Download Lectures on Biostatistics (1971).
Corrected and searchable version of Google books edition

Download review of Lectures on Biostatistics (THES, 1973).

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When one thinks of the cult of managerialism, one name that comes to mind is Howard Newby. During his time at HEFCE, research funding became enormously concentrated, rather than being spent on good work wherever it occurred. But Newby is not a scientist, so I suppose he just doesn’t understand how it’s done. Some recent developments in his career seemed worth noting. I make no comment on the changes that left staff at the University of the West of England (UWE) so demoralised, because I don’t know enough about them.

In Nature (December 2001), Newby was quoted as saying

“The improvements in performance since the last RAE are a direct result of institutions managing their research strategically,”

Anybody who thinks that is totally out of touch with how science works. What actually happened, of course, is that universities learned out to fiddle their submissions better. It is just another example of Goodhart’s law.

But what about the following facts?

In the Guardian, Stephen Bates writes thus.

“Sir Howard Newby is continuing his progress through the groves of academe like a ballbearing in a pinball machine, with the announcement yesterday that he is to become the next vice-chancellor of Liverpool University, barely a year since he took up the same post at the University of the West of England [UWE] in Bristol. Sir Howard is gathering such titles – he was previously vice-chancellor at Southampton, before becoming chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England and president of Uni versities UK.”

The Guardian in “Will the Newby broom sweep clean?” shows the quality if the argument.

“”Steven West, the university’s deputy vice-chancellor, who officially takes over
as acting vice-chancellor on September 1, said that the plans set in place by
Sir Howard would be taken forward and delivered.

“The strategy is right and many
other universities are now going down this road. That’s testimony to the fact
we have got it right,”

Everyone is doing it so it must be right? Ahem, just one problem there surely. Everyone is doing it, but nobody has bothered to try to discover if it has done any good, West’s argument is only too typical of the circular, and data-free, argument so beloved of the management-speak folks, It seems that fashion, rather than results, guide what happens in the world of management bollocks.

The Guardian continues

” . . . university officials said staff were consulted, academics
felt decisions had been made ahead of any conclusions, particularly regarding
the reconfiguring of faculties and a controversial new policy on intellectual

Uhuh. Decisions made before the consultation? Sounds familiar?

But it gets worse,

“The use of management consultancy firms linked to both Sir Howard and his wife, assistant vice-chancellor Lady Sheila Newby, also caused concern.

“They were private companies with no idea about university or academe telling us how to do things and what to do. People got upset because he was running the university life a little fiefdom and giving very big contracts to his mates,”

said one academic, who preferred not to be named.”

And. from Wikipedia, we learn this.

“He was appointed as the vice chancellor of the University of the West of England , starting in March 2006. In May 2007 Private Eye (Eye 1185) reported that Sir Howard has used his position at the University to secure a highly paid job for his wife and to contract services to a company, Carter and Carter, of which Sir Howard is a non-executive director.
Following these revelations it was announced in July 2007 that he will be taking up the post of Vice-Chancellor of the University of Liverpool from September 2008. “

The Bristol Blogger puts it rather more bluntly.

“UWE Vice-Chancellor Sir Howard Newby is quitting the university, less than two years in to the job, after becoming embroiled in a major conflict of interest scandal between the university and his private education business Carter and Carter. The episode is said to have caused “disquiet” among many on the university’s governing body.”

“Serious concerns were raised about Newby when it was revealed recently he had concluded a deal on UWE’s behalf with a private sector training company, Carter and Carter. Newby, however is a director of the company and was therefore effectively awarding himself a lucrative public sector contract! Questions have also been asked about his relationship to the university’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor. Her name is Lady Sheila Newby!”

“As for Newby’s big idea to turn UWE into a piece of jargon called a “knowledge exchange” that lies well and truly in tatters. The only exchange that’s gone on at UWE recently seems to be public cash into Newby’s private hands.”

Well, at least the UWE’s “knowledge exchange” doesn’t extend to promoting anti-scientific quackery. But it seems that they may be working on that omission.

More on Newby can be found at Eco-Logic, from someone with first hand experience.

One reason for bad science reporting is that journalists rely too much on press releases from university ‘media departments’. Their output often seems more akin to advertising than to science.

A recent example came from a poor report in the Independent that seemed designed to fuel “electrosmog” hysteria. But the press release from Imperial College was almost as bad. The details are on IMPROBABLE SCIENCE blog.

The Independent on Sunday carried an article with the title “Electronic smog linked to respiratory disease, study shows”, by Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor.

So wifi is bad for you after all?

As usual the reference is not given, But if you look at the original paper (download it here), guess what? It bears little resemblance to the newspaper report. Continue reading

Sigh! The Times Higher Education Supplement (27 July 2007) reports an 31.5% increase in applications for ‘university’ courses in complementary medicine.

Compare this with 19 per cent fall in applications for places on anatomy, physiology and pathology courses, and a relatively low 6 per cent rise in applications for pharmacology, toxicology and pharmacy. Continue reading

The saga of the excommunication of this page, and its de-excommunication, is described here, and here, and here.

I am supposed to be on holiday, but the Red Lion in Grasmere has a wireless network, and this is just too good not to post at once. So, after a distinctly moist walk over Loughrigg Fell, and an excellent dinner, here goes.

Panorama from half way up Loughrigg Fell, with Grasmere on left and Rydal Water on write, taken just before the downpour started.

Loughrigg Fell and Rydal Water on left. Grasmere Lake above and Grasmere village (right) with GPS track.

The main trigger for the allegations of defamation seems to have been the fact that I said (and still say), apropos of Dr Ann Walker’s description of red clover, “What on earth is a “blood cleanser” or a “cleanser of the lymphatic system”. This is so much meaningless gobbledygook”.

This set me wondering about the origin of the term “blood cleanser”, and who better to ask than the erudite Micheal Quinion of the wonderful World Wide Words site. His weekly newsletter is invariably fascinating. And buy his books.

Michael Quinion has kindly given permission for me to reproduce his “non-definitive” investigation into the use of the term “blood cleanser”. It seems to have been a favourite of snake oil salesmen in thw 19th century. Of course, none of them defined what it means. You are just meant to know that it’s something good.

Quinion on “Blood Cleanser”

“The exact phrase “blood cleanser” is known no later than the nineteenth century. The earliest I’ve found is from an advertisement in the Ohio Democrat for 30 June 1871 (it ran regularly from then on) “D.B. FAHRNEY’S Blood Cleanser or Panacea, for sale by Miller & O’Donnel, is becoming a popular family medicine.” There was also Prof. Chapins’ Blood Cleanser, advertised the following year.

But the concept of cleansing the blood is very much older, of course. I have found another advertisement, in the Milwaukee Evening Courier of Wisconsin, dated 22 March 1847: “As a SPRING and FALL PURIFIER it cannot be surpassed, working its way through the system with a silent and effective force,–Cleansing the BLOOD; Removing DYSPEPTIC INFLUENCES;
Soothing the NERVES; Removing INTERNAL Obstructions and diseases that would otherwise cause injury to the LIVER and LUNGS.”

Variations on the phrase also occur several times in Culpeper’s Herbal (1653 edition) in the section on hops: “In cleansing the blood they help to cure the French diseases, and all manner of scabs, itch, and other breakings-out of the body; as also all tetters, ringworms, and spreading sores, the morphew and all discolouring of the skin.”  Another example is: “The roots of this Bastard Rhubarb are used in opening and purging diet- #drinks, with other things, to open the liver, and to cleanse and cool the blood.”

It also appears earlier still in The Anatomy of Melancholy by Richard Burton (1621): “And because the spleen and blood are often misaffected in melancholy, I may not omit endive, succory, dandelion, fumitory, &c., which cleanse the blood, Scolopendria, cuscuta, ceterache, mugwort, liverwort, ash, tamarisk, genist, maidenhair, &c., which must help and ease the spleen.”

No doubt a more thorough search will turn up still earlier examples. (My sources are poor before the eighteenth century.)”

One of the effects of this affair has been the posting of some critical examinations of some of the writings of Dr Ann Walker. I make no comment. The links are here.

This item appeared originally on the old IMPROBABLE SCIENCE page

The reversal of UCL’s request to remove this page from UCL’s server was, in large part, the result of the power of the blogosphere. Here are some of the things that did the trick.

“Moved to tears by the beauty of blogs”. Goldacre wraps up the affair in the Guardian, and on badscience.net (“Stifling Debate – When Bloggers Attack”).

He gives links to the close examination of the work of Dr Ann Walker that that is now appearing.

“UCL have just issued a smashing statement on Prof Colquhoun’s de-excommunication.” Comment from badscience.

This episode seems to have sparked a close inspection of some of the claims made by Ann Walker. Here are some examples.

“Dr Ann Walker and Her Neanderthal Theories”. An analysis of Walker’s theory about the Neanderthal diet, on the quackometer blog. Goldacre comments

“In one piece, Walker promotes the idea that neanderthals were not a distinct kind of human, but degenerate and malnourished versions of ordinary humans: buy pills or regress to a sub-human state, seems to be Walker’s message. Yikes.”

Ann Walker festival: “There is no convincing evidence that Ginkgo biloba is efficacious for dementia and cognitive impairment” ” Holfordwatch takes a cool look at more claims by Ann Walker.

“Red Clover comments leave a bitter aftertaste” Click here

“The War Against Gobbledygook” Comment from Astrophysicists.

“UCL Makes good” Comment from the University of Minnesota

University Diaries. A US Professor of English reproduced Ben Goldacre’s first

“Science bloggers unite” Comment from a Yale neurologist.

“The Guardian: a quackbuster . . . “ Comment from MIT (and it’s on the MIT server).

“UCL change tack: Colquhoun is back” The Sceptical Preacher speaks

Freedom of speech and litigious herbalists

Announcement 13 June 2007. UCL restores

After taking legal advice, the provost and I have agreed a joint statememt.
Read it on the UCL web site.

“ . . . the Provost and Professor Colquhoun have taken advice from
a senior defamation Queen’s Counsel, and we are pleased to announce that Professor Colquhoun’s website – with some modifications effected by him on counsel’s advice – will shortly be restored to UCL’s servers.”

I am grateful to UCL for its legal support, and I’m very grateful too for the enormous support I’ve had from many people, especially since Ben Goldacre mentioned the site move. Now all I need is a bit of help to get it into a more convenient format. The page will stay at its present address until there is time to sort things out. For some of the fallout from these events, click here. The name of the page has been changed from quack.html to improbable.html on the advice of lawyers, but the old addresses still work.

Announcement 30 May 2007.

My item about claims made for alleged benefits of the red clover and other herbs has resulted in complaints being made to the provost of UCL (Malcolm Grant), and to Chair of Council (Lord Woolf). The complaints have come from Alan Lakin, husband of Ann Walker. I have received no complaints from them myself.

In the six or years that I have been running this attempt to improve public understanding of science, I am aware of only two serious complaints being made, and as far as I know, this is the first to reach the level of the provost. This one resulted in a request to remove of this page from the UCL server, but that is now reversed.

The Islington Tribune (11 May 2007) revealed that spiritual healers are being paid by the NHS. The National Secular Society commented

“Spiritual healers” using up scarce NHS resources

The University College London Hospital is to spend £80,000 on testing whether “spiritual healers” can have an effect on cancer.

” ‘Healers’ who wave their hands over the patient and claim to transmit some kind of undefined ‘energy’ “ want to find out whether their efforts increase the number of white blood cells in cancer sufferers.

Astonishingly, UCLH has a dedicated team of 10 “healers”, who cost the hospital around £80,000 a year to maintain. They are the idea of department manager Angela Buxton who first became interested in ‘spiritual healing’ after the death of her seven-year-old son from leukaemia. She told the local paper: “Science has not caught up with how it works. Anecdotal evidence shows it works but we need hard evidence.”

A defence of this procedure was offered in an email from Martin Lerner (Divisional Manager, Cancer Services)’ He cites cancertherapies.org.uk as saying.

“Today we are also entering the era where appropriate scientific studies of complementary therapy will begin to show specific improvements in outcome for some patients.”

Hang on. Aren’t you meant to get the scientific studies before you start treating patients?

Lerner goes on to say

“UCLH does employ the staff and provide some of the budget (about £90,000 this year) towards the cost of this service, with a similar amount raised through charitable fundraising. By making these complementary therapy services an integral part of the clinical service, we show that we take responsibility for the whole of the patient’s wellbeing, . . .”

Spiritual healing clearly comes under the heading of  “dishonest placebo effects”. Nobody is disputing the value to some patients of palliative treatments. The placebo effect can be quite powerful. But is seems the proponents of laying-on-of hands have not considered adequately the lying dilemma

The laying-on-of hands also gives rise to the training dilemma. What does it mean to be “trained”, In something that is essentially mumbo-jumbo?. Well this poses no problem for the box-ticking mentality of the corporate administrator, Just tick the box. Here is the application form. It seems that if you can produce a piece of paper saying you are well-qualified in mumbo-jumbo, then everything is fine.

There is more on the box-ticker mentality elsewhere. It is only too typical of the “efficient administration” that results from corporatisation of the health service, and universities, and the removal of power from those who know what they are talking about.

What is the evidence about ‘spiritual healing’ ?

Very little it seems. There is an interesting paper with the title “Psychotherapy and Survival in Cancer: The Conflict Between Hope and Evidence”, by Coyne, Stefanek & Palmer (2007) [download the paper]. They conclude that, despite the popular belief to the contrary, there is little reason to believe that psychotherapy can prolong life in cancer patients. Insofar as complementary treatments are placebos, they count as a form of psychotherapy.

No doubt, mumbo-jumbo can make some people feel better, and to that extent it is justified. But it can and should done be honestly (for example, foot massage is fine, ‘reflexology’ isn’t). Lies to patients should be minimised and universities should not be tempted to hand out certificates in mumbo jumbo.


Here is another interesting article on this topic . Attitude doesn’t affect cancer survival. That is based on Optimism and Survival in Lung Carcinoma Patients [download pdf]..

This was posted originally on the old IMPROBABLE SCIENCE page

UCL felled by a herbalist?

OK this isn’t really bad science, but it’s caused inconvenience to me and to readers. It still puzzles me that UCL has not got the resources to deal with a herbalist (the reason that I was given for the move). The herbalist in question, Ann Walker, got rather angry when I called her use of the term ‘blood cleanser’ as gobbledygook

On Friday 1 June, 2007, when it was announced that the IMPROBABLE SCIENCE page had been moved from the UCL server, several people sent letters to the provost. Here is one of them. I have never met Prof Shafer, but his letter, and other similar ones, lightened an otherwise bad day.

Dear Dr. Grant:I am very sorry to learn that you have requested Dr. Colquhoun to remove his “Improbable Science” web page from the computer system at University College London. It is particularly disheartening to learn that you made this request after receiving a complaint from a practitioner of nonscientific medicine.

I don’t know how many of your faculty publish in Nature (Colquhoun D. Science degrees without the science. Nature. 2007;446:373-4). However, based on my experience at Stanford, I would guess precious few. You now appear to be attempting to squelch his academic freedom, or at least disassociate UCL from his efforts to educate the public about quack science.

Perhaps you were put off by the “unprofessional appearance” of the web page. If so then you have misunderstood its purpose. The public is inundated by junk science, A large portion come from the Internet. There are almost no Internet resources where a lay reader can find a counterweight to the extensive claims of pseudoscientists. Dr. Colquhoun’s blog is a unique resource. The format may put off a scientific reader, but it is exactly the format required to get the message to the web surfer with a 10 second attention span. In my view the Improbable Science web page was among the most important public services made available by the University College London.

I don’t know the facts of your decision. Perhaps there are policies, procedures, and regulations that Dr. Colquhoun has violated in creating the Improbable Science web page. However, I do know that any request to remove the page that follows a complaint from an individual offended by the page is entirely inappropriate. Even were your request otherwise reasonable, the mere appearance of academic censorship should have been absolutely unacceptable to you. (Think of it like conflict of interest – there is a need to avoid not only true conflict of interest, but the mere appearance of
conflict of interest. Requesting removal of these pages may not represent censorship, but it certainly appears to be censorship, which is anathema to the academic credo.)

It is thus with shock, sadness, and disappointment that I have learned of this decision by the University College London. I hope that you will reconsider. The present course makes it appear that UCL has caved in to pseudoscientists and is engaged in academic censorship of possibly the most important public service offered by the UCL.


Steve Shafer

Steven L. Shafer, MD
Editor-in-Chief, Anesthesia & Analgesia
Professor, Department of Anesthesia, Stanford University
Adjunct Professor, Biopharmaceutical Sciences, UCSF
Stanford University Medical Center
Stanford, CA 94305

No doubt it is an exaggeration to say “the Improbable Science web page was among the most important public services made available by the University College London”. But thanks anyway.

After an unrepentant response, Professor Shafer replied thus.

Dear Provost Grant:I appreciate your taking the time to respond. I’m sure that as provost you live on the receiving end of a firehose of correspondence, as do I as a professor and a journal Editor-in-Chief. I’m sorry to have added to the e-mail overload. I appreciate your finding time to respond.

It would be my hope that Stanford University would shoulder the responsibility of dealing with whatever harassment would come my way by virtue of my scientific and academic pursuits. Yes, when legal action is threatened, and staff are consumed with processing paperwork, I’m sure my Dean, Provost, and President would prefer to ransfer everything to me. However, the effect would be chilling. Universities are supposed to provide a haven to insulate scientists from harassment. I’ve looked at Dr.
Colquhoun’s publications via PubMed. He is a top drawer investigator. He is also a very public advocate for critical thinking.

You note that Dr. Colquhoun “accepts that he needs to be in a position where he shoulders directly the burden of responding to Dr Lakin.” I applaud his fortitude, but note that are only 24 hours in a day. If the administrative resources of University College London are inadequate to respond to Dr. Lakin, how is Dr. Colquhoun, on his own, without the resources of UCL, expected to survive the harassment, legal hallenges, and other pressures to silence him?

As a counter example, the University of California at San Francisco stood solidly behind Stanton Glantz when the cigarette industry tried to destroy him for his efforts to expose their activities. Had he agreed to “shoulder directly the burden”, we would never have known of the extensive research conducted by the cigarette industry over two decades that identified the health risks, and guided their extensive disinformation campaign. I would hope that Stanford University would following the UCSF example, and devote the necessary resources to defend my academic freedom, rather than the UCL
example, and ask me to “shoulder the burden.”

Again, I appreciate your responding to my e-mail. I hope that my perspective is a least thought provoking on the complex mutual responsibilities between a prestigious University and an equally prominent faculty member with outspoken views.

Thank you for your consideration,


Steve Shafer

The Goldacre effect

Saturday 9 June 2007. The wires (and my hit counter) are melting after Ben Goldacre’s comments on the move of this web site from UCL’s servers. That’s understandable: his excellent badscience.net site gets 12,000 hits a day and 95,000 unique visitors per month.

Like all the other comments, his badscience column in today’s Guardian, was not solicited by me, but it’s wonderful to know that somebody cares. His badscience.net version (“The Mighty David Colquhoun” !) was even more over-the-top. I can’t say I’m feeling very “mighty” at the moment.

Goldacre’s piece starts “I’ve always said you’d get a lot more kids interested in science if you told them it involves fighting – which of course it does.” A correspondent today enlarged on the theme “you have got me thinking and yes my kids would be far more interested in science if a playstation game was created whereby Prof. Colquhoun was zapping disgruntled alternative therapists”. The mind boggles. Making money out of selling mindless violence (in the news again today) must be even worse than making money out of selling useless pills. A university should be one of the few places left where one cannot be accused of knowing the price of everything, and the value of nothing.
Contrary to what some people seem to think, I don’t enjoy rows. They keep me awake at night. But some things are just too important to duck out of them.

Read the provost’s reply.

Goldacre has posted the complete text of the provost’s reply to one of the many people who have written to him. You should read the other side of the story too (click here and search for “letter from provost”). Grant has a real problem. He shouldn’t have to spend time fending off herbalists. Yet if they aren’t fended off, more attacks will occur. Who’d be a provost? That is all sorted out now.

Papers sent to me from Imperial College revealed abuse of crude an ineffective metrics for assessment of the performance of staff. These metrics are demonstrably bad science as well as inhuman. The Times Higher Education Supplement (June 1, 2007) devoted several pages to the problem. An extended version of my analysis is on DC’s Goodscience blog.

Nature caption
The Nature title picture was ‘Taken from The Complete Guide to Homeopathy, © Dorling Kindersley Ltd’ (not a recommended text book at UCL)

Nature (March 22 2007) ran this commentary, alongside a News item by Jim Giles:

Download a reprint of the article here.
Download the while 2005 westminster University miasmatic exam paper here.

Degrees in homeopathy slated as unscientific

and a Nature podcast [listen to podcast].

Here is some of the coverage of this commentary (more soon, including some of the abuse). A transcript pf the podcast is here.

Interview on the BBC’s Today Programme, with Edward Stourton.
Listen to interview

Material World (BBC Radio 4). This excellent science programme, presented by Quentin Cooper, had a longer version of DC versus David Peters (Westminster University). There was helpful intervention from Michael Marmot who had talked, in the first half of the programme, about his longitudinal population studies. [listen to part 2].

Radio 5 Live interview.

BBC London News (BBC1 TV), An interview of DC and Peter Fisher
by the News Presenter, Riz Lateef. Dr Fisher, who is clinical director of the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, made a very interesting comment, at the end of a discussion about whether homeopathy was a suitable subject for a science degree.

Riz Lateef (presenter): “Dr Fisher, could you ever see it
[homeopathy] as a science degree in the future?

Dr Peter Fisher:
“I would hope so. I wouldn’t deny that a lot of scientific research needs to be done, and I would hope that in the future it would have a scientific basis. I have to say that at the moment that basis isn’t comprehensive. To that extent I would agree with Professor Colquhoun.”

Download the movie (5.9 Mb .wmv file: (quotation is at the end)

A shorter version of the movie, showing only the quotation at the end has appeared on YouTube.

Evidence? During the interview, Peter Fisher said

“. . .if you look in the Cochrane library, . . . you will find that there are two treatments for flu that appear to be effective, and one of them is homeopathic”

I presume this refers to the Cochrane review “Homoeopathic Oscillococcinum for preventing and treating influenza and influenza-like yndromes”. What this actually says is

“Trials do not show that homoeopathic Oscillococcinum can prevent influenza. However, taking homoeopathic Oscillococcinum once you have influenza might shorten the illness, but more research is needed.”

Well, it might, but even if it did, the average length of the putative “shortening” of the illness was a mere 0.28 days, i.e. 6.7 hours. To call that “effective” seems to me to be just a tiny bit of an exaggeration.

The newspapers

“Faith-based degree ‘damages science’ ”

Mark Henderson, Science Editor, The Times. I love that title: it says it all.

Homeopathy science degrees ‘gobbledygook’
Ian Sample, science correspondent, The Guardian.

Alternative medicine degrees ‘anti-scientific’

Roger Highfield, Science Editor, in the Daily Telegraph

Universities ‘are duping students with homeopathy science degrees’
Steve Connor, science correspondent The Independent

Less than complementary? James Morgan in the Glasgow Herald

Alternative therapy degree attack
UK universities are teaching “gobbledygook” following the explosion in science degrees in complementary medicine, a leading expert says. BBC News web site

University homoeopathy degrees ‘gobbledygook’, claims Professor
Fiona McRae in the Daily Mail.

and the story even got into the free London papers, Metro and The London

And some from abroad

British health expert brands homeopathy ‘gobbledygook’

From ‘our correspondent’ at DailyIndia.com.

Homeopathic Degree in Britain Puts Scientific Gloss on Nonscientific Dross, Critics Say

Susan Brown in The Chronicle of Higher Education (USA)

UK Fight Over Anti-Science in Medicine
Dr Steven Novella comments in the NeuroLogica Blog, part of the New England Skeptical Society site.

Some follow up

A matter of degree. Why the letters after a homoeopath’s name really do count
Mark Henderson, 24th March, in The Times (Body and Soul section)

Ann Robinson, in the Guardian’s Comment is Free (Sunday 25th March) gives me a bit of a slagging off. But her piece is followed by a flood of comments, almost all of them thoroughly sensible. One comment, from ‘Midas’ ends thus.

So why not homeopathy alongside medicine? Right. Why not Levitation alongside Aeronautical Engineering?

And the blogs: quite a lot of blogs picked up the story.

Thanks to everyone who sent letters of support, not least the regular scientists from Westminster, and University of Central Lancashire who are clearly rather embarrassed by their homeopathic colleagues.

Inevitably there were a few bits of hate mail too, each answered politely, and some even resulting in a degree of agreement. The only one worth quoting is a rather mild one from George Lewith (see below).

“Do you realise that your own university (University College London) offers a BSc in architecture? I have yet to find that this particular course (from personal experience) involves a single piece of science. You might like to investigate at the Bartlett.” . . .”I suggest you make a formal complaint to your Provost, the Dean of the Medical School, and the committee of UK Vice-Chancellors of Medical Schools. You must know that you are completely out of sync but perhaps you don’t?

Kind regards George

I guess one of us is out of sync anyway. Unlike George (it appears), I know little about architecture, but the idea of design for a tower block based on homeopathic principles sounds a bit scary to me.

Jump to follow-up

One year from our first letter to NHS Trusts, we sent another. Listen to the interview by John Humphrys on the Radio 4 Today Programme, with Raymond Tallis and Peter Fisher. :And hear Fisher suggest that he works for UCL (not true). You can also download a summary of the current evidence in the form of an example commissioning document which accompanied our letter.

May 23, 2007. A year ago, our letter to NHS Trusts urged them to stop paying for “unproven and disproved treatments”. A year on, we sent a second letter. Read it here.

On May 23 2007, John Humphrys introduced coverage of this on the Radio 4 Today Programme with the words

“Doctors who think homeopathy is a waste of time and money seem to be winning the argument”

To listen to his interview with Raymond Tallis and Peter Fisher click here. In the interview, Peter Fisher not only misrepresented the evidence, as usual, but also he said

“We are integrating it [homeopathy] within NHS services in University College London which is one of the leading, you know, biomedical centres in the country.”

Hang on a moment! I’m glad that Fisher thinks that UCL is a “leading biomedical centre”, but he does not work for UCL (which is a university), but for the UCLH Trust, which is an NHS Trust. This shameless attempt to use the reputation of a quite different institution to bolster his case smacks of desperation (not to mention mendacity).

After Fisher’s emphasis on “integration”, Tallis commented

“The use of the word integrate is interesting. I mean I suppose you can regard combining medicines that don’t work with medicines that do work as a kind of integrative approach . . “;

The evidence

Our second letter to NHS Trusts said “If you have not already reviewed your own trust’s provision, you might find it useful to consider, in conjunction with your Director of Public Health, the paper that we have enclosed which, while not a full review of the scientific position, has been used by other trusts to promote evidence based commissioning.”. This letter has a summary of the evidence,

Download the evidence here

Good reports in the newspapers include

“Hard-up NHS trusts cut back on unproven homoeopathy treatment”: Mark Henderson in The Times

“Doctors renew drive to ban NHS homeopathy”: James Randerson, in the Guardian

[This post has been transferred from my old IMPROBABLE SCIENCE page]


Homeopaths have been harping on about our alleged misuse of the NHS logo, ever since this second letter was sent.  It is often said that the letter was sent under the NHS letterhead.  As so often, they don’t bother to check.  There was no NHS logo on the letter.  The only place the logo occurred was on the sample template fo commissioners that was sent with the letter. That template has always been available for download from this post. It is very obviously intended to be a template, with sections that are to be completed by commissioners highlighted.  There is no way it could be taken to be representing itself as a letter from the NHS.  This is how it starts.

template letter

A new paper, with a very large sample, almost 300 000 men, shows an association between taking large doses of multivitamin supplements and death from prostate cancer. But this, like most observations on diet, was not a randomised study. The paper itself discusses the interpretation carefully. The reports in the newspapers did not.

Read more on the original IMPROBABLE SCIENCE page