Pseudoscience merits media pseudocoverage

Just a short one today because I need to do some more revision. Two stories found their way onto my screen which are quite lame and need highlighting.

First of all very briefly, British Columbia, a province of that usual bastion of common sense, Canada, which according to Wiki has a high proportion of atheists, agnostics and humanists, has given naturopaths the right to prescribe drugs. Now I don’t want to just lump the word ‘naturopath’ in with homeopaths and other snake oil vendors, so I should be clear about what naturopathy involves. In its strictest sense naturopathy is using natural medicine in preference to drugs and surgery. I don’t have a big problem with that in itself, some herbs and things can be shown to be effective. The only problem I have with this strict sense of the word is that it involves that old chestnut ‘helping the body’s natural healing powers’. In maths this is called regression to the mean, once the illness is over you’re going to get better as your immune system repairs itself. Your own body has done the work, it has nothing to do with the remedy, you may as well have administered a placebo.

However, in practice naturopathy involves getting qualifications like homeopaths here get, and advocating things like acupuncture, nutrition (which may differ from conventional nutrition, as shown by Patrick Holford), reflexology, applied kinesiology and homeopathy. Anyway they’re going to have to take some kind of test and then they’ll be able to do prescriptions, brilliant. You’ll notice that nowhere in that report is there any kind of scientific objection.

The second story is from the BBC, covering a new report by the Cochrane Collaboration which says that homeopathic remedies don’t cause side effects in cancer patients. Yes, I can hear you, “No shit Sherlock”. Now what’s interesting is the coverage from the Beeb. They can’t be held at fault for what the report says, it is a distinctly dodgy report which claims undiluted remedies as homeopathic, and according to Quackometer’s post on the same topic, the paper on the cream doesn’t even have the word homeopathy in it! But it’s very typical BBC science and medicine reporting. Here’s how it goes…

1. Outrageously misrepresentative headline and first paragraph.

2. Explanation of possible implications, who said what etc

3. Comments from people who might be affected by it, particularly people welcoming the news

4. The science, or what I like to call ‘Oh by the way, all of the above is bullshit’.

Good one, BBC.

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2 Responses to Pseudoscience merits media pseudocoverage

  1. Clare says:

    I haven’t read it yet, but what disturbs me about the first article most is the possibility that someone might be given a license to prescribe ‘drugs’ without any pharmaceutical or medical training. What kind of training do these naturopaths have?

  2. grammarking says:

    The report says “Naturopaths would be required to complete a new certification course before being allowed to prescribe drugs including hormones, vitamins, minerals and amino acids, Kind said.”

    I couldn’t tell you what those kinds of things are being used for, but presumably a naturopath wouldn’t be too keen on prescribing potentially harmful drugs anyway. But I agree, they don’t have proper medical or pharmeceutical training, they shouldn’t be prescribing drugs.

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