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In his last article for Epigram, outgoing Deputy Editor Stefan Rollnick argues that the Green Party’s candidate for Bristol West has a dangerous contempt for modern medicine.

I don’t know about you but it is important to me that our politicians understand the value of science and do not consider themselves to be superior to the scientific consensus. As a Labour Party member who campaigns for social justice, I see science as one of the most effective ways to emancipate people from disease, poverty and even discrimination.

Despite disagreeing with some of the candidates for Bristol West, I never thought I’d have to take issue with any of their understanding of basic science. So you can imagine I was surprised when I read an article by Molly Scott Cato, the Bristol West Green candidate from Stroud, which she wrote for ‘Ecologist’ on the importance of a herbal approach to medicine.

“My own favourite witch doctor” she says, “is our local herbalist Nathan, a self-confessed ‘lapsed intellectual’ who supports us in our life journey rather than making us feel mad, bad or sad”.

A ‘lapsed intellectual’, as if that’s something to be perversely proud of? I appreciate that people’s lives are complicated and we could all do with some support on our ‘life journeys’, but it is this kind of language that facilitates all kinds of quackery at the expense of vulnerable people who need proper medical treatment from qualified professionals.

A middle class person living in a developed country glorifying witch doctors is not just scientifically wrong, it is insensitive. Witch doctors are not something to be celebrated; they come from a culture of regressive superstition which has been used to justify all kinds of horrific acts.

“Nathan sees his role as finding the native plants that will best help us reconnect with our physical selves and the earth that nourishes us” says Cato.

Good for Nathan, I hope he has fun plodding around his allotment looking for herbs, but there are actual uses for native plants that can make an actual difference. It is the scientists and pharmaceutical companies who work together with people from a wide range of cultures all over the world to study the therapeutic potential of native plants and they save millions of lives while they’re at it. There is no evidence for what Nathan does and it is disingenuous to suggest there is.

Cato also asks why there are pills for slimming and tanning but no cures for diseases that disproportionately assault the poor? Well Molly, to answer the first part of your question that’s because of quacks like Nathan who take advantage of vulnerable people with complicated problems that they are not qualified to treat.

As for the second part, maybe you’re right, maybe if malaria was a problem in the UK we’d have cured it by now. But I wonder if you know how much money the government and private enterprise gives to malaria, HIV and cholera research? I wonder if the people in Bristol University working so hard on treatments for these diseases would appreciate your complete over-simplification of this complex issue?

She ends by proposing a health service that would centre around “hands-on” treatment over “hugely expensive machines that go ping”.

Thanks for your trivialisation of the miracle that is modern medicine, but without “hugely expensive machines that go ping” many people we know would have needlessly died of preventable diseases and it saddens me that you see this as a needless expense.

Have some respect for the people who use modern medicine even if you choose not to.

I understand that capitalism has sometimes had a negative effect on modern medicine, I understand that pharmaceutical companies prioritise mildly effective prophylactic drugs due to their financial gains, and I understand that a more multi-dimensional approach to medicine could improve treatment outcomes. I also understand the importance of evidence based medicine and the complicated nature of this issue – but I’m not sure that you do.

So please think about who you are voting for on Thursday. You are not just voting for a party but an MP. So please vote for science, vote for sense, and vote for Labour’s candidate Thangam Debbonaire.

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