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Ron Paul: Quackery enabler

Lately, bloggers, including some of my fellow ScienceBloggers, have been expressing various concerns about the phenomenon that is Ron Paul, the Republican candidate who’s ridden a wave of discontent to do surprisingly well in the polls leading up to the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries. First, Jake and Greg have pointed out that Ron Paul apparently does not accept the theory of evolution. The other day, Ed Brayton and Sara Robinson discussed a story about an open letter by Bill White, the leader of the American Socialist Workers’ Party, in which White claimed that Paul and his aides regularly met with members of neo-Nazi groups like Stormfront (which has endorsed Paul for President and on whose discussion boards Paul is quite popular) and Holocaust denial organizations like the Institute for Historical Review (which has also approvingly cited at least one speech by Paul). Moreover, it’s been pointed out that Ron Paul has accepted donations from white supremacists and after being informed of its origin has not given the money back or donated it to a cause opposed to Nazi-ism as demonstration of his distaste. Whether these criticisms of close ties to neo-Nazi groups are justified or not one thing that’s certain is that it doesn’t help Paul’s case that some of his less slick defenders are blaming Bill White’s letter on an Israeli plot and that one of his staunchest defenders is David Duke. (Talk about shooting your ally in the foot!) It also doesn’t help Paul’s case that he makes pronouncements that Israel is trying to get the U.S. to go to war with Iran and that the U.N. wants to “confiscate our firearms.”

I’ve come across Bill White‘s antics from time to time before, and he is clearly a liar of the first order, so much so that even his fellow mighty white power rangers don’t trust him. Consequently, I don’t put much stock in his letter, particularly given the dearth of evidence from independent sources corroborating any of his claims. That being said, there is still a problem with Ron Paul even among libertarians, over the question of whether he is a racist. Although Razib has a more sympathetic take on the issue, from my perspective David Neiwert crystallized well my concerns about Ron Paul a while back as someone who’s been interested in Holocaust denial (which virtually all neo-Nazi groups like Stormfront and National Vanguard espouse) and has followed these issues for a while:

But this isn’t “guilt by association” — first, the argument isn’t that Paul is a racist per se, but that he is an extremist who shares a belief system held not just by racists but other anti-government zealots as well. Paul is identified with their causes not simply because he speaks to them, but because he elucidates ideas and positions — especially regarding the IRS, the UN, the gold standard, and education — identical to theirs. This is why he has their rabid support. There is an underlying reason, after all, that Paul attracts backers like David Duke and the Stormfront gang: he talks like them.

Second and perhaps most importantly, there are legitimate reasons for anyone to raise objections to Paul’s associations, speaking before the Patriot Network, the CofCC, and similar groups — he’s a public official, and he is lending the power of his public office to legitimizing radical-right organizations like this. Think of why it would be wrong to appear before the Klan, or the CofCC, as Trent Lott and Hayley Barbour have done in the latter case.

(More here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)

I don’t want to rehash this issue more than I’ve already done, though, as many others are better at commenting on politics than I am. What I do want to bring to the attention of my readers is something different about Ron Paul. What concerns me about him almost as much as his disingenuous “I accept their support and money but really, really don’t like them” evasions vis-à-vis white supremacist, neo-Nazi, and “patriot” groups is an aspect of his beliefs that I almost never see discussed about him in the standard political outlets and blogs. What concerns me is what Ron Paul would very likely do in the healthcare arena if elected.

What concerns me is that Ron Paul is an enabler and arguably even a supporter of quackery.

Why do I say this? After all, Paul is a physician, having graduated from Duke University and trained in internal medicine at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, switching to an obstetrics and gynecology residency at the University of Pittsburgh after a stint in the Air Force. Of course, it is sadly not uncommon for physicians to turn to the Dark Side, and it turns out that not only is Ron Paul the candidate of choice for some rather disturbing political groups, but he’s also the candidate of choice for a wide variety of quacks and quack-friendly websites. Truly, crank magnetism is at work here!

For example, here’s what woo-meister supreme Dr. Joseph Mercola, who runs one of the most popular “alternative” medicine sites on the Internet, which is chock full of misinformation and hypocrisy, says about Paul in a gushing article:

Ron Paul (R-Texas) has the power and the integrity to impact your health freedom, should he win the 2008 presidential elections. This is why I was thrilled to hear, and wanted to share with you, Paul’s unprecedented outpouring of support that earned him over $4 million in just 24 hours.

This sets a record for one-day online fundraising by any candidate.

The fundraising drive was appropriately tied to Guy Fawkes Day (November 5), which is a British holiday commemorating the failure of a plot against the government. The day was undoubtedly chosen because Ron Paul supports the principles of the Constitution — and limited government involvement.

What does this mean for your health? Just as I encourage you to Take Control of Your Health, Ron Paul seeks to maximize your individual freedom, including those basic rights that pertain to your health.

Already, Paul introduced a bill (The Health Freedom Protection Act) that would strongly and positively affect and many other natural health organizations and advocates, along with the field of natural health in general.

Not to be outdone, über-crank Mike Adams of Newstarget (whom we’ve met before many times) really, really, really loves Ron Paul for President:

Only Ron Paul believes in genuine health freedom. He’s the creator of the Health Freedom Protection Act, a bill that would reestablish Free Speech provisions for makers of superfoods, herbs, nutritional supplements and other natural remedies. Under the HFPA, those individuals would be able to state scientifically-validated facts about the health benefits of their products right on the bottle! Today, the FDA doesn’t allow that. All truthful statements about nutritional supplements are presently censored! (It’s a way to protect Big Pharma and keep the American people ignorant about how plant-based medicines can prevent and even cure degenerative disease.)

If elected, Ron Paul would work to restore genuine health freedom in this country, giving consumers access to accurate, scientifically-validated information about how cherries can ease arthritis inflammation, for example, or how pomegranates can prevent prostate cancer, or how broccoli sprouts can prevent breast cancer. There are thousands of healing medicines in plant (herbs, foods, superfoods, etc.), and the public currently isn’t being allowed to know about any of their benefits. It’s a state of outright censorship promoted by the Big Pharma/FDA criminal partnership, and Ron Paul is the only candidate with a realistic shot at winning who would put an end to it.

I was wondering how many times Adams could work the term “scientifically-validated information” into his pitch. Of course, to Adams and other “health freedom” activists, “scientifically validated” means something a bit different than it does to most medical scientists. To Adams, if his site is any indication, “scientifically validated” means “there is a study in a scientific journal somewhere that says my favorite supplement prevents or cures disease.” The concept of looking at the totality of the literature to see whether such results are reproducible and widely accepted by science is alien to him. (If there’s only one study, then the rest are being “suppressed” by big pharma, naturally!) Dr. Paul’s claim that “all truthful statements about nutritional supplements are presently censored” is also a load of crap. What’s prohibited is unsupportable claims. (Or maybe Paul’s correct and it’s only lies about nutritional supplements that are permitted; certainly if late night infomercials are any indication, that would seem to be the case.)

Yes, Ron Paul is very popular among the quack-friendly set, particularly those tending to see a conspiracy between the FDA, FTC, and big pharma to keep them from selling their favorite nostrums. There’s good reason for that, given how staunch a supporter of “health freedom” he’s been over the years. What a wonderfully Orwellian term! After all, who could be against “health freedom”? If you are, you’re against freedom! It’s like being against free speech, mom, the flag, and apple pie. In actuality, “health freedom” is nothing more than a clever catch phrase that in effect describes measures that allow quacks the freedom to hawk their wares unfettered by pesky interference from the FDA or FTC. Perhaps the most notorious example of “health freedom” laws that have been passed is the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA). This is a law that emasculated the FDA in its ability to protect the public from dangerous supplements by reclassifying supplements as “food” or “nutrition” rather than drugs. Never mind that manufacturers of many supplements make blatantly drug-like claims for their products. The FDA can’t do anything about it, as long as the claims are carefully worded so as not to suggest that the product or ingredient is “intended for prevention or treatment of disease.” Since the DSHEA, it’s been more or less the wild, wild West out there as far as supplements go. Not surprisingly, Ron Paul is very much a supporter of this law, opposing any attempts to weaken its protections for the supplement industry’s ability to make dubious health claims for its products.

But that’s not all. Ron Paul is also the sponsor of the Foods Are Not Drugs Act (also known as the Consumer Health Free Speech Act), which would add the six words “other than foods, including dietary supplements” to the statutory definition of “drug,” allowing food and dietary supplement producers even wider latitude to make drug claims for supplements than they have now–as if the DSHEA didn’t provide wide enough latitude already. Perhaps Dr. Paul’s most notorious contribution to “health freedom” comes in his sponsorship of the Health Freedom Protection Act, which he introduced with a flourish of conspiracy-mongering:

The American people have made it clear they do not want the federal government to interfere with their access to dietary supplements, yet the FDA and the FTC continue to engage in heavy-handed attempts to restrict such access. The FDA continues to frustrate consumers’ efforts to learn how they can improve their health even after Congress, responding to a record number of constituents’ comments, passed the Dietary Supplement and Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA). FDA bureaucrats are so determined to frustrate consumers’ access to truthful information that they are even evading their duty to comply with four federal court decisions vindicating consumers’ First Amendment rights to discover the health benefits of foods and dietary supplements.


The Health Freedom Protection Act will force the FDA to at last comply with the commands of Congress, the First Amendment, and the American people by codifying the First Amendment standards adopted by the federal courts. Specifically, the Health Freedom Protection Act stops the FDA from censoring truthful claims about the curative, mitigative, or preventative effects of dietary supplements, and adopts the federal court’s suggested use of disclaimers as an alternative to censorship. The Health Freedom Protection Act also stops the FDA from prohibiting the distribution of scientific articles and publications regarding the role of nutrients in protecting against disease.

This is, of course, utter bunk. The distribution of scientific articles is not prohibited. What is prohibited is cherry picking the literature for articles to use in advertisements to support unfounded claims that supplements can cure or prevent disease. But, his apparently dull facade notwithstanding, Dr. Paul is a master of spin, if nothing else. He’s quick to wrap his support for quackery in the mantle of the First Amendment:

This legislation also addresses the FTC’s violations of the First Amendment. Under traditional First Amendment jurisprudence, the federal government bears the burden of proving an advertising statement false before censoring that statement. However, the FTC has reversed the standard in the case of dietary supplements by requiring supplement manufactures to satisfy an unobtainable standard of proof that their statement is true. The FTC’s standards are blocking innovation in the marketplace.

The Health Freedom Protection Act requires the government bear the burden of proving that speech could be censored. This is how it should be in a free, dynamic society. The bill also requires that the FTC warn parties that their advertising is false and give them a chance to correct their mistakes.

Right. Because the FTC and FDA are so effective in prosecuting manufacturers and supplement sellers for making exaggerated claims. That must be why Kevin Trudeau, after having been convicted of just such behavior, is now out there, happy as a pig in mud, hauling in money hand over fist selling books that make all sorts of exaggerated or false claims for dietary supplements and various “alternative” therapies. It’s probably why woo-meisters like Dr. Mercola and Mike Adams run popular and profitable websites hawking supplements and various other unscientific remedies with apparently no interference from the FDA.

But, then, what do I know? No doubt Ron Paul supporters will label me a pharma shill for having the temerity to point these things out about their hero.

Another dubious “health freedom” law that Dr. Paul strongly supports is the Access to Medical Treatment Act, which would permit medical practitioners to “provide any treatment that the individual desires” that does not violate licensing laws. Practitioners may provide the treatment if: (a) it is not known to be directly harmful, (b) the patient is given written notice that the treatment is not government approved, and (c) written information is provided about the nature, anticipated benefits, and foreseeable side effects of the treatment. The Act would also require that dangerous outcomes be reported to the Secretary of Health and Human Services and that beneficial outcomes be reported to the NIH Office of Alternative Medicine (as if quacks would actually be able to recognize, much less would report accurately, “dangerous outcomes”). This bill is cleverly represented as an means of preserving patient freedom, but its real purpose is clearly to prevent government interference with unscientific practitioners who use unproven therapies. All a practitioner would have to do would be to have the patient sign a disclaimer before administering a useless treatment, and, aside from the case of a truly horrific “therapeutic misadventure,” he would be practically untouchable by the FDA or FTC.

Finally, if you peruse the “Health Freedom” section of Ron Paul’s campaign website, you’ll find even more reasons why the quack-loving contingent swoons over him. A little New World Order conspiracy-mongering starts things off:

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in order to comply with standards dictated by supra-national organizations such as the UN’s World Food Code (CODEX), NAFTA, and CAFTA, has been assuming greater control over nutrients, vitamins and natural health care providers to restrict your right to choose the manner in which you manage your health and nutritional needs.

Scary. I wonder when the black helicopters are coming.

But Paul’s not done yet:

I oppose legislation that increases the FDA’s legal powers. FDA has consistently failed to protect the public from dangerous drugs, genetically modified foods, dangerous pesticides and other chemicals in the food supply. Meanwhile they waste public funds attacking safe, healthy foods and dietary supplements.

Not surprisingly, Dr. Paul opposes mandatory vaccinations, as well. I wonder if he’s a member of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, publisher of that repository of crank medical “science” and right-wing political posturing, that cornucopia of antivaccination pseudoscience and downright vileness, anti-immigrant screeds, dubious studies claiming to link abortion with breast cancer that we’ve all come to know and ridicule, the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons. It sounds as though he would fit right in. Wait a minute! He is and does! In any case, if you think the FDA can’t adequately protect the public from dangerous drugs now, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet if by some unpleasant quirk of fate Ron Paul wins the Presidency and enacts policies consistent with some of the things he’s said about the FDA, such as, “I don’t think we’d all die of unsafe food if we didn’t have the FDA. Someone else would do it.”

In some ways, it’s easy to see why Ron Paul attracts strong support from certain significant segments of the American electorate. His opposition to the war in Iraq is perhaps the premier reason, as it resonates with both the left and the right. Some of his libertarian views appeal to conservatives and liberals, as do what are viewed as his anti-“New World Order” foreign policy proposals and attacks on the encroachment of the post-9/11 security state, the latter of which, I must admit, appeals to me. The problem is that there’s just too much other baggage associated with his positions on theses issues, and that baggage is full of cranks. For one thing, Paul’s religion sets the limits of his libertarianism, leading him to support much of the Christian right agenda. For another thing, Paul courts the support of the most reactionary wing of the libertarian movement. Meanwhile he accepts neo-Nazi money and makes lame excuses for doing so; published racist tracts back in the 1990s; made a nutcase like Lew Rockwell his Chief of Staff; not only supports, but actively promotes quackery-friendly legislation designed to neutralize the FTC and FDA; and doesn’t accept evolution. This confluence of crankery makes it very hard for me to find any way to conclude that Paul’s opposition to the war and the abuses of federal power resulting from it can possibly overcome such powerful negatives. It’s even harder for me not to come to the conclusion that he is, on many issues, a crank par excellence, which is, of course, almost certainly why he exhibits such powerful crank magnetism. Electing Ron Paul would be electing a major crank to the Presidency and hoping that only the sane parts of his agenda are enacted into law and policy.

Good luck with that.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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