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Treddinick – DC's Improbable Science

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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 .