Jill Stein and the US Greens Have a Woo Problem | Vol. 3 / No. 37.3

Photo: Gage Skidmore, CC BY 2.0

Now that Bernie Sanders has endorsed Hillary Clinton, the “Bernie or Bust” crowd is searching for someone to support that they like. Unfortunately, those not focusing their efforts on “downticket” options (like noted antitrust lawyer Zephyr Teachout) are in large part turning to Jill Stein, who, despite being a licensed physician, seems dangerously into “the woo.”

Stein, like the Green Party in America, supports homeopathy and alternative “medicine.” Here’s the Green Party platform:

Greens support a wide range of health care services, not just traditional medicine, which too often emphasizes “a medical arms race” that relies upon high-tech intervention, surgical techniques and costly pharmaceuticals. Chronic conditions are often best cured by alternative medicine. We support the teaching, funding and practice of holistic health approaches and, as appropriate, the use of complementary and alternative therapies such as herbal medicines, homeopathy, naturopathy, traditional Chinese medicine and other healing approaches.

This, to put it mildly, is absurd. Chronic conditions are in no way “best cured by alternative medicine,” and no amount of special pleading will make it so. There is no situation in which it is appropriate to support the “teaching, funding, and practice” of homeopathy. TCM is a great place to look for compounds that might be effective in treating diseases, but it’s also packed full of insane ideas about eating the powdered genitalia and horns of endagered species.

I’m going to give Stein the benefit of the doubt and say I hope that she’s just pandering to the crackpots in the Green base, becuase her responses in a recent reddit AMA are one part evasion and one part “big-pharma” conspiracy thinking:

For homeopathy, just because something is untested doesn’t mean it’s safe. By the same token, being “tested” and “reviewed” by agencies tied to big pharma and the chemical industry is also problematic. There’s a lot of snake-oil in this system. We need research and licensing boards that are protected from conflicts of interest. They should not be limited by arbitrary definitions of what is “natural” or not.

This, by the way, was in response to the question “What is your campaign’s official stance on vaccines and homeopathic medicine?”

I don’t know what it’s supposed to mean, seeming to ounce back and forth between things I’d think are self-evident support for science-based medicine (see “natural” in scare quotes, for instance), and the very use of the term “big pharma” (which seems to indicate the opposite).

But I can say this in response: Homeopathy is both tested and unsafe — in that if you take it instead of real medicine when you’re sick, you’ll get worse. Being (as she writes with scare-quotes) tested and reviewed by government agencies filled with doctors and scientists does make medicines, in fact, safe and effective (or relatively so — every doctor will tell you that many of the drugs we prescribe can be very very bad for you, because like all things, the dose makes the poison). The snake oil in the “system,” so far as I can see, is the alternative “medicine” that masquerades as actual medicine without any kind of rigorous study or frankly any basis in fact, which is excatly the kind of thing the Green Party seems to support in the US. And as a doctor she shoudl know that we do have research that’s protected from conflicts of interest, because it’s standard practice to explicitly state conflicts of interest in published and peer-reveiwed research. If you don’t state your conflicts of interest, your studies are retracted!

So I don’t know what she’s on about. Either she’s a woo-peddler or too afraid to stand up to those who are, and I really can’t abide either.


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Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as an editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.

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