World Homeopathy Awareness Week started this past Tuesday, probably because Tuesday is an infinitely diluted Monday. It’s kind of like Breast Cancer Awareness Week in that the thing we’re supposed to be more aware of suffers a major PR blow from all that awareness. But they’re different in that homeopaths are perversely proud of their special week while cancerous cells tend to not promote theirs.
There are tons of skeptical bloggers a lot smarter and more qualified than me writing about homeopathy this week. Specifically they’re going to be writing about how we know homeopathy can’t possibly work in this Universe, that it’s nothing but a placebo, and that when you analyze homeopaths’ claims about how their “remedies” work you’ll find they embody the flimsiest brand of magical thinking out there. So I’ll leave that stuff for others to explain.
The way I’d like to contribute to World Homeopathy Awareness Week is to try to correct a common misconception about where homeopathy enthusiasts and other proponents of alternative medicine fall on the political spectrum and what kind of politics enable quackery.
What we normally hear is that the left is mostly responsible for giving the alties a political safe haven. There’s some evidence for this, especially in how the Green Party’s platform explicitly promotes alternative medicine. Places we think of as liberal seem to have lots of problems with alternative medicine, like the pertussis outbreak in southern California which may be fueled by antivaccine hysteria. Sometimes the more unscrupulous homeopaths will sell a “homeopathic immunization” to parents who have been made victims of antivaxers’ fear-mongering.
While the GP is clearly on the left, they only really appeal to a small segment of the American left. It’s all been downhill for them since 2000, when they went from what looked like might turn into a real opposition party to a marginalized group of cranks and losers. When it comes to Presidential races, they went from nominating a longtime consumer advocate who’s spent his life fighting corporate power to nominating a neutered “safe states” candidate to nominating a 9/11 “truther.” It’s been sad to watch, and the number of people willing to vote for them has reduced accordingly.
On the other hand, the alt-med industry advertises almost exclusively on right-wing talk radio. Alex Jones. Jeff Rense. Glenn Beck. All those guys screaming into a microphone about how the UN and teh Jooz are going to take away our guns and destroy America with secularism, liberalism, and The Gay are funded largely by alternative medicine advertisements. Just listen to any of their shows and you’ll get smacked by a giant wall of alt-med Stupid at every commercial break.
And what kind of advertisements do you hear in left-leaning news shows? From my own experience, it’s mostly audiobooks and tech companies and harmless stuff like that. I haven’t heard anyone pushing homeopathy in any news shows I regularly listen to. But it’s inescapable whenever I listen to the right wing for a laugh.
Back when WorldNetDaily contributor and AM talk radio host Michael Savage used his real name Michael Weiner (he now usually goes by Savage Weiner), he wrote several books about how homeopathy is awesome. The “Health Ranger” Mike Adams of the Natural News fever dream / website is a guest host for Alex Jones’s show. Donald Trump and Michele Bachmann, both serious Republican Presidential candidates for a time, are anti-vaccination. Rush Limbaugh endorsed a homeopathic product which was later taken off the market because it contained an active ingredient (zinc) which destroyed the user’s sense of smell. Any one of those names carry far more weight for conservatives than two Green Parties would for lefties.
And it makes more sense for alternative medicine to proliferate in conservative narratives. Conservatives – and I’m generalizing a bit here – tend to believe that government’s more ineffective and evil than otherwise. The alternative medicine industry thrives on this idea that it’s being unfairly persecuted by the corrupt government, specifically the FDA. So it would make more sense to market such products to conservatives than to liberals, who would generally say that government regulation is a good idea that works more often than not.
I think we get this misconception of homeopathy being mostly in the domain of lefty hippies largely from an imposed false equivalence. As skeptics we see Republican evangelical Christians attacking climate science and evolution and have a need to balance this out by attributing other kinds of pseudoscience to their liberal counterparts. But in doing so we’re ignoring how prevalent that same garbage is all across the political spectrum.
The point is that the right wing is just awash in every kind of woo out there. It’s not that we have pseudoscience for conservatives and other pseudoscience for liberals. It’s more accurate to say that we have some crap only conservatives believe, like creationism and climate change denialism; and we have other crap like homeopathy which is only a mostly conservative thing.