Skeptical Activism in Canada

On Tuesday of last week I wrote about the rise of skeptical activism and the need to get organized in order to shape and present a message that will resonate with the public and affect positive change. Let me present to you the several projects that CASS at CFI Canada is working on to advance this goal and hopefully to inspire you to get involved at either the local or national level.


CPSO Draft Policy on Non-Allopathic Medicine

Our highest priority project currently is creating a written deposition for the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario in response to their draft policy on non-conventional medical practice, titled “Non-Allopathic (Non-Conventional) Therapies in Medical Practice.”  The adoption of the term allopathic” does not bode well for the policy and belies the heavy involvement of the alt-med communities to date.  We have drafted a letter of concern to the college and will be publishing and submitting it within the next week.  We are looking for partners to either sign on to this letter or submit letters of their own to CPSO (there is an opportunity to fill out a survey as well) and let them know that the draft policy as it stands is an affront to modern medicine and will only serve to further entrench dubious and dangerous alt-med treatments in mainstream medicine.


Medical Clinic Information Sheets

Looking toward the future, CASS has received a request to produce samples of information sheets that can be made available to patients by a physician or registered nurse regarding common questions patients have about various CAM modalities and controversies, like the anti-vaccination movement or homeopathy.  Often, there is no time for patient education in a busy practice and these information sheets are distributed in its place.  This is an important opportunity for the critical thinking community to reach out to those on the front lines of medicine who may not have the time to dispel myths about Wakefield or a 30C dilution and we are excited by this opportunity.  If you care to help in the creation of these documents or know any practice that would like to use them, please let us know.


Educational Programs

After my intense conversation with Barbara Drescher at TAM 9 it is evident that deep critical thinking in the classroom at all levels is becoming increasingly difficult to find, given the reliance on standardized testing in many jurisdictions.  It is a good thing, therefore, that CASS has begun to develop an educational program to assist elementary and high school teachers to work deep thinking and skepticism into their lesson plans.  We have been in contact with Christopher DiCarlo and other professionals and are in the early stages of development of this package.  If you would like to assist in this development or are an interested educator concerned about the lack of deep thinking in the classroom, please contact us and be a part of educating future critical thinkers and scientists.


Food Related Health Claims in the Canadian Media Study

A few weeks ago, Ben Goldacre from the Bad Science column in The Guardian newspaper in the UK reported on a study he and his colleagues had produced regarding the accuracy of dietary advice in the top ten UK newspapers for one week.  The results were not surprising as they revealed a dearth of evidence to support the claims in the various papers.  This is not a difficult study to do and CASS is preparing to embark on a similar study of Canadian Newspapers.  If you have special insight into this topic or are interested in being involved in this study and have some time to participate in a little research, please let us know!


Homeopathic “Doctors” in Canada

As was announced on Skeptic North several months ago, CASS submitted a letter of complaint to the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care in Ontario regarding the illegal use of the term “doctor” by many homeopaths in Ontario.  We are expanding our research to other jurisdictions and if your local group wishes to participate in ferreting out the practitioners falsely representing their qualifications, please contact us and we can start to turn around the growth of unsupportable treatments in Canada.


Nightingale Collaboration Canada

It is easy to complain but hard to know who to turn to when we want to make it official.  The Nightingale Collaboration in the UK has had some good successes in mobilizing the skeptical community and getting those making unsubstantiated claims made publicly to change their advertising.  This is a very practical but necessary project in Canada, as there are several agencies involved in regulating this type of advertising.  We have obtained permission from the UK organizers to use the Nightingale Collaboration model and information to make our own Canadian version and we are looking for partners in development of this website and plan.


Hospital Based Therapeutic Touch

If you have been involved in the skeptical community you probably know of the great study published in JAMA testing the ability of the practitioners of therapeutic touch to actually sense the human “energy field.”  The study showed that this field could not be detected.  It may surprise you to know that TT is not only being practiced by RN’s and other health professionals in Canada, but it even has official sponsorship from hospitals in Ontario (see here and here )and probably in the rest of Canada as well.  We are working on a lobbying plan to shame hospitals in relinquishing their support of these programs and to stop diverting precious health care dollars to support unfounded TT practices.  We are looking for partnerships, especially in the nursing field, with people who are interested in promoting evidence-based nursing practice.


Chelation Therapy: TACT Trial in Canada

Chelation therapy is one of the many unsinkable rubber ducks of medicine, having been abandoned for all indications except proven heavy metal toxicity as far back as the 1960’s.  Clifford Beninger, in consultation with Dr. Kimbal C. Atwood, has produced a scholarly review of modern chelation therapy and highlighted the dangerous TACT trial that has used dubious consent forms and study design to try, once again, to prove chelation therapy useful in cardiovascular disease.  Chelation therapy used in this manner has resulted in deaths, but despite this it is being offered by many practitioners, including medical doctors, in Canada.  The TACT trial has several sights operating in Canada as well, and CASS is looking for a publisher for Dr. Beninger’s review as well intending on informing Health Canada about this dangerous practice.  If you are worried about the safety of this potentially deadly practice, please contact us for more details.


Wi-Fi, Cell Phones and Health

Last fall CASS submitted a brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health in response to an inquiry into the possible dangers of Wi-Fi and cell phone radiation.  Since then several jurisdictions in B.C. and Ontario have been confronted by citizens concerned for their health and mis-informed by Magda Havas, Rodney Palmer and their ilk about the dangers of Wi-Fi.  CASS is one of the only organizations submitting science-based briefs to the executives in these jurisdictions but we are, alas, one small voice against a better funded lobbying group.  We have produced an evidence package to support local groups and individuals hoping to fight the forces cherry-picking evidence to support their thin claims of harm.  We also can put you in touch with local experts who can possibly depose in person or via letter for your local city council.  Please contact us if you need any help in fighting pseudo-science.


Get Involved

Skeptical activism is new to our community and we are still figuring out how to do it effectively and within a very limited budget.  If you have an idea on how to promote the tenets of skepticism and critical thinking in Canadian society, or if you have a concern about government regulation or media reporting of scientific topics, please contact your local skeptics group, CFI Canada branch, or CASS directly at . CFI Canada is also in the middle of a large fund raising campaign, as we have been made an offer of a matching grant of $200 000  if we can raise the money, so please consider giving to support CASS . Only when we begin to work together can we affect positive change in Canada

To follow our activities at CASS , follow us on Twitter @CFICASS or on Facebook @ CASS at Centre for Inquiry Canada.


3 Responses to “Skeptical Activism in Canada”

  1. John Greg says:

    I cannot read the text on the picture at the top of the essay. Where was that picture taken?

    • The text is just the full name of CASS in both english and french. The photo is a public protest in Greece protesting the austerity budget there.

  2. John Greg says:



  • Michael Kruse

    Michael is an advanced-care paramedic in York Region, just north of Toronto, Ontario. A semi-retired theatrical lighting designer as well, he re-trained in 2005 as an EMT-PS at the University of Iowa and as an ACP at Durham College, and is currently working towards a B.Sc at the University of Toronto. Michael is a founder and the chair of the board of directors of Bad Science Watch. He is also the recipient of the first annual Barry Beyerstein Award for Skepticism. Follow Michael on twitter @anxiousmedic. Michael's musings are his own and do not necessarily represent those of his employer or Bad Science Watch.