The UK Government has now responded to the report of its Science and Technology Committee, which investigated the evidence for homeopathy and presented recommendations in its report, Evidence Check 2: Homeopathy.
Amongst its strong recommendations, it argued that the UK health service should not be promoting medical therapies for which there is no credible evidence, and that if the NHS were supplying such services, they would inevitably be receiving a form of endorsement.
There are very many medical practitioners in the UK who are outraged at the promotion of nonsensical water treatment which misleads patients into thinking they are receiving some benefit when there is no evidence whatsoever to support the claims.
The STC provided detailed and authoritative arguments, including a demolition of the suggested evidence offered by the homeopaths. Anyone who wishes to read the excellent report can do so here. Now the government has provided its response, and it is breath-taking in its absurdity; making a complete mockery of claims to have the public interest at heart.
In considering the Evidence Check 2 report, the government acknowledges all of the points made by the scientific and medical contributors, and agrees that there is inadequate evidence to support the claims of homeopathy. They argue that the people most able to decide on the effective treatment of patients are the medical practitioners themselves, and they understand clearly that if the NHS provides homeopathic treatment, then the public will think that it is endorsing it, but that doesn’t seem to matter to the government. As they put it in their response: “There naturally will be an assumption that if the NHS is offering homeopathic treatments then they will be efficacious, whereas the overriding reason for NHS provision is that homeopathy is available to provide patient choice.”
Presumabl,y that also means that if people demanded the choice of offering sacrifices to promote health, or a service to offer prayers on the NHS, they too would only be a matter of preserving patient choice and would therefore have a case for provision, regardless of any criteria of efficacy. This clearly puts the government in an awkward position because they also say: “In order for the public to make informed choices, it is therefore vitally important that the scientific evidence base for homeopathy is clearly explained and available”. The irony of this statement clearly escapes them because the Evidence Check 2 report demonstrated in considerable detail that there is no evidence base for homeopathy and that was precisely the significance of the report.
When it came to looking at the homeopathic claim of “like for like”, instead of recognising that there is no evidence whatsoever in support of this principle, the government failed to realise that there is a difference between opinion and evidence. They commented that since some people dispute the scientific evidence, they therefore felt that “there may be limited evidence of efficacy in some circumstances”. This of course, does not follow at all. All it says is that some people don’t accept the evidence against homeopathy.
That such supporting evidence doesn’t exists seems not to trouble them in the slightest. Just the disagreement alone is assumed to have the same weight as scientific evidence: in order to provide a credible case against something, all you have to do it seems is to say you disagree. The evidence of disagreement is not the same as evidence in favour of the efficacy of homeopathy any more than a believer in the moon being made of cheese provides “limited evidence” that it is true.
And since they see science as simply one opinion amngst many, they can produce the following comment: “Given the depth of feeling on each side of the debate, it is unlikely that this controversy could be resolved by further analysis of the literature or research on the efficacy of homeopathy.” This, of course, is factually untrue. Scientific studies can demonstrate perfectly well that the claims of homeopathy are untrue. Such studies have been done and the evidence has been peer-reviewed and published and presented to the government. They just ignored it.
On the question of regulation, they wanted to avoid interference in the market for these sugar pills but acknowledged: “If regulation was applied to homeopathic medicines as understood in the context of conventional pharmaceutical medicines, these products would have to be withdrawn from the market as medicine.” In other words, if the marketers can’t demonstrate efficacy, the pills would have to be withdrawn. That’s precisely the point made by the Evidence Check 2 report. But of course, we apparently can’t do anything that might interfere with this very profitable business and that’s the clear message coming from the government reponse.
They know homeopathy doesn’t work. They know there’s no credible evidence for it. They know it can’t demonstrate efficacy. They know that the NHS promoting it gives it false credibility. They know that the whole show is bogus but very profitable and so they’ll leave it alone. They’ve decided to encourage the corruption of the medical establishment by the state promotion of a bogus nonsensical therapy in the clear knowledge that it doesn’t work. And the reason for doing this? Because they insist that choice is more important than effective treatment. Of course, the issue of choice is important. Patients should be able to choose what treatment they will accept. But there is no good reason why the state should fund irrational non-treatments. That’s simply dishonest and unethical.
The UK economy is, from all accounts, desperately trying to make cuts in public spending, and yet the government is prepared to continue allowing irrational non-treatments to be subsidised by the NHS. How could they get into such a strange ethical position? The clue is in their misunderstanding of how science works. Many of these decision-makers confuse arguments about the meaning of scientific results, with the results themselves. If a scientific conclusion is nothing more than an opinion, then scientific evidence counts for nothing. And that’s exactly how many of the government members think. But scientific results stand regardless of the beliefs and opinions of scientists. The evidence stands up for itself and does not rely on anyone’s opinions. Differences of opinion do not change the evidence. Homeopathy does not work and there is no evidence to show that it does. That, for scientists and all rational people, settles the question, it cannot be settled by consensus. Having no understanding of the objectivity of scientific methods, they see any sign of dispute as meaning the science itself cannot be trusted. This, of course, plays into the hands of those who, for strong commercal reasons, are opposed to the rational analysis of the claims being made in alternative medicine.
This government response demonstrates the paucity of scientific understanding amongst the members of the UK government, and their manifest inability to take scientific evidence into account. It shows too, that their belief in the market far outweighs any concern for the welfare of patients, as they are perfectly willing to hand them over to peddlers of fake medical treatments.
I think few realistic scientists expected anything better from this government, or from its predecessor, but it shows just how deeply the irrationalism and gullibility and sheer antiscientific attitudes have penetrated the minds of many MPs. For them, choice and the market is everything, science is nothing, and concern for medical ethics doesn’t even get a look-in.