According to its pages on the Parliament website, the role of the Commons Select Committee for Science and Technology is:
‘… to ensure that Government policy and decision-making are based on good scientific and engineering advice and evidence.’
That’s scientific advice; not, note, pseudoscientific.
We’re also informed that the Committee ‘scrutinises the Government Office for Science (GO-Science)’, which ‘… “supports the Government Chief Scientific Adviser and works to ensure that Government policy and decision-making is underpinned by robust scientific evidence”.’ The Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Mark Wolpert, concurs with his predecessor, and with the Chief Medical Officer, that government funding of homeopathy is “nonsense”. One wonders, then, what he must make of the Committee’s inclusion of that bumbling humbugger, David Tredinnick, MP.
One of the Committee’s current inquiries is into antimicrobial resistance, which is presenting an increasingly serious public health problem. Last Weds (8th Jan) saw the second evidence session of this inquiry, split between two witness panels, the second of which,
‘… will provide evidence on different approaches to address infection that may help with the issue of anti-microbial resistance, including bacteriophages, vaccines, alternative medicines and diagnostics.’ (Emphasis added.)
For those who don’t get it, the term ‘alternative medicine’ is a nonsense one, preserved by its dreamers who persist in their insistence of the efficacy of unevidential treatment of sick people. If there was actual real evidence it worked as medicine, then it wouldn’t be ‘alternative’… it would be medicine. So, is the Science and Technology Committee’s apparently paradoxical receptiveness to information on pseudoscientific ‘alternatives’ a consequence of the lunar influence of Tredinnick?
Scanning the names of this panel, I noted that it included George Lewith. (Him again?!) Thankfully, Peter Fisher was not there, though we were later informed, courtesy of Tredinnick, that he had submitted prior written evidence… with Lewith. I cannot find this documentary evidence anywhere on the site; and the transcript of the oral evidence for this second evidence session is, as I write, not yet available, so the quotes below are transcribed from the available-to-view broadcast.
Whilst it is unarguable that we need novel approaches (effective alternatives to antibiotics) to combat infectious disease and the problem of AMR, Tredinnick’s agendum is immediately apparent when he commences his input to proceedings just after 11 a.m. (11.03.55→). Surely those sitting on a Government Select Committee ‘… to ensure that Government policy and decision-making are based on good scientific and engineering advice and evidence’ ought to possess a reasonable grasp of what constitutes sound scientific evidence – and what does not. But, in what strikes me as an abuse of proceedings here, reminiscent of his recent turn on the Select Committee for Health, Tredinnick comes armed with his own highlighted chosen ‘evidence’, framed as questions to put to the witnesses. For example:
(11.09.29) “According to a submission from the Chinese Medical Institute…” which (he informs us) extols Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture:
“… acupuncture can strengthen the immune system… the effect can further be enhanced when acupuncture is combined with Chinese herbal medicine and western medicine… Is this not something we should be looking at more carefully… a body of knowledge there that’s been developed over thousands of years?”
Lewith (who here and there is apparently making a case for more funding for research/trials of un-patentable herbal remedies, but which is not my focus here) firstly responds, “Well we are”, before injecting some sense:
“That’s a bit of a claim. I’ll just leave it that… You’re unlikely to go to your GP… and get acupuncture for your chest infection. That’s not going to be cost effective; that’s not a reasonable thing to expect the NHS to pay for.”
Before appealing to antiquity, perhaps Tredinnick should check the historical and up-to-date scientific evidence on the ‘treatments’ he believes our money should be spent on. Fat chance:
(11.12.55) “I think I’m right in saying that none of you are qualified [sic] as homeopaths. But, Professor Lewith, your submission was in conjunction with Dr. Peter Fisher… I think I’m right in saying, who is the Queen’s physician, and… also runs the London Hospital for Integrated Healthcare [sic]. He draws attention in your submission, I assume it’s him, to a Health Technology Assessment commissioned by the Swiss Federal Government…” on homeopathy… “… and also refers to a study supported by the Indian* Ministry of Health”… on homeopathy.
Would it not be sensible for us to make further investigations in this field to establish its usage… whether its usage is effective?”
That’s Tredinnick citing governments spending money on useless research as endorsement of his wish that our Government waste our money doing likewise. Lewith responds:
“As far as homeopathy is concerned… I don’t want to get involved in that.”
Because, as Lewith realises, this (pre-Tredinnick) committee’s stance on the public funding of homeopathy irks many of his homeopath mates, such as Fisher. But he then goes on:
“If you wanted to know whether homeopathy really worked for these infections, then you really need to do more clinical trials. Because the trials are promising but small.”
equivocating open mind you have, George. We know homeopathy does bugger all for ‘these infections’, or anything else. But this is music to Tredinnick’s ears, which are readily attuned to anything bigging up homeopathy, such as that Swiss study disingenuously fed him by Fisher (and Lewith in conjunction), but which turn to cloth in proximity to, or never get within shot of, reality–based assessments.
Lewith does this confusing thing: he can have you on the verge of nodding in agreement, and then throws you a confounding line. I’m sure his sidekick Fisher must feel likewise when Lewith appeals to the large numbers of homeopaths in Europe “who use homeopathy quite regularly”… and “… use many fewer antibiotics”, but then makes a statement that Fisher must surely bristle at:
“Whether that’s placebo or real effect, err, we don’t know.”
Err, we do know. It is not real (physiologically, leaving aside discussion of the ‘placebo effect’). If you consider we don’t know, George, then why do you put your name to submitted written evidence to a Government committee, citing a (blown out the water) report asserting real effect?
Are Fisher and Lewith truly ignorant of the responses to that Swiss study they cite in evidence? Or do they consider them invalid; or just ignore them? Is Tredinnick aware, regardless? If not, then as someone who sits on a Government committee that ultimately ‘works to ensure that Government policy and decision-making is underpinned by robust scientific evidence’, he bloody well ought to be. Why do the Committee Chair or any other members (overtly) raise neither objection nor eyebrow at what is going on here? For those unfamiliar beforehand, Tredinnick’s fallacy-ridden motivation was revealed soon enough after his joining the Committee. What is the justification for a scientific committee’s inclusion of someone who endorses and advocates pseudoscientific, unevidential medical ‘alternatives’?
[*I think he said “Indian”, though I didn’t quite catch what he mumbled, so we’ll have to wait for the transcript.]