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Australia Education Science

Growth of Pseudoscience Harming Australian Universities 566

Posted by Soulskill
from the my-horoscope-said-the-same-thing dept.
wired_parrot writes "The international credibility of Australia's universities is being undermined by the increase in the 'pseudoscientific' health courses they offer, two academics write in a recent article decrying that a third of Australian universities now offer courses in such subjects as homeopathy and traditional Chinese medicine, which undermines science-based medicine. 'As the number of alternative practitioners graduating from tertiary education institutions increases, further health-care resources are wasted, while the potential for harm increases.'"
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Growth of Pseudoscience Harming Australian Universities

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  • Homeopathic (Score:5, Funny)

    by Oswald McWeany (2428506) on Monday March 05, 2012 @02:46PM (#39251243)

    I think people that use homeopathic medicine should be allowed to marry.

  • Homie Opethie (Score:2, Interesting)

    by negRo_slim (636783)
    How does something like homeopathy even find it's way into a traditional school?
    • by idontgno (624372) on Monday March 05, 2012 @02:50PM (#39251303) Journal
      It doesn't take much. Just a tiny, tiny, tiny bit. Diluted well. It's more effective that way.
    • I have this bookmark that I keep in my browser just for circumstances like this. This is it [youtube.com]. The disappointing thing is, I don't even listen to Pink Floyd.

      • by Qubit (100461)

        This is it [youtube.com]. The disappointing thing is, I don't even listen to Pink Floyd.

        No, This is it [youtube.com]. And why do you mention Pink Floyd? Did they do a cover or something?

      • by KiloByte (825081)

        Update that link, it doesn't work anymore. Blocked by the MAFIAA.

      • I have this bookmark that I keep in my browser just for circumstances like this. This is it [youtube.com]. The disappointing thing is, I don't even listen to Pink Floyd.

        Youtube says "This video contains content from EMI, who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds." Sod them.

    • Re:Homie Opethie (Score:5, Interesting)

      by forkfail (228161) on Monday March 05, 2012 @02:55PM (#39251389)

      Just part of our decent into a post-industrial dark age, where technology is magic to most folks.

      And since it's magic, why shouldn't other forms of magic work?

      • by vlm (69642)

        Just part of our decent into a post-industrial dark age, where technology is magic to most folks.

        And since it's magic, why shouldn't other forms of magic work?

        Next thing you know, we'll be engraving our coinage with trust in religious beings. Maybe that'll fix the economy?

        The problem is we're trying homeopathetic treatment on the inflation adjusted median midle class family income. After all, the lower the income, the more effective each dollar is, right?

    • Re:Homie Opethie (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Baloroth (2370816) on Monday March 05, 2012 @03:00PM (#39251465)

      The same way a course in "Star Trek" makes its way into Georgetown University. Or "Art History" or "Golf Management" or dozens of other courses at dozens of other universities. Because higher education stopped being about actual education and more about a) making money and b) making the students feel good about themselves.

      Probably started around the time Philosophy classes stopped reading and teaching Neitzsche, Bacon, Aristotle, and Kant, and started being about... well, slacking off, wondering randomly about whatever, and getting high. Biggest contributing factor, IMO, was when people started to feel they need college degrees, but weren't smart enough or dedicated enough to actually study seriously. So, colleges started making up stupid courses people could take, without requiring them to actually do any work. This allows everyone to get a degree, but makes half of them worthless. But hey, now most people at least have a college degree, right?

      • Re:Homie Opethie (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Penguinisto (415985) on Monday March 05, 2012 @03:08PM (#39251599) Journal

        Hell, I'd be happy if they just re-introduced Rhetoric and Logic as required courses. That alone would knock out at least half of the garbage we have to put up with in both media and society...

        • by Carnildo (712617)

          Hell, I'd be happy if they just re-introduced Rhetoric and Logic as required courses. That alone would knock out at least half of the garbage we have to put up with in both media and society...

          I wouldn't be so sure of that. My uncle is a professor who teaches logic at a university where it is a required course; about a third of his students simply never "get it" no matter how many different techniques he tries or how much effort they put into it. Around 10% have trouble with simple logical inference of th

      • Re:Homie Opethie (Score:5, Informative)

        by jackbird (721605) on Monday March 05, 2012 @03:09PM (#39251635)

        Whoa, whoa wait a second. Art history is a non-serious field, on par with a course on Star Trek? Having you been smoking the straw man teaching your philosophy class?

        • Re:Homie Opethie (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Grishnakh (216268) on Monday March 05, 2012 @03:51PM (#39252359)

          Yeah, no kidding. No, art history doesn't offer you a direct career path, but neither does Philosophy, and that's been a pretty important component of university curriculum for a long time, as have many other liberal arts fields like anthropology, sociology, etc.

          • by snowgirl (978879)

            Yeah, no kidding. No, art history doesn't offer you a direct career path, but neither does Philosophy...

            You do realize that Philosophy is like the closest you coudl get to a "pre-law" degree, yes? Philosophy majors often go on to make really good lawyers, because they understand how to make an argument, how to break apart and understand arguments, and law, and also, according to a brochure I read on the topic at one point, they make good lawyers, because they are "belligerently argumentative."

      • Re:Homie Opethie (Score:5, Insightful)

        by MysteriousPreacher (702266) on Monday March 05, 2012 @03:34PM (#39252039) Journal

        I don't mind the fluff being taught. What I object to is the teaching of outright falsehoods. Teaching homeopathy as medicine is akin to teaching a history course in which France was founded by Kiss after they'd defeated the Samoans by destroying their Deathstar.

        Courses must be rigorous to be accredited - not three years spent wankibg for course credits.

      • by ajlisows (768780)

        The thing is, you just made an assumption that a legitimate course (Art History) is somehow a garbage class. There are a lot of things that we learn about history through art. Unless of course you think History itself is a worthless endeavor.

    • by elrous0 (869638) *

      In the last 10-20 years, a lot of universities have been offering pop courses at the lower levels in an attempt to generate more undergraduate interest. My old university started offering courses with titles like "A History of Comic Books," "Gender Roles in Reality Television," and "The Science of Science Fiction," with some controversy surrounding the idea, obviously. Generally, they were restricted to the 100 and 200 level (though, as I've been out of the academic game for some time now, this may have cha

    • by Joce640k (829181)

      How does something like homeopathy even find it's way into a traditional school?

      How do you even "study" homeopathy? The text book can't be more than a single sheet of paper....

      • by Grishnakh (216268)

        If you look at all the homeopathic remedies available, there's an enormous number of them out there. Obviously, it's total BS, but its practitioners have made a real pseudoscience out of it, with tables of ailments and which corresponding remedy to try (the remedies themselves being some item, perhaps a poisonous substance, diluted so much into water that there's probably none left in the vial of water you're buying).

        It's very much like Phrenology, a pseudoscience where bumps on the head were thought to in

        • by lgw (121541) on Monday March 05, 2012 @04:41PM (#39253189) Journal

          I dunno, I always found "applied phrenology" quite effective at behavioral modification.

        • Re:Homie Opethie (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Rogue Haggis Landing (1230830) on Monday March 05, 2012 @04:54PM (#39253419)

          If you look at all the homeopathic remedies available, there's an enormous number of them out there. Obviously, it's total BS, but its practitioners have made a real pseudoscience out of it, with tables of ailments and which corresponding remedy to try (the remedies themselves being some item, perhaps a poisonous substance, diluted so much into water that there's probably none left in the vial of water you're buying).

          Homeopathy has been around since the early 19th century, and has been a fairly organized practice for almost the entire time, which has meant that it's been able to iterate and refine itself enough to have developed a very complex and mature (though not effective) set of doctrines.

          One thing that's interesting, and surprising at first, is that homeopathy's success in the 19th century was due in large part to the fact that it worked better than many other medical practices, in that patients treated by homeopathic remedies often had better outcomes than patients treated by other methods. This seems to be at odds with the known fact that homeopathy doesn't work, but if you think about it for a bit it makes sense. Remember that ancient practices like bloodletting survived until well into the 19th century, and that scientific medicine was very immature -- the common use of anesthesia dates to the 1850s, and germ theory wasn't generally accepted until fairly late in the century. Both traditional and scientific medical practices were often harmful to the patient -- going to the doctor could kill you.

          Now consider what a homeopathic doctor does. He visits you, gives you a checkup, then gives you a prescription for a lot of water with a few molecules of something else in it. Put another way, his treatment is bed rest, plenty of fluids, a nice placebo, and a little TLC. That regimen won't ever harm you, and for a lot of diseases and conditions it'll always be the preferred method of treatment. Compared with the sometimes incompetent, often misguided, and occasionally murderous regimes of other forms of 19th century medicine, it's no surprise that homeopathy was a popular and successful practice.

          That says nothing about it's place in the 21st century, of course.

  • by Daas (620469) on Monday March 05, 2012 @02:50PM (#39251309)

    Seems that Australia is "diluting" its talent.

    YEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

  • by scorp1us (235526) on Monday March 05, 2012 @02:50PM (#39251323) Journal

    These "pseudo science" articles indicate that pseudo science works better than science seems to indicate.
    Plecebo works better than the real thing [youtube.com] (warning :vulgar language)

    Accupunture works, doesn't matter where [arstechnica.com]

    Accupunture works [arstechnica.com]

    • by elrous0 (869638) *

      Maybe they should consolidate all the courses into a survey-level "Placebo 101" class.

    • by Qubit (100461)

      But a plecebo is the most effective drug of all

      What ever happened to just a spoon full of sugar?

      Placebo
      From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
      "Sugar pill" redirects here.

      Ohhhhh

    • by Hatta (162192)

      Working as well as placebo is better known as "no statistically significant effect". This applies to both scientific and pseudoscientific treatments. If your treatment isn't performing better than your sham treatment, you haven't demonstrated anything at all.

  • Using what works (Score:5, Interesting)

    by S-HubertCumberdale-F (1860418) on Monday March 05, 2012 @02:52PM (#39251355)
    my favorite quote concerning alternative medicines is... "If Alternative medicine practices worked, they wouldn't be alternative any more" not sure where it came from.
  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Monday March 05, 2012 @02:53PM (#39251359)

    Keep offering the courses, but let Penn and Teller teach them.

  • Practitioners and patients of Homeopathy and traditional Chinese medicine seem to believe that they work. Wouldn't it be good to devote some resources towards scientific study of these practices? Even if it's to prove that the placebo effect is playing a part, at least science is advanced. Just because we don't understand whether/how it works doesn't rule out the possibility that there might be something to be discovered. If we want to be objective about it, why not study it?
    • by Aladrin (926209) on Monday March 05, 2012 @02:59PM (#39251459)

      I think you'll find that it's so roundly rejected *because* it's already been researched properly and didn't hold up.

      • by LordLucless (582312) on Monday March 05, 2012 @05:40PM (#39254059)

        Actually, science has demonstrated that some alternative medicines, for some treatments, are significantly more effective than placebo. To wit, chiropractcy and acupuncture both proved effective, under scientific scrutiny, for headaches and upper back pain.

        The reason they're alternative is because science doesn't understand the reason they work - as the explanations given by the practitioners are usually bunk (as is the wide list of ailments they claim to be able to correct). But there are nuggets of useful medicine buried in the dross.

  • This sounds like a turf/money battle started by a mainstream academic apparatchik who doesn't want to actually sort through the existing pile of evidence, let alone continue evaluating. Some of the methods listed in the article actually work reliably for some things. Others may actually cause harm. Yet others are placebos so advanced that modern medicine may take decades to catch up. The important thing is to keep using actual evidence to make decisions rather than to just accept the word of reactionaries w

  • by jesseck (942036) on Monday March 05, 2012 @02:58PM (#39251437)

    Is the problem that these schools are teaching non-traditional medicine, or that there is a market for that education? Schools need money to run, and they can increase enrollment by offering courses such as "Eastern Medicine". I don't think this is completely the school's doing- there are consumers out there that swear on non-traditional medicine and practitioners who will perform those services. If anything positive, this non-traditional medicine "medical school" may raise the bar for entry into the field.

    As for the cheapening of the science behind medicine? Yes, it hurts. But, at the end of the day, it is science that finds cures to our ailments, not rhinoceros horn powder.

  • by Pollux (102520) <`ge.ten.atadet' `ta' `reteps'> on Monday March 05, 2012 @02:59PM (#39251455) Journal

    Two academics write in a recent article decrying that a third of Australian universities now offer courses in such subjects as homeopathy and traditional Chinese medicine, which undermines science-based medicine.

    I think that academic scrutiny and study are exactly what these areas of medicine need. While I would definitely argue that there are many areas of these medicines that are placebos at best, I have heard and witnessed accounts of individual remedies, scrutinized by science, which nevertheless empirically appear to be effective. I would hate to through the baby out with the bathwater by dismissing either subject entirely.

    I don't want to feel that it's merely conspiracy theory to believe that "the man" / "big pharma" is trying to squeeze out all alternative medicine because it competes with their company. But, in the same sense, I don't want people acquiring argyria en mass just because they keep hearing about colloidal silver on the internet. Presently, US law outright forbids scientific study of these remedies. I believe they need to be studied so that there's conclusive evidence of what works and what doesn't work. And what we discover does work should be allowed in practice. The world of academia can help tremendously with that.

    • by tibit (1762298)

      Presently, US law outright forbids scientific study of these remedies.

      Yeah, sure. Links to the law, please. Otherwise, you're full of it.

  • by JustShootMe (122551) <rmiller@duskglow.com> on Monday March 05, 2012 @03:00PM (#39251463) Homepage Journal

    ... of worshipping science to the extent of all else.

    Some "traditional medicines" are bupkus. Some are not. Just because science has not discovered something does not mean it doesn't exist. To think otherwise is arrogant. I can think of quite a few things in my life that science cannot (or at least does not at present) explain.

    There are things about the human body and mind that science does not understand yet. And as long as their mindset continues to be "if I can't see it, smell it, touch it, taste it, or hear it, it doesn't exist" that will continue to be the case.

    • by serviscope_minor (664417) on Monday March 05, 2012 @03:08PM (#39251619) Journal

      Some "traditional medicines" are bupkus. Some are not.

      OK... some herbs can have active compounds in them, etc..

      Just because science has not discovered something does not mean it doesn't exist. To think otherwise is arrogant. I can think of quite a few things in my life that science cannot (or at least does not at present) explain.

      The trouble is that you are basically jumping from "science can't explain everything" to "maybe one of these wooly theories is correct". Yes, it is certainly true that not everything is explained. That doesn't make some random wooly theory likely to be correct.

      And really, "well, science can't explain everything" is not a piece of evidence in favour of something being correct.

      There are things about the human body and mind that science does not understand yet.

      Certainly true.

      And as long as their mindset continues to be "if I can't see it, smell it, touch it, taste it, or hear it, it doesn't exist" that will continue to be the case.

      And what precisely do you propose as the alternative? Over the years, people have conjectured many fanciful theories. Despite science being incomplete, they have generally been found to be junk.

      And when it comes to medicine, it is generally very easy to measure: do people get better or not.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Tom (822)

      Some "traditional medicines" are bupkus. Some are not.

      Name them. The ones that aren't.

      Just because science has not discovered something does not mean it doesn't exist.

      Science will gladly investigate the working treatments that you name above, I am sure of it. All of the commonly named examples have been examined - and found to be lacking.

      One thing that most people aren't aware of is that the comparison against a placebo is only the very first step of investigating a treatment. It is to establish whether the thing has any effect whatsoever. That doesn't mean it will become a treatment. Because it will then be compared against the best treat

    • by Hatta (162192)

      Just because science has not discovered something does not mean it doesn't exist.

      If science has tested something, and the test fails to show any effect, then yes, it does mean it doesn't exist. Or at least, it means the probability of existance is under some threshhold determined by the statistical power of the test.

      As for arrogance, what would you call believing in something that science has tested and failed to find any evidence for? Do you people really think that you are smarter or more thoughtful tha

  • by popo (107611)

    If we're going to start acknowledging the horrifying growth of pseudo-science in our midst, can we include the no-proof-required branches of physics?

  • All around the world, homeopathy, naturopathy (which may use some real natural cures, but is still based on a rejection of scientific advancements) old-fashioned chiropractic (subluxation crap), and accupuncture don't get laughed out of the room immediately as they should.

  • What a relief (Score:4, Interesting)

    by assertation (1255714) on Monday March 05, 2012 @03:17PM (#39251751)

    I started reading the title of this thread and though "please don't be the US".

    After all, we have
    - global climate change deniers
    - anti-vaccination groups
    - paleo diet followers
    - raw foodism
    - a museum that claims dinosaurs and cavemen lived together on the newly created 5 thousand year old Earth.

    What a relief to know that the US is not the only developed country with a problem of people making up their own reality.

  • by nbauman (624611) on Monday March 05, 2012 @03:51PM (#39252347) Homepage Journal

    Here's what's going on in alternative medicine in Australia. Unfortunately this article is behind a paywall, so I'll give you an excerpt. (It helps to understand that when you give a lung x-ray, you have a good chance of finding spots that nobody can really interpret, that usually turn out to be harmless.)

    http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1110812 [nejm.org]
    What's the Alternative? The Worldwide Web of Integrative Medicine
    Ranjana Srivastava, F.R.A.C.P.
    Department of Medical Oncology, Monash Medical Centre, Melbourne, VIC, Australia.
    N Engl J Med 2012; 366:783-785 March 1, 2012

    Out of curiosity, an impressionable woman in her 30s attends an integrative medicine exhibition; having recently had a child, she's been sleep-deprived and wants to investigate natural remedies. At the seminar, she wins a door prize — a blood test that promises to diagnose cancer. She was considering getting a blood test anyway and seizes this opportunity for a more comprehensive workup. After all, you can't be too careful about avoiding cancer.

    Weeks later, she receives a call from an apologetic but alarmed stranger telling her she has advanced cancer.

    “How do you know?” she gasps.

    “Your blood test is positive for circulating tumor cells.”

    “What does that mean?” she cries.

    He sends her a three-page report and tells her to seek immediate help. She spends a nail-biting week awaiting an appointment with the recommended integrative health expert.

    Glancing at the report, the expert declares, “You have advanced non–small-cell lung cancer. You need treatment now.” The woman is petrified: Has her teenage smoking habit come back to haunt her?

    “Are you sure?” she asks.

    “Absolutely. There are circulating tumor cells in your blood.”

    Tears streaming down her face, the woman asks, “What now?”

    The practitioner prescribes a 12-week course of intravenous vitamin C, at a cost of $6,000, paid up front. Without further discussion, an appointment is made.

    [Gets a CT scan, which shows 2 2mm nodules. They could be lung cancer.]

    The hunt for a rapid cure brings the woman to my office. Relating her story, she shifts between self-assurance and sheepishness. “I know you find this incredible, but I need your help. I am dying of cancer.”

    “There's no evidence of cancer,” I reply, seeking to reassure her.

    Instead, her tone sharpens: “But I have circulating tumor cells! How can you say that?”

    Incredulous, I try to explain too many things. The blood test is a long way from being validated for clinical use. It was unscrupulous even to offer it. Does it make sense to her that it was sent to an unheard-of overseas laboratory for processing? Why did no one recommend that she see an oncologist?

    [Demands a PET scan. PET scan clear, the 2 nodules on the CT have disappeared. Probably transient foci of inflammation. Srivastava tells her, "There is no cancer." Woman still insists she has lung cancer. Demands to see a surgeon. Surgeon refuses to see her.]

  • example of harm (Score:5, Informative)

    by spacefem (443435) on Monday March 05, 2012 @03:53PM (#39252391) Homepage

    The saddest example I see of pseudoscience is in the birth communities, medical technology has taken us out of the tragic "good old days" when 1 in 10 babies and 1 in 100 mothers didn't survive a birth. But suddenly everyone thinks it's a great idea to run away from hospitals and doctors and use untrained homebirth attendants, even for high risk pregnancy. In Australia death rates are four times higher for homebirth babies [blogspot.com].

    Having recently been pregnant and seen the "trust NATURE" mantras thrown at me again and again in online communities, I'm so afraid of who else is being mislead. But the consequences are unimaginable.

  • by PrimalChrome (186162) on Monday March 05, 2012 @04:11PM (#39252669)

    It's worth noting that the handful of homeopathy practitioners that I've met over the years have a holistic approach to their medicine. I'll try to provide an example :

    Western Doctor visit : You sit in the waiting room for an hour before being taken back to a room. They spend 2 minutes to weigh, measure, and get your vitals. Doc walks in and you complain of headaches. He nods, looks you over, and prescribes Tylenol 3 and ushers you to the payment processor.

    Homeopathy practitioner visit : You sit in the deserted waiting room for 5 minutes before going back to a room. The practitioner comes in and gets your measurements/vitals and asks you what's wrong. You say you're having headaches. They ask more questions about activity cycle, diet, stressors, and your social situation. They prescribe you a placebo, tell you to quit playing League of Legends until 2am, and get another 2 hours of exercise per week.

    There are positives to the methodology that contribute to the observed successes in those that believe.....but the actual treatments are not one of them.

  • by lamber45 (658956) <lamber45@msu.edu> on Monday March 05, 2012 @04:20PM (#39252851) Homepage Journal

    Interesting comment [theconversation.edu.au] on the article:

    "Dear Professors,

    "Please supply citations for the quantitative data and analysis that led to your claim that; "pseudoscientific" health courses are undermining the international credibility of Australia’s universities.

    "Your article's references in the Medical Journal of Australia neither support nor contradict your claim, they indicate no causal link between the international credibility of Australian universities and the offering or otherwise of alternative health courses."

  • by medv4380 (1604309) on Monday March 05, 2012 @04:22PM (#39252873)
    Doctors and Scientists demonized midwives as "witches" and worse to give us Puerperal fever [wikipedia.org]. Which caused an extreamly high infant and mother mortality. Which then caused every idiot to believe that before modern medicine was about 40%. Truth is Scientists and Doctors caused it and the actual mortality rate has always been closer to 1 in 100 prior to their incompetence getting injected in. And the 40% rate was caused by Modern Medicine to begin with. Doctors now perscribe C-Sections because it's interfering with their Weekend or their 5 O'clock Golf game. Truth is C-Section are tied to Athma [webmd.com]. Wonder why Athma increases whenever a country "modernizes" and moves more to centralized hospital medicine. When you ask a doctor if this medicine given to a mother during labor will cause any problems with the Child long term they say "Sorry but we can't do that due to Ethical testing concerns we cant perform a double blind study to find out". So they are willing to go into the Ethically ambiguous area of not knowing if something is dangerous and rather than find out they use another "Ethics" argument to defend themselves.

    What has Pseudoscience given us? Asprin [wikipedia.org] as Willow Bark Tea. Hypnosis [wikipedia.org] as pain management.

    What has modern medicine and science given us? Plenty, but demonizing others and blaming your 40% mortality rate on others doesn't help gain you any respect.

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