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Sep 07 2010

Update: Harper government actually stands up for science… wha?

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of our current Federal government. They are decidedly opposed to any use of science in decision-making, preferring instead to appeal to ideologies rather than reality. The study of science and logical positivism make you, on average, more liberal than conservative – preferring to side with what works rather than stapling yourself to what you agree with. As Stephen Colbert so succinctly put it, “Reality, as you know, has a strong liberal bias.”

That’s why I was shocked to read this news story:

The Canadian government will not fund a clinical trial of the so-called liberation therapy for multiple sclerosis at this time, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq says. Aglukkaq spoke to reporters in Ottawa on Wednesday, a day after a panel of North American experts announced they unanimously recommended against supporting a clinical trial of the treatment in Canada as yet. Aglukkaq commissioned the expert panel’s report from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, which funds medical research, and the MS Society of Canada. “I feel the most prudent course of action at this time is to accept the recommendation of the country’s leading researchers,” Aglukkaq told a news conference (emphasis mine).

Did I say shocked? I should have said ‘floored and rended into a state of utter disbelief’. The Harper government (so called because he calls the shots, and everyone else runs his plays) actually relying on the expertise of people who know what they’re talking about? Surely I must be hallucinating. Particularly from a party that talks a big game about letting people make their own decisions, regardless of how unwise those decisions may be (a view apparently shared by my “nemesis”).

I’ve been skeptical of this ‘liberation therapy’ since it was first announced. My skepticism isn’t merely because it’s a stark departure from accepted practice, but because as a person who works in and is trained in health research, I recognize that many times these ‘radical’ approaches fail to stand up to rigorous scrutiny. A panel of experts recommended against CIHR fast-tracking large-scale clinical trials until smaller, well-controlled trials showed a benefit to the treatment. This is simple pragmatism to anyone in the health research community – it’s not a good idea to experiment on a large group of people unless you are reasonably sure they will actually benefit from it. Ethics boards actually demand this exact type of rigour before allowing research to go through. I am hopeful and optimistic that this treatment could potentially make a positive impact in the lives of people suffering from a horrible disease, but I temper my optimism with skepticism to say that I won’t advocate its use until we know for sure if it works or not.

So the Harper government thinks we should listen to the experts, and make our decisions based on that. Could this be a sign that they’re not as anti-science and ideological as I thought?

No, it’s not:

An RCMP report that evaluates the long-gun registry as cost-effective, efficient and an important tool for public safety hasn’t changed the mind of the Conservative MP behind a bill to scrap the registry. In an interview Tuesday on CBC TV’s Power and Politics with Evan Solomon, Candice Hoeppner says the report told her nothing new. “My position remains steadfast as does our party’s position,” she said. “We believe the long-gun registry needs to end. As legislators, that’s our job, to look at policy, to decide what’s in the best interests of Canadians and make those decisions. So, nothing has changed.”

So instead of experts using their training and experience to help decide what’s the best use of public funds to protect the lives and property of Canadians, Ms. Hoeppner thinks that political appointees are better suited to do it. Political appointees, I’ll add, that have no experience or training in anything other than politics. Even conservatives will have to agree that if someone’s going to be making our decisions for us, it would be better if they actually knew what they were talking about.

Then again, maybe they don’t have to agree at all:

An article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal slams the federal government for its efforts to shut down Insite in downtown Vancouver, Canada’s only safe injection site for drug addicts… The paper points out that soon after it was elected, the Conservative government removed harm reduction as one of the four pillars of its National Anti-Drug Strategy. The four-pillar strategy, endorsed by the World Health Organization also includes treatment, enforcement and prevention.

I mean, just because a bunch of eggheads who have spent years of their lives studying the problem and potential solutions doesn’t mean that they know what they’re talking about, or that you should listen to them. It definitely doesn’t mean you should accept the evidence that’s right in front of your face.

No wait, that’s exactly what it means.

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