Earlier this month I blogged about the Conservative MP David Tredinnick and his continued attempts to undermine rationalist and evidence-based policy. Mr. Tredinnick's insistence on the validity of a host of alternative therapies, despite there being - to coin a phrase - not a jot of evidence to justify his claims, could until recently have been regarded as a minor irritation, Tredinnick himself as an eccentric voice far from Westminster's mainstream. That was then.
The last week have been most exciting for the Bosworth MP, and most concerning for those of us who remain of the view that magic water and chi meridians have no place in a publicly funded evidence-based healthcare system. First of all came the almost literally unbelievable news that Mr. Tredinnick has been elected as a Conservative member of the Commons Select Committee on Health; and that he is to be joined by Nadine Dorries MP, to form what is surely the most unlikely double-act since Lampard and Gerrard were picked for England's midfield.
Partly to avoid the threat of legal action, and partly to demonstrate I can be a grown up, I want to make clear that I do not for one minute doubt Tredinnick and Dorries' sincerity; far from questioning their character, I do call into question their ability to be effective members of a Select Committee charged with safeguarding the nation's health. jdc325's Stuff and Nonsense blog and Martin Robbins' piece in The Guardian cover many of the reasons their appointment may prove problematic. You don't need me to tell you why it's dangerous to have proponents of sugar pills taking evidence on health policy, nor why the Health Select Committee probably isn't the most appropriate place for an MP who simply does not understand what constitutes evidence, particularly when it comes to the contentious issue of abortion.
Seeing supporters of dubious nonsense appointed to such a crucial Committee may be galling, but that's part of the beauty of our Parliamentary system - no amount of complaining will alter that. Indeed, Mr. Tredinnick is on a roll when it comes to making use of the democratic machinery that Parliament affords him - following his appointment to the Health Committee, he set about publishing four Early Day Motions promoting the use of homeopathy (which you can read here, here, here and here) to treat conditions ranging from mild depression to breast cancer. Do take a look at them and draw your own conclusions - all I'll say is that I wonder how the residents of Bosworth feel, seeing their MP giving such pressing priority to promoting unproven and otherwise discredited quackery so soon after resumption of Parliament.
Credit where its due and all that - at least the EDMs in question do mention peer-reviewed published studies. Trouble is, there's peer-reviewed published studies and then there's peer-reviewed published studies - some more reliable than others. It's all very well citing publications as evidence to back your claims, but only if the studies are of acceptable quality - and suffice to say the ones chosen by Mr. Tredinnick are flawed - to such an extent that the claims made in the EDMs simply don't stand up to scrutiny. And we're not talking technical flaws visible only to experts in the relevant fields - but gaping great holes in some cases, meaning any claims based on them must be viewed with caution.
Given the power of the internets, no sooner were Tredinnick's EDMs published did the skeptical blogo-Twitter-o-sphere spring into action - prompted by the Cambridge MP Julian Huppert, and the former (it still hurts...) Oxford West and Abingdon MP Evan Harris, the hashtag #homeopathyEDMs quickly became the focus for a considered rebuttal to Mr. Tredinnick's original Motions - which had already been signed by a handful of seemingly credulous MPs - and are ready for your perusal.
Again, draw your own conclusions about whether someone with such clear disregard for quality scientific evidence is a suitable member of a body responsible for setting national health policy - what I learned from this episode is that with speed and great clarity the EDM amendments have exposed Tredinnick's flawed reasoning; it remains to be seen of course how many signatures each of the Motions and their amendments attract, and how the Health Select Committee's new members fare in their roles - this blogger, and no doubt so many others, will be watching with interest.