Steffan Browning will leave his role as an MP next year, which is a great opportunity for the Green Party to ditch their anti-science baggage.

I have a love-hate relationship with the Green Party. I love their social policies, but as someone who dedicates a lot of my time to fighting pseudoscience I have a hard time justifying support for a political party with anti-science tendencies.

In the lead up to the 2014 general election, when I was considering where I would place my party vote, I emailed the Greens’ then health spokesperson Kevin Hague with some questions about Green Party health policy.

Hague’s response satisfied me that, despite the party’s reputation, references in their health policy to being evidence-based were more than just lip service. I voted for them.

Then, just a month later, Green MP Steffan Browning went and endorsed homeopathy as a treatment for ebola.

Luckily, the response from Green Party leadership was pretty good. Browning’s “Natural Health” portfolio was taken away from him and folded into Hague’s health portfolio, after which then co-leader Russell Norman was pretty clear:

It’s not something we support and it’s not Green Party Policy.

Green MP regrets call to treat Ebola with homeopathy – One News

The Green Party was awarded two awards by the NZ Skeptics at their 2014 conference. One, the Bent Spoon award, goes each year to “the New Zealand organisation which has shown the most egregious gullibility or lack of critical thinking in public coverage of, or commentary on, a science-related issue”. In 2014, it went to Steffan Browning.

But they also chose Russell Norman for a Bravo award

for quickly responding to Steffan Browning’s comments and stating that this was not something the Green Party would support as they take “an evidence based approach”.

Bravo Awards – NZ Skeptics

After this wobble, it looked like the Greens had recovered and maybe taken another little step away from their anti-science past.

But since then both Russell Norman and Kevin Hague have left the Green Party. Though they are by no means the only great people in the Greens, I feel they had shown themselves to support evidence-based policy. I’ve been worried for some time now that it might signal a return to the Greens’ anti-science past, especially as Steffan Browning still held their GE portfolio despite his anti-science views on that topic.

The Greens’ reputation took another blow in my mind this year, as I discovered when researching DHB candidates for links to quackery that the Greens were backing Sue Kedgley in her stand for the Wellington City Council and the Capital & Coast DHB.

I felt strongly enough about this that I wrote to the Greens to express my disappointment.

When Steffan Browning put his foot in it soon after the election by supporting homeopathy for ebola, I worried I might have made the wrong choice. But the swift reaction from the party’s leadership again convinced me I’d done the right thing.

Now I see that the Greens are supporting Sue Kedgley as one of their candidates for Wellington City Council. I’m really, really disappointed about this. And it makes me worry for the party’s future.

I’m sure you’re aware of Ms Kedgley’s history of being on the wrong side of scientific evidence, especially when it comes to healthcare. I know I am. I have seen her be an anti-vaccine scaremongerer, try to get quackery like homeopathy integrated into the medical system, oppose safe and effective food biosecurity technology like irradiation, and misleadingly call smart meters a “threat to health“. I could go on and on; there seems to be no shortage of opinions Ms Kedgley has espoused that are at odds with the scientific consensus.

With Kevin Hague now leaving the Greens to his new role at Forest & Bird, seeing this makes me very concerned about the current direction of the Green party. Steffan Browning still holds his GE portfolio despite his unscientific views in that area, and the party is throwing its weight behind a city council candidate like Sue Kedgley. It makes me think perhaps the Greens aren’t the evidence-based party I hoped they could be.

Mark Hanna

Unfortunately, Kedgley has now been re-elected to both the Greater Wellington Regional Council and Capital & Coast DHB


With all this context, I hope you can all understand why I’m happy to hear the news today that Steffan Browning is not seeking re-election in 2017.

This could be a great opportunity for the Green Party to shed their anti-science baggage and commit themselves to becoming the evidence-based party that many people, including myself, want them to become.

A good start would be re-addressing their stance on GE technology to align it more closely with scientific evidence.

But also, I feel like the time has come for the Greens to cut ties with Sue Kedgley. She hasn’t been on their list since 2011. Although Browning is stepping down as a Green MP voluntarily, this is a chance for the Greens to move past their anti-science past by cutting ties with Sue Kedgley.

Here’s hoping that, in 2017, they will be an evidence-based option.

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4 thoughts on “Steffan Browning Leaving Parliament

  1. Dear Mark Hanna,

    Some time ago I queried your stance as an independent evidence based scientific commentator whilst you were on one of your anti-fluoridefree rants. It seemed to me at the time that you may have been a troll, a paid shill if you will. You vehemently denied this of course, arguing that you were interested only in the truth and that was the first time you had spoken out publicly about anti fluoride campaigners etc. Subsequent evidence has led me to believe that your statement was incorrect.

    Having followed your comments on various blogs it is clear to me that you spend an inordinate amount of time and effort pursuing, writing and supporting views on issues that high level vested interests would love. And this certainly raises questions

    – how can Mark Hanna expend so much time, so much effort and so much energy on what he does?

    – what does Mark do for a living; how does he survive?

    – does Mark get paid, directly or indirectly by vested interests?

    – who pays Mark Hanna?

    You are so wrong on the Fluoride issue of course Mark but the “man in the street” would not know (as you do not publicly acknowledge) that less than 10% of the world fluoridates their water supplies. Mate…….

    On the GE issue you appear even more obtuse. All one has to do is to fully check out our friend Seralini and discover just what a nasty viper’s nest the GMO promotors reside in. Smoke and mirrors, charlatans of the propaganda world and assassins of those who voice the truth.

    But I do have to say Mark that you are becoming more prolific and that will probably earn you a year-end bonus from the big boys.

    And finally I also have to say – geez Mark. Get a grip and cease your inexorable march to perdition!!!

    Sincerely

    Peter Bankers

    1. Hi Peter,

      Thanks for commenting. I’m not sure why you’ve picked to focus on fluoridation when I didn’t touch on it in this article. Although I suppose it’s likely an issue that you’re passionate about.

      I’m also not sure why you think I’m paid for my activism. I’m not; instead I choose to spend my spare time on this stuff because I’m passionate about fighting pseudoscience and health fraud. I think it’s important.

      I’m happy to be transparent about what money I’ve received relevant to my activism.

      I received $100 from the New Zealand Skeptics in 2014 when I won their “Skeptic of the Year” award.
      I was paid by The Spinoff for writing this article that they published last month, which I had pitched to them earlier that day: http://thespinoff.co.nz/featured/03-11-2016/hoo-boy-soft-drink-companies-did-some-really-bad-science-today/

      Those are the only times I’ve ever received any money for my activism. I’ve spent much more than that on related travel costs, such as paying to fly to Wellington so I could meet with the Pharmacy Council earlier this year to discuss their proposal to change their Code of Ethics.

      The fact that I’m passionate about stuff you disagree with doesn’t automatically make me a “paid shill”.

  2. Great article Mark – well written and I agree with your points. I am also an evidence based Green voter, and while a few of their people and policies I dislike, I feel the environment and social issues are more important to me so I have been a consistent Green voter. From talking to a number of MPs and members, I do think that the evidence based position is getting more of a hold on the party, so fingers crossed for 2017.

    I must congratulate Peter too on a very well written response. I disagree with Peter’s points however. He might like to learn a bit more about the Seralini study that he quotes, as it has been retracted by the journal for having incorrect conclusions, so it does not provide evidence against the safety of GMOs. (Basically there were too few rats to show the statistical significance he claimed, and they were rats that develop tumours anyway, so it was very likely that the GMOs he used did not cause the tumours, especially since there is a weak prior for GMOs causing cancer as I believe there is no known biological plausibility and plenty of studies showing no effect of feeding GMOs). Here is the study http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278691512005637, and the wikipedia page explains what happened – it was quite a controversy that the paper was published in the first place. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S%C3%A9ralini_affair

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