7 FEBRUARY 1981, Page 18

A fickle flock

Sir: I fear that Auberon Waugh's gently argued case in favour of the continued use of the new 'wonder' drug Tagamet, despite the slight potential cancer risk (17 January), will not prevent its approaching fall from favour. Although this may partly relate to Auberon Waugh's predilection for the support of unfashionable causes, the predictable causative factor will be a more general human weakness: the tendency for the views of the medical profession, as with any other group, to move like a flock of sheep, initially with immoderate enthusiasm in one direction and then equally and suddenly in the opposite direction. In the case of doctors the reversal usually occurs, often inappropriately, when the expected very small incidence of 'unexpected' severe side effects crops up, with the widespread use of an effective drug. This is a good example of the 'group-psyche' being unable to see shades of grey, but rather preferring to see either black or white.

Reflective persons within and without the medical profession are partly protected from this herd behaviour of doctors, but unfortunately the average patient is not. It will be interesting to see if the moderate view of a few leading British gastroenterologists (and, on this occasion, Auberon Waugh) will be heard above the clamour of thecrowd.

Finally, on a more pragmatic note, if it is true that 'the healthy stomach is nothing if not conservative and few radicals have good digestions', as Samuel Butler opined, then Auberon Waugh personally need have no dyspeptic fears.

J.F. MacKenzie Woodbank, Stirling Road, Dumbarton