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Degrees in anti-science

May 24th, 2007 · 36 Comments

Nature caption
The Nature title picture was ‘Taken from The Complete Guide to Homeopathy, © Dorling Kindersley Ltd’ (not a recommended text book at UCL)

Nature (March 22 2007) ran this commentary, alongside a News item by Jim Giles:

Download a reprint of the article here.
Download the while 2005 westminster University miasmatic exam paper here.

Degrees in homeopathy slated as unscientific

and a Nature podcast [listen to podcast].

Here is some of the coverage of this commentary (more soon, including some of the abuse). A transcript pf the podcast is here.

Interview on the BBC’s Today Programme, with Edward Stourton.
Listen to interview

Material World (BBC Radio 4). This excellent science programme, presented by Quentin Cooper, had a longer version of DC versus David Peters (Westminster University). There was helpful intervention from Michael Marmot who had talked, in the first half of the programme, about his longitudinal population studies. [listen to part 2].

Radio 5 Live interview.

BBC London News (BBC1 TV), An interview of DC and Peter Fisher
by the News Presenter, Riz Lateef. Dr Fisher, who is clinical director of the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, made a very interesting comment, at the end of a discussion about whether homeopathy was a suitable subject for a science degree.

Riz Lateef (presenter): “Dr Fisher, could you ever see it
[homeopathy] as a science degree in the future?


Dr Peter Fisher:
“I would hope so. I wouldn’t deny that a lot of scientific research needs to be done, and I would hope that in the future it would have a scientific basis. I have to say that at the moment that basis isn’t comprehensive. To that extent I would agree with Professor Colquhoun.”


Download the movie (5.9 Mb .wmv file: (quotation is at the end)
]

A shorter version of the movie, showing only the quotation at the end has appeared on YouTube.

Evidence? During the interview, Peter Fisher said

“. . .if you look in the Cochrane library, . . . you will find that there are two treatments for flu that appear to be effective, and one of them is homeopathic”

I presume this refers to the Cochrane review “Homoeopathic Oscillococcinum for preventing and treating influenza and influenza-like yndromes”. What this actually says is

“Trials do not show that homoeopathic Oscillococcinum can prevent influenza. However, taking homoeopathic Oscillococcinum once you have influenza might shorten the illness, but more research is needed.”

Well, it might, but even if it did, the average length of the putative “shortening” of the illness was a mere 0.28 days, i.e. 6.7 hours. To call that “effective” seems to me to be just a tiny bit of an exaggeration.

The newspapers

“Faith-based degree ‘damages science’ ”

Mark Henderson, Science Editor, The Times. I love that title: it says it all.

Homeopathy science degrees ‘gobbledygook’
Ian Sample, science correspondent, The Guardian.

Alternative medicine degrees ‘anti-scientific’

Roger Highfield, Science Editor, in the Daily Telegraph

Universities ‘are duping students with homeopathy science degrees’
Steve Connor, science correspondent The Independent

Less than complementary? James Morgan in the Glasgow Herald

Alternative therapy degree attack
UK universities are teaching “gobbledygook” following the explosion in science degrees in complementary medicine, a leading expert says. BBC News web site

University homoeopathy degrees ‘gobbledygook’, claims Professor
Fiona McRae in the Daily Mail.

and the story even got into the free London papers, Metro and The London
Paper

And some from abroad

British health expert brands homeopathy ‘gobbledygook’

From ‘our correspondent’ at DailyIndia.com.

Homeopathic Degree in Britain Puts Scientific Gloss on Nonscientific Dross, Critics Say

Susan Brown in The Chronicle of Higher Education (USA)

UK Fight Over Anti-Science in Medicine
Dr Steven Novella comments in the NeuroLogica Blog, part of the New England Skeptical Society site.

Some follow up

A matter of degree. Why the letters after a homoeopath’s name really do count
Mark Henderson, 24th March, in The Times (Body and Soul section)

Ann Robinson, in the Guardian’s Comment is Free (Sunday 25th March) gives me a bit of a slagging off. But her piece is followed by a flood of comments, almost all of them thoroughly sensible. One comment, from ‘Midas’ ends thus.

So why not homeopathy alongside medicine? Right. Why not Levitation alongside Aeronautical Engineering?

And the blogs: quite a lot of blogs picked up the story.

Thanks to everyone who sent letters of support, not least the regular scientists from Westminster, and University of Central Lancashire who are clearly rather embarrassed by their homeopathic colleagues.

Inevitably there were a few bits of hate mail too, each answered politely, and some even resulting in a degree of agreement. The only one worth quoting is a rather mild one from George Lewith (see below).

“Do you realise that your own university (University College London) offers a BSc in architecture? I have yet to find that this particular course (from personal experience) involves a single piece of science. You might like to investigate at the Bartlett.” . . .”I suggest you make a formal complaint to your Provost, the Dean of the Medical School, and the committee of UK Vice-Chancellors of Medical Schools. You must know that you are completely out of sync but perhaps you don’t?


Kind regards George

I guess one of us is out of sync anyway. Unlike George (it appears), I know little about architecture, but the idea of design for a tower block based on homeopathic principles sounds a bit scary to me.

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Tags: Anti-science · CAM · miasm · miasmatic · Universities

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