Biology Complementary and alternative medicine Evolution Intelligent design/creationism Medicine Quackery Science Skepticism/critical thinking

When a single quote tells you all you need to know about a critic’s reasoning ability

Last week, I gave everybody’s favorite creationist neurosurgeon, Dr. Michael Egnor, the gift everyone loves to read but not to receive: the gift of not-so-Respectful Insolence. Christmas or no Christmas, he did ask for it, and far be it from me, given my benevolent nature, not to respond to his plaintiff plea with a resounding “Affirmative!” Nor was I alone. Others joined in. But apparently not everyone thought Dr. Egnor deserving of such a group slapdown. Apparently there is at least one blogger out there who thought that Dr. Egnor needed a defender. Apparently there is at least one blogger out there who can, in defending Dr. Egnor, demonstrate that sometimes all it takes is one sentence from a post for me to recognize someone with no science or critical thinking skills whatsoever.

I’m referring to someone who goes by the ‘nym Country Shrink, who did not take kindly to one of the rebuttals of Dr. Egnor’s nonsense, specifically that of Dr. Kimball Atwood IV.

Here’s the sentence from Country Shrink’s post that tells you all you need to know about his scientific and critical thinking chops:

I’ve learned more from Dr. Mercola (3), than I’ve ever learned from a traditional M.D.

My brain hurts after reading that one. If this guy thinks Dr. Mercola is a reliable source of any medical information, his knowledge deficit is much more than a quickie blog post can rectify. Dr. Mercola, as you may recall, runs the highly popular repository of “alternative medicine” pseudoscience, attacks on the medical establishment, and apologetics for quackery. True, he’s not as batshit crazy as, say, for instance, Mike Adams of, but that’s like saying that energy healing is not quite as ridiculously implausible as energy healing.

I’m half tempted to rest my case here, that statement about Dr. Mercola being prima facie evidence of Country Shrink’s lack of critical thinking skills, but he also fills his little “rebuttal” with the standard fare of both “alt-med” apologists and “intelligent design creationists.” For example, we have the tried-and-not-true big pharma conspiracy mongering coupled with the false dichotomy between “conventional” and “alternative” medicine:

Traditional medicine’s approach is this: ‘if it cannot be cut, irradiated, poisoned, or altered with synthetic chemicals, we aren’t interested. The pharmaceutical industry does not fund us to do that type of research.’ Also, ‘we can’t charge the big bucks for any alternative treatments.’

These talking points would be right at home on those repositories of quackery or

Then, predictably, there’s the whining about how mean and nasty skeptics are to call Dr. Egnor out when he spouts nonsense:

We’ve seen time and again that personal attacks are the modus operandi and an established scientific method for the anti-ID movement. It’s sophomoric at best and intellectually dishonest at worst.

Actually, at its best, it’s spot on accurate. Not all criticism is ad hominem, nor are all ad hominems logical fallacies. If an ad hominem correctly points out that someone has a history of ridiculous statements that show he clearly has no clue what he’s talking about when it comes to a specific subject, it is completely justified to point out that that someone has no clue what he’s talking about on that subject. Indeed, given that the Discovery Institute, as well as its sycophants, toadies, and lackeys, frequently hold up Dr. Egnor as an authority (using one of their favorite logical fallacies, arguing from authority), aided and abetted by Dr. Egnor himself, who seems to believe that his skill and knowledge in neurosurgery translate into science in general and evolution in particular, it is entirely appropriate to demonstrate that, when it comes to evolution at least, he is nothing of the sort.

The Country Shrink finishes:

So, let’s see if Dr. Egnor is proved stupid. Do you think Dr. Atwood (number 4) is a good enough shot to shoot fish in a barrel? By the way, the training to be a neurosurgeon requires 8+ years of college plus a 6+ years residency. Stupid or ignorant right? (5)

I suppose at this point I could point out that being a surgical oncologist with a Ph.D. takes not only 8 years of college and medical school, five years of general surgery residency, three years of fellowship, plus the years it takes to get a Ph.D. I guess that means by Country Shrink’s “reasoning,” I’m smarter than Dr. Egnor, or at least not as ignorant.

Of course, the number of years I spent in training means nothing in determining whether I am or am not, in fact, smarter than Dr. Egnor, just as all of Dr. Egnor’s years of training say nothing about his knowledge of evolution. This is because his specific training in medicine and neurosurgery is largely irrelevant to evolution–particularly given that his training took place decades ago, before evolution became more recognized as being important to medical education. Even now, medical training shortchanges evolution, but 30 years ago it was more or less nonexistent.

As for that little bit about shooting fish in a barrel, let me assure you that Dr. Atwood is quite capable of it, as am I. Too bad the Country Shrink put himself in the proverbial barrel to be shot at by me on a day when I just so happened to be in the mood for shooting fish in a barrel.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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