Monday, 4 March 2013

Not so much a ‘wake up call’, having pro-homeopathy MP David Tredinnick on the Commons science committee is the stuff of nightmares

Sadly, the recent kerkuffle over the portrayal of homeopathy on the NHS Choices website and the government's flagrant disregard of scientific advice on culling badgers may well just be the tip of an iceberg that the good ship Great Britain is sailing towards, full speed ahead.

Apparently, the Conservatives want to be the Republican Party so much that they have elected science-illiterate MP David Tredinnick to both the Commons Health Committee and Commons Science and Technology Committee. The problem? In the words of Miriam Frankel in her recent piece, ‘Wake up call’: Q&A with pro-homeopathy MP David Tredinnick, this is a man who "thinks the moon influences human behaviour and believes that homeopathy works."

As a scientist, the piece does not make happy reading.
"I’ve come onto this committee as someone who wants to see it take a broader view of science. I don’t believe that science is about defending the status quo: it’s about pushing boundaries. It’s really significant that I got onto this committee and I think it should be a wake-up call to those in the scientific community who don’t want to explore alternatives."
This doesn't sound too bad until you realise what the alternatives are that he wants to consider: homeopathy, acupuncture and herbal medicine.
"I think there are some good, double-blind placebo-controlled trials that have been conducted by the Integrated Healthcare Hospital, formerly the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital. But there’s also an enormous amount of evidence available through the observation of patients, so we shouldn’t ignore that. The other thing is that is very safe and very inexpensive. It should be more widely available on the NHS. And we should be teaching people to use simple homeopathic kits to stop unnecessary visits to doctors’ surgeries."
What?! Have you even read the House of Commons Select Committee (Science and Technology Committee) Evidence Check for Homeopathy? It's "safe and very inexpensive" because it doesn't contain any active ingredients! It has been explored by science. What possible motive do scientists and doctors have for not promoting homeopathic medicine if it actually worked? Not knowing how it works? We don't know how Paracetamol works but we use that.

It gets worse:
"I think that if the sun has an impact on our lives and the moon has an impact on the tides and cycles, it is logical to suggest that it might have an impact on other aspects of our lives as well. It’s accepted that at certain times certain people’s behaviour gets more extreme at the full moon—that’s, I think, scientifically proven. Hormonal reactions to increased positive ions in the air—the full moon effect—can cause hyperactivity, depression, violent behaviour, etc."
No, David, that's unscientific crap. You're right that science is about "pushing boundaries" but the way we push those boundaries is by ruling out the hogwash, like homeopathy and "the lunar effect". It is most certainly not by promoting hearsay and anecdote as a basis for policy or a way to determine efficacy.

Someone made a petition to remove David Tredinnick from the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee but it's been rejected because "E-petitions cannot be used to request action on issues that are outside the responsibility of the government". Hmmm. I'll feel another letter to my MP coming on.

h/t: Rachel Nesbitt at the Society of Biology.

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