Britain’s National Health Service about to ban homeopathy

Not before time!

Why Evolution Is True

Reader Barrie called my attention to an article in The Independent  that offers some good news: Britan’s NHS, based on a 48-page document about items that shouldn’t be prescribed in primary care medicine, seems set to stop prescribing Magic Water, otherwise known as homeopathic medicine.

The motivation for the whole document was to eliminate, as a cost-cutting measure, those prescribed items that were of low clinical effectiveness. So there are many drugs listed, but on page 14 you’ll find this:

Actually, given Prince Charles’s fondness for this quackery (he even uses it own his own farm animals), I’m surprised the expenditure by the NHS is less than £100,000 per year, but it sends an important signal to people that the government health agency sees homeopathy as ineffective. Now I’m sure that patients who want Magic Water can still buy it themselves, but at least doctors can’t prescribe it.

Here’s a…

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10 Things I Want Parents Who Don’t Vaccinate Their Kids To Know

A comprehensive refutation of common anti-vaccination claims.


I read a blog post today, entitled “10-things-want-parents-vaccinate-kids-know” and I felt the need to respond.

1.Most of the time the diseases we vaccinate for are very mild and unlike vaccine injury, they last only a short time. This is not true. Back when vaccine-preventable diseases were common, disease injury was common. 30% of measles patients suffer complications requiring hospitalization and some of those will be permanently injured. Back when nearly all children got measles, this mean thousands suffered injury every year.  Polio was also very bad in the 1950s.  “In 1952 alone, nearly 60,000 children were infected with the virus; thousands were paralyzed, and more than 3,000 died. Hospitals set up special units with iron lung machines to keep polio victims alive. Rich kids as well as poor were left paralyzed.”  source  Before the hepatitis V vaccine was recommended for all children in 1994,  30%…

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More Trumpish anti-science: The Donald reportedly asked anti-vaxxer to head panel on vaccine safety

Those of us who feared the worst when Donald Trump was elected President of the USA are discovering just how bad the “worst” can be.

Why Evolution Is True

I’m not quite sure what these articles from theWashington Post and Scientific American mean, but they augur yet more anti-scientific attitudes from the incoming Trump administration, which will take over in (horrors!) only nine days. (The words “President Trump” still stick in my craw.) From Sci Am we hear about a position reportedly offered to Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., son of Bobby Kennedy and thus the nephew of JFK. RFK Jr. is an environmental activist but has some wonky ideas about vaccines:

WASHINGTON—Outspoken vaccine critic Robert Kennedy Jr. has accepted a position within Donald Trump’s administration as chair of a panel on vaccine safety and scientific integrity—the clearest sign yet of the president-elect’s suspicions about vaccines.

The offer, which came in a Wednesday meeting between Trump and the scion of America’s most prominent Democratic family, is likely to concern scientists and public health experts who fear the incoming administration could give legitimacy to skeptics…

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The other religiously-abused Canadian child

Felicity Corbin Wheeler of Revelation TV fame is a big fan of Brian Clement and the Hippocrates Health Institute.

Why Evolution Is True

Now that Makaya Sault has died from her untreated leukemia, there’s another 11-year-old first Nations Child from Ontario (“J. J.”) getting “alternative (i.e., useless) treatment, and she’ll also die from the same disease unless someone intervenes. But in this case, a Canadian judge did look at the case, and refused to intervene. Judge Getin Edward, who will have blood on his hands if J. J. dies, ruled against McMaster Children’s Hospital, who wanted to force the child to continue chemotherapy. Doctors there say that J. J. would have had a greater than 90% chance of survival with chemo. But her parents wanted “alternative” and “aboriginal” treatment, though they took J. J. to the Hippocrates Health Institute in Florida, where they use quack nostrums like raw-food diets, lots of vitamins, and cold-laser treatment—hardly “native” healing.

Edward’s ruling was unconscionable; here’s how the National Post described it (my emphasis):

Justice Gethin Edward of the Ontario Court of Justice suggested…

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The Popularity of Homeopathy

I came across Anarchic Teapot’s blog post on homeopathy a few days ago. Titled “At least the title’s not misleading – Impossible Cure”, it’s well worth a read. It deals with the claims of a proponent of homeopathy that almost everything under the sun, including autism, can be treated by this particular form of quackery. I don’t need to spend any time examining the claims on the site – Anarchic Teapot does a thorough job of eviscerating the content of the website and the claims made by its author. (For those interested the site can be viewed here.)

I stumbled on the website some while ago after googling ‘homeopathy and autism’ and like Mr Teapot, was appalled by views expressed. Much of the content is devoted to promoting a book, ‘Impossible Cure’. The website features a preview of Chapter 1, Homeopathy Revealed. Part of this deals with the’popularity’ of homeopathy and contains the statement,

…….. in England, 42 percent of physicans refer patients to homeopaths

Really? Almost half of the doctors in England refer patients to homeopaths? That doesn’t fit with my, albeit limited, experience. I sought out the source of this statistic and found it in a paper published in the British Medical Journal. The authors were R Wharton and G Lewith. George Lewith’s Wikipedia entry says he ‘is a professor of complementary medicine at the University of Southampton, where he leads the Complementary and Integrated Medicine Research Unit. He is a prominent advocate of complementary medicine in the UK.’ He was involved with the now defunct Prince of Wales’ Foundation for Integrated Medicine and is now vice chair of the inappropriately named College of Medicine.

The full text of the BMJ paper can be viewed here (pdf). The ‘research’ consisted of sending a postal questionnaire to 200 general practitioners in Avon of whom 145 responded. The questionnaire was made up of twelve questions, one of which asked about referral patterns. 68 GPs (42%) of the sample reported referring patients to homeopaths.These results were published in the BMJ in 1986 and this is the source of the much vaunted claim that nearly half of the doctors in England refer patients to homeopaths. The report itself reads like a poor piece of GCSE coursework and I’m staggered that it ever reached the pages of the British Medical Journal. I can summarise it quite easily,

Over a quarter of a century ago, a shoddy piece of research found that a few GPs in a small part of England  sent a handful of patients for treatment by homeopaths.

Such is their desperation, this bogus statistic appears regularly on the websites of homeopaths. It has been used by Dana Ullman and Nancy Malik. Knowing the weakness of their position, they crave respectability and resort to Argumentum ad populum.

The reality is of course that homeopathy in the UK is in rapid decline. According to the British Homeopathic Association, in 2011 400 GPs used homeopathy in their everyday practice. That’s 400 out of 41 000, or 0.98%.

0.98% is a long way short of 42%

A Burzynski Of Red Flags

In the skeptic community, the term ‘red flag’ is used to denote something which gives cause for alarm, a warning sign that things may not be what they seem. Science-org presents a useful guide to red flags as applied to Quackery. Note that of the sixteen featured, Burzynski has one all to himself. Short and Spiky takes it one stage further and devotes an entire blog post to the red flags raised by the Burzynski Clinic.

The shortcomings, ethical,medical and financial, of Stanislav Burzynski and his clinic, have been extensively blogged and tweeted ever since the Observer published an article about a family in the UK raising money to send their daughter for treatment to the Burzynski Clinic. This was followed by  an article in the London Evening Standard  and a feature on ITV’s Daybreak programme seemingly endorsing the work of Burzynski. Anyone wishing to follow the timeline of events should go to Joesphine Jones excellent blog which has a record of posts and blogs about the issues.

Burzynski has been in business for almost thirty years. During that time he has had a number of run-ins with the authorities but nothing has stopped him exploiting the sick and vulnerable. Until now. Andy Lewis has revealed that a former patient of the Burzynski Clinic is sueing Burzynski for, amongst other things, bilking her of nearly $100 000″. The Courthouse News Service gives further details about the nature of the former patient’s complaints and Peter Bowditch has posted the court filing on his site. These documents make horrendous reading and justify all the red flags raised by bloggers and tweeters over the last few months.

Can Burzynski survive? Burzynski is a last resort for the desperate and vulnerable who may not be influenced by the proceedings in a Texas Courtroom. They may be unaware of what is happening. We cannot be confident that the Observer, Evening Standard and Dr Hilary Jones will give the publicity to these latest developments that they gave to the ‘pioneering researcher’. Burzynski is due to appear in front of the Texas Medical Board in April 2012 and hopefully that will seal his fate.


The submission to the Leveson Inquiry on theCulture, Practice Ethics of the Press by the Association of Medical Research Charities, Cancer Research UK and the Wellcome Trust contains the following paragraph:

10. Secondly, and more worryingly, it can often raise false hope among patients. This is particularly true and damaging where it concerns treatments for incurable diseases that are not proven, yet which are portrayed as “miracle cures”. This can lead patients to spend life savings on treatments that are most unlikely to work, or on occasion to eschew the most effective known therapies in favour of alternatives that are untested or disproved.

Observer, Evening Standard and Dr Hilary Jones – please take note.

Dear Dr Hilary …………

This morning, ITV’s Daybreak ran a feature on the efforts of the parents of a five-year old girl who is suffering from a rare form of brain cancer, to raise money to pay for treatment at the Burzynski Clinic in Texas. Present in the studio, along with the presenters, were the girl, her father, and Daybreak’s Health Editor, Dr Hilary Jones. A YouTube clip of the interview is available here (poor sound quality unfortunately). In the interview, Dr Jones is asked for his opinion on the treatment. He describes it as ‘pioneering‘. He goes on to say that, “Pioneers in medicine tend to get a rough ride“. He also relates an anecdote about someone he knows who is currently at the Burzynski Clinic and is receiving ‘excellent treatment‘.

I am left wondering what messages this interview sends out to viewers, some of whom will know of cancer sufferers. My conclusions are:

  •  a treatment which is not available in the UK must be a treatment worth having.
  •  a treatment which is ‘pioneering’ and ‘experimental’ is a treatment worth having.
  •  a treatment which is not validated by the relevant medical authorities is a treatment worth having.
  •  a treatment which demands enormous personal and financial sacrifices is a treatment worth having.
  •  parents are entitled to try anything possible to find a cure for their children.

I believe none of these stand up to close scrutiny.

In my view Dr Jones has done a disservice to the sufferers of cancer and their friends and relatives. It isn’t surprising when parents have an emotional response to the situation they find themselves in. It isn’t surprising when the media use that emotional response to produce a piece which will grab the attention of viewers/readers.

I find it surprising that a doctor should do no more than amplify that response to the exclusion of all else. Readers of this and other blogs and followers of #Burzynski on Twitter will be well aware of the issues surrounding this ‘pioneering’ and ‘experimental’ treatment. If you need further information follow these links:

Quackometer – Dr Hilary Jones Promotes Questionable Burzynski Clinic on TV

Josephine Jones – Dear Evening Standard, it is immoral to promote the Burzynski Clinic

The 21st Floor – Burzynski: A Small Victory