Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Titmouse Law

People everywhere have been cranking out rules concerning Internet discourse. We have Godwin's law, Poe's law, and more that I'm too lazy to Google.

One more for the pile:

The Titmouse Law: Anyone who cites an article from a non-peer reviewed journal in order to create the appearance of scientific legitimacy for some speculative medical etiology, test, or therapy, is a fraudulent quack.

Quackery is no longer out on the fringes. It's become organized. It has PACs backed by supplement billionaires successfully campaigning for changes in scope of practice laws. It has "schools of medicine" and "residency training." It offers CMEs and "board certifications." It has its own specialized labs. It's promoted by the federal government through NCCAM and other agencies. It's also promoted by departments of Integrative Medicine at leading medical schools. The number of quack journals published increases daily.

Good doctors are busy. They don't have time for so much debunking and politics. They also don't donate to PACS. Consequently, they are totally screwed.

Where it can be applied, the Titmouse Law allows for rapid triage of tomfoolery, thus making the ordinary doctor's workload a little lighter.


  1. One of the essential difficulties now is the number of pay-to-publish journals that claim to be peer-reviewed while offering a scarcely-recognisable process. E.g., Nutrition Journal.
    ----"In deciding whether to accept or reject a manuscript, a reviewer asks him/herself whether the scientific community is better served by publishing or not publishing the manuscript. The suitability of a research article for publication in Nutrition Journal is assessed by peer reviewers, who base their decision primarily on the article's validity and coherence but who also consider its comprehensibility and level of interest to the reader."-------
    They have published some poor papers under this system - relying on 'post-publication review' to iron out the mess. Some are ill-designed, unevidenced, claiming conclusions that are not supported by the (limited) data etc.

    Of course, when in doubt, simply mis-quote the name of the journal - it is tremendously effective. E.g., confuse: BMJ and Jnl American Inst of Homeopathy; BMJ and the (non-peer-reviewed industry magazine) Nutrition and Food Science; to spare the blushes of the much-maligned BMJ, Immunology and the in-house magazine of the Faculty of Homeopaths, Homeopathy.

    NB, there are some open-access, pay-to-publish sources that are excellent: sadly, this excellence is not widespread.

  2. You raise a good point. Perhaps "non-peer reviewed" should be, "non- or pseudo-peer reviewed."

    Or maybe the meaning is clear enough.

    Anyway, thanks to their mention of Medical Hypotheses on a lab report, I now can safely ignore everything from Metametrics.

  3. This site, though a bit outdated, gives rankings to scientific and medical journals based on a bunch of factors. There are great journals (Nature, for example), and then there's garbage. Before I utilize an article for anything, I check two things: the quality of the Journal and the quality of the authors. The problem remains that those of us who really critique the quacks may just be preaching to each other's choirs.

  4. Thanks for the link, Michael. I added it to my bookmarks.

  5. If you've read some of my posts around these parts, you'll note that I'm not a big fan of Wikipedia, but impact factor on that site is a pretty good description of how medical and science journals are ranked. Since I'm a strong believer in reliable citations to support statements, I consider a high impact factor to be one of the considerations.

    Homeopathy magicians utilize low impact factor journals to support their so-called medicine.

  6. Dr Benway!
    Antivaccine denialists are now invoking The Titmouse Law to attempt to discredit my most recent post!

    Sad considering that it's a citation from a peer reviwed journal...

  7. I still vote for Morstein's Law: once you mention homeopathy without laughing, the argument is over, and you have lost.

  8. I luvs de homeopathy. It's the best pseudocience EVAR!!

    I remember back in the day when I trolled the JREF webs, when I first read a comparison for some dilution that went, "it's like one drop of active substance to 30 solar systems of water." For a moment I tried to envision the outer elliptical orbit of Pluto... and the space defined by that shape filled with water...

    Oh, I LOLed so hard. I gave it to my husband and he LOLed. Then we make our friends LOL.

    Ah, good times.

  9. I am indeed a fan of The Titmouse Law, Orac law, Morstein's Law, and Dullman Law. They allow me to cut to the chase without frothing at the mouth when talking to the denialists.

  10. The Titmouse Law is a great one.

    One fool somewhere asked editors to show peer-reviewed citations as to why homeopathy didn't work. Sad.