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Who is the quack in this age of media quackery

I’m lucky. I have a number of friends and colleagues whom I have known for many years.
Michael Atkins, President, Northern Ontario Business,

I’m lucky. I have a number of friends and colleagues whom I have known for many years.

I remember what we used to talk about in different decades: women, sports, kids, movies, travel, business, boats, music, drinking, jokes (I don’t tell a good joke but am an eager listener), divorces, food, motorcycles, canoe trips, books, writing and politics.

What we did not talk about was health, unless it was an injury we could be proud of, pump up and dine out on. Something with a cast was best, or a good limp after a ski trip or tennis match.

That has changed. Most everyone I know of a certain age (let’s just say north of 60) has something health-related to talk about. Pathetic, really. One tries not to dwell.

With the aches and pains and occasional life-threatening event comes experience and, one hopes, a modicum of wisdom. Not always. There is an emerging divide around health-care priorities and how to deliver it. The most obvious battleground is Obamacare south of the border.
In Canada, and sometimes just as tendentious, is the discussion of just what is health care.

Like the divide in politics, where the rhetoric has become extreme and discussion agitated, so it is with health care. Ground zero, of course, is the discussion on vaccines.

For me, and more close to home, is the discussion of holistic medicine. My wife is a homeopath and our family has grown up with it as a touchstone. We have benefited immensely from her love and her profession.

Homeopathy has been around for more than 200 years and is practised around the world. The medicines are prepared through a dilution process which makes them safe and equally controversial. This is no doubt exacerbated by the coming proclamation of homeopathy as a regulated health profession in Ontario.

Although it is a small community, and hardly competitive with the installed base of big pharma and common medical practice, it seems to get under the skin of those who do not practise it.

A professor (Heather Boon) at the University of Toronto is mounting a clinical study on the impact of homeopathy on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It is apparently a well-engineered research paper and at first glance useful and potentially instructive in validating or invalidating, or at minimum shedding light (placebo, remedy, psychological intervention or some combination), on the positive response that has been noted anecdotally when children with ADHD are treated homeopathically.

More than 90 scientists have signed a petition to have the study discontinued. This is an extraordinary mobilization, even in the era of Facebook. Their spokesman is Joe Schwarcz, who is the director of McGill University’s Office for Science and Society funded by Canadian entrepreneur Lorne Trottier. Joe has a science radio talk show in Montreal and markets himself as a crusader against quackery. He said on CBC Radio the other day that, although he found no fault with the study’s methodology, he felt “If it is not worth doing, it is not worth doing well.”

I must say I was gobsmacked with this line of critical thinking.

It is not atypical of the kind of bullying that goes on in this subset of Canadian health care but it can usually be traced to more self-interested parties.

The fact that it works for many people should not be lost. At the this risk of being impolite, it needs to be remarked that in the last 10 years, major pharmaceutical companies have been fined well in excess of $10 billion for various criminal misdemeanors, including marketing pills for uses they have not been approved for, conducting research that was misleading, and paying kickbacks to physicians to prescribe their wares. Lives have been lost.

One can only hope the scientists lining up against homeopathy are as vigilant when it comes to fraud.

The issue here is academic freedom. It should not be trampled on or bullied when professionally managed.

Let’s see who stands up for Heather Boon.