As well as appointing a Chief Executive who wrote for an AIDS denialist magazine, the Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health (FIH) have also come under scrutiny for alleged financial irregularities and channeling money from a disgraced politician, Dame Shirley Porter, to fund a commissioned report, the Smallwood Report. Motivated by this I have examined the accounts for the FIH and some of the various bodies that have funded them, including the Porter Foundation- Dame Porter’s charitable organisation. This has revealed some unusual transactions. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by gimpy on April 20, 2010
Posted by gimpy on April 15, 2010
The British Chiropractic Association have dropped their legal action against Simon Singh.
Many congratulations to Simon Singh and all those who have supported him. However, Simon is going to be out of pocket by a considerable amount, even though the BCA are apparently liable for his costs. Simon has succeeded not because he is right, but because he is both right and rich, and this is why we should still support libel reform. Until libel claims are judged solely by the weight of evidence and not by the balance of wallets libel will remain a tool used primarily by the wealthy to silence criticism.
The fact that it takes hundreds of thousands of pounds and a particular blend of stubborness and stupidity to show that there is not a jot of evidence for the claims of chiropractic, an obvious quackery, is an obvious reason to sign Libel Reform Campaign Petition, so if you have not done so, do it.
Posted by gimpy on April 9, 2010
The Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health (FIH) have been in the news recently for all the wrong reasons. £300,000 has apparently gone missing from their accounts, the police are now investigating, and it is claimed their 2006 Smallwood report was funded by shamed politician, Dame Shirley Porter. They have now appointed a former writer for an AIDS denialist publication as their new Chief Executive.
According to the Daily Mail report linked to above, the disappearance of £300,000 from the charities accounts is the explanation as to why their most recent financial report has not been filed with the charities commission. While officially no members of the FIH staff have been suspended there has been a shakeup in the upper echelons of the organisation, with the most notable changes being that former Finance Director and acting Chief Executive, George Gray, is no longer with the charity, having been replaced by a new Chief Executive, Boo Armstrong. Ms Armstrong used to write articles extolling the virtues of alternative approaches to health in Continuum, a magazine with an editorial position denying the link between HIV and AIDS as described by science. The FIH have been aware of these articles since at least the summer of 2009.
Ms Armstrong’s appointment is reflective of how wider society has treated alternative medicine in the past, with minimal scrutiny and an assumption of benefit. She has been awarded money from UnLtd, the Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs, for pushing alternative medicine and has long been funded by the FIH before she was officially placed on their payroll. She has also had a position on the National Clinical Audit Advisory Group (NCAAG) for some time, where her profile lauds her charity work. She was also behind a market research, rather than scientific, project measuring the impact of alternative health in Northern Ireland. This was instigated by former Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Hain, who believes that homeopathy and a restrictive diet* cured his son’s eczema and felt that this justified spending £200,000 of taxpayers money on a weak report. At not point did any of the above investigate her articles for Continuum or even her personal views on various forms of quackery, for example she thinks that osteopaths should be considered equivalent to doctors.
However, more recently, Ms Armstrong and the FIH are becoming unstuck, quite apart from any police investigation. Thanks to the tenacious David Colquhoun, the recent attempts by an FIH backed organisation to set up an Integrated Medicine course with the University of Buckingham has failed. In particular Ms Armstrong was rejected as a teacher because she was “not qualified to do so academically”. The FIH have also been reported to the Charities Commission by Republic, a pro-republican pressure group, due to alleged political interference by the Charity and Prince Charles in the appointment of Professor Ernst.
Appointing a supporter of an AIDS denialist magazine as Chief Executive of a charity advocating alternative medicine is not a wise move given the long track record of denialism, unconventional treatment and unethical trials with respect to AIDS in the alternative health movement. It is especially unwise given that the FIH are no longer operating with minimal scrutiny, both the police and skeptical bloggers, journalists and campaigning organisations taking a close look at them.
The FIH and Ms Armstrong were asked to reply to questions regarding their investigations of the content of Ms Armstrong’s articles and whether Ms Armstrong has retracted her views. They did not respond.
*specifically a gluten and dairy restricted diet, (there is no indication that Peter Hain’s son was tested by a registered medical practitioner for gluten or dairy allergies).
Posted by gimpy on April 5, 2010
The attempted regulation of herbalism looks doomed to failure with a clear difference of opinion between government and practitioners, the latter prefer statutory regulation which has been rejected as an option by government.
Last week the Department of Health (DoH) recommended that the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC/Ofquack) regulate herbal medicine, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and acupuncture. Minister for Health, Andy Burnham, said:
“Emerging evidence clearly demonstrates that the public needs better protection, but in a way that is measured and does not place unreasonable extra burdens on practitioners.
“I am therefore minded to legislate to ensure that all practitioners supplying unlicensed herbal medicines to members of the public in England must be registered with the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC).
CNHC is pleased to be asked by The Secretary of State for Health to register practitioners supplying herbal medicines to members of the public in England.
The Council already registers a significant range of practitioners in complementary healthcare who meet its standards and is well positioned to expand its public protection role in this way. Since 2008 CNHC has established its reputation as a regulatory body with robust and effective standards for registration and fitness to practise. It has positive and collaborative links with the statutory healthcare regulators.
This is probably regarded as good news by the CNHC, they have had a well documented struggle for funding and have trouble attracting some of the more popular forms of quackery. Regardless of this, the CNHC are not fit for purpose, they have recently told sceptical blogger Simon Perry that they will not consider his complaints for the next 6 months:
I began making complaints to the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council about reflexologist members who happily promote their bogus treatments despite the fact that there was not a jot of evidence to support them.
The CNHC has now informed me that for the next six months, they will no longer be processing any complaints that are similar to the ones I’ve submitted. By similar, I take this to mean complaints regarding practitioners who mislead their clients by making unjustifiable or false statements, including practitioners who have already been cautioned by the CNHC for doing it before.
The CNHC was set up under the aegis of Prince Charles’ Foundation for Integrated Health (FIH) to be a self-regulatory body for alternative health, now it is one that is not prepared to regulate. However this is not unexpected. Organisations purporting to regulate quackery rarely do so beyond upholding the doctrines and articles of faith of the respective field of quackery, managing risks to consumer health are generally not a priority.
It would be a concern for those with an interest in exposing the practices of alternative medicine if the CNHC were to regulate herbal medicine, traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture. This, despite the recommendations of Andy Burnham, is unlikely to happen for two reasons.
1) The government is unlikely to exist in its current form within a month or two. A general election is expected early in May and the Labour party are unlikely to win, if they are to remain in power it will be in a coalition but it is more likely that the next government will be formed from the Conservative party. None of the major parties have a clearly stated policy on the regulation of alternative medicine, nor is it likely to be a major election issue, so the Department of Health’s current proposals are likely to be mothballed for some considerable time.
2) Herbalists and TCM practitioners do not want CNHC regulation.
This latter point is the most important. The European Herbal & Traditional Medicine Practitioners Association (EHTMPA), the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine (RCHM), the Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine (ATCM), and the National Institute of Medical Herbalists (NIMH) amongst others in the alphabetical smorgasbord that represents the various denominations of herbalism, have all campaigned for statutory regulation. Their intent was to be regulated by the Health Professionals Council (HPC), a more serious organisation than the CNHC, that regulates practitioners in proven fields of health. This statutory regulation would confer protected status on their profession, restricting the title of Herbalist to those regulated by its rules.
By and large these organisations are disappointed with the DoH’s announcement:
the government seems to have failed to deliver its promise, and has changed its mind from HPC as our regulatory body to CNHC. We would like to demand an explanation from the government on what ground it has changed its mind, as CNHC is only a voluntary body with no statutory power. From the rather short DH press release which lacks details, we doubt whether the government still wants to introduce statutory regulation, or decides to go for an alternative.
Herbalists should be regulated like other statutory regulated healthcare practitioner or, the public will lose access to properly regulated herbalists and a wide range of herbal medicines. The Government must give detailed assurances that the legal and structural basis of statutory regulation is fit for purpose or it will betray the millions of people who regularly consult herbal practitioners. So far the Government has singularly failed to provide these guarantees.
As the CNHC is voluntary these organisations have no need to insist that their members sign up, in fact as they are holding out for statutory regulation it is unlikely that they will be willing to express any support for the CNHC, to do so would undermine their campaign. This will damage the CNHC’s longterm viability, no new members means no new funding sources, and with the homeopaths mired in infighting the herbalists represent their last decent chance of acquiring new members in the medium term.
This is good news for those that are concerned about poor practice in alternative medicine. The collapse of the CNHC will further damage the reputation of alternative medicine. Hopefully a new government will take stock of the intransigence of the herbalists, the infighting of the homeopaths and the inability of the CNHC to regulate and instead apply a more robust external form of regulation for quackery.
Posted by gimpy on March 10, 2010
This blog has been updated with a response from the Democracy Movement to the original post and my subsequent reply (see end).
The Democracy Movement is an anti-EU lobbying group which arose from the ashes of James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party with the help of funds from his wife, Lady Annabel Goldsmith, and businessman Paul Sykes. The Democracy Movement declares itself “a non-party campaign to defend liberal democracy in Britain and across Europe. “and is opposed to the single currency, the Lisbon Treaty and the EU Constitution. The Democracy Movement see their role as working
[...] alongside groups similarly committed to challenging the current structure of the EU. In the eventuality of there being a referendum on the EU Constitution or the euro, the DM will give its support to the official umbrella campaign that will be appointed by the Electoral Commission. A broad popular alliance including democrats from the left, centre and centre-right will be needed to safeguard liberal democracy and prevent the creation of an authoritarian Brussels-based government.
So far, so mainstream UK anti-Europe thinking. Another anti-EU organisation is the European Referendum Initiative (ERI). This was founded by Matthias Rath, the vitamin salesman who conducted illegal AIDS trials in South Africa and supports AIDS denialism which is estimated to have contributed to over 300,000 deaths in South Africa alone. The ERI regards attempts by the EU to regulate the sale of health products as a conspiracy by large pharmaceutical companies to facilitate medical experiments on the population similar to those inflicted on Jews by Nazis during the Holocaust. The Democracy Movement are now supporting the European Referendum Initiative.
Posted by gimpy on March 6, 2010
Early last year I blogged about the misleading statements made by some MEPs in trying to water down EU proposals for the regulation of the vitamin pill industry. It appeared that these MEPs had been influenced by the Alliance for Natural Health (ANH), then collaborating with the vitamin pill salesman and notorious AIDS denialist Matthias Rath whose activities in South Africa implicated him in the deaths of hundreds of thousands. One of these MEPs was Marian Harkin, an Irish independent MEP, who I wrote to at the time expressing my concerns over the ANH and her position on supplementation (see letter below the fold). Ms Harkin, in contrast to most other MEPs contacted, did not respond. Now it seems Ms Harkin is supporting homeopathy and has fallen for the big pharma conspiracy line as peddled by homeopaths and the ANH (who incidentally have forbidden their staff from replying to my emails).
In a report written for the EU Observer it is claimed that the homeopathic lobby are trying to influence the EU on the regulation of alternative medicine.
Representatives of the industry, practitioners and patients that use homeopathic products are to hold an EU Homeopathy Day in the European Parliament on 23 March as the kick-off for a new effort to win EU-level alternative-medicine-friendly legislation.
EU Homeopathy day is an event organised by the European Coalition on Homeopathic and Anthroposophic Medicinal Products (Echamp), a lobby group composed of manufacturers of homeopathic products and their supporters.
The report also carries statements from Andy Lewis of the Quackometer and Ms Harkin.
Andy Lewis, the proprietor of the Quackometer website, which debunks quack medicine on the internet, said that the new campaign of European homeopathy lobby was at odds with the British parliament’s enquiry.
“The MPs concluded, after a very detailed review of the evidence, that homeopathy was scientifically implausible and could not be shown to be effective,” said Mr Lewis, who was also one of the organisers of a series of ‘homeopathy overdose’ demonstrations outside pharmacists across the UK in January in which sceptics swallowed entire bottles of homeopathy sugar pills. “The recommendation was that homeopathy should not be publicly funded and that medicines labeling regulations should not allow it to make unfounded claims. “
“The EU would be failing its citizens, and pandering to business interests, if it allowed homeopathy sugar pill manufacturers to make misleading claims about this discredited 18th Century quackery,” he added.
Ms Harkin, for her part, is familiar with such criticism, but dismisses it as in the service of Big Pharma: “There are those that believe that only those medicines prescribed by doctors and manufactured by Pfizer will make you well, but a lot of ordinary people do not subscribe to that view.”
“[The sceptics] are saying medicines must be judged by one critierion [sic] only, that it satisfies a scientific equation. Whereas there are many standards by which medicines should be judged,” she said.
“The agenda is to say that science has the answer to everything. Well, they should have learnt by now that it hasn’t.”
It appears that Ms Harkin did not heed my warnings and has now fallen for the conspiracy theories of the more obsessive supporters of homeopathy and clearly does not see the irony of condemning Big Pharma, who for the most part rely on scientific evidence, while shilling for Big Quacka, who don’t. This is unfortunate for the voters of Ireland North and West as well as those that care for the proper scrutiny of alternative therapies. Ms Harkin is supposedly representing the interests of the former and acting against those of the latter in the European Parliament. Ms Harkin would be well advised to read the recent Science and Technology Committee report on homeopathy (pdf) which as good a discussion of the scientific evidence and policy implications of homeopathy as she’s ever likely to read.
I will be contacting Ms Harkin to remind her that while science does not have an answer to everything it is pretty good at evaluating the claims of alternative medicine, and these have been found wanting. I will also send her a copy of the report.
Posted by gimpy on February 28, 2010
Autistic people are dangerous weirdoes, just like Gordon Brown. Or that is what you could think if you read the musings of political journalists.
This blog has often bemoaned the state of modern day journalism with respect to the obvious quackeries of homeopathy, nutritionism and chiropractic where sensational claims are treated with all the skepticism of the Catholic Church on the miracles of Padre Pio. But this is nothing compared to political journalism, where quackery is not so much proselytised as practiced. Every political journalist considers themselves an expert on the character of politicians and for some it seems this expertise is coupled with that on the pathology of mental health.
Recently a story emerged that Brown was being prescribed powerful antidepressants; the allegation was never substantiated so it was dropped. But what struck me was the widespread view at the time that a prime minister should not be asked about his mental health. That is nonsense. Significant depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, personality disorders and autism-spectrum disorders all can and do profoundly affect a person’s judgment and behaviour in disastrous ways. All are difficult, and some impossible, to treat. It is clearly in the public interest to know whether our prime minister is suffering from any of these disabilities.
There have been rumours about Brown’s health and mental state for several years, of course. In 2004, Simon Heffer wrote in the Spectator that the PM displayed many signs of Asperger’s Syndrome, including obsessional behaviour patterns and humourlessness.
Once again I am compelled to ask the question, “Is Gordon Brown quite mad?” This is not vulgar abuse. We must consider the possibility at this point that the Prime Minister is technically delusional.
All this without submerging one’s head in the Great Stink of the political blogosphere, where the noxious stench of bile and verbal diarrhoea surely cries out for a modern day Bazalgette to channel this vile effluence away from the seats of power.
Political journalism and political blogging have now reduced the Government and the Houses of Parliament to little more than a modern day Bedlam where sneering critics can flaunt their ignorance and display their amorality by diagnosing, without recourse to expertise or professionalism, the mental state of its wretched inhabitants.
Can we talk about policies instead?
Posted by gimpy on February 24, 2010
When I blogged on Dynevor Ltds, owner of the Dore Programme, successful application to become a CIC I criticised them on several grounds, in particular they submitted statements of the programmes efficacy not borne out by the published data. In these statements they made claims that the Advertising Standards Authority have specifically forbidden Dynevor CIC (then Ltd) from making in advertising material.
The ad breached CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation), 7.1 (Truthfulness) and 50.1 (Health and beauty products and therapies).
The ad must not appear again in its current form.
At the time I stated that:
Although this ruling was published on the 16th December 2009 and Dyenvor’s application was dated 12th December 2009 the ASA were corresponding with Dore for some considerable time prior to the ruling so that it can be assumed they were aware of the ASA view on the limitations of their evidence.
I have now had confirmation from the ASA that Dynevor were aware of the ruling before their application to become a CIC was signed, dated and submitted. Therefore Scott Quinnell and Glen Allgood, the companies directors, have knowingly submitted the claim that
our programme is able to give a long-lasting intervention by tackling the root cause of the issue.
despite knowing there is not sufficient evidence to substantiate this claim. This is plain dishonest. Scott Quinnell and Glen Allgood have knowingly submitted a claim they cannot support to the CIC regulator. I wonder if Dynevor’s application would have been successful if they had admitted that the ASA would not permit them to make claims that the programme works?
The Evidence Check on Homeopathy – a merciless punch to its vitalist organs (despite attempts to water down report)
Posted by gimpy on February 22, 2010
The long awaited Science & Technology committee report on homeopathy has now been released and it is devastating for homeopathy and homeopaths.
In a report published today, the Science and Technology Committee concludes that the NHS should cease funding homeopathy. It also concludes that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) should not allow homeopathic product labels to make medical claims without evidence of efficacy. As they are not medicines, homeopathic products should no longer be licensed by the MHRA.
The report is a series of merciless punches to the vitalist organs of homeopathy.
The report is damning of the theory behind homeopathy
We conclude that the principle of like-cures-like is theoretically weak. It fails to provide a credible physiological mode of action for homeopathic products. We note that this is the settled view of medical science
We consider the notion that ultra-dilutions can maintain an imprint of substances previously dissolved in them to be scientifically implausible.
the honesty and accuracy of the homeopaths submissions to the committee
We regret that advocates of homeopathy, including in their submissions to our inquiry, choose to rely on, and promulgate, selective approaches to the treatment of the evidence base as this risks confusing or misleading the public, the media and policy-makers.
and the evidence that it works
We do not doubt that homeopathy makes some patients feel better. However, patient satisfaction can occur through a placebo effect alone and therefore does not prove the efficacy of homeopathic interventions..
It strongly makes the case that there is no role of homeoapthy in the NHS, at all, not even if patients want it.
We conclude that placebos should not be routinely prescribed on the NHS. The funding of homeopathic hospitals—hospitals that specialise in the administration of placebos—should not continue, and NHS doctors should not refer patients to homeopaths.
The Committee is also damning of the MHRA’s role in endorsing homeopathy.
The MHRA, with commendable frankness, told our inquiry that it does not consider that homeopathic medicines have efficacy beyond placebo. The evidence we received during this inquiry supports that conclusion. On that basis, the tests that the MHRA uses to assess non-homeopathic medical products would mean that no homeopathic products would be licensed by the MHRA. Instead of introducing a blanket requirement for evidence of efficacy, the MHRA operates three licensing regimes for homeopathic products, in part, for historical reasons and, in part, it appears, to support the homeopathic industry. It is unacceptable for the MHRA to license placebo products—in this case sugar pills—conferring upon them some of the status of medicines. Even if medical claims on labels are prohibited, the MHRA’s licensing itself lends direct credibility to a product. Licensing paves the way for retail in pharmacies and consequently the patient’s view of the credibility of homeopathy may be further enhanced. We conclude that it is time to break this chain and, as the licensing regimes operated by the MHRA fail the Evidence Check, the MHRA should withdraw its discrete licensing schemes for homeopathic products.
as well as strongly critical of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain’s (RPSGBs) failure to appropriately investigate complaints about pharmacists
Although it goes wider than the scope of this Evidence Check inquiry we must put on record our concern about the length of time the RPSGB appears to be taking to investigate and reach conclusions on cases where it has been alleged that its guidelines on the sale of homeopathic products have been breached. We recommend that the Government enquires into whether the RPSGB, and from the 2010 handover, the General Pharmaceutical Council, is doing an adequate job in respect of the time taken to pursue complaints. (Paragraph 151)
In summary this report justifies and endorses almost every charge made by opponents of homeopathy against the profession with respect to NHS funding and MHRA endorsement. It is a massive victory.
However, there are some interesting observations to be made regarding the committee’s vote on the report. The formal minutes reveal that Ian Stewart, MP voted against the rest of the committee as he attempted to water down the report, such as
Amendment proposed, to leave out from “That” to the end of the question and add “this Committee declines to read the report a second time because it contains an evaluation of homeopathy which is outside the terms of reference of the inquiry as published by the Committee on 20 October 2009 and instead decides to write to the Government to call on it to fund a rigorous research programme into homeopathy.” instead thereof.—
Ian Stewart was lobbied hard by Carol Boyce, a homeopath who believes it can cure autism, to oppose the report. She claims that “Mr Stewart made a valiant attempt to to bring balance to the proceedings but was hopelessly outnumbered.” as well as claims that he circulated a letter accusing the committee of bias.
Before the Committee meetings I sent a letter to Mr Stewart advising him of this inherent bias and he circulated the letter to all members of the Committee. A similar letter was sent directly to the Committee members, put into ‘background information’ and I imagine was never read.
The Committee have confirmed that this letter was received and circulated as described although they deny Mr Stewart accused the committee of bias. Neither Mr Stewart nor Ms Boyce responded to requests for a public statement.
It is clear that the homeopaths have an ally in Mr Stewart who was prepared to attempt to water down the report, possibly because he is standing down at the election.
It is now clear that the homeopaths have tried everything from smear campaigns against Evan Harris to soliciting the support of a member of the committee to spread accusations of bias. What they have utterly failed to do is deal with the concerns about evidence that the report has identified and highlighted. If this report is acted on it will mean the end of homeopathy in the UK, and the homeopaths will only have themselves to blame. They have stuck to their ridiculous assertions of efficacy rather than engage with the substance of their critics views. I doubt will we see much recognition of this from the homeopaths, just more lies, deceit and smears. The end cannot come soon enough for this sorry trade.
Posted by gimpy on February 21, 2010
The House of Commons Evidence Check report on homeopathy is due to be published tomorrow. The Telegraph are reporting that it will call for an end to the funding of homeopathy on the NHS as well as suggesting that that claims to ‘treat’ disease should not be used and I’ve just received a new email from H:MC21, a pro homeopathy lobby group, on their planned mass lobby of parliament (previously covered here and here). H:MC21 are also calling for the mass spamming of form letters to MPs and the mass spamming of form press releases to local media as part of their strategy. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by gimpy on February 20, 2010
The House of Commons Evidence Check report on homeopathy is due to be published on Monday 22nd February. In the lead up to this the lay homeopaths have launched their campaigns of hate and conspiracy against the committee and in particular Evan Harris. This is not surprising. Nor was it unexpected that professional organisations, including representatives of medical homeopaths such as the British Homeopathic Association (BHA), misrepresented evidence to parliament. However, the relationship between the lay and the medical homeopathic community has always been a little wary, medical homeopaths, such as Peter Fisher of the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital (RLHH), have strongly criticised the lay homeopaths claims on malaria and many other issues while the lay community fear that any member of the medical profession, homeopath or not, is a stooge of big pharma. This looks like it is changing.
Next week H:MC21, a pro homeopathy lobby group, will present a petition to Downing Street (which may contain signatures of dubious authenticity). This petition is now being supported by a number of groups including the following:
Alliance for Natural Health
Alliance of Registered Homeopaths (ARH)
College of Practical Homeopathy
Contemporary College of Homeopathy
Dr. Reckeweg (UK) Ltd
Hahnemann College of Homeopathy
Homeopathic College of East Anglia
Homeopathic Medical Association
School of Homeopathy
Society of Homeopaths (SoH)
South Downs School of Homoeopathy
South West London Homeopaths (Swelhoms)
West London Homeopaths (WLH)
Yorkshire Centre of Classical Homeopathy
Jenny Seagrove (actor)
You do not have to look hard to find unconventional and dangerous views attributed to these organisations. For example the Alliance for Natural Health collaborated with Matthias Rath, the ARH registrar believes homeoapthy can treat malaria, the SoH have held conferences on AIDS and refused to sanction members who promote homeopathic vaccines and WLH have given a platform to AIDS denialists.
Now it seems that supporters of the medical homeopaths are throwing their lot in with the lay homeopaths. The Leauge of Friends of the RLHH, a charity supporting the RLHH describes itself as follows
The League of Friends of the Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital – Supporting the Hospital, homeopathy and other complementary therapies within the NHS
Founded in 1975, it is a registered charity (No.269289) and voluntary organisation run by its members for the benefit of the patients and staff of the hospital.
The Friends of the RLHH sent out the following email yesterday (the font and colour are theirs):
Homeopaths and patients to lobby parliament
As you know, there are groups of people who are trying get homeopathy removed from the NHS – thereby denying access to this form of medicine to the many people who derive benefit from it. Effectively, they wish to deny us our right to choice in the treatment options we receive. Over the past 4 years, this movement has gained in strength, influence and determination.
On Wednesday 24 February homeopaths and patients from across the UK will be lobbying Parliament in support of homeopathy.
The event has been organised by H:MC21 (Homeopathy: Medicine for the 21st Century) as part of its campaign to defend people’s right to homeopathy, and particularly to homeopathy in the NHS. They will also deliver to No. 10 Downing Street a letter and 25,000 signatures to the declaration: ‘Homeopathy worked for me’. If you haven’t signed this yet, you can do so on their website – http://www.hmc21.org/
The declaration is being handed in at this time because the Commons Science and Technology Committee’s report on evidence for the use of homeopathy in the NHS is being published on Monday. It is thought that this report is likely to call for homeopathy to be removed from the NHS.
We appreciate that many people may live too far away, or will be at work, while others may be unable to participate due to ill health or other commitments. We still thought you should know about the event.
For those of you who are able to attend, on your own or with friends or family – Wrap up warm and we look forward to joining you there!
I wonder how the RLHH and NHS feel about this? Not only do H:MC21 have dodgy supporters but they are not a particularly resepctable organisation themselves. They have published scurrilous and inaccurate allegations against Professor Edzard Ernst and Simon Singh and count Jeremy Sherr, the homeopath who helped inspire the succesful campaign to get the World Health Organisation to condemn homeopathy, among their patrons. I would have thought this would risk undermining the position of medical homeopaths. The medical homeopaths, by virtue of being registered medical practitioners, operate within a framework that limits their conduct and claims with threat of severe sanction. This does give them a firmer foundation on which to argue that even if you don’t believe homeopathy works, and even if the evidence suggests it doesn’t despite the belief of practitioners, they should be able to ply their trade because belief based treatment can aid a patients state of mind while suffering from painful or incurable conditions and they are not undermining or ignoring conventional medication or procedures.
The League Friends of the RLHH did not respond to requests for comment.
A closer alliance between the medical and lay homeopaths risks disaster for the profession but looks like it has been happening for some time. The Quackometer has previously reported that the Faculty of Homeopaths, representing the medical homeopaths, have supported some uses of homeopathy in the developing world and the BHA has proposed collaboration on research projects with the SoH.
It will be interesting to see if this relationship persists or even grows following the publication of the Evidence Check. If it does then all homeopaths, even the once vaguely palatable medical homeopaths, will find themselves labelled as dangerous quacks. This will make the fight for homeopathy’s survival even more difficult. Something practitioners and supporters should seriously consider.
Posted by gimpy on February 17, 2010
Dynevor, owners of the Dore Programme, a treatment for dyslexia lacking an evidence base, whose original owners, DDAT (UK), collapsed into administration before resurrectng via Dynevor Ltd , have converted from a Limited into a Community Interest Company (CIC), as announced on their website.
On 12th January 2010, Dynevor Limited converted from being a private limited company to a community interest company (CIC) in order to support the primary objective of the existing shareholders – to support the community of people with learning difficulties.
Guy Hornsby, Managing Director, commented that ‘this change now requires the majority of any surplus funds generated to be reinvested in the business or used in other ways to benefit those with learning difficulties.’ He went on to say that ‘CIC status strictly prohibits the maximisation of returns to shareholders and, in addition to Dynevor having to comply fully with all necessary companies’ legislation, it will now also be required to submit an annual statement regarding community benefits.
Becoming a CIC represents a very positive step forward for the Dore Programme and reaffirms its ongoing passion and desire to help people tackle – as part of an overall strategy – their learning difficulties.
Community Interest Companies are defined by the CIC regulator as being
a new type of limited company designed specifically for those wishing to operate for the benefit of the community rather than for the benefit of the owners of the company. This means that a CIC cannot be formed or used solely for the personal gain of a particular person, or group of people.
CICs can be limited by shares, or by guarantee, and will have a statutory “Asset Lock” to prevent the assets and profits being distributed, except as permitted by legislation. This ensures the assets and profits are retained within the CIC for community purposes, or transferred to another asset-locked organisation, such as another CIC or charity.
While Dynevor and their predecessor DDAT (UK) are genuinely not motivated by profit alone so the move to become a CIC is uncontroversial regarding this, there are several concerns with Dynevor’s successful application to become a CIC.
1) The evidence base for the programme has been strongly criticised
2) The application to become a CIC contains statements known to be questionable by Dynevor and ruled against by the ASA
3) They have submitted no accounts
4) Being a CIC may lead parents, schools and local authorities to have more confidence in the programme than the evidence permits
Posted by gimpy on February 16, 2010
The situation in Haiti following the 13th January earthquake is desperate. Official estimates suggest that 230,000 people have died, around 300,000 injured and up to a million are left homeless, this in a country with approximately 9 million inhabitants. Red Cross workers in Haiti are posting blogs describing the difficulties of working in Haiti, with particular emphasis on the serious issues regarding the provision of healthcare and effective sanitation in order to prevent disease outbreaks claiming more lives. What Haiti and aid workers need are financial and medical support. They are getting this thanks to the generosity of individuals, organisations and governments. But this generosity also has a dark side. While the Red Cross make clear that an operation of the scale needed in Haiti relies on the established logistics and organisation of international aid agencies, this is why donations of cash are more useful than well meaning gifts of food, clothing or medicine, there are individuals and organisations with strong ideological convictions prepared to ignore the well reasoned arguments of others and favour their own prejudices. This includes Scientologists, church groups accused of kidnapping children, and now homeopaths.
At College Ste. Pierre we treated hundreds of people from the tent city and instructed 40 priests and 10 deacons how to treat the people in the areas they represent. Diane is following up on this to realise the goal of treating all those connected to this church, so we hope that many thousands will receive the few drops that can get their internal clock into motion again, relieve them from the past and bring them back in the here and now.
Similar to treating epidemics in Africa I’ve used the simplest approach possible so others can easily, safely and effectively disperse the remedy. 555 stands for banging the bottle 5 times, giving 5 drops in the mouth that should be kept there for 5 seconds. As this is not a chronic conditions but trauma from an acute event giving one dose is usually enough.
By epidemics in Africa van der Zee means treating and claiming to cure AIDS.
The Homeopathy World Community who helpfully tell their members:
Dear Friends. To assist the HWC Group to reach their destination we are providing this donation button to PayPal. Please use the words “HWC Travel & Supply Support.” Due to the numerous people trying to use Haiti as a scam, do not use the word “Haiti” in your payment.
In the initial phase of its mission in Haiti, Homeopaths Without Borders-North America (HWB-NA) overcame many obstacles to send a team to Haiti. With the airport closed in Port au Prince, six volunteers, led by Sushila Lalsingh, executive director of HWB-NA, flew to the Dominican Republic and made the arduous travel overland to lend their healing skills to the stricken people of that city. They returned to the U.S. on February 10 after having treated more than 2000 people.
While these groups are likely to have limited impact in Haiti and are a minor distraction to the efforts of legitimate relief efforts it is worth reminding ourselves that this is further proof that homeopaths have no concept of the limit of their abilities. Professional societies are prepared to countenance theories that homeopathy can treat and cure AIDS, cure autism, and provide protection against malaria, yellow fever and more via homeoprophylaxis, their attempts to provide relief to Haiti is just another example of this critical failure. While the debate over the evidence base for homeopathy has been at the forefront of criticism of homeopathy of late, in part thanks to the House of Commons Science and Technology Evidence Check on Homeopathy, it is perhaps time to agree to disagree with homeopaths regarding their evidence base but demand that they rein in the excesses of the profession. We need to see the professional societies confront their members and tell them in no uncertain terms that homeopathy is not an alternative to mainstream medical practice and appropriate standards of ethics and behaviour must be upheld. We also need to see the medical homeopaths, as exemplified by the Faculty of Homeopathy, put pressure on lay homeopaths to quash the behaviours above. A failure to do this will be disastrous for homeopathy and those it treats.
Posted by gimpy on February 12, 2010
Yesterday I blogged on a hate campaign by homeopaths against the Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris in which they called for complaints to MPs about his position in the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee because of his opinions of homeopathy, a subject which the Committee has investigated. In that blogpost I provided examples of previous campaigns of homeopaths and their supporters against critics of homeopathy including that of Lionel Milgrom, who wrote to David Colquhoun’s employers with scurrilous and inaccurate allegations. Now it seems Milgrom is doing the same to Evan Harris.
In a letter posted to a pro-homeopathy blog then removed (cached version saved here), he complains to the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, and claims that Dr Harris is in breach of GMC guidelines and should be sanctioned. The full text of the letter is below:
Subject: Science and Technology Second Evidence Check on Homeopathy
Date: Tue, 9 Feb 2010 14:30:14 +0000
Dear Mr Clegg,
I have been a supporter of the Liberal Democrats since 1997 by voting for the party in all major elections since then. I am also a scientist and a homeopath. As such I have to tell you that I am so concerned by the activities of Dr Evan Harris MP, the LibDem spokesperson on science that I doubt whether I will be casting my vote for the party come this May. Here are my reasons, which I know are shared by many other homeopaths, practitioners of complementary and alternative medicine, and their supporters.
As you know, Dr Harris was instrumental in bringing about and being a principal investigator in the Science and Technology Committee’s Second Evidence Check on homeopathy. I have provided written evidence to the Committee which is on its website (see HO 4 in Written Submissions on the S&TC website below)
One would imagine that a major function of such a committee would be the careful and polite gathering of evidence from the expert witnesses asked to come before it, and the sober reflection on and considered weighing of that evidence to arrive at a set of balanced recommendations. Dr Harris’s scandalous antics as a principal investigator at the hearings suggest that, in his case, nothing could have been further from the truth.
Science & Technology Committee
Evidence Check on Homeopathy
Wednesday 25th November 2009
Monday 30th November 2009
Dr Harris treated the hearings as a ribald piece of cheap theatre for the sole expression of his own biased views, effectively diverting the Science and Technology Committee from its original purpose (the examination of the Government’s reasons for maintaining homeopathy on the NHS). The enclosed transcript of a recent impromptu speech made by Dr Harris to a publicity stunt gathering of so-called ’sceptics’ in Red Lion Square (for their ridiculous mass ‘overdose’ of homeopathic remedies), exemplifies this perfectly.
He entertained the crowd by quoting from the 25th November session of the S&TC hearings and his questioning of Dr Peter Fisher of the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital (an institution which you supported by signing EDM 1240 in 2007). This demonstrates his total lack of impartiality, sobriety, and respect not only for Dr Fisher as a witness and a colleague, but by implication, he has also impugned the integrity of the approximately 400 other qualified medical practitioners in the UK who practice homeopathy. Dr Harris therefore is clearly in breach of Articles 46 and 47 of the GMC’s Guidelines for Good Medical Practice, and deserves censure by the GMC.
Article 46. You must treat your colleagues fairly and with respect. You must not bully or harass them, or unfairly discriminate against them by allowing your personal views to affect adversely your professional relationship with them. You should challenge colleagues if their behaviour does not comply with this guidance.
Article 47. You must not make malicious and unfounded criticisms of colleagues that may undermine patients’ trust in the care or treatment they receive, or in the judgement of those treating them.
In addition, Dr Harris’s ignorance of the growing clinical and scientific evidence in support of homeopathy, coupled with his enormous bias makes one wonder why a) he was ever allowed to serve on such a committee, and b) why he is the LibDem spokesperson on science. Given the viciousness of Dr Harris’s continued attacks on homeopathy, the apparent silence of you and your colleagues in the face of them, and his continuance as LibDem spokesperson on science, one can only assume he has the tacit support of your party.
We hear much these days about ‘freedom of speech’ and Dr Harris might be considered free to do and say what he likes – as am I – as long is it does not break the law or breach the peace. Indeed, many including Dr Harris will no doubt interpret my writing to you as an attempt to stifle free speech. But in serving as LibDem spokesperson on science and as a member of the Science and Technology Committee, one would imagine, perhaps naively, that personal opinions are sacrificed in order to maintain the highest standards of objectivity, probity, and impartiality. From his current actions and statements which are now a matter of public record, Dr Harris has behaved unethically and is clearly failing in his public duty. At the very least, he ought to be censured and this matter referred to the GMC.
If Dr Harris wishes to continue airing his biased views, then surely honour and common decency demand he resign or be expelled from the Committee (while apologising to Dr Fisher for publicly ridiculing him on the morning of 30th January in Red Lion Square, and his outrageously rude and biased questioning of him during the Committee’s hearings),’ and be removed from his position as LibDem spokesperson on science?
Unfortunately, as the continuing scandal over MPs’ expenses makes clear, we no longer live in such an ‘ideal’ world. However I can still register a protest against Dr Harris. Around 10% of the UK population have taken a homeopathic remedy in the last 12 months (that is about 6 million people making use of homeopathy, which has been part of the NHS since its inception in 1948), and they cherish this freedom of therapeutic choice within the NHS. Consequently, not only will I exercise my right not to vote for my constituency LibDem candidate (the otherwise excellent Ed Fordham) during the next General Election, but in the coming months will use my not inconsiderable influence within the homeopathic community to advise my many homeopathic colleagues and their networks of alternative medicine practitioners and patients to do the same.
Dr Lionel R Milgrom BSc, MSc, PhD, CChem, FRSC, LCH, MARH, MRHom.
This is how homeopaths behave. Rather than honestly debating the limits of the evidence they seek to undermine their critics by smear, innuendo and sneaky letters. I hope that Nick Clegg will not listen to such poisonous attempts to suppress the views of one of parliaments most able MPs.
(I will expand on this post tomorrow)
Posted by gimpy on February 11, 2010
Homeopathy has found it itself in difficulties of late, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee held an evidence check on homeopathy that has provoked strong reactions. Also, on Saturday 30th January hundreds of skpetics took part in the 10:23 homeopathic overdose event designed to show that there is, quite literally, nothing in homeopathy. The London event was filmed by several homeopaths including Lousie Mclean, who is an agent for a quack cancer centre run by disgraced doctors, sex pests and a gun toting, ex-rock star, porn producer and Helen Kimball-Brooke, who may be in breach of the cancer act. These fine ambassadors for homeopathy have posted their account of the event on the homeopathyheals campaign site which they run.
Evan Harris had managed to alert a number of the Press to attend to make sure there would be good coverage of the Event and was seen to be energetically giving his point of view. At the last minute a couple of other homeopaths turned up and Lyndsey Booth was filmed speaking to the press, whilst Helen and I spoke to Hadley Freeman from the Guardian (normally a fashion journalist!) and we did our best to put our side.
We were so overwhelmed by the opposition that in the end we did not unfurl our banner, there being only Helen and I to hold it up but Helen brought her camcorder and managed to film a lot of it, including Evan Harris’s address to the crowd.
This was a depressing scene to witness, attended by people involved with Sense about Science, an organisation which is funded by vested interests. One wonders why there is such a media frenzy to try to destroy something that apparently doesn’t work and is apparently harmless and it seems to be driven by those working for Pharma behind the scenes, most likely coming from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which is in charge of Science in the UK run by Peter Mandelson and Lord Drayson.
The big pharma conspiracy theory is not atypical of homeopaths. Another feature of homeopaths and their supporters is their tendency to launch hate campaigns with the aim of getting people sacked or silenced. There are many examples including:
- Lionel Milgrom, the homeopathic expert on quantum mechanics, launched a letter writing campaign against David Colquhoun, telling his employers that he was dishonest and in thrall to big pharma.
- The Society of Homeopaths using legal threats to silence The Quackometer.
- The notorious supporter of homeopathy, His Royal Highness The Prince Charles Philip Arthur George, Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester, Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Rothesay, Earl of Carrick, Baron of Renfrew, Lord of the Isles, Prince and Great Steward of Scotland, Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, Knight of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, Great Master and First and Principal Knight Grand Cross of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Member of the Order of Merit, Knight of the Order of Australia, Companion of the Queen’s Service Order, Honorary Member of the Saskatchewan Order of Merit, Chief Grand Commander of the Order of Logohu, Member of Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council, Canadian Forces Decoration, Aide-de-Camp to Her Majesty, trying to get Edzard Ernst sacked for criticising a report commissioned by him.
Now the homeopaths have a new target, Dr Evan Harris MP, who sits on the Science and Technology Committee. A video, filmed by Kelen Kimball-Brooke, of the 10:23 event has been placed on youtube. This video claims that Dr Harris is in breach of GMC regulations and urges viewers to write to their MPs demanding that Dr Harris be removed from the Science and Technology Committee because he is biased against homeopathy. Pro homeopathy blogs are already linking to this video and repeating its demands.
It is a shame that homeopaths are unwilling to address the concerns of their critics, such as the lack of an evidence base and failures of ethics, preferring instead to seek refuge in conspiracy theories and smear campaigns. These are not nice, sympathetic, if misguided, individuals as people often perceive complementary therapists. These are vicious and hate filled conspiracy theorists. This is the true face of homeopathy.
Posted by gimpy on February 8, 2010
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee will shortly release its report on the evidence base for homeopathy. The hearings and evidence submitted for this report have already been proven to be controversial and the outcome is eagerly awaited by homeopaths and skeptics alike. The results of the committee are likely to affect arguments over the regulation of homeopaths. There are effectively two current arguments within the homeopathic community for regulation, exemplified by the differing strategies of the two largest membership organisations, the Society of Homeopaths (SoH) and the Alliance of Registered Homeopaths (ARH).
The SoH are seeking registration with the Health Professionals Council (HPC), a statutory regulatory body, while the ARH would prefer to use the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). The HPC typically regulate real health care professionals, not alternative ones, and as there is no government support for the SoH’s application this route is unlikely to succeed. The CNHC however, while more than willing to regulate homeopaths, may run into issues with the homeopaths themselves. Simon Perry, of Leicester Skeptics in the Pub, has extracted an astonishing response from the CNHC in response to complains about alternative practitioners:
- CNHC will tell practitioners to remove claims they cannot justify.
- CNHC will conduct a review of evidence base for regulated therapies.
- CNHC will contact all registrants to instruct them not to make claims without justification.
- CNHC will contact complementary health course providers and authors to instruct them not to make claims without justification.
The homeopathic colleges and course providers will not be happy with being instructed not to make claims, such as curing cancer – as on the UCLAN course, without justification and the practitioners will be furious, no longer will they be able to claim they can treat malaria, that homeopathic vaccines work or that diluted duck liver can cure the common cold. This will be unacceptable to homeopaths. So where will their regulatory arguments take them following the committee’s report?
I will make no predictions about the regulatory arguments but I am willing to bet on an outbreak of internecine war within the profession. The SoH have not been cooperating with the ARH regarding their application to the HPC. Karin Mont, Chair of the ARH, recently met with the HPC to discuss the following, according to the meeting summary:
How regulation would work for the profession / Impact of regulation on profession
Progress of Society of Homeopath’s application for regulation
How the Alliance’s views could be heard if the Society of Homeopaths applied for regulation
Discussion around apparent ongoing campaign against homeopathy by parts of scientific community
Information about the Alliance, how it works and what it does
Discussion about HPC processes and procedures
Regardless of the fact that without government support, lacking at present, the SoH application will fail it is fascinating to see that relations between the SoH and ARH are so bad that the SoH are not willing to consult with or inform the ARH on the progress of their HPC application. Not only that it appears the ARH seem to verging on conspiracy, as recorded in official HPC records, in imagining that the scientific community is campaigning against them, no doubt funded by big pharma.
The SoH are also not getting involved with campaigns organised by other organisations to express support for homeopathy. H:MC21, a pro-homeopathy lobby group, have organised a mass protest in support of the trade for later this month:
HOMEOPATHS, PATIENTS, SUPPORTERS!come toTHE MASS LOBBY OF PARLIAMENTWEDNESDAY 24 FEBRUARY 2010 at 2.30 p.m.HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT, ST. STEPHEN’S ENTRANCE .So far supporters include:Alliance of Registered HomeopathsHeliosHomeopathy HealsSouth-West London HomeopathsThe School of HomeopathyWest London HomeopathsYorkshire Centre of Classical Homeopathyas well as many individual homeopaths and patients
The SoH are noticeably not listed. Perhaps this is because they have concerns over harassing authors, although this has not stopped them from using libel law to silence criticism, or perhaps they are appalled that H:MC21 have Jeremy Sherr, the homeopath who inspired the World Health Organisation to issues a statement against homeopathy, is a patron of H:MC21, except they funded him. More likely it is because the SoH want to control the lay homeopathic profession. This might be difficult as the ARH and other organisations represent around 40% of homeopaths.
It increasingly looks like lay homeopaths cannot and will not reach agreement on regulation. Perhaps the only regulatory solution for homeopathy will be to ban the practice for individuals who are not on a credible professional register, that is, restrict its practice to medically qualified homeopaths. That option though will depend on medical homeopaths demonstrating that they have higher standards than lay homeopaths. Is anyone willing to bet that this will be the case?
Posted by gimpy on January 30, 2010
Today at 10:23, there will be an event, organised by Merseyside Skeptics but taking place nationwide, in which homeopathic pills will be taken in large quantities to prove that not 0nly do they have no effect, but there is is nothing in them. This fact, although probably known to most readers of this blog, homeopaths and skeptics alike, is not apparently as well known as it should be.
Homeopaths will insist that their remedies work by vibrational energies and quantum flapdoodle whereas skeptics, armed with metaanalyses, will declare quite simply that they don’t work and any perception that they do is due to a placebo effect, regression to the mean or other forms of cognitive bias.
Both homeopaths and skeptics will insist that taking large amounts of homeopathic pills is safe, skeptics because there is nothing in them, homeopaths because their beliefs say they work best singly and ritually.
What has interested me, and I have no involvement with the campaign, is the reaction of homeopaths to this harmless stunt. Instead of laughing it off as the antics of silly skeptics (not a view I concur with), they have become increasingly nasty and vicious with attacks on proven medical therapies, personal slurs against individuals and spoof blogs that fail to engage with the issues. Not only that the professional societies have showed absolutely no understanding of why homeopathy is the target.
Over the last few years there has been a steadily increasing amount of blogging highlighting the ethical and professional failures of homeopaths, from claims to treat aids, homeopathic vaccinations and their deliberate denigration of conventional medicine (oddly unattributed in much mainstream coverage of 10:23, it’s shame that hard working bloggers are not given the credit they deserve).
The professional societies haven’t confronted this, preferring instead to bury their heads in the sand. This has persisted with the press releases on the 10:23 campaign.
The Alian(ARH) claim (PDF):
The real question that needs to be addressed is not the safety of homeopathy, but why homeopathy is such an effective medical therapy, and why so many people throughout the world, and for over two centuries now, have used it with such success.
There are numerous high quality scientific studies that clearly demonstrate the effectiveness of homeopathy. The challenge facing the bona- fide scientific community is to discover why homeopathy is so effective.
This is best diplomatically described as bullshit (Shang et al disproves the statement above).
The Society would not therefore expect any reaction to the proposed ‘overdose’ by this group unless, by chance, an individual in that group already had symptoms that matched that remedy at the time of taking it.
Chief Executive, Paula Ross, commented “This is an ill advised publicity stunt in very poor taste, which does nothing to advance the scientific debate about how homeopathy actually works.”
A publicity stunt in poor taste maybe, but when you are going to argue that it helps if you’re not funding homeopathic AIDS trials in Tanzania. Some might argue that this is not only in poor taste but may in fact be tantamount to manslaughter.
The British Homeopathic Assoiation (BHA), representing medical homeopaths, also claim the moral high ground:
The Faculty of Homeopathy and BHA do not support the sole use of homeopathy for any serious disease when effective conventional treatment is available to, and tolerated by, the individual patient. Homeopathy is, however, often used with great patient satisfaction for support during conventional treatments.
It would be a catastrophe if a small minority of cynics stifle patient choice of access to what they find effective. NHS patients have benefited greatly from homeopathic treatment at a very small cost – with approximately £152,000 per annum spent on homeopathic medicines, which is a mere 0.001% of the NHS drug budget.
The BHA have also forgotten/denied the findings of Shang et al. Also they have never confronted lay homeopaths over their excesses so can be assumed complicit in these.
Meanwhile the Homeopathy Heals campaign group have launched a counter protest which intends to help skeptics take their pills.
Homeopathic Practitioners all over the UK, can also go and check out whether these Skeptics really do swallow a whole bottle of Boots homeopathic medicine. I have found out that after you unscrew the top of a bottle of Boots homeopathic medicine, there is a little hole to dispense one pill at a time and this part does not lift off, so it would be impossible to swallow the whole bottle without cutting the bottle open. Therefore some Skeptics will have to take them one at a time!
I was going to leave homeopathy alone for a bit, but as its exponents continue to demonstrate their inability to deal with substantive criticisms and as the professional societies contine to lie and deceive I’ve changed my mind.
I would like to thank Merseyside Skeptics for a well executed protest and the homeopaths for being so stupid.
Posted by gimpy on January 25, 2010
Science So What have recently released a report by Fast Future entitled ‘The Shape of Jobs to come‘(pdf) aimed at encouraging teenagers to consider careers in various exciting fields of human endeavour. Despite positive media coverage this report has come under some criticism, as detailed by Evidence Matters, for its methodology, inappropriate job descriptions and inadequate references. In addition to this, nanotech blog 10minus9 has made similar criticisms specific to the report’s handling of nanotech and penchant for plagiarism while Holfordwatch have covered their wholly inadequate response to criticism.
I have my own concerns with the report’s handling of biological science, particularly with respect to the very first future job on the list, that of body part maker:
1. Body part maker Advances in science will make it possible to create living body parts, so we could need living body part makers, body part stores and body part repair shops.
This struck me as a fantastical claim. The concept of body part stores and repair shops, while a feature of some dystopian science fiction, would seem to be a little imaginative and owes more to a vision of science inspired by the films of Keanu Reeves than a sober real world analysis. Of course there is nothing wrong with using the influence of science fiction to drive teenagers real world interests and future career choices.
However, this report is not presented as a work of fiction to indirectly inspire future scientists. It is presented as a serious look at the near future, appearing to the casual reader to be an academic work with both a methodology and an ample bibliography cited in support of its claims.
This makes its claims about body part regeneration particularly worrying. By 2020 the following working day is suggested as being possible:
A Day in the Life
A day would typically start with scanning the most critical or urgent new requests for repairs and complete body parts, and checking on component deliveries to help schedule the day‘s work plan. Requests would be reviewed to determine whether entire limbs or organs were required or just component subsystems (e.g. a new kneecap) and where multiple copies were required e.g. for athletes and soldiers returning to combat. A visit to the incubator would follow to check on the progress of body parts currently being ‗grown‘ and to perform staged quality control tests of all existing growth culture batches. Starting new growth batches would be the next priority.
The body part maker works with computer aided design, including online DNA modelling and biomechanical simulations, DNA encoding and DNA modification. A core skill is the selection and combination of biological materials to grow organ parts on “scaffolding”, which is also modelled by the body part maker, based on computer-generated templates. While a typical organ such as a liver or kidney might be grown, other parts such as an arm would involve the complex integration of a nano-engineered skeleton, high performance robotic joints, fibre-optic nerves, artificially grown skin, synthetic flesh and muscles.
Much of the day would be spent working at the laboratory bench designing and assembling body parts and testing their performance under various conditions as specified by the owner. Throughout the day the body part maker would be engaged in video conferences with surgeons around the world to discuss their requirements, provide advice on appropriate body part design and review the results of past body part replacement surgeries. Dedicated time would also be set aside to review the latest information on new techniques and research provided by the body part maker‘s professional association.
The sole reference provided for this vision of the future is a CBS news report on, admittedly impressive, lab grown tissues. Now organ regeneration is a fascinating biological phenomenon. For example, the planarian flatworm and starfish can be cut into multiple pieces, with each peice capable of growing a complete and viable body. The salamander can regenerate limbs and some lizards can regrow their tail. But by contrast, mammals aren’t so good at this, most species it seems can recover from severe liver damage by growing new tissue and there is some evidence that damage to bone, brain and other organs can stimulate the growth of new tissue, even if complete recovery is not possible.
The differences in regenerative capacities of different organisms are due to stem cells, cells of the body capable 0f dividing into different types of tissue, and relative complexities. The star fish and flatworm have sufficient numbers of stem cells as adults, as well as relatively simple bodyplans and internal structures, to regenerate complete bodies. The more complex salamanders have the capacity to induce the formation of stem cells from adult tissue and effectively mimic the process of limb growth in embryonic development to grow new limbs. Mammals, meanwhile, have lost this capacity during their evolution.
Why different species have different regenerative capabilities is a fascinating biological question and one on which there is a considerable amount of research. None of which was cited in the Fast Future report. I contacted Rohit Talwar, CEO of Fast Future and lead author, to ask him if he could provide references to lend plausibility to this vision of the future, I also asked if this section of the report had been reviewed by experts in this field.
Mr Talwar could not provide references and confirmed that the report had not been reviewed.
Now even though the Fast Future report cost just £7,500 and was not an academic exercise or peer reviewed it was accompanied by quotes from the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and Science Minister Lord Drayson.
The Prime Minister Gordon Brown said:
“A priority for this Government is to prepare Britain for the economy of the future and to make sure our young people can seize the opportunities that innovations in science and technology will bring. The shape of jobs to come shows what might be on offer for the next generation. I hope it will inspire young people to gain the skills and training they will need to succeed.”
Science and Innovation Minister, Lord Drayson said:
“These jobs are no longer the stuff of dreams. Today’s schoolchildren could become our first generation of scientists to build a flying car or help reverse climate change! Science is moving at an incredible pace. My message to them is be part of it!”
Perhaps these heavyweight quotes were responsible for the rather credulous media coverage of the report, which largely accepted it at face value and, with the possible exception of the Today programme which asked Mr Talwar if it was a publicity stunt – ‘no, it’s not’, did not ask particularly or even slightly probing questions concerning the plausibility of the report.
Ironically, while the report and media coverage are credulous and owe more to fiction than to fact, a link from the Science So What page on this job takes you to a far more sensible site, with an unfortunate Anglocentric slant, from the Science Council that uses the example of Michael Owen’s ligament injury to describe scientific jobs that aided his recovery. This site, while rather basic, does not stray beyond the borders of scientific reality and does a respectable job of linking scientific and medical careers to real world phenomena of interest to teenagers.
It may be rather cynical but I can’t help but wonder if the Fast Future report, drawn up commissioned by PR people, represents all that is wrong with science communication in the popular media. This fictional, low quality and cheap report gathered vital airtime and newsprint for Science So What while providing a boost to the public profile of Rohit Talwar and Fast Future. It is a shame that it did not communicate much science. One wonders if the primary aim of the report was to invoke media interest and drive traffic to the Science So What website rather than educate the teenagers of Britain about careers in science? If such cynical headline grabbing was not the intent then there is a worrying lack of competence in some aspects of the governments science communication strategy.
PodBlack has highlighted some mroe examples of plagiarism. There is a minor correction in the text above with ‘drawn up’ being replaced by ‘commissioned’.
Posted by gimpy on January 11, 2010
As Layscience points out, the recent dismissal of Baroness Susan Greenfield from the Royal Institution is unsurprising given pre-Christmas speculation. Background information in The Times suggests that this is a move in response to £3m worth of debt following a £22m refurbishment. Baroness Greenfield and the Royal Institution have now given statements on the matter.
The Royal Institution claim this is due to a review of their governance.
“The trustees of the Royal Institution of Great Britain have completed the first stage of a governance review and as a consequence have concluded, that the requirement for the functions of the role of director as currently defined has ceased to exist. We are therefore sad to announce that Baroness Susan Greenfield left the RI on 08/01/2010.
“Baroness Greenfield has played a leading role, not only in the development of the RI, but also in the wider scientific community through her work in popularising science. In her twelve years as director of the RI, she was the driving force behind numerous initiatives, notably, the recent visionary refurbishment project and the renowned Science Media Centre. Baroness Greenfield leaves with our thanks and we wish her all the very best in her future endeavours.
While Baroness Greenfield asserts that her understandable displeasure with this move is linked to the manner of her dismissal and sex discrimination:
“I was formally notified of the decision that the requirement for the functions of the role of director of the Royal Institution as currently defined has ceased to exist. I have taken legal advice from a leading QC in this field and am advised this is beyond the powers of the Council, as any decision to render redundant the role of director should at the very least be subject to the approval of the members at a special general meeting. This year is the 200th anniversary of the Act of Parliament which made the Royal Institution a members’ organisation.
“I am saddened and dismayed by developments and dispute the lawfulness of the current decision-making procedure. As well as contesting the legitimacy of the process, I will be presenting a claim in the employment tribunal which will include allegations of sex discrimination. I am the only female who has been appointed to this iconic post throughout the 211 year history of the Royal Institution and cannot see how this decision can be in the best interests of the organisation or its members.
“The holder of this office has always been a prominent scientist and has carried out a unique role in acting as a representative for the scientific community, not only within the organisation, but also to the public at large. I am not able to make any further comment at this stage.”
It is clear from these statements that the public debate on this issue will focus on the wisdom of the renovation and possible sexist behaviour from the Royal Institution. This is unfortunate. In their own words “The Royal Institution is an independent charity dedicated to connecting people with the world of science.”. Science communication is at the core of what they do. This seems to have been lost amongst the extravagances of their renovation. Extravagances Baroness Greenfield was unlikely to have had complete, unmonitored, control over, so as a reason for sacking her it stinks. It does look like as if she may be a scapegoat for institutional failure. In terms of science communication, like Aric Sigman, Baroness Greenfield seems to have an ideological opposition to the internet and new media that remains untethered by any evidence base. Furthermore Baroness Greenfield has leant her name to an expensive piece of software, MindFit, whose claimed benefits were found wanting by Which magazine. For this Baroness Greenfield has been criticised by science communicators working in new media, such as Ben Goldacre and Mind Hacks. Consequently, there is ample internet speculation that controversy over her outré ideas might play at least some part in her dismissal despite official protestations to the contrary. It is unfortunate that neither the Royal Institution nor Baroness Greenfield seem prepared to talk about this, preferring bland compliments and accusations of sexism respectively.
However to dwell too much on such things might be to miss the point. Looking back to a 2003 Guardian debate with Professor Jon Turney in three parts (the initial article, Turney’s response, Greenfield’s response to that) Greenfield identifies a problem with the modern media portrayal of science and its reception, somewhat at odds with her later opinions:
From the happy confidence of the 1950s and 60s TV ads, we have been plunged into brain-scrambling mobile phones, brain-gnawing prion diseases, contaminated foodstuffs, not to mention the underlying stealth of chemical and cyber-terrorism, let alone designer children, artificial wombs and human clones. Small wonder there is a simple knee-jerk to veto all this confusion and scary technology in one go. How can Joe Public, after a hard day at work, come home and be expected to tease out the pros and cons, weigh up the risks, consider all the implications, and differentiate the “yuck” from the reality. Wouldn’t it be much easier to sit back in a past where everyone was 100% human, with their human values and understanding: the post comes three times a day, there are no mobiles, emails, or videos, perhaps no planes – and, of course, no freedom from toothache, infections and early death.
A problem to which this solution is offered:
Surely, the only way to quell a fear of science, is not to stop doing it: after all, science is about being curious and curiosity is about being human. Rather, we need to empower ourselves with knowledge so we can evaluate the alarms and the excitements in equal measure. The methodology and jargon can be circumvented, so long as the media, the general public, and scientists, all strive to talk to each other.
It should be noted that Jon Turney does disagree with aspects of Baroness Greenfield’s article but concurs with the need for lines of communication between scientists and the public:
Work to promote scientific literacy so everyone is up to speed, empowered and ready to contribute to the great debates about science, technology and the future? No. Invite them to participate, and really mean it, and they will find the motivation to become as scientifically literate as you, or rather they, please.
I would urge people to read these articles in full as they provide a historical perspective on the state of science communication on the cusp of an age in which blogging and new media are forming part of the firmament of science communication. Sadly Baroness Greenfield and the Royal Institution have not coped well with the rise of online science communication and the need to open up dialogues and consequently have often found themselves the target of bloggers scorn. Now, as they become mired in infighting and recrimination, perhaps we should look back to the concluding paragraph of Baroness Greenfield’s final response in the above series:
If we in the business of helping the public come to terms with science and technology were less heated over semantics and internal spats, and more concerned with getting on with the job, surely our energies would be better spent.
I would urge bloggers not to become too infatuated with the gory details of Baroness Greenfields demise and the train wreck of the Royal institution’s finances but look instead to the job of developing better methods of science communication in the online age.
Posted by gimpy on January 7, 2010
Welcome to my first post of 2010, in which I identify and illustrate a problem with newspaper comment on matters of science.
Dr Aric Sigman is a popular author and presenter with a Phd on “The roles of attention in hypnotic and feedback control of heart rate” and an interest in blaming certain of societies ills on new technology and new media. He has been criticised previously for his habit of cherry picking and extrapolating wildly in various publications exploring this concept. In his latest comment piece on The Guardian’s Comment is Free site Dr Sigman constructs his thesis in fewer than 500 words arguing that:
What children see through product placement increases their sense of entitlement to what they see, which in turn increases their “pester power”, which in turn makes their parents’ job of mediating their children’s demands more difficult. Ultimately, this retards the development of our children’s capacity for deferred gratification, now referred to as “impulse control”.
Cited for support in this series of assertions are newspaper articles, from one and two days previous, reporting on criticism from a variety of bodies, including those representing healthcare, of a recent government consultation exploring a changing of the rules regarding product placement on television.
Following this opening argument Dr Sigman explores his interpretation of the implications of delayed development of “impulse control”.
However, impulse control is more than a behavioural pleasantry; it is a self-regulation skill that affects a wide range of childhood outcomes that go far beyond demanding a chocolate bar here and now. For example, the development of a child’s impulse control is uniquely related to early academic success and is now considered more important in early academic progress than measures of intelligence. And a recent study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry reported that acquiescing in the face of pester power is linked to later antisocial aggressive behaviour and convictions for criminal violence. The researcher concluded that giving in to a child’s demands may prevent them from learning to wait for something they want: “Not being able to defer gratification may push them into more impulsive behaviour, which is strongly associated with delinquency.”
This passage is notable for containing two references, the last in the article, that are in respectable academic journals and allow us to use them as a proxy to measure the breadth and depth of Dr Sigman’s scholarship. Do they say what he says they do?
The first reference is in the journal Child Development* and is cited as showing “the development of a child’s impulse control is uniquely related to early academic success and is now considered more important in early academic progress than measures of intelligence”. This paper studied “one hundred and forty-one 3- to 5-year-old children from low-income homes”, a small and narrowly defined cohort that should prevent extrapolation to general conclusions encompassing all populations of children, a point not lost on the authors as they conclude “An important direction for future work will be the replication with diverse populations of effects seen in these studies and assessment of the generalizability of training effects to academic ability.”. Furthermore neither of the terms ‘impulse control’ or ‘deferred gratification’, used by Dr Sigman, are defined or mentioned by the authors, they use the terms “effortful control, false belief understanding, and the inhibitory control and attention-shifting aspects of executive function” in their investigations. This work does not support the statement by Dr Sigman.
The second reference is in the British Journal of Psychiatry** and is cited as showing that “acquiescing in the face of pester power is linked to later antisocial aggressive behaviour and convictions for criminal violence”. This paper reports on the link between childhood consumption of chocolate and violent behaviour in adulthood, there was “a significant relationship between eating confectionery at age 10 years and violence at age 34 years”. The authors speculate in the discussion that:
Candidate mechanisms linking confectionery consumption to adult violence must account for enduring changes into adulthood. One plausible mechanism is that persistently using confectionery to control childhood behaviour might prevent children from learning to defer gratification, in turn biasing decision processes towards more impulsive behaviour, biases that are strongly associated with delinquency. Furthermore, childhood confectionery consumption may nurture a taste that is maintained into adult- hood, exposing adults to the effects of additives often found in sweetened food, the consumption of which may also contribute towards adult aggression
The speculative nature of these mechanisms is clear from the context and they are not considered as proven by the authors, instead warranting “further attention”. This work does not support the statement by Dr Sigman.
However, unlike the first reference, a possible source of Dr Sigman’s misunderstanding can be easily found. The press release from the Royal College of Psychiatrists contains a quote from the studies lead author, Dr Simon Moore:
“Our favoured explanation is that giving children sweets and chocolate regularly may stop them learning how to wait to obtain something they want. Not being able to defer gratification may push them towards more impulsive behaviour, which is strongly associated with delinquency.”
However this bold statement is qualified in the succeeding paragraph:
The researchers concluded: “This association between confectionary consumption and violence needs further attention. Targeting resources at improving children’s diet may improve health and reduce aggression.”
Like the paper itself, the press release makes clear from context the speculative nature of Dr Moore’s comment. However, this was not sufficient to prevent articles, such as this in the Daily Mail, that take Dr Moore’s speculation as an assertion of fact. This seems to have perturbed Dr Moore, and in an online response to criticism of his paper on the British Journal of Psychiatry’s website he writes (my bold):
The far ranging media interest stimulated by this paper ranged from deriding the work as a waste of money to one that could bring peace and harmony to a North American city, and possibly further afield. [...] as good Popperians behavioural scientists test null hypotheses: science progresses through the falsification of beliefs, and accordingly we reported the acceptability of the null probabilistically in the regression statistics. But the point remains that at least in the media such results are too often reported as facts when they are statements of belief looking to be challenged. Stating “what works”, inferring causality, and demonstrating “proof” are further examples of naivety that contributes to the disparity between academic and lay reporting.
Like the media, it is entirely possible that Dr Sigman has based his understanding of the paper on an incomplete reading of the press release alone.
In my opinion this basic failure of scholarship renders the arguments and conclusions in Dr Sigman’s article void of academic merit or extension by discussion. So why was it published?
Matt Seaton, the editor of Comment is Free, in response to my enquiry as to if Dr Sigman’s article was checked for factual errors and if his references were read, has provided some insight into how these errors were missed by The Guardian.
1. Do we check references? Yes, and obviously we would query or correct a reference that appeared to be mistaken. But unless there is a glaring error, we do take a certain amount on trust from authors (unless special circumstances would lead us to do otherwise, which is not the case here).
2. Do we read in full the text linked to in a web reference? No, that would naturally be an impossible burden. In this case, Aric Sigman warned me that he could only provide links to abstracts, as the learned journals in question are subscription-only; to which my response was that this was still useful, in order to ‘show his working’ and avoid the impression of making unwarranted assertions.
It is unreasonable to expect newspaper employees to have the time and expertise to examine references such as those used by Dr Sigman and I fully accept the need to trust an author. That Mr Seaton expected Dr Sigman to “‘show his working’ and avoid the impression of making unwarranted assertions” is a reasonable burden to place on the author of a comment piece, Dr Sigman failing to do this adequately is not The Guardian’s fault. But the decision to publish was not Dr Sigman’s.
Some insight into the decision to publish may be gleaned from the comments in response to the article where it seems The Guardian’s online readers are more interested in having their prejudices confirmed or confronted rather than challenging the factual basis for Dr Sigman’s opinions. This is clearly not a forum for disseminating knowledge but a platform where the uninformed can combat assertion with prejudice. It is perhaps in The Guardian’s interests to attract the advertising revenues associated with a high volume of readers and they are simply given the readers what they want. Not fact, but opinion.
Unfortunately it is environments such as these that provide resources for that peculiar species of commentator that prefers to advance their arguments by popular opinion than by peer review. It is worth noting that in the 1980s Dr Sigman produced a handful of papers on hypnotism and since then does not appear to have published anything that appears in an academic database. Instead he has penned popular books and recorded less popular audio cassettes as well as performing research for commercial organisations on subjects outwith his, now dated, academic speciality. It appears at no point has he sought professional appraisal of his opinions by submitting them to the rigours of peer review, therefore we cannot know what merit they may have when considered against evidence in the field.
There is a famous speech by Richard Feynman in which in rails against what he calls ‘cargo cult science’ and argues that proper science requires high standards of honesty, absent elsewhere, to avoid the human tendency to be fooled.
The first principle is that you must not fool yourself–and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you’ve not fooled yourself, it’s easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that.
Dr Sigman, in his inadequate use of references and tendency to assert without proof, has perhaps demonstrated that he has fooled himself, and others, and is little more than a cargo cult academic.
If only this criticism was a cautionary tale of the dangers of misrepresenting scientific evidence in the popular press. However, contrary to the conventions of the form, Dr Sigman has met no ill fate, only reward. His books sell, his speaking services are advertised at £3-5k a time and he indulges his passion for travel. These are not the perks of the average academic bound by research codes, ethical approval, peer review and the need to constrain opinion within the boundaries of available evidence, these are the perks of cargo cult academics. Slipshod research sells.
The solution to this is perhaps more criticism and challenge from those in academia targeted at those who prefer their theories evade review while assuming the cloak of academic respectability through the shallow use of references and titles.
In the coming year I would like to see academics becoming more proactive in their challenge of misrepresentation of their research by those in the media and I would like to see the likes of Dr Sigman under closer scrutiny regarding the evidence base for their claims. Here’s to a new year.
Dr Sigman was contacted for the purpose of this blogpost and did not respond. I hope he will do so post publication and I will update accordingly. I am grateful to Dr Simon Moore and Matt Seaton for their help and observations.
* Relating Effortful Control, Executive Function, and False Belief Understanding to Emerging Math and Literacy Ability in Kindergarten
Clancy Blair & Rachel Peters Razza
Child Development (78) 2: 647-663
Confectionery consumption in childhood and adult violence
Moore, Simon C., Carter, Lisa M., van Goozen, Stephanie
The British Journal of Psychiatry 2009 195: 366-367