A letter to my MP

Dear Mr Redwood

I write again as your constituent to ask for your support in preventing the waste of NHS funds on ineffective treatments.

At a time when we need drastic cuts in Government spending, it is important to ensure that the NHS only funds treatments of proven efficacy. It is, therefore, extremely disappointing to see four Early Day Motions from David Tredinnick calling for support for disproven quackery:

EDM284 [Bma Annual Representative Meeting Motions On Homeopathy]

EDM285 [Effect Of Homeopathic Remedies On Breast Cancer Cells]

EDM286 [Homeopathic Medicines In The Treatment Of Moderate To Severe Depression]

EDM287 [Homeopathy And Chronic Primary Insomnia]

It is not simply the case that homeopathy is unproven; it has been proven not to work. These EDMs fly in the face of the advice of the Science and Technology Select Committee to cut homeopathy – a 200-year-old pseudoscience – from NHS funding. I applaud the committee, and their reliance on evidence to come to a solid conclusion.

In contrast, the studies cited as proof of the effect of homeopathic treatments in EDM284, EDM285 and EDM286 are in fact riddled with deep and significant flaws. Given that EDM285 applauds the use of homeopathic substances to treat breast cancer – a claim which I am told would be illegal if made by a UK practitioner – it’s clear to see how support for this motion could lead to real and significant harm.

I welcome the actions of Julian Huppert MP, who has tabled clear and reasonable amendments to these misguided motions, amendments which correct their inaccuracies and redirect them back in line with real science and evidence. These amendments are titled as follows:

EDM284A1 [Bma Annual Representative Meeting Motions On Homeopathy]

EDM285A1 [Effect Of Homeopathic Remedies On Breast Cancer Cells]

EDM286A1 [Homeopathic Medicines In The Treatment Of Moderate To Severe Depression]

EDM287A1 [Homeopathy And Chronic Primary Insomnia]

I therefore urge you to consider the issues and the serious ramifications to both the taxpayer in funding disproven treatments on the NHS, and to the overall health of the nation in recommending pseudo-medicine for such serious issues as severe depression and breast cancer. If you agree that cancer, depression and other illnesses should only be treated with modalities that have been proven to work, I urge you to sign EDM284A1, EDM285A1, EDM286A1 and EDM287A1.

Thank you for your time.

Yours sincerely,

[Counting Quoll]

UPDATE – 26/6/10:

I just received this email:

From REDWOOD, John

Date Sat, Jun 26, 2010 at 2:07 PM

Subject RE: Effective health treatment

Thank you for your email. EDMs are never debated and have little impact.

That’s it. Disappointing, to say the least. Thrice I have emailed John Redwood with my rationalist concerns and thrice he has refused to sign the EDMs. I can’t fault the man for inconsistency.

How common is intersex?

What is intersex? Glad you asked. According to the Intersex Society of North America,

“Intersex” is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.

The ISNA have some amazing figures on the frequency of these conditions:

Not XX and not XY one in 1,666 births
Klinefelter (XXY) one in 1,000 births
Androgen insensitivity syndrome one in 13,000 births
Partial androgen insensitivity syndrome one in 130,000 births
Classical congenital adrenal hyperplasia one in 13,000 births
Late onset adrenal hyperplasia one in 66 individuals
Vaginal agenesis one in 6,000 births
Ovotestes one in 83,000 births
Idiopathic (no discernable medical cause) one in 110,000 births
Iatrogenic (caused by medical treatment, for instance progestin administered to pregnant mother) no estimate
5 alpha reductase deficiency no estimate
Mixed gonadal dysgenesis no estimate
Complete gonadal dysgenesis one in 150,000 births
Hypospadias (urethral opening in perineum or along penile shaft) one in 2,000 births
Hypospadias (urethral opening between corona and tip of glans penis) one in 770 births
Total number of people whose bodies differ from standard male or female one in 100 births
Total number of people receiving surgery to “normalize” genital appearance one or two in 1,000 births

It seems to me that whatever rule you might come up with for deciding a person’s gender, biology will show you an example to confound you. Indeed some people cannot identify themselves as being of either gender.

All this goes to show how ridiculous is the idea that gender should have any bearing whatsoever on our legal rights.

As the legal definition of gender struggles to reflect our growing knowledge of the realities of human biology, and the law ties itself in knots trying to accommodate trans-sexuality, I’m left wondering why we need a notion of legal gender at all.

Thanks to Audacia Ray and Dr Petra Boynton for signposting the ISNA data.


A micromort is a 1 in 1million chance of death. As a new way of looking at the world, I reckon this is genius.

Consider. A car gives a reassuring 250 miles per micromort, a bike 20, walking 17 and a motorbike just 6 miles.

Alternatively consider the risk to troops in Afghanistan (33 micromorts per day) versus a spell in hospital (75), although the comparison of a fit young soldier to the average NHS patient is perhaps not a very valid one.


Risk of general anaesthetic: 10 micromorts. Not negligible. Giving birth: 80 micromorts in UK. 50 in Sweden. 170 in US.

Many thanks to David Spielgelhalter and Mark Henderson.

UPDATE (25/6/10):

Plus has a great piece on micromorts with some rather nice animations.