Don’t throw away those drugs

August 14th, 2003 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, bbc, express, independent, scare stories | 2 Comments »

Don’t throw away those drugs

Ben Goldacre
Thursday August 14, 2003
The Guardian

· After the slightly overplayed HRT and breast cancer editorial in the Lancet, I was itching with delight at the prospect of another pill scare, especially in the week that MMR vaccination rates – the scientific illiterati’s last major public health victory – were shown to have dropped into the red zone of 70% in parts of the country. The Lancet report was the latest of many pieces of research over many years showing that HRT, as with all drugs, is a tricky matter of weighing up risks and benefits. Or as Joan Smith of the Independent on Sunday put it: “Trust me, I’m not a doctor…chuck away the tablets.” Yup, stop ’em suddenly, the readers’ll thank you for that one in the days to come. Christa Ackroyd of the Sunday Express has been contemplating a move into scientific research as an ideas powerhouse. “The survey begs many answers to many important questions, but how about this one for starters? If 1.5 million women in the UK are already on it, why is this the world’s first study into its long-term effects?” Good point, Christa. After all, there have only been 1,594 articles published referring to HRT and breast cancer in the past two decades. And as for the columnists who don’t like having “chemicals” in their bodies, can I suggest dialysis as the most effective way to remove your own hormones.

· A reader has stumbled upon timely advice for anyone travelling with homeopathic remedies from the website “Try not to put homeopathic remedies through airport security x-rays as it will render their healing properties less effective.” I wonder who made that one up. You should also “pack them well away from strong-smelling substances, ie essential oils, perfume, after-shave, toothpaste etc”. And bullshit, presumably. Perhaps they got their ideas from the Society of Homeopaths’ leaflet series: “You can protect them by using a lightweight lead-lined bag of the type sold for photographic films, or carrying them in your pocket.” Evidence on a postcard please. Speaking of which, may I draw your attention to point 72 of the society’s code of ethics: “To avoid making claims implying cure of any named disease.” Transgressions of that on a postcard please. Although an email would do.

· And lastly, it was a treat to see the BBC cottoning on to the snake oil industry explosion, with their one-off TV show the UK’s Worst Quacks last week. Although many of you were surprised to see a homeopath on the programme’s panel, merrily passing judgment…

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