Jill Stein’s Shameful Pander on Vaccines and Homeopathy

About a month ago on a Reddit AMA, Dr. Jill Stein, the presumptive Green Party nominee for president, was asked a simple question about her official stance on vaccines and homeopathy.

Stein is, of course, a physician, so the answer, one would think, would be simple. For example, “Vaccines are safe and save lives, and everyone who can get vaccinated against preventable diseases absolutely should. Homeopathy is a sham pseudoscience that doesn’t do anything, wasting people’s money and risking people’s health while having no effect.”

Nope. You see she’s running in the Green Party, and hoping to pick up some of that sweet, sweet Bernie-rage. So here’s her answer:

I don’t know if we have an “official” stance, but I can tell you my personal stance at this point. According to the most recent review of vaccination policies across the globe, mandatory vaccination that doesn’t allow for medical exemptions is practically unheard of. In most countries, people trust their regulatory agencies and have very high rates of vaccination through voluntary programs. In the US, however, regulatory agencies are routinely packed with corporate lobbyists and CEOs. So the foxes are guarding the chicken coop as usual in the US. So who wouldn’t be skeptical? I think dropping vaccinations rates that can and must be fixed in order to get at the vaccination issue: the widespread distrust of the medical-indsutrial complex.

Vaccines in general have made a huge contribution to public health. Reducing or eliminating devastating diseases like small pox and polio. In Canada, where I happen to have some numbers, hundreds of annual death from measles and whooping cough were eliminated after vaccines were introduced. Still, vaccines should be treated like any medical procedure–each one needs to be tested and regulated by parties that do not have a financial interest in them. In an age when industry lobbyists and CEOs are routinely appointed to key regulatory positions through the notorious revolving door, its no wonder many Americans don’t trust the FDA to be an unbiased source of sound advice. A Monsanto lobbyists and CEO like Michael Taylor, former high-ranking DEA official, should not decide what food is safe for you to eat. Same goes for vaccines and pharmaceuticals. We need to take the corporate influence out of government so people will trust our health authorities, and the rest of the government for that matter. End the revolving door. Appoint qualified professionals without a financial interest in the product being regulated. Create public funding of elections to stop the buying of elections by corporations and the super-rich.

For homeopathy, just because something is untested doesn’t mean it’s safe. By the same token, being “tested” and “reviewed” by agencies tied to big pharma and the chemical industry is also problematic. There’s a lot of snake-oil in this system. We need research and licensing boards that are protected from conflicts of interest. They should not be limited by arbitrary definitions of what is “natural” or not.

What the fuck was that? I mean, I honestly can’t discern an actual position out of this inscrutable wall of pandering.

The best I can glean from this mess is, “Vaccines may have saved lives, but now you should be afraid for your life because Big Pharma.”

And on homeopathy, what the fuck does “just because something is untested doesn’t mean it’s safe” even mean? I honestly don’t know. But then she gets back to making people scared. It’s not the fake medicine that’s the problem, you see, but Big Pharma pulling the strings. I mean, YOU CAN’T TRUST ANYONE.

I so deeply regret my support of Ralph Nader in 2000, but I always maintained a place in my heart for the Greens, those well-meaning hippies. But this is just gross. Stein is a fucking doctor, and she should at least have enough respect for the voters to speak a plain truth about issues that are literally life and death.

And if she actually believes what she’s saying (assuming she even knows what she’s saying), then all the worse. Be gone, Green Party. You once seemed full of fresh ideas, but now, well, you’ve spoiled.

Dr. Oz, Disinfected by Sunshine

I was a guest on HuffPost Live this afternoon, joining a panel to discuss the whole Dr. Oz imbroglio, and something struck me that I wound up mentioning at the end of the segment. I pointed out that we’ve suddenly found ourselves at a point in media and culture in which crap pseudoscience and the denial of reality are starting to get called out.
Think about it. Dr. Oz, a TV doctor whose influence and popularity are probably unmatched by any similar figure in modern history, is being taken to task for promoting “miracle” weight loss “cures,” garbage “natural” remedies meant to do everything from improve your sleep to stopping cancer, and other, even more brazen examples of pseudoscience like homeopathy and psychics. He’s “America’s doctor,” sporting the Oprah Seal of Infallibility™, and millions of Americans swear by his every utterance. Nonetheless, not only are major news outlets tracking and exposing his nonsense, but he was even hauled before a Senate committee and given the business by Claire McCaskill. (I got a little media hit for that one, too.) That’s a huge deal.

Earlier this week, the FDA held public hearings on the marketing and regulation of homeopathy, a branch of pseudoscience that is so blatantly fantastical that even calling it “pseudoscience” gives it way, way too much credit. And yet billions of dollars are spent on homeopathic products, and its adherents insist on its medicinal properties, despite its complete disconnection from, like, physics. It took some doing, but now by holding these hearings, whatever their result, the FDA is implying to the public that “there’s something fishy here,” something worth holding hearings about. My colleague Michael De Dora was even invited to give testimony near the beginning of the hearings (here’s video in some weird Adobe format), and articles are popping up left and right that quote what he said. (He also did two great public radio interviews.) More and more Americans are hearing the message that homeopathy, that branch of medicine that you heard was “natural” and “alternative” is actually a bunch of junk.

And of course this year we saw the fall of the anti-vaxxer, as a series of measles outbreaks, particularly in Disneyland, led to a serious backlash against the celebrity-championed war on immune systems. Even the pandering GOP politicians trying to make common cause with the anti-vax movement are finding themselves looking ridiculous, as the political press corps does a collective facepalm.

All of this has been taking place in just the last few months, and the seeds of it have been germinating for a few years now. Part of the reason, I think, is that more reality-accepting young journalists are on the ascent, and the current trend for reporting is the “wonkblog” or “data-driven news site,” where raw facts make more good, clickable web copy. I’m seeing it not just at Ezra Klein’s and Nate Silver’s sites, but sites as diverse as Boing Boing (quirky culture), The Verge (tech lifestyle), io9 (science fiction and fantasy), Raw Story (left-wing outrage-posts) and many others. My friend Ed Beck suggested that it really all began with Phil Plait’s move to Slate from Discovery in 2012, and he might well be on to something there.

Organizations like mine, the Center for Inquiry, have been a key part of this shift, I believe, as every day we chip away at bad assumptions, lazy thinking, and credulousness. Bit by bit, we make the case for the acceptance of science – science the process, as well as its products – and the critical examination of extraordinary claims. The ideas that vaccines cause autism, that water retains a “memory” of a substance it no longer contains, or that magic beans can burn your fat or kill your cancer, are all claims that require that kind of critical, skeptical eye.

Only today have I allowed myself the luxury to step back and think, holy shit, I think we might be getting somewhere. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve moved that sisyphean boulder only a couple milimeters, but even just having gotten that far, I’m telling you, the view is better.

Here’s my HuffPost appearance, with a bunch of smart people.


(Note: On the Dr. Oz thing in particular, you have to read the work of Michael Specter and Julia Belluz.)