The Irrationalists have landed. Another Americanism crosses the Atlantic !

19 Sep

A few week’s ago I wrote about cultural differences between the US and the UK, and talked about the Texas Republican Party’s decision to try to outlaw critical thinking. The subtext of much of the writing about this bizarre position (including my own writing !) was ‘we Europeans are much saner than those odd Americans’, but a couple of things that I’ve read over the last week make me think that the irrationalists may well have crossed the Atlantic and established a bridgehead in the UK Government.

Last week’s Government reshuffle in the UK led to the appointment of Jeremy Hunt as Secretary of State for Health, running one of the worlds largest employers with a multi-billion pound budget. Things become interesting if you delve a few years to an Early Day Motion put before the House of COmmons in 2007. EDM 1240 stated :

‘That this House welcomes the positive contribution made to the health of the nation by the NHS homeopathic hospitals; notes that some six million people use complementary treatments each year; believes that complementary medicine has the potential to offer clinically-effective and cost-effective solutions to common health problems faced by NHS patients, including chronic difficult to treat conditions such as musculoskeletal and other chronic pain, eczema, depression, anxiety and insomnia, allergy, chronic fatigue and irritable bowel syndrome; expresses concern that NHS cuts are threatening the future of these hospitals; and calls on the Government actively to support these valuable national assets’

It is worrying enough that 206 MPs supported this motion, but amongst those MPs was Jeremy Hunt. We thus now have the slightly odd position of the British National Health Service being run by someone who doesn’t think ‘Science’ is the best approach to medicine. There is an interesting postscript to this, in that one of Hunt’s constituents wrote to him to question his support for EDM 1240, and received the following response :

Dear Mr Ellis,

Thank you very much for your letter regarding EDM 1240 in support of Homeopathic Hospitals. I appreciate that you are disappointed that I added my name to this motion, and read your comments on this issue with interest.

I understand that it is your view that homeopathy is not effective, and therefore that people should not be encouraged to use it as a treatment. However I am afraid that I have to disagree with you on this issue. Homeopathic care is enormously valued by thousands of people and in an NHS that the Government repeatedly tells us is “patient-led” it ought to be available where a doctor and patient believe that a homeopathic treatment may be of benefit to the patient.

I am grateful to you for taking the time to write with your concerns. I realise that my answer will be a disappointing one for you, but I hope that the letter helps to clarify my view.

Yours sincerely,


Jeremy Hunt Member of Parliament South West Surrey

You’ll notice here that Hunt’s has moved slightly from suggesting there is evidence supporting homeopathy to suggesting that ‘because people want it the NHS should pay for it’. You can find more of this story in an excellent summary written by Tom Whipple

The man charged with running the NHS being an advocate of homeopathy is worrying enough, but a second recent story suggests that ‘irrational’ thinking may well be spreading across the UK.

As part of the UK’s move towards state-funded schools being run by private organisation a number of new ‘Free’ school are due to open shortly. Amongst these are schools run by the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship. Steiner already run an academy in Hereford where some disturbing evidence has appeared. The Hereford Academy has written to parents seeking permission to treat students using homeopathic medicines (including for burns !!!) and uses a Science textbook that questions the Darwinian explanation of evolution.

For anyone who might be imagining that this is a party-political point, it’s worth noting that the 206 MPs who signed EDM 12040 came from all three major political parties including some who really should know better (Vince Cable). ‘Irrationalism’ doesn’t seem to be associated with a particular political view.

(Just as I was about to post this piece live seen Mitt Romney’s ‘47%’ speech. Maybe the UK still has a way to go to reach the USA level of ‘Irrationalism’ !!!)

All of this seems to me to suggest that the ‘irrationalism’ that looks rampant in the USA is spreading to this country. It makes me even more convinced that universities need to be producing a generation of graduates who are equipped with the rational cognitive skills to fight back !

3 Responses to “The Irrationalists have landed. Another Americanism crosses the Atlantic !”

  1. a October 30, 2012 at 11:22 am #

    “… uses a Science textbook that questions the Darwinian explanation of evolution.”

    It was my understanding that the whole point of this blog and further, the PY1105, was to question theories even if they are published in the media or even academic journals. Whilst personally I agree with Darwinian evolution, surely there is nothing wrong with questioning it, especially since different views of how evolution could have occurred also exists. Although I doubt it’s intended, it is my hope that some of the students take from that textbook the message, “question everything.”

    • Teaching Rational Thinking October 30, 2012 at 12:05 pm #

      I’d always advocate ‘look at the evidence’ rather than ‘question everything’. My fear about ‘question everything’ is that it encourages people to ignore the weight of evidence. If you look at the literature on conspiracy theories, it is full if people saying that all they are doing is ‘questioning the received orthodoxy’. This sounds entirely rational, however there ‘questioning’ tends to take the form of ignoring the weight of evidence and only considering that which fits their pet theory.

      Now, were it the case that the school text book in question was proposing another interpretation of evolutionary processes (eg stepped equilibrium and mass extinctions), and suggesting that the weight if evidence better fit that model I’d be all in favour of it. However, I think we both know that probably isn’t the case.

      My fear of these irrationalisms being taught in school science lessons is that kids never get the idea that science is just a ‘process’ for finding stuff out. Once we lose that principle from the population ( as is happening in large portions of the USA) I think we are doomed to a very depressing future.


  1. Why teaching rational thinking is so important….(Homeopathy yet again) | Teaching Rational Thinking - May 11, 2014

    […] think that I needed to update it a little. One particular point that I thought needed updating was my use of a 2007 House of Commons Early Day motion as an indication that the UK Health Secretary, Je… supported homeopathy. Now, I’m no great supporter of Mr Hunt, but I did think that using […]

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