An answer that points out that there is no evidence that some (quack) cure X works, doesn't need to be supported by references. Obviously, the burden of proof that X works should be on anyone making the claim that it actually does work. A statement that there are no peer reviewed articles about X's efficacy should be sufficient. Otherwise, people promoting quack treatments can just ask suggestive questions here, without there being any critical response here as such a response would violate the requirement of references when there hasn't been any research done to see if X works (which is usually the case).

Now an OP may not have the intention of promoting quack cures here, it may well be a legitimate question. But a lack of a response that makes clear where the burden of proof lies, will have the effect of people reading such questions and answers posted here being misled about such quack cures.


A statement that there are no peer reviewed articles about X's efficacy should be sufficient.

Unfortunately, this doesn't leave the reader with much confidence, our motto here being De omnibus dubitandum est. I think your argument rests on several good observations:

  1. Theoretically, it is generally not possible to prove that no research has been done.

  2. Realistically, where there is no plausible association, it is unlikely to find research statistically "proving" the absence of an association (although this, it should be said, is theoretically possible).

To me it does not follow that a statement that there are no peer reviewed articles...should be sufficient. I can think of several approaches that would be considerably more helpful:

  1. Consider the theoretical basis for the claim, and provide evidence about the relevant physiology. This may include review articles or textbook chapters explaining "how things work". Undercutting the physiologic plausibility of a claim can be a substantial counter-claim.

  2. Provide evidence for standard of care or consensus recommendations for X condition, and show that Y treatment is not in the picture. Showing that experts in the field do not consider Y worthy of inclusion in such an overview is also a substantial contribution against an absurd claim.

Both of these* are methods of approaching a Health.SE question of this brand without eschewing the need for evidence altogether.

*This is not to say that these are the only methods -- this is just what I can think of off the top of my head. Creativity is encouraged.

  • 3
    On some other sites I've seen "no" answers that take the form: "I checked X, Y, and Z and did not find any evidence there", where X, Y, and Z are the key sources one would think relevant. This leaves the door open for W, a peer-reviewed source the answerer didn't know about. So don't just say "there are none"; say how you know that. What did you check? – Monica Cellio Mar 20 '16 at 20:35
  • Thanks, yeah, I think that's where I was going with the "standard of care" or "consensus recommendations," though admittedly people sometimes come up with wacky endpoints for which neither may be available. I'm now remembering a prior Q&A on basically the same topic, the "this-is-not-a-thing" discussion. – Susan Mar 23 '16 at 5:42

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