Homeopaths are not Medical Experts

The CBC recently aired a “National Check Up” health panel segment ostensibly to discuss the current state of medical research. The panel, led by Peter Mansbridge, consisted of  internal medicine specialist Dr. Ali Zentner; Dr. Danielle Martin from Women’s College Hospital in Toronto; and alternative medicine expert Bryce Wylde. Wylde is no stranger to those of us here at Skeptic North, as he has been taken to task more than once. We strongly feel that promoting homeopathy and other forms of quackery is inappropriate at any level, and especially so for such a respected program as ‘The National’.

Here is a An Open Letter to CBC’s Peter Mansbridge from Prof. Timothy Caulfield (republished with permission from Weighty Matters)

Dear Peter Mansbridge:

I couldn’t sleep last night. And it is your fault.

The last thing I watched before I went to bed was The National’s new health panel. And it left me we a deep feeling of despair. I couldn’t shake the sensation that we are slipping into some kind of bizarre all-knowledge-is-relative Dark Age.

The panel has three “experts”, including the terrific and science-based Danielle Martin and Ali Zentner. The third is Bryce Wylde, a self-described homeopathic doctor (he has a diploma from the Ontario College of Homeopathic Medicine) and advocate for, among a host of other scientifically unproven therapies, “natural health” and supplementation.

Now, I don’t know Wylde. He seems like a nice, engaging individual – particularly when he is on Dr. Oz talking about how he “travels the globe in search of Mother Nature’s fountain of youth”. He does this with a mixture of scientific-sounding babble (“vasodilate blood to the brain”?) and everything-natural-is-good boyish enthusiasm. He is, no doubt about it, entertaining.

But including an advocate of homeopathic medicine – one of the most derided and scientifically preposterous of alternative therapies – on a national and highly respected TV news program as a “medical expert” and legitimate source of evidence-based health information is simply wrong. He wasn’t presented as an outsider. His views were not cast as extreme and scientifically questionable. And this was not Dr. Oz, Oprah or an infomercial.

The inclusion of Wylde on this panel is a wonderful (and depressing) example of the phenomenon of false balance. Naturally, it is always good to keep an open mind and to get different perspectives on important issues. I suspect that was the goal the CBC had in mind when they decided to include Wylde. But using a homeopath to comment on biomedical issues is like using an astrologer to balance the views of Stephen Hawking.

I won’t dissect the scientifically questionable comments he made on The National – such as his advocacy of supplements (which he markets on his website – a practice that creates an obvious conflict of interest) and his statements about the health value of organic food. I am more concerned about the impact of putting this perspective on a respected show like The National. It legitimizes pseudoscientific ideas – which may have serious adverse health consequences – and makes it more difficult for the public to differentiate between real and junk science.

The CBC decision is particularly frustrating given that there are so many wonderful, science-based health scholars in Canada, including many who explore the issues associated with and evidence surrounding alternative therapies (such as Drs. Heather Boon at the University of Toronto and Sunita Vohra at the University of Alberta).

So, Mr. Mansbridge, I sincerely hope you look for a different, science-based, commentator for your health panel. I need the sleep.

Timothy Caulfield
Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy
Trudeau Fellow
Author of The Cure for Everything: Untangling the Twisted Messages about Health, Fitness and Happiness
@CaulfieldTim

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Timothy Caulfield is a Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy and a Professor in the Faculty of Law and the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta. He has been the Research Director of the Health Law Institute at the University of Alberta since 1993. Over the past several years he has been involved in a variety of interdisciplinary research endeavours that have allowed him to publish over 250 articles and book chapters. He is a Fellow of the Trudeau Foundation, a Health Senior Scholar with the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research and the Principal Investigator for a number of large interdisciplinary projects that explore the ethical, legal and health policy issues associated with a range of topics, including stem cell research, genetics, patient safety, the prevention of chronic disease, obesity policy, the commercialization of research, complementary and alternative medicine and access to health care. Professor Caulfield is and has been involved with a number of national and international policy and research ethics committees, including: Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee; Genome Canada’s Science Advisory Committee; the Ethics and Public Policy Committee for International Society for Stem Cell Research; and the Federal Panel on Research Ethics. He has won numerous academic awards and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences. He writes frequently for the popular press on a range of health and science policy issues and is the author of The Cure for Everything: Untangling the Twisted Messages about Health, Fitness and Happiness (Penguin 2012). 

Yoni Freedhoff is a Family physician, Assistant Prof. at the University of Ottawa, Author of The Diet Fix, and founder of Ottawa’s non-surgical Bariatric Medical Institute – a multi-disciplinary, ethical, evidence-based nutrition and weight management centre.

Thanks to Timothy Caulfield and Yoni Freedhoff for permission to re-publish this letter.

6 Responses to “Homeopaths are not Medical Experts”

  1. Vincent says:

    Very good comment and I hope Peter Mansbridge got to read it.
    Thanks !
    V J Basque, PhC.

  2. Glad to read this. What can the rest of us do to show support for this to CBC?
    William Lundy, BSc, MA, MEd

  3. Laurel Parsons says:

    I’m new to this site so perhaps you’ve seen or posted this before, but Irish comic Dara O’Briain does a truly funny/angry bit on exactly this sort of media behaviour:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DHVVKAKWXcg

    Laurel Parsons, PhD (Music Theory)
    University of British Columbia

  4. David Grant says:

    Thanks John for this post. I, too, saw this article and I was surprised as well. I think that naturopaths and follows of CAM are always allowed to come on the media without any skepticism or questioning. It seems quite fashionable from all kinds of intelligent to accept this stuff. People are quite surprised when I am so critical. They don’t seem to realize just how faulty this stuff is. I still can’t believe that people accept homeopathy so much when it is just water!!!!!

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    John Underhay, also known as Peicurmudgeon, is just your average atheist, left leaning, SCUBA diving, snorkeling, biker. He lives on PEI and spends some of his time attempting to point out the flaws and or dangers in promoting ideas that run contrary to the laws of physics, chemistry, or biology. He has a BSc (Biology) and an MSc (Pharmacology) from the University of Prince Edward Island, and is currently retired. You can read more of his posts at http://peicurmudgeon.wordpress.com/