U of A professor ‘glad’ expo cancels appearance of David Stephan
A University of Alberta professor said he felt “intense frustration” after hearing a man convicted in the death of his toddler was scheduled to speak at Health and Wellness Expos taking place across the country, including a stop in Edmonton.
Timothy Caulfield, the Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy, said he felt some “rage” that David Stephan had been invited to speak about pseudo-science to the general public. Stephan’s speaking engagements have since been cancelled by the organizer of the expos after public outcry.
Stephan and his wife were convicted in 2016 of failing to provide the necessaries of life to their son Ezekiel, who died in 2012 from bacterial meningitis.
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Their trial in Lethbridge, Alta., heard they treated the 19-month-old boy with garlic, onion and horseradish rather than taking him to a doctor. The Stephans eventually called 911 but the little boy died in hospital.
Stephan was sentenced to four months in prison, and his case is scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court in May.
Caulfield said he was concerned about the type of message Stephan would be sending. The expo website says Stephan works for a “research-based” organization that offers “nutrient supplementation” in an effort to improve brain and thyroid function naturally.
“One of the problems I have with this kind of publicity is it really does legitimize his point of view, right? It looks like a big event, an event that’s supposed to be about health and wellness, and you have this discredited individual presenting his perspective. I think it really does legitimize both him as an individual but also his message,” he said.
“I also worry about almost a false balance kind of idea – that this is a legitimate point of view that should be aired. We have to be clear – there is absolutely no science to back up what he’s proposing but also his broader worldview that led, really, to the conviction.”
Caulfield also said there would have been a danger to attendees had Stephan spoken at the expos.
“A lot of this stuff can be harmful. It’s not just that there’s no evidence to support it, sometimes these products are contaminated… they’re using treatments that don’t have evidence to support them and they’re foregoing the stuff that does have evidence.”
The professor supports the expo’s move to cancel all of Stephan’s speaking engagements.
“Obviously I’m happy. I’m glad. I think that’s the right development,” he said.
Caulfield worries about misinformation being spread about health and wellness and said Edmontonians need to think critically and with their “science hat on” if they plan to attend the expo.
“Go in with a skeptical mind, if you’re going to go at all. Question what the science base really is – if they provide studies, look at what those studies are; if they’re just case reports, are they small studies, are they studies that really are relevant to the product as being sold? Question anything that’s provided as a miracle or seems counter to what we know about science,” he said.
Both Sobeys and Flaman Fitness pulled their sponsorship of the expos on Sunday, following backlash on social media. Caulfield said he was pleased to see that development.
“If you have really credible organizations, like Sobeys, supporting this, it does kind of lead to that legitimization, which I think is less than ideal,” he said.
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