Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:

Education And Debate

“Food deserts”—evidence and assumption in health policy making

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: (Published 24 August 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:436

Rapid Response:

The Bellman's fallacy

Absolutely true!. Accepting repeated assertions as received truth,
and formulating policies based on them, is pervasive of all sorts of
health care systems. This is another expression of what the late Petr
Skrabanek called 'the Bellman's fallacy'[Skrabanek], after the famous
declamation of the Bellman in 'The hunting of the snark':

"Just the place for a Snark!" the Bellman cried,

As he landed his crew with care;

Supporting each man on the top of the tide

By a finger entwined in his hair.

"Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice:

That alone should encourage the crew.

Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice:

What I tell you three times is true." [Carroll]

Those health care systems with more restricted budgets, particularly
in low and middle income countries, need to do a special effort to resist
adopting policies based on 'factoids', sometimes pushed forward by
commercial interests, sometimes by the good-will of aid organisations
based on OECD countries. Let us be aware!: repeated assertions posing as
truth are everywhere (and I have said it twice!).

Dr. Rodrigo A. Salinas


Carroll, L. The hunting of the snark. London: Penguin Books, 1967.

Skrabanek, P. Follies and fallacies in medicine, third edition.
Withorn: Tarragon Press, 1999.

Competing interests: No competing interests

10 September 2002
Rodrigo A Salinas
Ministry of Health of Chile, Santiago, Chile 52310