An Open Letter to CBC's Peter Mansbridge from Prof. Timothy Caulfield
Dear Peter Mansbridge:
I couldn’t sleep last night. And it is your fault.
The last thing I watched before I went to bed was The National’s new health panel. And it left me we a deep feeling of despair. I couldn’t shake the sensation that we are slipping into some kind of bizarre all-knowledge-is-relative Dark Age.
The panel has three “experts”, including the terrific and science-based Danielle Martin and Ali Zentner. The third is Bryce Wylde, a self-described homeopathic doctor (he has a diploma from the Ontario College of Homeopathic Medicine) and advocate for, among a host of other scientifically unproven therapies, “natural health” and supplementation.
Now, I don’t know Wylde. He seems like a nice, engaging individual – particularly when he is on Dr. Oz talking about how he “travels the globe in search of Mother Nature’s fountain of youth”. He does this with a mixture of scientific-sounding babble (“vasodilate blood to the brain”?) and everything-natural-is-good boyish enthusiasm. He is, no doubt about it, entertaining.
But including an advocate of homeopathic medicine – one of the most derided and scientifically preposterous of alternative therapies – on a national and highly respected TV news program as a “medical expert” and legitimate source of evidence-based health information is simply wrong. He wasn’t presented as an outsider. His views were not cast as extreme and scientifically questionable. And this was not Dr. Oz, Oprah or an infomercial.
The inclusion of Wylde on this panel is a wonderful (and depressing) example of the phenomenon of false balance. Naturally, it is always good to keep an open mind and to get different perspectives on important issues. I suspect that was the goal the CBC had in mind when they decided to include Wylde. But using a homeopath to comment on biomedical issues is like using an astrologer to balance the views of Stephen Hawking.
I won’t dissect the scientifically questionable comments he made on The National – such as his advocacy of supplements (which he markets on his website – a practice that creates an obvious conflict of interest) and his statements about the health value of organic food. I am more concerned about the impact of putting this perspective on a respected show like The National. It legitimizes pseudoscientific ideas – which may have serious adverse health consequences – and makes it more difficult for the public to differentiate between real and junk science.
The CBC decision is particularly frustrating given that there are so many wonderful, science-based health scholars in Canada, including many who explore the issues associated with and evidence surrounding alternative therapies (such as Drs. Heather Boon at the University of Toronto and Sunita Vohra at the University of Alberta).
So, Mr. Mansbridge, I sincerely hope you look for a different, science-based, commentator for your health panel. I need the sleep.
Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy
Author of The Cure for Everything: Untangling the Twisted Messages about Health, Fitness and Happiness