5X5 Episode 1

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5X5 Episode 1
UK's NHS and
Alternative Medicine
6th January 2008

Transcript Verified Transcript Verified

5X5 113 5X5 2
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
R: Rebecca Watson
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
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Show Notes


The National Health Service of the UK plans to regulate alternative medicine[edit]

TimesOnline article (requires login)
Guardian: Quackery and superstition - available soon on the NHS

You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide 5x5, five minutes with five skeptics, with Steve, Jay, Rebecca, Bob and Evan.


S: Welcome to the Skeptics' Guide 5x5. Today is Sunday, January 6th 2008. Our topic this week is a new law in the UK designed to govern or regulate alternative medicine. A new natural healthcare council, which is being proposed and backed by the Prince of Wales, seeks to regulate the quality of alternative medicine that is being practised in the UK.

R: It's crap. It sounded like a good idea at first, and then you said Prince of Wales and that's how we all know, crap!

(laughter)

R: Come on, we've talked about the guy before.

S: Yeah, he is definitely a believer. A big believer in homeopathy among other unusual health modalities. So what the ostensible purpose of this is, and like all government regulation, it's quality control. And actually, this is not an attempt at licensing professionals, really even regulating these professions, it really is more of an assurance of ethical behaviour. From reading the description of how it is to be employed. First of all, it's voluntary.

B: Right.

S: It won't demand that, in order to practice, that you are registered or licensed or anything; registration will be voluntary. They are hoping that it's going to be like a seal of approval that means that you've been vetted in some way and you're not like sexually abusing your patients. That's really what it comes down to is that the most basic egregious violations of ethics are not going to be occurring.

B: And to me that was one of the things that stuck out in all of the articles that I've read is that they were saying, over and over that in recent years there's been, in the courts, assaults on patients by therapists. Like in 2000 somebody assaulted a patient, and another guy last February had a series of sexual assaults. So to me, that's a problem because that's some of the things that they're trying to deal with, not the fact that hey, my aromatherapist is completely incompetent and didn't do what he said he was going to do. Nobody is complaining about that.

J: The thing that really bothers me about this is that Prince Charles is really championing this whole cause, the World Health Assembly in Geneva in '06. He urged them to return to remedies, and I'm quoting him here, "rooted in ancient traditions that intuitively understood the need to maintain balance and harmony with our minds, bodies and the natural world." The guy's a true believer and he's using this position, what little influence he has, he's spending it like this.

B: Also, to give you an idea, the pot-pourri of crap that's being covered here, it's things like aromatherapy, reflexology, massage, nutrition, shiatsu, reiki, naturopathy, yoga, homeopathy and the list goes on.

R: And it's so funny, because this could go from a really awful resolution into a really great resolution with one simple addition and that's, at the very beginning, doesn't work.

S: Right, efficacy, right.

B: Right.

R: Yeah, if they could just focus on whether or not the people are actually giving patients what they're advertising then this would be a great idea, but since it's missing that key component, it's kind of useless.

S: It's worse than useless though in that regard. I mean, OK, just regulating any profession for ethical behaviour is fine, the problem is when the profession is based entirely on nonsense and pseudoscience, that this just gives the imprimatur of legitimacy and the public is going to assume that it is scientifically legitimate because otherwise the government wouldn't be bothering to regulate it.

E: That's right.

S: Right.

R: Right.

E: The article states that research also shows that more than two thirds, 68% of people in the UK believe that complementary medicine is as valid as conventional treatment. One of the comments that I read about this article, someone made a comment to that specifically, and said how ridiculous is that, if one day 68% of Britons and one prince start to believe that the earth is flat, should we expect to have the Earth Shape Council? I thought that was a great point.

J: Yeah. Yeah it is a good point.

S: Absolutely, and unfortunately, endeavours like this worsen the problem for the reasons we stated.

J: I thought this quote was interesting, and this summarises how Prince Charles feels:

It seems to be that in our ceaseless rush to modernise, many tried and tested methods which have shown themselves to be effective have been cast aside as old fashioned or irrelevent to today's needs.

S: Well that's it for the first episode of the Skeptics' Guide 5x5, we'll see you all next week, and we'll see you on the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe.

S: SGU 5x5 is a companion podcast to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, a weekly science podcast brought to you by the New England Skeptical Society in association with skepchick.org. For more information on this and other episodes, visit our website at www.theskepticsguide.org. Music is provided by Jake Wilson.

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