Paradigmatic prison

November 20, 2008

Edzard Ernst (Letters, 6 November) is wrong in claiming that students of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) do not understand "critical thinking".

Precisely the reverse is the case, with CAM students being encouraged to think outside of the status-quo-preserving positivistic box.

Ernst betrays an incapacity to think outside of the "scientistic" world view that he seems to inhabit uncritically. He repeats the incoherent and internally inconsistent errors that, in some quarters, give his beloved empirical science such a bad name - the arrogant paradigm-bound assumption that any view that questions his own definition of "science" is necessarily "anti-scientific" and "pseudoscientific", and that conducting "research" (no doubt the positivistic, randomised controlled trial version thereof) is the only mark of true science.

Any expanded or ontologically different view about what a valid, sustainable "science" might consist in is axiomatically ruled out by the kind of dogmatic position Ernst inhabits.

Ernst could do far worse than revisit Thomas Kuhn, Paul Feyerabend, Sir Karl Popper and other philosophers of science, on reading whom he just might cultivate a bit more humility about the narrowly circumscribed scientific world view he currently occupies. Then, perhaps, CAM students and academics might really be able to have a mutually enlightening and scientifically progressive conversation with him.

Richard House, Research Centre for Therapeutic Education, Roehampton University.

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