The current anti-Harper fad in the progressive community is well and good, but I think it’s equally important to remember that the Conservatives are only the current manifestation of a pro-business, anti-government movement which has, in its present form, simply co-opted the social conservative movement. (Notice that the government is very much concerned with the usual business agenda but has dropped any pretence of being genuinely interested in the more social issues of the conservative agenda.) It was Liberal cuts, not Conservative ones, that brought us most of the way to where we are today.
In this contempt and dismissal of ordinary Canadians, the bureaucracy has been one of the political elites’ staunchest allies. Despite the long struggles to build an independent and nonpartisan civil service a century ago, the present crop of managers has surrendered their independence and integrity. Now they are the government’s chief aide in preparing pathetically insincere press releases and deceptive statistics. Although it is only a minor issue (many people will have never heard of it), recently it occurred to me that Health Canada’s criminally irresponsible homeopathy policy stands out as a remarkable case in point.
Homeopathy, as you may know, is an “alternative” medicine which has three basic claims: (1) diseases are the result of distortions in the body’s energy field, not bacteria or viruses; (2) to cure disease, you should take a toxin that causes the same symptoms as the disease; and (3) to make this toxin stronger and more effective, you should water it down. There are now hundreds of homeopathic “remedies,” for everything from the common cold to cancer. Invariably some sound ridiculous: because of Principle 2, homeopaths try to treat insomnia with watered-down stimulants, so caffeine is a homeopathic sleep aide. I kid you not.
Homeopathic dilutions are very specific: you must dilute one part of the original with 10 or 100 parts water, and each time you do it, you must shake it back and forth. 10X medicine, for instance, has been diluted 10 parts water to 1 part original, 10 times over, leaving you with a substance that is one ten-billionth medicine and all the rest water. According to homeopaths, this is still far too weak a solution. Modern homeopathic remedies have strengths like 200X or 300X. By this time it is so diluted that you would be unlikely to have a single atom of the medicine left even if your sample size was as large as the Earth.
Obviously this is a classic case of junk science, and you would think that when such superstitious, pseudo-scientific claptrap ran up against the country’s public health bureaucracy, the latter would show it the door very quickly. You would be wrong. Instead Health Canada has a special process set up to help homeopathic drugs get an indication and a Drug Identification Number — a formal approval from the government that the drug is authorized for sale and that it appears to be both safe and effective against disease.
If you subjected it to the rigorous screening trials required of real drugs, inevitably it would fail. So Health Canada has even set up a special process for approving homeopathic medicines, under which clinical proof of effectiveness is optional. Alternatively, producers can submit a bibliography of homeopathic literature as “proof” that the drug is safe and effective. The bibliography doesn’t have to include clinical trials either, by the way. In fact, the policy actually encourages companies to seek out and list obscure 19th-century quack science textbooks as “proof” of their new drug.
The above is just plain silly. But here’s the kicker. Because homeopathic medicines are supposed to cause the symptoms in a healthy person that they prevent in a sick person, invariably many of them are actually dangerous poisons, like arsenic, strychnine, etc. Health Canada has taken special precautions to keep Canadians safe: they require all remedies made with a dangerous or controlled substance to be diluted to at least 24X (10 to the 24th power).
People who remember chemistry class will immediately know why Health Canada chose this number. It’s not random. Statistically speaking, this is the point at which a dilution moves from probably containing one atom of the original drug to probably containing no atoms of the original drug. In other words, if you want to register a homeopathic medicine in Canada, you may need to prove that there is probably no chemical difference between your “drug” and a simple glass of cold water.
People with a chemistry background will also instantly recognize that if Health Canada knows enough to set its bar at 24X, they also know that homeopathy is bullshit to begin with. After all, according to homeopaths, when you dilute a toxin, you make its effects stronger, not weaker. In the end, Health Canada chose science: they said that a homeopathic remedy has to be weak enough to be chemically meaningless. But according to homeopathy, a higher dilution is actually a stronger medicine. Since by its own standards homeopathy is a genuine medication, Health Canada is mandating poisonously high drug concentrations.
They’re not, of course. And they know they’re not. Which leads to the question: why the hell is the Canadian government handing out drug approvals to homeopaths when it knows the drugs don’t work?Tweet