Weak defence of homeopathy
Sadly, NHS funds are squandered on this rubbish
I’m sorry to go on about homeopathy, I really am. But my colleague Dr James Le Fanu has written defending it in these pages, and I thought his arguments were instructive, so I’m going – very quickly – to look at them here.
He has three main planks to his argument, and they are all very familiar to homeopathy-watchers. That’s not to say that they’re not valid, of course, so I thought I’d examine them.
First, he says: “The claim that there is ‘no evidence’ of homoeopathy’s efficacy would seem to be contradicted by the many thousands of people worldwide who have benefited from its remedies. Is one to suppose they are all foolish and self-deluded?”
Those of you who did philosophy at university will recognise this as an example of “argumentum ad populum”. It’s a logical fallacy which appeals to the idea that if many people believe in something, it must be true. It’s superficially appealing, but we can all see why it is of limited use in assessing medical treatments. A relatively short time ago, a significant percentage of people believed smoking was healthy. Further back, people believed epilepsy was caused by demonic possession, and that malaria was caused by bad air. No-one believed in the germ theory of disease until Pasteur’s famous demonstration in the 1860s. Popular opinion is at best a weak guide to medical fact.
Next, he brings our attention to an individual in that group of thousands: “They include the former Labour cabinet minister Peter Hain, whose young son suffered severely from both eczema and asthma, for which potent modern medicines provided only modest relief. A visit to a homoeopath brought a dramatic improvement. ‘His health changed completely,’ says Mr Hain.”
Again, this doesn’t actually tell us very much. As Dr Le Fanu has pointed out in his preceding sentence, there are many thousands – actually millions – of people worldwide who use homeopathy. It would be far more surprising if you couldn’t find a few examples of people suddenly getting better after taking it, especially when you bear in mind things like the placebo effect, or regression to the mean. This is why anecdote is not particularly helpful either. After all, if someone else took homeopathy and didn’t get better, would that be evidence that it doesn’t work?
He goes on to call into question the motives of the “orchestrated campaign” against homeopathy. First, he wonders whether other medical institutions might want to get their hands on the prime real estate of the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, in Queen’s Square, near Great Ormond Street Hospital and the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery. Second, he points out that the NHS drugs budget has tripled, and wonders whether the homeopathy row is “a useful tactic for diverting attention from questions that merit greater scrutiny”.
One or both of these claims might be true – I have no idea (although the idea of august medical bodies beefing for corners like Marlo and Avon out of The Wire is not one I had previously entertained) . But neither tells us the first thing about whether or not homeopathy actually works.
Finally, saying that there is “more to this than is readily apparent”, Dr Le Fanu tells us that “The campaign itself smacks of Dawkinsite arrogance, which supposes ’science’ alone has all the answers and portrays its critics as necessarily irrational and superstitious.” Now, without wanting to get caught up defending my personal hero Richard Dawkins, I do want to say that no-one – least of all Dawkins – believes science has all the answers. As the comedian Dara O Briain says, if science had all the answers, it’d stop. What science is about is asking the questions.
But it is an odd fact about homeopathy that its defenders engage in these sort of smokescreen arguments. If homeopathy works, it should be possible to show that by doing research. Instead, anecdotes and insinuations of conspiracy are thrown around. It doesn’t matter what the NHS drugs budget is, or what Peter Hain thinks – these are all irrelevant to the debate about homeopathy. It either works or it doesn’t. The evidence suggests, rather forcefully, that it doesn’t.
When Britain’s “health and safety” obsession kills
Cowardice is now officially encouraged, and even compulsory. That is still no excuse for the worm described below, however.
A choking diner died after a paramedic refused treatment because he feared for his own safety. Builder John Kinder began to gasp for breath as his frantic friend Frank Honey pushed away staff who had rushed to Mr Kinder’s aid.
When an ambulance arrived, the paramedic told the restaurant manager in Manchester he wouldn’t go inside – because Mr Honey, 65, was ‘aggressive’. He waited for police to arrive ten minutes later – by which time Mr Kinder, 55, had suffered fatal brain damage.
The details emerged as coroner Nigel Meadows dramatically halted an inquest into the death to demand answers about ambulance service protocol. Mr Meadows said: ‘I want to know why they took some time before entering the restaurant.’
Mr Kinder’s widow Judith said she had found it hard to understand why a paramedic wouldn’t help her husband. She told the hearing: ‘John didn’t deserve to die because the behaviour another man stopped him being treated.’
The inquest heard how Mr Kinder and Mr Honey had both ordered steak and chips, with a bottle of wine, at the Villaggio Restaurant on Canal Street.
Minutes after they were served, manageress Lauren Littlechild heard a plate and glass smash and saw Mr Kinder fighting for breath. She said: ‘I thought he was having an asthma attack but he got worse and we called an ambulance. ‘I spoke to the paramedic and told him a man was struggling to breathe.
‘The paramedic said an aggressive man was in the restaurant. I told him the man was about 70 and that there was no threat. ‘But he insisted on waiting for the police. I just wanted him to get a bit closer and advise us what to do – but he still insisted on a police presence.’
Miss Littlechild said Mr Honey had made it difficult for staff to get to Mr Kinder. ‘It was obvious he had had a lot to drink and was shoving us and waving his arms around,’ she said.
When police officers arrived they escorted the paramedic into the restaurant.
Mr Kinder, of Charlesworth, Glossop, died five days later in Manchester Royal Infirmary from irreversible brain damage caused by oxygen starvation.
Mr Honey said he and Mr Kinder had been ‘in a couple of pubs’ before going for a meal.
An ambulance service spokesman said: ‘Based on information available, usually from the 999 caller, staff can take the decision to stand off from a scene until it is deemed safe.
‘These measures are taken in order to protect staff. If they require a police presence, they would request this via control and then wait for their arrival.’
Official British schools body warns sex lessons are leaving out marriage
Schools are teaching pupils all they need to know about the biology of sex but place little emphasis on the importance of marriage and loving relationships, Ofsted inspectors warn today.
Sex education lessons are marred by teachers’ embarrassment and a failure to discuss the possibility that you can ‘say no’ to intercourse.
One in three secondary schools is failing to provide good quality teaching in personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) which includes lessons on sex, drugs and alcohol, Ofsted warns in a report.
Inspectors criticise a failure in many schools to consult parents about the content and timing of lessons despite their sensitive nature.
Some lessons used ‘inappropriate resources’ and failed to match work to pupils’ maturity, suggesting some are exposed to materials too advanced for their age.
Ofsted suggests that schools use storylines from popular TV dramas as a starting point for some lessons. Pupils may need help to ‘make sense of ’ sensitive scenes they have seen, it is claimed.
ONE IN FIVE ‘PREGNANT BY THE AGE OF 18’
One in five sexually-active teenage girls has been pregnant by the age of 18, shocking figures revealed yesterday.
The first survey of its kind found that 83 per cent of girls have lost their virginity by this age and 18 per cent of these youngsters have been pregnant at least once.
About half chose to keep their babies and more than a third had an abortion, according to the Government survey. A further 18 per cent reported having had a miscarriage.
Incredibly, more than 1,300 18-year-old girls have been pregnant three times.
Previous research has shown that girls feel they are under increasing pressure to have sex before they are ready, partly because of sexy images projected in marketing and teen magazines.
The statistics from this latest study show more than a quarter of girls said they had not waited until the age of consent and 27 per cent of 4,298 girls questioned for the study had lost their virginity by the time they turned 16.
The data once again reignites the controversy over Britain’s teenage pregnancy rate, which is the highest in Western Europe, and Labour’s decade of failure to tackle the problem. Figures released earlier this year revealed there were more pregnancies among girls under 18 in England in 2008 than there were in 2001.
Family values campaigners have long warned that easy access to contraception and poor quality sex education which fails to encourage teenagers to say ‘no’ are fuelling the problem.
The survey shows how education plays an important role for youngsters as they are significantly less likely to have been pregnant by 18 if they did well at school and their parents have degrees. Children who live with both parents are half as likely to engage in underage sex according to the study, published by the Department for Education.
The research relied on girls answering truthfully and there is no way of verifying their responses.
New fears over British immigration controls as government sacks e-Borders system supplier
A £1.2billion ‘electronic borders’ system which is supposed to protect Britain from illegal immigrants, terrorists and foreign criminals descended into shambles last night. The Government sacked the U.S.-based firm paid by Labour to introduce the programme after it was hit by chronic delays.
As a result, 100million journeys a year in and out of the UK will continue to go unrecorded by officials in charge of the massive ‘e-Borders’ project. Ministers will also remain unable comprehensively to count people in and out of the country – leaving them in the dark about the true scale of illegal immigration. At the earliest, it will now be 2015 before the UK Border Agency can check and record every arrival and departure.
The e-Borders system had its origins in a grilling of Tony Blair by Jeremy Paxman during the 2005 general election campaign. The then-PM shifted uneasily in his chair while being asked by Mr Paxman – no fewer than 20 times – how many illegal immigrants were in the UK. Pathetically, he was unable to give a satisfactory answer.
The reason, Mr Blair said, was that nobody was counting immigrants in and out of the country, so it was impossible to know precisely who was living here. Thus, Labour began work on the ‘e-Borders’ programme electronically to log every journey in and out of the country.
Five years may have passed since Mr Blair’s humiliation on Newsnight. But if David Cameron were asked the same question today, the answer would be the same: ‘I do not have a clue’.
However, even with its current limited coverage, with only 50 per cent of journeys logged, information gained through e-Borders has led to more than 6,200 arrests – including 46 murderers and 126 sex attackers. The question, given the shambles in the implementation of the programme, is how many more could be slipping through the net.
The coalition is furious because it had been relying on the system working to help implement its tougher border controls and immigration cap. Immigration minister Damian Green said: ‘This Government supports e-Borders, which helps reduce the threat of terrorism, crime and immigration abuse through the electronic collection and checking of individual passenger details against police, security and immigration watch lists.
‘Regrettably, however, the Home Secretary has no confidence in the prime supplier of the e-Borders contract, Raytheon, which since July 2009 has been in breach of contract. ‘With critical parts of the programme already running at least 12 months late, we have taken the decision to terminate the e-Borders contract with them.’
As he revealed the sacking, Mr Green told MPs that £188 million had already been spent on supplier costs.
Britain has not kept complete records of passenger movements since Labour scrapped embarkation controls in 1998.
British magistrate is forced to apologise for saying migrant ‘abused our hospitality’
A magistrate has been forced to apologise for complaining that a foreign defendant was ‘abusing our hospitality’, it was revealed yesterday. The JP was punished by senior judges for having ‘displayed prejudice’ against people who are not British.
A disciplinary board found the magistrate had failed to show ‘the qualities of social awareness and sound judgement’ expected of a court official. They even considered sacking him from the bench, it was revealed.
Ministers in the Coalition government have previously used similar phrases about foreign criminals abusing British hospitality.
The action against the magistrate brought a wave of protest from MPs and criminal law experts who questioned why the use of such a phrase about a defendant accused of crime was in any way insulting or biased.
There was also criticism of the Office for Judicial Complaints, the organisation led by judges that polices wrongdoing on the bench, for its failure to name the male magistrate or give details of the case for which he was disciplined. The magistrate was ‘reprimanded’ on the orders of Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge and ordered to ‘ undertake further training’. He was also removed from a mentoring list of JPs who help to train other magistrates.
In its annual report, the OJC says ‘a judicial office holder had used words in open court with regard to a non-British defendant, that could have been construed as displaying prejudice against them for not being British, including saying, “We take exception to people coming to our shores and abusing our hospitality”.’
Criminologist Dr David Green of the Civitas think-tank said: ‘the magistrate has been sent for “further training”, which sounds to me like re-education as once practised by communist China and North Korea. ‘His phrase implies no hostility to somebody because they are a foreigner. ‘It is a perfectly reasonable remark for a magistrate to make about a criminal and no matter for disciplinary action.’
Douglas Carswell, the Tory MP for Clacton, said the system for enforcing good behaviour among judges and magistrates had ceased to follow democratic values.
Among politicians who have used the magistrate’s phrase is Tony Blair, who as Prime Minister in 2006 wrote of ‘foreign nationals’ suspected of terrorism, ‘if he then abuses our hospitality and threatens us, i feel he should take his chance back in his own home country’.
A Home Office statement on crime last year said of foreigners: ‘We will not tolerate those that abuse our hospitality by becoming involved in crime.’
Last month Coalition Justice minister Crispin Blunt said in a Commons written answer: ‘Foreign nationals who come to our country and abuse our hospitality by breaking our laws should face the full force of the law.’
Dr Green added: ‘It is difficult to understand why the Office for Judicial Complaints has not made the details public so that people can make up their own minds.’
Tthe OCJ report said ‘inappropriate behaviour or comments include rudeness, aggressive behaviour and the use of insulting, profane, racist or sexist language’. It said that over the past year such behaviour has resulted in ‘informal guidance’ from the Lord Chief Justice on nine occasions, four cases of formal advice, and four reprimands.
Four judges or magistrates resigned over inappropriate behaviour or comments, and five were sacked.