Posts Tagged ‘Pseudoscience’


What does chartership actually mean? (Part II)

November 11, 2014

Following on from my recent post regarding the impending chartered status of the Institute of Ergonomics & Human Factors (IEHF), which is likely to be ratified by a vote of registered members at an Extraordinary General Meeting on November 13th 2014, I would like to posit the next problem I have with the IEHF becoming associated with the Royal family:

Problem II: Science, or the lack of it.

ISO 6385 defines “ergonomics” and the “study of human factors” similarly, as the “scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance.”

The International Ergonomics Association says: “Ergonomics (or human factors) is the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance.”

The crucial word here, and the one that raises most difficultly in any discussion of the British monarchy, is “scientific.”

As I have previously blogged for British republican lobby group Republic, Prince Charles likes nothing better than a bit of quackery and personally profits from selling ineffective alternative therapies. Like all the Royals it seems, he is a big fan of alternative medicine. Charles is a longtime supporter of alternative therapies and has worked hard to place them on a footing equal to conventional medicine. He established the Foundation for Integrated Health (later re-branded The College of Medicine in the wake of an accounting scandal) to lobby for the “acceptance” by the medical establishment of alternative medicines. The Foundation published leaflets, distributed to every British GP by (amazingly) the UK Department of Health, advocating alternative therapies and suggesting that they have benefits equal to or beyond those of conventional treatments. Alternative medicine debunkers Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst condemned the booklets as “propaganda” and pointed out in their book “Trick or Treatment” that the Foundation’s leaflets simply stated that alternative means were “used to treat” certain conditions, thereby avoiding any discussion over whether such treatments are actually effective. Charles has (ab)used his position to personally lobby the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) shortly before it relaxed the rules governing labelling of homoeopathic products. He has also personally lobbied Andy Burnham, the then Secretary of Health, on the subject of making alternative medicines (such as those sold by his Duchy, I presume) available on the NHS.

But it’s not just the future king of England that’s the problem. Sir John Weir, then royal physician, used the funeral of George V to prescribe homeopathic “remedies” to three kings and four queens, and the Royals fell for it hook line and sinker. The Queen’s dad, George VI, facilitated the inclusion of homeopathic hospitals within the newly created NHS. He named one of his racehorses Hypericum after a homeopathic remedy for depression. The Queen herself bestows immense respectability on homeopathy. When travelling abroad she is said to lug a case full of sixty vials of homeopathic remedies (i.e. water) around with her. In 2005, the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital (RLHH), of which the Queen is patron, was refurbished at a cost of £20 million to the taxpayer. It costs us £3 million a year to run, and receives further funding from Primary Care Trusts that refer patients.

To all of which, depending on your gullibility index, you might respond: So what? Nobody ever died from taking a herbal remedy, did they?. Really? Tell that to the thirty-odd people who died in the 90’s from the form of kidney failure that became known as “Chinese Herb nephropathy.” Tell that to the people who have died from stokes after visiting their chiropractor. Tell that to the people who have had vital organs and tissues punctured by acupunture needles.

Ergonomics is the application of scientific knowledge to the improvement of people’s working lives – yet the future king of England (and probably the current monarch) holds some of the most unscientific, and in some cases downright anti-scientific, prejudices ever expressed (or diplomatically not expressed).

Alternative medicine shennanigens aside, the Royal family claim a divine right to rule, and this also sits uneasily with my rationalist view of the world. I am an atheist and a secularist and disturbed by the continuation of the fantasy that Britain is a Christian country, which is partly reinforced by the fact that the head of state is also the head of the Church of England.

I have now corresponded with several members of the IEHF leadership and there seems to be an assumption that chartership is, by definition, a good thing. However, from what I can tell chartership seems to be a very lengthy, laborious, archaic and potentially expensive undertaking that will forever associate the Institute with a dynasty of quacks and loons. I can see very little sign of discussion of its merits or otherwise in the IEHF’s publications, or even a clear explanation of what it means for the membership.

Sadly, the closer we get to being the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics & Human Factors, the further away I get from renewing my membership.

[To be continued…]


Neuroscience for the Soul article published

July 3, 2012

As promised in an earlier post, my article on the field of neurotheology Neuroscience for the Soul is published this month in The Psychologist.

The synopsis follows:

The burgeoning field of ‘neurotheology’ or ‘spiritual neuroscience’ attempts to explain religious experience and behaviour in neuroscientific terms. Research in this field can swing erratically between the extremes of rigorous science and the fringes of pseudoscience in a perplexing and sometimes downright odd way. This lack of quality control stems mainly from the fact that it is a field that polarises opinion – due to the cosmic significance attached to each and every research finding, no matter how trivial, that emerges from the confines of the laboratory. This article plots a course through such research, asking whether there is a ‘neuroscience for the soul’.

Of course, you will need to be a member of the BPS to read it before July 2013. Or you can always contact me. Or watch me in action courtesy of The Chris Worfolk Foundation Lectures


Prince Charles’ “College of Medicine” nails its colours firmly to the mast

June 27, 2012

On Wednesday 4th July, London South Bank University, never the most reputable institution in the Western hemisphere will further muddy its name by holding a conference on “Acupuncture for Integrated Pain Management” sponsored by the College of Medicine.

This organisation, as I have previously discussed, is an alternative medicine lobby group in the UK that has been roundly criticised in the sane academic press for basically espousing Snake Oil in the name of the medical profession. The College is linked to Prince Charles, who likes nothing better than a bit of quackery and personally profits from ineffective alternative therapies. Like all the Royals, including his Dad he is a big fan of alternative medicine (although it’s strange to note that when they are actually ill, the Royals go to a proper hospital just like everyone else).

The College of Medicine is simply the most recent incarnation of an apparently many-headed hydra The Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health, which folded in 2010 after an accounting scandal. Having played it relatively safe quackery-wise since its inception, the College seems to have abandoned all pretense of being a medical organisation.

The 4th July conference on “Acupuncture for Integrated Pain Management” (its not clear to me why pain management needs to be “integrated” or indeed with what it should be integrated) features such delights as Taiji or Yi-Jin-Jing exercises for attendees, a talk by the Queen’s personal homeopath Peter Fisher and probably the most irritating, a talk on “Acupuncture in Cancer Care.”

Note the extremely careful wording: “Acupuncture in Cancer Care.” Not “Acupuncture for Cancer Care.” Suggesting that acupuncture has any effect at all on the progression of cancer might get the College into trouble with, you know, proper doctors.

In the evidence-based environment in which we find ourselves, acupuncture has failed miserably to demonstrate its effectiveness. The recent history of research into acupuncture can be easily summarised thusly: The better the study, the smaller the effects. Straws may be clutched at, yes-buts may be uttered and words may be weaseled, but acupuncture simply cannot claim to have any medical standing nowadays.

I am amazed by how tenacious the belief is that acupuncture is effective has proven, and this can partly be explained by the phenomenal success of faked operations that amount to nothing less than Chinese state-sponsored propaganda, but nonetheless lodge barnacle-like in the public conscious.

South Bank University, already languishing at the bottom end of most academic rankings, might be doing its wallet a few favours by hosting conferences espousing the rolling out of spiritualist voodoo on the National Health Service, but it should look to its reputation before siding with the charlatans.

But then again, maybe there is nothing left to salvage.

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