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The University of Aberdeen and its vice chancellor, Ian Diamond, step back from the brink?

April 27th, 2012 · 29 Comments

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It is with a sinking heart that I write this post. Last summer, my son graduated from Aberdeen (in politics and international relations). He enjoyed his time there. It’s a wonderful place with some very distinguished alumni. It’s had a good reputation in science and medicine.

So why has the University of Aberdeen been dabbling in the mystical barmpottery of the Steiner cult?

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According to a rumour on twitter yesterday, the university has avoided making an idiot of itself. Nonetheless there are lessons to be learned from this episode and it needs to be recorded for posterity.

The University of Aberdeen owes a huge debt to James Gray who, more than anyone else, revealed the facts about their anthroposophical involvement. They should give him an honorary degree.

Aberdeen has two connections with the Steiner movement. One is the BA (Hons) in Social Pedagogy. The other is a potentially more dangerous proposal to establish a chair in anthroposophical "medicine" in return for large donations, partly from Germany.

The BA (Hons) Social Pedagogy appears on the university’s web site, though I’m told that it isn’t running this year. I’ve applied under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 to see exactly what’s taught. But James Gray has already revealed the gist of it on his blog, Heavenly beings and astral forces: the real meaning of ‘social pedagogy’. Does the vice-chancellor believe in astral forces and reincarnation? I doubt it, so why does he allow this sort of nonsense to be taught to hapless students?

The Dunlop chair of Integrative Health Care and Management

The word "integrative" is (US version of) the euphemism that is currently fashionable among quacks in an attempt to make alternative medicine sound respectable. Is the University not aware of that? See Prince of Wales Foundation for magic medicine: spin on the meaning of ‘integrated’.

The print media caught up with bloggers at last, with a rather good article by Paul Jump in Times Higher Education this week, Aberdeen looks to feather its nest in a field dubbed ‘pure quackery’. This article doesn’t feature in the University’s media list, though a visit from the Prince of Wales’ wife does (she will, no doubt, approve).

Documents obtained by James Gray show that reveal that Dr Stefan Geider, co-ordinator of the Anthroposophic Health, Education and Social Care Movement (AHaSC) and anthroposophical doctor at Camphill Aberdeen, proposed that the University host a centre for anthroposophic medicine in 2010.

Some of the documents have (temporarily I hope) vanished from James Gray’s site. Luckily I have copies of them

James Gray obtained the job description for the proposed chair. It says

"The University of Aberdeen, College of Life Sciences and Medicine, School of Medicine and Dentistry seeks to appoint a Professor of Integrative Health Care and Management (Dunlop Chair)."

The job is described with the usual weasel words about world class research. But read on and you find

"To develop collaboration within the [insert appropriate division please] and with the School of Education
particularly regarding BA in Social Pedagogy "

And, under ‘essential knowledge skills and experience’,

  • In depth knowledge of and practice experience in the system of anthroposophic medicine as an integrative
    approach
  • Strong track record of applied and methodological research published in leading peer-reviewed journals

What’s amazing about this, apart from the obvious incompatibility of these two requirements, is that the job description was approved by none other than Professor Mike Greaves, head of the College of Life Sciences and Medicine. On 12 December 2011, Professor Greave comments "This looks OK to me".

It is astonishing that high-ranking medical people in the university seem to be totally unaware of the nature of the Steiner movement, and the mumbo jumbo of anthroposophical medicine. Does Professor Greaves really believe in reincarnation? Does he think that mistletoe is an appropriate treatment for cancer?

After reading James Gray’s blog, Will Aberdeen University give green light to anthroposophic medicine centre?, I wrote to the vice chancellor, Professor Ian Diamond, and others, as follows.

Dear Professor Diamond

I was pleased to hear that Aberdeen was reconsidering the “social pedagogy” course. I was also pleased to see that someone appreciates the extreme reputation risk that this poses to Aberdeen’s reputation in medical sciences. I have no doubt that Hans Kosterliz, whom I knew well, would be turning in his grave if he were aware of the proposal that to appoint a Dunlop chair. You would go from Lasker prize to booby prize in a couple of decades.

This summer. my son graduated from Aberdeen (in a quite different area), and I don’t want the value of his degree to be tainted by the ridicule that will be poured on his alma mater for teaching about “astral forces”.

I was astounded by Professor Greaves assertion that “The College of Life Sciences and Medicine wish to establish a Chair in Integrative Health Care and Management”.  Has Prof Greaves not seen the nature of the material advocated by these people?    I simply can’t believe that this sort of stuff is supported by your scientists. May I suggest that the university should conduct a secret ballot among it’s many good medical scientists. They are the people whose reputation will be besmirched if this development were to go ahead.  I realise that it can’t be expected that those who run the university can be aware of what’s taught on all the courses, so I suggest that the ballot should contain references  to James Gray’s blog  (you should be very grateful to him for doing a job which should really have been done by the validation committee).  You might also wish to refer the committee and governors to the three scholarly guest posts on my own blog that analyse the bizarre cult-like nature of the Steiner movement and the sheer dangerous  quackery of “anthroposophical medicine”.

The true nature of Steiner (Waldorf) education. Mystical barmpottery at taxpayers’ expense. Part 1

The Steiner Waldorf cult uses bait and switch to get state funding. Part 2.

Steiner Waldorf Schools Part 3. The problem of racism

None of this is apparent in the official documents revealed here, but it should be.

It is astonishing that the documents should refer to “hospital centres such as The Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine (RLHIM)” as though that were a recommendation. Are you not aware that most of the RLHIM building is occupied by real medicine: the homeopaths etc have been reduced to small rump?  Are are you not aware of how often the RLHIM has been condemned by the Advertising Standards Authority because of the false claims it makes?

It is equally astonishing that the documents should say “Aberdeen would be the first university outside central Europe and the first in the UK to establish a chair in this area” as though that were a recommendation, rather a giant step back to 19th century medicine and mysticism.  There are very good reasons why other universities do not have a chair like that which you are proposing.

I hope that, when considering this proposal, you will consider very seriously the damage to your reputation that would be incurred by taking money from organisations with such an obvious axe to grind.  It will be all over the blogs, and then the newspapers if you were to go ahead.  It is not unknown, even in the USA, for universities to turn down donations.  Florida State University turned down $10m that someone wished to donate to found a chiropractic college, though admittedly only after one of their own eminent chemistry professors posted the attached picture. Is that really the sort of reputation that you want for Aberdeen?

I’m preparing my own blog post on the matter, but I won’t put it up until I have had a response from you.

Best regards

David Colquhoun

Attachment;

FSU

Well, I have had no response from Professor Diamond, so I’m going to post it now.

The cash

Again, all has been revealed by James Gray.

"The correspondence shows that millions of pounds has been pledged by anthroposophical organisations to fund the Centre’s work. The bulk (£1.5m) will come from the foundation of the Raphael Centre, a private anthroposophical clinic in Kent that works with those suffering from complex neurological disabilities and from cancer. The Centre’s treatments include eurythmy, chiropractic, mistletoe therapy, oil-dispersion bath therapy and therapeutic hyperthermia.

A further €1.5m has been pledged by the Software AG Foundation. The Foundation – the charitable arm of a German software firm – funds various anthroposophical projects around the world, including the Steiner Academy in Hereford. (See Alicia Hamberg’s blog for more on Software AG’s relationship with anthroposophy.)"

It’s fascinating that the Hereford Steiner Academy tried to disguise the source of its funding.

The outcome

According to a rumour on Twitter, the University has decided not to proceed with the chair. And I was also told that the BA (Hons) Social Pedagogy degree is not in fact running this year. Will that be abandoned too?

If the rumour is right, one wonders what Stefan Geider will say in his talk. "Head, Heart and Hands: Dunlop Centre for Integrative Health Care and Management”, at the anthroposophists’ conference in New Lanark (22 – 24 May). Incidentally it’s worrying that this conference appears to be sponsored by "NHS National Services Scotland".

Although, if the rumour is correct, the University has made the right decision in the end, it is worrying that serious academics in dark suits have spent two years discussing the matter, The proper reaction would have been, when the proposal was first made, to say "you must be joking, this is a medical school". That would have saved endless time spent in meetings to discuss what’s obviously a preposterous proposal. But according to the documents that Gray revealed, it seems very likely that it would have gone through if it were not for the fuss raised by bloggers. Can these senior academics not use Google? Why weren’t they aware of the nature of their proposals?

The really bad interpretation of these events is that they were well aware that they were promoting dangerous pseudo-science, but allowed themselves to be blinded to that fact by the sight of large cheques. Donations of almost £3 million can have a hypnotic effect on vice-chancellors. I do hope that isn’t the case. It would be even worse than the only alternative that I can see, and that is that senior managers can’t distinguish between pseudo-science and real science.

Watch this space for further developments.

Follow-up

28 April 2012. The comments on Paul Jump’s article in Times Higher Education seem to have disappeared. You can still see them, as of 08.49 this morning, in the Google cache, preserved at freezepage.com.

29 April 2012. Comments now restored at Times Higher, and a new one from Ben Goldacre

"Senior people from Aberdeen University reading this comment thread should take note of exactly who supports them: anonymous unnamed shouters who offer only childish abuse and dishonest personal smears. These are your allies now. It is downhill from here"

Robin McKie and Lauura Hartmann cover the Aberdeen scandal nicely in the Observer: Holistic unit will ‘tarnish’ Aberdeen University reputation. But they fail totally to acknowledge their sources, in particular James Gray. That is pretty smelly journalistic ethics.

3 May 2012. As so often, the last word on the scandal of Aberdeen’s flirtation with the endarkenment has come from Laurie Taylor, in Times Higher Education.

“Hands off our northeastern Scottish colleagues.”

That was the vigorous response of Janet Fluellen, our Director of Curriculum Development, to all those critics who have lined up to attack the University of Aberdeen’s proposed chair in alternative medicine.

Ms Fluellen admitted that she was not “totally familiar” with the anthroposophical basis of the new post, or indeed with the manner in which this distinctive philosophy allowed for the complex interplay between physiological and spiritual processes in healing. Neither was she “thoroughly au fait” with the empirical basis for the discipline’s claim to cure cancer with the use of mistletoe.

She did, however, feel that “a proper university” should always be open to “new, exciting disciplines”, and instanced our own university’s Department of Rectal Communication, which had gone “from strength to strength in recent years under the exemplary leadership of Professor D.C. Butt”.

She reminded our reporter Keith Ponting (30) that there had been widespread scepticism about a discipline that stressed the psychological importance of shifting the site of consciousness from the cortex to the rectum. But advances in thermal imaging had now confirmed many of the discipline’s original claims about the crucial part played by the rectum in unconscious communication.

Professor Butt himself told Ponting that he appreciated Ms Fluellen’s “vote of confidence” in his discipline.

“In the early days, I was one of the very few people in UK universities who made a habit of speaking through my arse. But even a cursory survey of higher education today would show that the practice has now become widespread. That itself is a great testament to the discipline of rectal communication.”

8 May 2012

It seems the rumour was true. It seems that this mail was sent only internally. It will be interesting to see what public announcement is made.

Subject: Update on proposed Chair in Integrative Health Care Management

Dear colleagues,

As some of you may be aware from press reports and social media, the University’s Governance and Nominations Committee met today to consider a proposal to establish a Chair in Integrative Health Care Management.

The statement below gives the Committee’s decision and how this was reached:

The University has decided not to take forward a current proposal to establish a Chair in Integrative Health Care Management.

Following discussion and consideration of the issues involved, the University’s Governance and Nominations Committee agreed that given the need for sustainability of funding for the longer-term, the University could not  satisfy its requirement for the highest standards of scientific rigour with the funding model proposed, in particular the aspirations of potential donors to establish a Centre of Complementary Medicine. 

The Committee further agreed that research to investigate the evidence base for the effectiveness or otherwise of complementary therapies in the treatment of disease was a legitimate academic endeavour, provided that it could be supported by sustainable and unrestricted academic research funding.

Regards

Communications team

The dropping of this daft proposal was undoubtedly a triumph for bloggers, especially James Gray. My guess is that if there had been no fuss, the money would have been taken quietly. Of course it wouldn’t have stayed quiet for long. It amazes me just how ignorant of the blogosphere some senior academics seem to be.

The statement is, I must say, pretty disgraceful. It makes no admission at all that anthroposophy is a nonsensical mystical cult. All universities, in fact all big organisations, engage in this sort of dishonest doublespeak, but it’s particularly unpleasant when universities do it. They have done the right thing, probably for more or less the right reasons, but then give false reasons. I suppose they do this to try to save face. In fact it has the opposite effect.

11 May 2012. Paul Jump, in Times Higher Education, reported on the official withdrawal: Aberdeen decides against alternative medicine chair. He quotes form this letter, sent to Aberdeen’s VC on the day the annuncement was made public.

Dear Professor Diamond and Mr Purdon,

Thanks for sending the press release. Actually I got it last night (I have a lot of friends in Aberdeen since my son graduated there last summer).
I posted it on my blog, at http://www.dcscience.net/?p=5261#080512

As you see, I am delighted to see that you made the right decision.  But, if I may say so, the wording of your press release is a bit of a PR disaster. 

It is almost incomprehensible and (as you see from the comments too), rather than protecting your reputation, it invites laughter.  All you had to do was to say something like “we have decided that a chair of anthroposophical medicine is not appropriate in a medical school and we shall therefore decline the offer of funding for the chair”.  That would have been simple, it would (I imagine) be true and it would have brought credit on the university. 

It’s true that for anyone who knew about anthroposophy, the decision should have taken 5 minutes not two years, but no need to emphasize that in the press release.

I do hope, quite seriously, that you consider offering an honorary degree to James Gray. It was, above all. his blog that saved Aberdeen for making a dreadful mistake,  His blog (I imagine), and mine (certainly) were not intended to denigrate the university, but to save it from denigrating itself.

Best regards
David Colquhoun

13 May 2012. A letter was published in the Observer from a group of people who are concerned about Michael Gove’s policy on Steiner schools [download as pdf]

Schools of pseudoscience pose a serious threat to education

Maharishi and Steiner schools are just as dangerous as creationist schools

A lot of public concern has been expressed over the potential establishment of creationist free schools. This concern resulted in the government changing the rules for free schools to prevent them from teaching pseudoscience (“Richard Dawkins celebrates a victory over creationists“).

However, not enough attention has been paid to two equally grave threats to science education, namely Maharishi and Steiner schools. Maharishi schools follow the educational methods of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, guru of the transcendental meditation movement, while Steiner education is based on an esoteric/occultist movement called anthroposophy, founded by Austrian mystic Rudolf Steiner (“Holistic unit will ‘tarnish’ Aberdeen University reputation“). The Maharishi school has as its specialist subject the “science of creative intelligence”, which is not based on science. It also teaches a system of herbal medicine, most of which lacks evidence of efficacy and safety. Anthroposophy is centred on beliefs in karma, reincarnation and advancing children’s connection to the spirit world.

The first Steiner academy opened in 2008, with a free school to open this September. The first Maharishi school opened last September. Both groups have interviews to open more schools in 2013. We believe that the new rules on teaching pseudoscience mean that no more of these schools should open.

Pavan Dhaliwal head of public affairs, British Humanist Association; Edzard Ernst professor of complementary medicine, Exeter University; David Colquhoun professor of pharmacology, University College London and blogger, dcscience.net; Simon Singh science writer; Andy Lewis Quackometer.net; Alan Henness zenosblog.com; Melanie Byng; Richard Byng medical academic; James Gray; Mark Hayes; David Simpson

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Tags: anthroposophy · Steiner · Waldorf

29 responses so far ↓

  • 1 antiquackscot // Apr 27, 2012 at 18:18

    An excellent analysis. Will the quacks now try to approach other UK universities to try to buy respectability? Aberdeen look to have seen sense, but one wonders whether less affluent/prestigious institutions would feel able to say no…?

  • 2 David Colquhoun // May 4, 2012 at 17:57

    I’m told by a spokesman for Aberdeen that

    “The matter you refer to will be considered further by the Governance & Nominations Committee on Tuesday 8 May.”

    Surely they can’t now decide to do such deep damage to the university.

    I notice that although this post has been up for only a week, it comes up on the first page of a Google search for
    “Ian Diamond” Aberdeen

  • 3 David Colquhoun // May 8, 2012 at 18:35

    Tuesday May 8th
    I hear that a statement has been issued which confirms the rumour that the chair in anthroposophy will not go ahead. The statement will appear above as soon as I get hold of it.

  • 4 zeno // May 8, 2012 at 20:29

    Great news, but what a pile of gobbledegook!

    And a ‘Communications team’ have the gall to put their name to it?!

  • 5 lecanardnoir // May 8, 2012 at 20:35

    Aberdeen just don’t appear to get it.

    Alternative medicine may have legitimate research areas – but not by people who believe in gnomes.

    In general, research into superstitious and pseudoscientific belief systems cannot be carried out with any academic rigour by those who believe in them. A point so obvious that I cannot believe I have to say it.

  • 6 Jan Luiten // May 9, 2012 at 21:25

    Mr. Colquhoun, I wil not directly comment on the Aberdeen case in particular. But I will react on your thinking about anthroposophy and on your own terms of reference. I am afraid that in reality things are exactly opposite to what you are stating here. You are now living with the illusion that you are practicing science without a dogma. I read this once again in your contribution to the philosophy-science- religion discussion held in November 2011. It is an illusion because in practice you are maintaining the dogma that there cannot be a spiritual reality. It is this dogma that makes you leave the path of science in this matter and enter the path of belief. It is very clear to me that you don’t want to be a believer, but on this point you are. When you are maintaining this dogma you are proclaiming a kind of materialistic belief. There is a name for this belief: pseudoskepticism. This term was coined by Marcello Truzzi, a skeptic himself and co-founder of CSICOP. Pseudoskepticism is not a very strong basis to reject anthroposophy because the rejection takes place on behalf of a (your) belief.
    And now something that might surprise you: anthroposophy is in the core NOT a belief. It is a way, but you can also call it a method. The results you can obtain with this method form no matter to believe, you should take them as hypotheses. Certainly there will be people who take the content of the inquiry results of Steiner as a belief. But this is not how anthroposophy is meant. So we see an interesting and remarkable reversal: you are the believer here and the anthroposophist who rightly takes anthroposophy as a method is not. Of course pseudoskeptics will deny this, it is a common reaction we often see by dogmatic people.
    For all clarity: I have no personal connection to any anthroposophical institution.

  • 7 David Colquhoun // May 10, 2012 at 11:26

    @Jan Luiten

    I’m afraid that you seem to have no idea about how science works. You are free to believe in reincarnation, gnomes and mistletoe as a treatment for cancer if you want. Most reasonable people will react by say “what a load of nonsense”.

    One of the many objections to the Steiner cult is that they are rarely honest with parents. They attempt to disguise their nuttier beliefs. On of the wonderful things about the internet is that it has become quite hard to hide things. You’ve been rumbled.

  • 8 Jan Luiten // May 11, 2012 at 15:59

    A populist reaction as I expected, because many skeptic dogmatists or pseudoskeptics react in that way. Of course you , the pseudo skeptics, only know how science works. You have the monopoly on it. It works according to your own pseudo-skeptic rules. I think real science should be delivered from pseudoskeptics who make a lot of noise like you. They bring an unfree and dogmatic element in it. Science should be unprejudiced and you are not
    Out of your own skeptic thinking you are only permitted to say: we (according to our own skeptic rules) cannot find evidence for the existence of a spiritual world. More you cannot say when you want to stay strict on the path of what science is according to yourself. This basis: we cannot find evidence for it, does not permit the behavior you are showing now, as if it were proven that there is not such a thing as “spirit”. Strictly speaking you are betraying your own concept of science when you are dogmatically denying the existence of a spiritual world.

  • 9 Acleron // May 18, 2012 at 12:48

    Jan

    If you make the claim a spiritual world exists, then prove it.

    That’s how science works.

    There may be a better way of finding things out than science but nobody has yet found anything that comes even close to the achievements of science.

    Beliefs in goblins or indeed any spiritual world has never achieved any understanding of anything.

  • 10 Jan Luiten // May 18, 2012 at 15:48

    @Acleron
    Did you read my comments well ? I am not claiming anything in both comments. I am pointing out that professor Colquhoun is not acting according to its own skeptic principles. In his eyes there is no evidence for the existence of spiritual phenomena. Well ok, he then can conclude: “we cannot find evidence for the existence of spiritual phenomena”. But he cannot conclude: “there are no spiritual phenomena” or : “we will never be able to provide evidence for the existence of spiritual phenomena”, because this would be logically incorrect. The latter would also express a disbelief in the possibilities of science, because: maybe there will be evidence in the future. But he is acting as if there is proof of the non-existence of a spiritual world. Although he says he knows nothing for sure, this is apparently something he does know for sure, but logically speaking cannot know for sure.

    Acleron, have we “met” before on the internet?
    Why not use your real name?

  • 11 David Colquhoun // May 18, 2012 at 23:29

    @Jan Luiten
    I don’t believe that I have ever said that a “spiritual world” (whatever that means) does not exist. I have not even asserted that Steiner’s gnomes do not exist.

    Neither have I ever asserted that there are no gods, or that there are no fairies at the bottom of my garden

    I say merely that the probability of any of these being true is so small that it is not worth spending much time speculating about them. There are more productive things to do with your life.

    And I most certainly think it is wrong to use taxpayers’ money to fund schools that teach about reincarnation and gnomes as if they were real.

  • 12 Jan Luiten // Jul 17, 2012 at 08:19

    Are you interested to investigate what anthroposophy is?. You don’t give the impression you are. Rather you cultivate your prejudices. It puzzles me that a man with your reputation acts like this, because it is not a scientific position. You don’t really want to know what anthroposophy is.
    “There are more productive things to do with your life”.
    In a populist way you are trying to make it ridiculous. It perfectly fits in the definition of pseudo-sekepticism the great Marcello Truzzi –co-founder of CSICOP has developed.
    Truzzi considered most skeptics to be pseudoskeptics, a term he coined to describe those who assume an occult or paranormal claim is false without bothering to investigate it.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcello_Truzzi

  • 13 Jan Luiten // Jul 17, 2012 at 08:49

    I thought this discussion on the post below was closed. But appaerently you liked this collage?

    • Moon-planting Fairy-worshipping Whackos « SkeptEco on The true nature of Steiner (Waldorf) education. Mystical barmpottery at taxpayers’ expense. Part 1

    SkeptEco: another pseudoskeptic. How right was Marcello Truzzi. He really deserves a statue.

  • 14 David Colquhoun // Jul 17, 2012 at 09:00

    @Jan Luiten
    You are quite free to believe in etheric bodies, reincarnation and gnomes if you want to. You are not entitled to inflict these barmy ideas on innocent children.

    There have been plenty of tests of paranormal phenomena and the tests fail to show anything of interest. In any case, it is the responsibility of those who propose implausible ideas to produce evidence for them. It is not the job of scientists to drop everything to test whether gnomes exist just because a very small number of eccentrics propose that they do.

    You get full marks for persistence, but gamma minus for rationality.

  • 15 Jan Luiten // Jul 17, 2012 at 21:29

    Dear professor Colquhoun did you follow recent developments on the field of testing of paranormal phenomena? Are you aware of the fact that it is no longer an eccentric group that is involved in this subject? Do you know that on many universities this testing is going on? Aren’t you not rejecting this subject as nonsense before you investigate it?
    So now you are giving me marks. Since I am not one of your students don’t you think this is a bit paternalistic?
    I want to ask you one more question
    Imagine there would be many “Richard Dawkins schools” in the future, and imagine there are a lot of people who don’t agree with Richard Dawkins ideology. Do all people have to pay tax for this schools?

  • 16 David Colquhoun // Jul 18, 2012 at 11:22

    Oh yes, there are some quite good people who have investigated paranormal phenomena rigorously. The problem for you is that, so far, they have found only evidence of fraud. If that changes in the future, I’ll change my mind.

    I want schools to provide a good all-round education, not schools that are wedded to one particular ideology. That’s why I don’t like religious schools, Steiner schools or even Richard Dawkins schools. Children should not be indoctrinated with one view but educated so they can eventually decide for themselves what to believe.

  • 17 Jan Luiten // Jul 18, 2012 at 20:31

    Interesting. What have they investigated? What was the fraud?
    Are you advocating that religious schools or Steiner schools should be forbidden?

  • 18 David Colquhoun // Jul 18, 2012 at 23:22

    Not at all. I don’t want to ban any form of battiness. I merely think that they should not have state funding (i.e. my money), and that they should obey the law of the land about honest advertising.

    Although Michael Gove says that funding them increases freedom of choice, actually the effect is often the opposite. If the only nearby schools were, for example, a Catholic school and a Steiner school, I’d have very little choice. Most people are not Catholics and only a tiny number of people believe in anthroposophy (the vast majority have no idea what the word means).

  • 19 Jan Luiten // Jul 19, 2012 at 08:46

    About honest advertising I do agree with you. Also I agree with you that very little people know what anthroposophy is ( even among so called anthroposophists).
    But with what you say about state-funding I do not. Why should schools based upon a materialistic ideology should have state-funding and schools based on a spiritual image of man not? I call the materialistic schools reductionist and not at all allround. To me these materialistic schools are based on just another ideology. Now, why should the state discriminate and finance schools with ideology X (materialism, pseudoskepticism), and not schools with ideology Y (schools with a spiritual image of man)?

  • 20 David Colquhoun // Jul 19, 2012 at 14:40

    What you call a “materialistic ideology” seems to me much like what I’d call good sound education. Obviously that would have to include, as one element, some science.

    You are using the trick beloved of mystics, treating all beliefs as being of equal validity. In fact some are plain wrong, e.g. young earth creationists and belief in gnomes (something that is not advertised by Steiner schools), There”s nothing wrong with “spirituality”, whatever that means, as long as it avoids teaching kids things that are not true, In the examples I’ve chosen they do just that. It’s a pity Michael Gove’s advisers seem to be rather gullible.

  • 21 Jan Luiten // Jul 19, 2012 at 21:46

    You are claiming that none of these phenomena exist, and you present this as a certain fact. No doubt for you as a skeptic? I am sorry: denying these phenomena without investigation makes you a pseudoskeptic.
    Another aspect you did not investigate is what really is taught in Steiner schools. You have no idea of it. You rather cultivate your prejudices.
    In contrast to what you say I think you will always deny any evidence that proof the existence of paranormal phenomena. Because such an evidence would be against your dogma:”there will no evidence of something that does not exist”. This is your BELIEF and you are representing it in a fanatic, fundamentalist way. We see what fundamentalists bring when they come to power: suppression, dictatorship, fascism. “No equal rights for people with another conviction than mine conviction, because I have the true ideology”.

  • 22 David Colquhoun // Jul 20, 2012 at 16:53

    You may believe in young earth creationism and/or gnomes. The vast majority of people do not. That’s why teaching such things should not be paid for by the taxpayer. No doubt you are sincere. but most of the population regard your views as those of a crank.

    You say “you did not investigate is what really is taught in Steiner schools”. Believe me we’ve tried. The schools are notoriously secretive about what they actually teach. That’s worrying. However the textbooks used to train Steiner teachers are easily available and they contain some seriously nonsensical stuff.

    You are free to regard a scientific view a “fanatic, fundamentalist”. But don’t expect many people to agree with you.

  • 23 Jan Luiten // Jul 21, 2012 at 16:42

    A scientific view is of course not fanatic or fundamentalist, but I am afraid YOU are. You still have a reputation as a scentist. For me is the question since when did you leave science and became a pseudoskeptic? Yes I think you have a dangerous fanatic fundamentalistiv view. You do not tolerate other convictions beside your own. Intolerance. With people like you in power we can say goodbye to the little remnant of democracy what is still there. The call for not funding schools with an other conviction than yours is a in reality a call for discrimination. Skeptics who look at themselves and put question about what they are doing? I never met one. They are all fulfilled with the one and only truth.

  • 24 David Colquhoun // Jul 21, 2012 at 20:20

    You certainly get marks for persistence!
    The fact of the matter is that you are in a tiny minority, and the vast majority of the population would think it pretty daft to base schooling on the views of an early 20th century spiritualist and occultist.

    There are some nice pictures on the web of “biodynamic” farmers burying bulls’ horns. no doubt at the right phase of the moon. You can’t get much barmier than that.

    I don’t hold Steiner’s views on race as much against him as some do. Such views were quite common at the time. But the rest of the world moved on whereas Steiner people remained stuck in the state of knowledge 100 years ago.

    It’s a bit like homeopathy. Giving nothing was probably good for patients 200 years ago, given the total ignorance about medicine at the time. But to keep doing that now is sheer madness.

    Skepticism is part of the fabric of science. You don’t believe things on the basis of ancient wisdom but because you’ve seen the evidence. I’m no more and no less skeptical than any bother scientist. The only difference is that, being semi-retired from science, I have the time to deal with nutty beliefs.

    Doing do brings forth the most astonishing and vitriolic abuse from alternative medicine practitioners. They rather quickly loose their cuddly holistic self-image when criticised. Some even sue for defamation, the ultimate admission that they can’t produce evidence for their claims. That’s unpleasant for me, and others who’ve tried to look dispassionately at evidence, but it has to be done by someone.

    You choose to pour out abuse about fanaticism, fundamentalism etc. rather than produce any good evidence. My only consolation is that most people with a bit of common sense take a position far closer to mine than to yours. You don’t need to be a scientist to see that water isn’t a cure and that farming doesn’t depend on the phase of the moon. Almost everyone apart from a handful like you can see it’s nuts.

  • 25 Jan Luiten // Jul 22, 2012 at 23:19

    It is normal that representatives of the establishment- like you are- resist against something new. The old church did the same towards Galileo Galilei e.g.. They declared he was a crank, like you are doing towards anthroposophists now. The vast majority of the people did agree with the church, like you are claiming the vast majority agrees with you now.
    You wrote “ give me evidence and I will change my opinion”. I am interested to know what criteria for evidence you are maintaining

  • 26 David Colquhoun // Jul 24, 2012 at 10:20

    Oh dear, you really have hit rock bottom now. The tendency of quacks and cranks to compare themselves with Galileo is truly a sign of desperation. Galileo was a great scientist who provided convincing evidence for his proposals.

    Anthroposophists are not scientists at all, and they refuse to produce any convincing evidence for their curious spiritualist and occult views. It’s hard to imagine what evidence could be produced for views that are quasi-religious. Of course they could produce evidence for anthroposphical medicine, but they don’t.

  • 27 James Cranch // Jul 25, 2012 at 00:31

    It’s a long-recognised sign of desperation, David.

    Twenty years ago John Baez produced his “Crackpot index” as a way of identifying crank behaviour. It mentions, “40 points for comparing yourself to Galileo, suggesting that a modern-day Inquisition is hard at work on your case, and so on.”

    http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/crackpot.html

    Fifty years ago, Gruenberger wrote a similar index, and described a common fallacy among crackpots called the “Fulton non sequitur”: “They laughed at Fulton. He was right. They’re laughing at me. Therefore I must be an equal genius.”

    http://www.rand.org/pubs/papers/2006/P2678.pdf

    Contrary to what your correspondent Jan Luiten writes, I find it very interesting — and reassuring — that it is the “establishment” who have thought at length about how to recognise the occasional stray genius amidst the hordes of cranks, whereas the people incorrectly purporting to be stray geniuses are incoherent on the subject.

  • 28 kerledan // Jul 25, 2012 at 20:43

    Here is a wonderful work which authoritatively and confidently describes gnomes and a myriad of other ‘little people’.

    http://www.amazon.com/Enchantment-Faerie-Realm-Communicate-Elementals/dp/B001JEPUYW?&camp=212361&linkCode=wsw&tag=focusonarchaa-20&creative=391877

    “Enchantment of the Faerie Realm will help you rediscover your lost child. At the same time, you will find faeries and elves, gnomes and dragons, sylphs and mermaids, and more. It will help bring bliss into your life. ”

    Quite amazing. But……nope, no evidence at all! Not a shred! Except that ‘people have seen them’, it seems. So here’s the method…I say I have experienced something, some other people agree with me, so then it is a fact. Simples!

  • 29 Regulation of alternative medicine: why it doesn’t work, and never can // Oct 15, 2012 at 09:49

    […] the University of Aberdeen came perilously close to appointing a chair in anthroposophical medicine. This disaster was aborted by bloggers, and a last minute intervention from journalists. Neither the […]

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