had no understanding of disease or therapeutic mechanisms that require rigorous analysis of facts with the avoidance of biases.(5) Obviously, modern medicine that required strong evidence, not the  subjective experience of emotions, is not a recent concept.  Accordingly, I wonder if Krishna could have confused “modern” with “contemporary”. Indeed, presently healthcare is less and less about evidence for a positive benefit/harm ratio on relevant clinical outcomes, as illustrated by the growing flow of marketing approvals based on unvalidated surrogates(6,7) an, and more and more about fraudulent marketing.( 8,9)

Happily, medical devices of our traditional medicine, lancets for bloodletting and clysters for enema, are relegated to museums.

 

References

  1. Krishna G. India’s struggle to integrate traditional medicine into modern healthcare. BMJ. 2024;384:q268.5. doi:10.1136/bmj.q268
  2. Wagner Z, Mohanan M, Zutshi R, Mukherji A, Sood N. What drives poor quality of care for child diarrhea? Experimental evidence from India. Science. 2024;383(6683):eadj9986. doi:10.1126/science.adj9986
  3. https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2024/03/14/1236533011/ayurvedic-india-banned-advertising-some-products
  4. https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/india-modi-ramdev/
  5. Cheever DW. The value and the fallacy of statistics in the observation of disease. Boston Med Surg J 1861;63:476-483 doi:10.1056/NEJM186101100632402
  6. Brinkhuis F, Goettsch WG, Mantel-Teeuwisse AK, Bloem LT. Added benefit and revenues of oncology drugs approved by the European Medicines Agency between 1995 and 2020: retrospective cohort study. BMJ. 2024;384:e077391. doi:10.1136/bmj-2023-077391

Whenever a journalist wants to discuss the subject of acupuncture with me, he or she will inevitably ask one question:

DOES ACUPUNCTURE WORK?

It seems a legitimate, obvious and simple question, particularly during ‘Acupuncture Awareness Week‘, and I have heard it hundreds of times. Why then do I hesitate to answer it?

Journalists – like most of us – would like a straight answer, like YES or NO. But straight answers are in short supply, particularly when we are talking about acupuncture.

Let me explain.

Acupuncture is part of ‘Traditional Chinese Medicine’ (TCM). It is said to re-balance the life forces that determine our health. As such it is seen as a panacea, a treatment for all ills. Therefore, the question, does it work?, ought to be more specific: does it work for pain, obesity, fatigue, hair-loss, addiction, anxiety, ADHA, depression, asthma, old age, etc.etc. As we are dealing with virtually thousands of ills, the question, does it work?, quickly explodes into thousands of more specific questions.

But that’s not all!

The question, does acupuncture work?, assumes that we are talking about one therapy. Yet, there are dozens of different acupuncture traditions and sites:

  • body acupuncture,
  • ear acupuncture,
  • tongue acupuncture,
  • scalp acupuncture,
  • etc., etc.

Then there are dozens of different ways to stimulate acupuncture points:

  • needle acupuncture,
  • electroacupuncture,
  • acupressure,
  • moxibustion,
  • ultrasound acupuncture,
  • laser acupuncture,
  • etc., etc.

And then there are, of course, different acupuncture ‘philosophies’ or cultures:

  • TCM,
  • ‘Western’ acupuncture,
  • Korean acupuncture,
  • Japanese acupuncture,
  • etc., etc.

If we multiply these different options, we surely arrive at thousands of different variations of acupuncture being used for thousands of different conditions.

But this is still not all!

To answer the question, does it work?, we today have easily around 10 000 clinical trials. One might therefore think that, despite the mentioned complexity, we might find several conclusive answers for the more specific questions. But there are very significant obstacles that are in our way:

  • most acupuncture trials are of lousy quality;
  • most were conducted by lousy researchers who merely aim at showing that acupuncture works rather that testing whether it is effective;
  • most originate from China and are published in Chinese which means that most of us cannot access them;
  • they get nevertheless included in many of the systematic reviews that are currently being published without non-Chinese speakers ever being able to scrutinise them;
  • TCM is a hugely important export article for China which means that political influence is abundant;
  • several investigators have noted that virtually 100% of Chinese acupuncture trials report positive results regardless of the condition that is being targeted;
  • it has been reported that about 80% of studies emerging from China are fabricated.

Now, I think you understand why I hesitate every time a journalist asks me:

DOES ACUPUNCTURE WORK?

Most journalists do not have the patience to listen to all the complexity this question evokes. Many do not have the intellectual capacity to comprehend an exhaustive reply. But all want to hear a simple and conclusive answer.

So, what do I say in this situation?

Usually, I respond that the answer would depend on who one asks. An acupuncturist is likely to say: YES, OF COURSE, IT DOES! An less biased expert might reply:

IT’S COMPLEX, BUT THE MOST RELIABLE EVIDENCE IS FAR FROM CONVINCING. 

The aim of this study was to establish an international consensus regarding the use of spinal manipulation and mobilisation among infants, children, and adolescents among expert international physiotherapists. Twenty-six international expert physiotherapists in manual therapy and paediatrics voluntarily participated in a 3-Round Delphi survey to reach a consensus via direct electronic mail solicitation using Qualtrics®. Consensus was defined a-priori as ≥75% agreement on all items with the same ranking of agreement or disagreement. Round 1 identified impairments and conditions where spinal mobilisation and manipulation might be utilised. In Rounds 2 and 3, panelists agreed or disagreed using a 4-point Likert scale.

Eleven physiotherapists from seven countries representing five continents completed all three Delphi rounds. Consensus regarding spinal mobilisation or manipulation included:

● Manipulation is not recommended: (1) for infants across all conditions, impairments, and
spinal levels; and (2) for children and adolescents across most conditions and spinal levels.
● Manipulation may be recommended for adolescents to treat spinal region-specific joint
hypomobility (thoracic, lumbar), and pain (thoracic).
● Mobilisation may be recommended for children and adolescents with hypomobility, joint
pain, muscle/myofascial pain, or stiffness at all spinal levels.

The authors of this paper concluded that consensus revealed spinal manipulation should not be performed on infants regardless of condition, impairment, or spinal level. Additionally, the panel agreed that manipulation may be recommended only for adolescents to treat joint pain and joint hypomobility (limited to thoracic and/or lumbar levels). Spinal mobilisation may be recommended for joint hypomobility, joint pain, muscle/myofascial pain, and muscle/myofascial stiffness at all spinal levels among children and adolescents.

Various forms of spinal manipulations are the hallmark therapy of chiropractors. Almost 100% of their patients recieve these interventions. So, what will our friends, the chiros, say about the consensus? Might it be this:

  • Physiotherapists are not the experts on spinal manipulation.
  • Only chiropractors can do them properly.
  • And when WE do them, they are very good*!

 

 

 

(* for our income)

This study aims to assess the feasibility of a pragmatic prospective study aiming to report the immediate and delayed (48-hours post-treatment) AEs associated with manual therapies in children aged 5 or younger and to report preliminary data on AEs frequency.

Between July 2021 and March 2022, chiropractors were recruited through purposive sampling and via a dedicated Facebook group for Quebec chiropractors interested in pediatrics. Legal guardians of patients aged 5 or younger were invited to fill out an online information and consent form. AEs were collected using the SafetyNET reporting system, which had been previously translated by the research team. Immediate AEs were collected through a questionnaire filled out by the legal guardian immediately after the treatment, while delayed AEs were collected through a questionnaire sent by email to the legal guardian 48 h after the treatment. Feasibility was assessed qualitatively through feedback from chiropractors and quantitatively through recruitment data.

Overall, a total of 28 chiropractors expressed interest following the Facebook publication, and 5 participated. An additional two chiropractors were enrolled through purposive sampling. In total, 80 legal guardians consented to their child’s participation, and data from 73 children were included for the analysis of AEs. At least one AE was reported in 30% of children (22/73), and AEs were mainly observed immediately following the treatment (16/22). The most common AEs were irritability/crying (11 children) or fatigue/tiredness (11 children). Feasibility analysis demonstrated that regular communication between the research team and clinicians, as well as targeting clinicians who showed great interest in pediatrics, were key factors for successful research.

The authors concluded that their results suggest that it is feasible to conduct a prospective pragmatic study evaluating AEs associated with manual therapies in private practices. Direct communication with the clinicians, a strategic clinicians’ recruitment plan, and the resulting administrative burden should be considered in future studies. A larger study is required to confirm the frequency of AEs reported in the current study.

It is hardly surprising that such a study is ‘feasible’. I could have told the authors that and saved them the trouble of doing the study. What is surprising, in my view, that chiropractors, after ~120 years of existence of the profession, ask whether it is feasible.

I suggest to do the definitive study on a much larger sample, extend the observation period, and recruit a representative rather than self-selected sample of chiros … or – much better – forget about the study and establich a functioning post-marketing surveillance system.

In recent weeks and months, I have been thinking quite a lot about the various types of scientists. This is partly due to me finishing a book entitled: Bizarre Medical Ideas: … and the Strange Men Who Invented Them. Partly it is related to the sorry tale of the GWUP that I have been boring you with repeatedly here. As a consequence of my contemplations, I have added more categories to the usual two types of scientists.

1. SCIENTIST

Scientists gather information through observation and experimentation, formulate hypothesis, and then test them. They work in vastly different areas but have certain attitudes or qualities in common, e.g. critial thinking and an open mind. As scientists tend to publish their findings, a very simple (but not fool-proof) way to identify a scinetist is to look him/her up, for example by finding his/her H-Index. (The H-Index is defined as the maximum value of h such that the given author/journal has published at least h papers that have each been cited at least h times. For instance, if someone has 10 papers that were cited 10 times, his H-Index would be 10. If another scientist has 50 papers that were cited 50 times, his H-Index would be 50.)

2. PSEUDO-SCIENTIST

Pseudo-scientists are people who pretend to produce science but, in fact, they generate pseudoscience. The demarkation of pseudo-science from science is sometimes difficult, as we have seen several times on this blog, e.g.:

The pseudo-scientist does have no or just a few publications in the peer-reviewed literature and no H-Index to speak of.

3. WOULD-BE SCIENTIST

The term ‘would-be scientist’ is not one that is commonly used, nor is it one that has an accepted definition. The way I see it, would-be scientists are aspiring to become scientist. They are on the way to become a scientist but have not quite arrived yet. To the would-be scientist I say: good luck to you; I hope you make it and I look forward to reading about your scientific achievements. The would-be scientist is, however, not the topic of my post.

4. THE PREDEND-SCIENTIST

The predent-scientist (PS) is the one who I want to focus on here. He – yes, the PS is usually male – talks a lot about science; so much so that outsiders would get the impression that he actually is a scientist. Crucially, the PS himself has managed to delude himself to the point where believes to be a scientist.

While scientists tend to be media-shy, the PS enjoys the limelight to generate the impression of being a scientist. He talks eloquently and at length about science. Much of what he says or writes might even be correct. The PS is often quite well-versed and knows (most of) his stuff.

The crucial difference between the PS and the scientist is that the PS produces no or very little science; neither does he intend to. To identify the PS, an easy (but not fool-proof) method is to him look up. Typically, he has published several articles in the popoular press or books for the lay public, but – as he does not conduct scientific research – he does not generate papers in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. This void, however, has never stopped the PS from appearing in the media speaking about science, nor from occupying prominent positions in the world of science, nor from avidly rubbing shoulders with scientists. Few people see anything wrong with that, mainly because the PS has convinced them (most importantly himself) that he actually is a scientist. While the scientist is trained in doing science, the PS is trained in talking about science.

Don’t get me wrong, the PS can have his merits. He often presents science to the public more or less accurately and frequently is rhetorically superior to the scientist. I nevertheless have reservations about the PS (and the recent pandemic has shown us how dangerous PSs can beome). The questions to ask ourselves are the following:

  • Does PS have a truly open mind?
  • Can he set aside ideologies?
  • Will he change his opinion vis a vis new evidence?
  • Is he prepared to consider criticism?
  • Does he avoid ‘black and white’ thinking?
  • Is he sufficiently humble?
  • Is he honest with himself and others?

These questions refer to important attitudes that scientists learn – often the hard way – while doing science. If someone lacks this experience, such attitudes are likely to be under-developed. Perhaps, it all boils down to honesty: if a man who has never done any amount of science to speak of has convinced himself to be a scientist, he arguably is dishonest with himself and the public.

In order to make my points as clearly as possible, I admittedly caricaturized the extremes of a wider spectrum; my appologies for that. In reality, the different types of scientists rarely exist as entirely pure forms. Frequently, people are mixtures of two types, either because they did different things during different periods of their lives, or because they simply are hybrids.

To provide a few examples, let me show you 14 H-Indices (according to ‘Google Scholar’) of people (in alphabetical order) who you might have heard of, for instance, because they have featured on my blog. I leave it up to you to decide how well they fit in any of my three categories and who might qualify to be a PS.

  1. Fabrizio Benedetti – H-Index = 83
  2. David Colquhoun – H-Index = 78
  3. Ian Chalmers – H-Index = 84
  4. Michael Dixon – H-Index = 0
  5. David Gorski – H-Index = 30
  6. Holm Hümmler – H-Index = 0
  7. Ted Kaptchuk – H-Index = 103
  8. Jos Kleinjen – H-Index = 104
  9. Andreas Michalsen – H-Index = 0
  10. Michael Mosely – H-Index = 0
  11. Dana Ullman – H-Index = 0
  12. Dale Thompson (alias DC) – H-Index = 0
  13. Chris van Tulleken – H-Index = 0
  14. Harald Walach – H-Index = 9

My conclusion: the PS, a person who presents himself as a scientist without having done any meaningful amount of science himself, is a man who is not entirely honest. The H-Index can be helpful for identifying PSs. An index of zero, for instance, seems to send out a fairly clear message. In the case low indices, it is advisable to go one step further and study the actual articles That mede up the index. However, the H-Index tells us nothing about whether someone presents himself as a scientist; this information must be gleaned from the person him(her)self.

 

 

 

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