We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

The NHS is considering ‘blacklisting’ homeopathy – and saving £4,000,000

News reaches us that the NHS is considering blacklisting homeopathy in England, albeit at a glacial pace (with a consultation planned for 2016), by banning General Practitioners from prescribing homeopathic remedies.

I am tempted to suggest that the NHS merely dilutes the funding so much that it becomes more effective, but that would be facetious.

We are told that

…Drugs can be blacklisted if there are cheaper alternatives or if the medicine is not effective…

I am wondering how there could be a cheaper alternative to nothing?

And the Health Secretary, Mr Jeremy Hunt has chimed in, saying:

“when resources are tight we have to follow the evidence”.

One might hope that all clinical practice would follow the evidence whatever the state of resources.

Not all is lost (as it were) for adherents of homeopathy, as the proposal is limited to GP prescribing.

The result of the consultation would affect GP prescribing, but not homeopathic hospitals which account for the bulk of the NHS money spent on homeopathy.

What on Earth is a ‘homeopathic hospital’? A cemetery?

Could this be a small start in the battle against pointless government activity?

What Christopher Snowdon says about the anti-smoking lobby

Christopher Snowdon’s Velvet Glove, Iron Fist: a history of anti-smoking does not make comfortable reading for libertarians. Although there were anti-smoking movements in the past by the beginning of the recent part of the story (roughly 1950) two principles reigned supreme: freedom of speech and personal responsibility. By the end both lay in tatters.

Snowdon comes from the position that smoking cigarettes is dangerous. This is a refreshing approach given that some libertarians are wont to deny this. Take, for instance, my good friend, the late Judith Hatton. In Murder a Cigarette, co-written with Ralph Harris of IEA fame, she argued that smoking is perfectly safe. Many was the time I would go round to her place for a free meal and be plied with cigarettes (as well as some food). Snowdon, on the other hand, is having none of it. Smoking is dangerous. It produces a chemical, benzo[a]pyrene, which messes around with DNA and causes lung cancer. He also has little time for the tobacco companies whom he regards as little better than scoundrels.

However, accepting that smoking is dangerous and that tobacco companies have been less than honest is his last concession to the anti-smoking lobby. As he says “the dose is the poison”. Heavy smokers are in trouble but light smokers not so much. Of all smokers, 10% will get lung cancer.

If I have a quibble it’s here. While Snowdon has plenty to say about smoking and lung cancer he has little to say about smoking and heart disease although he appears to accept the link there too. Given that heart disease is another big killer of smokers that is a bit of a shame. But anyway, adults should be allowed to make their own decisions for better or worse.

Sadly such appeals to individual choice cut little ice with the anti-smoking lobby. Over the years, they have campaigned for every type of restriction they can think of from advertising bans, to warnings on packs, to smoking bans in pubs and restaurants. One of the ironies is the ineffectiveness of the government violence they so cherish. Although research is sketchy, most restrictions, such as the ban on smoking in bars have had no obvious effect on the rate of smoking and in many cases seem to have increased it – at least initially. Another example is the ban on television advertising where again, initially, sales rose. The unintended consequence was to set in stone the market makeup at the date of the ban. Hence, while beforehand brands rose and fell, ever since Marlboro has been on top. Although Snowdon doesn’t say this as such the implication seems to be that the decline in smoking over the last 50 years has had little to do with government.

Particularly revealing is the search for technological solutions. Over the years the tobacco industry has introduced filters and low tar cigarettes. Whether these make much of a difference is unclear partly because little research has been carried out. Another brand experimented with palladium (just as you might find in a catalytic converter). Unfortunately, the advertising ban made it difficult for them to get the word around.

There were other problems with safer cigarettes. If the tobacco company marketed a safer cigarette as a safer cigarette that would imply that all the other cigarettes they had been selling were dangerous. That would be the sort of admission that could lead to them winding up in court. The tobacco companies were reluctant to admit this not least because, up to then, they had never actually lost a court case.

More recently we have seen the rise of vaping which is vastly safer. This has provoked a split in the anti-smoking lobby with some of them coming to the conclusion that if it comes to a choice between regulations and public health they are in favour of public health. This has not, however, prevented the introduction of a bunch of EU regulations which will make vaping more difficult.

But that is the exception. Generally speaking, the anti-smoking lobby has opposed these developments. They don’t want technological solutions. They want people to change their behaviour. It matters little to them whether lives are saved.

I can shed some personal light on this. A long time ago I was a green. (I know, I know, I was young and foolish.) Back then I utterly hated the idea of technological solutions to environmental problems. Quite why this was I really don’t know but to my green mind the only correct solution was for people to consume less.

Having proved that smoking was dangerous, the anti-smoking lobby then set out to prove that passive smoking was also dangerous. You can kind of see their point. If benzo[a]pyrene is dangerous then it should be so to any consumer of the smoke in which it is present. Snowdon looks at the studies in great detail but, as he shows, again and again they don’t prove anything of the sort. If anything, passive smoking is good for you. One study even suggested that children brought up in smoking families were less likely to get lung cancer.

But the anti-smokers weren’t about to let the facts get in their way. Repeatedly confronted with research that found no link between passive smoking and lung cancer they simply claimed the precise opposite. They were not even above smearing anyone including scientists who dared to point out that the facts were telling a different story. Any similarity between this and any other science which has been perverted by political chicanery is entirely coincidental.

But the campaign rumbled on and continues to rumble on regardless of the facts. My pet theory is what did for smoking is that it went from being an air freshener to being an air unfreshener. A hundred years ago, people’s nostrils would have been exposed to the foul odours caused by horse manure, industrial pollution, filthy rivers and coal dust. In such an atmosphere, cigarette smoke was at worst insignificant and in many cases an improvement.

The anti-smoking lobby has been so successful that recently it has had to start branching out. Alcohol, gambling, meat and sugar are now all on its radar screen of puritanical ire.

Samizdata quote of the day

Keep bacon, abolish the World Health Organisation

Roy Lyons

Unsustainable monopolies

Monopolies are only sustained by force. Sometimes examples are useful.

In his book The No Breakfast Fallacy, Tim Worstall relates how in 2010 China limited the supply of rare-earth minerals to force the price up. The only problem was that rare-earth minerals are not rare at all, and the increased prices meant that Lynas Corporation and Molycorp were able to raise finances to re-open some mines that had been previously closed due to the previous low prices from China.

Today, Imprimis Pharmaceuticals announced that they are making for $1 an alternative to the drug Daraprim, in direct response to Turing Pharmaceuticals increasing its price from $13 to $750.

Update: Tim Worstall wrote about the Daraprim and rare-earths in Forbes. I hadn’t seen it when I wrote this, honest!

I know my Corbyn routine is getting old but he won’t stop sending me jokes

Via JohnW and the rest of the internet,

Treat meat eaters like smokers, warns Jeremy Corbyn’s new vegan farming minister Kerry McCarthy

(Just a little note to the Telegraph subs: she isn’t actually farming minister yet. Labour would have to win an election for that.)

Meat should be treated like tobacco with a public campaign to stop people eating it, Jeremy Corbyn’s new vegan shadow farming minister has suggested. Kerry McCarthy, MP for Bristol East, has irked the British farming industry with her veganism and vice presidency of the anti-hunting League Against Cruel Sports.

In an interview with Viva!life, a magazine for vegans, she admitted she was a “militant” when it came to clamping down on meat consumption. She said: “I really believe that meat should be treated in exactly the same way as tobacco, with public campaigns to stop people eating it.”

Samizdata quote of the day

The Scottish and the Welsh NHS are the closest thing to a counterfactual, because they are still more or less run like the old (and, if the Corbynistas get their way, the future) English NHS. Even though they are, in per capita terms, better funded and generally better staffed than their English counterpart, their performance lags on most measures. Rates of mortality amenable to healthcare are higher than in England, waiting times are longer, and hospital infections are more prevalent.

Kristian Niemietz

Eric Raymond needs you

Eric Raymond is the reason I’m here. He’s the guy I found while learning about Linux who gave a name to my vague sense of injustice at having to pay tax and taught me that a libertarian is a thing. Googling “libertarian UK” after reading his web site is how I found Samizdata, and found out that there were libertarians on my doorstep. He taught me that anarcho-capitalism is a thing. And that it’s okay to like guns. And that it does not make me some sort of lefty for enjoying messing about with Free Software. He explained the economics of it and gave it a better name: Open Source. And he’s out there propagandising, and making some of the software that keeps civilization ticking and not being hacked. And his code is all over the place and you probably use quite a lot of it every day.

But he has a problem.

First, Obamacare killed my wife’s full-time job and the health insurance that came with it. Then Obamacare drove personal health insurance costs into the stratosphere, so I now pay more per month on it than I do for my mortgage. $973 a month is what it costs us to go to a doctor, which is ridiculous and every politician who voted for this disaster should be hung from a lamppost. Until it’s repealed or collapses, though, the money has to come from somewhere.

You get more of the things you encourage. I think ESR needs to be encouraged. And luckily, you can, via his Patreon page.

Also, on his blog post about Patreon, there is some interesting discussion about Obamacare:

Petro says:

People are shocked when I tell them what the “bronze” plan costs a family of 4 for insurance that has insane deductibles (it looks like they went up to 5k/person 10k/family) they are shocked.

PapayaSF adds:

It’s darkly ironic that one of the original arguments for Obamacare’s outlawing of inexpensive “junk insurance policies” was that many had deductibles that were “too high.” So now we’ve got expensive policies with high deductibles that are too high…

ESR explains his wife’s job loss:

The short version is that Obamacare mandates have added so much to an employer’s overhead for anyone full-time that the full-time job is being effectively abolished. Even professionals like lawyers are being fired to be replaced with contractors who have to buy their health insurance a la carte.

It’s a double whammy – first Obamacare destroys secure employment, then it saddles people living hand-to-mouth with ruinously high costs. Our health-insurance premiums are higher than our mortgage.

“He is not allowed his small reprieves”

I don’t usually find much to sympathise with over at the Bella Caledonia blog. This account by Jonathan Rowson, whose brother has been committed to a psychiatric ward, was an exception:

Smoking and the Forbidden Garden – a Dereliction of Sanity?

Defending the rights of the mentally ill to do something that harms them is not a popular cause, but this much needs to be said: preventing psychiatric patients from smoking on hospital grounds is inhumane.

I am responding to the situation in a particular ward in a hospital in NHS Grampian region. At the time of writing my forty year old brother Mark is there, as he has been before. He is surrounded by other adult patients, many of whom are thought disordered, dysfunctional, and up to their eye balls in medication. Mark has given me permission to write publicly about his situation, but he is not well enough to grasp the full context. I am taking the liberty of making the following case on his behalf.

Many psychiatric patients are habitual smokers, but at the moment they are strictly not allowed to smoke anywhere on hospital grounds. Smoking has been banned in hospital buildings for about a decade, but in the hospital in question secure gardens adjacent to the locked wards and smoking shelters within the general grounds of hospitals were available to smoke. This arrangement seemed to work until the authorities decreed that the shelters should be knocked down and the secure gardens should be smoke free. Some psychiatric patients, staff and visitors now face the mild stigma and hassle of having to escape the hospital to smoke, but if you are sectioned under the mental health act it’s not so simple. The hospital ward is your de-facto home, and also your de-facto prison, so where do you go?

The ruling is unenforceable. In fact most staff feel they have no choice but to turn a blind eye. Patients are now smoking in their rooms or in the bathrooms; anywhere where the staff can have plausible deniability of not seeing them. Alas, the collateral damage of this necessary open secret is that none of the patients can now go to the outdoor area assigned to the ward. The small secured gardens are the most humanising place on the ward and a vital source of fresh air, but they lie unused due to the risk, not that patients will smoke, but that they will be seen to be smoking, and get staff into trouble as a result.

Most of the comments are supportive, but not all. This one by Clive Scott was notable for its self-righteousness:

What about the employer’s responsibilities to provide a safe working environment for employees and the rights of non-smokers for wholesome air? It would be ridiculous to permit the mentally enfeebled to flout regulations for the common good simply because of their illness. Smoking is a disgusting foul habit and addiction and every step possible should be taken to eliminate it from society.

That which does not kill us makes us stronger

Scientists find mutation that protects against ‘mad cow’ disease after studying cannibal group

Scientists have found a genetic mutation that imparts complete protection against the human form of “mad cow” disease, which could lead to new ways of tackling similar incurable brain diseases.

The researchers discovered the mutation after studying the genes of the Fore people of Papua New Guinea who until recently had practised a form of cannibalism where a related disease was transmitted by eating the brain tissue of the dead.


At the height of the kuru epidemic in the mid-20th Century, the disease was killing about 2 per cent of the Fore population every year. Some villages had become so severely depopulated they risked dying out, with few if any women of child-bearing age left alive.

However, the scientists believe that people who had been born with the resistance mutation may have helped to re-populate the Fore villages, leading to a rise in the number of individuals who were resistant to kuru.

If I had more brains my first thought on reading this article in the Independent would have been, as it was for Professor John Collinge, director of the Prion Unit:

“This is a striking example of Darwinian evolution in humans – the epidemic of prion disease selecting a single genetic change that provided complete protection against an invariably fatal dementia.”

But if I had more brains I wouldn’t need a second thought.

The UK’s Labour government will ban e-cigs

The UK Labour government mentioned is that of Wales. One of the advantages of devolution is that it allows people to compare the results of different laws in the various constituent countries of the UK. The Welsh Government wants to promote and protect the health of Welsh people in the same way that it has promoted their education since devolution. Very badly.

Wales to introduce e-cigarette ban

Electronic cigarettes are to be banned in enclosed public spaces and workplaces as part of a raft of radical health plans announced by the Welsh government.

The law would be the first such restriction in the UK and would be hugely controversial among thousands of users, producers and campaigners who believe the use of e-cigarettes can help smokers of conventional cigarettes quit.

Other measures proposed by the Labour-controlled government is the creation of a compulsory national licensing system in relation to acupuncture, body-piercing, electrolysis and tattooing.

Weirdly, or perhaps not so weirdly, the archetypal fake charity ‘Action on Smoking and Health’, which gets less than 2% of its funding from public donations, is actually on the side of health:

Action on Smoking and Health a charity that works to eliminate the harm caused by tobacco, said it did not support the sort of ban proposed by the Welsh government.

It said there was emerging evidence that e-cigarettes helped people quit smoking and there was little evidence they encouraged “never smokers” to take it up. A spokesperson said: “We think they should be appropriately regulated. That does not include banning in public places.”

On the history of death and taxes

I have recently been suffering from one of those annoying state-of-the-art flu bugs that made me properly ill for only a few days, but which then hasn’t allowed me to get truly better for another month. I still await full functionality.

When in such a state, I find serious writing difficult. (I can still manage unserious writing.) But what I really like to do when thus semi-incapacitated, is to read. And there is nothing, I find, like reading well-written history about long-ago times to make me count my modern blessings and cheer me up.

I recently began what looks like being a very good book about King Edward I. (A short excerpt from this book, on the subject of medieval historical evidence, can be read here.) Edward I was the English monarch who won the Battle of Crécy, and who soon after that presided – if that’s the right word – over the Black Death. You want a bug? That was a bug.

But I haven’t got to the Black Death bits yet. …

(LATER: And I won’t ever. I’m muddling Edward I up with Edward III, see commenter number one below, to whom thanks, and with apologies to everyone else. Edward III was the victor of Crécy, and I will wait in vain for anything about the Black Death in this book. I will be learning about such persons as Simon de Montfort. But the Black Death was, as I have read elsewhere, very nasty.)

… In the bits I have read so far, Edward is still a teenager, and his dad, Henry III, is fretting about how to crush a rebellion in his French possessions, and in particular (p. 16), how to persuade his English subjects to foot the bill for that enterprise:

The obvious solution was to impose a general levy on everyone – a tax – and Henry’s immediate predecessors had on occasion done just that. King Richard and King John had found that they could raise huge sums in this way – England, it bears repeating, was a rich and prosperous country – but such taxes proved highly unpopular, …

It is always worth keeping an eye out for a use of the word “but” when it would make more sense to have encountered the word “and”, or “therefore”. The unpopularity of taxes in England on the one hand, and on the other, the fact that England was a rich and prosperous country sound to me a lot like a cause and an effect. But the way that modern-day author Marc Morris phrases it, if your country is rich, it can accordingly afford to pay higher taxes without its richness being in any way disturbed.

It was this next bit that made me laugh out loud:

… but such taxes proved highly unpopular, and were regarded as tantamount to robbery.

Ah those medieval fools, so lacking in our modern grasp of the obvious and fundamental differences between taxes and robbery!

Here is a way in which things – things that in general are so much better now than then – have actually got worse.

I do not want to single out Marc Morris for criticism here. He is only describing matters in a way that most of his readers will immediately understand. Taxation? Of course. What he personally thinks about the idea of there now being higher taxes, to pay for such things as foreign wars, now, I do not know. As for me, although I will not live to see it, I look forward to a time when both taxation and death (at the sort of age that I will in due course be encountering it) are thought of in the same kind of way that we now think only of such things as the Black Death.

How on earth could those blundering and miserable twenty-first centurions not understand such obvious ideas?

Samizdata quote of the day

On the NHS, that has gone far beyond a joke. It is not enough to value the idea of universal healthcare free at the point of use as a concept – one must “love the NHS”. Doctors and nurses are not doing their job in difficult circumstances – they’re fighting on the front line. Nobody wants to reform the NHS – Labour leader Ed Miliband wants to “rescue” it. The debate is uncritical, nostalgic, what The Economist called “ideological, ahistorical bunkum” – and nothing short of cowardly.

Andy Burnham, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, has warned that there are “24 hours to save the NHS” so often over the past five years that people are beginning to doubt his grasp of Babylonian concepts of time.

Andy Silvester