In a war for the hearts and minds of the general population no quarter is given, especially when the potential financial rewards for vested interests are so high. The one thing that the likes of Professor Robert West demanded in the press release accompanying his recent study was that we focus on the truth of actual research rather than distorting findings.
The problem with this approach is that even if the leading figures in the debate, including politicians, ground themselves in provable fact there is little chance a generally scientifically illiterate population will understand it.
Of course, this presupposes that the politicians themselves understand the evidence being presented to them sufficiently in order to form a cogent, logical position on the matter.
Jeremy Hunt is the Conservative Secretary of State for Health. Jeremy Hunt is also the man who sent the UK’s Chief Medical Officer a collection of pro-homeopathy studies. This is not the place where pseudo-science will be debunked, refer instead to Penn & Teller, this is simply an example of the level of scientific ignorance at the highest level of government.
Jeremy Hunt was recently questioned in the House of Commons by fellow Conservative MP and alternative therapy enthusiast, David Tredinnick. What is of concern is that Tredinnick sits on the Science & technology committee and the Health committee.
David Tredinnick M.P. believes that the position of the Moon influences blood clotting, has campaigned for continued funding to the NHS to be directed to homeopathic treatments and sponsored an Early Day Motion to congratulate a farmer who had adopted it for his animals.
Tredinnick, the man who holds an influential position in the development of legislation impacting upon science, technology and health, supports the notion of including astrology in NHS treatment programs. He advocates that homeopathy can “cure”:
- urinary infections
- skin eruptions
- eye infections
- intestinal parasites
- gangrene, and for the big prize…
The government’s ex-chief scientist, Sir John Beddington, has described him as “non-sensical”. A spokesman for the Royal College of Surgeons of England stated they would “laugh their heads off” at the suggestion they could not operate on a full moon for fear of clotting problems. Nature magazine‘s Adam Rutherford has described Tredinnick as “misinformed about a great many things” and said “giving [him] influence on medical policy…is a bad move.” Ian Douglas, writing in the Telegraph, described his appointments as “a problem” and Elizabeth Gibney wrote in the Times Higher Education Supplement that he is “perhaps the worst example of scientific illiteracy in government”.
Looking at Labour M.E.P. Linda McAvan fielding questions regarding the efficacy of electronic cigarettes earlier in the year was akin to watching a rabbit caught in the headlights during a lecture about vascular in vitro assays on endothelial dysfunction and cardiac hypertrophy.
Robert West concluded in his press release: “more than 5000 lives could be saved for every million smokers who switched to e-cigarettes, even if the devices carried significant health risks and people used them indefinitely after quitting real cigarettes. Potentially millions of lives are at stake, and our job is to help policy makers to protect those lives.”
Some would say we have a more urgent need to have our lives protected from these policy makers.