Chocolates and homeopathy
Thursday April 24, 2003
New: Talk about Bad science
Â· I was delighted to see that the government has given Â£1.3m to the pseudo-scientists marketing alternative therapies such as homeopathy and acupuncture. This money will go towards research projects to determine whether their money-making scams really help people, and whether they should be available on the NHS. I can think of nothing better, though why an industry reported this week to make Â£130m a year out of the British public can’t be bothered to spend 1% of that on sorting out its own research is another question. And how they plan to help an underfunded NHS, in which GPs can offer only six-minute appointments, get round the fact that people prefer alternative therapists because they are privately employed to spend an hour listening to people talk about themselves without calling it counselling, is another matter.
Â· What you might not know, because it’s so much less newsworthy, is that the government has given an equal and opposite gift to the noble bad science hunters of the world, having arranged for everyone to have free access to the Cochrane Library online. This is the best single source of reliable evidence about the effects of health care in the world. It is built up from statistical reviews of the available experimental evidence, combining the results from lots of different trials to make one big one, and offers the best chance of getting at the reality of what works and what doesn’t. Being a trouble maker, the first thing I did was go to their site (link below) and look up acupuncture. Oh look, there are 22 studies already on smoking and acupuncture. Hang on: “There is no clear evidence that acupuncture, acupressure, laser therapy or electrostimulation are effective for smoking cessation.”
The Cochrane Library
Â· Lastly, it was good to see that in these godless times, with church attendance dropping yearly, we have at least managed to maintain the traditional Easter ritual of stories in the news about chocolate being good for you. Speculative laboratory studies about antioxidant flavonoids, and their possible effect on the immune system and bone metabolism, were gaily reported in more places than I could count as if the patient population studies on osteoporosis and coronary heart disease were already in the bag. But if you really think you need more of vitamins A1, B1, B2, C, D, and E, why not skip the chocolates and get your fat arse down to the market to buy some fruit for a change?
Dr Goldacre will be back next week. Please send your favourite Bad Science to: firstname.lastname@example.org