Repeat with banging
Over the past week there has been an ongoing ‘evidence check’ by the ‘House of Commons Science and Technology Sub-Committee’ to see whether the governments current policies on issues relating to homeopathy were supported by scientific evidence. The manner in which the evidence is being checked largely revolves around a series of expert panels being questioned by a committee of MPs.
In the first of these panels which took place on the 25th November 2009 the panels of experts stacked up as follows:
Dr. Ben Goldacre– Medical doctor, writer and Guardian columnist. Merciless mocker of bad science and tireless advocate of good science.
Tracey Brown- Managing director of science advocacy charity Sense About Science. Another tireless promoter of science who is a familiar face to all those following the Simon Singh libel case.
Prof. Jayne Lawrence- Chief Scientific Advisor for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain. Title says it all really.
Paul Bennet- Professional Standards Director of well known pharmaceutical retailer, Boots. Present because Boots is one of the largest retailers of Homeopathic remedies in the UK.
Robert Wilson- Chairman of the British Association of Homeopathic Manufacturers. Shockingly an advocate for homeopathy.
Prof. Edzard– Director of Complementary Medicine Group at Peninsula Medical School. Long term researcher into the validity of alternative treatments and co-author of Trick or Treatment: Alternative medicine on trial with Simon Singh.
Dr. James Thallon- Medical Director of NHS West Kent. Not familiar with the chap but he seemed to be an advocate of evidence based medicine and hence less than impressed with homeopathy.
Dr. Peter Fisher- Director of Research at Royal London Homeopathic Hospital. Hard to direct research at a homeopathic hospital without being a staunch advocate for homeopathy. A practising homeopath and a medical doctor.
Dr. Robert Mathie- Research Development Advisor of the British Homeopathic Association. Another staunch advocate for homeopathy.
I know this has been around the block already but it’s just so good that it’s worth having some lasting reference to:
The sketch is by the British comedians David Mitchell and Robert Webb and is taken from the second series of their sketch show That Mitchell and Webb Look. Nice to see skepticism in the mainstream and just goes to show that sometimes a two minute sketch is perhaps the most effective format for conveying the absurdity of homeopathy.
The Cochrane collaboration is a highly regarded international association that seeks to provide the most up to date summary of the available evidence surrounding medical treatments. It does this by publishing systematic reviews of clinical studies authored by independent reviewers.
Earlier this week the Cochrane colloaboration published a review examining Homeopathic medicines for adverse effects of cancer treatments. The review looked at eight studies, considered relevant and of suitable quality, although in actual fact the studies could be subdivided further as they are addressing three different things. All were looking at the effectiveness of homeopathic treatments but three were concerned with alleviating the effects of radiotherapy, three alleviating the symptoms of chemotherapy and two allievating menopausal symptoms in women with breast cancer.
All of these studies were thus not looking at whether homeopathic treatments have any effect on cancer directly although unfortunately this connection will likely be drawn by many who see the headlines reporting this review. Instead, they were looking at whether homeopathic treatments could alleviate the side effects of two cancer treatments and menopausal symptoms in cancer sufferers better than a placebo treatment.
Well it seems I can’t get this Brooks fella out of my head (see the post before this). After having a look through the Skeptiko interview transcript I was reminded of some of the nonsense from that interview that I didn’t get round to addressing in the last post. So below are a few more of my thoughts on why this interview suggests Brooks is (to put it mildly) not the best source for accurate science portrayals.
Science writer Michael Brooks has been cropping up all over the place recently (or at least all over places I pay attention to) seemingly on the promotion circuit for his recent (2008) book on scientific mysteries ’13 things that don’t make sense’. I’ve actually read several of his articles in the past without noticing he was the author but I first came across him personally about a week ago in an interview for the ‘skeptiko’ podcast- an unfortunately titled anti-science and pro-paranormal/pseudo-science- show hosted by one Alex Tsakiris.
Alex’s guest’s tend to be proponents of various paranormal or pseudoscientific silliness however there is the occasional skeptic or mainstream researcher thrown into the mix, so Brooks’ appearance on Skeptiko was no real indication of where on the spectrum of silliness to serious he lies. His interview was. And it isn’t good news.