After the announcement that the University of Central Lancashire (Uclan) was suspending its homeopathy “BSc” course, it seems that their vice chancellor has listened to the pressure, both internal and external, to stop bringing his university into disrepute.
An internal review of all their courses in alternative medicine was announced shortly after the course closure. Congratulations to Malcolm McVicar for grasping the nettle at last. Let’s hope other universities follow his example soon.
I have acquired, indirectly, a copy of the announcement of the welcome news.
| Homeopathy, Herbalism and cupuncture
Concern has been expressed by some colleagues as to whether the University should offer courses in homeopathy, Herbalism and Acupuncture. Therefore, to facilitate proper discussion on this matter I have set up a working party to review the issues.
I have asked Eileen Martin, Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean of the Faculty of Health, to lead this working party and report to me as soon as possible. Whilst the review is taking place, we need to recognise that there are students and staff studying and teaching on these courses which have satisfied the University’s quality assurance procedures and been duly validated. I would therefore ask that colleagues would refrain from comment or speculation which would cause concern to these students and staff. Staff who wish to express their views on this issue should direct these to Eileen Martin, by the end of September.
Times Higher Education today reports
“The University of Central Lancashire is to review all its courses in homoeopathy, herbalism and acupuncture after some staff said it should not be offering degrees in “quackery”, Times Higher Education has learnt.
A university spokesman said: “As a university we value and practise transparency and tolerance and welcome all academic viewpoints.”
(Later, an almost identical version of the story ran on the Times Online.)
So far, so good. But of course the outcome of a committee depends entirely on who is appointed to it. Quite often such committees do no more than provide an internal whitewash.
It does seem a bit odd to appoint as chair the dean of the faculty where all these course are run, and presumably generate income. Eileen Martin has often appeared to be proud of them in the past. Furthermore, the whole investigation will (or should) turn on the assessment of evidence. It needs some knowledge of the design of clinical trials and their statistical analysis, As far as I can see, Ms Martin has essentially no research publications whatsoever.
I also worry about a bit about “satisfied the University’s quality assurance procedures and been duly validated”. One point of the investigation should be recognise frankly that the validation process is entirely circular, and consequently worth next to nothing. It must be hard for a vice-chancellor to admit that, but it will be an essential step in restoring confidence in Uclan.
Let’s not prejudge though. If there are enough good scientists on the committee, the result will be good.
I hope that transparency extends to letting us know who will be doing the judging. Everything depends on that.
Well well, there’s a coincidence, Once again, the week after a there is an announcement about degrees in witchcraft, what should pop up again in the column of the inimitable Laurie Taylor in THE. The University of Poppleton’s own Department of Palmistry.
|Letter to the editor
I was shocked to see yet another scurrilous attack upon the work of my department in The Poppletonian. Although Palmistry is in its early days as an academic discipline it cannot hope to progress while there are people like your correspondent who insist on referring to it as “a load of superstitious nonsense which doesn’t deserve a place on the end of the pier let alone in a university”.
A large number of people claim to have derived considerable benefit from learning about life lines, head lines and heart lines and the role of the six major mounts in predicting their future. All of us in the Palmistry Department believe it vitally important that these claims are rigorously examined. How else can science advance?
I can understand the need to reassure students in all of this. They are the victims in this piece. Being told they are getting a science education and then being taught nonsense. But why should there be a caution against comment to staff? Surely, any internal debate has to be full and frank? We are dealing with adults here, yes?
Secondly, there is a missed opportunity here to break the opportunity of circular reasoning here. Surely, an external voice would have been able to review what was going on with greater dispassion and authority? It is going to be hard for internal staff to honestly appraise what they have set up.
This is good news, although, interestingly, UCLAN’s press release web page doesn’t mention this news at all! Also the health faculty website still has a ‘fact’ sheet about the homeopathy degree course despite the fact that the first year is not being offered.
Alongside this the news of quackery being taught to school children (see DC’s miniblog) is alarming to say the least and makes you wonder whether there is any desire for truth and adventurous enquiry in the politicians’ view of education..
It seems quite clear to me that for their review to have any meaning the committee has to include:
(i) proper scientists from within UCLAN
(ii) at least one external person, who should probably be a mainstream academic Professor of something like medicine
If the group has a majority of people with a vested interest in “validating” the existing courses it will achieve nothing.
Still, a tip of the hat to the VC for doing something. Let’s hope it is the real deal.
lecanardnoir – agree that public discussion of doubt over the quality of a programme of study puts student’s in a messy situation, good point.
As DC, LCN and Dr. Aust have pointed out, an internal enquiry may well be dead in the water before it takes off – the flip side to this is that if UCLAN decides to continue with the courses in question, they and others could easily point to the ‘enquiry’ as legitimising the teaching of woo, a scary prospect at best. *cough* Hutton enquiry *cough*
Yes the review must make the students uneasy but now it’s in THE it’s public. Presumably students who are already there will be looked after, if any courses close. Of course they should never have been started.
A lot of people will be watching the outcome closely.
I think UCLan has a get-out for the current students, who mostly wish to become practising homeopaths; the course as currently constructed has been deemed adequate by the homeopaths for training homeopaths – in effect it is a “B.Homeo”, whatever the current labelling.
The debate “going forward”, as my managerial friends like to say, is presumably whether the current science content of the course is adequate for such things being badged as a science degree (I know what my answer would be…); whether you could EVER construct a course that would be a legitimate “B.Sc. in Complementary Medicine”; whether the punters would want to do such a course; who would teach it etc etc.
You could easily “spin” such a conversation as being “necessary in the post-Pittilo era”, although as DC has repeatedly pointed out, Pittilo has dodged the central (and related) questions of efficacy (or not) and of nonsense-or-reality. It would be nice to think that UCLan might go boldly where Pittilo dared not to tread, but I won’t be holding my breath.
I would have hoped that the “transparency” they so value would extend to the course information you requested (or whatever’s left of them after the university’s lawyers have finished).
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