He points out that many environmentalists are meticulous about their climate science yet get laughably superstitious about things like homeopathy. In doing so, he sweepingly decries 'alternative medicine,' a term too broad to have much meaning.
It's remarkable how agribusiness has us using the term 'conventional farming' for practices that are barely fifty years old and even now only used in certain parts of the world. All other methods are, by implication, unconventional - a bit weird, dippy and/or ineffective, they should be abandoned or catch up.
By the same token, if it's not pharmaceutical-surgical, it's 'alternative' medicine, batty and useless hippy nonsense, unlike the real thing. This attitude prevails even when big chunks of pharmaceutical medicine are seemingly based on shonky foundations.
Prozac, the bestselling antidepressant taken by 40 million people worldwide, does not work and nor do similar drugs in the same class, according to a major review released today.
The term 'alternative medicine' is used to describe a vast jumble of practices. Some of them we have no evidence for and nobody uses, like leeches; these are lumped in with popular yet still evidence-free stuff like crystals and homeopathy, together with ones that do indeed have some real evidence of their effectiveness like acupuncture and herbal medicine.
Herbal medicine is complementary to 'conventional' medicine. If you turn up at a herbalist's with something very serious, they refer you to a doctor. Herbalists can treat a wide range of minor conditions, but as a sole prescription it's clearly for eczema and depression rather than rampant cancer or open heart surgery.
It is so complementary that it overlaps to a sizeable degree. The development of new pharmaceutical medicines is often just isolating the active part of a plant already used in herbal medicine.
Acupuncture can also be complementary to Western medicine. I recently spoke to a GP who refers patients and says that it not only works on minor conditions in a less sledghammery way but can actually cure one or two conditions such as chronic back pain that pharmaceutical medicine often cannot treat, only mask.
Homeopaths, on the other hand, tend to distrust modern knowledge of physiology and believe their medicine can treat anything.
The theory is that the more you dilute the active ingredient, the stronger the medicine becomes. Many pills are so diluted that they would need to be bigger than your entire body to contain a single molecule of the active ingredient. Some would need to be bigger than the earth.
One person I know who studied homeopathy was told by her lecturer that if you cannot get the active ingredient then just write the name of it on a piece of paper and use that instead. Not only can water retain more power of a drug the less it contains, but it can read any language in any handwriting too.
Homeopathy defies all scientific reasoning, and indeed it defies the results of proper trials. There's no real evidence homeopathy works. Despite this, homeopaths will tell you they can treat anything and will happily send you into a malaria zone inoculated with tiny sugar pills.
Clearly the scientific methods used to discern what works should apply to all medicinal disciplines, but when it costs hundreds of thousands of pounds to get a medicine on the EU approval list, you're only going to shell out if you own the patent rather than someone growing valerian root.
This is why so many things from the pills and potions aisle in Holland and Barrett make no claims for themselves and only say they 'should not be used as a substitute for a varied diet'. Some of these substances work, others probably do not, and we don't know which are which or what a real effective dosing regime should be.
Perhaps where there's considerable anecdotal evidence for a non-patent treatment the EU itself should pay to have it properly evaluated. Given how much we spend on health care, and how much we'll save by having cheaper non-patented treatments available, it would likely be a comparatively small sum of money soundly invested.