In 2009 I asked Napier University Edinburgh for details of what was taught on its herbal medicine "BSc" course. At first it was refused, but then (as often seems to happen when threatened with exposure) the course was closed, and Napier sent what I’d asked for without waiting for the judgement from the Scottish Information Commissioner,
Some samples of the dangerous nonsense that used to be taught on Napier’s herbal medicine course (now closed) have been exposed in “Hot and cold herbal nonsense from Napier University Edinburgh: another course shuts“.
That sadly doesn’t mean that Napier has stopped teaching nonsense. It offers a 3 year Honours BA degree in "reflexology" (the only other place in UCAS is the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff (UWIC), which offers a “BSc(Hons)”, though nine other places offer foundation degrees or HND)
Napier also offers a BA (Hons) in Aromatherapy, according to UCAS
Clearly quackademia has not died entirely yet, though it is on its way. It has closed down entirely at the University of Salford and the University of Central Lancashire. And when I wrote about quackademia in Nature in 2007 there were five "BSc" degrees in homeopathy. Now UCAS does not list a single one. It has even vanished in the home of woo, the University of Westminster.
When I asked Napier for teaching materials used in reflexology and aromatherapy, the request was, as usual. refused. In a letter dated 20 August 2010, David Cloy, Head of Governance & Management Services, wrote that disclosure of the materials “. , would be substantially prejudicial to the Universitys [sic] commercial interests”.
Scotland has its own Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act, and its own Information Commissioner, so it wasn’t possible to rely on the win that I had with the Information Commission (England and Wales). An Appeal was duly lodged on September 3rd 2010. They were a lot faster than before and their decision, dated 9 December 2010, was again almost completely in my favour [download the whole decision]. The decision ended thus.
The Commissioner finds that Edinburgh Napier University (the University) failed to comply with Part 1 of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA) in responding to the information request made by Professor Colquhoun. The University wrongly withheld information under section 33(1)(b) of FOISA, and thereby failed to comply with section 1(1) of FOISA. It also failed to provide Professor Colquhoun with notice that certain of the information he had requested was not held, as required by section 17(1) of FOISA. The University also failed to provide Professor Colquhoun with reasonable advice and assistance in relation to his information request, as required by section 15(1) of FOISA.
The Commissioner therefore requires the University to provide the withheld information, and the advice detailed in paragraph 16 of this decision notice, by 27 January 2011.
There is quite a lot of material, so I’ll restrict myself to a few quotations.
This makes an interesting example because it is so obviously fraudulent. It is particularly interesting because of a famous paper published in 1996, in the Journal of the American Medical Association (read the paper) by Emily Rosa aged 9. She devised a simple experiment that showed convincingly that healers could not do what they claimed. Nobody has ever detected the magic rays that are said to emanate from the hands of the ‘healer’/confidence trickster. It is all pure make-believe. Like so many things of its sort, there is no ancient wisdom involved. It was invented in 1977 by a nurse. Watch the video of the test on YouTube, or the less reverent version by Penn and Teller. Also worth reading is Why Therapeutic Touch Should Be Considered Quackery.
I was sent a set if slides that are used for teaching students at Edinburgh Napier University about "Therapeutic Touch" (part of course CPT08104 “Pathophysiology Insights to Practice”)..
When reading these, remember that this is not a course on cultural history, or a course about the pre-scientific beliefs of primitive tribes as in anthropology. It is taught to students to enable them to charge money to sick and desperate people.
Rogerian Perspectives on Therapeutic Touch
– seen as a knowledgeable and purposive patterning of patient-environment energy field process in which (the nurse) assumes a meditative form of awareness and uses her/his hands as a focus for the patterning of the mutual patient-environment energy field process”.
Four Principal (Conceptual ) Building Blocks.
The fundamental unit of the living and the non living” (Rogers 1986).
Pattern – the distinguishing characteristic of the energy field.
A very useful concept – it helps with understanding the uniqueness of the individual – human existence and movement of energy.
Patterns of relating – responding
Pan-dimensionality – a non-linear domain without special / temporal attributes
Rogers model also has 3 cardinal principles.
Three Principles of Homeodynamics:
Teilhardt de Chardin (Essay on Human Spirituality)
A comparative Explanation of Rogers’ laws of Homeodynamics )
All of this is so many meaningless words. It has the vaguely sciencey sound beloved of quacks (and post-modernists), but it is a million miles from science.
Empirically it just doesn’t work.
Sadly the slides from Napier did not include any helpful illustrations, but these two, from a similar lecture given at the University of Westminster should make it all clear.
There’s some perfectly sensible stuff about the chemistry of essential oils. It’s when it comes to what they are good for that things rapidly come unstuck. Table 17 (extracted from a handout on essential oil chemistry) has all sorts of suggested uses
Essential oils can correct deficits or blockages in energy
Difficult to back up with scientific research, but nevertheless an important property in aromatherapy
Synergistic blending using the energetic approaches
So it is "important" but there is no evidence for it. The Table is prefaced by a disclaimer of sorts.
There is a body of anecdotal information concerning the potential therapeutic actions of essential oils, such as their anti-inflammatory, sedative and analgesic effects (Bowles 2003).
Despite some of the potential uses of essential oils contained in Table 17, it is not the role of the aromatherapist to treat specific conditions such as infections. However, the therapist can include appropriate oils in a holistic context, and can offer aromatherapy support preparations for home use.
At this point the handout does give quite strong hints that there is no good evidence that any of it works. In that case, why are they doing a three year degree in it?
Then of course we get on to the 19th century vitalism (being taught in the 21st century) and the usual ‘energy’ nonsense. For example
Holmes (1997) proposed that the nature of a fragrance can bring about specific psychotherapeutic effects. Using three fragrance parameters – tone (odour quality), intensity and note (evaporation rate), with tone being the most significant, and six fragrance categories – spicy, sweet, lemony, green, woody and rooty. He proposes that the nature of a fragrance will bring about specific psychotherapeutic effects. The following is a summary of his suggestions.
‘High/Top tone’ oils such as those from the citrus group, the Myrtaceae family and also ylang ylang extra and 1, lavender and mimosa abs. will have a stimulating, uplifting effect.
‘Low/Base tone’ oils including vetivert, patchouli, sandalwood and also tuberose, hay and oakmoss abs., will have a depressing, sedating effect.
Gabriel Mojay is quoted as saying
“Fragrance is the primary effective quality of essential oils. By this we mean their most immediate and generalised effect on the body and mind. This effect is first and foremost an energetic effect – as it is the vital energy of the human organism that first responds to an essential oil and its fragrance.”
These are just more empty words, woolly thoughts about long-discredited ideas of vitalism. They are presented entirely uncritically.
Reflexology is based on the utterly barmy proposition that "… reflexologists claim to be a system of zones and reflex areas that they say reflect an image of the body on the feet and hands, with the premise that such work effects a physical change to the body".
Regardless of its absurd premises, it just doesn’t work. A review by Ernst (2009) concludes
"The best evidence available to date does not demonstrate convincingly that reflexology is an effective treatment for any medical condition."
It is simply a foot massage, There’s nothing wrong with that, if you like that kind of thing, but please don’t pretend it is anything more
One handout lists, under the treatments for Migraines and Headaches
- Homeopathy (applying the principle of similimum)
- Massage for relaxation
- Reflexology (addressing reflexes relating to head, neck, solar plexus, spine, pituitary & digestive systems).
- Nutritional therapy
- Bach Flowers may be useful
No evidence is cited for any of them, not doubt because next-to-none exists.
A three year degree in rubbing feet is just an absurdity.
The material that was sent about reflexology was very thin. I’ve asked for more, but in a sense it doesn’t matter, because all one has to do is look at a standard reflexology diagram to see what a load of unmitigated nonsense it is. There isn’t the slightest reason to think that an area on your big toe is ‘connected’ in some unspecified sense, to you nose, It is just preposterous made-up junk.
Diagram from Scienceblogs
Who is responsible?
I’m quite happy to believe that the people who teach this new-age nonsense actually believe it.
What I would like to know is whether the Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Edinburgh Napier University believes it. She is Professor Dame Joan K. Stringer DBE, BA (Hons) CertEd PhD CCMI FRSA FRSE.
That’s an impressive string of initials for somebody who seems to defend 19th century vitalism as a suitable subject for an honours degree. I could ask her, but such letters rarely get a response.
Picture from Edinburgh Napier University
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