Politics & Policy

The Anti-Science Left

It is not Republicans who are inclined to embrace zany health-care practices

Common side effects of gazing up at San Francisco’s iconic Transamerica Pyramid must include neck pain, because the marketplace devoted to treating that condition in the vicinity is robust. There is San Francisco Acupuncture Group and Urban Refuge Acupuncture nearby, along with Conscious Chiropractic & Acupuncture. There is Dr. Deng’s Acupuncture Clinic. There is Energetic Therapeutics, for your energy healing needs. And inadvertently summing up the area’s health-care approach is an institution called “Magical Health Pain Care.”

If, meanwhile, you urgently need a needling in Fort Worth, you’ll need wheels. Although the Texas city boasts a larger population than does California’s hippie headquarters, finding a good acupuncturist is more of a challenge: There are nine locations, scattered over several square miles.

New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s inarticulate comments on the need for a balance between the government’s police power and parental rights when it comes to child vaccinations have paved the way for yet another anti-science-Republicans meme. Sparing no rhetorical effect, Vox’s Max Fisher wrote a piece entitled, “Even ISIS Supports Getting Kids Vaccinated,” since it turns out that, while the Islamic State may crucify Christians, behead journalists, and burn prisoners alive, they also are pretty good about making sure their kiddos get inoculated — better, it is to be understood, than these GOP loons.

Yet, despite Amanda Marcotte’s protestations to the contrary, it is not Republicans who are inclined to embrace zany health-care practices.

Start with vaccination. The states with the largest number of “personal belief” (religious or philosophical) vaccination exemptions granted among kindergartners during the 2013–14 school year were Oregon (7 percent), Vermont (6.1 percent), and Idaho (also 6.1 percent). The first two are hardly Republican fever swamps. Meanwhile, Idaho, a majority-Republican state, has been heavily influenced by organizations such as Vaccination Liberation. The group’s head, Ingri Cassel, was married to the late Don Harkins, a Ron Paul supporter and 9/11 Truther, but her politics are unclear. She does, however, eschew doctors in favor of toxin-removing Cilantro Chelantion Pesto.

Among the most heavily vaccination-exempted counties in the country is Marin County, Calif., in the Bay Area. The county voted for the Democratic candidate for president by a margin of three-to-one in each of the last three election cycles, and only 18 percent of the county are registered Republicans. At some schools more than 50 percent of kindergartners have forgone vaccinations.

Numbers are even higher across California’s northern border, where private or charter schools in the Eugene area have exemption rates upwards of 60 percent. Not coincidentally, Eugene, Ore., has been called the “Best U.S. City for Hippies.” “From the city government to the Chamber of Commerce, hippies have infiltrated every aspect of the city,” wrote Estately.com. If you want to get a feel for the town, pick up Tom Wolfe’s 1968 The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, which follows Ken Kesey, author of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and his band of “Merry Pranksters.” Kesey called Eugene home — and attracted scores of hippies to the area, too.

Left-wing culture, from hippies to Whole Foods shoppers, is enamored of health-care pseudoscience — despite an overwhelming lack of scientific evidence for its effectiveness. Given that “with acupuncture the outcome does not depend on needle location or even needle insertion,” wrote David Colquhoun and Steven Novella in 2013 in Anesthesia and Analgesia, the journal of the International Anesthesia Research Society, “the only sensible conclusion is that acupuncture does not work.” They note that by 1822 Chinese emperor Dao Guang had forbidden the practice from the Imperial Medical Academy; it was revived under Mao Zedong in the 1960s to promote Chinese nationalism, and to compensate for the scarcity of trained doctors in the country — hardly evidence for its healing properties. But a practitioner is available on nearly every Bay Area block.

But there is little scientific evidence for the claims of most alternative remedies. In their 2009 book Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts about Alternative Medicine, Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst — the latter the world’s first “professor of complementary medicine,” at Great Britain’s University of Exeter — wrote:

With respect to homeopathy, the evidence points towards a bogus industry that offers patients nothing more than a fantasy. Chiropractors, on the other hand, might compete with physiotherapists in terms of treating some back problems, but all their other claims are beyond belief and can carry a range of significant risks. Herbal medicine undoubtedly offers some interesting remedies, but they are significantly outnumbered by the unproven, disproven and downright dangerous herbal medicines on the market.

Yet who continues to peddle these practices? The Left. Actress Olivia Newton-John, for example, complemented her breast-cancer chemotherapy in the 1990s with herbal supplements and acupuncture. Uma Thurman, a prominent Barack Obama supporter, subscribes to gemstone therapy. Gwyneth Paltrow has embraced cupping, which uses suction purportedly to increase blood flow and promote healing.

And, of course, there is Oprah Winfrey, whose media empire has talked up all sorts of medical fool’s gold. In 2009, the television host welcomed to her show actress Suzanne Somers, who discussed on air how she smothers herself with estrogen cream to resist menopause, detoxifies with chelation therapy, and consumes 60 vitamins daily. “Many people write Suzanne off as a quackadoo,” said Oprah. “But she just might be a pioneer.”

“Pioneering” is an odd way to describe a mindset that is stalwartly regressive. Those same people who criticize religious believers as “superstitious” are zealous believers in tending to the qi or in the healing properties of green coffee extract. Those same people who think the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is bunk perform ceremonies to Gaia.

It is not an assault on reason so much as a dismissal of it. The Left touts “science” when it is profitable or politically expedient, and ignores it when it is not; and if it notices the contradiction, it seems to not much care. What else could account for the fact that the same Robert F. Kennedy Jr. who wants to criminalize global warming skepticism maintains that there is “really, really strong science, overwhelming science” linking vaccinations in the 1990s to rising autism rates?

The nuts-and-berries crowd seems to be mostly nuts.

— Ian Tuttle is a William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow at National Review.

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