MP David Tredinnick last night spoke in Parliament about homeopathy. The last time I can recall this happening, Mr Tredinnick was answered by Roger Marris. Mr Marris pointed to the lack of evidence for homeopathy and was then quoted in the Guardian as follows:
Sometimes their dilutions are so weak that the medicine contains not a single molecule of the active ingredient, though it’s alleged that the water “holds its memory”. Mr Marris asked scornfully, “we use a lot of recycled water – why does it not have a memory of the faeces that have been in it, and make us all sick?”
Dawn Primarolo claimed that the Government was looking at the cost effectiveness of many treatments, including alternative medicines, but Evan Harris wasn’t going to let that go:
So Dr Evan Harris, a Lib Dem, was just as contemptuous. “If the effectiveness is zero,” he pointed out, his lip curling, “there can be no cost-effectiveness.” Ms Primarolo repeated her earlier answer. She is a great believer in repeat prescriptions.
Dr Harris must not have been in the House of Commons last night – if he were, then he surely would not have let this go unchallenged: homeopathy does not fit normal methods of assessment*. Tredinnick actually said that “the scale of prescribing is in reverse so that the weaker the dose, the more powerful or effective it is. That subject has always been hotly disputed by many doctors, but homeopathic treatments have been operating on the reverse scale of prescribing for 200 years. Some of the most powerful-the constitutional remedies-are so diluted that they can hardly be detected. There are similar problems with acupuncture and its acceptance, as some doctors and commissioners do not necessarily believe in meridians. The same issue occurs with herbs that are unknown in this country.” Firstly, Tredinnick is comparing alternative remedies (homeopathy with acupuncture and herbalism) that have nothing in common. Secondly, he has introduced another canard – that meridians have something to do with the effects of acupuncture. See here for why meridians don’t matter: http://dcscience.net/?p=166. Thirdly, if dilution increased potency then tramps would drink Skol.
Tredinnick also stated that “the Royal London Homeopathic hospital has conducted more than 130 randomised and controlled trials of homeopathic treatments that show very effective results”. Ben Goldacre’s article in the Guardian “A Kind of Magic?” points out that:
there are some individual trials where homeopathy does better, first because there are a lot of trials that are simply not “fair tests”. For example – and I’m giving you the most basic examples here – there are many trials in alternative therapy journals where the patients were not “blinded”: that is, the patients knew whether they were getting the real treatment or the placebo. These are much more likely to be positive in favour of your therapy, for obvious reasons. There is no point in doing a trial if it is not a fair test: it ceases to be a trial, and simply becomes a marketing ritual.
I have used another quote from Dr Goldacre’s article below, but – to be honest – you really should read the article for yourself.
when doctors say that a trial is weak, and poor quality, it’s not because they want to maintain the hegemony, or because they work for “the man”: it’s because a poor trial is simply not a fair test of a treatment. And it’s not cheaper to do a trial badly, it’s just stupid, or, of course, conniving, since unfair tests will give false positives in favour of homeopathy.
Disgustingly, it gets worse: Tredinnick decides to bring up homeopathic remedies for AIDS and malaria. Website whatstheharm.net refers to a “report [that] found 5 women who used a homeopathic preventative instead of conventional medicine prior to a trip to Africa. On return, all five had malaria.” Click here for more on homeopathy and harm. Tredinnick takes seriously a letter from a homeopath (a homeopath who claims to have introduced Homeopathy to Swaziland!), which states that homeopathic treatments have achieved success rates of close to 100 per cent. This is worrying indeed – a Member of Parliament genuinely believes that homeopathy can achieve a 100% success rate? We really should fear for the state of our country if Tredinnick is representative of MPs. Worse – Tredinnick seems to be advocating homeopathy for AIDS and Malaria. This is quackery at its worst and vulnerable people are being taken in by pseudo-medical bullshit spouted by not just homeopaths but also politicians. This isn’t just about whether people with self-limiting conditions feel better after taking some kind of placebo – it’s about people dying because they thought a ‘remedy’ containing no trace of active ingredient could prevent malaria or cure AIDS. Anyone who contributes to that situation should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.
Hat tip: Thanks to Andy Lewis of Quackometer fame for bringing this to my attention.
Other posts dealing with this speech: Gimpy gives us David Tredinnick misleads parliament and offers staggeringly dimwitted endorsements (Note: Gimpy has now updated his post to include google cache links to the Quackometer posts on AIDS / Malaria quackery) and Ben G has written about Tredinnick’s Magnificent Torrent of Canards.
*This is simply untrue and is an example of the truly muddled thinking of homeopathy supporters. Tredinnick seems to be saying that homeopathy cannot be tested by orthodox methods (e.g., double-blind trials). Ben Goldacre’s article (‘A Kind of Magic?‘) actually details the kind of trial that could be run and points out that:
this trial has been done, time and time again, with homeopathy, and when you do a trial like this, you find, overall, that the people getting the placebo sugar pills do just as well as those getting the real, posh, expensive, technical, magical homeopathy pills.
So the Bosworth MP David Tredinnick is simply repeating canards that were debunked in a Guardian article last November. Idiot.