Parliamentary Science and Technology Select Committee on homeopathy today

November 25th, 2009 by Ben Goldacre in homeopathy | 66 Comments »

I gave evidence at the Parliamentary SciTech committtee today for their enquiry into whether the government had used scientific evidence properly in making their decisions about MHRA licenses for homeopathic pills, and homeopathy treatment on the NHS. This was a mini-enquiry as a result of interest expressed by the public, which is excellently democratic, you can see the whole thing online here, and some of it is quite good fun.

Personal highlights, from memory, include:

  • Paul Bennett from Boots saying that there is no evidence showing homeopathy pills are effective at treating any conditions, but Boots are happy to sell them anyway, since the MHRA have given them a license. Wahey!
  • Robert Wilson, the head of the homeopathic pill manufacturers’ association, giving us a lecture on trial methodology, explaining that: 65 people in any trial cannot be statistically relevant (which is rubbish, if you have a pill that cures everyone from an incurable condition then 40 people is fine, hell, a dozen would do); that if you talk to statistically literate people they will tell you that size is everything (it’s one of many things); and anything less than 500 people is not going to be statistically significant (which is utter, utter nonsense).
  • Edzard Ernst pwning Peter Fisher with relaxed applomb in the second half, especially when Fisher wheels out some claims on homeopathic aggravations.
  • Some angry looking people in the room staring at me very intently which, from background research by Gimpy, may have been part of a magickal ritual.
  • Evan Harris MP doing his “that’s rubbish” face as it emerged that the Royal Pharmaceutical Society are still slowly investigating a complaint about dangerous homeopathic pharmacists from 2006.
  • Ian Stewart MP talking.

One thing that will never get old for the homeopaths, it seems, is the old practise of pulling out a single trial and saying “ah, but look, pish to your meta-analyses, here is a trial where homeopathy works”. No matter how many times you point out why this is foolish and wrong, they will always think you’re just being picky, and that is why they will always give us joy.

Anyway, it’s worth digging around on the site and watching a few other sessions, if you’re that way inclined. As I’ve said before, I think select committees are really interesting and informative, the one place where politicians do what you’d want them to do all the time, which is to say, sit down and have a good think about policy.

If you like what I do, and you want me to do more, you can: buy my books Bad Science and Bad Pharma, give them to your friends, put them on your reading list, employ me to do a talk, or tweet this article to your friends. Thanks! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

66 Responses

  1. emen said,

    November 27, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    Excellent! Well done, Ben and Tracey Brown and Prof Ernst!

    I’m beginning to get worried about Peter Fisher, though – he sits behind Ben and every time Ben says something, he gets himself into a fit of agressive rage, have a look at 54 min.
    What he needs is a “like-cures-like” (homeopathic) remedy: Ben needs to be diluted and shaken and diluted and shaken until he becomes potent enough to be a remedy for the poor guy. Goldaceris C30, very good stuff, no side-effects.
    (Or, using the “allopathic” approach, Fisher now needs a psychiatrist, in which case I recommend Ben undiluted, for exposure therapy purposes.)

    But seriously. Why on earth the NHS should pay for this rubbish, I never understood. Some of us have been lamenting about the lack of resources on the NHS for cancer screening, GP diagnostic tools etc on another thread here – and then this???

  2. PreviousChemist said,

    November 27, 2009 at 12:35 pm


    You are right, quantum gravity is still an unsolved problem. If anything, it reinforces my point. We model gravity quite well (Newton, modified by Einstein) without knowing how it works, and can demonstrate testable predictions of the model, and show repeatable, measurable, predicted effects. Homœopathy cannot show any effect better than placebo.

  3. troldman said,

    November 27, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    All very interesting, but who is the teenager with curly hair giving evidence?

  4. ch4rl13 said,

    November 27, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    While I know not to expect much from BBC Breakfast, I was blown away by their section this morning based on Paul Bennett’s comments.
    The interviewees being a GP who’s become a homeopathist stating outright that the evidence shows it works, with the ‘balancing'(?) argument provided by a newspaper columnist who sounded like she’s never heard of homeophathy before and thinks its some kind of ‘delicate medicine’, with some comment about it being ‘diluted to 1%’!!!!
    The complete lack of awareness of the issues on the part of the anchor people was astounding (but not atypical) and of course not a science or health editor in sight.

    In my view this is just another example of dangerously poor reporting and analysis (or perhaps simply trivialising the issue) by the BBC from which there is still a worrying perception of quality and unbiassed current affairs output among the general public.

  5. emen said,

    November 27, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    haha, after the meeting apparently Ben tweeted

    “Peter Fisher kept kicking the back of my chair, perhaps he was trying to succuss me”

    you see?, he WAS already trying to cure himself of Ben, don’t I just KNOW homeopaths, it’s frightening

  6. sciencerocks said,

    November 27, 2009 at 7:50 pm


    Watching what was going on behind was certainly very interesting. I had complete sympathy with Tracey Brown, sitting behind the homeopath, as she her held her head in her hands as the homeopath spoke at one point!

    I was surprised to learn recently that there are such people as ‘homotoxicologists’:

    This seems to be even more bizzare than homeopathy, if that is possibile. They apparently use homeopathy but not the “like cures like” principle.

  7. Jut said,

    November 29, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    Here’s what pissed me off…
    The bare faced cheek of the homeopaths to twist, distort and even outright lie to the chair.
    The only question I have is are they knowingly lieing? or do they actually believe the shit they vomit?

    On a lighter note, Evan wins the internet for his piss take on shaking at around 1.35.

  8. Riffler said,

    November 29, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    If only we had the sort of media that would present Paul Bennett’s “we sell it even though it doesn’t work” comments in the same way as they presented Ratner’s “alot of what we sell is crap” a few years ago.

  9. chrisprobert said,

    November 29, 2009 at 10:54 pm

    @Grumpy Bob
    In case I missed it, no-one mentioned VLC player. Install that and it will solve most, if not all of your m’soft based media concerns. It supports mmc:// streams and wmv files. It certainly worked for this link for me (on ubuntu 9.10, but not the silverlight link, never tried that). Not that this changes the fact that government websites should perhaps use more open source tech in the first place, at least in situations like this where they are supposed to be giving the public access to debate.

    P.S. Was quite amazed by the foaming at the mouth of this article, about the chap who seemed to make most sense of the lot.. probably old hat to most of you. But then again I don’t have reason to read the Daily Mail very often:

  10. Jbags said,

    December 1, 2009 at 1:25 am

    That daily mail article… ok, I usually stay away from the daily mail because its not always politic to burst into a fit of rage at work, but gordon bennet, I am absolutely furious. Comments are closed (looking at the comment scores belies a deceptively liberal readership of the mail’s website, or this article at least), and I’m desperately seeking a better way to harangue this journalist. Where did he get his degree?? “Bachelors R’ Us”?

  11. Jeffreysnj said,

    December 1, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    I know there is no point in understanding the mechanism of something that doesn’t work -why bother. However, this is funny:

    radiation therapy!!

    Though the classic is still:

    Have fun

  12. Pro-reason said,

    December 2, 2009 at 8:03 am

    Ben, it’s ‘licence’ and ‘practice’. I’ll let you have ‘magickal’.

  13. Ekolog said,

    December 8, 2009 at 11:26 pm

    Hi Ben – maybe a bit late in this topic, but it still relevant. Something from Polish press on homeopathy and ethics in treating people:
    I want to warn anyone, that it’s originally in Polish and translated roughly into English using Google Translate. I cross-checked and cit’s pretty reliable translation – if anyone is interested in getting explained anything, please email me. I am pretty angry at those homeopaths raising their heads after this case.

  14. Pitini said,

    December 17, 2009 at 8:17 am

    This is gold.

    Can anyone tell me if there is a homeopathic contraceptive pill? If not why not?

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