Biased Reviewers?

Regarding the Commentary by Edzard Ernst on peer reviewers and alternative treatements,1 how can this study be called a randomized and controlled study when the reviewers are "conditioned beforehand" with the fact that one of the treatments is "unconventional"? Did the study authors identify the nature of the unconventional treatment? Was it scientifically valid with respect to obesity? Was there a rationale reason for using it? Ernst gives no consideration to these factors. The results r

Nov 27, 2000
Saul Green

Regarding the Commentary by Edzard Ernst on peer reviewers and alternative treatements,1 how can this study be called a randomized and controlled study when the reviewers are "conditioned beforehand" with the fact that one of the treatments is "unconventional"? Did the study authors identify the nature of the unconventional treatment? Was it scientifically valid with respect to obesity? Was there a rationale reason for using it? Ernst gives no consideration to these factors.

The results reported are a self-fulfilling prophecy. He assured that there would be an especially close examination of the paper by peer reviewers by advertising that one of the treatments was "unconventional." This was the straw man set up to provoke rejection and to support a charge of bias.

What is bias? I recently sent a paper critical of an alternative medical treatment to an alternative medical journal. It had well over 50 references in support of my position. It was rejected by their "peer reviewers," who said, "I did not understand the basis of the innate healing in the treatment being used." Would Ernst have called this bias?

One more point: there are nearly 50 medical schools in the United States teaching alternative medicine to medical students. Not one member of that faculty teaches scientific skepticism of alternative medicine. Would Ernst call that a prerequisite to bias?

Saul Green, Ph.D.
Science Editor
The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine
and President, ZOL Consultants
340 W. 57th St.
New York, N.Y. l00l9

1. E. Ernst, "Are reviewers biased against unconventional therapies?" The Scientist, 14[21]:6, Oct. 30, 2000.