Pick ‘n’ Mix Science

A story concerning politics, science, vested interests and “selectively edited, out-of-context data” is not uncommon: recently there have been several about homeopathy.  In this case I’m referring to a Washington Post story on petitions denied by the US Environmental Protection Agency in a story which was tweeted, earlier this afternoon, by Caroline Lucas (the Green Party’s leader and sole MP).

Caroline Lucas has proved herself an interesting an intelligent politician who has developed the Green Part in the UK into a far more credible political force than might have been imaginable a few years ago.  She has speaks well crucially not just on affairs environmental but also on affairs economic, international and judicial.  I haven’t heard her speak on health, but that’s probably because I missed it. As their sole MP, Ms Lucas is effectively their spokesman on everything and she does it well. The Green Party in the past have been vulnerable to claims that they are a single issue pressure group, and that they have an axe to grind on that issue.  By demonstrating a breadth of expertise, and by providing solid, evidence based arguments for her case, Ms Lucas has been an effective debater both during and after the election.

On Thursday she tweeted that she had signed David Tredinnick’s Early Day Motion calling for NHS Trusts to be able to pay for homeopathic “treatments”. This strikes me as a dangerous position for such a progressive Green politician to take.  Given the attacks on climate change science from the “sceptics” and the UEA email scandal, associating herself with an anti-science agenda like this seems to both to undermine her scientific credibility and promote the perception that she is pandering to a “new age” lobby in her constituency.  While she is trying to make the issue local choice, the fact that she will not give her position on homeopathy does not help (this is precarious fence-sitting).

What is perhaps even more sad is that this does a disservice to those who believe that such arguments should be decided by having a better informed evidence-based debate.  When he received his honorary  fellowship here in Cardiff, Stephen Fry spoke of the values of the enlightenment being under attack from many sides. Those who believe in the value of evidence, science and knowledge cannot afford to indulge themselves.  You cannot pick and mix with science or selectively choose the evidence to confirm your prejudice.  It goes wherever it goes, and if we are interested in the truth then that is where we must follow.

About Simon Wood

E-learning officer, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more...

18 thoughts on “Pick ‘n’ Mix Science

  1. Hmmm…I’m not at all happy with her position on homeopathy and I feel a bit let down. If I lived in her constituency, rather than next door, I’d ask her about this.

      1. Homeopathy: Her website doesn’t make it obvious how to contact her if you’re not a constituent so I clicked the contact link to send a message to Green Party HQ. An automated holding reply has come back with a link to their policy page. I didn’t read it all, but a search for “homeopathy” on the Health page draws a blank.

        The Chronicles of Tarquin: The thing about having an unusual name (I’ve never met another) is that any reference to it feels like someone’s talking about me. I comfort myself with the knowledge that I’m not a tumor. I can tell because at no time have I been subject to uncontrolled growth.

        1. I believe their manifesto has support for complementary therapies “that work” although in this Q&A a spokesman responded to @ProfBrianCox that “our policy is that any medicine or treatment available on the NHS should be backed up by scientific evidence.” Given that she is the party leader, I don’t think it’s inappropriate for anyone in any ward or constituency where a candidate is standing to ask these questions!

          Uncontrolled growth 😀 😀 😀

        2. I believe their manifesto has support for complementary therapies “that work” although in this Q&A a spokesman responded to @ProfBrianCox that “our policy is that any medicine or treatment available on the NHS should be backed up by scientific evidence.” Given that she is the party leader, I don’t think it’s inappropriate for anyone in any ward or constituency where a candidate is standing to ask these questions!

          Uncontrolled growth 😀 😀 😀

      2. Homeopathy: Her website doesn’t make it obvious how to contact her if you’re not a constituent so I clicked the contact link to send a message to Green Party HQ. An automated holding reply has come back with a link to their policy page. I didn’t read it all, but a search for “homeopathy” on the Health page draws a blank.

        The Chronicles of Tarquin: The thing about having an unusual name (I’ve never met another) is that any reference to it feels like someone’s talking about me. I comfort myself with the knowledge that I’m not a tumor. I can tell because at no time have I been subject to uncontrolled growth.

  2. Hmmm…I’m not at all happy with her position on homeopathy and I feel a bit let down. If I lived in her constituency, rather than next door, I’d ask her about this.

      1. Homeopathy: Her website doesn’t make it obvious how to contact her if you’re not a constituent so I clicked the contact link to send a message to Green Party HQ. An automated holding reply has come back with a link to their policy page. I didn’t read it all, but a search for “homeopathy” on the Health page draws a blank.

        The Chronicles of Tarquin: The thing about having an unusual name (I’ve never met another) is that any reference to it feels like someone’s talking about me. I comfort myself with the knowledge that I’m not a tumor. I can tell because at no time have I been subject to uncontrolled growth.

        1. I believe their manifesto has support for complementary therapies “that work” although in this Q&A a spokesman responded to @ProfBrianCox that “our policy is that any medicine or treatment available on the NHS should be backed up by scientific evidence.” Given that she is the party leader, I don’t think it’s inappropriate for anyone in any ward or constituency where a candidate is standing to ask these questions!

          Uncontrolled growth 😀 😀 😀

  3. I had a reply from Caroline Lucas today:

    Thank you for your email and letting me know your concerns. I am sorry for not writing back sooner but I have o prioritise correspondence from constituents.

    My position has always been that decisions about what treatments are available on the NHS must be based on the cost effectiveness of the treatment. The role of politicians is to ensure that there is a rigorous and transparent framework for how cost effectiveness is defined and decisions taken.

    I think that homeopathy ought to be treated on a level playing field with other treatments. If it meets the burden of evidence that is required to demonstrate effectiveness and that its effect benefits the patient in a cost effective way then it should be available. NICE is the appropriate body to make these decisions.

    In relation to the British Medical Association debating homeopathy at its recent conference, I am concerned that a body with its own vested interests is trying to influence decision making in this way – which is why I signed EDM 284. It is not stating that homeopathy is or isn’t backed up by scientific evidence, rather it is making the case that the BMA should not be overstepping its remit.

    Thank you for getting in touch and I hope that gives you some insight into my position.

    1. EDM 284 refers to “tens of thousands of patients who depend on homeopathy”. I think Caroline Lucas is being somewhat disingenuous in claiming that in signing the motion all she is supporting is a level playing field. There is very clearly a huge political benefit to her in appearing to support homeopathy, and whilst she is paying lip-service to the concept of evidence-based medicine her claim that signing Treddinick’s motion is consistent with this is really rather ludicrous.

      The motion calls for no change to the “policy of allowing decision-making on individual clinical interventions, including homeopathy, to remain in the hands of local NHS service providers and practitioners who are best placed to know their community’s needs.” It does not mention NICE.

      And what does “burden of evidence” mean here? Does she, in fact, mean burden of proof, having failed to understand the difference, or is this an attempt to lower the barrier…?

      The EDM also criticises the BMA for exceeding its remit by failing to properly consult (despite the fact that the motion was passed by its membership). Caroline Lucas is simply claiming it is beyond the BMA’s remit altogether, and that the motion is simply critical of the BMA and neutral on homeopathy.

      The most insidious thing about this letter is the reference to the BMAs “own vested interests”. The implication here is that, rather than it being a valid and legitimate act for a professional body to (in the words of Julian Huppert’s amendment) “express its views about the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of any putative health treatment and the appropriateness of the NHS commissioning such treatments” that instead the BMA and its membership are incapable of evaluating the evidence without becoming susceptible to mysterious and malign forces.

      I am really quite annoyed. My level of respect has dropped further.

  4. Yes, it’s rather depressing. I wonder whether I can get the NHS to pay for a daily fruit smoothie on the basis that it’s as effective as a placebo in combating whatever’s wrong with me.

    (What IS wrong with me, by the way?)

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