Huppert v Tredinnick: the EDM homeopathy smackdown

The last couple of months saw a battle emerging between science geek MP Julian Huppert and homeopathy fan David Tredinnick, and one of the battlegrounds was the Early Day Motion – those petitions that only MPs can start or sign.

Five times, David Tredinnick put down an EDM such as 284 (BMA ANNUAL REPRESENTATIVE MEETING MOTIONS ON HOMEOPATHY) or 285 (EFFECT OF HOMEOPATHIC REMEDIES ON BREAST CANCER CELLS), in each case singing the praises of homeopathy or lauding some study that generated a positive result. Five times Julian Huppert launched an amendment to the EDM pointing out what he saw as the inadequacies of the study.

So, for example on 21st June, David Tredinnick is keen to spread the word about a trial suggesting homeopathy is effective in treating breast cancer:

That this House welcomes the study published in the International Journal of Oncology, 2010 Feb; 36(2): 395-403 which revealed that homeopathic remedies have a beneficial effect on breast cancer cells; notes that researchers at the University of Texas conducted an in vitro study to determine whether products prescribed by a clinic in India have any effect on breast cancer cell lines; further notes that the researchers studied four ultra-diluted remedies, carcinosin, phytolacca, conium and thuja against two human breast adenocarcinoma cell lines, MCF-7 and MDA-MB-231 and a cell line derived from immortalized normal human mammary epithelial cells, HMLE; observes that the remedies exerted preferential cytotoxic effects against the two breast cancer cell lines, causing cell cycle delay/arrest and apoptosis; believes that the findings demonstrate biological activity of these natural products when presented at ultra-diluted doses; and calls for further research in this important area.

Huppert’s amended EDM is 285A1:

leave out from `403′ to end and insert `as an example of the failure of adequate scientific peer review because the paper provides no statistical analysis to support any conclusion, indicates that the experimental control, 87 per cent. alcohol solution, was itself toxic to the cell cultures, does not illustrate or explain the different chromatographic profiles of the solvent and the test substances, and does not provide sufficient data to allow proper evaluation of the study; notes that the lead author has retired and runs a homeopathy website which falsely claims that homeopathy is as effective as a conventional chemotherapy agent, Taxol, in treating breast cancer; further notes that one of the authors, Alison Pawlus, has publicly disowned the paper; regrets that isolated poor-quality studies are cited by proponents of homeopathy to endorse dangerous and exploitative cancer-curing claims in the face of overwhelming weight of scientific evidence against them; and agrees with the conclusions of the Science and Technology Select Committee’s Fourth Report of Session 2009-10, Evidence Check 2: Homeopathy, HC45, that putting patients through pointless further clinical trials, and the spending of scarce public sector funds on research into homeopathy cannot be justified.’.

It’s safe to say Julian wasn’t impressed with the quality of the research.

The original EDM can still be signed by MPs, with the amendment effectively becoming a separate EDM available for every MP to sign. Suffice to say that neither position caught the excitement of the honourable members, with none of the EDMs (amended or otherwise) topping 20 signatures. Treddinick’s original EDMs managed more signatures than Huppert’s amendments but, as we all know, scientific fact isn’t decided by a vote, even of MPs, but by the evidence.

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  • @Andrew, I agree with you sentiment, but there is, alas, also a woeful absence of philosophers (constitutional, political and legal) like David Howarth as well… Shortlisting what we like is never great, just help campaign for them.

  • I think all MPs should be made to site all 3 GCSE science exams and the figures published.

    Any MP that doesn’t get at least a C in GCSE science should have their seat revoked for incompetence. Shame it won’t work.

    Almost every decision MPs have to make is about science and statistics yet, with only a few exceptions, none of them have a clue about science or statistics.

  • > Of course, with the collapse of the British Chiropratic Association’s
    > case again Simon Singh, we now can say homeopaths peddle a
    > product which they know has consistently failed in areas of scientific proof.

    The BCA case was withdrawn by them after the preliminary hearings before it actually went to trial; no actual legal precedent was set, and libel law is unaffected. Nothing has changed (except more widespread knowledge of the current problems in the system and agreement on the need for reform).

    The coalition agreement promised a “review” into actual libel reform. Which could mean anything — but for my money probably will not mean actual reform in this parliament.

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