David ‘cash for questions’ Tredinnick is the MP who liked to buy astrology software and training on expenses. He is a keen supporter of pseudoscience and appears to be heading the charge for homeopaths to discredit the recent House of Commons Evidence Check into homeopathy.
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee Evidence Check report into homeopathy will be a reference document for years to come. I have it here in my lap. At 216 pages, it is an invaluable snapshot into, not just the evidence, but the state of thought of UK homeopaths, doctors, critics and business interests associated with the world of this strange alternative medicine.
The conclusions of the report are damning. After appraising the dozens of submissions, the MPs concluded that the theoretical basis of homeopathy was ‘scientifically implausible’, that the evidence was settled on it being a placebo, that further research would be unethical, the NHS should cease funding it, that doctors risked damaging trust by prescribing it and the MHRA licensing of homeopathy should cease.
None of this is surprising.
And the response of homeopaths to the report is not surprising either. Various lobbies are desperate to rubbish the report by misrepresenting its conclusions and slurring various participants and evidence providers.
And the homeopaths have found a friend in the absurd MP, David Tredinnick, the man who believes the government should be funding medical astrology and remote energetic healing. They have persuaded the MP to propose an Early Day Motion: a device for backbenchers to influence Commons debates.
Everything in the EDM is just plain wrong. Let’s go through it and see how:
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COMMITTEE REPORT ON HOMEOPATHY
That this House expresses concern at the conclusions of the Science and Technology Committee’s Report, Evidence Check on Homeopathy; notes that the Committee took only oral evidence from a limited number of witnesses,
Yes, there were only a limited number of witnesses. There was limited time for the hearings and the MPs appear to have selected witnesses who could give evidence most pertinent to the enquiry. We shall see how other witnesses that homeopaths might have liked were most unsuitable.
…including known critics of homeopathy Tracy Brown, the Managing Director of Sense About Science, and journalist Dr Ben Goldacre, who have no expertise in the subject;
It is quite right that on a controversial subject that the MPs should take evidence from those who can set out the accepted scientific view in a disinterested way. Sense About Science are a charity that have been exposing some of the worst excesses of homeopaths, such as their dangerous advice to travellers in malarial areas, and have written a factsheet explaining what homeopathy is. Tracy Brown was clearly very knowledgeable about the legislation surrounding homeopathic product licensing and provided a valuable counterpoint to the MHRA. Ben Goldacre has written a best selling book which discusses the nature of evidence surrounding homeopathy and he regularly lectures in the methods that drug companies and quacks use to misrepresent evidence to promote their products. To describe these people as having ‘no expertise’ is perverse.
…believes that evidence should have been heard from primary care trusts that commission homeopathy, doctors who use it in a primary care setting,
Evidence was indeed heard from a Primary Care Trust that had been commissioning homeopathic treatment. It was the only PCT that had conducted a full review for the rationale of continuing such provision and, as such, decided to cease funding. The report looks at this evidence closely and recommends that the West Kent report is provided to other PCTs that continue to make provision but have not yet had a revue. Conclusion 17 recommends that other PCTs undertake revues as a matter of urgency. That no other PCT submitted evidence is reason enough to understand why no other PCT gave oral evidence.
and other relevant organisations, such as the Society of Homeopaths, to provide balance;
The Society of Homeopaths were not asked to give oral evidence almost undoubtedly because they failed to submit any evidence in their written submission. Their submitted document contains no evidence about homeopathy. Instead it is an appeal to treat homeopathy differently and ignore standard methods of evidence. It is special pleading and utterly worthless when considering if homeopathy is effective or not. It makes them look like fools and it is no wonder they were not called as they are not a credible organisation. The Society also submitted a supplementary document that contradicts established facts about what happened when the BBC exposed them for not upholding their code of ethics.
observes that the Committee did not consider evidence from abroad from countries such as France and Germany, where provision of homeopathy is far more widespread than in the UK, or from India, where it is part of the health service;
The terms of the enquiry were quite clearly to look at the scientific evidence base that formulates government policy towards homeopathy. The policies of other countries obviously play no part. That India spends so much on this quackery and neglects its poor is not evidence of the effectiveness of homeopathy but of the negligence of that government.
regrets that the Committee ignored the 74 randomised controlled trials comparing homeopathy with placebo, of which 63 showed homeopathic treatments were effective, and that the Committee recommends no further research;
This is quite simply untrue. The committee looked at all evidence and indeed noted that there were many small trials with low statistical power that poor methodology that could easily mislead, especially if these small trials were ‘cherry picked’. The MPs stated they wished to avoid this analysis and so looked toward systematic reviews of all these trials so as to arrive at more reliable conclusions. These meta-analyses and reviews are now clear: there is no effect from homeopathy. Either David Tredinnick has not read the report or he wishes to misrepresent this most carefully argued part of the document.
further notes that 206 hon. Members signed Early Day Motion No. 1240 in support of NHS homeopathic hospitals in Session 2006-07; and calls on the Government to maintain its 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.
Indeed, many MPs have been persuaded to support NHS homeopathic provision by their constituents. However, this report is a very carefully argued and persuasive plea that such ideas actually let down patients by misleading them and diverts resources away from sick people who could better benefit. The report looks in detail at the question of patient choice and homeopathy and concludes that patient choice is actually restricted by such provision.
The Society of Homeopaths are undoubtedly behind this EDM. Their press release mirrors the arguments here and makes thoroughly disreputable suggestions about Ben Goldacre. They say he should not have been included because he was a ‘a journalist who was investigated by the Press Complaints Commission for his previous and unsubstantiated comments about homeopaths”. The fact is that the Society made a baseless and shameful complaint to the PCC when Goldacre wrote a critical article on the harms of homeopathy. This is an organisation that cannot deal with criticism.
What is striking is that the MPs condemn the homeopaths for submitting misleading appraisals of the evidence for their trade. Conclusion 13 stated that the promulgation of selective approaches to the treatment of evidence risks confusing the public and policy makers. It would look as if the Society of Homeopaths and other advocates have not taken note of this and choose to continue to attempt to mislead the members of parliament into condemning the report. The Society of Homeopaths are calling for the supporters to write to their MPs to sign this absurd EDM.
I would suggest that you write too. It will take five minutes. Weirdly, many MPs will sign an EDM if they get two letters on the same subject; such is their worry not to offend constituents. EDMs carry little real weight, but the important issue here is that people do not let the charlatans rubbish a thorough and important report before any meaningful debate can take place.
MPs may, of course, not agree with the reports conclusions. That is their job. But to blithely dismiss is as flawed and meaningless without proper appraisal would be a crime given the obvious thoroughness of its approach.
A few emails to each MP would give them pause for thought before blindly accepting the baseless accusations of the homeopaths. All you need to do is point out that David Tredinnick is wrong in what he says. He is misleading people and the report should be examined on its merits.
Please ask your MP not to sign EDM 908.
You can see if your MP has been foolish enough to sign here:
For a quick and easy way to contact your MP regarding EDM 908: