Skeptics in the Greenhouse

I attended the recent Christchurch Conference and greatly enjoyed the excellent standard of presentation and discussion. One small item, however, left me wondering about the organisation that I had recently joined: the inclusion of global warming research in the list of core topics alongside biodynamic agriculture, alternative medicine and UFOs.

Global warming research is mainstream science. Many hundreds of ordinary scientists from dozens of countries have (with great difficulty!) reached a “consensus”. As a first step, I recommend the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) publication “Climate Change 2001 – Synthesis Report” published by Cambridge University Press. It is 400 pages long and is not easy reading, but what can you expect in a summary compiled by a large and diverse committee of technocrats?

A number of “Greenhouse Skeptics” vigorously oppose the findings of the IPCC. This is right and proper – science has always progressed by robust debate. These people – particularly those who have read the literature and can argue on the basis of evidence – are a distinct minority worldwide, but this does not necessarily mean they are wrong. They could be more perceptive than most, and history may prove them right. Alternatively, they could be misinformed or even eccentric. Many people react against any new idea that challenges their world-view. Many argue that there is an IPCC or environmentalist conspiracy.

The processes of science, through normal debate in the scientific media, will clarify the situation in the fullness of time. Is it the task of the Skeptics to wade into the fray? I have been disturbed by statements from well-known Skeptics, indicating that they have not read the mainstream Greenhouse literature, but are familiar with the “alternative” literature. This reminds me of people who are conversant with organic farming or homeopathy, but who are totally ignorant of conventional agriculture or medicine.

My message to Skeptics? Don’t pick a fight with bona fide scientists who are working on global warming, merely because some nutty environmentalists have sided with them. Be sceptical, by all means, but include the “Greenhouse Skeptics” in your scepticism. If you are interested enough in this topic to want to include it as a core area of activity, for Galileo’s sake find out more about it so you can form a balanced viewpoint.

Piers Maclaren

Alternative Veterinary Medicine

Some recent correspondence on the Skeptics’ committee mailing list led to John Welch writing to the Veterinary Council of New Zealand. This is their response.

Dear Dr Welch

You asked how the Veterinary Council deals with alternative animal medicine.

The council has established a Code of Professional Conduct that sets the principles of expertise, performance, behaviour, integrity and accountability expected of competent and reasonable veterinarians in New Zealand. Section 6.8 of this code refers to Alternative/complementary medicine and methods. I quote:

“Alternative or complementary therapies do not usually have the weight of scientific proof of their efficacy and therefore the use of these products and/or services must be considered a discretionary use. A veterinarian using an alternative or complementary therapy must do so in accordance with the NZVA Code of Practice for the Discretionary Use of Human and Veterinary Medicines by Registered Veterinarians.”

“In the event that alternative/complementary methods of diagnosis or treatment are requested by a client or are proposed by a veterinarian, the veterinarian must give a full explanation to the client, so that the client can make an informed decision. At all times the welfare of the animal is of paramount consideration.”

As in the US there are a number of veterinarians in New Zealand who are interested in alternative animal therapies. You may wish to contact the Holistic Veterinary Society, which is a special interest branch of the NZ Veterinary Association. The president of the Holistic Veterinary Society is Viv Harris, Tasman Street Veterinary Clinic, 23 Tasman St, Wellington. I know there has been healthy debate occurring amongst members of the NZ Veterinary Association. I have forwarded your letter to its CEO, Murray Gibb, and he may respond to you. There are also NZQA accredited courses in alternative forms of animal health taught at institutions in NZ such as the Bay of Plenty College of Homeopathy. The Veterinary Council is not in the business of promoting particular forms of veterinary training (apart from recognising the Massey Bachelor of Veterinary Science as the primary degree) but it has had communication with the College about such matters as the recording of qualifications attained on the Register of Veterinarians, and the restrictions on the use of the term “veterinary” or “veterinarian” or “specialist” in relation to training courses.

I hope the above gives you some idea of the council’s position in this regard.

Yours sincerely,
Julie Haggie
Secretary, Veterinary Council
of New Zealand

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