Category Archives: Blog

Regression to the mean

Most weeks, someone will tell me they ‘swear by’ some remedy for one of the many woes of early parenting, and assure me that it has worked wonders. And then they will turn and tell the mum sitting next to them, who [unless healthily sceptical] will unquestioningly accept the recommendation without asking two very important questions:
1. Is there any evidence that it works?
2. Is there any evidence that it does harm?

Infacol is a prime example of a medication recommended widely and unscientifically by mums everywhere, but more worryingly, by GPs and Health Visitors, who must surely know that there is no evidence that it works. Breastfeeding Network has a useful paper [pdf] on colic which discusses Infacol and other remedies, concluding the research is a bit thin on the ground and there are various things you can try; and particularly for the breastfed baby, getting some support with breastfeeding may be key.

Here’s another one: Lansinoh prevents nipple pain. It doesn’t. Its only function is to heal damaged tissue. Nipple pain is almost always prevented (and resolved) by good attachment, and no amount of lanolin cream will facilitate good attachment. In fact, large amounts of it, making the breast slippery, will make it harder for the baby to stay comfortably latched on. In addition, the heavy marketing of Lansinoh reinforces mums’ certainty that breastfeeding will hurt, and is therefore a barrier to doing it at all.

Blogger Scepticon takes a look at amber teething beads and basically demolishes them as a remedy for the pain of teething. Teething is a tough time for parents as well as babies, and parents may feel helpless to alleviate the pain and misery, so it’s no wonder there’s such a market in remedies that are only anecdotally effective.

And when we are talking about our babies’ health, anecdotal is just not good enough. There is an ethical obligation on health professionals not to recommend something just because they have no other answers, but the fact is that few health professionals have the time to sit with an anxious parent and help her to work through her worries and gain confidence in what she is doing. Hence the quick fix: a formula top-up, controlled crying, dummies, all of which can be shown to cause harm.

But the anecdotes of one mum to another seem to carry even more weight at this vulnerable time, and is an inevitable result of the peer-support that we encourage. It’s hard to take that away from new parents, but it’s equally important to encourage them to ask those questions rather than accept at face value the claim that something works.

Regression fallacy.

Karen is a postnatal doula and a qualified NCT Breastfeeding Counsellor and is based in Wokingham. This article is cross-posted from her blog at Double Helping Doulas.

Soil Association – bad science for animals and families

I knew that the Soil Association had form, but I didn’t know until this week quite how misguided their advice is.

Last year, Tim the Lapsed Pagan alerted me to the Soil Association’s support for Yeo Valley’s use of veterniary homeopathy.

Now I hear that the Soil Association runs a training course in homeopathic first aid.

You will gain an understanding of basic Homeopathic philosophy, to enable you to prescribe remedies for you and your family. On Saturday you will learn the remedies required in acute situations, for injuries and shock.

Oh dear.

Homeopathy awareness action in Wokingham – follow up

As promised, Berkshire skeptics were out in Wokingham town centre last week to raise awareness of homeopathy. Our aim was, in part, to counter some of the dubious information we believed Dr Jayne Donegan was likely to give out in her talk.

There were 6 of us in the end and we had a very pleasant time chatting to people going into the town hall, and to passers-by. The ladies from Thames Valley Homeopaths seemed genuinely amused by our presence and it was all generally good-humoured.

We simply handed out some leaflets summarising the principles of homeopathy and how it is not as effective as some people believe. We didn’t seek to disrupt the the talk itself in any way, merely to provide people with some reliable information on the subject.

I was surprised that a few people, clearly ardent fans of homeopathy, reacted with disgust at our leaflets and thrust them back with revulsion. One woman visibly shuddered, as though critical thinking and scientific evidence might be contagious and the paper itself was contaminated. A fascinating psychological response.

I doubt we won over many people to our viewpoint. I suspect most of those paying £10 to hear a homeopath talk have already decided to ignore the weight of existing evidence against its efficacy. But I think that this sort of action is as important as a publicity exercise as an educational one. I hope we can continue to show the mostly disinterested majority of the public that the promotion of homeopathy does not go unchallenged and there is a strong, calm and reasoned opposition to it.

Homeopathy awareness action in Wokingham

So our local quacks have invited “GP and homoeopath” Jayne Donegan to address a paying audience at Wokingham Town Hall next Wednesday, and our opposition has made the local paper.

We’ll be handing out information leaflets before the event, in the hope of countering what we believe will be an unreliable and irresponsible pro-homeopathy message from Dr Donegan. We could really do with some some support so please come along if you can.

We’re meeting at 6:30pm in the Red Lion, Wokingham. Do drop us a line to say you’re coming.

EDIT (16/3/12) : I recommend reading the comments on this story on the Wokingham Times website.

Skeptics' anger at homeopath GP's lecture
Wokingham Times, 7/3/12