He just cannot help himself. During the fourth evidence session of the House of Commons Select Committee for Science and Technology’s inquiry into antimicrobial resistance last week, David Tredinnick, quoting a statistic from a source he had located in the HoC Library, deemed it relevant to ask (@ 09:55) the first witness panel:
“Between 1994 and 2008, almost half of the drugs approved have been based on natural products. Have you looked at the possibility of greater use of herbal medicine and acupuncture as a way of reducing the need for antibiotics?”
Acupuncture is especially confusing here. How on earth Tredinnick envisages that the placebic act of sticking pins in people can rid them of microbial infection, is beyond me. Perhaps he should be asked to provide the Committee with an evidential explanation as to how this might be. Professor Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust, responded appropriately:
“Most of the antibiotics, anti-infective agents we have today come from some sort of natural product (gives examples)… there’s been huge efforts made… to develop drugs from natural products… ongoing… very active… extraordinarily difficult.”
And pre-empting Tredinnick (who at this point had not brought it up):
“I personally do not believe there’s a role for homeopathy… unless it’s proven to be of benefit.”
Undeterred (or oblivious to anything contravening his pet delusions), Tredinnick, despite it not being an interest of any of the witnesses sat before him, happily raised homeopathic ‘treatment’ of farm animals, before proceeding to shoot himself in the pes planus:
“The last Science Committee did an Evidence Check on homeopathy and said it didn’t work, basically, despite the fact that they didn’t call any homeopaths to present their case.”
I sincerely hope that Tredinnick has poor recollection here; otherwise, the question arises as to whether he has wilfully misled a Government Committee. Among the witnesses called to contribute orally to the evidence sessions of that 2009 inquiry were:
Robert Wilson, Chairman, British Association of Homeopathic Manufacturers,
Dr Peter Fisher, Director of Research, Royal London Homeopathic Hospital,
Dr Robert Mathie, Research Development Adviser, British Homeopathic Association.
And of the 56 written evidence submissions the Committee considered, well I’ll leave it to you to count how many were of homeopathy-sympathetic bent. But they included (HO 46; p. 248) Memorandum by Tredinnick himself, in which he bemoans the fact that
‘Only one doctor using homeopathy gave oral evidence… No doctors using homeopathy in a primary care setting have been asked.’
Asked? As in, invited to discuss the scientific evidence? Of course, any doctor who uses homeopathy in primary care presumably does so because they believe it works (one hopes; otherwise they’re arguably operating unethically); but is such a practitioner best placed to provide scientific evidence – which is what they would be called to do before the Committee? The ‘one’ referred to here would be Dr Peter Fisher (a practising homeopath), whose infamous statements to the Committee on succussion (“The shaking is important… If you just gently stir it, it doesn’t work”) I’m considering printing on a T-shirt. That Tredinnick apparently deems such pronouncement to be ‘scientifically’ relevant to these inquiries is surely demonstration that he is not fit to serve on this committee. But he just doesn’t get it:
“But there’s been since then a lot of research done… I’m just putting it to you that, if we’re going to deal with this subject scientifically, we’ve got to think out of the box and look at natural remedies that are around and look at this small but very popular in the world is science of homeopathy, we’ll have to grip this and put this in the pot.”
“Science of homeopathy” is a contradiction in terms; one that Sir John Savill, CEO of the Medical Research Council, might have been expected to pick up on. But not only was he disappointingly diplomatic, he made an unscientifically-founded comment in response:
“It’s an interesting point…. The principle might in my mind work for stimulating the innate immune response to infection. I think it’s harder to see how sub-molecular concentrations of anything are going to kill a bacterium and stop it in its tracks… The principle of not dismissing anything is well taken.”
Savill here seems to buy the homeopaths’ (and pretty much any CAM variant’s) pet cover-all line: that it stimulates the immune system (which, I guess, is why Tredinnick believes acupuncture merits mention). But where is the scientific evidence – which, note, is supposedly the thing of interest to the committee – for this? Why concede a (trite) flimsy hypothesis?
Michael McIntyre, Chair of the European Herbal and Traditional Medicine Practitioners Association, entered proceedings (@ 10:30) as part of the second witness panel, making his first plug:
“Herbal medicines are an unexplored resource… they have significant potential to produce cheap medicines. They are used in other countries and across the world as a matter of course, and have a good track record in helping antimicrobial resistance, particularly now there is research showing that relatively cheap herbal medicines used with drugs that are on the market to which microbes have developed resistance when combined with a herb, actually some of these antibiotics become active again.”
Okay. (Is ‘combination’ the herbalists ‘integration’?) But what of instances of the converse: herbs disactivating or detrimentally affecting otherwise efficacious medicines? Somewhat unnecessarily, McIntyre (@ 10:45) continued:
“We should be open-minded… think outside the box.”
Ah, the old ‘keep an open mind’ chestnut is a favoured fallback of the CAM-ites (and a belief-requiring resort of fraudulent psychics*); a common stratagem when required evidence is shortcoming. And, I think, baseless in this context.
McIntyre goes on to make calls for (legitimising, funding-friendly) “integration”. Tredinnick must have thought he was dreaming, but had to wait his turn (@ 11:11:42) before he could exchange herbal pleasantries with McIntyre, again quoting his HoC Library source, and taking the opportunity to unashamedly inform all of his own vice-chairmanship of something amusingly calling itself the “Herbal Working Group”. Other panel members reiterated Farrar’s earlier point on the natural origins of many medicines, with Dr David Williams, CEO of Discuva, further commenting on the issue of safety, a point necessary to counter the CAM-peddled fallacy that ‘natural’ implicates ‘safe’. McIntyre concurs on this, but also throws in a personal anecdote about his own treatment of his own foot ulcer. This unscientific anecdotal irrelevancy should be struck from the record.
Expecting a favourable response, Tredinnick switches tack (@ 11:20:45) back to his perhaps most favoured topic; asked for his view on homeopathy, McIntyre, whilst stressing that he is not a homeopath, again ventures:
“We should keep a very open mind…”
To what? A Committee tasked ‘… to ensure that Government policy and decision-making are based on good scientific and engineering advice and evidence’ should be open to suggestions which are not so based? What the fuck is going on here?!
“… If there is research showing that something works, we should have a look at it, that’s all.”
Well, quite. Thankfully, Williams had the cojones to interject (@ 11:22:22) some terse realism:
“The emperor’s naked; I can’t see any point in doing it.”
Tredinnick’s reinvocation of the animal studies he mentioned earlier is also dismissed by Williams. Tredinnick’s responding final remark:
“Well, the jury’s out.”
Yeah, out to lunch!
* I realise that ‘fraudulent’ here is an unnecessary qualifier, rendering this label tautologous.