Tom Harkin Leaving the Senate
You've probably heard that Tom Harkin has announced that he will not be running for reelection to the Senate in 2014.
You may think of him as a reliably liberal and pro-union voice in the Senate, and you'd be right. What you might be less aware of is that he's also one of the best friends of quacks, health scammers, and the antiscientific mindset in Congress.
He was one of the main sponsors of the law that in 1994 removed all regulation for dietary supplements sold across the country. Among other things, what this law does is allow manufacturers to avoid almost all regulation and testing for their products while using code words to pretend that they will cure health conditions (e.g. "promotes normal cholesterol levels", "slow down the doubling time of your PSA (male prostate) levels when cancer is present").
Does this make a difference to people? Well, when a dietary supplement called ephedra was killing people that would seem to be kind of important, wouldn't it?
But that's not all. Harkin was also behind a measure to force the federal government to spend money on the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. In 1992 Harkin slipped a line in the report accompanying the NIH appropriations bill that created the NIH Office of Alternative Medicine with $1 million in seed money. (Bonus question: What do they call alternative medicine that works? A: Medicine.)
And in 2009 Harkin was able to slip a provision into the Affordable Care Act allowing for "alternative practitioners to be treated as health care workers. This despite the fact that the claims of "therapeutic touch" have been soundly disproven and exposed as fraudulent.
I kind of like Tom Harkin, but I won't miss Senator Woo.