Lembit Öpik was educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and later took a degree in philosophy at the University of Bristol. While at university he served as President of the University of Bristol Union (1985-86), and as a member of the National Executive of the National Union of Students (1987-88).
In 1988 Mr Öpik joined Procter & Gamble Ltd in Newcastle upon Tyne as a brand assistant. In 1991 he became Corporate Training and Organisation Development Manager, and was promoted to be Global Human Resources Training Manager in 1996. Mr Öpik was elected to the Liberal Democrats' Federal Executive Committee in 1991. Mr Öpik stood unsuccessfully as a candidate for Newcastle upon Tyne Central in the 1992 general election, and for Northumbria in the 1994 European Parliament elections. He was elected as a councillor on Newcastle City Council in 1992.
At the 1997 general election, the Liberal Democrat MP for Montgomeryshire, Alex Carlile, retired. Mr Öpik was elected as his successor, with an increased majority. He retained the seat at the 2001 general election and at the 2005 general election, increasing his share of the vote by 3.5% in 2001 and by a further 1.8% in 2005, giving him a majority of 7,173 over the Conservatives.
Mr Öpik's grandfather was a notable Estonian astronomer and his father lectured in physics and applied maths at Queen's University of Belfast.
In 2005, Lembit Öpik claimed that the Food Supplements Directive - which regulated food and vitamin supplements many of which are sold with health and medicinal claims - was "a classic example of the nanny state gone wild".
When questioned about his support for homeopathy in the NHS by journalist Tom Whipple, Mr Öpik responded:
- Thanks for taking an interest in homeopathic treatments. Here is why I have chosen to support the campaign.
- Firstly, a study conducted by Bristol Hospital involved a large sample of individuals, and appears to have demonstrated a measurable improvement in the quality of life of patients who turned to homeopathic treatments after “conventional” medical interventions had not succeeded in achieving an improvement. This is one of the most persuasive individual studies.
- Secondly, homeopathic treatments are abundant in my constituency, and maintain a sufficiently large following to sustain the sector. I believe that the perspective of patients must therefore be positive towards the methodology. There is at the very least apperception that homeopathic treatments are worth trying, and this leads to the continuing operation of a large number of practitioners. So patients think it works.
- Thirdly, it is an act of cynicism to assume that homeopathic medicine is necessarily ineffective, simply on the basis of its variance from conventional medicine. The onus is less on homeopathy to prove itself than on its detractors to prove it necessarily does not work. Such research may indeed exist, but I haven’t seen it. They would also have to show why they believe that interventions which may to some extent operate at a psychological level have no merit. It is well known that mental outlook can be a significant factor in a person’s recovery times from an illness. If homeopathy works in conjunction with this phenomenon, there is much less mystique to it than those who decry it infer.
- for more information you’ll find a very comprehensive summary of the case for homeopathy at http://www.trusthomeopathy.org/case/res_toc.html.
- Hope this helps. Finally, may I suggest you try some homeopathic intervention at some point. Whatever the result, I’m sure it will be an interesting experiment.
Mr Whipple wrote that Mr Öpik's position represented "a bold deviation from accepted medical practice - that taxpayers should pay for treatments until they are shown to fail, rather than the other way around".
March 2015: "when I was at university I did Parapsychology research and there was no doubt in our evidence that people have psychic capabilities."
More information at http://hayleyisaghost.co.uk/esp-lembit-opik/
Mr Öpik has consistently campaigned for government investment into tracking asteroids in space, to avert a catastrophic impact collision on earth. Mr Öpik's grandfather, Ernst Öpik, was a notable Estonian astronomer based in Northern Ireland, and the asteroid 2099 Öpik, which orbits Mars, is named after him. Lembit Öpik began to speak out about the matter in 1999 after attending a lecture at the Shrewsbury Astronomical Society, but denied any connection to the rash of millennium apocalyptic predictions:
- "This is my genuine interest in the science and the astronomy and ultimately the future of our species. These global killers seem to hit about once every 30 million years. What's worrying is that the last one impacted 65 million years ago and wiped out the dinosaurs. I'm sorry to say that we're next in line for extinction. The dinosaurs were wiped out by a massive global killer, but a quarter of the Earth's population could be wiped out every 100,000 years when a one kilometre object hits. If we saw an asteroid hurtling towards us then I'm sorry to say all we could do is pray. But we would get 20 seconds and that's not even long enough for the Lord's Prayer. If we make this investment then we would get anything from two years notice of an impending impact and that's long enough to divert the object."
In 1999, Mr Öpik called for between £500,000 and £1m to be invested annually on tracking asteroids. A decade later, Mr Opik wrote in an op-ed piece in the Guardian, "if we don't invest what I estimate to be £120m to search for these objects, and up to £50bn to divert them, we face the very real possibility of going the same way as the dinosaurs".
Mr Öpik was instrumental in the drive to establish the Spaceguard UK centre at the former Powys Observatory in Powys, Wales. The centre is "dedicated to quantifying and assessing the risk, and to determining methods of avoiding threatening impacts". Spaceguard UK receives no external funding and is funded entirely by revenue from visitors and from voluntary contributions from organisations and individuals.
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report of October 2007 had found no good evidence of change since the limit was set in 1990, and hence no new reason for a reduction. However, it acknowledged that this was only one of many factors to be taken into account when legislating, and did not make any recommendations as to how MPs should vote.
In July 2009, Mr Öpik questioned the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families in parliament:
- "[I wish] To ask the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families if he will regularly review the effects on levels of attainment in science subjects by children at secondary level of the replacement of science as a core subject in primary schools if the proposal of the Rose Review on that matter is implemented; and if he will make a statement."
Libel Law Reform
In February 2010, Lembit Öpik signed Early Day Motion 423 calling for a reform of the English libel law. The motion noted that human rights activists, scientists, writers and journalists are currently prevented from publishing, and the public prevented from reading, matters of strong public interest due to the chilling effect of the law.
In February 2010, Lembit Öpik signed Early Day Motion 524: Recognising Climate Change which states that "this House agrees that climate change is happening and is man-made" and calls this statement a "fact, which has the support of the overwhelming majority of the scientific community".