A few hundred years ago if you happened to fall ill, it quite often turned out to be a death sentence. The best that people could do then was to turn to superstition. Everything from charms to prayers would be used to try to cure ailments that no one had any idea what to do about. Mortality rates then were horrendous, and only a lucky few with some level of natural immunity would survive the various epidemics and plagues that swept across whole continents.
Over time, however, the patient work of many brilliant and dedicated researchers gradually found ways of beating the dark side of nature. An outbreak of cholera could be stopped if a supply of clean water was made available, for example, and infections could be avoided by simple hand washing. Even if people had no idea about germ theory, some had discovered ways to tackle diseases even if they did not yet know exactly why their innovations worked.
More research gradually revealed the causes, and very often the cures, for various ailments that would have routinely sent a sufferer to an early grave. Prayers, charms and meaningless rituals slowly disappeared to be replaced by science-based medicine – a triumph of the human intellect over out-dated and useless (often dangerous) superstition, which was eventually replaced by everything from antibiotics to complex full body scanners.
And now that there is absolutely no need for superstition in medicine, along comes a modern day member of parliament who wants to see astrology provided on the National Health Service! David Tredinnick, MP, thinks that a throwback to the middle ages and beyond is going to be of use in a modern medical setting.
The MP for Bosworth, a member of the health committee and the science and technology committee, said he was not afraid of ridicule or abuse.
He’s a member of the what? The Health Committee and Science and Technology Committee? Well, it’s a good job he’s not afraid of ridicule (I disapprove of abuse), because he’s going to be getting it.
Having studied an Indian astrological system and the way it is used by the Indian government (yes, really), he is convinced it works. He says:
“There is no logic in attacking something that has a proven track record,” he told BBC News.
I’ll agree there’s no logic in attacking something that has a proven track record, but astrology’s track record is dismal for everything, never mind health care, however much he and others might believe in it.
It’s bad enough that homeopathy has a small foothold in our health service, but Tredinnick and others like him are pushing hard to have centuries of scientific achievements thrown to one side. There is even a group of Christian doctors pushing to have demon possession recognised and exorcism as an effective treatment for mental disorders. If you don’t believe me, check this article on the website of the Christian Medical Fellowship.
And it just gets worse: Lord Saatchi is pushing a new law which, if enacted, could allow all kinds of quackery to flourish; if he gets his way, then any kind of quack nostrum could be applied by medical practitioners without fear of legal consequences. Indeed, this might be one way that astrology could be shoehorned into medicine.
What happened to the Enlightenment? It took thousands of years of patient research by very clever people to find ways to prevent or cure illnesses that never would respond to what was itself never anything more than magical thinking. Yet it could all be undone very quickly by scientific illiterates who happen to be in positions of influence and power.
Tredinnick, however, has not revealed what his star chart predicts about whether or when his proposals will become law. Maybe he isn’t mad; he might just be possessed. And if exorcism fails to cure him, then maybe one of Saatchi’s end-of-life futile gestures will do the trick. Then again, maybe, just maybe, reason will prevail and all this assorted nonsense can be disposed of sensibly. I think it will be a fight to retain science in the face of superstition, but it’s a fight that obviously has to be fought.
This is not a political blog, but I would suggest to the people of Bosworth that if, in the event of an illness or accident, they would want their doctor to consult their X-ray results rather than their horoscope; check their pulse rather than check which constellation the Sun is in; or whether Mystic Meg is going to be the surgeon who might be hacking away at their giblets, they could do worse than thinking very carefully before they cast their vote in next year’s general election.
Talk about Bad Thinking!