Thursday, 17 February 2011

"This avoids the need to prove the science . . ."

There was a great deal of laughter on Twitter last night when this panicky e-mail landed in my inbox, leaked by a friend who was one of the recipients, and which I evilly passed on to several dozen skeptics:

Hi everyone

One of the students at college has brought the message below to our attention; so I am passing it on to everybody.

Please read and forward on to people you think may be interested.

Thanks xx Anna


This is urgent. TOP PRIORITY!!! The deadline is the 18th of February. The practice of homeopathy by lay homeopaths is at stake, and if the MHRA changes the wording to the document mentioned below, we will ...not be allowed to practice any longer. This will take effect immediately. The new wording which is being suggested by sense against science, and is being considered by the MHRA will effectively put us in catch 22 so that we can no longer give out remedies - basically, it is about the difference between dispensing and prescribing. all homeopaths dispense remedies as a normal part of daily practice. the new rules will mean that it will be illegal to dispense without a license, and only a qualified doctor can make a prescription. without the ability to dispense, all we can do is sit and listen to people's problems, but can do nothing else about it. this will also have an affect on the homeopathic pharmacies, who will only be allowed to dispense licensed remedies (currently, only arnica and possibly one or two others are licensed) unless prescribed by a physician, and this means the potential loss of thousands of remedies. The key words in the version we want, which help keep homeopathy going are "...use within the homeopathic tradition". This avoids the need to prove the science behind prescribing of remedies and allows us to practise as normal.

Could you please send this template to EVERYONE and inundate Ms Farmer with requests to keep the wording as shown below, so that homeopaths can continue to practise homeopathy legally.

Please contact everyone on your database, if you are a homeopath, please send it in yourself and contact all your patients to do the same. we can counteract sense about science with numbers. we just proved we have greater numbers than they do, and that when we mobilise, we can beat them at their own game. last week, they started a poll against homeopathy in an irish newspaper ( see link - and inundated it with votes against. it was 435 against 67 for. we started a campaign on facebook, and within 24 hours, we shifted the balance of power to what you see here in the link - 67% for 27% against. they gave up and went away with their tails between their legs, and we showed them that people don't want what they have to offer.

Please help us to do this again. many people don't realise this new risk we are facing. it only takes a minute to copy and paste the below template and email it. Apologies in advance if you have acted on this already.

Thank you to everyone in advance - i know if we all work together, we can beat this.

Ms Andrea Farmer

MHRA, Area 5M

151 Buckingham Palace Road

Victoria, London SW1W 9SZ

Dear Ms Farmer,

I am writing to you about the MHRA consultation document entitled; Review of Medicines Act 1968: informal consultation on issues relating to the PLR regime and homeopathy. As a member of the public who chooses to use homeopathy and benefits from its application/practicing homeopath (delete as applicable), I am deeply concerned by the current orchestrated campaign against homeopathy, which is led by a self-appointed pressure group, Sense About Science, and a number of bloggers.

I consider it to be a fundamental right of any citizen living in a country which purports to be a democracy, to have ready access to the healthcare option of their choice. This includes homeopathy, which as you know is included in the original NHS charter.

I find your statement below acceptable for the new registration labels, and can see no reason to change this statement:

"A homeopathic medicinal product licensed only on the basis of safety, quality and use within the homeopathic tradition"

Yours sincerely,

I'll completely ignore the whole business of competitive polljacking. It's something I find entirely tiresome and pointless - any fool can play at that game and they generally do. As Bertrand Russell said: "The fact that a belief has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not absolutely absurd" - and polljacks are hardly proportional census reports. So I'll start with the fact that I guess I can add two homeopathy proofs:

1) My spelling, punctuation and grammar are appalling.
2) This is because I have been concentrating on homeopathy, which is more important.
3) You only notice because you are petty.
4) And also because you have nothing important on your mind.
5) Therefore, homeopathy works.

1) Some self-appointed pressure groups and bloggers can orchestrate campaigns.
2) They are self-appointed and therefore wrong.
3) Therefore, their campaigns are wrong, as is the orchestration.
4) I know if we work together we can beat this.
5) Therefore, our campaigns and orchestration are right.
6) Therefore, homeopathy works.

If I understand right, the proposal that has so upset this student is summarised here (feel free to sign - at the time of writing there is a short time left in which to do so). The actual document, which may be the source of the panic, is here.

The points in question are as follows. Point 23 states: "“The MHRA will review the labelling requirements under the NRS to ensure that these deliver clarity as to the status of products and their composition" (i.e. that the composition is sugar and water?).

And the fuss is, I think, over the next three points:

24. The form of wording currently used on the labelling and in the accompanying patient information leaflet under the NRS is

“A homeopathic medicinal product used within the homeopathic tradition for the symptomatic relief of ….”

25. MHRA considers there is scope for this information to be made more specific, particularly for the benefit of those consumers who may be less familiar with the nature of homeopathy. We propose the following more explicit form of wording should be used, on the outer packaging and patient information leaflet:

“A homeopathic medicinal product licensed only on the basis of safety, quality and use within the homeopathic tradition”

26. Information about indications would read:

“A homeopathic medicinal product used within the homeopathic tradition for the symptomatic relief of……”

So as you see, homeopathy is hardly being illegalised. I'm not sure the proposed sentence in point 25 will actually change anything - how many people take the slightest notice of the fact that all adverts for horoscope telephone numbers in newspapers have the disclaimer "For entertainment purporses only"? And that in itself is, in my opinion, a great deal clearer. I fear people need a great deal more education to read label-ese - and if that's taught in schools, I'm afraid I missed it.

That the student ends the first pargraph (the one beginning with "URGENT! TOP PRIORITY!") with "this avoids the need to prove the science behind prescribing of remedies and allows us to practice as normal" rather sums up the whole business.

But what also sums it up is that the whole thing was accepted without question by the professor and passed on just like that. Imagine if a student of any other subject wrote to a professor with a great deal of misinformation, asking for everyone to be informed and to act against the supposed enemy, and the professor, rather than correcting the student or recommending a little more research, simply went ahead! Not only would this be bad practice to the rest of their students and colleagues and the whole academic community, but it would be effectively humiliating the student!

I quote a couple of responses people made when I forwarded on the e-mail to them:

"The MHRA will not change the rules on Friday; homeopaths will still be able to sell their sugar pills. The MHRA are proposing changing the wording for National Rules products. There is ONE such product: Nelson's Arnicare. The changes they (or at least Big Quacka) should be more worried are the revoking of all Product Licences of Right, because with that goes the right to claim it's good for minor and serious medical conditions. She either has not read the consultation document or has completely misunderstood it."

"I'm afraid I saw this as an example of a student getting hold of the wrong end of a stick and leaping into the fray wielding it - even if the fray is entirely of the student's imagining. Very poor that an administrator has picked it up and run with it though. Very professional, right down to the xx. Poor Ms Farmer, who will be inundated with these emails - no doubt many of them still with 'delete as appropriate' in them - and will no doubt form her own opinion of whose is the orchestrated campaign."

You can read more at Zeno's Blog, Don't Homeopanic at Crispian's, and at the Quackometer.

In the kind of democracy the student and the unquestioning professor claim we should have, anyone can dispense any remedy, regardless of what it does - their own faith and shunning of explanations is evidence enough that they are "helping". Is that really the kind of democracy we want? To put it another way, would you want your own doctor to give you whatever vaccinations he or she fancies; your schoolteacher to teach your child any old thing such as religious extremism, rolling down grassy banks or lion-taming? Just the way most people agree on a set of general manners, I think it's only sensible to agree on a set of medical rules - and I'm afraid science, not salespeople's hurt feelings, is the better driver of medicine's progress.


Zeno said...


Read what I hope is a slightly more informed response to the MHRA's consultation:

Zeno's Blog » Active ingredients: still none (hopefully)

Alice said...

I linked to that post above :P ;-)

Zeno said...

Doh! I had thought you had linked to my previous blog was late... :-)

Skepticat said...

You are right about polljacking of course. Isn't it just a teensy-weensy bit funny, though, that the poll in question ended up with 80% voting against homeopathy?