In a perfect world, high quality science would inform politics and policy. Science cannot determine policy by itself because there are also value judgments and trade-offs that need to be negotiated. At the least, however, policy should be consistent with the best available science.
We, of course, don’t live in a perfect world. Too often politics and ideology seem to inform, or corrupt, science. It is so much easier to just cherry pick the science that seems to confirm what you already believe, than to go through the process of changing your beliefs to accommodate the evidence. The stronger the ideology, the greater the motivated reasoning used to defend it, without apparent practical limit. For core ideologies that are part of someone’s identity, there does not appear to be any amount of evidence that will change their beliefs.
Anti-scientific motivated reasoning is often codified in specific organizations, institutions, or professions. Political parties are essentially organized ideologies, and when that ideology is predominantly pseudoscientific, you have organized pseudoscience.
Health Australia Party
Such appears to be the case with a recent political party that has been formed in Australia, the Health Australia Party (HAP). From reading their policies and propaganda it seems pretty clear that they were founded by proponents of alternative medicine (CAM), using all of the unscientific talking points of CAM.
Their brief summary of their health policy is littered with red flags of CAM propaganda:
Quality medicine for all people, with access to the best of proven natural and pharmaceutical medicine. Remove the influence of multinational pharmaceutical companies. Affordable medicine – using evidence from unbiased real-world clinical studies and targeted spending. Reform the health bureaucracy. Apply research funds wisely.
Build a health-creation system, not a disease-management system.
First they promote a false dichotomy between “natural” medicine and “pharmaceutical” medicine. There is really no such thing as “natural” medicine, just the appeal to nature logical fallacy. There is no operational way to define “natural” and it is often just used as a marketing buzzword to refer to unscientific medicine. For example, some herbal remedies are toxic, and many pharmaceuticals are derived from natural substances.
Further, it is very telling that they characterize all of mainstream medicine as “pharmaceutical.” This is typical CAM propaganda, making it seem like mainstream medicine just uses drugs and surgery, ignoring all of the other interventions developed and used by mainstream medical science.
To emphasize this point they follow up with an appeal to Big Pharma fearmongering, referring to the “influence of multinational pharmaceutical companies.” I suppose they would replace this with the influence of international snake oil peddlers.
They next refer to “unbiased real-world clinical studies.” For anyone familiar with CAM propaganda, this is obvious code for –we reject any scientific studies where we disagree with the results as “biased.” Further, we want to rely on “real world” studies, which are not efficacy trials and not properly blinded and controlled, because we can guarantee positive results for our nonsense.
They finish with a flourish of another false dichotomy – health creation vs disease management, which is how they characterize “natural” medicine vs mainstream medicine. This is patently false. What distinguishes these two approaches is being properly science-based, and that is it. Mainstream medicine is preventive, it is properly holistic, and it does promote health. CAM sells itself as all of these things, but it is none of them. Its only defining characteristic is preferring methods that do not work or are untested and largely implausible.
Policies and crank magnetism
To demonstrate all of this, let’s look at some of their specific policies. This also gives us a view into another phenomenon called “crank magnetism” (a term coined by Mark Hoofnagle on the Denialism Blog in 2007). Those who believe in one form of pseudoscience tend to believe in others.
The situation is actually a bit more complicated than that. When looking specifically at conspiracy theories, for example, people tend to be more believing of conspiracies that are in line with their political ideology. However, there is a subset of people (about 10%) that believe in all conspiracies. The same is true of anti-science, it tends to follow ideology, but there are those for whom anti-science is their ideology.
In the case of HAP, and CAM in general, I think there is a little of both going on, meaning that people who are generally anti-science will be attracted to CAM, but CAM also attracts those with a particular naturalistic ideology. It also attracts straight con artists, who thrive in an environment dominated by low standards of evidence and magical belief.
The primary HAP policy with respect to health care is to make Australia’s healthcare system entirely “integrative” – they would fully integrate pseudoscience and nonsense into the health care system, abandoning any notion of a science-based standard of care.
HAP’s policies include standard anti-fluoridation nonsense:
The HAP believes that sodium fluoride, hydrofluorosilic acid and other chemical products called “fluoride” are toxic chemical waste products that are classified as class 6 poisons and should not be placed into public water supplies. Medicating a population through the water supply is in breach of accepted medical ethical codes as there is neither informed consent, nor the ability to opt out .It is noted that 97% of the Western European population and the population of Japan drinks nonfluoridated water.
This goes beyond getting the science wrong to mischaracterizing fluoridation as “medicating the populace.”
Their general policy toward health care is:
The HAP believes that natural medicine should be placed on an equal footing with pharmaceutical medicine.
Again, “natural” medicine is just code for alternative medicine, which means no science-based standard of care. They want snake oil peddlers and quacks to be treated as equal to science-based health care professionals. Essentially they want to accomplish politically what they have been unable to accomplish scientifically, another common anti-science strategy.
Along those lines they also endorse “academic freedom,” which again is code for wanting to give crank researchers the same funding, respect, and power as science-based researchers:
The HAP recognises with great concern the attempts by well-resourced and influential lobby groups to stifle academic freedom within Australian universities and research institutes. The HAP will expose and oppose such attempts to prevent researchers from undertaking and publishing potentially controversial research, and will support the heads of institutions who stand up against individuals and groups who oppose academic freedom.
“Academic freedom,” as used by creationists and CAM proponents, effectively means no academic standards.
They also endorse electromagnetic hypersensitivity pseudoscience:
The HAP supports the following initiatives which are needed due to the changing electromagnetic environment in which we live. (a) The establishment of a national Agency dedicated to researching the situation about electro-smog, particularly EMR emissions from electrical and wireless devices that are potentially damaging or harmful to humans. That national agency, whilst based in Canberra, should have State branches in each of the major cities in Australia. The Canberra office would act as a clearing house or headquarters, but the real work to be done at the city or state level in the State branches.
Regarding scientific research, they say:
Australia should develop protocols to ensure that the nation receives appropriate commercial rewards from publically funded research.
Translation – goodbye basic science research.
They do not specifically mention vaccines, which I have to believe is a calculated choice given how unpopular anti-vaccine views are in Australia recently. They do state, however that they:
Defend the right of every person/parent/legal guardian to choose to decline invasive medical procedures/interventions with no resultant punitive action of any kind.
That, of course, is code for the right to refuse vaccines without any consequences.
Given the above it is no surprise that the candidates for the HAP are themselves dubious health practitioners. For example, Dr. Isaac Golden is a homeopath. Homeopathy is 100% pure pseudoscience, which unsurprisingly has been demonstrated in numerous clinical trials to be completely worthless. Anyone who endorses or uses homeopathy, in my opinion, is a pseudoscientist and quack. Golden’s bio states:
He is a world authority on homoeoprophylaxis – the use of homoeopathic medicines for specific infectious disease prevention – and was the first person to be awarded a PhD from a mainstream Australian University for research on a homoeopathic topic.
Homeoprophylaxis involves using useless homeopathic potions instead of vaccines for infectious disease prevention. This is particularly dangerous homeopathy pseudoscience.
Homeopathy, however, is not mentioned in the policy, just “natural medicine,” showing that the HAP is using “natural medicine” as a substitute for dubious unscientific alternative medicine.
Of the 8 candidates profiled on their website, 6 are practicing homeopaths, naturopaths, reflexologists, or massage therapists. Two have an interest in natural medicine, but do not seem to have a practice (yet, they are both very young).
Health Pseudoscience Party
The HAP appears to be just a group of CAM practitioners trying to use the political process to advance their quack profession. They are certainly not the only political party organized around extreme or narrow ideology, but it is interesting to see CAM ideology so clearly and openly demonstrated.
Ideology in general does have a tendency to breed antiscience, but in this case antiscience is the ideology.