Thursday, June 13, 2019

#2203: Bernie Sanders

Thomas and Manju Sam are Australian, but their story is worth highlighting nonetheless, insofar as it provides a useful foil for the present entry.

Now, it will probably come as little surprise to readers that the authors of this blog have an overall very favorable view of Bernie Sanders’s candidacy for the type of position he is seeking. Nevertheless, despite his redeeming qualities, we should not overlook some serious flaws (and we’re not thinking about some questionable views on sexual repression and cancer he held 50 years ago): Sanders’s history of supporting medical quackery is rather disconcerting, as illustrated for instance by his 2013 sponsorship of a bill that would waste plenty of government dollars on totally ineffective and unsafe woo. But Sanders’s support for woo has been pretty consistent throughout his career (some background here and many details here), and in 2010, for instance, he said that “to me, the increasing integration of CAM and conventional care just makes sense. Research shows that more people are demanding and turning to integrative care because it parallels their personal values and desire to be treated as a whole personFor a wide variety of reasons, more and more people are not simply content to go to a doctor’s office, get a diagnosis and take a pill. They want to know what the cause of their medical problem is and how, when possible, it can be best alleviated through natural, non-invasive or non-pharmaceutical means.” Note for instance the appeal to popularity, the appeal to nature and the rather alarming dogwhistles about how quacks (as opposed to real medical professionals) will treat the “whole person” and the suggestion that quacks, also as opposed to real medical professionals, will get to the “cause of [someone’s] medical problem” (Sanders later suggested that altmed, as opposed to real medicine, focuses on prevention – se no. 21 here). Of course, alternative medicine practitioners don’t treat the whole person and won’t get to the cause of anything (see no. 13 here) – real doctors, however, demonstrably do – but those claims nevertheless constitute the core of the alternative medicine narrative, and the fact that Sanders is adept enough at using these dog whistles to blow all three in rapid succession should be a serious cause for concern.

Sanders is also often credited with inserting a provision requiring licensed CAM professions to be included as part of the healthcare workforce into the ACA. In 2013, he co-sponsored (the main culprit here seems to have been Richard Blumenthal) several bills before the U.S. Congress to expand the availability of quackery to military veterans and funding CAM research at the expense of legitimate research. Fortunately, they failed to pass. Sanders can, however, be at least partially blamed for getting naturopaths licensed in Vermont.

And it is not like he has given up on woo ideas. In November 2015, for instance, Sanders apparently praised holistic and alternative medicine at a meeting of the Veteran’s Administration, claiming that “the increasing integration of Chinese medicine and yoga, for example, as bright spots in a largely dysfunctional American health care system.” Well, his diagnosis of the health care system might be apt, but adding traditional Chinese medicine (“neither traditional nor medicine”) is not going to bring about any positive changes.

He also supports GMO labelling, which is a Trojan horse for the anti-GMO movement (

Diagnosis: Compared to some of his most obvious political opponents, including climate-change denying, antivaccine conspiracy theorist presidential incumbents, Sanders’s commitment to woo may not come across as particularly harmful. They need to be exposed, however, and should be a cause of concern.


  1. Oh, THIS one is gonna set off some internet rage when it gets out...

  2. Political reddit mods will scrub it inside of 5 minutes as "off topic", "spam", or - my favorite - "soapboxing" because no facts that make Bernie look bad are allowed to be discussed.

  3. A politician turns out to be a snake oil salesman. What a surprise.

  4. It's possible he's using CAM as an onboarding effort targeted at middle-class woo proponents; the real danger would be allowing reimbursement of woo pushers - that would open the floodgates of fraud & snake oil.