Green Party: the supplement suggestions don’t work

UPDATE: There have been significant changes to the Green Party Drug Group’s site following this post, as discussed here. Lots of links in this post are therefore broken. If you would like to see an earlier version of the site (similar to what I blogged about) you can look on archive.org.

When blogging about the Green Party of England and Wales’ health policy, we were accused of “quoting selectively” and “out of context”. I have therefore been looking over health-related aspects of Green policy more closely: in order to offer a broader view. One thing that stood out was their suggestion of various supplements to counteract some of the negative effects of recreational drug use, despite limited evidence for the supplements’ efficacy.

There are certainly evidence-based arguments in favour of the Green aim

to take the drug trade out of criminal control and [make] available in a legal environment

However, it is important to remember that recreational drug use (legal or illegal) comes with certain risks. An important aspect of a harm reduction approach to drug policy is that it works to accurately assess the risks and harms involved. Recommending pills which have not been shown to be effective, in order to treat some of the side effects of drug use, is not helpful.

The Greens take a surprisingly reductionist view of the mood changes that can be associated with ecstasy/MDMA use: focussing very much on the role of serotonin, despite criticisms of the ‘serotonin hypothesis’ in other contexts. The Greens suggest, if one is “feeling moody” and suspect this may be health-related, that:

If you haven’t got the time/inclination to exercise and improve your diet, both of which can have a gradual but marked positive effect on your general wellbeing, you can buy 5htp and tryptophan from health food stores, both of which increase your levels of serotonin to a constant and balanced level.

It is good that they mention diet and exercise (although I would argue that exercise can actually have a quite rapid impact on mood – with vigorous exercise providing a quick ‘lift’). However, the evidence for the use of 5htp and tryptophan is not convincing; I would also be cautious about reaching for a pill where lifestyle changes may be a better option.

The Greens are very optimistic about what 5-HTP can do:

What is 5-HTP used for?

There is a massive amount of evidence that suggests that low serotonin levels are a common consequence of modern living. The lifestyle and dietary practices of many people living in this stress-filled era results in lowered levels of serotonin within the brain. As a result, many people are overweight, crave sugar and other carbohydrates, experience bouts of depression, get frequent headaches, and have vague muscle aches and pain. All of these maladies are correctable by raising brain serotonin levels.

The primary therapeutic applications for 5-HTP are low serotonin states as listed below:

* Supporting healthy sleep patterns
* Providing building blocks for serotonin
* Promoting a regular sense of well being

The Greens are also quite positive about Tryptophan:

What is tryptophan?

Tryptophan (also known as L-Tryptophan) is an amino acid which is naturally present in the body and essential for human life. It is called “essential” because the body is not capable of producing it on its own, so we must ingest or consume it. Tryptophan is plentiful in protein foods like milk and bananas. Tryptophan is needed to produce serotonin, which is a hormone that regulates your mood, so tryptophan is very important for your emotional health.

We would – generally – be sceptical about ‘pill solves complex social problem’ stories. In the case of these particular pills, while there is some interesting research, there is not compelling evidence to support the claims made for them. For example, one might note the Cochrane review of 5-HTP and tryptophan for depression:

5-HTP (Hydroxytryptophan) and tryptophan have been examined to see whether these treatments are effective, safe and acceptable in treating unipolar depression in adults. The researchers reported that the symptoms of depression decreased when 5-HTP and tryptophan were compared to a placebo (non-drug). However, side effects had occurred (dizziness, nausea and diarrhoea). They also reported that tryptophan has been associated with the development of a fatal condition. More evidence is needed to assess efficacy and safety, before any strong and meaningful conclusions can be made. Until then, the reviewers propose that the use of antidepressants which have no known life threatening side effects remain more attractive. The review sets out the required methodology for effectively studying these substances in proper controlled studies.

I would not rush to these pills in order to achieve a quick mood lift. Alternative approaches such as exercise and lifestyle change seem rather better options.

The Greens also suggest a number of “Supplements to make tryptophan work better” which lack a good evidence-base:

* Vit B6
* Vit C
* Vit B3 a.k.a Niamicide (decreases irritability and increases your sense of humour)

I am not sure where to start with these, so will move onto melatonin. The Greens state that melatonin is

the all-natural nightcap

The Greens suggest the supplement to help with sleep. Once again, though, there is not the evidence to back up this suggestion: the evidence regarding melatonin is mixed, and more limited than one would like.

Other aspects of the Greens’ discussion of this supplement are also worrying. They ask

Is melatonin legal?

Yes. Melatonin has been available in the US for a few years. Unfortunately it is not available in Britain. People interested in buying it usually get it by mail order, or online.

Clearly, buying drugs mail order from abroad and/or online involves additional risks. It can be hard – for example – to judge whether a foreign website is reliable. The Greens also state that

There are also very active discussion boards about melatonin online and people have plenty of advice to give on how much to take.

There is a lot of discussion of supplements online – and lots of the advice offered is very, very bad. Referring users to such online discussions for treatment advice does not seem wise. A doctor or dietitian would be a far better option.

The Greens suggest three links on the topic of “HEALTH AND PARTYING”. Only one of these links covers the important topic of vitamins: offering a “comprehensive vitamin info source”. Sadly, this link leads to The Vitamins and Nutrition Center: a site provided by the makers of the Vitaplen supplement. They carry adverts for Vitaplen supplements, and recommend Vitaplen’s multivitamin. This is an important topic, and one would have hoped that the Greens could have suggested a better source to readers.

The Green Party have a responsibility to report the science accurately, and there is clearly a real demand for good-quality information. 476 of those who answered the Greens’ site survey (10%) said they came to the site for science info.

Recreational drug use carries risks. It is important that those who are using – or considering using – these drugs are educated in these risks. Making inflated claims for the role of supplement pills in ameliorating the negative effects of drugs is unhelpful. The rather unfortunate approach displayed here also raises broader concerns about the Green Party’s policy. The Green Party is letting down their readers and supporters here – many of whom say they want to read about the science – and doing a very poor job of arguing for their drug policy.

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46 Comments

Filed under 5-HTP, drugs, Green Party, Green Party of England and Wales, supplements

46 responses to “Green Party: the supplement suggestions don’t work

  1. brainduck

    I wish they’d mentioned the risks of combining ‘health-food-shop’ ‘serotonin supplements’ and antidepressants – serotonin syndrome is a known risk but one that doesn’t get mentioned nearly enough. Likewise St John’s Wort interacting with contraceptives.
    Gaaargh, why do people not realise that just because you can buy stuff in a shop smelling of patchouli & crystals doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous!

    • Yes – especially as antidepressants (prescribed or otherwise) are sometimes used in the hope of enhancing the effects of MDMA. Adding serotonin supplements into the mix may not be the best idea…

      The Green Party rather emphasise the supposed safety of tryptophan:

      Is tryptophan safe?

      Yes. It is fine to use. The problem with how it was made was sorted out a while ago, and tryptophan is now made in a clean process. Hospitals use it in formulas for premature babies.

  2. bearhuggr

    ermm I think I will stick with a glass of orange juice and a banana after my nights out…

  3. 5-htp is commonly used as a ‘cushion’ against a harsh comedown; what little studies I have found out there don’t back up the advice given here (studying anything involved with recreational drugs can be a headache, admittedly), and some caution against the effects of placing so much stress on the serotogenic system.

    As an aside, I believe that this advice can easily find its way into harm-reduction material. Some years ago I volunteered for a harm-reduction group in Leeds, and remember we once had a herbalist in to give a talk on ‘natural’ ways to ease a comedown; 5-HTP and St John’s Wort were there, alongside sedatives like valerian and hops. I would now be far less likely to pass her advice on – but these people are accepted as authorities, so misinformation spreads. A phenomenon which the good people of HolfordWatch are far too aware of, I imagine ;-).

  4. gimpy

    This is daft. Patrick Holford couldn’t do a better job of writing Green Party documents. And their link to a supplement manufacturers is astonishing given the Greens commitment to reducing the role of business in influencing politics!

  5. Interestingly the Green Party link to the “Drug Groups” about page
    http://www.greenparty.org.uk/drugs/aboutus.php
    seems to have been removed.

  6. You are quoting a website that doesn’t appear to have been updated since 2005, from a group within the Green Party of England and Wales. The opinions of groupings with the party do not necessarily reflect mainstream thinking within the party, and the actual policy as agreed by the membership of the party is found in the manifesto for sustainable society.

    • gimpy

      Oh for goodness sake Gordon, the MfSS is full of nonsense such as this, blogged previously by HW:

      HE308Patient empowerment would eventually encompass choice of treatment backed by NHS funding for patients’ preferred treatment whether it be within the conventional framework of treating an illness and/or utilising alternative therapies.

      Do the Green Party really want the NHS to provide alternative cancer cures? They are alternative because they don’t work.

      When I blogged on MfSS statements on GM I was told:

      These are, however, broad policies – not proposals for legislation. They are presumably some distance yet from actually influencing practice or law and current resourcing for their scrutiny would reflect this.

      Are these policies important or not, you say they are, other green party members say not. It’s hard not to come to the conclusion that you and your party don’t know what to think about anything. You offer easy platitudes and answers to your members but when challenged on these you insist they are only ideas and not worth getting worked up about. It’s a joke.

      • @gimpy Bearing in mind that the drugs page mentioned was the page of the drugs group (as it stood in 2005), I admit that it was a mistake of presentation, a) to have that page appear to be Green Party policy as decided by the membership (by being a privately managed site hosted under the greenparty.org.uk domain) and b) not kept up to date.

        I don’t dispute the claims above with regard to alternative medicine. It’s not something I think we should have policy promoting. I’m not sure the age of that policy, but it’s good that it’s been brought to the party’s attention as it has brought up a lot of debate. We don’t necessarily think all scientists, (or Ben Goldacre, say) should agree with our policies, but we do agree it should be backed up with good science (and I speak as someone with a BSc in Human Genetics).

        Our policy process is to a certain extent responsible for these problems, where there may have been a change of direction within the party, it is not always borne out in the policy. We have a large body of policy, democratically decided by the membership. Ideally it would be constantly reviewed, practically that is not always possible. Manifesto’s for elections would be taken from the policy as decided by the membership but could be more flexible and able to react to changing views within the party in the sense that they can pick and choose what to prioritise.

        This controversy about Greens being anti-science will result, I hope, in more robust science policy. It is unlikely to result in us going pro nuclear, dropping opposition to GM, or Animal testing. But these are areas where there is science on both sides to back up idealogical positions.

        @drunkenoaf
        you can read the party’s drugs policy in our manifesto for sustainable policy. Currently found here: http://drugs.greenparty.org.uk/sites/drugs.html bear in mind that it may be updated, and criticism is welcome. But bear in mind, also, that other parties will be able to change their policy on drugs at a minutes notice (say on the classification of cannabis) without the say of their membership. That’s not he way the Greens feel policy should be shaped (at the whim of the party leadership).

        @Joel
        The site had not been updated since 2005, the fact that it had been overlooked on the side of the Green Party’s press people or web people does not suddenly make it national policy. the way groups within the party are able to act as spokespeople may need to be reformed, though, it’s unfortunate if a separate website under the same domain comes across as the democratically agreed policy of the party.

        @jonhw
        I hope I’ve addressed your concerns above, and I hope my attempt to explain my take on the situation does not make it seem like I’m trying to downplay legitimate concerns around websites hosted under the green party’s domain advertising bizarre and inefficacious remedies, or on the other hand that I’m trying to explain away the parts of the drug policy that we have agreed at conference.

        I personally agree, as far as I can tell (and not having noticed any strange loopholes) with the policy as given here: http://drugs.greenparty.org.uk/sites/drugs.html

        I don’t speak for the Green Party in any official capacity, though. I’m sure, like all parties do, that the Greens have people with a wide variety of beliefs, some of which I’d find dubious, and others less so.

        It’s unfortunate if any way this row contributed to lower turn out, which may have led to the BNP being elected.

        • Wulfstan

          It’s unfortunate if any way this row contributed to lower turn out, which may have led to the BNP being elected.

          If you mean that a mild-mannered, critical discussion on this blog leads to the election of BNP candidates then that is verging on the ludicrous. Forgive me mentioning this but it is not as if Holfordwatch is a political blog by and large so it is unlikely that people who have been swayed to vote BNP rather than Green read any of this discussion. (And really? The sort of people who might have voted Green are the sort who would cast their vote for the BNP instead?)

          Disenchantment with politics is more related to the curtailment of civil liberties, a sense of oppression by intrusive tracking of communication, the MPs and their expenses – and, if people didn’t vote Green, perhaps it is because of a lack of fully-rounded and costed policies.

          There is some merit to Sunny Hundal’s discussion of what allowed in the BNP.

          If [mainstream political parties] gave us a reason to vote and didn’t sound like such vacuous robotic idiots on television, then more of us might even be persuaded to vote.

        • Gordon- I’ve certainly got no wish for the BNP to profit at the Greens’ expense. Hopefully, now this has been pointed out, the Greens will be able to build stronger science- and health-related policies, and get their vote out more effectively in future. I don’t – I should say – think that it would be appropriate to avoid criticising bad Green policy and website content, based on the fact that other, rather unpleasant, parties might gain. Certainly, the Greens have not held off from criticising Labour, the Tories, etc. – and nor should they have done – despite the risk that reducing their turnout may also have benefited the BNP.

          Thanks for addressing my concerns. As I said, hopefully the Greens will be able to present stronger policies and content in future. By the way, I’m not sure that offering links, advice etc. on the Party website (even if it’s not policy) is a bad thing: for example, a discussion of debt could quite uncontroversially suggest people contact CAB. I think that problems arise when the suggestions are controversial and/or wrong.

          As far as animal testing, I wonder if we’re in danger of confusing different reasons to oppose it. It often seems as if the Greens are arguing against animal testing on the basis that it’s not useful in scientific research. I would argue that this is bad science: while there are numerous other types of testing that can be invaluable, animal testing does still have a place. However, a second position would be to argue that animal testing is unethical, even if it is scientifically useful: for example, taking a position along the lines of (but somewhat more radical than) Singer’s expanding circle. This position is not bad science, and can be defended. It may not be popular to argue that animal testing should be banned on ethical grounds, even if needed to develop important medical treatments, and I would not agree with this position. But it seems a much stronger position to take than to claim that animal testing is not useful.

        • @Gordon

          We don’t necessarily think all scientists, (or Ben Goldacre, say) should agree with our policies, but we do agree it should be backed up with good science (and I speak as someone with a BSc in Human Genetics)

          Scientists or science? Of course arguing that scientists don’t have to agree with your policies is reasonable, they are a diverse bloc with many opinions, but what if the science doesn’t agree with your policy statements – will you change them then?

    • Drunkenoaf

      Oh really? Well, please could you be more helpful and point us in the direction of the official party stance on these matters. If there actually is one.

    • Joel

      Sorry, I don’t buy that. The first result from google for “green party” is the website which this content is hosted on. If it doesn’t reflect the party, why is it on their website?

    • Firstly – I didn’t that these suggestions about supplements were Green policy. However, these were suggestions made on the greenparty.org.uk domain – and I think it’s fair enough to note them as such. If these suggestions don’t reflect the views of the Party – and I’d be delighted if that’s the case – then this needs to be made clear.

      • @wulfstan lower turnout doesn’t mean people switch from Green to BNP it means perhaps not enough Green voters turned out to defeat the BNP. It’s one possibility. Or perhaps not enough UKIP voters turned out… (or Labour)

        Does the costing of policies have an effect on voting in the EU parliament?

        I would say our polices are not poorly rounded out, but perhaps it hasn’t been adequately communicated. I’m definitely not saying the policy document as it stands is perfect.

        @jonhw
        I’m glad we agree that some good should come of this. On animal testing, I do feel it is ethically wrong, but also that animal models while potentially being scientifically interesting are not generally good substitutes for human models. It may be that the evidence I’ve seen is biased. It’s a tricky one, as both sides have something to gain. What I took away from my genetics degree was that scientists thought they took animal welfare concerns seriously (but didn’t) and so were able to dismiss people who thought animal testing was ethically wrong as cranks. If people are using bad science against animal testing, it is, I feel, in good faith with a belief that evidence’s truth. But it does back up an idealogical position, and one I suspect that not everyone in the Green party shares (it’s difficult to be against the medical use of animals but in favour of eating them when it is not necessary… but that’s another discussion)

        • @Gordon

          I’m reluctant to drag this conversation off course (and I intend to blog further on the issues you’ve raised on animal testing) but I couldn’t let this pass:

          What I took away from my genetics degree was that scientists thought they took animal welfare concerns seriously (but didn’t) and so were able to dismiss people who thought animal testing was ethically wrong as cranks.

          Could you link to some empirical evidence that suggests that scientists don’t take welfare seriously? This reads as if your opinions were formed by personal prejudice rather than appraisal of evidence. And could you also clarify if by animal testing you include experimentation in basic research, not just assaying chemicals?

  7. Dan

    I have written to Green Party leader Caroline lucas, linking to your previous blog, and have recieved the following reply from her office:

    “Caroline certainly recognises that the depth and subtlety of our science policy needs improvement and in particular we need to have a look at an area of policy that was largely written a very long time ago. We will need help. We have perhaps spent so much time insisting that policy on climate change should be led by the science and the evidence and not by expedient politics that we have perhaps not looked closely enough at other areas.”

    In the email I particularly flagged up the alternative medicine policy and embryonic stem cell research.

    As for animal testing (which I also mentioned), they are more ideologically opposed to this, and it is a key area of their policy. (Although I have heard Caroline speak on the subject before, and she puts a convincing argument across for reducing animals in research by giving much more funding to finding more effective testing methods not using animals).

    Anyway, this is a different issue, I think generally the mentions of alternative therapies, supplements, and other forms of quackery are not key issues for the greens, and seem keen to revise them.

    Blogs like this will be very useful for pointing these points that need changing out though! But I think it is important for balance to mention these are policies they arent pushing at the moment, and will be revised.

    • gimpy

      @dan

      As for animal testing (which I also mentioned), they are more ideologically opposed to this, and it is a key area of their policy. (Although I have heard Caroline speak on the subject before, and she puts a convincing argument across for reducing animals in research by giving much more funding to finding more effective testing methods not using animals).

      Any study that involves looking at how different tissues interact must use animals at some point, also, and this never gets mentioned by the Greens, cell culture experiments use vast quantities of animal derived products from growth factors to serum. Animals must die to provide these. Switching to cell culture will not prevent the sacrifice of animals. Then there is antibody production, again which requires animals, molecular biology, which uses ingrediants such as Bovine Serum Albumin, again from animals, reagents manufactured by transgenics – which the Greens wish to ban, and of course there is the field of genetics – impossible without animals.

      They haven’t a clue.

  8. sideshowjim

    Will they be prescribing Soma?

  9. The content I criticised now seems to be gone from the Green website. Possibly just a technical glitch (at their end or mine) of course. If this has been deliberately removed, though, it would be helpful if someone from the Green Party could let us know.

    For those who want to see what the site used to look like, you can access an old version here.

  10. I was (briefly) a member of the Green Party. The impression I got was that, as a small party, it was relatively easy to modify policy and climb the ranks. I can easily believe that a lot of the more ‘out there’ suggestions I’ve seen from them (e.g. using ibogaine to treat addiction) are a result of a handful of ideologically driven people slipping these things in and not being resisted because others in the party either lack the knowledge of experience to challenge them, or are ‘shruggie’ about the whole thing.

    I imagine that, possibly, the badscience blogosphere are getting especially irate with the greens because so many of them and their readers would like to vote for them – if it only wasn’t for the outbreaks of anti-science. It’s frustrating when protecting the planet, supporting human rights and being wary of vested interests is also packaged in with anti-science wishful thinking.

    However, there is possibly a great opportunity here for engagement. I find Dan’s post very positive. It doesn’t surprise me at all that opposition to animal testing is entrenched (there is, after all, an ethical dimension to it). But a willingness to modify policy in response to honest scientific criticism is to be welcomed.

    Anyway, I’m still seething that my hometown has elected a BNP-lite mayor who has just cut funding for Doncaster Gay Pride. Give me the Greens any day, please.

  11. “There is a massive amount of evidence that suggests that low serotonin levels are a common consequence of modern living.”
    Is this really true? Did the greenparty.org.uk page that featured this claim cite any of this massive amount of evidence? (I’ve just tried to look for myself and, unfortunately, found that the page is showing a 404 error. However, Google’s cached version from 27 May 2009 13:34:40 GMT suggests not. I can’t see a single reference on the page.)

    PS – loved the recommendation for clubbers to take glucosamine for dancing-related injuries. The page reads like some kind of spoof.

    • Apparently “The Green Party Drugs Group website is being updated.”

      You can see an older version of the page in question on archive.org here. The copy I have does not show citations which back up the rather strong claim which is made.

  12. “I imagine that, possibly, the badscience blogosphere are getting especially irate with the greens because so many of them and their readers would like to vote for them – if it only wasn’t for the outbreaks of anti-science.”

    Absolutely. I actually did vote for them, despite strongly disagreeing with many of their policies. But I would have been much happier about it (and would be more inclined to support them more actively) if it weren’t for nonsense like this.

  13. jdc: There is no evidence for that (bet you didn’t see that coming!) biologically speaking it’s not even clear what it would mean to have low serotonin levels.

    Their statements sound like something out one of the ridiculous Oliver James’s books, “Britain on the Couch: Treating a Low Serotonin Society”

    • @Neuroskeptic: “There is no evidence for that (bet you didn’t see that coming!)”
      Heh – I had just a tiny inkling…
      As far as I can tell, serotonin probably is linked to mood but, given that “Serotonin pharmacology is hideously complex”, it pains me somewhat to see the simplistic and inaccurate statements on serotonin that are, well, pretty much everywhere – but in this instance were on the Green Party website.

      If I were better with words (and more knowledgeable about serotonin pharmacology) I would probably explain it like this: “it’s all about caveats. The serotonin hypothesis is false if you state it without caveats, but there’s something in it.” And I might also complain that “This makes it difficult to understand why so many [people] are comparatively blithe about recommending that people should take supplements to modify their biochemistry.”

      I expect that Holford Watch and Neuroskeptic will know who I am quoting here…

      • You might think that, jdc, we couldn’t possibly comment on any resemblance to persons, living, dead, in print etc.

        I admire people who can express the complex in simple terms but that should not be at the cost of accuracy – the discussion of serotonin etc. simplifies matters to the point of removing all the necessary nuance (as you say).

  14. Oh wow, do I get to plug a post from my nascent blog on the serotonin hypothesis?

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  16. OK, its a fair cop. There is quite a bit of woo in the Green Party policy, notwithstanding the non-policy working group content that shouldn’t be on the website where it understandably is being mistaken for policy.

    One factor I want to point out, and I’m not trying to make excuses here, but it does come down to policy development funding. Currently political parties in the UK get funding for policy development (policy development grants) if they are represented at Westminster but not if they are represented elsewhere. So despite the Green being represented at local, devolved and European level, they don’t get the funding that the parties at Westminster get.

    GP England & Wales, GP NI and the Scottish Green Party are small parties, with small membership and largely run by volunteers (as mentioned above this can lead to individual agendas). This is in marked contrast to the large parties that are not only better funded but also courted by think-tanks, organisations, lobbyists etc.

    This kind of debate is welcomed and will have an affect on party policy. So do help with the info but please do back off a bit on the mauling, its unnecessary.

    • “Mauling”? Have you seen the standard of discourse on political blogs or indeed quite a number of other science blogs? If you want to start engaging with people on blogs and you think that this is “mauling” then you need to brace yourself for the reception that you and your policies will encounter elsewhere. Complaints of “mauling” in this context do not look good and do not look like the robustness people expect of those engaged in politics.

      Yes for the remainder. Perhaps this fair-minded and appropriate criticism might stimulate the thought that allowing an individual or small groups to exercise their agenda in ways that then seem to pass as policy for the entire party can have its downside. You might consider that to be a price worth paying for retaining your membership-led policy making practice. You might think of putting the responsibility for incurring this criticism on the shoulders of those who wrote the policy that is being subjected to some robust scrutiny.

    • Wulfstan

      Mauling? This is dangerously close to Newsbiscuit’s E.U. voters deliver damning indictment of complex issues:

      British voters casting their votes in the elections for the European Parliament have sent a clear message to the politicians that they are solidly against them ‘going on about really complicated stuff that we don’t really understand’. A demand for simpler, more straight forward issues is the recurring theme that is emerging from the results across the country.

      ‘How would the European Charter of human rights affect employment prospects in Britain’s service industries?’ asked Colin Taylor one of the voters interviewed outside his polling station on Thursday, ‘I haven’t got the foggiest; it’s all far too subtle and nuanced for me, and I deeply resent the fact. For this reason I’ll be making a futile protest vote with one of those extreme little parties who have clearly thought about all that stuff even less than I have.’

      The Green Party does have more of a clue. It needs to do better for itself and for those who might consider casting a vote for it. A start would be to embrace the importance of perspective and proportionality. “Mauling” – good grief.

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  18. Wulfstan

    You know, I’ve never seen that expression used with any degree of sincerity – it’s mostly the refuge of those who have lost their way in a discussion. Your use in an example of that it seems – however, if you are being sincere, I don’t follow you. It’s not clear that you understand that Newsbiscuit is a parody?

    If you have to rely upon others to do your thinking for you, I doubt that you are in a good position to represent your espoused party on blogs.

    • Naomi Mc

      What? I think we’re talking at cross-purposes. My original point was about the fact that the Green Party is taking this criticism on board, the issue of funding and that I felt some of the criticism was unnecessarily aggressive.

      The mere suggestion that I considered some of the criticism overly harsh was met with more aggression. And indeed there you go again.

      I’m not making a hugely controversial point here and have stated that I agree with the criticisms being made. What confuses me is the vitriol and why you feel the need get personally aggressive. This does not foster open and sincere debate just bitching.

      • Glad to hear that the Greens are taking this on board.

        I’ve read back the above post, and to be honest I don’t think that this is overly aggressive (there’s certainly nothing personal in what I wrote). I don’t think that explaining why Green suggestions and policy are bad classes as overly aggressive (any more than justified Green criticisms of UKIP policy on climate change should count as aggressive).

      • “Vitriol…aggressive…bitching”? It might be eye-opening for you to go and look at Iain Dale, Order Order and Devil’s Kitchen – it might give you a heads-up as to what to expect on the more popular political blogs where you might need to stand your own.

        Gauge for yourself the type of response that your ill-founded complaints would garner.

        Assuming you have political ambitions, if you are complaining about the discourse here, how ever will you cope in other fora or on the doorstep?

        Nice way to avoid discussing the policies however, – maybe if you and some colleagues spent more time on content and less on process/style, then it might be genuinely constructive and you would have a collection of policies that aren’t uneven in quality or even embarrassing.

        • My two pence worth:
          Some people seem to have definitions of “aggression” and “mauling” that I do not share. I’m reminded of a newsletter that referred to Ben Goldacre as “vitriolic and inaccurate”.

  19. There must be a term for trying desperately to get back on topic but being continuously dragged back into trivial nonsense.

    Firstly, I at no point claimed to be speaking for any political party let alone claimed to have political ambitions. Secondly, my initial comment was largely (and probably boringly) about funding and yet the following comments took the thread in a different and tedious direction. I’d love to talk about the policy but all comments about my initial post were weirdly about me and who people think I speak for/represent and now what my career plans are. I don’t see the point or relevance of making this personal, but it has been so I am responding to that. I would like to move on from random strangers speculating (or indeed asserting) my affiliations, its entirely irrelevant.

    The sub-point that I was making in my initial post was that the Green Party have responded to criticism, many members posting here and elsewhere have accepted deficiency in policy so to say that I’m avoiding policy discussion is also untrue.

    I am well aware of the tone of discussion on politics and science blogs and sites and I would again argue that it is not helpful or conducive to open and honest scientific or policy discourse. I think the political process should have an evidence-based approach to policy making not one based on ya-boo politics where politicians are terrified to ever admit that they are wrong for fear of being pounced on – which indeed they are. The Green Party have to some extent, by some members at least, admitted that they got it wrong and yet I think there are still criticisms being made that are over-the-top.

    I still don’t understand why ensuing comments have been directed personally at me and I don’t accept that ‘that’s politics, get used to it’. It’s tedious and worthless.

    The point about democratic policy making processes vs. expert/scientific opinion is an important one. This is a tension within any political party or democratic government – how far do the members/citizens have democratic control over policy and how far do experts say ‘no that’s wrong and that’s right’. This is always going to be imperfect and it is impossible to come down on one side or the other. For example, we have already as a society ‘decided’ to put more health resources into keeping premature babies alive than into mental health services. I appreciate that hugely simplified, but what I’m pointing to is that health and scientific decisions are not immune from social values or democratic will. There are certain things that there is a huge amount of scientific evidence for but no political will. So how accountable should politicians be to their constituents rather than to experts?

    • gimpy

      Naomi, the trouble with your arguments is that, although the points you make about reasonable debate are fair, they are overly idealistic. The reality of political discourse on the internet and IRL is that it is frequently emotional and passionate. While I doubt that constructive debate can be had on Guido’s, DK’s and equivalent blogs the image that these blogs can present of a parties position can have wider resonance in the media and society. The Green’s have a huge problem in that they are seen as flakey and allegations of eco-fascism are so widespread as to be normal, now I know that many Greens, as evident from the responses to blogs, are reasonable and sensible people with the proper appreciation for the value of evidence but that alone does not change public perception.
      The Greens need to develop thicker skins when dealing with their critics, there is a debating and moral highground to be gained by rising above name calling and engaging without being distracted by the cut and thrust of personal abuse. Blogs such as this will give you a far easier time than the political blogosphere, if anything you should appreciate that there are people out there who like the idea of voting Green but are put off by many of the science related policies. You should see this as an opportunity to increase their support by willingly allowing their policies to undergo robust scrutiny. They will be stronger for it and the Green party will have earned more respect from their critics.

    • Wulfstan

      You were free to write about the policy at any time. You chose not to do that.

      There must be a term for trying desperately to get back on topic but being continuously dragged back into trivial nonsense.

      In psychology, it is projection or false victimhood (particularly give the name of your blog – I doubt the proud tradition would feel gilded by your performance here). It is a shame that you went so off-track in your responses that you felt driven to issue such irrelevancies. It is even more of a shame that you haven’t learned from what might be a valuable experience if you were open to it.

      So how accountable should politicians be to their constituents rather than to experts?

      Well, judging by your earlier remarks, “mauling” over a just scrutiny etc. – if may seem that you should ponder that question. Do you genuinely believe that the issues Jon wrote about shouldn’t have been discussed? He wrote about it robustly but not in any other way.

      I doubt any of the other Green Party representatives/commenters would thank you for the way you have commented here. Particularly judging by the tenor and content of their comments over on Liberal Conspiracy – Is the Green Party Anti-Science.

      On the expert front – one of the commenters has mentioned (perhaps jokingly) that a senior figure in The Green Party is thinking of running some parts of the science policies past Ben Goldacre and others for a ‘smell test’. Yes there can be problems with both systems but a landscape of policies can not have terrains of flakiness throughout it.

    • An emotional appeal such as the spending on premature babies v. Mental Health is remarkably simplistic unless you define your terms and provide figures to back up your stance. Do you mean very low birth weight premature or the definition of premature that edges into pre-term (but can still have complications that need assistance for a short time)? 1 in 8 live births in the UK is pre-term to premature (Goldenberg et al’s Epidemiology and causes of preterm birth is a must-read on this topic).

      There are difficult cultural issues embedded within your example. Afro-Carribean people have an acknowledged gap in mental health services and there is a history of oppressive diagnosis. However, Afro-Caribbean women in the UK have pre-term birth rates of 15-18% which is more than double the rate of the white European women. Taking resources away from premature babies might very well look like taking away resources from a demographic that already has some difficulties with health services.

      You might think that it is appropriate to have a policy drawn-up by members who see what they perceive to be an injustice or imbalance and set out to right it – fair enough. However, there are times when policies that are written like that will look like it. Hopelessly naive and lacking in any knowledge beyond the superficial. There will be times when even naive, good-hearted pieces will look refreshing and novel. People have to know what it is that they don’t know – which is a difficult task. When other people give them an inkling as to what they don’t know and the scale of it, then it is time to accept that, and not become defensive.

    • By the way, you are – still – free to discuss the policy issues. I don’t think that the discussion here has been unreasonable, to be honest – but, if you prefer, you could discuss Green policy on your blog and then post a link from this comments thread.

  20. Pingback: Mass placebocide attempt. The 10:23 campaign

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