Thursday 25 February 2010

Homeopathy's Surprising Allies

Just been alerted to this Early Day Motion via Ben Goldacre:


Tredinnick, David
That this House expresses concern at the conclusions of the Science and Technology Committee's Report, Evidence Check on Homeopathy; notes that the Committee took only oral evidence from a limited number of witnesses, including known critics of homeopathy Tracy Brown, the Managing Director of Sense About Science, and journalist Dr Ben Goldacre, who have no expertise in the subject; believes that evidence should have been heard from primary care trusts that commission homeopathy, doctors who use it in a primary care setting, and other relevant organisations, such as the Society of Homeopaths, to provide balance; observes that the Committee did not consider evidence from abroad from countries such as France and Germany, where provision of homeopathy is far more widespread than in the UK, or from India, where it is part of the health service; regrets that the Committee ignored the 74 randomised controlled trials comparing homeopathy with placebo, of which 63 showed homeopathic treatments were effective, and that the Committee recommends no further research; further notes that 206 hon. Members signed Early Day Motion No. 1240 in support of NHS homeopathic hospitals in Session 2006-07; and calls on the Government to maintain its policy of allowing decision-making on individual clinical interventions, including homeopathy, to remain in the hands of local NHS service providers and practitioners who are best placed to know their community's needs.
Source here.

That this is being pushed by David Tredinnick is no surprise. Obscurantism and irrationality are essential life skills for your average Tory, though they usually tend to dress it up in the trappings of state sponsored religion. But Tredinnick is slightly different. In 2006 he
claimed over £200 on expenses for astrology software, and a further £300 in tuition fees from the company who supplied it. Incredible.

But what I find much more worrying is that *three* high profile left wing MPs have put their name to it too. John McDonnell, Alan Simpson and Jeremy Corbyn have joined forces with the Conservative member for moonbatshire to get the Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee to take another look at the "evidence" for homeopathy. What is wrong with these people? What possible motive could these otherwise well-respected socialists have for backing this quackery?


Anonymous said...

Unless, you know, it is simply because John McD et al want to see more PCT voices call homeopathy's illusion. I can't imagine it is because they support that shit, and I bet further still they don't want taxpayers to spend it, and I'd go further and take a stab that they'd like to see libel reform for this very reason.

I saw Ben Goldacre give an incredible 15minutes at a pub in victoria the other night, unscripted, and huffing and puffing from being late, then dashing off like the vanishing mediator. I think David Tredinnick has a loose tongue, he shouldn't be so sure Goldacre is not an expert. Though, back to the point, it maybe has to do with PCT voices...just a guess.

Mark P said...

Just the first of many, many disappointments to come now that you've joined the dwindling Labour left, Phil!

Simon said...

This is very disturbing. I had to tripple check, I keep hoping he signed it by mistake.

Dr. Nancy Malik said...

In the coming elections later this year, vote for the government which is pro-homeopathy

Phil said...

I think I'll pass on your kind advice, Nancy.

Mark, v naughty. But I did say I joined Labour without illusions!

Phil said...

I would hope you;re right Raincoat, but I'd like to see them explain themselves. If it's true - as a fellow tweeter suggested - that they're prepared to sign any old EDM, I would like to know why.

Dr* T said...

Science is not democratic and doesn't care for beliefs regardless of how tightly they are held.

The gov depts should try to be all-inclusive and appeasing to viewpoints, but within Dept of Health, this approach doesn't work - homeopathy is 18th century silliness and shouldn't be discussed without laughing. That's not to say that placebos shouldn't be available on the NHS, that's a different conversation (personally I don't think they should) and that conversation IS a political and not entirely scientific decision. But any association with homeopathy needs to be tossed away sharpish.

The EDM is a puzzler - one of the MPs, James Gray (con) is a pretty good parliamentarian, and has spoken to me about "snake oil salesmen" and quackery. He also seems to sign pretty much anything that crosses his desk.....Maybe there's votes in it at this time in the cycle?

I see spambot Nancy has had a drive-by. Her spam litters the rational internet!


andy newman said...

Well there is an argument that if patients think that homeopathy will work, then it dosn't do any harm.

What this EDM calls for "calls on the Government to maintain its policy of allowing decision-making on individual clinical interventions, including homeopathy, to remain in the hands of local NHS service providers and practitioners who are best placed to know their community's needs.

is not a passionate championing of homeopoathy, but a sensible fudge allowing alternative treatment to be supported where appropriate.

If someone was offering homeopathy for a ruptured aendx that would be bad, for tinitus, not so bad.

Manzil said...

It doesn't matter whether they 'think' it will work or not - if public money is being spent, it better damn well be for something that has a proven benefit, or we're basically imposing a cut on, you know, actual medicine.

If the NHS is going to start catering to the needs of ignorant people, can't we just produce some cheap, generic painkillers, call it the Universal Super Wonder Drug and serve that up instead of letting quacks suckle from the state's teat.

Simon said...

“Well there is an argument that if patients think that homeopathy will work, then it dosn't do any harm.”

If they feel less inclined to get real medicine as a result then it does do harm. And even if not these quacks are exploiting the vulnerable (often terminally ill) by selling them tap water. There's no reason this should be available on the NHS. I don't want my tax money being spent on bullsh*t, especially as it CAN be harmful.

Dr* T said...

...and to add to Simon's comment, if it is given an air of legitimacy, then deluded quacks head off and claim to cure malaria, AIDS and Cancer - there is a definite body count associated with homeopathy.


Left Outside said...

Corbyn's on Twitter so I sent him a little tweet and link to this post to see if he'll answer himself.

@jeremycorbyn Hello! I'm very pleased to see you're on twitter! Can I ask a Question? What made you sign EDM 908?

David Ellis said...

Agree with Andy. At least with the homeopaths you get a little tlc instead of the old conveyor belt. This row has broken out because the enormous cuts are starting to hurt and are setting different sections of the NHS against each other in defence of their own budgets. It will be a shame if the homeopaths are squeezed out for that reason. Defend all NHS spending I say.

Anonymous said...

The real scandal is the giant pharmaceutical companies who bleed the NHS dry with extortionate prices for medicines that could be reproduced for a fraction of the cost. The corporations have produced these drugs by appropriating and enclosing public science as private intellectual property.
Furthermore, many of these drugs have terrible 'side effects' but the corporations engage in cover ups made possible by the privatisation of science, which renders it opaque, now removed from the public sphere.
Both conventional medicine and complementary therapies are compromised by the market and capitalism. Thousands of people are also killed by conventional medicines.
Don't get blinded to this fact by posing as simple enlightenment rationalists - Marxists should have a far more subtle approach to our actual historic scientific practices and knowledges.

Left Outside said...

@David Ellis

Defend ALL NHS spending? So you'd defend Private Finance Initiative spending? What about spending on management consultants.

This hasn't come about because of spending constraints it has come about because there is no reliable evidence in favour of homoeopathy. (Although there is a strong correlation between the unreliability of evidence and the strength with which it recommends homoeopathy, Ben Goldacre has a graph and everything).

What you seem to be recommending, when you say is at least you get some "tlc", is that we institutionalise the prescription of placebos. That we institutionalise doctors lying to patients and I'm not comfortable with that.

"Alternative treatments" which has been proven to work are called "treatments". And yes I support those ones. For Homoeopathy to work we'd have to rewrite physics and there is simple not a large enough evidence base there.

There doesn't need to be "balance" in this debate, it is about whether something does or does not work. If there is a repeatable double blind trial saying this thing works it works, there is no need for balance.

Science is profoundly antidemocratic, that's why it works. This is a terrible EDM and it worries me some people I respect have signed it.

Anonymous said...

David -

It does not work. It is not medicine. It is complete waffle. It. Does. Not. Work.

Read that sentence twice a day and we'll try again in a month.

Sara Hannam said...

Totally agree with Barry Kade who said "Both conventional medicine and complementary therapies are compromised by the market and capitalism. Thousands of people are also killed by conventional medicines".

TBH I am a bit surprised by the absolute certainty of the postings here against alternative forms of therapy. I wish that all people had access to a range of approaches tht might help them overcome their illnesses, mental or physical and my ideal medical centre would be one where those approaches work together to treat a whole human being. Is that a negative thing to aspire to? I hope not. Most medical systems of Europe are a long long way from this.

Perhaps some more thought needs to go into separating the roots of homeopathy (i.e. really understanding the principles upon which it is based and how it works) and how it has come to be used and applied in some dodgy ways. There is a difference I think. 'Traditional' medicine is hardly able to claim it has all the answers and surely the health statistics tell their own story? Some people are left out in the cold and it is often those perhaps not with life threatening conditions, but with long term niggling complaints that conventional 'wisdom' has no answers for, but which debilitate their quality of life on a daily basis. I don't like the idea of such individual who turn to alternative medicine being judged -how does that help?

Well that's my two penneth worth today - I think a slightly more open minded approach is needed which separates the politics of health from different approaches to health care.

Left Outside said...

"Perhaps some more thought needs to go into separating the roots of homoeopathy (i.e. really understanding the principles upon which it is based and how it works) and how it has come to be used and applied in some dodgy ways."

But its origins and its current usage are both dodgy. There isn't any reliable evidence it works, so I can say quite confidently that it doesn't work.

Not only that. But for homoeopathy to work in the way its practitioners say it does we would have to rewrite physics. All of physics.

Now occasionally that has to be done, but you need a lot of evidence to do so. And that evidence has not been provided.

Now I am being fairly forthright, but that is only because Homoeopathy has gained a reputation totally different to how it should be viewed.

There's no opposition between big pharma and homoeopath. Big pharma make money out of homoeopathy. There's nothing holistic about homoeopathy because it does nothing. It seems a very effective placebo, but that is all it is.

With regard to things which conventional medicine being unable to treat: Yes this is bad. But if there are treatments available that will work

It seems you're confusing homoeopathy which involves sugar pills with absolutely no active ingredient involved and traditional or alternative medicines from which we have gained lots of useful medicines but which has also given us lots of nice smelling herbs that do nothing.

Traditional medicines should be tested thoroughly and the ones that work made available. Homoeopathy is not traditional medicine it is woo.

Sara Hannam said...

Dear Left Outside,

Thanks for your "forthright" response.

It seems that you and I have different views about the certainty of 'science' as a discipline and also the validity of medical research. I see medical research much like any other type of research - full of entrenched positions and speculation - at all levels. As well as an absolute certainty and belief that allows no space for discussion or debate as above. It isn't possible to go any further here really is it as you have closed all the discussional doors.

But just to make myself clearer for anyone else who may be reading.....your answer to me assumes that you know more, and that I do not have strong evidence to contradict whatever knowledge you are drawing on. And perhaps all of us need to admit we couldn't possibly have read or know everything on the subject, not to mention how we evaluate whatever research does exist. Personally I think you need to give us a bit more than "homeopathy is not traditional medicine, it is woo" as I am not convinved by this sort of argumentation. If you are hoping to discredit it, then take the time to draw out some logical and salient points against it beyond sugar coated pills etc.

I did not at any point say that homeopathy is not used as an excuse to make money through pharmaceutical companies - so moot point. I am sure the thousands of people who feel they have been neglected by 'traditional' medicine might wish to know more about what you propose for them within your view of medicine.

Nick Fredman said...

There's little or no physiological explanation or clinical evidence for homeopathy, but a problem in such discussions lies in that "anti-quakery" types, like Ben Goldacre, seem to lump it together with "alternative" therapies that may more validity, like herbal remedies and tactile therapies. Also these crusading rationalist types, even Goldacre who seems a lefty overall, seem very out of balance WRT the mega-quackery of corporate control of research and conventional medicine, which has caused far more carnage (50 000 premature deaths from Vioxx alone). When I checked Goldacre's site, he had 100s of postings on "alternatives" and 4 on corporate corruption of research.

A dialectical materialist approach should surely recognise there is some ideology, as well as material interests, in the health sciences - if less than the social sciences, surely more than physics.

"If there is a repeatable double blind trial saying this thing works it works, there is no need for balance". This sort of statement is sometimes used ideologically - it's thrown against "alternative" treatments, but not, say, physiotherapy and heart surgery, which of course aren't conducive to double blind trials.

A good example of materially-based ideology wielded by uber-rationalist persons of science is the rather rabid campaign against home birth currently being waged by the Australian Medical Association - which just happens to be led by an obstetrician. You also get the silly situation where doctor's association both oppose specific degrees in herbal medicine and demand the right to themselves to prescribe validated herbs, without any training on their part. Unfortunately in the current set-up, science and good debate is undermined, as well as by corporate interests, by many MDs with substantial material interests and a Brahmin caste like status to defend (of course some doctors are good unionists and even socialists).

"Traditional medicines should be tested thoroughly and the ones that work made available." I'll all for that, and have friends who have undertaken research PhDs in the medical efficacy of herbs.

But I think in bringing the valid areas of "alternative and complementary medicine" into a public and community focused health system, the different, historically constituted streams of practice might need to be recognised. I don't see why say an appropriately qualified and regulated herbalist can't be a recognised ancillary/complementary practitioner in a public system, like a pharmacist or physiotherapist. This is how as I understand it the Cuban and Vietnamese systems have incorporated traditional knowledges, in the context of much less profit motives and differentials of status in the health system.

guthrie said...

Nick Fredman - there are several reasons for looking at nutters, not just pharmaceutical companies. For starters, encouraging nutters just helps lower the intellectual climate and make it easier for said pharmaceutical companies to con people.
Secondly, said companies are known to be profit maximising lying cheaters, so lots of people spend lots of time watching them, and laws get passed against them. By contrast, homoepaths get to say almost anything they like and make stuff up, so need watched as well, but it is hardly worth setting up a gvt department to do that. Just stop the NHS having anything to do with it, and hand out a few Darwin awards.

Dr* T said...

@Nick Fredman,

GOldacre does seem pretty lefty:

I think you need to open your eyes (and your mind) on his website - he does a lot of railing against the despicable tricks of big pharma, which big altmed are falling over themselves to try and copy.


Phil said...

Jeremy Corbyn has replied to Left Outside on why he's supporting this EDM. You can view his reasons here.

MARTi G MARTI said...

Homoeopathy is one of the young medical sciences with convincing principles based on natural laws. How could it be a sin to support Homoeopathy, by leftist members like Jeremy Corbyn or any one, in British Parliament?
Really speaking the Homoeopathic medicine, as blamed by its critics, is not a mere placebo .In fact it cured diseases, which are serious and incurable by traditional medicine, of thousands and thousands of men, women, infants and even animals and plants without any side effects. How could a placebo cure infants, animals or plants from many maladies? However any one is at liberty to criticize anything in the world, after learning and understanding it in detail without any prejudice.
There are so many reputed doctors of conventional medicines like Dr.J.T.Kent of USA who were once severe critics of Homoeopathy turned ardent supporters and respected contributors of the medical science.
As such it is the duty of every humanitarians to come together to support all the useful and viable alternative systems of medicine along with conventional medicine to help the suffering humanity to reap the true benefits out of it.
So let us forget all our unwanted prejudice not only against Homoeopathy but also against all other alternative systems.
Finally let us congratulate all respected members of parliament specially David Tredinnick,Jeremy Corbyn,MaC Donnell and Alan Simpson who expressed concern at the conclusion of the science and Technology Committee Report, evidence check on Homoeopathy.

MARTi G MARTI said...

Ref. My comments dtd 22Aug 2010

Could u plz change Hari says...
to Hari Raghav says.