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More dangerous nonsense from the University of Westminster: when will Professor Geoffrey Petts do something about it?

May 3rd, 2011 · 12 Comments

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One of my first posts about nonsense taught in universities was about the University of Westminster (April 2008): Westminster University BSc: “amethysts emit high yin energy”. since then, there have been several more revelations.

Jump to follow-up

Petts

Professor Petts

The vice-cnancellor of Westminster, Professor Geoffrey Petts, with whom the buck stops, did have an internal review but its report was all hot air and no action resulted (see A letter to the Times, and Progress at Westminster). That earned Professor Petts an appearence in Private Eye Crystal balls. Professor Petts in Private Eye (and it earned me an invitation to a Private Eye lunch, along with Francis Wheen, Charlie Booker, Ken Livingstone . . ). It also earned Petts an appearence in the Guardian (The opposite of science).

By that time Salford University had closed down all its CAM, and the University of Central Lancashire was running an honest internal review which resulted in closure of (almost) all of their nonsense degrees. But Westminster proved more resistant to sense and, although they closed down homeopathy, they still remain the largest single provider of degrees in junk medicine. See, for example More make-believe from the University of Westminster. This time it’s Naturopathy, and
The last BSc (Hons) Homeopathy closes! But look at what they still teach at Westminster University.

It’s interesting that Westminster always declined to comply with Freedom of Information requests, yet I had more from them than from most places. All the information about what’s taught at Westminster came from leaks from within the university. Westminster has more moles than a suburban garden. They were people with conscience who realised that the university was harming itself. They would claim that they were trying to save the university from some remarkably bad management. I claim also that I’m working in the interests of the university.

In the wake of the victory at the Information Tribunal, I sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for for samples of teaching materials from all of their courses. This time they couldn’t legally refuse. The first batch has just arrived, so here are a few selected gems of utter nonsense. Well, it is worse than nonsense because it endangers the health of sick people.

A letter to the university from a student

Before getting on to the slides, here’s a letter that was supplied under FOIA. It was sent anonymously to the university. I was told that this was the only letter of complaint but I happen to know that’s not true so I’ve asked again. This one was forwarded to the vice-chancellor in 2008, and to the review committee. Both seem to have ignored it. Judging from the wording, one would guess that it came from one of their own undergraduates. :Here are some extracts.[download whole letter]

It is a flagrant contradiction of a ‘science’ in the BSc to have these practices, but it also jeopardises our profession, which is under DoH review and being constantly attacked in the media Gustifiable I suggest).

We are taught that simply tasting plant tinctures can tell us which part of the body they work. on and what they do in the body. We are given printed charts with an outline of the body on to record our findings on. This is both nonsense, but is dangerous as it implies that the pharmacology of plant tinctures can be divined by taste alone. In class we are taught that we can divine the drug actions or use of an unknown plant simply by tasting an alcohol extract. Science? or dangerous fantasy.

There are lecturers taking clinics who allow students to dowse and partake themselves in dowsing or pendulums to diagnose and even to test suitability of plant drugs.

Dowsing is taught to us by some lecturers and frowned upon by others but we feel it brings the herbal medicine into a poor light as it is unscientific and bogus nonsense. We are concerned that we have seen the course leader brush over this practice as though she is frightened to make a stand.

The letter seems to refer to a course in herbal medicine. That is a subject that could be studied scientifically, though to do so would leave students unemployed because so few herbal treatments have been shown to work. It obviously is not being studied scientifically: but even teaching students about dowsing and pendulums does not seem to have stirred the vice-chancellor into action.

David Peters: wishful thinking?

David Peters is a nice man. He’s the Clinical Director of Westminster’s School of Integrated Health. I debated with him on the excellent Radio 4 Programme, Material World.

[listen to Material World].

His lecture on "Complementary Healthcare in the NHS" showed some fine wishful thinking.

peters2

It shows the progress of the euphemisms that quacks use to try to gain respectability, but little else. Interestingly, later slides show a bit more realism.

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So he has noticed that the tide has turned and that a lot of people are no longer willing to be palmed off with new age gobbledygook. And yes, courses are shutting. Perhaps his course will be the next to shut?

According to an internal Westminster email that found its way to me,

The following courses have been closed/identified for closure due to poor recruitment :

  • BSc degrees in Homeopathy and Remedial Massage & Neuromuscular Therapy, students completing by September 2011
  • MA degrees in International Community development, Community development and Faith-based Community development, students completing by September 2011
  • BSc degree Complementary Medicine
  • Graduate diploma BMS

The following courses have been identified as ‘at risk’ (School definition) and will be discussed at the APRG and University Review Group2, due to poor recruitment and high cost of delivery:

  • Integrated Health Scheme: BSc Complementary Medicine, Naturopathy; BSc Chinese Medicine; BSc Nutritional Therapy; BSc Herbal Medicine

The BSc (Hons) degree in naturopathy

Naturopathy us pretty bizarre, because it consists largely of doing nothing at all, beyond eating vegetables . Being ill is good for you.

Perhaps the best source to judge claims is the US National Center for Complementary and Alternive Medicine (NCCAM), a branch of the National Institutes of Health. This is the outfit that has spent over a billion dollars of US taxpayers’ money testing alternative medicines and for all that money has not come up with a single useful treatment. They never link to any sort of critical comment, and are nothing if not biassed towards all things alternative. If they can’t come up with evidence. nobody can. Two useful links to NCCAM are Herbs at a glance, and Health Topics A – Z.

Uses of herbal teas in naturopathic dietary care

I was sent a set of over 50 slides on "Herbal Teas/Decoctions (3CMWS03, 1/02, Uses of herbal teas in naturopathic dietary care). About half of them amount to little more than ‘how to make a cup of tea’. but then we get onto uses, but then a lot of fantasy ensues.

What NNCAM says about dandelion. There is no compelling scientific evidence for using dandelion as a treatment for any medical condition.

What Westminster says

tea 2

tea1
Well I know what a diuretic is, but "blood purifier" and "liver tonic" are meaningless gobbledygook. We’ve been through this before with Red Clover (see Michael Quinion’s .look at the term "blood cleanser"). Using words like them is the very opposite of education.

What NCCAM says.about chamomile: Chamomile has not been well studied in people so there is little evidence to support its use for any condition.

What Westminster says

tea 4

So, judging by NCCAM, these claims are unjustified. It’s teaching folk-lore as though it meant something.

More dangerous advice comes when we get to the ‘repertories’.

tea 3

Infections can kill you, They are one of the modest number of things that pharmacology can usually cure, rather than treat symptomatically. If you go to a Westminster-trained naturopath with a serious infection and follow their advice to put garlic in your socks, you will not just be smelly, You could die.

Allergy and Intolerance 3CMwS03 18/02

Treating allergies, misdiagnosed by fraudulent tests, is very big business for the ‘health food industry’,

This lecture, by R. Newman Turner ND, DO, BAc, started tolerably but descended to a nadir when it mentions, apparently seriously, two of the best known fraudulent methods of allergy diagnosis, the Vega test and "Applied Kinesiology".

Kinesiology Sounds sort of sciencey, but Applied Kinesiology is actually a fraudulent and totally ineffective diagnostic method invented by (you guessed) a chiropractor.   It has been widely used by alternative medicine to misdiagnose food allergies. It does not work (Garrow, 1988: download reprint).

all 1

Could this be the same R Newman Turner who wrote a book on Naturopathic First Aid? The mind boggles.

Naturopathic Detoxification 23 CMES03 25/02 Detox Myth of Fact


This lecture was the responsibility of Irving S Boxer ND DO MRN LCH, a naturopath, homeopath and osteopath in private practice.

Don’t be fooled by the implied question in the title. It might have been taken to suggest a critical approach. Think again.

There is all the usual make-believe about unspecified and imaginary toxins that you must get rid of with enemas and vegetables.

detox1
detox 2

The skin brushing does not quite plumb the depths of Jacqueline Young’s Taking an air bath , but presumably it is something similar.

"Liver activation" by castor oil packs is pure unadulterated gobblydygook. The words mean nothing.

Their attempt to divide all foods into those that cleanse and those that clog sounds reminiscent of the Daily Mail’s ontological oncology project.

detox3
detox4

The practice of healing (3CMSS01 2/12)

Next we retreat still further into fantasy land

heal1
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All pure hokum, of course’ She could have added "craniosacral therapy" (at present the subject of a complaint against the UCL Hospitals Trust (that’s the NHS, not UCL) to the Advertising Standards Authority,

heal3
heal4

Is that definition quite clear?

In fact this sort of nonsense about rays coming from your hands was disproved experimentally, in a rather famous paper, the only paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association to have been written by a 9-year old. Emily Rosa. She (with some help from her parents) devised a simple test for her 4th (US) grade science fair project. It was later repeated under more controlled conditions and written up for JAMA [download reprint] . It showed that the claims of ‘therapeutic touch" practitioners to be able to detect "auras" were totally false. No subsequent work has shown otherwise. Why, then, does the University of Westminster teach it as part of a Bachelor of Science degree?

You can see Emily Rosa herself explain why “therapeutic touch is bullshit” with Penn and Teller, in Penn and Teller Expose Therapeutic Touch.

Environmental stress

The last bit of hokum (for the moment) is one of the best. This one has every myth under the sun (including some I hadn’t heard of).

env1

The lecturer, Val Bullen, was also responsible for the infamous "Amethysts emit high Yin energy" slide. One of her own students desribes her as "sweet but deluded". I have nothing against Ms Bullen, She can believe whatever she wants. My problem is with the vice-chancellor, Prof Geoffrey Petts, who seems to think that this sort of stuff is appropriate for a BSc.

env2

 

Everything barmy is here. Mobile phones, power lines, underwater streams, ley lines, sick building syndrome, are all reasons why you don’t feel 100 percent, Actually my reason is having to read this junk. The "definitions" are, as always, just meaningless words.

env3

env4

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env6
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env8
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But don’t despair. Help is at hand.

env12

Just in case you happen to have run out of Alaskan Calling All Angels Essence, you can buy it from Baldwin’s for £19.95. It’s "designed to invoke the nurturing, uplifting and joyful qualities of the angelic kingdom.", and what’s more "can also use them any time to cleanse, energize, and protect your auric field." Well that’s what it says.in the ad.

Yarrow Environmental Solution looks like good stuff too. Only £7.95 for 7.5 ml. For that you get a lot. It will

" . . strengthen and protect against toxic environmental influences, geopathic stress, and other hazards of technology-dominated modern life. This includes the disruptive effects of radiation on human energy fields from X-rays, televisions, computer monitors, electromagnetic fields, airplane flights or nuclear fall-out."

OK stop giggling. This is serious stuff, taught in a UK university as part of a BSc degree, and awarded a high score by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA).

Professor Petts, are you listening? I believe it is you, not I, who is bringing your university into disrepute.

 

The slides shown here are copyright of the University of Westminster or of the author of the lecture. They are small sample of what I was sent and are reproduced under the “fair quotation” provision, in the public interest.

Follow-up

5 May 2011. By sheer coincidence, Emily and Linda Rosa were passing through London. They called for lunch and here’s a picture (with Ben Goldacre) in UCL’s (endangered) Housman room. Linda kindly gave me a copy of her book Attachment Therapy on Trial: The Torture and Death of Candace Newmaker. [Download reprint of Rosa’s paper..]

.

6 May 2011. Talking of the “vibrational medicine” fantasy, I had an email that pointed out a site that plumbs new depths in fantasy physics. It’s on the PositiveHealthOnline website: A post there, Spirals and Energy in Nature, was written by Robert McCoy. He claims to have worked on microprocessor layout design, but anyone with school physics could tell that the article is sheer nonsense. In a way it is much more objectionable that the silly slides with coloured rays used in the Westminster course. McCoy’s post seeks to blind with sciencey-sounding language, that in fact makea no sense at all. Luckily my retweet of the site attracted the attention of a real physicist, A.P. Gaylard, who made a very welcome return to blogging with Fantasy physics and energy medicine. He dismantles the physics, line-by-line, in a devastating critique. This sort of junk physics is far more dangerous than the perpetual motion pundits and the cold-fusion fantasists. At PositiveHealthOnline it is being used to push pills that do you no good and may harm you. It is a danger to public health.

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Tags: Anti-science · antiscience · aromatherapy · Bait and switch · CAM · conflict of interest · craniosacral · David Peters · Freedom of Information Act · Geoffrey Petts · herbal medicine · herbalism · Michael McIntyre · naturopathy · nutribollocks · nutriceuticals · nutritional therapy · Red clover · supplements · Universities · University of Westminster · Vega test · Westminster university

12 responses so far ↓

  • 1 JamesM // May 3, 2011 at 09:31

    Westminster’s information on Dandelion lags only just behind the 19th century. From “The Complete Herbalist”, (1884; first ed approx 1840):

    “The dried root possesses but little medicinal virtue; but when fresh, is a stomachic and tonic, with slight diuretic and aperient actions. It has long supposed to exert an influence upon the the bilary organs, removing torpor and engorgement of the liver as well as the spleen; it is also reputed beneficial in dropsies owing to a want of action of the the abdominal organs, in uterine obstructions, chronic diseases of the skin etc.”

    The author, “Prof.” O. Phelps Brown notes, however that:

    “Its virtues, however, are much over-rated.”

    A bit like a degree from Westminster.

  • 2 Avoided Cranium // May 3, 2011 at 12:47

    David, I think you missed a slide:

    Common Indications of BS

    The most common indications of BS are:

    * resistance to evidence (empirical or theoretical)

    *feeling let-down, cheated, fed-up and lied to.

    *depression, and a sense of the pointlessness of it all

    *insomnia, and nervousness about being caught out

    *feeling cold and exposed when faced with logic

    *headaches and muzzy heads from trying to explain nonsense

    Purveyors of CAM Bullshit have behavioural and psychological problems and an inability to distinguish fantasy from reality.

    BS is present in about 80% of all graduates of CAM courses (Westminster or elsewhere)

  • 3 Ravi // May 3, 2011 at 17:13

    Very good as usual…

    If your interested in Emily Rosa’s excellent study try to find Penn & Tellers show on the subject – very funny and I’ll just say Emily is no longer 9!

  • 4 David Colquhoun // May 3, 2011 at 17:30

    @Ravi

    Thanks for the hint. You can see Emily Rosa herself explain why “therapeutic touch is bullshit” with Penn and Teller, in Penn and Teller Expose Therapeutic Touch. I added the link in the post too.

    On Thursday I’m going to be meeting her and her mother Linda.

  • 5 Chris // May 3, 2011 at 18:01

    What exactly do you study in order to get an MA in “International Community development”, “Community development” or “Faith-based Community development”?

    On another point, since it appears that “everyone finds something different
    when dowsing”, but “that is OK because that’s the way they see it”, what conceivable use is it?

  • 6 CrewsControl // May 3, 2011 at 19:01

    I suspect that your negative attitude to geomancy is the result of interference of your ch’i (vital energy) causing geopsychic stress. I see one of the slides cites Richard Feather Anderson on the subject of geomancy. According to his web site Richard

    ‘….studied Black Sect Tibetan Tantric Buddhist Feng Shui since 1987 with Master Lin Yun, and sacred geometry with Keith Critchlow, Research Director of the Prince of Wales Institute of Architecture. He investigated Earth energies and altered states of consciousness at sacred sites with the world’s leading experts.’

    I suspect a spot of ‘earth acupuncture’ in your office might provide some relief. Do be careful to avoid the AC mains cables and gas pipes.

  • 7 Ronanthebarbarian // May 4, 2011 at 12:17

    David
    I must thank you sincerely. The next time any idiot in our place tries to justify a daft idea with ‘Qaa says it’s good practice’ I can refer them here. To my mind, this article shows the QAA should now be in court with a conspiracy to defraud charge in front of them.
    We can only dream.

  • 8 David Colquhoun // May 4, 2011 at 15:12

    @Ronanthebarbarian
    If only!
    The failure of both the QAA and UUK to do anything whatsoever about this sort of course shows just how useless they are when it comes to ensuring quality. It’s a shame that the QAA survived the bonfire of the quangos. They do more harm than good. This was apparent also in the case of their failure to spot the disgraceful behaviour of the University of Wales, which makes a business out of accrediting all manner of crackpot degrees. See Scandal of the University of Wales and the Quality Assurance Agency, and the earlier post, Another worthless validation: the University of Wales and nutritional therapy.

  • 9 Freedom of information reveals some unusual testimonials for the University of Westminster: when will Professor Geoffrey Petts do something about it? // Jun 20, 2011 at 09:50

    […] to the university, I was sent only one and extracts from it appear in the last post on Westminster. More dangerous nonsense from the University of Westminster: when will Professor Geoffrey Petts do so… But I knew (don’t ask how) that there had been more than that, and a slightly widened FOIA […]

  • 10 Professor Geoffrey Petts of the University of Westminster says they “are not teaching pseudo-science”. The facts show this is not true // Aug 11, 2011 at 22:17

    […] More dangerous nonsense from the University of Westminster: when will Professor Geoffrey Petts do so… […]

  • 11 The demise of quackademia. Progress in the last 5 years leaves Michael Driscoll and Geoffrey Petts isolated. // Jan 1, 2012 at 18:59

    […] During 2011, Westminster shut down Naturopathy, Nutritional therapy, Therapeutic bodywork and Complementary Medicine. See, for example, More dangerous nonsense from the University of Westminster: when will Professor Geoffrey Petts do so… […]

  • 12 Bait and switch by herbalists, Chinese and Western. Simon Mills speaks. // Jun 10, 2012 at 18:11

    […] medicine (including acupuncture). The University of Westminster still runs Chinese medicine, and Western herbal medicine (with dowsing). So do the University of Middlesex and University of East […]

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