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There is something very offensive about the idea that a ‘bachelor of science’ degree can be awarded by a university, as a prize for memorising gobbledygook.

Once the contents of the ‘degrees’ has been exposed to public ridicule, many universities have stopped doing it. All (or nearly all) of these pseudo-degrees have closed at the University of Salford, the University of Central Lancashire, Robert Gordon University, the University of Buckingham, and even at the University of Westminster (the worst offender), one course has closed (with rumours of more to follow).

I’ve already written about the course in Traditional Chinese Medicine at the University of Salford (Chinese medicine -acupuncture gobbledygook revealed) and at the University of Westminster: see Why degrees in Chinese medicine are a danger to patients. The former has closed, but not the latter. Here is another one.

One place that has yet to come under close scrutiny is Middlesex University.

Michael Driscoll

Michael Driscoll, VC of Middlesex University. The buck stops with him.

Their “Complementary Health” courses are as follows (April 2010).

and also two postgraduate courses

I asked Middlesex University for samples of their teaching materials under the Freedom of Information Act, and, as usual, the request was refused. As usual, I then asked for the mandatory internal review of the decision, and this time, most unusually, the internal review did not confirm the initial refusal and I was sent a bundle of teaching materials about Chinese Herbal Medicine, It was not all I asked for, but it is quite enough to show the absurd ideas that are still being taught as part of bachelor of Science degree in a UK University.

Not only are the ideas absurd, pre-scientific, indeed antiscientific.  They are also dangerous. People who have been taught this nonsense are going out and being let loose on sick people.

The vice-chancellor of Middlesex University, Professor Michael Driscoll, is an economist, not a biologist. Surely you don’t need to be a scientist to feel a bit suspicious when you read on the Middlesex web site about

Traditional Chinese Acupuncture and Moxibustion including distribution of meridians-collaterals and location of acupoints; needling and moxibustion techniques;

Have any of the members of the Executive ever thought to ask about what goes on in these courses?  Even if it is beyond an economist to see through the nonsense, surely it should be possible for Professor Margaret House, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic, whose interests lie in water quality, should be able to, though as Dean of the School of Health and Social Sciences she appears to sponsor the nonsense. And Professor Waqar Ahmad, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Enterprise, who has written a s book on Ethnicity, Health and Health Care, should surely be able to distinguish sense from nonsense in health care? In that respect, I’d have less confidence in Katie Bell, Chief Marketing Officer, who joined Middlesex University in 2009 following a career in brand marketing for Nestlé UK and GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare. Marketing people seldom have much regard for truth.

Have any of the University’s Governors ever asked what is going on in their name? It’s true that none of the long list of distinguished-sounding governors is a scientist. Surely you don’t need to be to question whether or not what follows can be described as ‘science’.

My guess is that none of these distinguished people has ever bothered to look at the dangerous nonsense that is being taught in their University.  It is not in the nature of ‘managers’ to look far beyond ticked-boxes and profit,  They should have done of course, but to make it easier for them, here is a small selection of the slides that I was sent (the copyright for them lies with the university: these few slides come under the heading ‘ ‘fair quotation’ and it is undoubtedly in the public interest to show them).

Course CMH 1211

e chm 1211

chm1211

Uhuh, my spleen qi is well and truly knotted already though when I learned physiology it was not thought that the spleen had much to do with emotions.

chm 1211

chm 1211

Ah so at least the problem of heavy breathers is solved. But high temperature, abdominal pain and abnormal pulse can be signs of serious illness. If your only explanation for them is “preponderant evil Qi”, you are a menace to public health.

chm 1211

chm 1211

All these symptoms could be the result of a serious disease. It is not only antiquated nonsense to talk about them in terms of Yin, Yang and Qi.  It endangers people,

Course CMH 2212

Chinese materia medica.  Some of the herbs are likely to contain active ingredients (indeed some are very dangerous). It would be quite possible to study the ingredients of these herbs and to investigate how they work in the light of what has been learned about physiology and pharmacology in the last 200 years.  Pharmacology has a long history of doing that,  But is seems to play no part in this course.  Herbs are “cold” or “hot” and may “check the exuberance of yang”.

chm 2211

chm 2212

chm 2212

chm 2212

and so on, just preposterous, made-up nonsense from another era.

If it were taught as cultural history, it might be interesting. But it is being taught as though it were true, and an appropriate way to treat sick people.

Course CMH 3214

chm 3214

chm 3214

chm 3214

Would you trust your child to someone who’d been taught that “causes of paediatric diseases are relatively simple”, and “children are pure yang”?

Now some Chinese recipes

Course CMH 3100

chm 3100

chm 3100

This may or may not taste good, but to recommend it for diabetes is seriously irresponsible.

chm 3100

The programme specification for the “BSc (Hons) Traditonal Chinese medicine” can be found here. [local copy download]

It is written with all the official trappings, just as though the degree was about science.  It isn’t. It is a danger to public health.

I have asked the vice-chancellor, Michael Driscoll, to express his view of these comments

Follow-up

A rather unexpected comment from a London acupuncturist.

“At least,I knew that Professor David Colquhoun is very skeptical about Chinese medicine. he comment Chinese medicine study”not only are the ideas absurd, pre-scientific, indeed antiscientific. They are also dangerous. People who have been taught this nonsense are going out and being let loose on sick people.” “

“But,I still like to read his blog as His article very is respectable. I think. Look this…”

The skeptic blog featured this post in its weekly roundup.

27 May 2010.  Times Higher Education reported the decision of Middlesex University to close its philosophy department. This department seems to have a remarkable reputation, not least for a post-1992 university. Three academics and four students have been suspended and gagged in classical bullying style.

This has happened while they continue to teach dangerous rubbish like that described above.

I left a comment at Times Higher, as follows.

It is a reflection on the quality of university management that Middlesex has chosen to shut its philosophy department while continuing to run degrees in quackery. These courses not only offer an Hons BSc for memorising chunks of anti-scientific nonsense. They also pose a real danger to patients. See http://www.dcscience.net/?p=2923

I can think of no better illustration than this of the crass nature of the judgements made by Middlesex’s management. They are either ignorant of what constitutes science, or they are corrupt. I see no other possibilities. In either case they should not be running a university.

I think Prof Michael Driscoll owes the world an explanation.

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114 Responses to More quackedemia. Dangerous Chinese medicine taught at Middlesex University

  • Iain
    You didn’t answer my question at all (or most of the others put to you). In future your comments will have to be moderated in order to see that they make a useful contribution to the discussion.

    I don’t censor views that I disagree with, but persistent off-topic comments just get annoying.

  • These sorts of course handouts are quite commonplace. They’re just lecture notes, you might by able to get similar material from any course which when taken out of the context of the teaching might look ridiculous. I include pictures of lolcats in my own lecture notes on computing topics, so what? With TCM it is challenging to fit the mental framework in before the real detail. That means pictures which are good mnemonics and communicate visually the gist of things. Usually you’d defer to textbooks for the detail anyway.

    If you really want to comment on Acupuncture with credibility, it’s at least worth doing some reading.

    I recommend finding yourself a copy of Celestial Lancets by Joseph Needham – probably the best book on the topic for a scientifically minded reader, or perhaps a book by Paul Unschuld. “Between Heaven and Earth” by Harriet Beinfield or “The Web That Has No Weaver” by Ted Kaptchuk are also good ones. If you have medical training then something more authorative like Morant’s tome uses very accurate terminology to describe the TCM concepts.

    Arguing a skeptical position is fine, it’s just it may as well be an informed skeptical position if you’re going to go to all this effort. At the moment you seem to be struggling with the linguistics which hardly makes for interesting reading to informed readers.

    You should also know that most courses like this will go through a detailed level of Western Medical Science as well – anatomy and physiology, pathology, etc. To offer a Bachelor’s degree, as long as standards are met on teaching the science of medicine as well as usual requirements of research happening, it’s quite fair enough IMHO.

  • @Sam Vilain
    You seem to forget that I have the entire powerpoints, not just the bits that I quote. I haven’t just picked a few nutty slides, They are essentially all nutty. More to the point, they are dangerous to patients,

    I have also seen the normal physiology and medicine that is taught to these students. Not only is it elementary, and bot always accurate, but often they contradict directly what is taught in alt med lectures. That being the case, it’s hard to see how the students get through without becoming schizophrenic. In practice, in order to make a living, they have to brush aside the rational ideas and go for the gobbledygook.

    Acupuncture is particularly interesting because it is not so much ancient wisdom but largely a construct of Chinese nationalism, and now a profitable business (not to mention its role in killing endangered species). Only today I found out that one of the early people to bring to the West was an utter fraud. See http://bit.ly/adlZ25 (or, in English, http://bit.ly/9tvRT2

  • @Prof.Colquhoun

    I subscribe to the often quoted Voltaire principle that [some] medicine entertains the patient whilst … well, you know the rest.

    Acupuncture, in my humble opinion, has a modest biological effect that is beneficial to the worried well or the desperately chronically ill who grasp at straws.

    My beef is with those pseudo-clinicians that claim much more from acupuncture and exploit the suffering to gain financially or (much worse) a dubious “healing reputation”.

    But then I am preaching to the converted aren’t I, as isn’t everyone on this site?

  • I left out the term “short-term” when applied to the chronically ill.

    Apologies.

  • I would be more than happy to give you the contents of the Ayurveda programme at Middlesex University as I totally agree that the training provided at this university is absolutely pathetic and that people should not be let loose to treat patients with the diabolical, unprofessional and inconsistent teaching at this university. This doesnt only apply to the ayurveda degree or chinese medicine, but it applies across the university in all their courses. I wasted my time, money, efforts and energy studying at this university. I wouldnt recommend this university to anyone. And i totally agree that they are just wanting bums on seats and lots and lots of money. They are also recruiting so many students from the far east from places like china, india etc. very often leaving students and their families in debt.

    The courses and teaching quality needs to be monitored across the university.

    I find it surprising that a university which is bottom of the list in the category of worst universities in the UK is allowed to teach such degrees in healthcare. Its definitely putting many peoples lives at risk.

  • @angelwings
    I’ve heard a few strong words from ex-students of such courses. You obviously feel strongly about it.

    The best way ahead is for you to send me the stuff you’ve been exposed to, and we can let the public decide.

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