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Aug 01 2012

The new hotness: Bad Science Watch

My skeptical teeth were cut on religious claims – I got into the skeptical blogosphere (and learned the resulting jargon and necessary facts) as a direct result of my wrangling with my own newly-recognized atheism. I rather quickly and seamlessly migrated from there to my discussions of race and social justice, but there was a serious in-between time when I spent a lot of time learning the ways of skep-fu in the alt-med school. I am, in that sense, a pretty bad skeptic because despite getting my start there, I spend comparatively little time talking about the ‘hard science’ stuff that is probably most closely suited to my professional training.

Mea culpa, folks. I don’t have an agenda with this site – I just kinda write what I feel.

Luckily, I have a few colleagues/friends here in Vancouver who are on it big time:

Bad Science Watch is an independent non-profit activist organization dedicated to improving the lives of Canadians by countering bad science. We are driven by a vision of a safer, healthier, and more prosperous Canada where critical thinking and sound science are paramount in the making of important societal decisions.

Important Issues

Every day Canadians make choices. Whether we’re considering health care or breakfast cereals we all want to make the right decisions for ourselves and our families. We all want access to the best information to help us decide how we spend our money, and keep ourselves safe and healthy.

Unfortunately, in an increasingly technological and complex world it can be hard to understand our options. Worse, there are people who are happy to exploit this difficulty and use bad science to take advantage of us, promising easy answers or unrealistic results. Bad science is being used every day in advertising, by politicians, and by special interest groups. This is a major problem, and it affects all of us and the choices we make.

Warning: gross gushy personal stuff approaching.

I am personally familiar with director Jamie Williams and board member Dr. Rob Tarzwell (as well as having had some professional interactions with board chair Michael Kruse). If I was going to put together a Canadian skeptical ‘dream team’, they’d absolutely be on it. These folks are smart and dedicated, and I’m really looking forward to seeing this endeavour become successful.

Okay, gush over.

Today they’re launching their first official campaign, and it’s a doozy:

Today, the new Canadian science advocacy group Bad Science Watch announced plans to convince Health Canada to de-register homeopathic health products that are offered as unproven replacements for childhood vaccinations.  This project will combat the anti-vaccine camps within homeopathy that offer these so-called “nosodes”; the sale of which directly contradicts Health Canada’s own efforts to promote childhood vaccinations.

Nosodes are ultra-dilute homeopathic remedies prepared using diseased tissue, such as blood, pus, and saliva, that are based on the unsupportable “like-cures-like” hypothesis where you give someone a very low dose of the offending substance to then cure or prevent the disease in question.

Homeopaths in Canada are offering these nosodes for a variety of childhood diseases, like pertussis, or whooping cough, a deadly disease that is currently afflicting more Canadian children, mostly infants,  than it has in the past 50 years.  The anti-vaccine messages spread by homeopaths have caused parents to needlessly question the usefulness and safety of vaccines and as a result the level of vaccination in Canadian communities has dropped to as low as 62%.  A level of 80% or higher is needed to have proper protection from pertussis in the community.

You may remember that the skeptics group here in Vancouver have taken on the homeopaths before, and we even made it on national television. That action opened up a whole can of worms (and hopefully some whoop-ass as well) on the way in which Canada handles homeopathy. For the federal government to endorse (at least by implication) the sale of magic water as a method of preventing serious infectious disease goes beyond merely incompetent and borders on criminal. We’ve had outbreaks of infectious disease in Canada recently, so being asleep at the switch is inexcusable.

Bad Science Watch is funded entirely by individual donations. If you’re of the mind to, consider donating. If you’d like more information about the group, check them out online or sign up for their newsletter.

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16 comments

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  1. 1
    machintelligence

    But, but,but…I thought the whole idea of like cures (prevents) like was the same as the idea of vaccination. And if the less dilute is less effective, where is the possible harm in vaccines?
    */sarcasm*

  2. 2
    Pen

    I hope you have some luck with this one in Canada. Not only is the woo dangerous but it costs public money which should be better spent. I’m an evidence-based decision-making addict. I hate public decisions that seem to be driven by lobby groups like homeopathy professional bodies. BTW, do you know Ben Goldacre who does the Bad Science blog? I’ve followed him for years, and he’s a real education on non-evidence-based policies: woo, drug wars, education, but in a UK context, usually.

  3. 3
    Jake

    What does atheism have to do with social justice or racial justice or anything other than “lack of belief in God”?

    Atheism is consistent with Social Justice, of course, just as it as it is consistent with being a Communist Mass Murderer, a pornographer who exploits women and children, an Objectivist a la Ayn Rand, or a comedian.

    So what?

  4. 4
    Jake

    Ah, I see the “free”though blogs are heavily into censorship, banning, and deleting!

    Choice! LOL!

  5. 5
    Crommunist

    WTF, how is it that people haven’t heard of moderated comments? EVERY SINGLE BLOG I’VE EVER SEEN moderates comments. What are you, new?

    Also, “freethought” doesn’t mean what you wish it did. You’re free to think whatever you want. I am not obligated to host your dumb ass on my blog. I know, it’s rough because you just feel so entitled to parrot themes and ideas that you’ve heard from other people on someone else’s space. It must just totally suck for you that you have to wait a couple of hours (while I’m fucking SLEEPING) before everyone else knows what a worthless asshole you are.

    For the record, I don’t censor comments. You’re free to advertise as much as you like.

  6. 6
    Crommunist

    What does atheism have to do with social justice or racial justice or anything other than “lack of belief in God”?

    Better question: what does this comment have to do with this post?

  7. 7
    Crommunist

    So the real answer to this question (or at least a non-moronic version of this question) is that there are abundant commonalities between the thought processes and social structures that give us both religion and the major social justice issues – homophobia, racism, sexism, etc. To understand one is to understand the others. I was interested in social justice long before I was interested in atheism as a social justice movement. And yes, insofar as atheists are denied equal participation in public life, atheism is a social justice movement.

    I am far from the first person to explain this overlap, and this is far from the first time I’ve explained it.

  8. 8
    John Horstman

    What a brilliant and incisive observation! I’ve never once heard anyone say something like this before! With three sublime sentences that manage to elegantly communicate what might have taken a lifetime of thought to conclude on my own, you’ve managed to completely shift my worldview! I shudder to think what my life might have been like going forward had you not deigned to bless us all with your wit and wisdom. Its criminal that some might be denied the illumination proffered by such a profound, foundational truth. Henceforth, The Crommunist Manifesto will be a better, more enlightened space thanks to your selfless efforts on our behalf. My most sincere and hearty thanks; bravo, good sir, bravo!

    Oh, and good call capitalizing “Communist Mass Murderer”; I would have entirely failed to grasp your point had you not done so.

  9. 9
    John Horstman

    A true paragon of the linguistic arts, and clearly a capable polymath! Philosophy, language, law, and humor! To convey such profundity with such brevity is the pinnacle of artistry! Would that I might aspire to but some miniscule fraction of Jake’s intellectual prowess, I could become a guiding light to lead us forward into the great unknown. For ze is Jake, genius of geniuses: look upon hir works, ye mighty, and despair!

  10. 10
    John Horstman

    Oh, right, the original topic: this sounds very cool, and combating medical-woo-peddling charlatans bilking sick, vulnerable people and worried parents is the work of saints. Crap, I can’t stop writing like that now. Despite the overwrought language, the sentiment in this post is sincere: this sounds very, very cool.

  11. 11
    PatrickG

    Very much enjoy your blog Crommunist, but I must object to your failure to consider my feelings.

    You write so much and with so many launching points of interesting discussion, that I sit paralyzed at the comment screen, fingers feebly twitching as I try to sound even remotely intelligent, my self-esteem withering like a weed on asphalt, and eventually run away, weeping in abject humiliation.

    Meanie.

  12. 12
    Crommunist

    There shall be no mercy! The beatings shall continue until morale improves!

    But seriously, thank you. It always sends me over the goddamn moon when people tell me they like my writing.

  13. 13
    PatrickG

    Yeah, I finally figured out that while I’m generally shy about commenting, I should at least let you know I really enjoy your work. :D

  14. 14
    jeanb

    Hi Crommunist,

    Loved your article! I live in a tiny town in Washington state where the alt-med woo is rampant. Thank you for taking a stand against homeopathy and other such nonsense.

    I’m sure you have heard of Bob Carroll’s Skepdic.com – the best anti-woo website ever.

    re your comment: “EVERY SINGLE BLOG I’VE EVER SEEN moderates comments.” – I’ve found one that does not – Reason.com.
    Never have I seen such hateful, racist, misogynistic lowlife comments. I complained to the board that some moderation was needed – they said to grow thicker skin.

    So I APPRECIATE when disgusting comments that have no other purpose than to offend are moderated out.

  15. 15
    HM

    Thanks for the link to bad science watch, I’ll be supporting them in their efforts to get homeopathy deregistered. As an aside, was that your group on Marketplace when you all downed “toxic” amounts of homeopathic treatments? I laughed my ass off with all the comments and it got me more interested in how these pills are allowed to be sold as “treatments”.

  16. 16
    Crommunist

    Yeah, that was us.

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