Critical Evaluation of Journalism: Deadly and Dangerous Pseudoscience
The terrible and heart-breaking death of Ezekial Stephan has received much attention from journalists throughout Canada. Some of it has been unbiased coverage of the facts of the court hearings, but the public should be sure to apply critical evaluation of the sources of these news stories, as it is not always clear that the motivations of the journalists, or the people they choose to interview, are indeed fully transparent.
Dr. Terry Polevoy, a long-time friend and supporter of CFI Canada, has provided copies of his recent communications with Danielle Smith and Whitney Deane from Newstalk 770, an AM radio station in Calgary, Alberta. On the April 20, 2016 “Afternoons with Danielle Smith” show (a podcast version of their show is posted on their website; the relevant section begins at approximately 1hr25min), Danielle Smith interviewed Ian Stewart, a spokesperson for the Stephan family.
Dr. Polevoy, a retired pediatrician, has closely monitored this news item and was alarmed by the coverage by Afternoons with Danielle Smith.
Who is Ian Stewart
Danielle Smith introduced Stewart as a spokesperson for the Stephan family and a consultant to their business; what Smith did not do was clarify Stewart’s relationships to the Stephan family, to the pseudoscience industry. The following are several references that are easily obtained and should have been in Smith’s possession to inform her listeners:
- Since at least 2008, Ian Stewart has been an active lobbyist for Truehope Nutritional Support Inc: https://openparliament.ca/committees/health/39-2/28/ian-stewart-1/only/ . The above link quotes Stewart saying to a federal health committee: “Truehope Nutritional Support Ltd. is an Alberta-based non-profit organization that provides a unique nutritional supplement and program to Canadians who suffer from bipolar and other mood disorders. Truehope has had a long struggle with Health Canada. Co-founders Anthony Stephan and David Hardy appeared before this committee on May 16, 2005……
- On the website of the Natural Health Products Protection Association page ( http://nhppa.org/?page_id=8363) it is noted that Ian Stewart and Shawn Buckley (the Stephan’s lawyer) both serve on the NHPPA “team”; Stewart’s biography states: Ian Stewart has served the business community for many years, with administrative roles in both for-profit and not-for-profit sectors….. Ian is one of NHPPA’s founding Directors, he also currently serves as Director of Regulatory Affairs and First Nations Relations with the Truehope organization, and with Treaty Six Health Task Force Fundraising Committee. As the father of nine children, Ian retains a passion for the rights of families to care for themselves as they choose.
- Daniel Loxton, in Skeptic.com, covered issues relating to Ian Stewart. where Loxton “digs into a protest campaign that is fighting to block enforcement of Canada’s purity, safety, and labeling laws for natural health products — and discovers a shadowy business interest behind the faux consumer watchdog site organizing those protests.”
Statements by Danielle Smith when Challenged by Dr. Polevoy reveal her lack of both preparedness and understanding of the issue.
- …. if you think I’m going to take the position that we should be jailing parents who refuse vaccines, I’ll have to respectfully say I think that would be insane….
In the email exchange, Dr. Polevoy did not assert any specific position, he only questioned the journalist’s reporting. Her statement reveals a bias that she did not directly communicate in the live interview.
- ….I don’t think it was relevant to talk about the association he is part of because I did not have him on to talk about the merits of natural medicine. I had him on to talk about the factual medical testimony of the former Chief Medical Officer, who offered an alternative opinion on how Ezekial died. I am disappointed to see the media is selectively reporting testimony. I would have loved to interview an independent journalist on Anny Sauvageau’s testimony. Unfortunately no member of the media saw fit to cover it…
Here Smith reveals that she ignored her guest’s possible fiduciary motivations, which may be expected to have significantly influenced his opinions, and indicated that the only other option for her show would have been another journalist. In other words, her story appears to have been intended to be a re-statement of the testimony of Dr. Sauvageau and not a balanced investigation of whether Dr. Sauvageau’s testimony was factual and valid in the first place.
- …. .As you know bacteria and viruses are not the same thing: you seem to be confusing the two. If Ezekial had indeed died of bacterial meningitis, a vaccine would not have helped. Vaccines are for viruses. Antibiotics are used to treat bacteria. It is also not easy to diagnose bacterial meningitis, despite what you claim. You need to do a painful spinal tap, and that was not done in Ezekial’s case….
Smith apparently felt comfortable enough in her knowledge of medicine to attempt to educate a retired pediatrician! An attempt that ultimately fails given that the Hib vaccine, which protects against what once was the “leading cause of bacterial meningitis among children under 5 years old”, acts against the Haemophilus Influenzae Type B bacterium (http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/vis/vis-statements/hib.html)Also, of the 4 standard infant vaccines (dipptheria, polio, tetanus, pertussis), all but the polio vaccine are against bacteria!
- It is irresponsible for the media to only report one side of this story, especially when the parents face the potential of going to jail. You can disagree strongly all you like, but railroading this couple in the court of public opinion is not good journalism in my opinion.
Smith appears to understand the responsibility journalists have to avoid reporting only a single side of a story. However, this does not mean that equal measure must be given to all interested parties. The practice of “false balance” has been abandoned by responsible journalists as it provides equal weight to undeserving views. Smith also failed to:
- Disclose her personal bias during the broadcast
- provide balanced coverage in the interviews
- Disclose all of her guest’s background and history that directly relate to the story.
- interview experts who are in a position to evaluate the testimony of Dr. Sauvageau
- understand the medical information, which she revealed as she attempted to correct a qualified physician
- establish Stewart’s credentials as someone qualified to comment on Dr. Sauvageau’s testimony
- establish Stewart’s ability to state (as a witness) what did or did not happen at the time of Ezekial Stephan’s death
While CFIC retains copies of the extended dialogue between Dr. Polevoy and the team at Afternoons with Danielle Smith for our records, it is not pertinent to this article to publish all the material. Whether Stewart was adequately identified as a spokesperson for the Stephan family is a debatable point, but Smith’s comment to Dr. Polevoy that listeners “could factor that in as they listened to the interview” (referring to his bias) is very questionable given Smith’s enthusiastic engagement of Stewart. CFIC would support Smith’s implied interest to avoid “railroading” The Stephan family. All Canadians deserve full, transparent and unbiased journalistic coverage of science, health and criminal matters. It appears unlikely that they will find it at sources such as “Afternoons with Danielle Smith”.