As predicted the media produced the expected snow – every national paper, every TV channel ran the story along similar lines: “Homeopathy should not be funded on the NHS, say MPs”. The Mail and Telegraph ran stories on Sunday night, which was interesting since the Science and Technology Committee were adamant that details of the report should not be released to the public until after 11am Monday. Bloggers had already written detailed posts directly quoting the report and published them at precisely 11am. Leaked? Surely not,
The Guardian at least waited till Monday to report: “Stop funding homeopathy, MPs urge”.
And so it went on. Anyone reading the news might have imagined that there had been an in depth investigation of the matter in parliament.
But who are these MPs doing the urging, and how does the Science and Technology Committee work?
The Science and Technology Committee is a parliamentary Select Committee charged with looking into what informs government policy in a number of areas – it’s a relatively recent enterprise and homeopathy is only their second investigation in this form. One might ask why – of all the government policy the committee could have chosen to investigate, it chose homeopathy – which uses just 0.004% of the NHS budget and has been part of the NHS since 1948. We can only surmise.
Phil Willis, Chair of the committee was at pains to put on record that it was NOT to be an investigation into whether homeopathy worked or not – and then he chaired a committee which did exactly that, but restricted the investigation to the narrow remit of RCTs (Random Controlled Trials). Surely not?
Let’s look at this committee in more detail:
At the first meeting on 25th November 5 MPs were present plus the Chair: Phil Willis: a history teacher and associate of the Pharma lobby group Sense About Science; Tim Boswell, a farmer; Brian Iddon, Professor of Chemistry; Graham Stringer, Analytical Chemist; Evan Harris, medical doctor and associate of Sense About Science and Ian Stewart, chemical plant operator and open mind.
It can be said categorically that NONE of the MPS present at the hearings have any expertise or even understanding of the homeopathic method. It could be said that those steeped in chemistry might find it particularly challenging.
The committee spent a total of 4 and half hours questioning 12 witnesses – 7 of whom also have NO expertise or understanding of the homeopathic method – 5 of the 9 non-governmental witnesses had previously publicly declared they were vehemently opposed to homeopathy. Only 1 witness is in clinical practice. Biased? Surely not?
The procedure called for written submissions – closing date was Nov 6th 2009. Based on these submissions witnesses would be selected to give oral submissions at the committee’s meetings.
Almost 50 written submissions were received by the closing date and invitations for witnesses were apparently sent out 48 hours later. It would be interesting to know which devoted MPs stayed up all night reading the submissions and selecting witnesses. Unless of course they had already been pre-selected. Surely not?
Anyone who has watched the archived meetings on the parliamentary website (see posts on this blog) will know that at least two members of the committee had a clear agenda they were determined to push through. Evan Harris and Chair of the committee Phil Willis, Sense About Science associates made no attempt to hide their disdain for the witnesses speaking on behalf of homeopathy. Denialist bloggers and newspapers like the Guardian had a field day with sound bites and helped set the scene for the foregone conclusions of the report itself.
All claims of bias were ignored by the committee and the draft report was written.
This is where it gets even more interesting….
At the meeting of Feb 8th 2010 the S and T committee met to ratify the report.
Present was: Phil Willis in the Chair, Evan Harris, Tim Boswell, Ian Cawsey, Doug Naysmith and Ian Stewart.
Ian Stewart put forward an amendment not to ratify the report as it stood but to call upon government to “fund a rigorous research programme into homeopathy”
Voting was: Ayes: Ian Stewart Noes: Evan Harris, Ian Cawsey, Doug Naysmith. Presumably Tim Boswell abstained though his vote was not recorded.
A second vote was taken on the specific paragraph relating to research – to retain as written and not insert Stewart’s amendment: paragraph 77. “There has been enough testing of homeopathy and plenty of evidence showing that it is not efficacious. Competition for research funding is fierce and we cannot see how further research on the efficacy of homeopathy is justified in the face of competing priorities.”
Voting was: Ayes: Evan Harris, Ian Cawsey, Doug Naysmith Noes: Ian Stewart Paragraph was agreed to as was. Tim Boswell abstained? Vote not recorded.
The vote to accept the report and its recommendations to stop funding NHS homeopathy on the basis that the evidence did not support government policy was: Ayes: Evan Harris, Ian Cawsey, Doug Naysmith Noes: Ian Stewart. Tim Boswell abstained again? We’ll never know.
SO this report was ratified by just THREE MPs:
Evan Harris, associate of Sense About Science and it’s fair to say rabid anti-homeopathy campaigner, 1023 participant and ‘senior counsel for the prosecution’.
Ian Cawsey – IT expert, who joined the S and T committee in October 2009, just a month before the meetings and yet chose not to attend the committee’s investigation – in fact was nowhere to be seen until the ratification meeting.
Doug Naysmith – an immunologist – did not join the S and T committee until January 2010 – so was not even on the committee until after all the hearings – yet was present for the ratification of the report. And he is standing down at the next election.
A committee would invite a new member to join knowing that in a matter of a few months he would be leaving again? Surely not?
So let’s get this straight – the report and its recommendations that led to the media snow this week, and the dramatic assertion that the public have been duped since 1948 by NHS placebos masquerading as medicine, is the result of a report ratified by THREE MPs: TWO of whom were NOT EVEN PRESENT AT THE COMMITTEE MEETINGS – and ONE of the two was NOT EVEN A MEMBER OF THE COMMITTEE when the hearings were held, and is due to stand down at the election in May this year.
This Science and Technology Committee investigation into homeopathy was a set up and a sham from its inception to the final meeting and delivery of the report to the UK press. And there’s no “surely not” about it.