Friday, 22 September 2017

EASAC statement on Homeopathy


Here, dated September 2017:

http://www.easac.eu/fileadmin/PDF_s/reports_statements/EASAC_Homepathy_statement_web_final.pdf
EASAC – the European Academies' Science Advisory Council – is formed by the national science academies of the EU Member States to enable them to collaborate with each other in giving advice to European policy-makers. It thus provides a means for the collective voice of European science to be heard.
Extracts:
EASAC, the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council, is publishing this Statement to build on recent work by its member academies to reinforce criticism of the health and scientific claims made for homeopathic products. The analysis and conclusions are based on the excellent science-based assessments already published by authoritative and impartial bodies. The fundamental importance of allowing and supporting consumer choice requires that consumers and patients are supplied with evidence-based, accurate and clear information. It is, therefore, essential to implement a standardised, knowledge-based regulatory framework to cover product efficacy, safety and quality, and accurate advertising practices, across the European Union (EU).
Our Statement examines the following issues:
Scientific mechanisms of action—where we conclude that the claims for homeopathy are implausible and inconsistent with established scientific concepts.
Clinical efficacy—we acknowledge that a placebo effect may appear in individual patients but we agree with previous extensive evaluations concluding that there are no known diseases for which there is robust, reproducible evidence that homeopathy is effective beyond the placebo effect. There are related concerns for patient-informed consent and for safety, the latter associated with poor quality control in preparing homeopathic remedies.
Promotion of homeopathy—we note that this may pose significant harm to the patient if incurring delay in seeking evidence-based medical care and that there is a more general risk of undermining public confidence in the nature and value of scientific evidence.
Veterinary practice—we conclude similarly that there is no rigorous evidence to substantiate the use of homeopathy in veterinary medicine and it is particularly worrying when such products are used in preference to evidence-based medicinal products to treat livestock infections.
We make the following recommendations.
1. There should be consistent regulatory requirements to demonstrate efficacy, safety and quality of all products for human and veterinary medicine, to be based on verifiable and objective evidence, commensurate with the nature of the claims being made. In the absence of this evidence, a product should be neither approvable nor registrable by national regulatory agencies for the designation medicinal product.
2. Evidence-based public health systems should not reimburse homeopathic products and practices unless they are demonstrated to be efficacious and safe by rigorous testing.
3. The composition of homeopathic remedies should be labelled in a similar way to other health products available: that is, there should be an accurate, clear and simple description of the ingredients and their amounts present in the formulation.
4. Advertising and marketing of homeopathic products and services must conform to established standards of accuracy and clarity. Promotional claims for efficacy, safety and quality should not be made without demonstrable and reproducible evidence.

Our purpose is not to seek the prohibition of homeopathic products, and we recognise the fundamental importance of allowing and supporting consumer choice. Rather, we aim to explore the policy dimensions for ensuring informed patient choice with the emphasis on ‘appropriately informed’, and for achieving a standardised knowledge-based, robust regulatory framework and sound advertising practices across the EU, which can apply equitably to all medicinal products, whatever their origins and whatever their mechanisms.

The continuing popularity of homeopathic products worldwide might be taken as demonstrating an unfortunate point – that scientific evidence is not always relevant to the policy maker nor understood by the public-at-large. In this eventuality, there might be only limited room for optimism that EASAC and others – in reiterating that homeopathic products and practices lack proof of efficacy– could influence the present situation. 

Any claimed efficacy of homeopathic products in clinical use can be explained by the placebo effect or attributed to poor study design, random variation, regression towards the mean, or publication bias. Among these, the placebo effect can be of value to the patient but there are no known diseases for which there is robust, reproducible evidence that homeopathy is effective beyond the placebo effect.
• Homeopathy raises issues of concern for patient-informed consent if health practitioners recommend products that they know are biologically ineffective.
• There are also potential safety concerns for homeopathic preparations because of poorly monitored production methods, and these require greater attention to quality control and assessment of adverse effects.
• The scientific claims made for homeopathy are implausible and inconsistent with established concepts from chemistry and physics. In particular, the memory effects of water are too short-range and transient (occurring within the nanometre and nanosecond range) to account for any claimed efficacy.
• The promotion and use of homeopathic products risks significant harms. First, by incurring delay in the patient seeking appropriate, evidence-based, medical attention or, even worse, deterring the patient from ever doing so. Secondly, by generally undermining patient and public confidence in the nature and value of scientific evidence for decision making in health care and other societal priorities.
• In the absence of similarly robust evidence for homeopathic products in veterinary medicine, it is an error to require organic farmers to use these products in preference to prevention or treatment for which there is demonstrable efficacy and an established mode of action.


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Monday, 21 August 2017

Hume on Induction Revision Notes


I produced a number of revision documents for my degree course, and maybe someone will find them useful. This is for A222 Exploring Philosophy, Book 4, Knowledge by Cristina Chimisso.

I printed these revision notes on card as an aide-memoire to the issues I needed to touch on in an exam question on the subject; most exam questions require an exposition of the ground to be covered before any actual philosophy can be done (ie, the question answered!). Having these, almost bullet, points burned into my memory allowed me to write this background stuff whilst planning my answer.


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Friday, 16 June 2017

It's 'Elf and Safety Gone Mad!

Well, contra the cliché, this is what health and safety gone mad really looks like:

A trapped resident tries to get help as the fire engulfs the Grenfell Tower block.
(c) Universal News and Sport (Europe)
It can lead to disadvantaged men, women and children being burnt alive in their own homes. It appears undeniable now that the Grenfell disaster is down to a failure in regulations somewhere.

Philosopher Jonathan Pearce highlights the narrative that makes life that little bit worse for the poor and vulnerable in our society, and which can lead to tragedies like this one, following George Monbiot in The Guardian:
But what is regulation? I think when the word is used, people really don’t think about what it is. Regulation means rules. Why do we have rules? Rules are moral proclamations about how the world should be. Regulation is codified morality. In shorthand, then, when people claim they want “deregulation”, they are actually asking for less morality, fewer moral rules.
And he links it to the movement that has brought us Brexit:
What regulation does (when done properly) is seek to make production ethically responsible, which is better for everyone. A company in Europe, now, cannot employ children, must have strict safety regulations such that the product won’t be faulty enough to blow up or catch fire, must be produced by a workforce that has minimum legislation for workers’ rights, and so on. These regulations work best when adopted by multiple countries across a wide platform. There is a uniformity for everyone such that no one in that marketplace can get away with not adhering to them.
... 
Now, with the UK, we are leaving a large regulatory network that has historically given us a massive amount of regulation. And this is a good thing [he means the network is a good thing, not the leaving!]. Either we take that all on (and manage that at a higher cost), or we drop some or lots of it. We become a low-tax haven full of corporations who define the rules of play. 
For at least the last 20 years, in my memory, there has been the constant narrative that we are all pandered, soft somehow, because we have 'elf and safety regulations, and that businesses should be allowed to carry on their trade without so many restrictions. Here's David Cameron responding to that retrograde sentiment in 2012, saying he will "kill off the health and safety culture for good":



He said:
I don't think there's any one single way you can cut back the health and safety monster.
You've got to look at the quantity of rules - and we're cutting them back; you've got to look at the way they're enforced - and we are making sure that is more reasonable; we're taking self-employed people out of whole classes of health and safety regulation.
... 
But the key about health and safety is not just the rules, the laws and regulations - it's also the culture of fear many businesses have about health and safety.
Rather than referring to the 'health and safety monster' he should have been challenging this shibboleth of the right and championing health and safety as a good and necessary feature of a properly functioning society.

Sadly, it looks like it's not only the health and safety culture he and his ilk have killed off.




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Friday, 9 June 2017

The Asymmetry of Pain and Pleasure


Jeffery Jay Lowder at the Secular Outpost blogged an excellent piece last year detailing 25 lines of evidence against theism. I think all of them bear consideration, and, if I remember correctly, one or two more lines of evidence against theism popped up in the comments.

I would like to add another modest line to this list, or maybe just an adjunct to his No.8: The Biological Role (and Moral Randomness) of Pain and Pleasure, following Paul Draper. It is prompted by a trivial injustice that surely everyone experiences on a daily basis, but that perhaps points to a bigger issue. The minor injustice is this: the fact that the more one experiences a pleasure the less it satisfies and, indeed, it can turn to pain, while the more one experiences a pain it is not relieved, and it never turns into a pleasure.

Now, for the purposes of this discussion, I am taking a pretty simple view of pain and pleasure as things that are, in order, fundamentally bad and good. I will not consider the paradoxes of people seeking out pain for pleasure, for example, although, granted, this does suggest we have a complicated relationship with pain and pleasure. I think it's also true to say that one can become numbed to further pain to a degree. But this numbing doesn't seem as effective as the numbing of pleasure. Note too that people who feel chronic pain report it as a bad thing, while people who feel chronic pleasure also report it as a bad thing.

These things are pretty understandable on, and consistent with, Naturalism; we are the products of a natural selection that favours survival and reproduction over all else, so pain and pleasure are regulating systems that have evolved to help bring about gene persistence through that survival and reproduction. The particular fate of the gene vehicles is not so important as the gene persistence, so, as we see in nature, any number of strategies to achieve this persistence is possible, including ones which serve up pain and pleasure to the gene vehicles unequally (are there any animals that experience an asymmetry of pleasure over pain, I wonder?*). On an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent account of theism, these pose a problem; why would an omnibenevolent god allow an asymmetry of pain and pleasure, leading to more pain than pleasure?

What these observations lead to relates somewhat to our attitudes to death. I wrote recently defending Bernard Williams's thoughts on eternal life, that it would end up become meaningless because categorical desires would be exhausted. I recently heard Shelly Kagan expressing a similar opinion on Philosophy Bites:
I do think that eventually life would grow excruciatingly dreadful, boring, tedious no matter what it was filled with, but for all that it would still have been true that during the initial satisfying, richly rewarding 100 years, 500 years, or however long it would take before it got boring, those initial 500 years will still have been worth living, they were still good. To give a humdrum, everyday analogy: if you offer me a piece of chocolate, I love chocolate, thank you, thank you, thank you; if you give me a second piece of chocolate, I love chocolate; you offer me a third piece of chocolate, I say thank you thank you thank you. Now there must be some number...of pieces of chocolate at which I would say: no more. Chocolate is no longer a good thing for me at this point, I'm not enjoying it.
He goes on to claim that the initial period before the boredom is worth living, and I think that's right. But what is going on here? Why do some of us think that these pleasures will stop? Pleasures derive from the satisfaction of desires. But once a desire is satisfied the pleasure stops. I guess that means that, in the Bernard Williams scenario, we are saying that over time all our desires will be satisfied. So no more pleasure will be possible.

Conversely, we could say that pain derives from the imposition of 'undesires'. But there is an imbalance: there is an effectively never-ending supply of 'undesires', while there is no never-ending supply of desires. So pain is inevitable in a way that pleasure is not.

This perhaps derives from our nature: we need a fine balance to maintain our health - nutrition, warmth, water - so evolution has shaped us to maintain that fine balance. If the pleasure was never turned off we would soon over-indulge and do ourselves serious harm. Chronic pain does not pose the same immediate risk to our health, (although, granted, it can lead to damage in some circumstances), so stopping pain is simply not as important or pressing as stopping pleasure. *Perhaps this answers my question in parenthesis above.

So I think the asymmetry can be expressed simply as:
Satisfaction of desires is inevitable, so pleasure must end, but relief from undesires is not, so pain never will (end).
I think this is clear evidence for naturalism over an omnibenevolent god. Not a knock-out blow, to be sure, just another strike against God. Further, I think this asymmetry is inevitable given our nature. God need not have given us a nature that results in this asymmetry, so it's more likely we are not products of such a divine being, but of indifferent Nature.

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Saturday, 6 May 2017

Functionalism Revision Notes


I produced a number of revision documents for my degree course, and maybe someone will find them useful. This is for A222 Exploring Philosophy, Book 5, Mind by Derek Matravers.

I printed these revision notes on card as an aide-memoire to the issues I needed to touch on in an exam question on the subject; most exam questions require an exposition of the ground to be covered before any actual philosophy can be done (ie, the question answered!). Having these, almost bullet, points burned into my memory allowed me to write this background stuff whilst planning my answer.


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Thursday, 4 May 2017

Darwin on the Development of the Human Mind

By Unknown - Karl Pearson (1914-30) The life, letters and labours of Francis Galton, IIIa, Cambridge: University press, p. 341 OCLC: 873074079., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36632165
This is a wonderful summary by Charles Darwin at the end of Chapter IV of the Descent of Man, after he has compared the 'Mental Powers of Man and the Lower Animals':
There can be no doubt that the difference between the mind of the lowest man and that of the highest animal is immense. An anthropomorphous ape, if he could take a dispassionate view of his own case, would admit that though he could form an artful plan to plunder a garden--though he could use stones for fighting or for breaking open nuts, yet that the thought of fashioning a stone into a tool was quite beyond his scope. Still less, as he would admit, could he follow out a train of metaphysical reasoning, or solve a mathematical problem, or reflect on God, or admire a grand natural scene. Some apes, however, would probably declare that they could and did admire the beauty of the coloured skin and fur of their partners in marriage. They would admit, that though they could make other apes understand by cries some of their perceptions and simpler wants, the notion of expressing definite ideas by definite sounds had never crossed their minds. They might insist that they were ready to aid their fellow-apes of the same troop in many ways, to risk their lives for them, and to take charge of their orphans; but they would be forced to acknowledge that disinterested love for all living creatures, the most noble attribute of man, was quite beyond their comprehension.
Nevertheless the difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind. We have seen that the senses and intuitions, the various emotions and faculties, such as love, memory, attention, curiosity, imitation, reason, etc., of which man boasts, may be found in an incipient, or even sometimes in a well-developed condition, in the lower animals. They are also capable of some inherited improvement, as we see in the domestic dog compared with the wolf or jackal. If it could be proved that certain high mental powers, such as the formation of general concepts, self-consciousness, etc., were absolutely peculiar to man, which seems extremely doubtful, it is not improbable that these qualities are merely the incidental results of other highly-advanced intellectual faculties; and these again mainly the result of the continued use of a perfect language. At what age does the new-born infant possess the power of abstraction, or become self-conscious, and reflect on its own existence? We cannot answer; nor can we answer in regard to the ascending organic scale. The half-art, half-instinct of language still bears the stamp of its gradual evolution. The ennobling belief in God is not universal with man; and the belief in spiritual agencies naturally follows from other mental powers. The moral sense perhaps affords the best and highest distinction between man and the lower animals; but I need say nothing on this head, as I have so lately endeavoured to shew that the social instincts,--the prime principle of man's moral constitution (50. 'The Thoughts of Marcus Aurelius,' etc., p. 139.)--with the aid of active intellectual powers and the effects of habit, naturally lead to the golden rule, "As ye would that men should do to you, do ye to them likewise;" and this lies at the foundation of morality.
In the next chapter I shall make some few remarks on the probable steps and means by which the several mental and moral faculties of man have been gradually evolved. That such evolution is at least possible, ought not to be denied, for we daily see these faculties developing in every infant; and we may trace a perfect gradation from the mind of an utter idiot, lower than that of an animal low in the scale, to the mind of a Newton. (emphasis mine)
This last point, comparing the ontogeny of humans with our phylogeny, is well made. And this is not to say that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, as the famous, but defunct, theory suggests. But it is a counter to those who suggest that a thing as wonderful and mysterious as the human mind could not evolve gradually in mini-steps, by degree, since we have seen, and continue to see, countless examples of the human mind developing gradually in mini-steps, by degree, before our very eyes. Some might insist that a greater power steps in and animates this mind at some point, but this doesn't appear to be what is happening and, when I introspect, it doesn't appear to me to be what happened as I became conscious of my surroundings.

In the end the more parsimonious explanation is that the mental emerges from the physical, not the other way round.




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Sunday, 9 April 2017

Arguments for a Designer Revision Notes


I produced a number of revision documents for my degree course, and maybe someone will find them useful. This is for A222 Exploring Philosophy, Book 2, The Philosophy of Religion, by Timothy Chappell.

I printed these revision notes on card as an aide-memoire to the issues I needed to touch on in an exam question on the subject; most exam questions require an exposition of the ground to be covered before any actual philosophy can be done (ie, the question answered!). Having these, almost bullet, points burned into my memory allowed me to write this background stuff whilst planning my answer.


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