Alternative Medicine Degrees ‘Anti-Scientific’

A leading pharmacologist today condemns science degree courses in alternative and complementary medicine as pseudo scientific or even “anti-scientific”. Prof David Colquhoun of University College London says the rapid growth in “science degrees without the science” shows a sharp contrast with the closure of physics and chemistry courses at universities.

Homoeopathy has barely changed since the beginning of the 19th century and “is much more like religion than science”, the professor says in the journal Nature.

“Worse still, many of the doctrines of CAM [complementary and alternative medicines] and quite a lot of its practitioners, are openly anti-science.”

Outside Britain, even in France and Germany where homoeopathy is relatively popular, the topic is taught in universities as part of a medical degree and is not classed as a science. But in the UK there has been a marked rise in BScs in CAM.

The Prince of Wales, an advocate of treatments such as homoeopathy, suggested in a speech to the World Health Organisation in Geneva that governments should support “integrated health care” combining conventional and alternative therapies.

Prof Colquhoun says degrees in complementary medicine are harmful because they lead patients to believe that they are being treated by a scientifically trained practitioner. “Most complementary and alternative medicine is not science because the vast majority of it is not based on empirical evidence.”

He says that 45 BSc honours degrees in complementary pseudo-science are now awarded by 16 universities. “The worst offender is the University of Westminster, with 14 BSc CAM courses,” he says.

He claims that many universities refused to give him details of what they taught and he had to resort to freedom of information legislation and other methods to get access to course materials.

“Homeopathy is the most obvious delusion because the ‘medicine’ contains no medicine,” said Prof Colquhoun. “Yet five of the 45 BSc degrees are offered in homoeopathy.

“These come from the Universities of Westminster, Central Lancashire and Salford.”

One degree level exam question on homoeopathy reads as follows: “Psorinum and Sulphur are Psoric remedies. Discuss the ways in which the symptoms of these remedies reflect their miasmatic nature.”

“This sort of gobbledygook is being taught in some UK universities as though it were science,” says Prof Colquhoun.

Other CAM courses are in nutritional therapy, aroma-therapy, acupuncture, traditional Chinese medicine, herbal medicine, reflexology, osteopathy, therapeutic bodywork, naturopathy, Ayurveda, shiatsu and qigong.

“None of these is, by any stretch of the imagination, science, yet they form part of BSc degrees.

“They are not being taught as part of cultural history, or as odd sociological phenomena, but as science.”

He says that the BSc courses are “not science at all, but are positively anti-science”.

The University of Westminster said in a statement yesterday that its course was a “fully validated degree that satisfies internal and external quality assurance standards”.

“A research-minded and scientific approach to the practice of homoeopathy is embedded throughout the whole course,” it said

The Faculty of Homeopathy, the professional body for doctors who practise homeopathy, said: “There is growing evidence for its clinical effectiveness, though more research needs to be done.

“Universities are just the places to lead this work.”