Timothy Caulfield is a Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta where he is paid by Canadians to research various topics – stem cells, genetics, research ethics, the public representations of science – in a health policy context. He is best known for waging war on wellness by way of fierce attacks on celebrities, natural and holistic products and practices, and pretty much anything that exists outside of his personal belief system.
Caufield is a divisive personality who frequently encourages polarization and discourages critical thinking, all of which begs the question: Are Canadians willing to accept that their government is supporting and enabling an agenda-driven propagandist working to undermine fundamental Canadian values of informed consent and health freedom?
The Low-Hanging Fruit of Celebrity Wellness
Timothy Caulfield was an early driver of the “wellness backlash” bus. His was a clever strategy: target the most outrageous of current celebrity wellness trends; introduce legitimate natural and integrative practices to the conversation; paint them all with the same “pseudoscience” brush; and, create a narrative using trigger terminology: “snake oil”, “bunk”, “quackery”, “junk science”, and “fake treatments”.
Caulfield built a platform by sounding alarm bells that celebrity culture is “playing an increasingly large role in how we think and talk about our health” and amplifying contrived scenarios. In a 2016 paper, published in the Ottawa Law Review, Caulfield writes “It is still unclear exactly why and how celebrity culture has an impact on our health behaviours and beliefs.” He later continues, “Reports of celebrity suicides are associated with an increase in suicide rates … celebrity endorsements can have a significant impact on the consumption of unhealthy foods … celebrity culture is connected to a range of unhealthy behaviours, including smoking, drinking, and sunbathing.” Caulfield attempts to blur the lines between two very different fundamentals – in this case – “pursuit of wellness” and “self -destruction” – by creating a false equivalent.
Disenchantment with health and wellness exploitation is not unreasonable. Consumer initiatives, big and small, have capitalized on our insecurities, vanity, and fears of growing old or becoming sick, leaving us vulnerable to questionable solutions. But concern over the potential for wellness exploitation is not what Caulfield is really about. His attacks on celebrity culture are a gateway to something much more sinister.
Pseudoing his Own Science
With the help of self-described “media visionary” Moses Znaimer, Caulfield launched a television series that, according to the show’s summary, “casts light on increasingly controversial procedures, diets and revived ancient therapies that are being sought by people desperate to dramatically alter their bodies or radically improve their health, and the booming industries that are more than happy to accept their business.” In the series, Caulfield pushes doubt about many things traditionally associated with wellness and good health: organic products, chemical-free farming, natural remedies, DNA testing, weight loss strategies, and dietary supplementation.
He also employs his signature tactic of introducing the peculiar with the intent of diluting the credibility of the whole: cryotherapy, the sex tech industry – even spiritual practices – thereby again, attempting to bring everything into question.
Caufield’s penchant for evidence extends only as far as his narrative will allow. For example, in a recent social media post, Caulfield referred to “wild conspiracy theories about everything from GMOs to fluoride to milk.” Did he fail to consider the August 2019 Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics study that confirmed an association between maternal fluoride exposure during pregnancy and lower IQ scores in three and four-year-old children? Omission of this and other evidence which contradicts his position is an example of Caulfield cultivating exactly what he attacks: A misleading half-truth: pseudoscience.
The Church of Caulfield
Caulfield and his ilk are selling religion, a dogmatic worldview presented in binary terms: right or wrong; black or white; facts or bunk; science or pseudoscience. His supporters may appreciate having the world and its important questions answered in these simple terms, but complex issues cannot be fully explored or understood through the narrow perspective from which he attacks. The Church of Caulfield denies individualism, intuition, cultural relativism and choice.
As the Research Chair in Health Law and Policy, Caulfield fails to demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of medical ethics, which provide patients with the right to autonomy, justice, and beneficence. His exaggerated narrative on non-maleficence should really be focused on the opioid crisis and other serious predicaments that are the result of systemic corruption and negligence.
Caulfield’s Real Nemesis: Canadians’ Health Freedom
Can we really accept that Caulfield’s disdain for wellness is about his concern that consumers may be taken advantage of by predatory celebrities hawking jade eggs? We live in a “buyer beware” culture and have always been presented with endless ways to lighten our wallets. Also, no one is being physically harmed by any of the practices he’s attacking. It’s important to remember that no Canadian has ever died as the result of a regulated health or wellness practice or product. On the contrary – individuals who demonstrate an interest in wellness likely experience better health than those who do not. They are also more likely to proactively prevent chronic disease. As a public employee paid to shape health law, Caulfield should not only appreciate, but encourage wellness, if not out of concern for individual Canadians, for the inevitable reduction of public health care costs.
Make no mistake: Caulfield’s beef with Gwyneth Paltrow, and others, is a smokescreen. His raison d’etre has little to do with celebrity wellness and everything to do with your health freedom.
What is most concerning is how some of the public responds to Caulfield’s work, especially evident in the comments that follow his social media, news articles and posted videos. What comes up with alarming frequency, is the term “anti-vaxxer” – even when the terms vaccine, vaccination, or immunization are not present in the article. Caufield has successfully cultivated a widespread psychological association between wellness and vaccine hesitancy – whether relevant in context or not.
Unfortunately, Caulfield and other health freedom detractors – some right here in Canada – appear to be gaining traction. What should those with the capacity for critical thinking and a desire to uphold medical ethics do? First off, this is, as Caulfield refers to it, a fight. We must fight it on a personal level – and collectively. One place to start is by writing to the University of Alberta Faculty of Law. Let them know that it is unacceptable that they host a research chair who is using public money to undermine health freedom, the wellness industry in Canada, and provincial health care cost savings associated with wellness. You can write to the Office of the Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Alberta, 111 – 89 Ave, Edmonton AB T6G 2H5 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.