In which I get distracted. And even more geeky. (You’ll see why – keep reading.)
I am SO, SO BORED with homeopathy.
Even actual science.
But anyway, I am heartily bored with homeopathy. A feeling, I have noticed, that is shared by other scientists who write about it.
Nonetheless, in a rather frantic week last week – our teaching semester is only three weeks old, and the bits I am responsible for are about one major foul-up away from unravelling – I managed to find a spare hour to pen a short email to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency or MHRA’s consultation on the labelling of homeopathic remedies.
Why did I bother?
I suppose it was because, like in many things I do, I’d already invested quite a bit of time in writing about homeopathy and I felt.. well…. sort of… obligated, somehow.
Anyway, here’s what I wrote:
I am a scientist and lecturer in bioscience, involved in physiological research and in teaching undergraduate students in medicine, other healthcare professions and in biological sciences. I also run a magazine, Physiology News, for the Physiological Society, which is one of the UK’s learned scientific societies. In 2006 I was involved in helping draft the Physiological Society’s response to the MHRA’s proposed changes to the regulations on labelling of homeopathic products. I am, however, writing here in a personal capacity.
Response to consultation
The key point I wish to make is that there is no reasonable excuse for the MHRA label NOT informing the public, in clear language on the label, that homeopathic products contain no trace of the “ingredient” with which they are badged. Not to give the customer/buyer/patient this information is wholly misleading, and deprives the person of the information they require to make a fully informed decision about what they wish to take for their perceived healthcare needs. This flies in the face of all the principles of modern views on patient autonomy and decision-making, for which accurate and complete information is mandatory.
To defend this misleading labelling on the basis of safety, or “consumer choice”, seems to me to miss the point entirely. It is not sufficient simply to label “remedies” with phrases like “the 30C homeopathic dilution of”… Anyone NOT familiar with the homeopathic dilution system will inevitably conclude, I contend, that this means “dilute”, but will NOT infer that it means “no detectable ingredient present”, as is actually the case.
It is thus unequivocally wrong for the MHRA label to state, on a homoeopathic preparation (for example):
“Active Ingredient: Each pill contains 30C Arnica Montana”
– since there is NO active ingredient, and the pill contains NO Arnica montana. The MHRA label should instead state:
“Active Ingredient: None – contains no Arnica montana
Prepared in accordance with homoeopathic practice”
Conflict of interest statement: I have no financial interest in the manufacture or sale of homeopathic or any other natural remedy or altermative medicine.
[NB to blog readers: some parts of the email owe a debt to the excellent response to the MHRA consultation written by Prof John McLachlan, which I commend to your attention.]
Many people reading here will probably be aware of this particular discussion on how to label homeopathic potions, so I won’t re-hash it again. If you aren’t , you can get some of the background at David Colquhoun’s blog. Or you can read an editorial I wrote for Physiology News about this back in 2006.
And now for something completely different
Finally, to prove that I really WOULD rather write about chess than about homeopathy, and especially for the two Steves (Dr Caplan of this neighbourhood, and Prof Moss of UCL) here is a chess problem, taken from my long-ago Shameful Past as a teenage chess nerd.
The following position arose after White’s 29th move in a game A Elliott – AJ King, Southern Counties U-16 Tournament 1977 (Yes, really – and yes, it certainly is depressing to be this old. Need you ask?).
White has just played 29. Nd4. The previous move-but-one black had played 27. …Be5, threatening the pawn advance …f4. The white Knight (which was already on d4) had gone to c6 (28. Nc6) to chase the Bishop away. Then 28…Bg7 and 29. Nd4.
There is thus a fairly obvious draw by repetition on offer – black could play 29. …Be5 again, then 30. Nc6 (30. Ne6 instead looks bad for white after 30. …Rg8) 30. …Bg7, 31. Nd4 Be5 etc.
However, black seemingly still had winning ambitions (he was the higher rated player) and instead played:
30. Ne6 Be5 (diag)
The idea of …f4 and …Be5 is 31. Nf8: fg: + with attacking threats. Looking hard I think the attack should peter out, provided White does not blunder into a checkmate, but with both players short of time I didn’t really fancy it.
Luckily White has a neat way to defuse the threats and end up with a quietly won game. Can you see how?
Answer at the bottom.
…what to write about next? There is that more extended chess post I didn’t quite finish. The Steves might read that, even if no-one else does. Or perhaps if the family all come down with some tremendously nasty bug I can write about that, like the indefatigable
MrDr H.G. of Cromer. Though, not having H.G’s devotion to the writerly craft, I suspect I would be too busy being ill. Or frantically washing my hands in obsessive-compulsive fashion. The state of the Universities in the UK is pretty much too depressing to write about. Ditto science funding. Ditto politics, from my perspective. So… History, perhaps?
Or just more procrastination?
Or – any suggestions?
Answer: the game continued:
31 Qe5: + ! de: (if 31…Rf6 32. Nf4: if 31. …Qf6 32 Qf6: + & 33. Nf4; if 31. …Rg7 or 31. …Kg8 32. Nf8: and if 32. …de: 33. Ng6:) 32. Nf8: Qg4 33. Nd7: …and with two Rooks and Knight for the Queen, White won easily.