Why we chose to criticise Caroline Lucas over Homeopathy


6:37 pm - August 12th 2010

by Sunny Hundal    


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A couple of weeks ago we published a blog post by Adam Grace titled: Why Caroline Lucas should drop her support for Homeopathy. It generated huge interest and got us some criticism from lefty greenies.

Tamsin Omond was one of them:

This is not an apology for Lucas, nor a demand that she be beyond criticism. It is only a request that we control our harping voice, especially when our voices are the only ones raised in outrage. Moral outrage should be confined, as much as possible, to the Daily Mail rather than seeping into our criticisms of the Left.

It’s not a position I disagree with, actually.

I do get annoyed that lefties spend a lot of time attacking each other or disagreeing over minutae of policy than taking on the real enemy: the Right.

But there are several reasons I chose to publish the piece, and they’re worth pointing out.

1. We weren’t dismissive of Caroline. The article was at pains to point out that Lucas a model politician who deserved support from across the left for her principled stances. But that doesn’t absolve her from criticism. And there should be on-going constructive criticism so we hold the feet of our politicians to the fire, without getting into hero worship. Especially when it’s deserved.

2. The Greens should get used to it. They now have an elected member and their party is likely to come under increasing scrutiny. Trying to stop debate by criticising people who ask difficult questions or criticise Caroline Lucas are living in a different era. The party has to grow a thicker skin and become responsive to broader left-wing opinion.

Having a leader in Parliament also means the Greens will have to confront situations where Caroline Lucas will have to compromise a stance to push an agenda forward. Get used to that too (I’m not always against pragmatic compromise). The Greens are now operating in a new world – it’s time for internal attitudes to catch up.

3. Now to Homepathy itself. The debate is less about which side is backed by Big Pharma, and more about two key principles.

The first is that the Green Party has to maintain a very clear dedication to science and evidence-based policy. We are keenly aware of how global warming deniers try and distort the science to push their agenda in favour of oil companies. If the Greens are not absolutely clean on this issue, deniers will point to examples of science failure to try and undermine their central agenda. The Greens cannot afford, for the sake of the party and the environment, to be undermined in this way.

Secondly, support of Homepathy may be Caroline’s personal view. But since she is the party’s only elected representative and highest profile member, she has a double-responsibility to ensure her personal views do not contradict party policy.

Green policy is that, “any medicine or treatment available on the NHS should be backed up by scientific evidence”. There should be no room for contradiction here.

We don’t plan to make it a habit of pouncing on everything Caroline does (that we might not like) as evidence of ‘betrayal’. But in this case there are several important principles at stake. I hope Caroline herself will listen to them.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


It is absolutely correct we hold Caroline to account.

One of the big problems the left had in 1997 was that it wasn’t critical enough and wasn’t forceful enough upon its elected representatives.

Caroline Lucas is not going to do right simply because she is a Green MP (although that will help set her on the right direction), but because people push her in that way.

2. Chaise Guevara

Is Lucas a personal believer in homeopathy? It was my assumption that she was supporting it on the basis that many of her supporters are probably, well, hippy types.

3. the a&e charge nurse

“Moral outrage should be confined, as much as possible, to the Daily Mail rather than seeping into our criticisms of the Left” – well, if the Greens could accept that there is NO scientific justification for homeopathy (thus making public funding untenable) then we could finally put this matter to bed?

From the bits I’ve read it seems Lucas is not so much a hardcore proponent of wibble, but instead somewhat concerned that if she where to come down on the side of the medical evidence she would run the risk of alienating a % of the tree huggers in the party?

Science simply does not permit the luxury of being all things to all people – even for leaders of a newish political force.

‘Secondly, support of Homepathy may be Caroline’s personal view. ‘

Caroline Lucas was elected to defend the views of her constituents.

5. Chaise Guevara

“Caroline Lucas was elected to defend the views of her constituents.”

Mmm hmm. Remember all those MPs complaining about the party whip when there was that abortion vote, saying things like “We should be free to vote based on our own consciences!” Um, no you shouldn’t.

@3 the a&e charge nurse: “…well, if the Greens could accept that there is NO scientific justification for homeopathy…”

To be fair, it has to be acknowledged that this wibble is supported by some MPs of most (all?) parties. However the Green Party has a singular MP so it is supported by 100% of their representation.

There is a further question. If the majority of MPs in other parties identify homeopathy as wibble, why have they permitted NHS funding for it for so long?

“Caroline Lucas was elected to defend the views of her constituents.”

She was elected as a Green MP. The policies she ran on were those chosen by her party. She has a duty to uphold the principles of her party, the ones on which she was elected. See what Burke said about representatives, and judgement.

It would be absurd to deem everybody either right or left in advance, and then adopt a double standard to judge them by.

It is in the nature of fairly meaningless labels like left and right is that if you identify as one, then you tend to think all good policies belong to that wing, and bad ones to the opposite.

So rather than rely on the meaning of the label, judge everybody’s ideas by the same standard, and, if you must, apply the labels left and right afterwards, according to the results of that judgement.

“Caroline Lucas was elected to defend the views of her constituents.”

Actually, I suspect the residents of her constituency, Brighton Pavilion, are more supportive of homeopathy than most.

[deleted]

“Actually, I suspect the residents of her constituency, Brighton Pavilion, are more supportive of homeopathy than most.”

If so, that might provide a useful opportunity for testing the relative effectiveness of homeopathic treatments. At least we know that Brighton Pavilion has unusual voting tendencies.

12. the a&e charge nurse

[6] “To be fair, it has to be acknowledged that this wibble is supported by some MPs of most (all?) parties. However the Green Party has a singular MP so it is supported by 100% of their representation”.

That’s fair enough BUT in the light of recent findings I think it is impossible to continue to hold such a view
http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-archive/science-technology/s-t-homeopathy-inquiry/

I think there may also also be wider issue concerning the Green’s reputation for being anti-science?
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article4699096.ece

13. Charlieman

“Caroline Lucas was elected to defend the views of her constituents.”

Some organisations elect attendees of conferences or whatever with a mandate. The attendee votes according to the wishes of the branch rather than their own choice. To a degree, this is what happens when Trots get elected to councils (and such party discipline is expected by the BNP, though rarely delivered by their rabble).

In the UK, we elect Councillors, MPs and MEPs as representatives. There is an expectation that those elected will represent everyone in their ward/constituency, even those who voted against them. 99% of representatives live up to this expectation, standing up for any constituent who has been wronged. They make their own choices and whilst the whip system imposes orders, serious representatives defy them for serious reasons. Not often enough, of course, but sufficient to say that they are independent actors.

Caroline Lucas is not held to a mandate on homeopathy by her constituents in Brighton. Or by her party, locally or nationally. She is the party leader, chief whip and health spokesperson combined.

Thus when she defends homeopathy, we can fairly criticise her poor judgement. Maybe she chose to back homeopathy in order to appeal to its supporters. Perhaps she believes in homeopathy. I don’t know which is the case, but I do know that she had a choice.

14. Shatterface

Homeopathy is bullshit and proponents of bullshit are idiots whether or not you agree with them on other points.

Left and right are opposite poles of one political axis,, liberal and authoritarian are on another, evidence-based thinking and woo are a third.

You can’t trust faith-based thinkers, they don’t answer to reality.

15. Charlieman

@12 the a&e charge nurse: “That’s fair enough BUT in the light of recent findings I think it is impossible to continue to hold such a view…”

It is possible for human beings to hold any opinion. That is a human right.

MPs should be free to hold any opinion. But those who oppose the fine committee report to which you linked deserve to be held up as clowns and jokers.

I am disturbed by the use of the concept of evidence, the Green Party is severely mistakern in its use of the phrase ‘scientific evidence’ – presumably they really don’t remember the oppressive and sometimes murderous uses of evidence based science.

The normal excuse ‘they didn’t know the science was wrong’ is simply unacceptable, the scientific event caused enormous amounts of pain and suffering, but it looked at the time as reasonable as the endless scientific and evidence based carping about homeopathy.

Of course Homeopathy doesn’t work, but that is simply irrelevant… What you need to ask yourself is what will be attacked next when Homeopathy has been pushed back into private medical practice ?

17. astateofdenmark

Greens now gave an MP, which changes things. Continuing to spout nonsense like homeopathy, will harm the Greens if they have big ambitions. That’s a big if though, maybe they’re more comfortable being a minor party? Influence but no ultimate responsibility is no bad position if you intend to be a single issue pressure group.

I’m not a green so don’t know what their long term ambitions are, but think it is wrong to presume all parties want to be the next labour or tory.

@Chaise Guevara

Hey! I’m a hippy type and a Green Party member, and I regard homeopathy as thoroughly ridiculous and unscientific. We’re not all *completely* cranky. 🙂

More seriously: Caroline Lucas is fantastic, but I thoroughly agree with this article. Especially wrt point 3. The green left are right about climate change science. It’s going to get very embarrassing if we’re openly and defiantly wrong about medicine at the same time.

19. Roger Mexico

This isn’t an argument about right and wrong, it’s about priorities. As it happens I had a long discussion in the comments of the blog post with Adam Grace; with me putting the case that an evidence-based case could be made for NHS homeopathy as currently practised. Those with the time and the masochism can follow it there.

Irrespective of that, however, there are much more important battles to fight than homeopathy, both with regard to evidence-based medicine and defending the NHS.

In this case it’s made worse by the Left’s age-old tendency to spend its time looking for and denouncing the slightest imperfection in its friends and allies. Like some crazy evangelical sect, the more people who can be cast out and shown to be unworthy of the true faith; the more the remnants can feel smug and holy.

There’s not a problem with moral outrage; isn’t that what has traditionally driven those unhappy with the way society is? – though all of us should manage to be more consistent and sincere than the Daily Mail. But we all only have a limited supply, so it would only be sensible to aim it at the most dangerous targets.

No doubt some Greens will shortly be along to say that they and their leaders are quite used to scrutiny, criticism and derision, thank you; and they don’t really need any more practice at receiving it even from your well-meaning, if condescending, self. They might also point out that it’s a bit much to have a go them for both suppressing criticism and allowing too much policy leeway. You can’t really switch democratic centralism on and off; or for that matter demand a Party, you don’t belong to, practice it.

The green movement in Britain has never been anti-science. Those who attack it as such are, as usual, copying the rhetoric from the USA without checking the facts. Its opponents, though, usually are anti-science: those who denounce anthropogenic global warming are basically doing so on the grounds of assertion. They are likely to believe in anything from UFOs to the infallibility of markets. Homeopathy won’t horrify them (there’s too much money in it).

I’m not suggesting that anything should be beyond discussion, but three out of three of Liberal Conspiracy’s recent articles on the NHS have been about homeopathy. Obviously the NHS really is safe in the coalitions hands.

First and foremost, let’s accept that one failing all politicians have across the spectrum is the occasional lapse in ignoring evidence for or against policies. The classic example is alcohol which is the most lethal drug known to man and yet it would be political suicide to talk of banning it! As for the comment from the infamous Tasmin Omond, let’s just say that the biggest failing of the last 13 years was the government’s inability to listen to criticism from within. The day the Green Party stops criticising itself is the day it deserves to die! It must never be power at all costs, that way lies disaster.

“Green policy is that, “any medicine or treatment available on the NHS should be backed up by scientific evidence”. There should be no room for contradiction here”.

Surprisingly, there _is_ scientific evidence homoeopathy is better than placebo. There have been at least 2 meta-analyses of the papers with positive results against placebo. There is a tendency for the analysts to squeeze the criteria until the positive homoeopathy results disappear. This hyper-criticism (i.e. greater than shown to pharma trials) is down to the presupposition that homoeopathy _cannot_ work because there is no material there.

So the whole argument hinges on hypothetical changes in the microstructure of water. There are a couple of physical experiments that have shown positive results in ultra-dilutions. More work is needed, to coin the old phrase.

So the science on homoeopathy is ongoing.

The other line is clinical: homoeopathic doctors do get good patient satisfaction ratings. I have suggested to Caroline that continued NHS funding of homoeopathic doctors should be contingent on audit of the supported doctors, to find what kind of conditions they are treating, and how successfully.

More here: http://greenerblog.blogspot.com/2010/08/bma-homoeopathy-homeopathy-debate.html

Which would seem to be a reasonable way of resolving this political question.

Is Lucas’s view really much different from Labour, the Tories, and Lib Dems? Labour didn’t end NHS funding for homoeopathy. Is the Coalition planning to do so? According to what I’ve read, the answer is no.

Irrespective of that, however, there are much more important battles to fight than homeopathy, both with regard to evidence-based medicine and defending the NHS

The main point is that if Greens want to fight the main battle around global warming – then they need a more vigorous approach to all science.

presumably they really don’t remember the oppressive and sometimes murderous uses of evidence based science.

What???

Tamsin Omond: Moral outrage should be confined, as much as possible, to the Daily Mail rather than seeping into our criticisms of the Left.

I disagree. It’s intellectually dishonest to refrain from criticising someone because they belong to one’s own “tribe”. It’s equally dishonest to refrain praising someone because they come from a different political tradition. This dishonesty cheapens political debate and harms our society.

The truth about homeopathy is that not only is it nonsense, it is obvious arrogant nonsense that make a virtue of its nonsensicality. Anyone who supports homeopathy is signaling that they are irrational, they don’t like rationality, and they want public policy to be determined on irrational grounds.

If we can’t hold the line against homeopathy, we won’t be able to hold it against holocaust denial, creationism, 9/11 conspiracy theories, vaccines-cause-autism scaremongering, policy based evidence making, or any one of 1001 forms of nonsense less nonsensical than homeopathy.

‘presumably they really don’t remember the oppressive and sometimes murderous uses of evidence based science.

What???’

Pretty much the whole history of the treatment of women with (and without) mental ill health.

26. Roger Mexico

Sunny

As I pointed out, the Greens have always had a perfectly vigorous approach to science. This is about what services the NHS supplies. All the other Parties effectively support homeopathy there and there clearly is a public demand for it. I don’t see why you should demand that the Greens denounce it, and possibly alienate some voters, to satisfy some impossibly high standard you want to impose. It all smells of the old left-wing purity game.

In any case my point was about priorities. If Liberal Conspiracy can assure us that every treatment, drug, prescription practise, administrative action, health advice etc used by the NHS has impeccable evidence-based justification; every current and forthcoming policy and action by the Government will bring nothing but improvement to NHS outcomes; then produce another homeopathy article.

Otherwise stop going after the same low-hanging fruit and look at the tree; and the forest.

@21. Richard Lawson: “The other line is clinical: homoeopathic doctors do get good patient satisfaction ratings.”

If that is true, it is worthy of analysis. Without that data, I reckon that successful homeopathic doctors are just good (misguided) doctors; GPs who listen to patients and determine whether the patients have a serious problem that requires scientific medicine; chat, listen and proffer a few chalk pills that will not harm the patient when the diagnosis is wrong.

I don’t care whether homeopathy is available on the NHS or not. I don’t care if it works or not. From a quick google search it seems that the cost is £4 million per year. (I was staggered to also find that the cost of falls among the elderly is £4.6 million per day, £1.7 billion per year.) Perhaps somebody could clarify and also provide the cost to the NHS of side-effects of other drugs prescribed.

Agreed with you Roger Mexico @19.

@26. Roger Mexico: “All the other Parties effectively support homeopathy…”

Indeed. It is shameful and unsupportable.

“Of course Homeopathy doesn’t work, but that is simply irrelevant… What you need to ask yourself is what will be attacked next when Homeopathy has been pushed back into private medical practice ?”

What a ‘First they came for the homeopaths?’ kind of scenario. What are you worried about? That they will stamp out acupuncture next? Reflexology? All those useless massage therapies they do with backs? It is not even as if anyone wants to ban this bullshit, just let people pay for it themselves.

Hmm… actually I wonder if the placebo effect is stronger for treatments covered by the NHS (gives the stuff a sense of added reality). That would be about the best defence you could make.

@28. earwicga

Yes, medications have side effects, but at least they also have a therapeutic effect too.

To quote Dara O’Briain, “Homeopathy is just water. You can’t overdose on homeopathic remedies? Well, you could drown.”

Speaking of this issue, I was wandering around the GreenFields at the Glastonbury Festival this year, and found myself vaguely annoyed by the fact that they’d stuck the Astrology Circle right alongside the environmental campaigns. Talk about handing an open goal to the climate change deniers.

Documentary proof that homeopathy works:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMGIbOGu8q0

I only wish that I:

a) came so late as to miss the good debate

b) had time to read the 29 comments above properly

but it is a flaw unlike any other ever, to think that it is not time well spent criticising other bits of the left; frankly I have convergence with some ideas on right, and I know Sunny does too, so I’m not sure why this is a subject of contention.

With something like homepathy, it’s a lot of hot air, but the leftie labour lot who came out in support of it did so perhaps for reasons such as not agreeing with everything the EDM 908 – the problem is when someone doesn’t agree with an issue, but then disagrees with the totality of a bill against it, if they vote against the bill it might appear like they support the issue when in fact this might not be the whole story.

Now I will stand corrected if anyone can tell me whether McDonnell, Corbyn etc have said anything in support of homeopathy, but unlike with Lucas I haven’t heard anything by them.

With her, she is talking shite that typifies the quaker vegetarian banana bat shit crazy wing of the Green party (or put another way, the Green party – sorry Jim) and there are obvious grounds to complain about her, rather than limiting ourselves to the Daily Mail, such is the absurd suggestion by Tamsin Omond.

For general principles on this topic: The Republicans in the Spanish Civil War may have lost because there were too many factions (a poem I made up: the Stalinists who hated the Trots, the anarchists who hated the lot, the liberals who only got shot, consensus among them to pot); but had they won, they’d be composed of so many differing culminations of left wing thought it would have been impossible to form a strong government; this may seem like a nonsense, but it is true, I’d rather share a platform with a neo-con than a middle class liberal riddled with white guilt.

Phil Hunt: “I disagree. It’s intellectually dishonest to refrain from criticising someone because they belong to one’s own “tribe”. It’s equally dishonest to refrain praising someone because they come from a different political tradition. This dishonesty cheapens political debate and harms our society.”

True – among the worst (and paradoxically divisive) things about many political groups is the obsession with maintaining monolithic internal solidarity, to the extent that avoiding any internal criticism of policy or leaders (traitorous internal division in the face of the right wing threat!) becomes more important than actually having good policies or leaders.

If Green Party members all lined up like automatons to endorse the homeopathy position – not because they believed it but on the grounds that to do otherwise would give succour to the enemy – then they wouldn’t be a party worth supporting.

The fixation on anti-Tory solidarity at all costs is one reason why so many Labourites dutifully lined up for years behind Tony Blair, despite his leadership taking Labour to places which were too right wing and authoritarian even for Thatcher.

I’d hate the Greens to go down a route which led to internal debate being wiped out by that sort of dynamic.

Real is scientific homeopathy. It cures even when Conventional Allopathic Medicine (CAM) fails. Nano doses of evidence-based modern homeopathy medicine brings big results for everyone

@earwicga at 25:

Out of interest, what specifically are you talking about, and was it really “evidence based” in the sense of being based on robust trials (which is what people mean when they talk about ‘evidence based medicine’ in particular). I was under the impression that psychiatry had quite a serious problem with untested bogus therapies being accepted for a relatively long time (e.g. electroshock treatment). I’m no expert though.

As for the “oh well, it’s only £4m per year” argument, I think Charlie Brooker had a nice retort (http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguide/columnists/story/0,,2145124,00.html):

“The NHS recently spent £10m refurbishing the London Homeopathic Hospital. The equivalent of 500 nurses’ wages, blown on a handful of magic beans. That was your tax money. It was meant for saving lives.”

@RogerMexico

“the Greens have always had a perfectly vigorous approach to science”

Sadly this is their fundamental problem. They oppose, on pseudoscientific grounds, genetic modification, animal experimentation, nuclear research and conventional farming. Their vigour is fueled by ideology masquerading as evidence.

Until the Greens either accept that their policies aren’t based on sound science and stop suggesting that they are, or change them, then they are always going to receive a huge amount of flack for anything they do relating to science or medicine.

If, as I hope never happens, the Green manifesto was ever enacted then 10s of 1000s of scientists would find their work impossible.

@27 Charlieman

If true [that homoeopathic doctors get good patient satisfaction}

I will try to hunt some papers down.

The placebo response is usually associated with the idea of a pill or procedure, but it is to a huge amount related to the relationship of doctor and patient. There is an old book called “The Edifice Complex” about this.

If the patient feels that s/he has been understood and engaged with, reassurance follows. After pain relief, a large section of GP time is spent on reassurance. The problem is that if the expectation is of getting a pill, the GP has a choice of easing a dissatisfied patient out of the surgery (which can be time consuming and worrying) or of doling out a pill as a symbol that the consultation is at an end. A kind of full stop. Both docs and patients contribute to this expectation, and the issue of a pill reinforces the construct.

Clearly, at this level, it is better to give a homeopathic remedy (cheap, no side effects) than a pharma remedy (dear, more side effects).

So an audit of what NHS homoeopaths are doing is clearly the way forward, while at the same time we need more investigation of the physical properties of ultradilutions, and a good clinical trial of ultradilutions prepared by succussion compared with ultradilutions mixed by simple turbulence.

A couple of strange issues running through this thread. One, not stated beyond Sunny in the original post, is that the left has a common enemy in the right. Obviously, because given a choice between say Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin, who would most of us see as the enemy (and Churchill was a very unpleasant person)? Likewise, Michael Foot would have been preferable to me than someone like Augustine Pinochet. The enemy is not someone who does not fit an artificial description or agree with you on a set of policies or priorities selected from a wider field. The enemy is those who threaten the most damage to society and, to a more parochial extent, to your own political aims. Whilst the threat to society is logically (from a normal left-wing perspective) the coalition’s cuts, they are not an enemy to political aims as opposed to a rival point of view.

And here the second worrying issue appears, the strange belief that science can lead policy. Whilst I can’t see much point in homeopathy, to ban it from the NHS is not a purely scientific decision; it is a social decison, taking account of the science, of the opinions of patients and those working in the NHS and ultimately what the electorate will say. Without these constraints, on purely scientific grounds we would automatically let many seriously ill people with little chance of recovery die (although to be fair we would also have no stupid laws on abortion). Science informs us about knowledge, it does not dictate to us. This is why we elect politicians to lead us, rather than having a collective of doctors leading the NHS.

And science is not fixed. Theories that have been accepted are proven wrong. Models fail to be proven. Consensuses become just one faction of opinion. That is what research is about – so to base policies on particular examples of science is to fix yourself at one point of time. Eugenics was good science in its day remember (although many politicians chose not to implement it, for obvious reasons).

@ Watchman

Homeopathy works no better than a placebo, this has been shown beyond any reasonable doubt. It doesn’t rely on a theory (although if homeopathy worked in the way it is claimed to, then you would have to rewrite well established physical laws), nor does it rely on a model. It has been shown through systematic observation of the real world, and comparison of the effects of homeopathic sugar pills versus normal sugar pills. Homeopathy’s ineffectiveness is one of the most comprehensively shown findings of medicine, so unless you want to become a relativist and not even bother trying to understand the world or measure outcomes, your “the science has changed” point is not relevant.

Of course you are right that science alone cannot dictate policy, but I don’t see who is claiming that this should be the case. The NHS should use medicines that have been shown to work, and not waste millions of pounds on medicines that have been shown not to work. That’s a normative point, not a scientific point, but on those grounds we shouldn’t fund homeopathy. Maybe you think we should waste money on ineffective pills. Do you?

What do you mean eugenics was “good science”? What exactly do you mean by “eugenics”? There are obvious ethical reasons for not applying a eugenicist policy. Some politicians ignored them and used science as a justification. Do you think we should therefore do away with science and never let policy be influenced by it again?

Thomas,

To be clear, I was not defending homeopathy in any way (it wouldn’t work as a placebo for me or you, as we don’t believe it has any value – therefore it is strictly speaking a waste of money).

As to the science dictating a policy, your argument was that we should not fund homeopathy because it is merely a placebo. I actually agree, but that is a scientific judgement which, amongst other things, does not consider whether the use of the placebo is actually better for the NHS or (perhaps more importantly) for the welfare of the patients. Science tells us what something is, but not whether that value is appropriate to the situation or not.

And eugenics was ‘good science’ in that it was generally accepted by most scientists (there were always some who didn’t like it) and therefore was considered a sound basis for forming policies. Exactly like the judgement on homeopathy with two minor differences – I think (and modern science is pretty clear) both homeopathy and eugenics are equally crackpot, and I can support a policy based on science saying homeopathy is a bad idea, whilst I can’t support one based on science saying eugenics is a good idea. But the differences are because I have looked at the summary of the science (or history in the case of eugenics) and drawn my own conclusions, considering other factors. Good science is a relative at the time.

Nano doses of evidence-based modern homeopathy medicine brings big results for everyone

Then it should be very easy to demonstrate that in a properly conducted double-blind clinical trial…

Homoeopaths have had over 200 years to come up with convincing evidence that it works. Instead, all they’ve come up with is ever-more implausible excuses for why they can’t.

Actually, if we get the message across that homoepathy doesn’t work, then its one scientific defence (placebo-status) would be unsustainable because most people would think it was rubbish and not believe it would make them better. Simples.

Incidentally, if homeopathy has increased effects from smaller amounts of material, shouldn’t there also be homeopathic poisions, which become more deadly in small amounts? Sorry, random thought…

44. Roger Mexico

@gimpy

I’m not a Green member or an expert in their policy, but I get the impression that they do tend to respect science in their policy making. You or I may disagree with them on certain topics, but unless they are basing their entire policy on the phlogiston theory or intervention by UFOs, you can’t denounce them as “pseudo-scientific”. The scientific method is to argue this sort of thing case by case.

But of course the policies you mention are not just a matter of science, they also about public policy as Watchman pointed out. You comment seems to imply an attitude that “science” should decide such matters and hand down its eternal judgement to an adoring public.

It’s impossible to think of an attitude more likely to alienate people and reduce the real influence of science. Most people are too used to reading “scientists say” articles which vary between nonsense and contradicting the previous day’s article. Pronouncements handed down from on high will be met with, at best, cynicism.

Those of the rest of us, who take an interest in science (and who may even believe that “evidence-based” should go in front of more nouns) are also sceptical. We are far to used to “science” ignoring doubts and denying complications; following the commercial interests of the employers of scientists; or providing convenient reassurance for politicians. I suspect many working scientists share these views.

I’m afraid the authoritative man in the white coat has retreated to his natural habitat of washing powder ads. Luckily the internet and its original inhabitants, the scientists, mean that there is now more information and debate out there for the rest of us. What was never meant to be a closed shop is now open.

As Julian Huppert pointed out, ignorance of scientific method among the political class is crippling for the country. The last thing we want to do is go back to the old habit of seeing science as something that gives you nice, clear-cut, convenient answers; rather it’s a process that investigates the meeting of the world with our best theories about it. Which isn’t a bad description of politics either.

@ Watchman

Thanks for your reply. Interestingly, the placebo effect can still work if people know that the sugar pill they are taking has no medicine in it. The placebo effect is generally a very interesting phenomenon, and as ever the person to read on it is Ben Goldacre (for example here – http://www.badscience.net/2008/03/all-bow-before-the-might-of-the-placebo-effect-it-is-the-coolest-strangest-thing-in-medicine/)

Actually I don’t think I really did the argument against homeopathy on the NHS credit before. Homeopathy pills, given that placebos do have a measurable effect for some people, can “work” in that limited sense. Maybe you think that you should be allowed to prescribe placebos on the NHS. Despite my tone before, I don’t think that’s necessarily an unreasonable position. The problems with homeopathy in particular are that a) you have to buy expensive, ritually treated sugar pills instead of bog standard sugar pills, and hire staff with expertise in the bogus science of homeopathy, all of which is expensive, and b) you have to lie to patients unless you tell them that it doesn’t work any better than a placebo, that water doesn’t have a memory and so on, which homeopaths are generally unwilling to do.

So basically I was maybe jumping the gun a bit, but the arguments on homeopathy tend to focus on whether it does or doesn’t work. I wanted to emphasise that it doesn’t. Whether you should give it out or not is an interesting question, but you have to deal with certain ethical arguments, most importantly “is it ok to lie to patients?”, and most pro-homeopathy people do not.

46. Roger Mexico

Watchman

Agree completely with your comment #38 (this is worrying) but actually you’re wrong about placebos. There is some evidence that they seem to have an effect even if you know they’re placebos.

Whether this is because of the way care is given; because of of a subconscious belief in magic; or because over-sophisticates like us know about the placebo effect, I can’t say.

@Watchman again

This is kind of OT but never mind. Some eugenicist policies would probably actually do what they were supposed to – for example if you sterilised people carrying genes for genetic diseases (like Huntington’s chorea) then you would certainly reduce the occurence of those diseases. So in that sense they might be “good science”.

Whether that would work for something like IQ is much more debatable (and needless to say IQ is an unsound measurement of intelligence etc.), but that’s besides the point. Anyway, as you say, the debate here was always ethical, and arguably still is. The argument is explicitly whether stopping people having kids who might have a disease or disability is a price worth paying to prevent occurences of that disease or disability. I think most people would say no. I’m guessing you’d agree, so I just went into this more out of interest and pedantry than trying to pick a fight with you or anything!

48. Roger Mexico

Thomas

Great minds, eh?

If you follow the discussion between Adam Grace and myself on the original thread from about here:

http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/08/01/why-caroline-lucas-should-drop-her-support-for-homeopathy/#comment-158338

you’ll see I was arguing similarly to you , but coming down on the side of NHS homeopathy for various practical reason.

Still doesn’t change my argument that Liberal Conspiracy should be finding bigger toys to play with.

49. Chaise Guevara

@Elly

“Hey! I’m a hippy type and a Green Party member, and I regard homeopathy as thoroughly ridiculous and unscientific. We’re not all *completely* cranky.”

Based on my political views, not to mention my haircut, it would probably be reasonable to call me a hippy too! And I have voted for the Greens, albeit in the European elections.

If Lucas is supporting snake oil on the NHS because she thinks that’s what her consitituents want, that’s possibly because the Greens genuinely do attract more people who take horoscopes etc. seriously than most other parties, and possibly because she’s just assumed this to be the case. Maybe both.

I really hope she hasn’t just followed the marketspeak logic: “homeopathy is ‘natural’, ‘natural’ is good”.

@ Roger Mexico

Ha, yes indeed!

I have sympathy for that view, as I’m a consequentialist and lean towards philosophical pragmatism when it comes to science-y stuff (I did a philosophy degree which has been useless for getting me a job, so I have to whip out the jargon every now and again to convince myself it wasn’t a waste of 3 years – apologies). For me the ethical element is kind of a red line, as is the institutional support for pseudo-science. I think in a general way it kind of undermines trust in the MHRA and the NHS and those kinds of bodies, but also (and more importantly) in science and scientists themselves. But from your comments you obviously read Bad Science, so I’m sure you’re aware of all those arguments already.

Personally I probably wouldn’t mind administering placebos oon the NHS if it was done honestly – I don’t know whether it would slightly undermine the effect though.

Thomas,

Personally I probably wouldn’t mind administering placebos oon the NHS if it was done honestly – I don’t know whether it would slightly undermine the effect though.

Since any placebo to be effective would have to be act in the same way as a perscription drug or normal treatment, this might be unjustifiably expensive in one way or the other. But the principle is not that bad, and kind of shows the major flaw in focussing on homeopathy. To understand whether homeopathy is worth having on the NHS (and I would hope not) you need to consider the entire range of placebo and placebo-like treatments.

Mind you, still doesn’t justify Caroline Lucas supporting homeopathy. There can’t be that many homeopaths even in Brighton.

@ Watchman

“Since any placebo to be effective would have to be act in the same way as a perscription drug or normal treatment, this might be unjustifiably expensive in one way or the other. But the principle is not that bad, and kind of shows the major flaw in focussing on homeopathy. To understand whether homeopathy is worth having on the NHS (and I would hope not) you need to consider the entire range of placebo and placebo-like treatments.”

I’m not following you I’m afraid. Of course you would only want to prescribe placebos where there were no other possible treatments, or where the treatments available have bad side effects and the placebo effect is powerful. Placebos by definition don’t work in the same way as conventional medicines, as the placebo effect is a non-pharmacological, psychological effect.

Do you need to consider the whole range of placebos to judge homeopathy? I would say not – there are specific ethical issues to do with officially promoting pseudoscience, and to do with misleading patients as to it’s efficacy, that are unique to alternative medicines. Anyway I’m just repeating myself now so I’ll try and restrain the urge to keep talking.

Thomas,

Sorry – that was indeed unclear. My point was simply that rather than just judge one pseduoscience, we should look at the whole range of NHS treatments that are not scienfically proven, including deliberate placebos, and review them all. It may be for all its quakary that homeopathy is cost effective (can’t see it myself) or otherwise necessary, perhaps because it works better than other methods at making people believe themselves healthy. If so, it may be worth it, for all the problems having a pseudo-science claiming to have scientific basis might bring. After all, the NHS is for making people better, not for the simple application of pure science.

It may be for all its quakary that homeopathy is cost effective (can’t see it myself) or otherwise necessary, perhaps because it works better than other methods at making people believe themselves healthy.

If you go down that route, you’re implying that doctors should knowingly and deliberate lie to their patients. That’s a massive ethical problem. Kinda drives a truck through the whole concept of “informed consent”.

Dunc,

Good point. In which case we would clearly need either to have all non-scienfitic medicine off the NHS, or for doctors prescribing it to genuinely believe it would benefit the patient (it may be we have the second already, but it would be nice to know for sure).

You would all be shocked at the number of treatments and procedures routinely carried out on the NHS which are not backed by sound evidence. It is very hard to assess surgical procedures with double blind trials.

Most conscientious GPs always stress to patients that they must take their anti-inflammatory medicines in the middle of a meal. I have always done this, and have had low rates of NSAID caused stomach ulcers. But there is no work that I can find comparing this procedure.

Should GPs stop giving this advice? I think not.
Should “take in the middle of meals” be printed on chemist – bought Nurofen? I think so. But I have no scientific evidence to back that requirement. I wish there were.

Scientific evidence is a great adjunct to policy. But clear and unambiguous evidence is hard to come by. And even when evidence does exist, it can be discounted if it clashes with deeply held beliefs, as for instance with global warming rejection by free-marketeers, and positive outcomes of trials of homoeopathy by people who believe that only molecules can influence biological systems.

@ Richard Lawson

There is a long stretch between thinking that only molecules affect biological systems, and thinking that water has a memory that can magically cure people. Most people so far in this discussion have accepted the placebo effect, which as it has a psychological cause will no doubt involve things other than molecules, i.e. light and sound transmission, or electrical brain impulses.

The fact is that the best quality trials show no difference between placebo and homeopathy. The systematic reviews of the literature show the same thing. Some poor quality trials show a benefit for homeopathy, but poor quality trials can show any old thing. Homeopaths quite often want to get into this counting trials thing of “oh well, there are x number of trials showing a benefit for homeopathy”. That isn’t how medical science is done. Equating people who are global warming deniers with those who refuse to accept homeopathy on the basis that somewhere, there exist some trials that support it (you don’t provide the trials so we can’t discuss whether they are high quality trials or not).

Thomas
To view the evidence from a meta-analysis of quality trials of Homoeopathy, go here
http://www.davidreilly.net/
and navigate through. David Reilly did repeated, high-quality work on nasal allergy. He discusses the meta-analyses, and shows how the a priori assumption “There is no matter there, therefore it cannot work” causes analysts to judge homoeopathy trials more severely than pharma trials.

@ Richard Lawson

From the looks of it that website is a quack website. That’s an ad hom obviously though, but it’s badly designed enough that I have no idea where I could find what you were talking about. Do you have a more specific link?

My guess is that that argument is bogus – meta-analyses use a specific methodology for what counts as a good trial or not. This shouldn’t change unduly whether they’re looking at homeopathy or antidepressants. If you take issue with meta-analyses you are taking issue with science and evidence – the onus is not on them to bend over backwards to accommodate homeopathy when it appears not to be working. I think I have already addressed the point about matter or molecules, it’s a straw man and people don’t believe that a priori or otherwise.

I have a feeling this will go nowhere so forgive me if I don’t follow this up. I have a tendency to waste time in these kinds of arguments. http://xkcd.com/386/

Why all this fuss over homeopathy spending?

There are many “scientifically proven” medicines that do not work for every patient, some of which have nasty side effects, so in those cases, not only do they not work, they actually cause harm.

By comparison, homeopathy appears to help some (whether by placebo effect or not) and harms none, so wheres the problem?

I first took an interest in homeopathy after reading an article in Farmers Weekly where a farmer treated half his cows with a homeopathic remedy for mastitis and half with pharmaceutical remedies. The homeopathic treated half had a significantly lower incidence, and please dont tell me there can be a placebo effect on half a herd of cows.

I have used a number of homeopathic remedies; some dont seem to work at all, but others I find very effective.

It could equally be argued that the effect of many visits by the worried well to their GP is entirely a placebo effect, and my guess is that the cost of those is 000’s of times the cost of homeopathy.

Incidentally, my doctor prescribed me medication for prostate problems, and that had no effect. By comparison, I started drinking pomegranate and blueberry juice, and the problem abated.

Thomas, I can only suggest that you click through, past the pretty stuff, and read David Reilly’s paper. He has 3 positive trials published in peer-reviewed journals.

For people who do not want to look at technical .pdfs, Reilly looks at a meta analysis of 110 positive Homoeopathy trials (yes, there are positive trials), and 110 orthodox trials. Two graphs summarising the results are displayed. They are indistinguishable. They then proceed to a smaller sample, until the Homoeopathy trials just cross the line of non-significance. This is then reported as discounting the whole shebang.

Nothing produced by humans is perfect. Even writers of meta analyses can be so influenced by their assumptions as to bias their judgments.

The key thing for me, as a scientist, is that there are 2 lines of further research open, as I have indicated above.

Thomas, I agree that this could go on forever, and it is not our main concern. We have Osbornomics to worry about, and climate change, and the equality debate.

But I hope I have shown that there is rather more to the homoeopathy debate than “It cannot work, so it does not work”, and that Caroline is not wrong in backing Homoeopathy on the NHS, provided its effectiveness is audited.

PS I love that “someone is Wrong on the internet” link.http://xkcd.com/386/
I first saw it last year, when I was debating climate change deniers.

OTOH as I’ve just discovered, back in 2006, Caroline Lucas and her Green Party colleagues made some relevant and telling observations about the NHS and Patricia Hewitt, who was then the health minister:
http://www.greenparty.org.uk/news-archive/2506.html


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Ade Bradley

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  2. Warren Morgan

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  7. Ian

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  8. Duncan Stott

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  10. Carlos

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  11. Malcolm Evison

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  12. Ollie Craig

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  13. Rosa Rubicondior

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  14. sdv_duras

    RT @sunny_hundal Why we chose to criticise @CarolineLucas over her support for Homeopathy: http://bit.ly/95ygnw (bad misjudgement of libcon

  15. sdv_duras

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  16. Elly M

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  17. Amir Rashid

    Why we chose to criticise Caroline Lucas over Homeopathy | Liberal Conspiracy http://goo.gl/SDxN I agree with each sentiment and point

  18. Ryan Bestford

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  19. saltedsnail

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  20. Dr. Matt Lodder

    " Why we chose to criticise Caroline Lucas over Homeopathy: A couple of weeks ago we published a blog post by Ada… http://bit.ly/9fj3DF "





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