Caroline Lucas’s first mistake
There is a lot riding on Caroline Lucas, our first Green Party MP. Greens want to prove that there is more to them then recycling, that they can provide a comprehensive programme of reform, and that they are not a bunch of loony, lentil-wearing wizards or worse – middle-class, stoners who refuse to shop in supermarkets (apart from Waitrose).
Fortunately, in Caroline Lucas we have an intelligent, articulate, and passionate representative who has already impressed people outwith the party with her statements on Trafigura and the Ian Tomlinson case.
So why, oh why, did she have to wander into the area of science policy and back the wrong side?
As described in a previous post, homeopathy is nothing more than a marketing strategy from a multi-billion pound pill industry. Clinical trials repeatedly affirm that it performs no better than placebo and yet it gets NHS funding above, for example, prescribing ice-cream when you’ve split from a relationship, or chocolate cake when you’ve got period pains.
So what did Lucas actually do?
The British Medical Association debated the following motion at their Annual Representative Meeting (ARM):
That this Meeting believes that, in the absence of valid scientific evidence of benefit:
(i) there should be no further commissioning of, nor funding for, homeopathic remedies or homeopathic hospitals in the NHS;
(ii) no UK training post should include a placement in homeopathy;
(iii) pharmacists and chemists should remove homeopathic remedies from shelves indicating they are ‘medicines’ of any description, and place them on shelves clearly labelled ‘placebos’.
David Tredinnick MP put down an Early Day Motion in Westminster saying that the BMA had “has overstepped its remit by making such statements without proper consultation with its own membership”. Lucas signed this EDM.
Lucas then seemed to ‘justify’ this signing with the tweet:
EDM is about lack of BMA’s consultation & argues that local NHS better placed to know patient needs, based on objective clinical assessment
The BMA ARM subsequently voted and passed the motion prompting another EDM from Tredinnick condemning the move. Lucas has not signed this one.
So what’s the big deal?
Firstly, it is disingenuous to say the BMA lacked consultation. They set their policy like most other membership organisations – motions are submitted, debated at the ARM and voted on. This is how Green Party policy is made, and a variation on this for all the other parties. Neither political parties nor membership organisations consult their entire membership on each of their policies – that would be far too cumbersome and unworkable.
Secondly, Tredinnick is a famous supporter of frankly bizarre medical faiths including ‘medical astrology’ as well as homeopathy. Again, his accusation of ‘lack of consultation’ is tactical not genuine. He seems to believe that if health policy is set at a local level, homeopathy will get a look in thanks to local campaigns far from the critical eye of regulation. This is a foolish assumption as the grass-roots campaign 10:23 against homeopathy demonstrates; nerds campaign locally too!
But what is most worrying is that signing an EDM like this is a sop to the complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) wing of the Green Party. EDMs are pretty pointless in themselves, but they are helpful for gauging the opinions of back-benchers, identifying who your friends are as a campaigner and a quick an easy way for MPs to be seen to be doing something while they concentrate actual time and energy elsewhere.
I sincerely hope that Lucas values the principle of evidence-based clinical decisions in the delivery of health services and licensing of drugs. If signing this EDM is a way of appeasing the CAM followers in the Party then, although I understand that decision politically, I don’t really respect it.
The Green Party has to appeal to more than its base to progress and one of the things that puts off non-Green voters is seeing the Party as full of woolly thinking. The ‘skeptics’ and science nerds who are the most vociferous in criticising the Green Party’s science policies are so vociferous, I believe, because they WANT to vote Green, they are more aware than most about the science of climate change and are generally left-leaning (OK, I might get shot down on that assertion!).
Lucas is only one MP and I don’t think she should take on NHS drug licensing as an issue. However she should also stay away from those issues that will alienate potential supporters and win her no new friends. Here’s my tip Caroline: Do not touch anything involving Tredinnick with a 50 metre bargepole.
Homeopathic remedies are made by corporates who use marketing to peddle non-evidence based crud. The BMA is a professional organisation and trade union not a corporate.
I always have and always will trust Caroline to do the right thing. Homeopathic medicine is an alternative medicine to pharmaceutical drugs and it is a matter of personal choice for the patient. Homeopathy should receive the same funding as ‘conventional’ pharmaceutical drugs and it is clear that the BMA is adopting a Big Brother attitude, so typical in this day and age of the misuse of corporate power.
No it isn’t.
Evidence of homeopathy is undeniably positive and consistent. It’s a human evidence of experience, gathered from a real-world observation in a real-world setting (not in an ideal artificial laboratory) giving real-world solutions.
The simplest question here is, if we are happy to promote anti-science in medicine, why not promote it in carbon-reduction?
We use science as if we cared about it when we talk about carbon. Then we discard it when want people to have the choice of getting snake oil on the NHS.
These are people in league with people promoting vitamin cures for AIDS. And the idea that this is a big pharma conspiracy is as credible as the scientific conspiracy to promote global warming as a way of collecting stealth taxes, or the one about the kosher Lizards controlling our economy.
Choice… For goodness, sake. When I go to the hospital, I don’t want to be given a choice. I’m not a doctor. I want the treatment that will make me better.
Ben Goldacre has said that the patient-practitioner relationship between a homeopath and his client, may be beneficial. But it’s the person not the pretend medicine…
Then we hear lovely stories about how (life-saving) anti-depressants don’t work. The flip-side is that obviously if those anti-depressants were given by a homeopath they would work (assuming the drugs are ineffective and don;t have a negative impact).
Point being the science doesn’t seem to matter unless it shows SSRIs are bad, and sugar water (bounced against a leather covered piece of wood) is good.
Because these are not science advocates, or in fact wellness advocates, but advocates of a particularly cranky fairytale drug industry.
The fact remains, if ‘alternative medicine’ worked, it would be called ‘medicine’.
Oh, and preventive health too. About 1/5th of NHS spending is down to treating ill-health caused by non-green policies – unemployment, poor housing, pollution and poverty. Maybe more if social disintegration were counted.
I am not proposing that the solution to corporatised medicine is to give everyone homoeopathy. One pathway to undermining them is
(a) to understand the financial bias that is pushing medics to prescribing expensive patented
(b) to find out whether promising lines of CAM are in fact more cost – effective. I am thinking of acupuncture, magnetotherapy, some herbs (not “herbalism” as a whole entity), clinical ecology (=food intolerance, indoor air quality &c), acupuncture, and certain forms of psychotherapy, (hypnosis for PTSD, Cutting the Ties to deal with toxic relationships), food supplements like glucosamine, and homoeopathy.
All of these lines I incorporated into my practice, and I had low prescribing costs. All have a poor evidence base, because of the economic problem associated with research that I have set out. It is up to the Government, through the MRC, to assess these treatment modalities.
On homoeopathy, the key point, as comedians and scientists never tire of pointing out, is that there is no *material* apart from sugar in the pills. If matter is the only effective agent, H cannot work, therefore it does not work, therefore studies that show it does work are erroneous. QED.
However, as I link on my blog, there is some evidence from physical experiments that ultra high dilutions, if prepared in a certain way, may retain unexpected properties. If this can be extablished, homoeopathy could be re-examined more objectively, with less examiner bias.
Its a small point, this Homoeopathy debate, and I think Caroline is doing the right thing, especially if she calls for an audit of homoeopathic practice in the NHS.
Now, let’s all get going on the Resistance to the Cuts. http://bit.ly/deApQe
Sorry Naomi – just realised how that might read.
My comments about the comfort zone are about the response to your blog – not the blog itself!
26 comments posted in response to this blog about homeopathy (so far).
Compare that to the relatively small handfuls of comments posted in response to some of the other excellent blogs on here which are atleast attempting to stimulate similar debate around wider policies and move the Green party forward.
As an ‘undecided’ about whether I can back the Greens as a serious political party, this sort of thing does not fill me with confidence.
Naomi – an excellent blog that has obviously stimulated good debate, but me thinks Peter’s previous blog on the ‘comfort zone’ seems quite appropriate here!…
Sort it out chaps.
Yes, I agree with all of those problems of corporatised medicine. I don’t understand why that means we should say the solution to them is giving people water and sugar pills instead. Instead, how about we campaign to reclaim research, and take pharmaceuticals into democratic control?
Ok, how about we move the debate onto, for example, documented psychic phenomena that we know are real, but can’t explain yet. (The boundary keeps moving back… as human consciousness raises)
the work of Rupert Sheldrake say…
the currently scientifically misunderstood
faith v science
Come on guys, can’t you spot a whipped up Daily Hate Mail campaign started by big pharma when it drugs your senses…
We are being invited to be anti-homeopathy by big business interest… as plain as the nose on my face
Some of us are being manipulated here…
Also Caroline is not the only leader to back the principle of choice here… couldn’t we slag them off… instead of silly infighting?
Or perhaps Greens don’t want to be a credible force for good, but each prefer to be ‘right’ and argue amongst themselves over trivia.
Yes. I’m mad as hell. We got work to do and a more ‘homeopathic’ style approach to dealing with the challenges ahead would teach us a lot. The philosophy behind homeopathy is faultless. You don’t cure a problem by fighting against it.
So.. actually… good debate everyone… keep your interesting views and prejudices about homeopathy coming, and remember where you heard it first… :o)
Vit C (a)is not cheap as sold by Roche in capsules, which are probably the best way of taking it, as large doses otherwise wash out of the blood,
(b) is not a placebo; there is evidence that is useful in treating common viral illnesses (just try it)
(c) homoeopathic meds are very cheap, and H docs have low prescribing costs, and
(d) see my blog, updated with some more info.
(e)I’ll wager that the stock market values of homeopathic suppliers are tiny compared to Big Pharma, who have been fighting on a wide front to discredit various forms of CAM in recent years.
(f) scientific evidence costs a lot to collect, which biases medical research towards synthetic drugs (R&D costs recouped through patents), which in turn biases the NHS towards expensive new meds that it cannot afford, while depriving it of non-patent approaches that it could afford. F’rinstance, if I produce magnetic bracelets and spend £100k on an RCT, demonstrating efficacy, my competitor can step in and produce a cheaper magnet because he hasn’t had the outlay on the research. As a rule it is impossible to patent CAM.
There is an economic aspect to science and medicine, and this can provide its own bias.
There is a case for continuing Homoeopathy in the NHS, collecting evidence of whether it is cost effective as a clinical discipline.
Natalie – I must confess that it isn’t exactly why I got involved in politics. But it is an interesting phenomenon, and if we are going to pay for NHS placebos, I’d rather we went for something cheap, like vitamin c.
It is not something I feel strongly about, but I do support Caroline’s decision on this.
In the debate on Liberal Conspiracy on this issue there was a telling exchange: someone dismissed homeopathy as the perfect exercise of the placebo effect, and a defender pointed out that was an excellent argument for it.
The placebo effect is very powerful – drug companies often complain how hard it is to get drugs beyond the hurdle of “better than placebo” – and I’m confident that if you were able to test homeopathy against existing drug treatments for some conditions, it would do at least as well, if not better, and with the added advantage of doing no harm. (But who would fund it, certainly not the drug companies?)
And doing homeopathy within the NHS should ensure (as much as for any other treatment) that people who require other more aggressive treatments, e.g. for cancer, are getting them.
So you don’t have to “believe” in homeopathy (which I don’t) to see some sense in it.
I find this entire thread of replies quite disturbing, frankly.
Caroline is not infallible, and I’m 100% certain she would find somewhat amusing those commentators who seem to think that she is. Also, a healthy party has to allow criticism of its leadership, or it’s not worth being a member of.
These are fairly basic principles, surely?
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
For me, homeopathy is interesting because it is the untimate example of the evil genius of capitalism: mega corporations realise that they don’t need to actually help cure diseases. They just need a good enough brand, and to know their audience, and they are onto a winner.
The problem with medical patenting is that the state pays for research, then private companies get the patents, and push the prices up.
With homeopathy, they don’t bother with the pesky negotiations with universities over research – they just privatise the whole lot – And they have found a niche to whom they can sell water/sugar pills, with a carefully developed brand, and market themselves as ‘alternatives’ to all those other big companies. The truth is that we need a medical system where, like academic research, production is also democratised.
Why is it that people who claim to be on the left hold such ludicrous opinions when the corporations perpetrating lies and abuse market themselves as alternative?
Yes, the statistical evidence on Hmpthy is not good. However H physicians have a good reputation as physicians, and my compromise proposal is an audit of NHS H physicians, and an analysis of the cost effectiveness of their practice. Then we could make a decision based on this evidence. PS the link on my blog to David Reilly is worthwhile – he has a positive RCT on one remedy.
I completely disagree with Caroline Lucas on this, but since I agree with her nearly all the time it is not even close to being a deal breaker for me. I am a green party member but I don’t expect to agree with every policy of the party.
I believe that party policy like science should be evidence based and this is mostly the case for the greens.
I think the most damaging part of this will be how her position on Homeopathy will be held against her in relation to other issues, specifically climate change. I can already imagine the Radio 4 Today program interview or some snide remark from Peiser, Lawson or Monckton using this to discredit her and what she has to say.
@Steve – go and join another party then mate – they could do with your ‘support’
I’m pretty sure Steve is a member of another party. And I’m pretty sure we do campaign against the fighting of wars we don’t believe in.
I really don’t understand why people keep bringing up that there are ‘more important’ issues we should be debating. It’s not like we spend our whole time talking about homeopathy. I’d rather we didn’t talk about it at all, but Caroline brought it up when she signed that EDM. Why don’t you tell her to stop wasting her time on it?
And if we must bring Big Oil and Monckton and so on into the debate, you know what? they’re probably really keen that we promote homeopathy. Because promoting nonsense conspiracy theories and arguing that the scientific evidence is no better than your anecdotes are exactly the tactics used against us when we want to argue that we need to take action on climate change. This actually isn’t an irrelevant issue. It goes to the heart of how we see science and evidence and how we set policy. It undermines our credibility on every other policy to support treatments like homeopathy.
@Mike. If people want to fight phoney wars don’t make me pay for them… oh.. i do?!
I wish this were Caroline’s first mistake. From her maiden speech onwards she has marginalised herself. A woeful misunderstanding of even basic economic principles (do the sums on the Green Party manifesto and you’ll see what I mean) taints everything she says regarding the cuts and, well, anything at all to do with the economy really.
When elected she had a wonderful opportunity to be a strong voice in parliament for the environment, relying (one would assume) on scientific data to support her arguments. She could easily have been given a role as a special advisor without having to formally join the coalition, or even support any of the government’s policies. Instead she marginalised herself from the outset.
I believe she has done immeasurable damage to her own reputation, and that of her party – at least among those who really pay attention beyond the headlines – this homeopathy farce is just another nail in the coffin… and that’s a real shame.
If people want to be lied to, let them be lied to. Just don’t make me pay for it.
I have anecdotal evidence ice cream is not good for me thanks – via my waistline.
To be fair – it’s only anecdotal by the time it reaches you – for me it was direct first hand personal and entirely positive. You are free to know better.
If Caroline didn’t know what she was doing, then she wouldn’t be Caroline, so I wouldn’t support her.
Hope that helps.
Oh and while we debate this – the real villains are probably getting on with what they do laughing…
Is uninformed debate about homeopathy really the best use of our time right now?
PS When Caroline starts to make a mistake on the same scale as, for example, Nick Clegg, then I think it would be appropriate for ‘bright greens’ to pick her up on it… until then… :o)
Go Caroline – you are a such a breath of clear fresh air – even within the green party!
Dave, I like anecdotal evidence too.
Almost every time I eat Ice Cream I feel better. Why is the NHS not paying for this treatment?
p.s are you saying you’d support Caroline if she didn’t know what she was doing?
Yes… good for Caroline, as ever.
I suspect she knows exactly what she is doing (and I’d support her anyway.)
As it happens I have recently been seeing a homeopath: this has proved helpful for me, at very low cost: completely beneficial. Unlike 7 years of expensive NHS pharma prescription.
I agree with Derek.
Ah, “choice”. The concept which is currently privatising and dismantling the NHS in England. If people want homeopathy, they can buy it.
Plus, let’s not be naive. Homeopathy is a multi-billion dollar industry just like “big, bad Pharma”. This crap is not being made in a cottage by cosy white witches.
Derek, people have the choice. But the NHS shouldn’t fund treatments with no clinical evidence to support them. That’s Green Party policy. That should be the end of it.
We also have good policy on patents and other aspects of healthcare to address you concerns, which have nothing to do with homeopathy.
Er, hardly “condemning” EDMs. I just think they’re generally pointless. Have a look at how many there are and how many people sign them.
And I think homeopathy is important in principle. If you undermine the principle of only licensing effective drug treatments on the NHS, you open it up to further pharmaceutical abuse.
Plus in general, I have a problem with people being lied to. As blogger Andy Lewis said, homeopathy is “an act after being misled”.
That’s all very well, Derek, but who’s going to pay for my Ice Cream, Chocolate Cake, and Scientology Auditing sessions?
Good for Caroline, if people want homeopathy they should have the choice, this is all cooked up I suspect by big pharmaceutical companies. Via patents they make massive profits and are killing the NHS, this is much much more expensive than homeopathy.
@Derek There’s certainly a good case for reforming intellectual property law and looking at how we fund medical research and drug development. But what’s any of that got to do with signing pointless motions proposed by a man who clearly believes in magic?
I am not keen on homeopaty, but no need to go overboard against it. Dr Richard Lawson has written http://greenerblog.blogspot.com/2010/08/bma-homoeopathy-homeopathy-debate.html
EDMs could be useful for other things, it depends how much support they get. Condeming them is a bit like condeming all protests, they may start small but they can grow.