Posts Tagged ‘pseudo-science’

Michael Specter at TED 2010: The danger of science denial

24/04/2010

I end my brief blogging sabbatical by posting this superb lecture I saw from the TED podcast a couple of weeks ago.

Vaccine-autism claims, “Frankenfood” bans, the herbal cure craze: all point to the public’s growing fear (and, often, outright denial) of science and reason, says Michael Specter.  He warns the trend spells disaster for human progress.

TED link

RichardDawkins.net page

Common Sense Atheism page

Michael Specter’s homepage

Michael Specter’s Wikipedia page

Michael Specter: Authors@Google

Homeopathy is a waste of NHS money says House of Commons Committee on Science and Technology

26/02/2010

manicstreetpreacher salutes democracy in action/ power to the people/ sceptics’ voices being heard etc.

Previously on this blog, I have denounced homeopathy as a bogus pseudo-science, reported on The Merseyside Skeptics Society’s campaign to have it removed from the shelves of Boots following the company’s admission that it had no appreciable effect beyond placebo, and previewed The Big Swallow that demonstrated that it was impossible to “overdose” on homeopathic remedies.

The Big Swallow went ahead on 30 January 2010 at various cities across the country and attracted notices in the national press.  Now, The Daily Telegraph reports, along with BBC News that the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology has recommended that the NHS should cease using public money to provide homeopathic remedies.

From the Telegraph:

The Commons Science and Technology Committee said the diluted products were no more effective than placebo – the same as taking a sugar or dummy pill.

Furthermore, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) should not allow labels on homeopathic medicines to carry medical claims, it said.

Estimates on how much the NHS spends on homeopathy vary, with the Society of Homeopaths putting the figure at £4 million a year.

Health Minister Mike O’Brien told the committee the spend on homeopathic medicines is £152,000 a year.

The committee said the idea behind homeopathy – of diluting substances to the extent that a solution retains an “imprint” of what was originally dissolved – was implausible.

“We consider the notion that ultra-dilutions can maintain an imprint of substances previously dissolved in them to be scientifically implausible.”…

The report said: “In our view, the systematic reviews and meta-analyses conclusively demonstrate that homeopathic products perform no better than placebos.”

It added: “There has been enough testing of homeopathy and plenty of evidence showing it is not efficacious.”

Liberal Democrat MP Phil Willis, who is chairman of the cross-party committee, said prescribing homeopathy as placebos on the NHS amounted to encouraging doctors to participate in “active deception” of their patients.

He said serious illnesses could be missed while people were on homeopathy.

The potions were “basically sugar pills or Smarties” and patients could be mislead into thinking they were getting better on them, he added.

He continued: “If homeopathy works then the whole of chemistry and physics would have to be overturned.”…

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “The Department of Health and Government welcome the publication of the report and will give it, and any recommendations made, full consideration over the coming weeks.

“In the meantime, we would reiterate that we appreciate the strength of feeling both for and against the provision of homeopathy on the National Health Service.

“Our view is that the local NHS and clinicians, rather than Whitehall, are best placed to make decisions on what treatment is appropriate for their patients – this includes complementary or alternative treatments such as homeopathy.”

Full report from the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee (Download PDF)

In addition, Richard Dawkins has posted this essay on his website calling for readers to write to their MPs in support of the Committee’s recommendations and has devised a Double-Blind placebo-Controlled Randomised Trial (DBCRT) for testing the effectiveness of homeopathy on real patients.

Campaign to reform UK libel law may well be symbolic only

12/02/2010

manicstreetpreacher thinks that the law is an ass!

In recent months, I have been following The Libel Reform Campaign.  I signed the online petition to Parliament to have the scope of the public interest defence widened in order to make it harder for “libel tourists” to bring actions against writers and journalists in London where they feel relatively more assured of success, since the legal costs of defending such actions can bring about financial ruin for a defendant.  The campaign has also received a fair amount of coverage on RichardDawkins.net and there is a page on Sense About Science.

The campaign was initiated following science journalist and author Simon Singh being sued by the British Chiropractic Association for publishing a highly critical piece about chiropractic on The Guardian Comment Is Free on 19 April 2008.  Singh compared spine manipulation to a drug that had “such serious adverse effects and so little demonstrable benefit, it would almost certainly have been taken off the market”.

After losing the preliminary ruling, Singh won his right to appeal in October 2009.  However, his case has highlighted the strangling effect that the UK’s libel laws have on critical writing.  As Singh wrote following his successful application to appeal:

One of the main fears… [is] the sheer cost of a libel case.  Although the damages at stake might be just £10,000, going to trial can mean risking more than £1m.  This means that a blogger has to ask whether he or she can afford the possibility of bankruptcy.  Even if a blogger is 90% confident of victory, there is still a 10% chance of failure, which is why bloggers often back down, withdraw and apologise for material they believe is true, fair and important to the public.

I received permission [from the Court of Appeal] to appeal against an earlier ruling on the meaning of my article.  The original article was published 18 months ago, the case has cost me £100,000 and there is still a long way to go.  My reason for not backing down is that I believe my article is accurate, important and a matter of public interest, as it relates to the use of chiropractic in treating various childhood conditions, such as asthma and ear infections.

Although my article was published in The Guardian, I am being sued personally. Fortunately, thanks to the success of my books, Fermat’s Last Theorem and The Code Book, I have the resources to fund my own defence. The case might seriously damage me but it will not bankrupt me.  For bloggers, such a case could lead to financial ruin.

As a lover of free thought, free speech and free inquiry, I signed the online petition and forwarded a message to my local MP.  I received a letter from the MP’s office saying that while he supported the campaign in principle, he did not put his name to Early Day Motion 423 because they are a waste of Parliamentary time and taxpayers’ money.  Apparently “they are seldom debated, rarely brought to a vote and require neither recognition nor response from the government”.  They are known in Westminster as “parliamentary graffiti” and can cost in excess of £627,000.

Talk about Catch-22.  Attempting to reform a bad law and being scuppered by the bad law-making process.  Oh, the irony!  So much for democracy in action, power to the people etc.  Time for strategic re-think, perhaps?

The Big Swallow: 30 January 2010

20/01/2010

manicstreetpreacher is looking forward to “overdosing” on placebos in two weeks!

A few weeks ago I reported on The Merseyside Skeptics Society’s involvement with the 10:23 Campaign to put pressure on Alliance Boots to withdraw sales of homeopathic remedies following an incredible admission by Paul Bennett, professional standards director for Boots, to the Commons Science and Technology Committee in November 2009 that the company knows full well that the “treatment” has no appreciable effect, but they continue to stock it simply because customers buy it.

If homeopathy has any effect whatsoever, theoretically, it should be possible to “overdose” on it.  To prove beyond doubt that this is not the case, the 10:23 Campaign – so called after the level of dilution that most homeopathic practitioners use in their potions – will be staging a series of swallowing events outside Boots stores in several cities throughout the UK at 10:23am on 30 January 2010: Edinburgh, Manchester, Bristol, Liverpool, Glasgow, Birmingham, Southampton and London, with sympathy protests in Australia, Canada and the United States.

At 10:23am on January 30th, more than three hundred homeopathy sceptics nationwide will be taking part in a mass homeopathic “overdose” in protest at Boots’ continued endorsement and sale of homeopathic remedies, and to raise public awareness about the fact that homeopathic remedies have nothing in them.

Sceptics and consumer rights activists will publicly swallow an entire bottle of homeopathic “pillules” to demonstrate that these “’remedies”, prepared according to a long-discredited 18th century ritual, are nothing but sugar pills.

The protest will raise public awareness about the reality of homeopathy, and put further pressure on Boots to live up to its responsibilities as the “scientist on the high street” and stop selling treatments which do not work.

If you want to get involved with the event, contact your nearest skeptics in the pub organisation. National press enquiries should be directed to Martin Robbins (press@1023.org.uk)

See also the thread on RichardDawkins.net, as well as this article on The Daily Telegraph website:

Martin Robbins, a spokesman for the society, said: “The remedies themselves may not be directly harmful, but there is a real danger in misleading customers into thinking that homeopathy is somehow equivalent to real medicine.

“Patients may believe that they are treating themselves or their children adequately, and delay seeking appropriate treatment; or they may receive dangerous advice after consulting with homeopaths rather than their GPs.”

He added: “The ‘overdose’ is a dramatic way of demonstrating to the public that these remedies have literally nothing in them.  If eating an entire box of homeopathic sleeping pills fails to send one person to sleep, then how on Earth can their sale be justified?”

The group expects at least 300 people to take part.  I hope to be at the London “overdose”.