Merseyside Skeptics Society

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The Merseyside Skeptics Society (MSS) is a group based in Merseyside, UK which calls itself

a non-profit organisation which aims to develop and support the skeptical community on Merseyside. The society was founded in February 2009 and holds regular social events in Liverpool City Centre.[1]

The group runs a website called merseysideskeptics.org.uk. Its founder is Mike Hall, who registered the web domain on 30 January 2009.[2]

A co-founder of the MSS is Michael Marshall, according to Marshall's Twitter home page.[3]

Contents

Activities

The MSS, in its website section called AntiAntiVax, defends vaccinations of many types against their critics.[4]

It criticizes alternative and complementary therapies/medicines and has prominent links (headed "Great Resources"[5]) to the Quackwatch website, Skeptic magazine, and the James Randi Educational Foundation.[6]

Links with Sense About Science

There is considerable similarity in the stance of MSS with that of the industry-funded lobby group Sense About Science, with both groups claiming to stand up for science. The MSS states on its website, "we adhere to principles of scientific skepticism, a position which seeks to establish the veracity of scientific and historical claims through a logical and impartial evaluation of the available evidence."[7]

There is also considerable overlap in the campaigns of Sense About Science (SAS) and the MSS. The MSS website has a prominent link to Sense About Science's "Keep libel laws out of science" campaign.[8] Just as (as of February 2010) SAS's "Keep libel laws out of science" campaign focused almost entirely on the case of science writer Simon Singh, who was sued by the British Chiropractic Association for claiming that chiropractic was "bogus" (see Sense About Science), so does the MSS.[9] As at February 2010, both organisations fail to mention on their sites the otherwise widely reported libel case launched by SAS funder GE Healthcare against whistleblower radiologist Henrik Thomsen, after Thomsen drew attention to what he believed were serious health risks of GE Healthcare's Omniscan product (see GE Healthcare, Sense About Science).

Attacking homeopathy

Both the MSS and SAS criticise alternative medicine such as homeopathy. They both prominently publicised the MSS's stunt of a mass overdose of homeopathic remedies, called the 1023 campaign, or "Homeopathy: There's Nothing In It" (on the basis that none of the overdosers suffered any immediate ill effects from the overdose).[10][11][12]

The stunt was reported to have taken place on 30 January 2010 "at branches of Boots [which sells homeopathic remedies] in places such as Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow, London, Leicester, Edinburgh and Birmingham".[13] Michael Marshall of the MSS told the BBC that similar stunts were "also planned in Canada, Spain, the US and Australia", an oddly ambitious campaign for a small Merseyside group.[14]

The stunt attacking homeopathy coincided with evidence being given to a UK government Science and Technology Committee hearing on the continued funding of homeopathy by the NHS. Most of the witnesses called to testify were a had no experience of, or expertise in homeopathy; some had interests in the pharmaceutical arena, which has a historical antipathy towards alternative medicine and homeopathy. They included:[15]

Note the inclusion of Sense About Science director Tracey Brown, who not only has no qualifications in medicine or homeopathy, but has no science background (see Tracey Brown). Strangely, no satisfied patients of homeopathy were called to testify before the committee.[16]

David Tredinnick MP, in his evidence to the committee, criticised the choice of Tracey Brown as a witness, and detailed Sense About Science's deceitful activities in the past with respect to homeopathy:

The Managing Director of Sense about Science, an organisation whose actions over a number of years has caused much harm to homeopathy in the UK, was invited to give evidence. The result of this organisation’s actions has been the closure of courses, the closure of a very good hospital in Kent and withdrawal of NHS contracts following a letter sent to all PCT Chairmen on headed notepaper purporting to have come from the Department of Health instructing them not to commission homeopathic services.
The Minister Gillian Merron said in her response to my adjournment debate on 14 October on Complementary and Alternative Medicine that “The hon. Gentleman raised concerns about a document recommending disinvestment from homeopathy, which was circulated using the NHS logo. I can confirm that our inquiries found no record of the Department having authorised the use of the NHS logo and that those who originated the document were asked not to circulate it any further. They were advised about the use of the logo in future and chief executives of trusts were also informed that the document does not represent Government policy.”
Sense about Science is an organisation that does not have anyone on their list of advisors who has any expert knowledge in this field.[17]

Tredinnick also noted the bias in the choice of witnesses who were called to give oral evidence to the committee:

Only one doctor using homeopathy gave oral evidence... No doctors using homeopathy in a primary care setting have been asked. Dr David Reilly from the Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital is regarded as a leading expert on this subject and should have been called. In addition, the Society of Homeopaths, which was discussed both directly and indirectly as the principal organisation representing non-medical homeopaths, should have had the opportunity to put its views forward. I believe that the Committee should have ensured that all the experts in this field were given the opportunity to give oral evidence.[18]

Unsurprisingly, the Science and Technology Committee concluded "that the NHS should cease funding homeopathy. It also concludes that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) should not allow homeopathic product labels to make medical claims without evidence of efficacy. As they are not medicines, homeopathic products should no longer be licensed by the MHRA."[19]

In response to the Science and Technology committee report, Tredinnick tabled an early day motion (EDM) on 23 February 2010, stating:

That this House expresses concern at the conclusions of the Science and Technology Committee's Report, Evidence Check on Homeopathy; notes that the Committee took only oral evidence from a limited number of witnesses, including known critics of homeopathy Tracy Brown, the Managing Director of Sense About Science, and journalist Dr Ben Goldacre, who have no expertise in the subject; believes that evidence should have been heard from primary care trusts that commission homeopathy, doctors who use it in a primary care setting, and other relevant organisations, such as the Society of Homeopaths, to provide balance; observes that the Committee did not consider evidence from abroad from countries such as France and Germany, where provision of homeopathy is far more widespread than in the UK, or from India, where it is part of the health service; regrets that the Committee ignored the 74 randomised controlled trials comparing homeopathy with placebo, of which 63 showed homeopathic treatments were effective, and that the Committee recommends no further research; further notes that 206 hon.Members signed Early Day Motion No. 1240 in support of NHS homeopathic hospitals in Session 2006-07; and calls on the Government to maintain its policy of allowing decision-making on individual clinical interventions, including homeopathy, to remain in the hands of local NHS service providers and practitioners who are best placed to know their community's needs.[20]

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Notes

  1. Who are we?, Merseyside Skeptics Society website, accessed 27 Feb 2010
  2. Merseyside Skeptics web domain WhoIs? screengrab, taken 27 Feb 2010
  3. Michael Marshall Twitter homepage, Twitter, screengrab taken 27 Feb 2010
  4. The Truth About The Evils Of Vaccination, MSS website, accessed 27 Feb 2010
  5. Great Resources, MSS website, accessed 27 Feb 2010
  6. Podcasts page, MSS website, accessed 27 Feb 2010
  7. What isn’t skepticism?, MSS website, accessed 27 Feb 2010
  8. Merseyside Skeptics link to SAS libel laws campaign, MSS website, accessed 27 Feb 2010
  9. Libel laws and Simon Singh, MSS website, accessed 27 Feb 2010
  10. Libel laws and Simon Singh, MSS website, accessed 27 Feb 2010
  11. Alternative Medicine, SAS website, screenshot taken 27 Feb 2010
  12. Sceptics stage homeopathy 'overdose', BBC News, 30 Jan 2010
  13. Sceptics stage homeopathy 'overdose', BBC News, 30 Jan 2010
  14. Sceptics stage homeopathy 'overdose', BBC News, 30 Jan 2010
  15. Witnesses, Evidence Check 2: Homeopathy, Fourth Report of Session 2009–10, p. 51
  16. Memorandum submitted by Maria Jevtics (HO 49), Evidence Check 2: Homeopathy, Fourth Report of Session 2009–10, Ev 191
  17. Memorandum submitted by David Tredinnick MP, Chairman, Parliamentary Group for Integrated and Complementary Healthcare (HO 46), Evidence Check 2: Homeopathy, Fourth Report of Session 2009–10, Ev 189
  18. Memorandum submitted by David Tredinnick MP, Chairman, Parliamentary Group for Integrated and Complementary Healthcare (HO 46), Evidence Check 2: Homeopathy, Fourth Report of Session 2009–10, Ev 189
  19. MPS URGE GOVERNMENT TO WITHDRAW NHS FUNDING AND MHRA LICENSING OF HOMEOPATHY, Science and Technology Committee, UK Parliament website, accessed 27 Feb 2010
  20. David Tredinnick, David Tredinnick MP: Early Day Motion 908: Sci & Tech Committee Report, UK Parliament website, accessed 27 Feb 2010
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