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Sometimes I Actually Approve of Our Legislators
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee have just published a report in which they recommend that the NHS stop funding homeopathy forthwith, state that there is no good evidence that it works beyond the placebo effect, that enough research has been done to make this clear and no more government money should be spent on testing it, and that homeopathic concoctions must not have labelling that suggests they can cure anything.


It also accuses the Government of double standards on this issue.

Naturally, homeopaths everywhere are enraged. I like that too.

Now, if only we could stop Universities offering degree courses on woo - I'm looking at you, Thames Valley.

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An excellent result. I await the cries of outraged hippies and Germans (why Germans love homeopathy so, I cannot tell you), but in a time of restricted budgets this is an excellent step, which I hope is followed by the government.

I was asked last year to be the uNiversity rep for the Homeopathy degree.

I told them that University thanks wuld not be worth the effect on my reputation.

I agree with you on this one.

Mr FB was just gleefully filling me in on this development. We're both wondering how far the toadies in Govt will manage to go with something which will annoy Prince Charles so much. All the way, I hope, but somehow I doubt they have the balls to follow this through properly.

I have no doubt that our present Lords and Masters will do their best to ignore any parliamentary all-party committee - but it is a stick to beat them with.

"Naturally, homeopaths everywhere are enraged."

...but presumably only enraged in an extremely dilute way because as they always argue, that's the most effective...

You'll be sorry when they resort to terrorism, and sneak into the reservoir at night to poison everybody with a thimbleful of toxin.

(or would that just make everybody really, really healthy? maybe to make people ill you need a homeopathic dose of vitamins)

Oddly enough for a scientific rationalist I'm not sure... Homeopathy is woo, no question at all but I've been associated with medicine long enough to know that for a number of neurotic patients woo may be the best way of dealing with it.

Back in the thirties and forties Doctors wouldn't think twice about doling out sugar pills to the neurotics in their practice. Then along came along medical ethics and said this was wrong so,in the words of Phil Hammond "instead of lying to them we poison them." i.e. the situation is that if a patient complains of something that the doctor *knows* is really loneliness, attention seeking, general social unhappiness or whatever ad that patient is insistent that their ailment is physical he or she is now obliged to fund tests and prescribe drugs that do the patient no good at all, both of which cost the NHS serious money.

It is likely that to access the placebo effect to its full potential you require both ritual and sacrifice. In this case the ritual is taking a pill - and the Homeopaths own knowledge of the (useless) ritual preparation of the pill. We know that the prescribers own belief in a treatment affects the outcome - hence the need for double blinded trials therefore a sincere (or deluded) homoeopath may help the patient's own placebo response.

The sacrifice we usually make in the West is money. I'd actually be interested to see whether there are better results from private homoeopathy than from that received on the NHS - if the financial sacrifice made by people funding their own treatment increases their placebo response then that is a good argument for not having it funded by the NHS. OTOH the recommendation of someone in a white coat is a ritual gesture in itself so maybe it wouldn't make any difference.

Of course, Ben Goldacre has pointed out that in some studies patients have had a placebo response even when they are *told* they are taking sugar Pills so perhaps research in hat direction would be profitable...

As for Universities offering degrees in it.. I always have a complete WTF? moment when I hear about that. Like Holford teaching at a Uni. The only rational response is to bang your head against the desk. Repeatedly. (unless you can get hold of the morons who make these decisions when banging their head against a concrete block is even more rational!)

It's a difficult call.

However, all the studies show there is no difference between sugar pills and homeopathic pills - as there wouldn't be - except in the price they charge. Those prices should not be billed to the NHS (because sugar pills are cheaper) and claims to the ability to cure or treat should certainly not be allowed on the packaging because they are, quite simply, lies.

In a week where a woman (called Wu!) has been let off with a caution after selling deadly Chinese "herbal" medication to someone, whose health was seriously damaged, because Chinese Medicine is "not regulated" I believe the whole system needs an overhaul.

I agree with you that there is a problem with the ethics of the placebo effect and the current official attitude - but there are good arguments on both sides.

The placebo effect seems to occur with many people when they consult a doctor, anyway. Rather like the way my blood pressure goes up when I visit my GP...

Absolutely. In double blinded trials there is absolutely no difference whatsoever between sugar pills and homoeopathic sugar pills. That's because double blinded trials do their absolute best to neutralise or equalise the placebo effect.

However there *is* a difference in effect between someone who knows that the pill they are prescribing is physically useless and someone who sincerely believes (even if wrongly) that there is a clinical effect from the pill they prescribe.

Placebo is a funny thing. Even the colour of the pill package can make a difference to people's physical reaction to identical medication.

"Those prices should not be billed to the NHS (because sugar pills are cheaper) and claims to the ability to cure or treat should certainly not be allowed on the packaging because they are, quite simply, lies."

I do agree about the packaging. However I'm a bit more pragmatic about the price. Homoeopathy costs money - but usually *considerably* less than useless investigations and regularly prescribed unnecessary drugs - usually more than one as a couple more are often necessary to deal with the side effects caused by the first. Not to mention NHS beds clogged, scanner appointments blocked etc by physically well people who sincerely believe their psychological discomfort has an organic cause

I wouldn't argue that homoeopathy/aromatherapy/reflexology/name woo of your choice is the best way of dealing with these conditions but under the current cultural conditions and ethical values they may well be the cheapest, least damaging way of improving the quality of life of some quite unhappy people (and any GP will tell you that these patients are a significant drain on his list).

"In a week where a woman (called Wu!) has been let off with a caution after selling deadly Chinese "herbal" medication to someone, whose health was seriously damaged, because Chinese Medicine is "not regulated" I believe the whole system needs an overhaul."

I'd regard that as an argument for a body like the NHS to keep a close eye on all alternative practitioners.

When I was a nurse working on a Poisons Unit I ran across a very seriously ill patient who had been prescribed a traditional Indian fertility treatment which contain startlingly high quantities of iron. She nearly died.

At least homoeopathy hasn't actively killed anyone - and making the NHS gatekeeper for these treatments should prevent the passive deaths where the faithful neglect proper treatment for organic disease.

My latest governmental annoyance is the allowing faith schools to opt out of compulsory sec education lessons. I thought this was a Good Thing and it pisses me off that kids will get denied good information because their parents are religious idiots...

Let's try *sex* education, shall we? I cannot type...

Surely, if the ethics of the medical profession are set against deliberate use of the placebo effect, they must also be set against the many brands of woo that (a small percentage) of the professional use?

Of course useless drugs are given out all too often (and when I think of the number of antibiotics prescribed by GPs for colds and flu I get into a fine rage) but because some useless drugs are prescribed it does not mean that other useless drugs get a free ride!

The last people who should be asked as to whether anything has an effect are the patients because quite often with minor ailments they simply get better by themselves or because they imagine they feel better. This is all very well with colds or back pain, but not when they are developing heart disease or cancer or half a hundred other serious aliments whose symptoms are supposedly relieved by homeopathy or reiki or whatever. The placebo effect can only go so far!

If there was unlimited cash to fund this idiocy I might agree, but resources are too damn scarce as it is. Spend the money on drugs that might have a small chance of working instead!

Theoretically, I like woo. I like to hold all possibilities open just because it's fun to think about however that's an intellectual exercise only. In the real world, we need to stay firmly based in reality.

Homeopathy deserves as much research money as wishing on a star. Good for your legislators.

Now if ours would only get going and offer allopathy, I'd be pleased. :)

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