Pseudosciences are destroying the reputation of Australia's universities

Mar 05, 2012 By Justin Norrie
Pseudosciences such as acupuncture have no place in universities, say the Friends of Science in Medicine. Credit: Flickr/NYCTCM

The international credibility of Australia’s universities is being undermined by the increase in the “pseudoscientific” health courses they offer, two academics have written in today’s edition of the Medical Journal of Australia.

The strongly-worded editorial by Alastair MacLennan, a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Adelaide, and Robert Morrison of Flinders University, is the latest shot in the acrimonious exchange between proponents of traditional and practitioners of complementary and alternative varieties.

Professor MacLennan and Dr. Morrison are both founding members of Friends of Science in Medicine, a collection of more than 460 people and organizations who say they are dedicated to fighting the growth of pseudoscience in medicine. In January the group wrote a letter to every vice-chancellor in Australia asking for a review of their health science courses to “ensure that primacy is given to scientific principles based on experimental evidence”.

In their editorial, Professor MacLennan and Dr. Morrison write that academics at universities with courses such as homeopathy, iridology, reflexology, kinesiology, healing touch therapy, aromatherapy and energy medicine need to “stand up for science”.

“Pseudoscientific courses sully the genuinely scientific courses and research conducted at the same institutions. Their scientists and students should be concerned by any retreat from the primacy of an experimental, evidence-based approach in science and medicine.”

Alarmingly, they said, some chiropractors now extended their manipulation of the spine to children, and claimed that this could cure asthma, allergies, bedwetting, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, colic, fever and numerous other problems, and could serve as a substitute for vaccination.

The authors cited a number of courses – including a Graduate Certificate in Medical Acupuncture at Monash University, a Bachelor of Health Science in Traditional Chinese Medicine at the University of Technology, Sydney, and a Bachelor of Health Science (Acupuncture and Chinese Manual Therapy) at RMIT University – as evidence that the problem was spreading.

The acting head of RMIT University’s School of Health Sciences, Dr Ray Myers, has defended the school’s health science programs, which he said promoted “evidence-based education and practice”.

Chinese medicine, chiropractic and osteopathy were all government regulated, Dr Myers said. RMIT’s education program incorporated the “best available evidence, while promoting further clinical research into these treatments."

The National Herbalist Association of has also denounced the campaign to pressure universities and health funds to reject complementary medicine. Association President Leah Hechtman said that naturopathic and Western practitioners should be integrated into the healthcare system.

“To achieve this, we need to increase our evidence base which requires university training. Without university training, research opportunities for practitioners and complementary medicines will reduce. To exclude naturopathic and Western herbal medicine courses from undergraduate or post graduate programs at Australian Universities is irresponsible."

In their editorial, Professor MacLennan and Dr Morrison provide a list of complementary and alternative medicine courses, units and clinics at Australian universities and TAFEs:

Australian Catholic University: Introduction to Complementary Nursing Therapy

Charles Sturt University: Bachelor of Health Science (Complementary Medicine)

Canberra Institute of Technology: Advanced Diploma of Naturopathy

Central Queensland University: Bachelor of Science (Chiropractic); Master of Chiropractic Science

Curtin University: Evidence Based Complementary Medicine

Edith Cowan University: Complementary and Alternative Medicines

Macquarie University: Bachelor of Chiropractic Science; Master of Chiropractic; chiropractic clinics

Monash University: Graduate Certificate in Medical Acupuncture

Murdoch University: Bachelor of Science in Chiropractic; Postgraduate Diploma in Sports Chiropractic; chiropractic clinic

RMIT University Bachelor of Health Science (Chiropractic); Master of Clinical Chiropractic; Bachelor of Applied Science (Chinese Medicine/Human Biology); Bachelor of Health Science (Acupuncture and Chinese Manual Therapy); Master of Applied Science (Acupuncture); Master of Applied Science (Chinese Herbal Medicine); Energy Medicine

Southern Cross University: Bachelor of Clinical Sciences (majors in complementary medicine, naturopathy, osteopathy); SCU Health Clinic

Sunshine Coast TAFE: Certificate in Aromatherapy; Diploma of Reflexology; Certificate and Advanced Diploma in Ayurvedic Lifestyle Consultation

University of New England: Bachelor of Applied Health; Graduate Diploma of Health Science (Herbal Medicine); Master of Health Science (Herbal Medicine)

University of Newcastle: Complementary Therapies in Healthcare

University of Technology, Sydney: Bachelor of Health Science in Traditional Chinese Medicine; traditional Chinese medicine/acupuncture clinics

University of Western Sydney: Bachelor of Applied Science (Naturopathic Studies); Graduate Diploma in Naturopathy; Master of (Traditional Chinese Medicine); UniClinic

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kevinrtrs
1.2 / 5 (9) Mar 05, 2012
I notice the professor does not mention the other pseudoscience that has taken the psychotherapy world by storm: evolutionary psychology. Perhaps he views the other therapies as a threat to evolutionary psychology and wants them out of the way?
Kinedryl
2.1 / 5 (7) Mar 05, 2012
Pseudosciences such as acupuncture have no place in universities
Why not, but ideological labelling of the undeniable results of traditional medicine is pseudoscientific as well. We should prove first, the acupuncture doesn't work - and we cannot, because we can never read about it in peer-reviewed press. Such research is simply as heretical, like the research of cold fusion in condensed matter physics.

In general you can use a single rule: the labelling of every research, which is avoided with peer-reviewed journals is pathological scepticism. The first extensive analysis of the term pseudoskepticism was conducted by Marcello Truzzi, Professor of Sociology at Eastern Michigan University, who in 1987 claimed that pseudoskeptics show the following characteristics:
Kinedryl
2.1 / 5 (7) Mar 05, 2012
These signs are:
The tendency to deny, rather than doubt
Double standards in the application of criticism
The making of judgements without full inquiry
Tendency to discredit, rather than investigate
Use of ridicule or ad hominem attacks
Presenting insufficient evidence or proof
Pejorative labelling of proponents as 'promoters', 'pseudoscientists' or practitioners of 'pathological science.'
Assuming criticism requires no burden of proof
Making unsubstantiated counter-claims
Counter-claims based on plausibility rather than empirical evidence
Suggesting that unconvincing evidence is grounds for dismissing it
Tendency to dismiss all evidence
Organized skepticism tends to be automatically pathological
Sepp
1 / 5 (2) Mar 08, 2012
The skeptic reactionaries should just admit it.

Their game is all but over.

Both for them and for "mainstream" medicine which they seem to be so enamoured with.

Progress, these days, comes from the edges of science. Real cures are not to be had in the medical mainstream, which concentrates on symptom tinkering.

The skeptics are betting on a losing horse - they had to retire to the Australian backwaters for this campaign because hardly anyone believes them any more in the Western world.
roboferret
4.8 / 5 (5) Mar 08, 2012
Wow, a trinity of twaddle in the comments so far. A creationist, an alternative* science peddler, and an complementary** medicine junkie.
They are all baffled by science's rejection of their clear genius, and have invented a massive conspiracy of science to stifle their truth.
@Kevin
Perhaps he views the other therapies as a threat to evolutionary psychology and wants them out of the way?


Perhaps he sees them as bollocks. Notice that creationism isn't mentioned. Because not even these rejected hand flapping superstitionists are stupid enough to teach that.

@Kinedryl/Rawa/Callippo
Organized skepticism tends to be automatically pathological
- of unsubstantiated bullshit. Fixed that for you.

@Sepp
Their game is all but over.

Both for them and for "mainstream" medicine which they seem to be so enamoured with

Mainstream = Effective. There's a term for alternative medicine that has been proven to work: "Medicine"

* - Bogus.
** - ineffective.

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