Friday, March 18, 2011

#170: Tom Harkin

We have covered some Republican politicians in our Encyclopedia, so it is perhaps apt to include a Democrat as well. Tom Harkin is the junior United States Senator from Iowa and even tried his hand at running for president in 1992. He is, in general, considered relatively liberal among Democrats. But he has one drawback: He is a loon. This is not disclosed on his Wikipage.

Tom Harkin was a prime force behind the establishment of the National Center on Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). Why, one might wonder (if one is sane) would we need that insofar as the National Institutes of Health already study health science?

His comment in 2009 might be illuminating: “"One of the purposes of this center was to investigate and validate alternative approaches. Quite frankly, I must say publicly that it has fallen short. It think quite frankly that in this center and in the office previously before it, most of its focus has been on disproving things rather than seeking out and approving.” In other words, the mandate of NCCAM was not to investigate alternative practices, but to validate them (unfortunately for him, NCCAM has in practice, for the most part, deployed actual scientists and done actual experiments – no wonder he didn’t get the results he wanted). Senator Harkin has, in other words, no clue how science works, and not the slightest idea about what make scientific methods scientific.

Harkin’s favorite argument is of course the “freedom of choice” gambit: “It is time to end the discrimination against alternative health care practices” and “it is time to adopt an integrative approach that takes advantage of the very best scientifically based medicines and therapies, whether conventional or alternative.” To prove his point to the senate Harkin called on his expert witnesses: Mehmet Oz, Dean Ornish, Andrew Weil and Mark “I invoke Kuhn” Hyman. More here, and here.

Harkin also attempted to get this crap into Obama’s health care bill.

Representative John Dingell sponsored a similar “freedom” bill for faith healing, by the way. So Harkin is not alone among Democratic representatives who wage wars on science (something usually associated with the religious right).

Diagnosis: Since he often comes across as sensible, Harkin’s attacks on science are all the more dangerous for tending to fly under the radar of many otherwise sensible persons. But Harkin has no clue about science, and does not let that deter him from drawing on his own confirmation bias to pronounce on scientific issues. A moron, and a dangerous one.


  1. Looks like Harkin has announced that he won't take a new term. The announcement, and what it may mean for woo in politics (if anything), is discussed here.

  2. You need to make a correction in the Harkin entry. The National Center on Complementary and Alternative Medicine is a part of NIH. BTW, not all alternative medicine is lunacy. Alternative medicine includes acupuncture, yoga, mediation, and massage therapy. It's a stretch to call Harkin a loon based solely on his support for alternative medicine. If you're looking for Democrats who are loons, try James Traficant, a loon through and through.

    1. Then you need to make a better case for Harkin. Altmed is as good of a qualification for lunacy as creationism, and support of altmet exhibits the same kind of anti-science, denialist attitude. And it represents the same kind of threat. Harkin is definitely a villain.

      And all altmed is pseudoscience. The evidence suggests that acupuncture has no effect beyond placebo, and while yoga, meditation and massage therapy is good for stress release - i.e. have beneficial psychological effects - none of these activities have any positive medicinal effects; they don't and don't help cure any conditions, despite the claims of some promoters. Promoting these activities as medicine is pure woo.

  3. The biggest problem, I think, is if you go to NCCAM web page, it repeats proponents' claims about altmeds as if they are the research results. You have to dig almost impossibly far to get to the real tests.