Friday, October 31, 2008

That Debate at UCL

This House would no longer make homeopathic treatment available on the NHS:

For: 65
Against: 53
In abstention: 37
The motion was therefore carried.

You can see Prof. Colquhoun's comments and hopefully my reply on the UCL debate website.

No count (as is done by Intelligence Squared debates) was taken before the debate but clearly most people had come with their minds made up.

Peter Fisher gave a good account of homeopathy and he and his colleague easily won the rational debate.

Prof. Colquhoun made the astonishing claim to the effect that the great majority of orthodox interventions ARE in the sector of evidence based medicine. Astonishing because he offered NO PROOF and NO EVIDENCE for this. Clearly the same rules do not apply to homeopathic doctors and Professors of orthodox medicine! I would love to debate this with him.

The jeering journalist, Simon Singh, had much to say. Memorable was his referring to homeopathy as a 'spherical bastard' by which he means that which ever way you look at it, it's a 'bastard'. Obviously he does not care to look at it from the point of view of the over 90% of patients who visit the Royal London Hospital being very satisfied with the service. (Note added on 25/11/2008: Simon Singh has been in contact with me since the debate and has made it very clear that although he did talk about 'spherical bastards' in his allotted time during the debate, this was before he actually began to speak about homeopathy and that consquently I misunderstood what was simply him quoting a joke by the astrophysicist, Fritz Zwicky. He has made it clear that it was not his intention in any way for anyone to think that he was referring to homeopathy as an example of a 'spherical bastard') He also cited his vile 'study' showing that homeopaths supported giving homeopathic prevention for malaria. 'Ten out of ten homeopaths' phoned apparently were happy to do so. I KNOW this is false (and I wrote about this at the time) because I was phoned up and made it clear in no uncertain terms that people should take orthodox malaria preventative medicine and anyone advising any alternative is giving criminally negligent advice.

But overall I expected no better from Singh and Colquhoun. My great disappointment was with the students. They missed the point of the debate which was not whether homeopathy is plausible or 'scientific'. It was about whether it should be allowed on the NHS - an issue of civil liberty in many ways. The point that Colquhoun and his cronies sought to go over the heads of GPs to prevent rather than dissuade (which would have been at least an honourable course of action) by writing to PCTs asking them to disallow GP referrals to homeopathy in their areas was never discussed. These physicians of the utmost fame also sent this letter containing their private opinion on paper with an NHS logo! It's not just me that thinks that this was inappropriate at best and highly expedient at worst. Just look at what the Department of Health thought about it here. But of course the letter is famous/infamous and this rebuke from the Department of Health is invisible to most people. Perhaps these eminent doctors think the end justifies the means when it comes to clamping down on GPs who would like to refer patients to other doctors who use homeopathy.

That Colquhoun, Ernst and co. are using the nanny state to further their cause is understandable from their point of view but to see young students inadvertently voting for 'tighter controls', a more regulated society and more of the nanny state, was rather sad. My view is that the whole campaign to stop the provision of homeopathy on the NHS (and remember YOU CANNOT GET NHS HOMEOPATHY WITHOUT YOUR GP REFERRING YOU)by attempting to restrict the referring rights of GPs in this way is a condescending and patronising slap in the face for Britain's 36 000 GPs.

But my friends, the tide is turning. In my next post I will cite many articles in which the Disciples of Scientism come under heavy attack for their 'philosophy' (Naive Realism in my opinion) and their attempts at achieving hegemony in medicine. Thank heavens for this. Natural, whole person orientated medicine (to complement conventional, more mechanistic medicine) will never die. Fresh ways of presenting it will appear in response to the Naive Realism of The Disciples of Scientism and you will see some of them in my next post.

As Hopkins put it:
'And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things'

1 comment:

Simon Singh said...

I am glad that Brian has added a correction regarding my “spherical bastard” comment, but I am sorry that he jumped to such a strange conclusion in the first place. I asked the debate organiser if my comments could have been misinterpreted and she asked around and replied: “All comments agree with mine (that only through not listening properly and a leap of imagination could you misunderstand that you were referring to a physicist and not homeopathy).”

I am also sorry that Brian misunderstood my comments regarding our investigation into whether homeopaths offer malaria prevention. I will not discuss it in detail, but you can find out more about the investigation at or . When we started the investigation, we assumed that qualified doctors who offer homeopathy would not consider homeopathy for malaria prevention, but we thought we ought to check - sure enough, the couple that we contacted acted responsibly. However, the ten other non-doctor homeopaths we contacted were all willing to offer homeopathy for malaria prevention. There are thousands of UK homeopaths who are not qualified doctors and from our small survery it seems that the overwhelming majority of them would have been willing to offer protection against malaria.

When this story broke in media, it was clear from the outset that our '10 out of 10' result did not relate to qualified doctors. Indeed, Dr Peter Fisher (qualified doctor and Director of The Royal London Homeopathic Hospital) condemned the homeopaths involved: "I'm very angry about it because people are going to get malaria - there is absolutely no reason to think that homeopathy works to prevent malaria and you won't find that in any textbook or journal of homeopathy so people will get malaria, people may even die of malaria if they follow this advice."

And in case I was unclear in any part of the UCL debate, I certainly emphasised in my speech: "The use of homeopathy in terms of malaria and HIV and asthma and other killer diseases – I don’t blame the NHS. Clearly the NHS don’t offer homeopathy for malaria. That would clearly be ridiculous. But what the NHS does is offer it a veneer of credibility.”