Dear Luciana Berger MP: Homeopathy? Really?


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It’s been a little while since the furore over the pro-homeopathy EDMs and David ‘hand in the till’ Tredinnick‘s one-quack crusade to have homeopathy recognised as the greatest thing since succussed bread, but one name that stood out to me on the roll-call of signatories and seconders was that of Luciana Berger MP, and it was a name I couldn’t let lie.

You see, Luciana is MP for Wavertree, Liverpool – not more than a couple of miles from my home, and the constituency in which I’ve spent much of my 9 years in Liverpool. What’s more, Luciana seems to be a pretty reasonable MP – she’s in favour of equal rights for women, equality for those of all sexualities, against all forms of racial discrimination and generally appears to be a fairly-well-informed MP, certainly when compared to Mr Tredinnick, whose EDMs she’s signed.

It struck me that rather than based on ideology, Luciana’s support for Tredinnick’s pet pills might well be a simple case of her not knowing what homeopathy is really about – which is relatively understandable, given the high percentage of the public who think ‘homeopathy’ is just another term for ‘herbal medicine’ and aren’t acquainted with the scientific literature.

Clearly, then, the best approach would be to politely offer to engage over the issues and present the science, rather than berate Luciana with the intensity and single-mindedness we ought to save for those whose belief in homeopathy is blindly ideological (Tredinnick, yes, we mean you). To this end, on the 11th of August I took it upon myself as representative of the 10:23 Campaign and the Merseyside Skeptics Society – a pro-science group with significant numbers in her very constituency – to contact Luciana and offer her our side of the story.

She hasn’t yet responded, which is what has prompted me to share this letter with the MSS readers, to not only convey what I believe to be the best way to engage with those who may not fully understand what homeopathy is, and also to prompt Luciana into the response I sincerely hope she is willing to provide. To reiterate – I don’t believe she deserves abuse, or indeed anger, but wish to simply open the lines of dialogue to put forward the science on homeopathy. Perhaps when given the chance to hear what homeopathy is, and why it’s implausible, the evident common-sense Luciana displays in other policies will win out on the subject of the sugar pills. The full letter is provided below.

Dear Luciana

May I first of all offer my congratulations on much of the work you have taken part in whilst an MP. I’m glad to see a local MP supporting gay rights, fighting child abuse and child abusers, campaigning for the equal rights of women and supporting the value of the arts. All of these policies I find to be excellent, and supported by both good reason and good conscience.

However, I must admit to being a little disappointed at what appears to be the only real blip on your recent record – your support for NHS funding of homeopathy, and support for evidence put forward by those who sell it. It’s this point, unfortunately, that I’m writing to contest – amongst the sensible and reasonable policies you support, this one stands out. As a health campaigner in your city (I am a founding member of the Merseyside Skeptics Society, and our ’10:23 Campaign’ earlier in the year set out to raise awareness of homeopathy, the science, the evidence and the dangers), I thought it best to engage with you directly, rather than criticise you unhelpfully from afar.

I can understand where you might be coming from: many people see appeals by doctors, pharmacists, scientists and pharmacologists to remove something from the NHS as the ordinary patient ‘losing’ something. I know patient choice was recently cited by the Government as the most important factor in what gets funded on the NHS, placed ahead of effectiveness even. This I find to be a baffling position – for the Government to promote a pill based specifically on the fact that it doesn’t work (a fact accepted without contention in the recent response to the Science and Technology Committee report) but that it should be available for choice alone seems to be a remarkably strange position to take, and one open to all manner of extrapolations. If effectiveness is no longer a concern, then the argument used to justify the funding of homeopathy can be applied to all manner of other disproven therapies – Reiki, voodoo, blood-letting and the casting out of demons, for example.

While the above may seem a glib extrapolation, it is in fact sound: by promoting choice ahead of usefulness, the very foundations of modern medicine are upturned, with potentially disastrous results. While homeopathic pills – being chemically and literally identical to unprepared blank sugar pills – are not intrinsically dangerous in themselves, the implicit reliance upon them to the abandonment of real medicine is incredibly dangerous. Examples are not hard to find – the death at 4 months old of Gloria Thomas from treatable eczema, the recent colon cancer death of Penelope Dingle, the studies conducted in Kenya by members of the UK-based Society of Homeopaths into using homeopathic pills to attempt to treat AIDS and malaria. People die when directed at placebo pills over real, proven medicine.

To clarify, I contact you with this not to berate you, but to understand your position and open dialogue. My suspicion is that you may not entirely acquainted with the literature and history of homeopathy – indeed, this is far from a crime, as we discovered in researching prior to starting the 10:23 Campaign that more than 80% of people questioned are not able to define homeopathy, and are inclined to believe it is an alternative modality akin to herbalism. This lack of clarity in the population is almost certainly behind the continuing support the treatments receive, and I suspect it’s also behind the support this system receives in parliament.

I urge you to engage with the literature on homeopathy, to acquaint yourself with what is involved in making the pills, and the ludicrous nature of this practice. A ‘layman’s terms’ explanation can be found at (http://www.1023.org.uk/what-is-homeopathy.php) with an explanation of the objections to homeopathy here (http://www.1023.org.uk/why-you-cant-trust-homeopathy.php).

In a time of economic belt-tightening, and where science-literacy is falling in the face of assaults from many different pressure groups, I feel this is one particular area where common sense can prevail. To this end, I would be more than willing to spend some time face-to-face discussing these issues with you, in order to best put forward the scientific side of the debate.

Yours sincerely
Michael Marshall
Merseyside Skeptics Society / QED
http://www.qedcon.org
http://www.merseysideskeptics.org.uk

I will update you all should I receive a reply.

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  1. #1 by John Tanner on August 27, 2010 - 16:35

    Marsh,

    A very well written and thought out letter, well done! I look forward to seeing any response.

    John

  2. #2 by Warren N on August 29, 2010 - 00:25

    Beats my accusations to Ellman that Berger must have missed her GCSE science class.

    As polite and well written your letter was I don’t agree. If you are an MP you have a responsibility to act on a much stronger basis than a passing whim on a subject you know nothing about.

    She either displays support for homeopathy or acts on ignorance. Neither are desirable. Perhaps I’m just still bitter about the whole being screwed over by Labour again, with a candidate parachuted in to look after those who matter.

  3. #3 by James Will on November 13, 2013 - 14:47

    Idiot. The issue is not homeopathy or alternative or herbal medicine or whatever term is used – the issue is breaking the stranglehold of ‘conventional medicine’ upon human health care. Its primary goal is $$$, not alleviation of human suffering – hence obscenities like the ‘Cancer Law’ and chemotherapy. It ‘protects’ us – but so does the mafia. Read ‘When Healing Becomes A Crime’ and ‘The Cancer Cure That Worked’ – but no, you won’t because you’re a fool. The Information Age is going to quash you like a bug. More and more people are learning what has actually happened in the field of medicine. Oh, and read George Soros also – but then again you won’t, because you’re a fool. LMFAO.

(will not be published)