Calling out the snake oil salesmen

17 Apr 2017 | 0 Comment(s)

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A round-up of research news and oddities from left field

Fair play to the head of the NHS, who spoke out recently about the waste that exists in the system. He particularly called out homeopathic medicine, telling it like it is and pointing out that it is, at best, an expensive placebo. 

Bizarrely, the NHS spends millions on homeopathic substances but is conducting a review in an attempt to cut back its costs for some medicines. Incredibly, homeopathic substances will escape this review.

I use the term ‘substances’ when referring to homeopathy, as these snake-oil compounds really shouldn’t be referred to as ‘medicines’, ‘therapies’ or anything else that implies an evidence-based application in a sick person.

NHS England CEO Simon Stevens described them as “placebo at best” and went on to state that they are “a classic example of those sorts of things we want to see less of”, adding that it would be “absurd” if anyone was prescribing them.

It would be heartening if the HSE followed suit. A quick scan of the HSE website reveals that the page on ‘homeopathy’ is not active — a term that could be applied to the substances themselves. In fact, the only pages found following a quick search seem to be ones warning about unlicensed homeopathic products.

It would be nice to get a statement from Simon Harris or the HSE to debunk this quackery and protect vulnerable patients. It would also help if the rich and famous shut up about it.

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Speaking of Minister Harris, he recently spoke out about the good work of the Irish Kidney Association during Organ Donor Awareness Week, which ran from 1-8 of this month.

Some interesting figures emerged and the Minister vowed to press ahead with legislation for an ‘opt-out’ system. In my opinion, such a system would make sense and save a lot of lives.

The statistics show that many acute hospitals identified very few deceased organ donors. Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, meanwhile, topped the list at 20 deceased donors during last year.

A survey on families’ attitudes a couple of years ago was telling — one family responded that they would not consent to their deceased relative’s organs being donated because “he has suffered enough”.

Clearly, attitudes and public education need to be improved.

Not just a pretty face 

There are many wonderfully-named journals and Personality and Individual Differences is now among my favourites.

This publication recently featured an interesting study on who tends to be better-looking among scholars — those with right- or left-wing tendencies.

The study, titled ‘Just because you look good doesn’t mean you’re right’ , involved hundreds of scholars and followed-up on previous research, which suggested that right-leaning politicians tend to be more attractive than their left-wing counterparts. Again, Donald Trump seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

The research was based on the premise that politicians and scholars are, generally-speaking, comparable in terms of social status, education and age.

The conclusion was that while scholars with left-wing tendencies are perceived as more attractive, their right-wing counterparts are more well groomed. Read into that what you will.

One interesting additional observation was that the better informed constituents were, the less effect their looks had on voting habits.

Prof Jan Erik Lonnqvist of the University of Helsinki, Finland, put it like this: “One possible reason for the greater influence of looks on right-wing constituents could be that they are less informed. Previous research has also shown that conservative voters have a more concrete, perhaps less sophisticated, way of thinking.”

I’ll name no names, but I’m sure a few examples spring to mind.

Wrong time, wrong place

Thanks to the reader who sent me this quick gag to finish.

A man walks into his GP’s office and says, “I am short of breath, have a loss of peripheral vision and have intermittent, sharp pains in my shoulders.”

The doctor commences his examination and after a couple of minutes says: “Well Mr Murphy, it’s important that you stop masturbating.”

“Why?” asks Mr Murphy.

Our doc replies: “Because it’s interfering with my ability to conduct this examination.”

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