Dr. Egnor: taking medicocrity to a whole new level

I hate to do this to you but I have to fisk a fisking. You see, Dr. Michael Egnor, the creationist neurosurgeon, was a bit miffed about my takedown of a particularly idiotic post of his.

For those of you who left your program at the gate, Egnor is a (apparently competent) neurosurgeon in New York. He's known on the internets for having joined up with the creationist cult pseudoscientific organization, the Discovery Institute. Just as DI has little to say of relevance to the history of life on Earth, Egnor has little of relevance to say about medical science, as far as I can tell.

The thing is, his skills as a neurosurgeon are likely to be unaffected by his religious beliefs. Not so his critical thinking skills. As I explored in the aforementioned piece, Egnor has bought into the garbage spewed forth by some of the worst quacks on the Continent. While I happen to think his religious beliefs are somewhere between cute and silly, I find his medical beliefs (and that is what they are---beliefs) execrable. And so, I jotted down some of my thoughts about the ways in which his thinking is muddled.

His response to my response? More logical fallacies. More smoke and mirrors.

I would have loved to see him try to defend his ideas on facts. You know, things you can measure, or at least conceive of measuring. Maybe a plea from him to look beyond whatever narrow worldview I hold, to look at a big picture that I'm missing.

But no, he goes straight for one of my favorites, the non sequitur. Let me explain.

Just to review, the non sequitur is one of the weakest rhetorical devices. It just shouts, "my argument is so weak that QUICK, LOOK A MOOSE!!!!."

In this case, rather than discussing his misguided view about benefit vs. harm in medicine, he bemoans my supposed anonymity (program note/shameless plug: don't forget ScienceOnline09, at which I will be co-moderating a discussion on pseudo- and anonymity in the blogosphere). You see, whatever handle I choose to blog under (and I happen to like mine), it is the content of my writing that should be judged (and if you're feeling cruel, the style as well). This judgment should be separate from any knowledge of who I am, which is hardly a secret (although I do try to keep it one click away from easy spamming and trolling).

But Egnor is out of ideas, so he goes right for the...shins. He bemoans the cowardice of my anonymity (sic), without addressing the content of my criticism. For example, after quoting from my piece:

It's not worth quoting much more. You get the drift. So who is 'PalMD'? 'PalMD' is an anonymous physician blogger who claims to be an "internist in the Midwestern United States." He's challenged me by name with a schoolyard taunt, but... what's his name? Who is 'PalMD'?

The irony is delightful. PalMD claims to represent mainstream 'science-based medicine,' yet he lacks the courage to blog under his real name. I've always blogged under my own name, because I have little respect for physicians who express viewpoints on the internet and yet are afraid to have their names associated with their opinions. I mean what I say, and I'm willing to stand by it. I don't say one thing anonymously, and another thing for attribution.

He explicitly eschews the content, and goes straight for a mix of ad hominem attack and misdirection. Has this guy ever actually followed a hyperlink?

Oh, after calling me a whole bunch of names, he does state a supposed fact: half of all Americans are devout Christians who take Genesis literally.

Roffle roffle. Really? According to Gallup, the number of Americans who believe the Bible is the literal word of God is closer to a third, making it just as irrelevant as any arugumentum ad populum. According to another poll, in which about half of Americans did not believe in evolution, about 74% of Americans with post-graduate degrees "believe in" evolution.

Remember, truth is consistent with itself. Reality doesn't care how many people vote for it. It's still reality. I'd be willing to wager that well over half the population doesn't know what gravity is other than it having something to do with falling. Still, they don't fly off the globe.

Dr. Egnor, despite all your posturing and irrelevant blogviating, you haven't addressed any facts. Like the rest of the Discovery Institute, you seem unhappy that reality doesn't conform to your beliefs. That's kind of pitiful.

Just remember, no matter how firmly grounded you feel your beliefs to be, Eppur, si mouve.

More like this

I've had several run ins with people (typically climate change deniers) who use similar attacks on me because I don't blog under my real name. Of course I am not anonymous (nor do I claim to be), and anyone with a basic understanding of how the internet works and 1 minute of free time could find out my true identity, but I guess that is to much trouble for some.



I am floored by the obtuseness. I hesitate even to mention it, since it's merely playing into the non-sequitur, but your name is hardly a closely-guarded secret. I mean, it's all over your podcast. And the other blog you post at. And... oh, never mind. Egnor fails at logic AND at the internet.

Yeah, you're so anonymous that you blog under your own name at another blog which you link to from here, and your handle actually contains your initials! Jeez, Pal, what are you hiding from? ;)

Ah, the good old "argumentum ad anonymium." Always good for grins, and it always comes back for more.

Strange as it is for some nimwit to go after our host for posting with his initials as a handle, it's even more amusing that I'm routinely the subject of threads based on mine. Go figure.

The year is off to a great start in the Lame-o-lympics.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 04 Jan 2009 #permalink

Egnor starts his post with:

In a recent post, I pointed out the obvious that traditional allopathic medical practice

Allopathic?  A supposed real doctor uses the term made up by Samuel Hahnemann to denigrate anything thats not homeopathy?  And then he whines that you are afraid, on a blog where comments are heavily moderated to the extent that critical views do not appear. 

Celebrate Egnor's obtuseness, and this little scrap with you. It cannot help their little PR effort at the DI to have such an arcane argument be so prominent, and with their side's latest response the equivalent of a raspberry. Who but those with the narrowest of interest would care about such unprofessional hacks?

This is the depth to which the ID cause has sunk. No wonder Dembski abandoned his own ship.

If I recall correctly, and I do, a few of the founding fathers penned under false names or dressed up in costumes during protests.

Using this Engorant tool's logic, they were cowards and their beliefs should be disregarded.

It sounds as though he's insisting on some kind of argument from authority from you. "I have such-and-so advanced degree, therefore you should believe what I'm saying." Or maybe he's implying his is bigger than yours. He wants a cock fight--literally. *sigh* Of course, in any contest, he's quite likely to come out the bigger dick.

Really like your podcast a lot, BTW. Keep up the good work.

Holy Smokin' Shitballs, does Egnor commit the mother of all quote-mines in that post. He basically just stitched together a quote from tid-bits spread out across several paragraphs.

Egnor's quote:

Perhaps PalMD's patients and colleagues would realize that their doctor/colleague is an arrogant bigot who ridicules Christians who pray and believe they have souls:

...illogical thinking leads to the adoption of idiocy...[Egnor] reached out to the creationist cults. Apparently their brand of crazy wasn't enough for him...[Egnor] bemoans the arrogance of doctors...[b]ut what is his solution?... Prayer? ...So [Egnor] believes that the mind is not brain-dependent---so what?...Does he make sure to use a Sharpie to demarcate the soul before putting steel to flesh?

Devout Christians who take Genesis literally (i.e. half of Americans) are 'idiots' and members of "creationist cults"? PalMD should be afraid that anyone would read his swill and link it to his name. It's likely that most of his patients, colleagues, and friends pray, believe in God, and believe they have souls, and they probably would take offense if they knew that their doctor/colleague/friend equated them with cultists and Holocaust deniers because of their religious beliefs. Anonymous blogging is common among atheists/materialists/Darwinists, and for a reason. Despite their claim to represent mainstream science, many Darwinian fundamentalists like PalMD are ill-tempered bigots who are loathe to have their opinions publicly associated with their names. For obvious reasons.

Pal's original:

Fortunately, in his latest attack, Egnor eschews the scalpel for a cudgel. He blindly pummels logic and truth into figgy pudding (holiday reference!). He was kind enough to demonstrate how illogical thinking leads to the adoption of idiocy. You see, as a neurosurgeon he has some cachet when it comes to neuroscience---sure, he's very, very wrong, but it's at least his field. But once he abandoned logic in his own field, he reached out to the creationist cults. Apparently their brand of crazy wasn't enough for him. Now he has focused his rage---rage that reality apparently doesn't conform to his beliefs---on other doctors. His latest rant is aimed particularly at Orac and Steve Novella, although I like to think he gave us a shout-out (he mentions some form of the word "denialism" five times).

He bemoans the arrogance of doctors. As we've discussed in this space ad nauseum, this issue, while real, is a distractor. In a massive burst of logical fallacies, he writes of the faults of science-based medicine, while offering no real alternative. He loves the example of physicians failing to wash their hands, a real problem. But what is his solution? Providing hand washing stations outside patient rooms? Employing Keystone check lists? Prayer?

Nope. He's just angry. He bemoans the dangers of modern medicine, while at the same time praising his own hospital for using evidence-based measures to reduce medical error. He makes the ridiculous claim that those of us interested in science-based medicine don't care about medical error:

I believe that much of the motivation for the "pro-science" priesthood isn't patient safety or a genuine respect for scientific method but ideological hegemony. What bothers materialist ideologues like Novella and Orac is that there are people who challenge their materialist scientific worldview. There is a deep arrogance to the commentary and tactics of these defenders of science.

Um. No. What motivates us is a search for truth, for evidence, for the care of our fellow human beings. What motivates us is improving the care we deliver, reducing the errors we commit, and facing down those who would throw out the scientific approach to reality in favor of a vague fantasy. What does Egnor's approach (whatever it may be) have to offer patients? So he believes that the mind is not brain-dependent---so what? Has this helped him improve surgical techniques, reduce error rates, improve morbidity and mortality? Doe he make sure to use a Sharpie to demarcate the soul before putting steel to flesh?

Funny, Egnor has posted about Orac at least four times:


... without taking such umbrage at his "anonymity" as to be left nolo argumentum. Must have been something about your woodshedding of him that really stung.

It strikes me particularly that these DI fellows continue to promote the line that there is no religious agenda behind ID. However, whenever (often) they get stuck on a point they fall back on arguments from eligion. "Evolution denies the word of God." "N% of Americans believe in God." "Darwinisn equates to atheism."

That should be "game over."

John Blanton

I see that the Discovery Institute is still sufficiently aware of their dishonesty and foolishness that they don't allow folks to comment on the lies they tell. Good move DI.

By freelunch (not verified) on 07 Jan 2009 #permalink

Perhaps even more questionable is Egnor's reliance on Genesis, whose author is apparently invisible, inaudible, and intangible, not to mention unwilling to answer questions. Much more anonymous than PalMD.

By Moderately Unb… (not verified) on 08 Jan 2009 #permalink

The bible is different. Its got that magic hand-of-god font that tells what god means by each and every word.