Dear Ms. Willott

16 Aug

As those of you who follow me on Twitter might have seen, I discovered that my local MP, Lib Dem Jenny Willott, had signed disgraced MP David Tredinnick’s Early Day Motion 908. The one where he says he disagrees with the SciTech Committee’s Evidence Check 2: Homeopathy and that instead, we should be listening to countries such as France, Germany and India because they make even more provisions for homeopathy than we, the UK, do. Upon learning of this, I started writing an email to her explaining how homeopathy doesn’t work and how this has already been definitively proven.

“Dear Ms. Willott,

My name is Rhys Morgan. I am 15 years old.

I would like to express my disdain that you signed Early Day Motion 908: Science and Technology Committee Report on Homeopathy. I also would like to express my disdain that you, in March 2007, signed Early Day Motion 1240: NHS Homeopathic Hospitals.

Firstly, most homeopathic remedies contain no active ingredient. They’re literally just sugar pills with water that has had ritual magic performed upon it, sprinkled on top.

This is because they’ve passed a number called Avogadro’s constant. The water has been diluted so many times that there are no more molecules of the original “mother tincture” left in the final result.

This happens twice before reaching the most common homeopathic dilution, 30C. It happens once at 12C, where 1ml of “mother tincture” has been diluted in 100ml of water and this has been repeated 11 more times. It then happens again, where nothing from the 12C dilution is present in a 24C dilution. If homeopathy were to work, we’d have to throw everything we knew about modern physics and chemistry out of the window.

I am not currently aware of any good evidence that homeopathy works. In fact, I am aware of evidence that it does not. When it comes to conventional medicine, new drugs are tested under a method called controlled, double blinded trials. The control bit means that either the new drug is tested against the currently accepted standard treatment, where it has to prove it is more effective or has less side effects; or it’s tested against a placebo. A sugar pill. In well designed trials, homeopathy, seeing as remedies are sugar pills themselves, unsurprisingly fails to show that it works better than even the placebo. What can we make from this? That homeopathy is nothing but placebo, where it appears it might work. Another reason it may appear to work it something called regression to the mean. Basically, illnesses come and go. When you’re at your most ill is when you’re most likely to take a medicine for it. You then start getting better and attribute this getting better to the medicine. However, what actually happened in this situation is that the illness went away naturally.

Another thing that happens occasionally with medical trials, is that they are subject to meta-analyses. This is where data is collaborated from numerous high-quality trials to see if scientists have missed something before. One such example is giving steroids to premature babies. While some trials showed there was a positive benefit, others didn’t. As such for many years, even though doctors had data saying it was worth it, they had other evidence saying it wasn’t worth it and as such did not give steroids to premature babies. However, a not-for-profit organisation called the Cochrane Collaboration produced a meta-analysis of the data available. By discounting the badly designed studies and lining the results up one against the other on a “blobbogram” they discovered that, actually, providing steroids to premature babies was likely to allow them to live longer than premature babies who didn’t receive steroids. Even though the breakthrough thought had come through years previous, it was only now that doctors and other scientists had the definitive proof that giving steroids to premature babies was a good thing. Where does homeopathy come into this, you might ask? Well, a definitive meta-analysis has been performed upon the medical trial data of homeopathy. It has, unsurprisingly, shown that homeopathy is no more effective than placebo. The name of this meta-analysis is Are the clinical effects of homoeopathy placebo effects? Comparative study of placebo-controlled trials of homoeopathy and allopathy.

You can find the Abstract on PubMed and the full article at http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(05)67177-2/abstract

It is with this reasoning that I ask you remove your support for both Early Day Motions. Homeopathy simply does not work and recognising homeopathic hospitals is a waste of already scare NHS resources. If something does not work, it cannot be “cost effective” by any stretch of the imagination. I also direct you to Andy Lewis’ blogpost regarding EDM908 http://www.quackometer.net/blog/2010/03/mp-david-tredinnick-is-wrong-about-the-homeopathy-report.html

Thank you for taking the time to read this email,

Yours sincerely,

Rhys Morgan”

I await a response…

18 Responses to “Dear Ms. Willott”

  1. anubiscaller August 16, 2010 at 8:37 am #

    Rhys, you are embarrassingly precocious. See you at the first Cardiff SITP?

  2. Nancy Malik August 16, 2010 at 3:28 pm #

    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

    • Zeno August 16, 2010 at 3:49 pm #

      “Scientific homeopathy”
      “Evidence-based modern homeopathy”

      LOL! What a laugh.

      Still no evidence, I see, Nancy?

    • Chris August 16, 2010 at 3:50 pm #

      “evidence-based modern homeopathy”

      That’s an oxymoron right there ;)

      I’m assuming the evidence you’re quoting is the same sort of thing most homeopaths quote – ie, a link to a random forum in which a non-scientist quotes lies to prove his point?

      Otherwise, show your working. I’m interested to see it.

    • Thornae August 16, 2010 at 4:08 pm #

      “Real is scientific homeopathy.”

      Been listening to Yoda too much, you have.

    • Crispin August 16, 2010 at 4:18 pm #

      Dear Nancy,
      I’m personally unaware of any ‘evidence-based modern homoeopathy’. Could you kindly provide links to studies or at least some solid examples of this kind of homoeopathy so that we can see what you mean?
      It’s very hard to work out if something fits my definition of scientific or evidence based without anything being described beyond the assertion that it is! I’d be happy with either a sizeable and well conducted study showing that (to within a small statistical margin) it does work OR a through and plausible mechanism of how it could be expected to work. Of course, both would be better as this it the standard for most (note, I did not say all) conventional medicine.

      You are of course free to express your OPINION and deliver any anecdotes you may wish to, but in order for me and many others to take your claims seriously references and a reasonable standard of evidence would be required.

      Thanks!

      Crispin

  3. Adam August 16, 2010 at 4:48 pm #

    @Nancy Malik:

    Are you familiar with the concept of “cherry picking”?

    Selecting a few studies, no doubt of dubious quality, that happen to give the answer you want, does not count as evidence.

    For that, you need systematic reviews.

    As it happens, many systematic reviews have been done of homoeopathy, and as luck would have it, they have themselves been systematically reviewed.

    So by looking at that paper, we can get a nice overall view of homoeopathy, without all the dangers of selective cherry-picking.

    You can read the paper here:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12492603

    Here’s a little quote from the conclusions of that paper:
    “In particular, there was no condition which responds convincingly better to homeopathic treatment than to placebo or other control interventions. Similarly, there was no homeopathic remedy that was demonstrated to yield clinical effects that are convincingly different from placebo.”

    If you want to believe in homoeopathy, you have every right to do so, just as you have every right to believe in the deity of your choice. But please don’t make yourself look ridiculous by pretending that your beliefs are based on evidence.

    • Nancy Malik August 16, 2010 at 4:53 pm #

      Is this cherry picking? There are studies in support of homeopathy. There are studies not in support of homeopathy. Everyone has a right to choose or discard homeopathy medicine. I am showing studies in support of it and you showing studies not in support of it. Let people make a choice.

      • Adam August 16, 2010 at 4:57 pm #

        You really haven’t understood what a systematic review is, have you?

      • Michael5MacKay September 25, 2010 at 3:17 pm #

        Nancy you’re picking individual studies that allegedly support homeopathy and ignoring the much greater number that don’t. That’s the sine qua non of cherry picking. It is putting things in a false light and is mistaken at best, ignorant, or dishonest at worst. Citing the aggregate of evidence such as systematic reviews or meta-analyses is not.

  4. Crispin August 16, 2010 at 4:53 pm #

    Nancy,
    I will indeed read the articles you have linked to. I spend a lot of my time reading academic papers and have had more than enough for today, so I will probably read them at some point in the next few days. The only thing I will say now before reading them is that simply getting something on to a scientific literature database does not automatically make the study any good, I have read a lot of bad studies in many areas of traditional science as well as alternative medicine. I will confess something of an expectation bias on my part as regards the articles you have linked but will endeavour to read them in as open a way as possible before commenting further on them.

    Crispin

    • Nancy Malik August 16, 2010 at 4:57 pm #

      Thanks for your consideration

  5. Paul August 19, 2010 at 1:42 pm #

    Err..that was in the last parliament and the motion was tabled in February, only just noticed?

  6. softestpawn September 22, 2010 at 6:24 pm #

    If you do this again (and I’m sure you will, good stuff) a couple of suggestions:
    (1) don’t put your name and age at the beginning. Not relevant and gives, er, the wrong impression

    (2) Keep it short if you want/hope/expect your MP to read it. S/he will have a stupendously large amount of stuff to get through anyway, and while this might be your favourite topic, there’s lots of other even more important things that s/he has to get through. 300-400 words is at the top end.

    And finally… it’s iffy to claim about there being no evidence (I know that’s not quite what you say, still). Of course there’s evidence – it’s just not as good as the evidence we normally use for efficacy. If you claim there is *none*, and someone points at a single peer reviewed study that shows an apparent affect, then your case is crushed and all you get is lots of people claiming a rich harvest in cherries.

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