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Monday 1 March 2010
Letters: Government advertisments are bad for our health
Mary Dejevsky (26 February) is right. How much longer should we have to put up with paying for posters and TV campaigns that scare and hector us on just about every aspect of our daily lives?
Last year we had a set of billboards featuring families in a typical town centre thanking the government for CCTV and the fact that they haven't been killed in a terrorist attack. We had giant adverts on the sides of buses telling us that too much salt is bad for us.
We had a gripping Hollywood-style epic, warning us that our cars would be crushed to a lunch box if we didn't pay our road tax. Even before the swine-flu outbreak we had adverts on cash machines warning us to "use a tissue". In toilets across the land we now have detailed diagrams on how to wash our hands.
Clearly some government messages have to be conveyed but this should be done with common sense, efficiency and, above all, a sense of proportionality. Government spending on advertising currently stands at almost £600m and is rising; we simply cannot afford it. The practical good this money could do for soldiers, hospitals or schools is obvious.
And I suspect that being constantly reminded that we're dangerously unhealthy or that we might die horribly at any moment actually worsens our health. Not content with merely bankrupting us, the government now seems determined to remove all remnants of joy from our daily lives.
Homeopathy and 'evidence'
John Clinch (letters, 19 February) speaks about "evidence-based medicine" and "scientific evidence" as if these were objective, universally accepted canons of truth within modern culture. But for many philosophers and sociologists of science, this is far from being the case.
Analysis of both the theory and the practice of modern positivistic science reveals it to be shot through with, respectively, unsubstantiated metaphysical assumptions about reality and highly questionable methodological research procedures. Recent research (such as Irving Kirsch's book The Emperor's New Drugs) has shown, for example, that antidepressants are no more effective than placebo, and that some pharmaceutical companies have systematically doctored and cherry-picked "scientific" research data, so that the multi-billion-pound industry can remain unaffected by "evidence".
What actually constitutes legitimate evidence is also highly contestable and value-laden. Some of us are more inclined to trust the evidence of healing practices that have grown up organically and patiently over centuries, rather than modern positivistic science's "gold standard" of Randomised Controlled Trials. The latter procedures entail all manner of axiomatic assumptions about reality which are highly contestable and quite impossible to prove.
Dr Richard House
Your leading article (23 February) is right that there should be no place for placebos on the NHS. In a single day I heard one government representative arguing that faith schools (paid for by the taxpayer) should continue to be allowed to tell children that contraception is wrong and homosexuality sinful; and another one justifying the spending of millions of pounds of NHS money on homeopathic treatments, which scientific tests have shown to be useless beyond the placebo effect. Meanwhile, proven cancer treatments are denied for lack of money.
The problem does not lie with homoeopathy but with the "scientists" who have not taken the trouble to investigate it appropriately. Clinical trials are not a suitable yardstick for a therapy that treats each patient as an individual. It is fine to talk about "evidence-based" medicine, but not if only one kind of evidence is accepted. Case histories of actual patients are the most eloquent and relevant evidence, but "science" dismisses these as "anecdotal", thus creating a no-win situation for homoeopathy.
Crowborough, East Sussex
In my family, I use a mix of conventional and complementary medicine. Over the past 30 years, homoeopathy has had several major successes.
My husband's hay fever was causing him to miss work. After homoeopathic treatment he had no further hay fever for 15 years.
My first two children had recurrent ear infections, with antibiotics three or four times a winter. For the younger children, I used homoeopathy, which not only cured the first infection without antibiotics, but also stopped any further infections altogether.
Many years ago, my seven-year-old daughter was in and out of hospital with severe stomach pains, having a barium meal and colonoscopy among other diagnostic tools. Aged nine, she was discharged with a diagnosis of spastic colon. The hospital said it could do nothing. My homeopath stopped all pain in three weeks. The pains recurred later, under the stress of GCSE and A-levels, but were dealt with swiftly by homoeopathy.
Although homeopathy may not be "evidence-based-medicine", and probably does not deserve NHS funding, it should certainly not be scoffed at. It should be remembered that disease is not simply about the machinery of cells and molecules, but has important psychological, social and spiritual dimensions.
The popularity of complementary medicine may be because it has the time and resources to address more these wider human needs. Provided that complementary medicine remains complementary, is funded privately and does not interact adversely with evidence-based medicine, I personally don't see the problem.
End the toxic trade in electronic waste
Michael McCarthy highlights UN concerns over the global e-waste problem (24 February). While the UN puts much of this down to rocketing sales of electrical appliances in Africa, China and India, the export of e-waste from advanced countries is exacerbating the problem. Developing countries are still being used as dumping grounds, despite import bans and legislation like the European WEEE Directive.
Fraudulent traders operate across the UK and Europe, posing as legitimate re-use and recycling organisations and enticing unwitting businesses and individuals to use them. These traders falsely claim their consignments consist entirely of electrical equipment destined for productive re-use.
This toxic trade is driven by the motive of profit, but the cost is borne by the environment, and by the children who disassemble the equipment in the developing countries.
I urge everyone to make sure they use a reputable organisation that will guarantee the legal disposal of unwanted goods. It's easy to check companies on the Environment Agency website to make sure they are approved to handle e-waste legally and responsibly.
Computer Aid International,
Farage behaves like school bully
Nigel Farage has sunk to a new low (report, 26 February). His personal attack on Herman van Rompuy, President of the European Council, was more akin to that of the school-yard tyrant than an elected parliamentarian.
Mr Farage may claim to speak for the British people, but most of his voters would reprimand their own children were they to speak in such a way. Mr Farage's cynical swipe at Belgium, Britain's neighbour, friend and ally, also revealed the sordid underbelly of his party.
Criticising a person for their actions is acceptable and necessary in order to invite change. Criticising a person on their nationality and appearance is the act of a bully.
Catherine Bearder MEP
(Lib Dem, South-East England),
Closure of 6 Music would be a disaster
One reason cited for the proposal to close 6 Music (report, 27 February) is that the BBC needs to shrink in order to give its commercial rivals more opportunity to grow. Surely 6 Music has no commercial rivals? It broadcasts a variety of niche music in an intelligent and non-bombastic manner, and provides a vital gateway for new bands and artists. All of this is only possible at the BBC, where content does not have to be tailored to the needs of advertising salesmen.
A recent example of a commercial station that attempted similar programming was XFM, which ultimately had to rescind this policy in order to survive in the marketplace.
Closing 6 Music would not create a single viable opportunity in commercial broadcasting, and the only place the public could ever hope to see its like again would be on the BBC itself.
I am dismayed by the proposals to close 6 Music; the station provides something that no commercial operator can, taking risks to promote new and different music. It runs on a shoestring budget of £7m; the National Audit office's report in 2009 demonstrated that this represents good value per listener-hour compared to other digital channels.
It supports music and musicians at a grass-roots level, recording over 330 sessions a year of unsigned musicians, many of whom go on to break in to the mainstream. Its closure would be a huge loss to the UK music industry.
The demand for high-speed rail
You report Lord Adonis as saying that one of the reasons that progress has slowed on the InterCity Express programme is that passenger growth has slowed (27 February). The Government doesn't understand that looking at current passenger numbers for rail travel is pointless when deciding whether or not to modernise the railways.
People want modern, fast, comfortable trains fit for the 21st century, and if such a rail service existed, the demand for it would be there. The Government should have learnt the lesson of past road-building programmes: if you increase capacity, demand rises to fill it. With regard to rail and the need to have a more green transport infrastructure, the desirability of this is surely obvious.
Stephen Hester attempts to justify the payment of bonuses by emphasising the necessity of retaining top-level staff (report, 26 February). He assumes that money is the only thing that counts. Have his employees no love of their work; have they no loyalty to the firm that employs them, or sense of obligation to the taxpayer who bailed them out? If his assumption is correct, the sooner he loses such people the better.
David Whitaker (letters, 27 February) may be correct that we are not prepared as a nation to pay for the higher wages and better conditions that might attract more British workers to jobs in areas like food and health. But there was another issue that Evan Davis's programme illustrated; that life on benefits renders at least some of the unemployed unfit for even the most basic jobs, unable to even get out of bed on time. We really have done this group of people no favours by allowing them to get into this state of extreme benefit-dependency.
Portsmouth is not alone among football clubs living beyond their financial means. Half of the leading European professional clubs are living on the edge of administration too. So the Financial Fair Play Rules introduced last year by Uefa to regulate the situation and bring some financial stability into the "beautiful game" is to be welcomed. However, this initiative is not due to be implemented until the 2013-2014 season. As the Portsmouth debacle has demonstrated, there is clearly a need for the new Rules to be introduced as a matter of urgency.
Professor Ian Blackshaw
Home-educators appear to be caught in the backlash of the tragic death of Khyra Ishaq (25 February); Ed Balls will now use this case to argue that the monitoring of home-educated families should become law. This is the type of nonsensical reasoning we have come to expect from a government on a mission to make life risk-free. Yet when the CRB-cleared nursery worker Vanessa George abused children in her care at a nursery, did Mr Balls suggest stricter monitoring of nurseries, CCTV camera everywhere, for instance? Of course not; too many voters would be upset.
A perfect fit
"Wearable clothes - a novelty for Fashion Week" (report, 22 February); a subversive headline to treasure forever.
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