Sunday, April 22, 2018

#2001: Barbara Mikulski

Barbara Mikulski served as Senator (D-Maryland) for some thirty years between 1987 and 2017 – and was ten years in the House of Representatives before that – and is currently a professor of public policy at Johns Hopkins University. 

For our purposes, Mikulski is notable for her support of quackery. In 2013, Mikulski was the main force behind US Senate Resolution 221 declaring October 7 to 13 to be the “Naturopathic Medicine Week”. Naturopathic medicine is , of course, not medicine. Naturopathic medicine is quackery. Nevertheless, the aim of the Naturopathic Medicine Week was recognition of “the value of naturopathic medicine in providing safe, effective, and affordable health care.” Naturopathic Medicine is neither effective, nor particularly affordable, nor necessarily safe, of course. Of course, we do ought to recognize that it isn’t, but that was hardly what Mikulski had in mind. (A House Resolution with the same text was apparently introduced by Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, but it did apparently not go anywhere.)

Mikulski herself was for a long time a close ally of the Senate’s big godfather of woo, Tom Harkin. Back when Obamacare was being debated, Harkin and Mikulski were the main drivers behind inserting into the law provisions that could be used to ensure that CAM practitioners would be reimbursed. Also with Harkin, Mikulski co-chaired a meeting at the Institute of Medicine to promote “integrative medicine”; more on those efforts here. Mikulski has also participated in numerous events supporting the legal and political recognizition of quackery, such as the 20thanniversary celebration of the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine. “If we can change medicine, we can change the world,” said Mikulski, which is of course true even given the changes she suggested, but not in a good way. Heck, Mikulski has even appeared on Dr. Oz’s (then) radio show to promote integrative medicine as some sort of solution to any and every problem in American medicine.

Mikulski and Harkin repeated the Naturopathic Medicine Week resolution in 2014. This time they emphasized the problem of chronic diseases in the US, which is, indeed, a problem, but which – contrary to their assertions – naturopathy does nothing whatsoever to remedy (quite the opposite). According to Mikulski and Harkin:

-      Naturopathic medicine provides noninvasive [yeah, right], holistic treatments that support the inherent self-healing capacity of the human body and encourage self-responsibility in health care,” which – except arguably the last bit – is false.
-      Naturopathic medicine focuses on patient-centered care, the prevention of chronic illnesses, and early intervention in the treatment of chronic illnesses,” suggesting falsely that conventional medicine does not; the realdifference is, of course, that conventional medicine actually helps.
-      Naturopathic physicians attend 4-year, graduate level programs that are accredited by agencies approved by the Department of Education;” which is nominally true (but dishonest) but says nothing about the quality of naturopathic education, which is garbage.
-      Aspects of naturopathic medicine have been shown to lower the risk of major illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes;” which cannot be characterized as anything but a blatant lie.
-      Naturopathic physicians can help address the shortage of primary care providers in the United States,” which is false – but it is deeply frightening that someone in Harkin’s and Mikulski’s positions of influence would even consider a strategy like this (but they do; this is some scary stuff).
-      Naturopathic physicians are licensed in 20 States and territories;” indeed, which tells one a bit about how little licensing reflects evidence, truth or facts.
-      Naturopathic physicians are trained to refer patients to conventional physicians and specialists when necessary;” even though many of them will go to great lengths to avoid precisely that.

This time, a similar bill did indeed pass in the House, again sponsored by Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC-At Large) and cosponsored by Matt Salmon (R-AZ), Sam Farr (D-CA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and Frank LaBiondo (R-NJ).

At least follow-up efforts have met with mixed results. You can read more about Harkin’s and Mikulski’s (and other Senators’ and Representatives’) war on facts, evidence and health here.

Diagnosis: Probably even more frightening than the anti-science and fundamentalism of the religious right (creationism is fringe-nonsense compared to this kind of pseudoscience), at least Mikulski is no longer in the Senate to promote denialism, quackery and efforts to undermine health-care. Unfortunately, there are plenty of others to fill her shoes.


  1. Excuse me. But if you find the time could you do one on misogynistic kook Robert sheaffer?

  2. Wow. I did not know this, and that's a shame. I used to be a big supporter of hers (even though she's not from my state) because she seemed to be one of the few Congresscritters who was serious about making sure NASA got adequate funding. And she's a woo-meister? Dang.

    1. Given her anti-science and anti-med bent documented above, my inner cynic says Mikulski's only care about NASA is that a sizable block of her constituency worked at Goddard Space Flight Center. :P