Not In Science, Not In School
While the back to school season (yeah, apparently that’s a thing now) is still kinda happening, I thought I’d take some time to talk about a current issue in skepticism that’s being tackled head-on, mostly in Australia, because that’s where the most bad ass activists live. While sometimes degrees labelled as ‘bachelor of science’ are sometimes pushing that line, none do so quite as much as degrees in alternative medicine, declared as science by universities, and used as proof that things like acupuncture are an important part of medicine. This is not the case, and this sort of anti-intellectual ideology has no place in science, or school.
As the cultural phenomenon of alternative medicine and its conspiracy against mainstream healthcare spreads, its tendrils take root in places you wouldn’t normally expect pseudoscience to penetrate, but it’s clear that people training to take on careers in alternative medicine need to be trained in their field somehow, so why not in a university? Well, academic integrity is one thing, trading in intellectually honest ideas and spotting when falsehoods are being taught as truths should surely be one of the keystone philosophies in education? Reputations are on the line when it comes to the scientific community taking establishments seriously, and if the science taught in one course directly contradicts the ‘science’ taught in another, more dubious course, surely that implies a dualistic nature to the universe which has no factual basis, but an increasingly strong foundation in ideology and paranoia.
From just a quick google we can see that, just in my home country of England, acupuncture is being taught as a BSc with honors (not sure what they’re honoring here) in both the University of Westminster and the University of East London. It’s not like the course description pretends that the basis for this ‘bachelor of science’ is in science either; it makes it very clear that the taught concepts are ‘[based] on qi and cyclical change, expressed in the contexts of ying yang and wuxing’. It doesn’t take a professional to work out that this ancient method of trying to understand human disease is outdated to the point of archaism, but it could be argued that such a model could be important for understanding the history of medicine, that is, if this wasn’t the entire basis for a four year course, rather than a small part of a lecture in a series about the improvements in the way we treat disease and understand its mechanisms.
This course in particular ‘describes health and disease in terms of harmonious or disrupted patterns of qi’, and to be honest, I thought that the whole, y’know, denying the germ theory of disease thing, was the extreme end of the scale. Yet, this is the version of this already skewed philosophy that’s being taught as an academic field and a subset of science by universities that should know better.
In recent years the number of universities offering these sorts of courses seems to have decreased. Whether that is due to activism or potential reputation issues it’s hard to say for certain, but there is still work to be done, and while people can still get a bachelor of science outside of science, I’m still concerned, and we need to get our voices heard to make it clear that this shouldn’t be allowed to get a free pass.
It’s not that there’s no wiggle room on the borderlines of science, but acupuncture and similar treatments are much further from these blurry lines than its practitioners would ever admit, and unless evidence mounts and it is proven otherwise, they should remain far, far from academia.