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Jul 17 2013

Department of Completely Unqualified Politicians Given Responsibilities for Which They Are Ill-Equipped

The UK Health Secretary, the man in charge of the National Health Service, is a fellow named Jeremy Hunt. He believes in homeopathy. Here is an excerpt from a letter he wrote to a constituent, defending homeopathy.

I understand that it is your view that homeopathy is not effective, and therefore that people should not be encouraged to use it as a treatment. However I am afraid that I have to disagree with you on this issue. Homeopathic care is enormously valued by thousands of people and in an NHS that the Government repeatedly tells us is "patient-led" it ought to be available where a doctor and patient believe that a homeopathic treatment may be of benefit to the patient.

Santa Claus is enormously valued by millions of young people, so I guess we ought to start subsidizing him. I believe that a vacation in the Bahamas would be of benefit to my heart condition, therefore my insurance ought to pay for it.

Notice that his response to an argument that the evidence shows that homeopathy doesn’t work is to rely on the subjective claim that people “value” or “believe” in this quackery. Belief should not be enough — it should not be prioritized over empirical evidence.

Oh, well, schadenfreude to the rescue. Ha ha you Brits, maybe your health care will be as sucky as ours soon enough.

105 comments

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  1. 1
    Glen Davidson

    Homeopathic care is enormously valued by thousands of people and in an NHS that the Government repeatedly tells us is “patient-led” it ought to be available where a doctor and patient believe that a homeopathic treatment may be of benefit to the patient.

    But especially where it may be of benefit to the quack.

    Glen Davidson

  2. 2
    fernando

    I understand that it is your view that witchcraft is not effective, and therefore that people should not be encouraged to use it as a treatment. However I am afraid that I have to disagree with you on this issue. Witchcraft care is enormously valued by thousands of people and in an NHS that the Government repeatedly tells us is “patient-led” it ought to be available where a witch and patient believe that a witchcraft treatment may be of benefit to the patient.

    There.

  3. 3
    Menyambal

    The words “believe”, “may” and “of benefit”, add up to a whole lot of nothing.

  4. 4
    Blondin

    Yeah, we have one of them, too.

  5. 5
    Louis

    We are trying to roll back our NHS to make it more like the worst of the American system. And by “we” I mean our politicians who see glittering prizes in “protecting” our NHS by engaging in predatory public/private partnerships and privatising it by the back door.

    Louis

    P.S. There are SO MANY positive things we could emulate from America. Why, WHY do we have to emulate the worst bits?

  6. 6
    René

    A googolplex of WTFs.

  7. 7
    Nichelle

    The title of this blog post sounds like the title of a Monty Python skit. I approve.

  8. 8
    Irmin

    To be fair, it’s not only the UK and the US.

    In Germany, regulations on medicine state each has to show its efficacy in empirical studies. Homoeopathic “medicine” is explicitly exempt from these regulations. Go figure. Furthermore, health insurance companies will pay for homoeopathic “medicine” if it is prescribed.

    Ah yes, and in the state of North-Rhine Westphalia we have a Health minister who also believes in homoeopathy and similar magic stuff. She said about one and a half years ago that she wants to have “more homoeopathy” in medicine and people should be able to study it at universities. So we’re probably in this together.

  9. 9
    Inaji

    Louis:

    Why, WHY do we have to emulate the worst bits?

    Because the worst bits enable the 1% and help them to continue trampling all over the backs of the 99%.

  10. 10
    Nelson Cunnington

    Unfortunately, this is about par for the course for this government: the education minister doesn’t know anything about education, the chancellor of the exchequer couldn’t manage a shop till, the minister for work and pensions is continuing to beat the unemployed until morale improves, and the prime minister was born into money and married into even more money so clearly knows from experience how to manage a failing economy during a worldwide economic meltdown.

  11. 11
    Jessie

    Sadly, the opposition won’t be any better. Our NHS is being sold off and the media ignores it. The level of propaganda in the UK to support the interests of the ruling class is alarming.

  12. 12
    blf

    India has these fruitcakes as well: “Chhattisgarh government [has decided to] distribute homeopathic medicine … for prevention of malaria …
    The government is even prepared to bear the entire cost of medicine and its distribution …”

  13. 13
    moarscienceplz

    I believe that large quantities of gold kept near my body will ward off many ill effects, especially sleeplessness caused by worry that I might not be able to pay all my bills. Therefore, please provide me with 100 Krugerrands, or an equivalent amount of gold at your earliest convenience. Thank you.

  14. 14
    twas brillig (stevem)

    The only “value” I see in “homeopathic care” (from what I’ve heard) is that homeopaths listen and talk to their patients. They don’t just tap you here and there and write out a Rx. What used to be known as “bedside manner” is vitally important to “caregiving”. Seems that homeopathic “medicine” is a placebo by definition. So “good homeopathy” is hard evidence that “bedside manner” is vitally important and should be strongly encouraged in “conventional” MD’s.

  15. 15
    bhebing

    This might be a definition thing, but homeopathy in the netherlands is mostly about natural medicine. It’s about herbs and poultices and the like. It’s never about diluted medicine. As far as I know (which is probably not far concerning quackery) there are no claims about diluted medicine that actually works.

    This is quite a difference with the US and UK. Because of that I am not really against homeopathic medicine. Distilled drugs would probably work beter, but there is actually some working agent in these homeopathic drugs.

    Is there something I missed or is this a correct assessment about national differences?

  16. 16
    LykeX

    Hypothetically, if I thought that eating the heart of my neighbor would cure my illness, should a “patient-led” health care system be required to procure said heart for me?

    Is there no room for, you know, actual facts in a patient-led system?

  17. 17
    gedwarren

    This man is in charge of a £110 Billion budget. OMG! OMG!

  18. 18
    twas brillig (stevem)

    re myself @14:

    That’s reads like I’m defending “homeopathy”. NO, not at all. Just encouraging MD’s to care for their patients, don’t just treat them, respect them, etc. You’ll probably get better results. All claims of homeopathy “drugs” are pure nonsense. Any “positives” they list are just placebo results, the “drug” itself is totally ineffective. (truly homeopathic “drugs” are, by definition, pure water.) Any deviation from “placebo effect” in any trials of homeopathy vs conventional is due to the attitude and behavior of the homeopathicist vs the conventionalist. Such a difference has been demonstrated in conventional vs conventional with only ‘bedside manner’ being different.
    Read Respectful Insolence by our dear friend Dr. Orac to learn about homeopathy.

  19. 19
    Olav

    Bhebing #15:

    This might be a definition thing, but homeopathy in the netherlands is mostly about natural medicine.

    No, it’s not. But it is true that there is a lot of confusion. A lot of ill-informed people think homeopathy is “natural medicine”. It is a kind of confusion that the quacks like to encourage.

  20. 20
    blf

    I believe that throwing politicians to hungry lions will treat depression, rage, and helplessness in the audience (and others who hear about the feast), but will also encourage people to vote. Furthermore, the lions like it, and it opens up new career paths for the temporarily-uneaten politicians. The (small) admission fee will help reduce the deficit, and the events will clearly be a boost to the local economy. The resultant poo, after careful processing (more jobs!), is an inexpensive but excellent fertilizer (cheaper food!), and has both export and domestic markets. Televised feasts will attract visitors, further boosting the economy.

  21. 21
    LykeX

    Furthermore, the lions like it…

    So, it also helps an endangered species.

  22. 22
    Kevin Anthoney

    #8

    In Germany, regulations on medicine state each has to show its efficacy in empirical studies. Homoeopathic “medicine” is explicitly exempt from these regulations. Go figure. Furthermore, health insurance companies will pay for homoeopathic “medicine” if it is prescribed.

    It probably helps the insurance companies to know who the gullible idiots are so they can hike the premiums.

  23. 23
    cartomancer

    This is the same Jeremy Hunt who, as Culture Secretary in 2011, tried his damnedest to hurry through the Newscorp takeover of BSkyB and thereby give Rupert Murdoch a virtual monopoly on UK satellite broadcasting. His office was soon discovered to be thick as thieves with prominent Murdoch lobbyists, leading to calls for Hunt’s resignation (from the Labour Party opposition), but it was only the fortuitous revelation of quite how nauseatingly unethically Murdoch’s newspapers had behaved in tapping the phones of celebrities and kidnap victims that made the deal grind to a halt in the end. The decision on whether to green light the takeover was originally supposed to be in the hands of Business Secretary Vince Cable (a liberal democrat and avowed enemy of the Murdochracy), but our glorious plasticine overlord Mr. Cameron transferred responsibility for the negotiations to Hunt’s culture ministry because he knew the deal would find a warm reception there.

    With Hunt disgraced in the aftermath of all this, Cameron then thought it a good idea to transfer him to Health, to take over from the universally disliked and incompetent Andrew Lansley, whom nobody trusted because of his savage proposals to sell the NHS off to the highest bidder.

    It’s governments like this one that get us Brits fondly remembering early November 1605…

  24. 24
    Dr Pepper

    If, after subtracting the nonsense, the residual good part is indistinguishable from a good bedside manner, that’s still no reason to use a homeopath. After all you can get the same results if, as has been noted, you can get doctors who’ll put in more time with the patients. While i agree that this is desirable, i like this quote from House: “some doctors will hold your hand while you’re dying, i’m the doctor who’ll ignore you while you get well”. You can also get the same benefit form attending nurses, candy stripers, physician’s assistants, or social workers.

  25. 25
    LykeX

    It’s no wonder that, in a social species like ours, social interaction makes us feel good. However, that’s no justification for overcharging for water and calling it medicine. More to the point, while social interaction might make you feel better and distract you from your pain, it’s not actually going to cure your illness or prevent you from dying.

  26. 26
    F [is for failure to emerge]

    Aw geez, and the NHS had been doing so well previously, what with that report trashing homeopathy etc., suggesting that it should be removed from the NHS.

  27. 27
    cm's changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming)

    The Telegraph:

    Jeremy Hunt, Health Secretary, thinks homeopathy works

    No, no. That’s not the case. Or, at least, there’s no evidence that’s the case.

    Hunt wrote to a constituent, saying that people like it. That’s politics.

    (Anyway it’s £7 million out of £110 billion. That’s a homeopathic 0.006% of health spending.)

    And placebo works, dammit!

    This is the same Jeremy Hunt who, as Culture Secretary in 2011, tried his damnedest to hurry through the Newscorp takeover of BSkyB and thereby give Rupert Murdoch a virtual monopoly on UK satellite broadcasting

    Do we even have an alternative satellite broadcaster? It’s been Sky or nothing for about 15 years, unless I’ve been drugged and kept in basement since then.

    There is, of course, DTV, cable, and internet services like iPlayer (available even on the Wii!) …

  28. 28
    marko

    Ha ha you Brits, maybe your health care will be as sucky as ours soon enough.

    They are trying their best to reach the American ideal.

  29. 29
    cm's changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming)

    Here’s an ‘a’. Please insert in #27 between “in” and “basement” …

  30. 30
    robro

    Anyway it’s £7 million out of £110 billion. That’s a homeopathic 0.006% of health spending.

    So it’s ok to waste £7 million on quackery rather than spend it on something that has a potential to be helpful? Besides, haven’t you heard that government budgets are really super tight? Perhaps that money could be redirected to education.

    And no, placeboes don’t “work.” By definition a placebo has no effect. The so-called “placebo effect” may have more to do with getting some attention rather than taking a phony pill. So why not spend £7 million on giving people some worthwhile attention like professional counseling.

  31. 31
    Glen Davidson

    If the placebo effect is desired, it would be best to just provide the proper medication. The placebo effect works then, too. It’s not like you need something worthless to get the benefit of a placebo.

    Glen Davidson

  32. 32
    timanthony

    Jeremy Hunt, who is an idiot, is merely following the example set by Prince Charles, who is an idiot. In fact, he is so crippled by severe stupidity that the Queen, bless her heart (YKWIM), has decided not to die until her eldest son goes first. She loves England THAT much. Good on ‘er then.

  33. 33
    dccarbene

    “Patient-led”, eh?

    In my practice, if it were “patient-led”, about 10% of the Leadership would be writing themselves open-ended prescriptions for their Narcotic of Choice….

    “Patient-centered” is a much better term, methinks.

    The doc is not the boss and not the leader. The doc is the coach, teaching and advising – but the patient is the one out there in the field, playing the game. For high stakes [health and sometimes life itself]. So I try to get the lay of the land and feed options and my best advice – being aware that the patient is still the one who pays the price if the advice is wrong. So yes, patients decide – but not against reason. I don’t have to co-operate with harmful irrationality.

    Speaking of which, I am willing to send the National Health all the water it wants, AND I’ll do it for only 5 million pounds sterling. Cash.

  34. 34
    timanthony

    #31 @Glen Davidson: Have you thought that through? IF what is desired is a placebo effect *alone*, then what is the point of taking something quite expensive over something free? Point being: who pays for it? It’s only better if you are offering to pay, my friend. Meds aren’t cheap.

  35. 35
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    IF what is desired is a placebo effect *alone*, then what is the point of taking something quite expensive over something free?

    Gee, Placebo works better if big, red, and expensive. Cheaper, not necessarily.

  36. 36
    Dutchgirl

    bhebing at #15,

    This does seem to be an idiosyncratic use of homeopathic by the Netherlands. Growing up I used all kinds of so-called ‘homeopathic’ medicine that are in fact not such as thyme extract for cough and cold, saline rinse for my nose, and such. Why do the Dutch lump these in with what other places see as a distinct type of medicine? No clue here, but I was flabbergasted a few years ago when I learned what the rest of world labels as homeopathic. So be aware, read the labels and avoid stuff that marks its ingredients with 2x or 6x (the number indication the times of dilution, which in homeopathy more is better)

  37. 37
    brucegee1962

    #30 Robro:

    By definition a placebo has no effect.

    No, actually, if you look it up, placebos DO have an effect. By definition. If they didn’t have any effect, then you wouldn’t need to compare real drugs to them.

    My understanding is that the mechanisms of the placebo effect are still somewhat mysterious and in need of further study. But I believe it is currently thought that due to the effect, conventional treatments that are offered with a certain amount of handholding and reassurance work better than the exact same treatment offered with a “meh, I suppose this might be better than nothing” attitude.

  38. 38
    DLC

    There’s a lot of confusion between homeopathic “remedies” and herbal supplements. I’ve even seen some TV cop shows (well known for their accuracy[/sarcasm] ) where they find a bottle of herbal bollocks and declare it to be “a homeopathic remedy”. Oh, and — at least the water-based homeopathic solutions are effective at alleviating dehydration, if you take enough.

  39. 39
    Dunc

    Unfortunately, this is about par for the course for this government: the education minister doesn’t know anything about education, the chancellor of the exchequer couldn’t manage a shop till, the minister for work and pensions is continuing to beat the unemployed until morale improves, and the prime minister was born into money and married into even more money so clearly knows from experience how to manage a failing economy during a worldwide economic meltdown.

    Then there’s Owen Patterson, the Secretary of State for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who is a climate-change “sceptic”, opposed the EU restrictions on neonicotinoid pesticides, supports culling badgers to restrict the spread of bovine TB despite all of the available evidence indicating that this is ineffective, thinks gamekeepers should be allowed to destroy the nests of protected raptors, and called those who support the ban on hunting foxes with dogs “Nazis”…

  40. 40
    Nick Gotts

    cm’s changeable moniker@27,

    Hunt has had numerous opportunities to correct the claim that he believes that homeopathy works, and has never done so. If he’s not an outright believer, he’s a pusillanimous little shit who has encouraged people to believe he does, without stating this outright – for example, the careful ambiguity of his response to his constituent. He also wants to ban abortions after 12 weeks.

  41. 41
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    In Germany, regulations on medicine state each has to show its efficacy in empirical studies. Homoeopathic “medicine” is explicitly exempt from these regulations. Go figure. Furthermore, health insurance companies will pay for homoeopathic “medicine” if it is prescribed.

    Tell it!
    The amount of homeopathic crap I get from GPs is incredible. Last was a homeopathic “anti-infectant” I got for the kids (I admit I only looked at the bottle at home). I looked it up on the net and indeed there was one study that showed that 80% of 300 kids with a cold who took it showed an improvement after 1 week. I mean, that’s practically a miracle cure.

  42. 42
    franko

    Hunt is a dreadful person to have in a ministerial office; but the real health whackaloons among British politicians are to be found among the back-bench MPs: http://www.dcscience.net/?p=6007

  43. 43
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    Why must our Government insist on crippling one of the best things about our country? Why? Fuck you, Jeremy Hunt. Just fuck you.

  44. 44
    Dauphni

    Giliell, professional cynic @41

    I looked it up on the net and indeed there was one study that showed that 80% of 300 kids with a cold who took it showed an improvement after 1 week. I mean, that’s practically a miracle cure.

    Wow, that really is remarkably effective, until you consider that most kids recover from colds on their own in about the same time frame…

  45. 45
    anne mariehovgaard

    #37 brucegee1962:

    #30 Robro:

    By definition a placebo has no effect.

    No, actually, if you look it up, placebos DO have an effect. By definition. If they didn’t have any effect, then you wouldn’t need to compare real drugs to them.

    No. The “placebo effect” includes statistical artifacts and the effects of time passing, along with (possibly) an effect of “treatment” that is not caused by the drug. And even that may well be more about wanting to believe that your health is improved, or wanting to please the therapist. The effect on self-report measures tends to be much stronger than the effect on objective measures.

  46. 46
    francesc

    @44 You have your satire detector turned off
    @37 I agree with anne here, we already know that individual felleings are not a good measure. Also, therapist’s measures aren’t objective either, and that’s the reason real tests are usually double-blind. Although I agree we still don’t understand the placebo effect at full.
    Anyway, if NHS is looking for the placebo effect, they shouldn’t buy homeopathic “medicines”, wich are pretty expensive; they should simply bottle water or buy sugar pills and say they are homeopathic. Wich I guess is what Boiron really does.

  47. 47
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    @francesc

    Fair point. If we’re only using Homeopathy for the Placebo effect, why not just give out bottles of tapwater with “10X” written on the side?

  48. 48
    Nick Gotts

    Why must our Government insist on crippling one of the best things about our country? Why? – Thumper

    Simple really: it shows that the public sector can work very effectively, and it reduces socio-economic inequality.

  49. 49
    diotima

    All our UK government departments are headed by such unqualified idiots, it seems to be a qualification for the job, if you see what I mean. They must be cloned somewhere, Eton (the college, not the place) certainly has such a cloning machine, how else can you account for so many dunderheads in all ranks of this sad apology for a government, receiving what appears not to be an education, there.

  50. 50
    seanellis

    Hello all. I’m the original constituent who wrote to Mr. Hunt, and it’s amazing how far this little letter has gone. It’s a small grain of sand in the gears of Jeremy Hunt’s career, and has earned him the title “Minister for Magic”.

    I talked about it in more detail on Episode 156 of the The Pod Delusion podcast.

  51. 51
    David Marjanović

    So “good homeopathy” is hard evidence that “bedside manner” is vitally important and should be strongly encouraged in “conventional” MD’s.

    So… why do you think MDs don’t provide “bedside manner”?

    You don’t seriously believe that it’s because they don’t know any better, do you?

    It’s because they’re horribly overworked!

    Hunt has had numerous opportunities to correct the claim that he believes that homeopathy works, and has never done so. If he’s not an outright believer, he’s a pusillanimous little shit who has encouraged people to believe he does, without stating this outright – for example, the careful ambiguity of his response to his constituent.

    So, he’s a bullshitter? Greeeeeat.

  52. 52
    Acolyte of Sagan

    The first time I went to see my doctor about the increasing back pain I was getting, he suggested I saw a chiropractor. I ignored his advice, and quite rightly so, as later MRI scans showed that one bit of ‘manipulation’ in the wrong direction could have crippled me for life.
    Needless to say, I also changed doctors.

  53. 53
    LykeX

    For those interested in some skeptical analysis of alternative medicine, I suggest the Quack Cast. You’ll find discussion of such subjects as homeopathy, the placebo effect and the tendency of chiropractic to cause serious damage in healthy people. It turns out that violently pulling on people’s necks isn’t good for them. Who knew.

  54. 54
    CaitieCat, in no way a robot nosireebot

    For our Dutch friends, in Canada we call those two things by different names. Homeopathy is the quackiest of quackery, with the super-diluted water with special magic memory or something.

    Naturopathy is where the practitioner uses herbs intended to achieve the same effects of pharmaceutical formulations, under the fallacious thinking that something which is “natural” is necessarily better for one than something which is full of “chemicals” (sic).

    Naturopathy seems much less likely to be full-on woo, though; using willow bark for salicylin is just using the unrefined stuff instead of the refined type we get in ASA meds. Where they keep themselves to those “natural” substances which have high concentrations of the substances we use in the refined meds, I don’t have much argument with them. It seems likely to me to be less effective, but it’s not nothing, like homeopathy. A patient who will take their meds, even less-effective ones, is better than one who will spurn them because of their “chemicals”.

    Where naturopaths tend to go wrong is in thinking there are more things susceptible to a medical treatment model than modern medicine tends to so deem. When someone has punched a hard wall and broken several phalanges, neither a homeopathic “salve” (superdiluted water in some oil base) nor a naturopathic sachet of herbs is going to do the job: if the puncher wants full function back, they’re going to need a physician, and likely a surgeon.

    If they’d restrict themselves to herbs to ease menstrual cramping, or for headache remedies, or other simple, medically-treatable illness/injury, then with careful supervision, naturopaths could be a poor and somewhat kooky, but still vaguely reasonable, choice.

    But homeopaths are full-on, Reverend Moon/Ken Ham-level ripoff artists, either deludedly or wilfully, and do active harm, by pretending their magic woo-water will have any curative effect whatsoever, and discouraging the people they ‘treat’ from attending actual physicians. THAT kills.

  55. 55
    seanellis

    I would agree with LykeX. The QuackCast is an excellent and very listenable podcast. Mark Crislip is sharp-tongued but softly spoken – a dangerously effective combination.

  56. 56
    Nick Gotts

    seanellis,

    Thanks for your action in sending that letter and publicising the reply!

  57. 57
    alwayscurious

    Naturopathy can go wrong too. Some of those herbs they are fond of can be very effective…effective at screwing up your medication (St. John’s Wort for one). I view naturopathy as proto-medicine: on the right track up to about three centuries ago but methodologically challenged compared to modern science.

    Besides, I can make my own herbal extracts, thank you very much, for a fraction of the purchase price. Herb-infused vinegar is tasty on salads, stir-fry & reduction sauces! Distilled spirits are excellent for extracting micro-nutrients & flavonoids from fruits & exotic spices (serving size: 1.5 oz).

  58. 58
    CaitieCat, in no way a robot nosireebot

    Every point conceded; I wouldn’t go near one myself, just that I can understand people doing so, if they start from the rather silly premise that “chemicals” are bad. As I’ll be discussing on Saturday at the FTBConscience Chronic Pain panel, I’m one of those folks who would probably be dead without modern medicine. :)

    Whereas I’d send someone to a badly trained and unethical veterinarian, before I’d send them to a homeopath, I figure if someone wants their remedies for small complaints to come from someone who smashed up the herbs themselves, I’m not nearly as bothered. They’ll be less efficient, and have higher rates of bad outcomes, because that’s what pharmacy research does, is reduce the effects of those problems.

  59. 59
    David Marjanović

    Naturopathy seems much less likely to be full-on woo, though; using willow bark for salicylin is just using the unrefined stuff instead of the refined type we get in ASA meds

    Also, salicylic acid is much less soluble than acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin), so you need a lot more for the same effect (and the same side effects).

  60. 60
    CaitieCat, in no way a robot nosireebot

    @59 – absolutely, but as I said, it’s no skin off my nose if someone decides they want to do this; naturopaths are, to me, like the Amish: playing on hard mode for no obvious reason, especially when there’s a perfectly good health drop right in front of you.

    OTOH, homeopaths are the people who sell you a trainer for a game, and the trainer is basically a malware trojan to turn your machine into a brainless bot. AND turns your characters into Level0-newb/chum.

  61. 61
    James

    I’m surprised no one has yet mentioned the famous occasion on which a BBC Today presenter managed to spoonerise “Jeremy Hunt, Culture Secretary”…
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F1G6osCnsbA&feature=youtu.be
    (NSFW in case it wasn’t already obvious)

  62. 62
    James

    Oh yes, he is also the person who argues that we can’t restrict cigarette packaging, because our policy has to be “evidence based”:-

    The Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “The UK is known the world over for its comprehensive, evidence-based tobacco control strategy, and we are continually driving down smoking rates through our range of actions.

    “Obviously we take very seriously the potential for standardised packaging to reduce smoking rates, but in light of the differing views, we have decided to wait until the emerging impact of the decision in Australia can be measured, and then we will make a decision in England.”
    http://www.publicservice.co.uk/news_story.asp?id=23436

    Hmm, as a typical politician, evidence only counts when it backs up what you already wanted to do.

  63. 63
    Dutchgirl

    Thanks CaitieCat, I think you succinctly describe the differences. I believe that there is no such thing as alternative medicine, it either works and is medicine or it doesn’t and it’s woo. And, as you point out, ‘natural’ medicines are not without side effects or complications. Furthermore I can trust my docs here (I live in Hawaii) to recommend hot tea with honey and salt water rinses (both natural) side by side a manufactured cough syrup, but they would not recommend homeopathic solutions or a chiropractor.

  64. 64
    Rich Woods

    @cartomancer #23:

    It’s governments like this one that get us Brits fondly remembering early November 1605…

    Which is why I’ve been isolating saltpetre in my cellar for the last three years and combining it with a few other easily obtainable ingredients. Now I have a cellar half full of g*np*wd*r (don’t worry, GCHQ won’t be able to understand what we’re talking about, and if they did I’m sure I’ve got enough now to collapse their secret railway tunnel which runs underneath my house *evil cackle*).

    @James #61:

    I’m surprised no one has yet mentioned the famous occasion on which a BBC Today presenter managed to spoonerise “Jeremy Hunt, Culture Secretary”…

    This cannot be replayed often enough. It wasn’t a Freudian slip; it was a bright and shining channeling of the truth.

    @gedwarren #17:

    This man is in charge of a £110 Billion budget. OMG! OMG!

    Yeah, but — in his defence — he can’t count that high.

  65. 65
    CaitieCat, in no way a robot nosireebot

    @James #61:

    I’m surprised no one has yet mentioned the famous occasion on which a BBC Today presenter managed to spoonerise “Jeremy Hunt, Culture Secretary”…

    This cannot be replayed often enough. It wasn’t a Freudian slip; it was a bright and shining channeling of the truth.

    I don’t get it. What’s so funny about “Sulture Cecretary?”

    Sign me

    Silly Old Bunt

  66. 66
    grumpyoldfart

    It is well known that Hunt will do or say anything for money.

    Do the homeopaths have lobbyists? Are they free with their cash?

  67. 67
    Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc

    Jeremy Hunt is a fucking moron with a track record, and the current government want to wreck the NHS.

    Our right(er)-facing main party went fully gibbering about 15 minutes after the coalition deal was made. I am most disappointed with the LibDems for letting them get away with it. Power > principles in action.

  68. 68
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    @James #62

    Oh yes, he is also the person who argues that we can’t restrict cigarette packaging, because our policy has to be “evidence based”:-

    The Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “The UK is known the world over for its comprehensive, evidence-based tobacco control strategy, and we are continually driving down smoking rates through our range of actions.

    “Obviously we take very seriously the potential for standardised packaging to reduce smoking rates, but in light of the differing views, we have decided to wait until the emerging impact of the decision in Australia can be measured, and then we will make a decision in England.”

    I must admit, I fail to see why you think that’s a negative.

  69. 69
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    @CaitieCat #54

    Naturopathy is where the practitioner uses herbs intended to achieve the same effects of pharmaceutical formulations, under the fallacious thinking that something which is “natural” is necessarily better for one than something which is full of “chemicals” (sic).

    Oooh, these are my favourite type of delusional suckers (if I can be said to have a “favourite” of something I dislike). They genuinely don’t understand what a chemical is; apparently being under the impression that a chemical ocurring naturally in a plant is good for you, while that same chemical synthesised in a lab must be bad for you.

    I once met a woman who was telling me about how bad aspirin is for you, because it “thins the blood and puts excess strain on the heart”, repeatedly referring to it as a “man-made chemical”. She then advised me to drink willow bark tea as an alternative, causing me to laugh so hard that I nearly wet myself :)

  70. 70
    galigolan

    I dunno. I’m currently training as a nurse, and one of the most important things we are taught is that within certain boundaries, healthcare professionals should work with the patient’s belief system rather than against it. Sure, if someone objects to vaccination because of autism, they need some information on the efficacy of vaccinations, herd immunity, the fact that the whole autism thing was proven to be a fraud, etc., because not vaccinating has absolutely no positive affects and a lot of negative ones.

    But. Something like homeopathy, as long as it does not replace life-saving conventional approaches (e.g. swallowing sugar pills INSTEAD of getting chemo) could actually help, and will do no harm. Sugar pills and water really can’t harm you unless you’re grossly overindulging in them, while the placebo effect is well-documented. If people believe something will help them, then it actually will, a little.

    So if someone wants to use homeopathy for their tension headaches, or indigestion, or general malaise, or whatever – that’s fine. It will probably help them. And if they want to swallow sugar pills IN ADDITION to their chemo, or beta blockers, or whatever – that’s fine, too.

    The only time a healthcare professional should be concerned is when water and sugar pills are supposed to replace lifesaving treatment, and even then being confrontational and combative (“it is unscientific nonsense and you’re being an idiot and take these expensive pills you’ve been prescribed NOW or you will die” or some variation thereof) is not an approach I’d recommend. It’s better, again, to work within the patient’s belief framework, because the point is not to win hearts and change minds – it’s to give that person the best possible care. And challenging a patient’s entire worldview and belief system is a great way to get him angry at you and at the system you represent, and more likely to be non-compliant with whatever treatment you want him to take.

    So sure, blogs like this and the science and medical community should work on educating the public. But within the healthcare system we’re dealing with things as they are, not as they SHOULD be. And our goal has to be the patient’s wellbeing, not being right. And if a patient will fell better if I say a prayer with them, or swallow blessed water, or rub blue mud into my bellybutton with them – I will do that. Because that’s what I’m there for, to make patients feel better, whatever that means to them.

  71. 71
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    @galigolan

    … blogs like this and the science and medical community should work on educating the public. But within the healthcare system we’re dealing with things as they are, not as they SHOULD be. And our goal has to be the patient’s wellbeing, not being right. And if a patient will fell better if I say a prayer with them, or swallow blessed water, or rub blue mud into my bellybutton with them – I will do that. Because that’s what I’m there for, to make patients feel better, whatever that means to them.

    You strike me as being exactly what I believe a healthcare professional should be :)

  72. 72
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    I should clarify that, while I believe that putting aside your own beliefs and playing to the beliefs of a patient in order to help them get better (which, as galigolan says, should be the ultimate goal of all healthcare professionals), I do not think that is justification for using taxpayer money to fund unevidenced methods.

  73. 73
    Rev. BigDumbChimp

    And our goal has to be the patient’s wellbeing, not being right. And if a patient will fell better if I say a prayer with them, or swallow blessed water, or rub blue mud into my bellybutton with them – I will do that. Because that’s what I’m there for, to make patients feel better, whatever that means to them.

    I understand that but aren’t you are encouraging poor health in the long run by giving credence to nonsense?

    At the time the patient’s comfort is important but what happens when they leave the hospital and they’ve now had their beliefs in unproven or debunked treatments supported by a health care worker?

  74. 74
    Q.E.D

    “Department of Completely Unqualified Politicians Given Responsibilities for Which They Are Ill-Equipped”

    In the UK this is a feature, not a bug.

  75. 75
    galigolan

    Well no, not really. If a patient is given information and explanations and still chooses to believe in a personal woo-woo of whatever type, nothing is going to sway them. There are people like that. In fact, I daresay most people are like that. The best you can do in such cases is to find a way to work with the patient’s belief system to achieve treatment compliance.

    And again, when it comes to something patients believe will help them, the placebo effect is a real and actual thing that manifests in actual measurable improvement of various symptoms and conditions. We just need to make sure that’s not all a patient with a serious medical condition relies on. And again, the best way to get people to work with you is to work with them.

  76. 76
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    @rev

    That was my initial thought, but galigolan did specify that they would work with the patient’s belief system only after ensuring the patient has been presented with all the pertinent facts; using the example of vaccinations.

    …Sure, if someone objects to vaccination because of autism, they need some information on the efficacy of vaccinations, herd immunity, the fact that the whole autism thing was proven to be a fraud, etc., because not vaccinating has absolutely no positive affects and a lot of negative ones.

    I think if they’ve been given all the info and it hasn’t changed their mind, pushing too forcefully will simply cause resentment. And that’s not going to make them cooperate, which is galigolan’s point.

  77. 77
    James

    @Thumper #68
    I have no problem with basing policy on evidence. I have a problem with a politician who claims to be doing that while also advocating homeopathy.

    (And, in fact, his argument for evidence on the cigarette packaging issue is clearly really simply arguing for deferring decisions to allow the cigarette manufacturers to make money. We already have significant evidence that cigarette packaging matters. If it didn’t then the manufacturers wouldn’t spend all that money on it but would use cheap white packs anyway, and the fact they are so concerned to keep on using expensive branded packaging also tells us that they believe it works. That seems enough evidence to believe t should be banned.)

  78. 78
    Rich Woods

    @QED #74:

    “Department of Completely Unqualified Politicians Given Responsibilities for Which They Are Ill-Equipped”

    In the UK this is a feature, not a bug.

    Quite so. The fuckers (of whatever political shade) use their office to speak to their core constituency and the handful of waverers whose votes they hope they can garner. It has nothing to do with any responsibility to ensure we get the best long-term deal; they just use their briefly-held powers to promote themselves and their ilk.

    The concept of advancing the common weal has long since gone out of the window. It was defenestrated, drop-kicked into a bucket of shit and left to fester.

  79. 79
    Ichthyic

    @CM upthread:

    And placebo works, dammit!

    people who say that don’t really understand what studies of placebos actually show.

    They are only MARGINALLY effective for pain management, and even then, only temporarily.

    that’s it. Using a placebo is not meant to substitute for a regular treatment of any kind, ever.

  80. 80
    Ichthyic

    …seriously, I have to stress this:

    placebos have never CURED anything.

    Not.

    Ever.

  81. 81
    LykeX

    Seconded. Placebos is basically just the adult version of kissing it better. It might actually make you feel better for a while, but it’s not going to make the boo-boo heal any quicker.
    And most importantly; proper medical treatment also does everything the placebo does. Anything you can do with placebo, you can also do with medicine, but the reverse isn’t true. So, why are we wasting time and money on bullshit?

  82. 82
    Menyambal

    And if placebos do make some people feel better for a while, and if their belief in their chosen medicine is a big factor in their health, then it is vitally important that they not be taught to distrust science-based medicine. Most of the woo-peddlers emphasize the importance of attitude, and then slag modern medicine as hard as they can. Which is pretty close to murder—they are going to influence people into dying of fear after the best of treatment. Of course, only a gullible fool would die like that, but the woosters are seeking out and talking to the most gullible and the most foolish. “Alternative” medicine doesn’t just kill by causing people to avoid proper treatment, it kills them after proper treatment, even because of proper treatment.

  83. 83
    cm's changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming)

    people who say that don’t really understand what studies of placebos actually show

    *sigh*

    You know, I put the link there for a reason.

    placebos have never CURED anything

    I understand completely. Not by themselves, devoid of the context of their application. And yet, from the link: “four sugar pills a day clear gastric ulcers faster than two sugar pills a day”.

    It’s bonkers. But it’s real. We are a strange, strange species. ;-)

  84. 84
    CaitieCat, in no way a robot nosireebot

    There’s also the consideration of context.

    As someone whose chronic pain is pretty much unending, I can tell you that something that only gives me a 10% reduction in pain for even a short period produces a notable improvement in my life. It also makes me more productive, because the amount of time I’ve got available for a given day is a function of a max time over a set pain load. Reducing the painload means more time available for everything else in my life by that much. So even a small placebo effect can be valuable to me.

    It is, in effect, an artifact of “not-in-chronic-pain” privilege that allows dismissal of marginal improvements to be found in medical effects. For most people, this may be valid; there’s a non-zero number of people for whom even marginal improvements can mean disproportionate effects on quality of life.

  85. 85
    LykeX

    @cm
    Exactly what are you referring to to back this up? The video? Because I’m not about to accept this on some yahoo’s say-so. The articles linked don’t appear to refer to gastric ulcers, so I’d appreciate a clarification.

  86. 86
    Ichthyic

    You know, I put the link there for a reason.

    which is exactly why I said what I did.

  87. 87
    cm's changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming)

    some yahoo’s say-so

    http://www.badscience.net/about-dr-ben-goldacre/

    Some yahoo?

    I’m sorry, I lent my copy of Bad Science to someone and never got it back, so I don’t have the references. I’ll try to find them.

    which is exactly why I said what I did.

    You have a specific disagreement with him? (That’s the only interpretation that springs to mind right now.)

    Feel free to elaborate, although since we’re 12 timzones apart, it might take a while for me to come back. :-)

  88. 88
    cm's changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming)

    “timzones”?! Timezones.

  89. 89
    Amphiox

    re #52;

    Acute mechanical low back pain is actually one of the few, or only, indications where chiropractic manipulation has real evidence showing a measurable benefit, for short term symptom relief.

    Standard physiotherapy is just as good, of course, without any woo.

    Speaking as a neurosurgeon, however, I am not aware of any MRI finding in the lumbar spine short of outright severe trauma, that would show that a chiropractic manipulation in the “wrong” direction would cause paralysis, assuming it was done properly. The CERVICAL spine, on the other hand, is a different matter….

  90. 90
    What a Maroon, el papa ateo

    “timzones”?!
    Timzones.

  91. 91
    LykeX

    His credentials are irrelevant. Maybe he’s right, maybe he isn’t. I sure as hell can’t tell from his titles. It wouldn’t be the first time a highly educated person peddled nonsense. His involvement with skepticism makes that less likely, though.

    He may be very reputable, but since I don’t know the guy, I’ll wait for the references. What I’d be interested in is exactly what conclusions were reached and on what basis. There are a ton of follow-up questions, but they don’t matter until we get some hard data.

  92. 92
    cm's changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming)

    The articles linked don’t appear to refer to gastric ulcers, so I’d appreciate a clarification.

    I didn’t link to articles, I linked to a blog post with two videos, so … um … what? As I said, I don’t have the references, but I suspect they’re going to involve:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2014313/

    A weak result, but a result. *shrug*

    Timzones.

    Heh, I had the weedwhacker out today. That flamethrowing thing at 1:20 is meeee.

  93. 93
    vaiyt

    As someone whose chronic pain is pretty much unending, I can tell you that something that only gives me a 10% reduction in pain for even a short period produces a notable improvement in my life. It also makes me more productive, because the amount of time I’ve got available for a given day is a function of a max time over a set pain load. Reducing the painload means more time available for everything else in my life by that much. So even a small placebo effect can be valuable to me.

    It is, in effect, an artifact of “not-in-chronic-pain” privilege that allows dismissal of marginal improvements to be found in medical effects. For most people, this may be valid; there’s a non-zero number of people for whom even marginal improvements can mean disproportionate effects on quality of life.

    You could just said “It works for me!” and it would be just as effective as an argument.

  94. 94
    cm's changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming)

    LykeX:

    It wouldn’t be the first time a highly educated person peddled nonsense

    FFS! Watch the damn video. He’s not saying placebo works. Neither am I.

    He’s saying there is a placebo effect. JFC …

  95. 95
  96. 96
  97. 97
    LykeX

    I didn’t link to articles, I linked to a blog post with two videos, so … um … what?

    I referred to the articles linked by commenter to that blog post. I guess I wasn’t quite clear on that.

  98. 98
    LykeX

    He’s not saying placebo works. Neither am I.

    You might want to avoid phrasings like “placebo works” then.

    But fair enough. I guess I didn’t get what you were saying, so I’ll have to watch those videos and see what the point is. Won’t be tonight, though.

  99. 99
    Acolyte of Sagan

    Off topic, but I’ll be brief.

    LykeX, regarding your last post to me on the ‘Philistines’ thread; first, sorry for mis-interpreting your ‘time out’ suggestion, mea culpa, and only that first paragraph was for you specifically; second, I admit I did tend to skip over your earlier responses, and I apologise for that, too. All that you said in that last post was pretty much spot-on, so thank you.

    That’s all. Back to the placebo debate, and as another one who lives with almost constant chronic pain, I really wished they worked as claimed because the heavy-grade pharmaceuticals I have to stuff into my system every day have almost as many adverse effects as positive ones.

  100. 100
    cm's changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming)

    You might want to avoid phrasings like “placebo works” then.

    Fair enough. I might also add smileys here and there.

    The thing is, this is a senior doctor at a well-known teaching hospital who has, for several years, been beating the drum about how bizarre it is that ineffective treatments, when given in a sincere way, do seem to have an effect. Even on people who know they’re ineffective. And, given in greater doses, they seem to have greater effect. It’s weird.

    And if you watch the second video, you’ll see the placebo effect’s evil twin. :-)

  101. 101
    Acolyte of Sagan

    cm’s changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming) #100

    The thing is, this is a senior doctor at a well-known teaching hospital who has, for several years, been beating the drum about how bizarre it is that ineffective treatments, when given in a sincere way, do seem to have an effect. Even on people who know they’re ineffective. And, given in greater doses, they seem to have greater effect. It’s weird.

    I wonder if there’s any correlation between those susceptible to placebos and those susceptible to hypnosis, considering they both operate on suggestion rather than anything ‘solid’ (apart from the brain, of course).

  102. 102
    Acolyte of Sagan

    13.
    moarscienceplz
    17 July 2013 at 3:15 pm (UTC -5) Link to this comment

    I believe that large quantities of gold kept near my body will ward off many ill effects, especially sleeplessness caused by worry that I might not be able to pay all my bills. Therefore, please provide me with 100 Krugerrands, or an equivalent amount of gold at your earliest convenience. Thank you.

    Given the soaring price of gold at the moment, 100 Krugerands kept near my body would cause sleepless nights worrying that every sound in the night is a burglar come to relieve me of my ‘precious’.

  103. 103
    Acolyte of Sagan

    68.
    Thumper; Atheist mate
    19 July 2013 at 6:08 am (UTC -5) Link to this comment

    @James #62

    Oh yes, he is also the person who argues that we can’t restrict cigarette packaging, because our policy has to be “evidence based”:-

    The Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “The UK is known the world over for its comprehensive, evidence-based tobacco control strategy, and we are continually driving down smoking rates through our range of actions.

    “Obviously we take very seriously the potential for standardised packaging to reduce smoking rates, but in light of the differing views, we have decided to wait until the emerging impact of the decision in Australia can be measured, and then we will make a decision in England.”

    I must admit, I fail to see why you think that’s a negative.

    Maybe because a) the government had already all-but committed to it, and b) because it transpires that one of Hunt’s senior advisors is also a lobbyist for the world’s second-largest cigarette manufacturer.

  104. 104
    Menyambal

    Another kind of placebo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawthorne_effect – “….the productivity gain occurred due to the impact of the motivational effect on the workers as a result of the interest being shown in them.”

    I’d type more, but there’s a cat in the way.

  105. 105
    zenlike

    Em, cm, that last link, you are aware that you linked to The Onion, right? Or was it on purpose? (Too hot so my brain isn’t working properly, maybe I didn’t detect your joking tone.)

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