Alternative medicine on the NHS?

February 12th, 2004 by Ben Goldacre in alternative medicine, bad science, brain gym, express, penises | 5 Comments »

Alternative medicine on the NHS?

Ben Goldacre
Thursday February 12, 2004
The Guardian

· Well, last week’s chemicals with rude names certainly tapped a rich seam. There are some species names that Carl Linnaeus would have been proud of. So, it’s hard to imagine the story behind how we ended up with a leiodid beetle “Colon rectum”, let alone the scarab “Enema pan”. Linnaeus himself named a pink-flowered butterfly pea “Clitoria mariana”, presumably after a special friend, as well as calling a stinkhorn “Phallus”. Someone somewhere is a big fan of the Sex Pistols, as well as trilobytes, calling a group of them Arcticalymene viciousi, A rotteni, A jonesi, A cooki & A matlocki, Agra vation (beetle), Lalapa lusa (tiphiid wasp), and back to the 80s with Aha ha (sphecid wasp). Whoever said scientists were boring?

· Meanwhile, the Sunday Express continues fearlessly to rewrite the science books. “Disogenine is an element,” Hilary Douglas says, “that can be turned into cortisone, oestrogen, or progesterone.” You can get it from dried yams. Bear with me. Synthetic chemicals, apparently, are “invasive”, not half as good for you as “natural” progesterone, which she seems to imagine your body could distinguish from the effectively identical progesterone in HRT pills. Vegetables are “very alkali”, which is apparently a good thing because acid sounds bad, I guess. Apparently, these “very alkali” vegetables will have some kind of beneficial effect on the movement of calcium across bone cell membrane. Oestrogen will weaken bones, rather than the other way round…and why do I care? Because this newspaper hangs its lead editorial, demanding funding for expensive alternative therapies on the NHS, on this meandering litany of half-truths and fantastical misunderstandings. The day that serious government health policy is influenced by such works of fantasy…Blair guru Carole Caplin in the Mail on Sunday continues her campaign against EU plans to force alternative therapy peddlers to put proper ingredients labels on its products and get licences for the dangerous ones. Be afraid.

· But, the smiling face of a cheeky kid shines like a ray of sunshine into these dark days: “I’d like to submit the revision advice of my teacher. She claims that because the brain works by transmitting electricity through water, drinking more water will improve mental performance.” Sounds like those pseudoscientists are taking in gullible teachers again. The joy of science: you don’t have to be big to be clever.

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5 Responses

  1. Sharon E. Holsten said,

    August 21, 2005 at 8:43 am

    Hello, I just your site and reaiiy like it . But ,please, for science illiterates like me, could you please give a little more “good science”‘ explantions? Thanks for a great site, sincerly,S.E. Holsten

  2. a reed said,

    September 17, 2005 at 3:21 pm

    One reason the alternative therapists may not wish their ingredients to be listed could be because in the knowledge that they don’t work, some have simply added drugs to them. In the midlands, there are cases of steroids being added to the eczema creams peddled by alternative therapists. Of course, this is without any warning, advice, knowledge on the part of the patient or doctor treating them.

  3. Ben Goldacre said,

    September 17, 2005 at 3:24 pm


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