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Update 12 March. Six more dimwits signed.

An‘early day motion1 (EDM 908) has been tabled in parliament which opposes the conclusions of the science and technology committee report on the evidence for homeopathy. After two weeks it has been signed by an amazing 55 MPs. That is 8.5% of all 646 MPs.  Nothing shows more clearly the scientific illiteracy that prevails in the House of Commons (and, perhaps, the results of the mass mailing of MPs by homeopaths, who are clutching at straws)..

These MPs are all people who have difficulty with the idea that pills which contain nothing can have no effect above placebo.  It isn’t rocket science.

Those of us who spend quite a lot of unpaid time trying to communicate the joy of science to the public, rather resent having our efforts undermined by these members of parliament.  But at least we now have a handy list of them.

In case this seems a bit harsh, it is only necessary to point out that the EDM was tabled by David Treddinick (Cons, Bosworth). Mr Treddinick is renowned as the most extreme advocate of magic medicine
in the House of Commons.  The EDM twists and distorts the evidence in exactly the way the committee’s report condemned so sternly.

Nothing is too barmy for Treddinick to espouse. His education at Eton and Oxford has led him to advocate homeopathic borax for the treatment of foot and mouth disease, and he has backed homeopathic treatment of AIDS and malaria. He is a major danger to public health. By way of background, Tredinnick was suspended for a month without pay for taking a £1000 bribe in the cash for questions scandal. And he was again in trouble during the expenses scandal. It was reported that

“The MP for Bosworth struck a deal with the parliamentary standards commissioner to pay back the £755 which he claimed for a computer programme that states it can help users to predict their health via the stars.”

Yes, really, astrology! You couldn’t make it up.

One would think that, with a reputation like this, nobody with half a brain would want to sign an EDM proposed by Treddinick. Well, not so. The list of signatories is amazing, and shocking.

The state of the parties is interesting.

Unionists (Northern Ireland): no fewer than 77% (7 out of 9 MPs) signed, including the infamous Ian Paisley and the recently famous Peter Robinson. Disheartening though this is, perhaps it isn’t so surprising from a group noted for religious belief, and consequently predisposed to believing things that aren’t true.

The seriously sad thing is that second place in the stupid race is held by – wait for it – the Liberal Democrats, with 15.9% (10 of their 63 MPs). That is tragic in the light of the fact that two of the very few MPs in the House with any appreciation of evidence are also Lib Dems, Phil Willis and Evan Harris (both on the Science and Technology Committee).

After them Conservatives with 8.3% (16 out of 193), and the best is Labour 5.8% (20 out of 346 MPs)

Here is the roll of shame, updated on 12 March (the last six signed in the last 24 hours)

Tredinnick, David Con
Simpson, Alan  Lab
 Russell, Bob LibDem
 Pound, Stephen Lab
 Dismore, Andrew Lab
 Simpson, David Democratic unionist
 McDonnell, John Lab
 Campbell, Gregory Democratic unionist
 Cohen, Harry Lab
 Corbyn, Jeremy Lab
 Drew, David Lab
 Gray, James Con
 Hancock, Mike LibDem
 Hermon, Lady Ulster unionist
 Key, Robert Con
 Hemming, John LibDem
 Bone, Peter  Con
 Davies, Dai Independent
Mates, Michael  Con
Dodds, Nigel  Democratic unionist
Wyatt, Derek  Lab
Sarwar, Mohammad  Lab
Hamilton, Fabian  Lab
Winterton, Nicholas  Con
Davies, Philip Con
Leigh, Edward Con
Barlow, Celia Lab
Ellwood, Tobias Con
Leech, John  Lib Dem
Main, Anne Lab
Robinson, Peter Democratic unionist
McCrea, Dr William Democratic unionist
Paisley, Ian Democratic unionist
Brady, Graham Con
Cook, Frank  Lab
Hall, Patrick Lab
Binley, Brian Con
Pugh, John  Lib dem
Davey, Edward Lib dem
Weir, Mike Scottish Nationalist
Sharma, Virendra Kumar Lab
Abbott, Diane  Lab
Williams, Mark Lib dem
Horam, John Con
Widdecombe, Ann Con
Browne, Jeremy Lib dem
Spicer, Michael Con
Maclean, David Con
McCafferty, Chris Lab
Buck, Karen Lab
George, Andrew Lib Dem
Vis, Rudi Lab
Walter, Robert  Lab
Whittingdale, John Con
Farron, Timothy Lib Dem

I haven’t contacted most of these MPs, and of those I have only two have replied.  I had a rather curt reply from one of the most surprising signatories (John Hemming, who was a Scholar in Theoretical, Atomic and Nuclear Physics at Magdalen College, Oxford.

Mark Twain’s letter

Thanks to @Count_Stuff on Twitter for reminding me about
a letter written in 1905 by Mark Twain.  It refers to an Elixir of Life.  By curious coincidence this popped up a week after I saw Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore at ENO (and a couple of days after I bumped into its producer, Jonathan Miller, in the RADA café). I’d love to quote Kelly Rourke’s witty translation of the quack’s song, but can’t find the libretto.

Given the ludicrous libel laws in the UK. I’d like to make it clear that the following item has absolutely nothing to do with EDM 908.  Please sign the petition at http://libelreform.org/

You’re an idiot of the 33rd degree

In November of 1905, an enraged Mark Twain sent this superb letter to J. H. Todd, a patent medicine salesman who had just attempted to sell bogus medicine to the author by way of a letter and leaflet delivered to his home.

Nov. 20. 1905

J. H. Todd 
1212 Webster St.
San Francisco, Cal.

Dear Sir,

Your letter is an insoluble puzzle to me. The handwriting is good and exhibits considerable character, and there are even traces of intelligence in what you say, yet the letter and the accompanying advertisements profess to be the work of the same hand. The person who wrote the advertisements is without doubt the most ignorant person now alive on the planet; also without doubt he is an idiot, an idiot of the 33rd degree, and scion of an ancestral procession of idiots stretching back to the Missing Link. It puzzles me to make out how the same hand could have constructed your letter and your advertisements. Puzzles fret me, puzzles annoy me, puzzles exasperate me; and always, for a moment, they arouse in me an unkind state of mind toward the person who has puzzled me. A few moments from now my resentment will have faded and passed and I shall probably even be praying for you; but while there is yet time I hasten to wish that you may take a dose of your own poison by mistake, and enter swiftly into the damnation which you and all other patent medicine assassins have so remorselessly earned and do so richly deserve.

Adieu, adieu, adieu!

Mark Twain


1 For those who are not familiar with the quaint customs of the UK parliament, early day motions can be tabled by any MP but are rarely debated and even more rarely lead to any action.

Follow-up

The Guardian had picked up on this story on the same day that it was posted, in a nice article by Ian Sample .

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23 Responses to A handy list of dimwitted members of parliament

  • I wrote to Derek Wyatt and he told me that he and his family had found homeopathy to be a much better solution than “Western medicine”.

  • Hmmm Derek Wyatt, BA. Hons 2:1 in Art and Architecture 1978,from Open University, so not much science background. But also founded and was chairman of the British House of Commons all party internet group. Well I guess internet has a lot more quackery than sense. So sad that someone like that should undermine science.

  • No surprise to see Andrew Dismore on that list http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8373562.stm

  • I’m very sad to see some of my political heroes on that list: Jeremy Corbyn and Alan Simpson for example. Simpson must have seconded the EDM, for shame (I think that’s why the top five names appear in italics). Why would good lefties want to be associated with Tredinnick? But I’m glad to see my local MP David Borrow has not signed it (yet!). I wrote to him after he signed the previous one defending the homeo hospitals http://edmi.parliament.uk/EDMi/EDMDetails.aspx?EDMID=33006 and got back a very vague response. Perhaps he has learned! We should be pleased that this one has only 55 sigs compared to the previous 206.

  • Shameful. I’m a bit embarrassed to be a LibDem today :(

  • yes some huge disappointments, and also some highly predictable. I’m reminded (via @jaffathecake on Twitter) that one revelation of the expenses saga concerned Andrew Dismore

    “The Daily Telegraph says he owned the Notting Hill flat with his partner, who ran her homeopathy surgery from the property, and designated it with the Commons fees office as his second home, on which he was allowed to claim expenses. “

  • *Sigh* My MP has signed the EDM. He has simiar views to mine on libel reform, but I’m not sure we agree on other matters.

  • I sent an email to my local MP, Sarwar about his signature being there and asking him to reconsider his position.

    I await a reply regarding this and the libel laws.

    I’m furious! I’m furious that this government have advocated university education for so many for so long, and then they, the jokers cage come up with his!

    The audacity, not of hope, but of muppets!

  • ME wrote
    I’m very sad to see some of my political heroes on that list: Jeremy Corbyn and Alan Simpson for example.

    I thought the dinosaurs had died out 65 million years ago.I’m no fan of homeopathy but at the end of the day, MPs should be representing the views of their constituents. How many of them would like access to alternative medicine? To paraphrase the Jam “the public gets what the public wants …….if you live in Germany, Spain, France, or China”.

  • @DangerousConventional.

    It’s the other , rather more cynical, line in “Going Underground” that’s the key lyric: “The public wants what the public gets”. Given the “empty ritual of consultation”, as the Cambridge Review of Primary Education put it last year, Weller was either remarkably prescient or communication between politicians and the public has ever been thus. I know which one my money’s on…

    And I share Mike Eslea’s disappointment. Alan Simpson, for feck’s sake. Alan Simpson?! I live in Nottingham South – he’s my MP. I previously had a huge amount of respect for him. (Not least because he has written to Paul Drayson/John Denham on my behalf a couple of times to put across my (and his) misgivings regarding the increasing marketisation of academic research).

    Gutted.

    Philip

  • Glad to see my MP (Barry Gardiner) is not on there.

  • To expect an MP to be rational is not rational. MPs are not there for you or me or anybody else except the people who paid for them to get there. They will do anything those people tell them to do.

  • @Philip

    Have you written to Alan Simpson about this? I wrote him a long letter about my loss of respect for him, it would be nice if he got a whole pile of such letters.

  • Compare the parties’ representation in Parliament with their representation in this EDM:
    Con – Parliament 30%; homeopathy EDM 32%
    Lab – Parliament 53%; homeopathy EDM 33%
    LibD- Parliament 9%; homeopathy EDM 18%

  • While your writing to Simpson ask him why his government is trying to practice homeopathy with our currency thanks with Quantitative Easing.

  • Why?

    It’s all explained in here.

    http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/monetarypolicy/assetpurchases.htm

    You’re welcome.

  • Scores on the doors as of 19th March 2010:

    Conservative: 20/193 (10.4%)
    Unionists (DUP & UUP): 7/9 (77.8%)
    Labour: 24/346 (6.9%)
    Lib Dem: 8/63 (12.7%)

    (+ 1 Independent, + 1 SNP)

    Ever the optimist, I think it’s worth noting that since your original post, two Lib Dems (Jeremy Browne and Tim Farron) have withdrawn their support for the EDM. A sign that there is hope yet.

  • Ever the optimist, I’d like to point out that two Lib Dems (Jeremy Browne and Tim Farron) have now withdrawn their support.

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