Eight slogans that quacks love to use

Eight slogans that quacks love to use: if you hear these, find a proper doctor | Spectator Health | by Professor Edzard Ernst | Aug 16, 2016

In the first of this two-part article, I discussed six popular tricks of the quackery trade.

Some readers pointed out that these ploys are not exclusively used in alternative medicine. I agree.

Quacks are everywhere, and unfortunately conventional medicine has its fair share of charlatans as well. Yet I would nevertheless suggest that the ploys mentioned in part one and the eight discussed below are more often used in alternative than in mainstream medicine.  

Treating the root cause of the disease

Quacks regularly claim that scientifically orientated clinicians only treat the symptoms of their patients, whereas they treat the root causes of the illness.

I have often wondered where this assumption and the fierce conviction with which it is so often expressed come from. I came to conclude that the explanations are quite simple.

  • This notion is the mantra that is being taught over and over again in quack-colleges. It even constitutes a central message of most ‘textbooks’ for the aspiring alternative practitioner.
  • More importantly in the context of this article, the notion is a clever sales trick. It sounds profound and logical to many consumers who lean towards alternative medicine.
  • Crucially, it kills two flies with one stroke: it denigrates conventional healthcare and, at the same time, elevates quackery as reaching deeper than real medicine.

These are concepts that are deeply ingrained in the minds of alternative practitioners. And they have one embarrassing feature in common: they are false!

Natural is good

Everyone working in advertising can confirm that the ‘natural’ label is a great asset for boosting sales of all sorts of things. Quacks have long appreciated this fact and exploit it to the best of their abilities. They stress the ‘naturalness’ of their treatments ad nauseam and, more often than not, they use the term misleadingly.

For instance, there is nothing natural in thrusting a patient’s spine beyond the physiological range of motion (chiropractic)


When one attends a gathering of alternative practitioners, the term ‘energy’ is mentioned more often than at a board meeting of EDF.

The difference is that quacks do not mean really energy when they speak of energy; they mean ‘vital force’, or one of the many related terms from other traditions.

Stimulating the immune system

‘Your immune system needs stimulating!’ – how often have we heard that from practitioners of alternative medicine?

conventional clinicians are usually cautious about such a therapeutic aim;

There are several reasons for this:

  • The alternative ‘immune stimulants’ do not really stimulate the immune system.
  • Stimulating the immune system is rarely a desirable therapeutic aim.
  • Stimulating a normal immune system is hardly possible.
  • For many of us, stimulating the immune system might even be a very risky business (if it were at all achievable).

My advice is to ask your practitioner precisely why he wants to stimulate your immune system

Critics don’t understand

Sooner or later, someone will object to quackery. If that happens, the quack has several options to save his bacon (and income). One of the easiest and most popular solution is to claim: ‘Of course you disagree with me, because you do not understand!’

Subsequently, the quack would deploy all his charisma and explain that, in order to achieve the level of expertise he has acquired, one has to do much more than to know a bit about science. 

In fact, one has to understand the treatment in question on a much deeper level. One has to immerse oneself into it, open one’s mind completely and become a different human being altogether.

This cannot be achieved by study alone; the process requires years of meditative work. And not everyone has the ability to succeed on this difficult path. It takes a lot of talent, energy, insight and vision to become a true healer.

My advice is to read up about the no true Scotsman fallacy; this might help people to look beyond the charisma of these gurus and expose their charlatanry for what it truly is.

Research is being suppressed

Some critics seem immune to charisma and stubbornly insist on evidence for the therapeutic claims made by quacks. That attitude can be awkward for the charlatan — because usually there is no good evidence.

Cornered in this way, quacks often come up with a simple but effective conspiracy theory: the research has been done and it has produced fabulous results, but it has been supressed by… well, by whoever comes to mind. Usually Big Pharma or ‘the scientific establishment’ have to be dragged into the frame.

Critics are bought and corrupt

If, despite all these protective ploys, critics become threatening to the quackery trade, an easy and much-used method is to discredit them.

If other ploys, like the ones above, fail to silence the critics, the next step must be to attack and claim that the critics are corrupt. In fact, they receive money from some interested party, like Big Pharma. Why else would they spend their time exposing quackery?

Many people — quacks included — can only think of financial motivations; the possibility that someone might do a job for altruistic reasons does not occur to them.

Even Nobel prize-winners agree with us

It is true, there are some Nobel prize-winners who defend homeopathy or other bogus treatments. Whenever this happens, quacks have a field day, cite the Nobel laureate ad infinitum and imply that his or her views prove their notions to be correct.

Little do they know, in fact, that all they are doing is milking yet another classical fallacy, the ‘appeal to authority’. Incompetent statements from VIPs occur every day; they demonstrate merely that even exceedingly bright, successful or famous people can be as silly as the next person.

My advice is to check first what the Nobel laureate actually said — more often than not, a much-publicised quote turns out to be a misquote. Second, find out what his or her qualifications are for making such a statement; a Nobel prize in literature, for instance, is not an ideaal qualification for commenting on healthcare issues.


Edzard Ernst, emeritus professor at the University of Exeter, is the author of A Scientist in Wonderland and the awardee of the John Maddox Prize 2015 for standing up for science. He blogs at edzardernst.com.

9 thoughts on “Eight slogans that quacks love to use

  1. lawhern

    I WONDER if the good professor Ernst might be a candidate for joining patients who are petitioning for the repeal of the CDC opioid guidelines? A good bit of the guidelines come perilously close to quackery.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Zyp Czyk Post author

      The guidelines are recommending exactly these “treatments” , they definitely cross the line into quackery: Music therapy? Aromatherapy? Even Reiki!


      1. Zyp Czyk Post author

        Yup, they encourage folks to try absolutely anything rather than opioids.

        If those therapies really worked, wouldn’t tens of thousands of people be using them? and singing their praises? Instead, there are only a few anecdotes supporting each of them.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. leejcaroll

    I do not believe homeopathy is real. That being said our dog had terrible trauma during thunderstorms and was on valium. er new vet gave my moter homeopathic drops to give dog instead. She responded as she did with te valium. No shaking, terror behavior etd. How it worked on her I cant fathom. She didnt know it was homeopathic, (or in my mind placebo) and yet dhe benefitted. Always thought that was odd. Not enough to make me try homeopathy.


    1. Zyp Czyk Post author

      I believe homeopathic medicine can work for some people some of the time. It worked for my grandfather and it worked for me to help “immunize” myself to poison oak.

      But even if it works in specific cases, it is not on equal footing with modern medicine, which is so much more powerful – too much in some cases.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. leejcaroll

        It is an odd duck. Everything I have heard about it from scientists docs is that it makes no scientific sense, the dilution so extrele there is essentially no beneficial component left. Why it does sometime work wo knows (why it worked on a dog, who the heck knows ((*_*))

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Zyp Czyk Post author

          You remind me that I used a homeopathic med to cure my dog’s diahrrea once too. There cannot be a placebo effect on dogs, so????!

          I believe there’s a lot going on in this universe we still know nothing about.

          I know all kinds of strange cures can happen for all kinds of strange reasons. If something works for someone, they should be allowed to use it, whether it be homeopathy or opioids.

          But, to suggest that such alt-med Tx are on par with allopathic medicine is just a cruel joke on pain patients.


          1. leejcaroll

            Yep it is so weird because they dont know its ‘fake” and I doubt dogs can get the placebi effect. Have to admit it does make me wonder but the “science” of homeopathic makes it virtually impossible there is a benefit. maybe dogs can respond to the teeny weeny amt med in the mix (?)
            Yep O agree on both points.



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