Scientists, postmodernists or fascists?


  • Alan Pearson RN MSc PhD FAAG FRCN

    Corresponding author
    1. The Joanna Briggs Institute, Royal Adelaide Hospital, North Terrace, and
    2. The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
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Professor Alan Pearson, The Joanna Briggs Institute, Level 4, Margaret Graham Building, Royal Adelaide Hospital, North Terrace, Adelaide, SA 5000, Australia. Email:


The somewhat frenzied reaction to publication of a provocative, discursive paper titled ‘Deconstructing the evidence-based discourse in health sciences: truth, power and fascism’ by Holmes et al. in the International Journal of Evidence-Based Healthcare is both surprising and worrying. The paper is essentially a postmodernist critique of evidence-based healthcare. In the same issue of the journal in which the paper was published both the guest editorial and a response to the paper refute its claims. However, media coverage on the paper gave rise to numerous defensive responses that attacked the paper through claiming it represents ‘bad science’ or by disparaging the International Journal of Evidence-Based Healthcare, its Editor, its peer review processes or the organisation linked to the journal, the Joanna Briggs Institute. It is clear that those who mounted these attacks had no knowledge of the journal (or of the editorial and response refuting the claims made in the paper, published in the same issue) or its parent organisation; and none of them attempted to critique the paper in a scholarly fashion. This paper sets out to construct a scholarly argument to refute these claims and to consider why it is that those who support evidence-based healthcare and/or science chose to disparage a journal and an organisation that promotes and facilitates evidence-based approaches to healthcare – and the value of the Cochrane Collaboration – rather than developing a rigorous critique of the argument developed in the Holmes et al. paper. Although this response appears to be an attempt to silence dissenting views (and may, to some, suggest that the reference to microfascism in the paper in question may, indeed, have some validity) we conclude that the postmodernist critique of evidence-based healthcare embodied in the paper sets out criticisms that, though widespread in healthcare, can be challenged in a considered, scholarly way. The ill-informed, reactionary responses to it by the defenders of science make little contribution to the ongoing development of evidence to improve global health.