A university so open its brain fell out

There has always been a virtually seamless interface between the Open University (OU) and the BBC, as anyone watching the two Kathy Sykes TV series on CAM will have been reminded. A friend pointed me towards the OU website, and especially the pages that viewers were directed to for further information. I have copied below my email to the OU/BBC, in which I commented on the choice of links to external sites. The OU website text is in quotes.

I have just encountered this page at http://www.open2.net/alternativemedicine/weblinks.html, which is seriously misleading. I have copied the page below and have embedded my comments in red.
I expect a university to teach truth, and not to mislead students with unbalanced material. The links on this page, with one exception, are all to partisan organisations. For example, you provide links to all three homeopathy bodies, when this is a `therapy’ that has been discredited over and over again by science. There are many websites that provide reliable scientific information about alternative medicine, such as www.ebm-first.com, www.healthwatch-uk.org, and www.quackwatch.org. These you have chosen to ignore.
Please note that, unlike proper health care regulatory bodies, all of the organisations you list under that category carefully avoid any requirement for practitioners to show that their treatments are effective. They are generally certifying that their members can lie to patients effectively. Such material is not going to educate anyone in the facts about alternative medicine, as it comes from bodies with a vested interest in avoiding the truth, and a track record of doing that.

Want to find out more about the subjects we’ve covered? Our experts have pulled together a collection of books and weblinks to take you further on your search.

Starting points
The Other Medicine3 – Here on Open2, this is the site for BBC Radio 4’s CAM series, presented by Anna Ford. You can listen to the entire series, read transcripts, and discover more background.

The following bodies are all involved in regulating or certifying practitioners in their fields:

The Society of Homeopaths External link 4

British Homeopathic Association External link 5

Alliance of Registered Homeopaths (ARH) External link 6

British Acupuncture Council External link 7

National Institute of Medical Herbalists External link 8

The Prince of Wales’ Foundation for Integrated Health External link 9
The Foundation offers a free downloadable Guide For Patients External link 10 which answers many questions about a range of complementary therapies.

This is not a regulatory body, it is a lobby group, although it has recently developed regulatory schemes (which have been poorly accepted by practitioners). The Guide for Patients is extremely misleading as it does not include anything about evidence of efficacy or safety. Indeed as set out in a new book (Healing, Hype or Harm? edited by Edzard Ernst) advice on such evidence was refused and the material excluded from the Guide.

The Research Council for Complementary Medicine External link 11

I don’t believe RCCM has had anything to do with regulation.

Herbalism – Websites
The National Institute of Medical Herbalists External link 12 – the oldest professional body of herbalists in the UK; lists practitioners and background information

Henriette Kress’ Herb site External link 13 – lots of general information, whole textbooks online and loads of brilliant photographs

Southwest School of Botanical Medicine External link 14 – lots of herbal information specific to the USA, but also a whole library’s worth of historical documents

Herbalgram magazine External link 15 – the journal of the American Botanical Council and of the Herb Research Foundation

Herb Research Foundation External link 16 – current research information

European Herbal Practitioners Association External link 17 – mainly information relating to political issues especially registration of herbalists in the UK. The EHPA is the umbrella organisation for all UK professional herbalist bodies

Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine External link 18 – register and background information on the traditional Chinese approach

Association of Master Herbalists 19 – a range of services, including an introduction to the herbalist’s diagnostic tools

19Medical Herbalism magazine External link 20 – with a free online issue of magazine available, also general information and links to other herbal websites

Herbalism – Books
The New Holistic Herbal
David Hoffman, published by Element

The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants
Andrew Chevalier, published by Dorling Kindersley

For more in depth investigation:
The Lost Language of Plants
Stephen Harrod Buhner, published by Chelsea Green

Herbal Medicine (Classic Edition)
Rudolf Fritz Weiss MD, published by Thieme

The Essential Book of Herbal Medicine
Simon Y. Mills, published by Penguin

Acupuncture – Weblinks
British Acupuncture Council External link 21

British Medical Acupuncture Society External link 22

Foundation For Traditional Chinese Medicine External link 23

Cochrane Library External link 24

This is the ONLY link to any objective and unbiassed information about alternative medicine! Why not include Clinical Evidence, Bandolier, or even a quick guide to PubMed?

Acupuncture – Journals
The European Journal of Oriental Medicine

The Journal of Chinese Medicine

These are partisan journals. There are many other bona fide scientific journals which publish papers on alternative medicine, and which generally take an objective position.

Acupuncture – Books
The Web That Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese Medicine
Ted Kaptchuk, McGraw-Hill

Chinese Medicine
Paul Unschuld, Paradigm

Between Heaven and Earth
Harriet Beinfield & Efram Korngold, Ballantine Books

A History of Chinese Medicine
Dominique and Marie-Joseph Hoizey, Edinburgh University Press

Chinese Medicine in Contemporary China: Plurality and Synthesis
Volker Scheid, Duke University Press

The Transmission of Chinese Medicine
Elisabeth Hsu, Cambridge University Press

Knowing Practice, The Clinical Encounter of Chinese Medicine
Judith Farquar, Westview Press

Encounters with Qi – Exploring Chinese Medicine
David Eisenberg, Norton Paperback

Dragon Rises, Red Bird Flies: Psychology, Energy and Chinese Medicine
Leon Hammer, Station Hill Press

Celestial Lancets A Historical Rationale of Acupuncture and Moxa
Lu Gwei-Djen & Joseph Needham, Cambridge University Press

Science and Civilisation in China
Joseph Needham, Cambridge University Press

The Expressiveness of the Body and the Divergence of Greek and Chinese Medicine
Shigehisa Kuriyama, Zone Books

Essence Spirit Blood and Qi
Claude Larre and Elisabeth Rochat de la Vallee, Monkey Press

I don’t know any of these books, but you have chosen not to balance them with rational and sceptical texts. I could suggest `The March of Unreason’ by Dick Taverne, `Voodoo Science’ by Robert Park, `Snake Oil’ by John Diamond, and most importantly `The Desktop Guide to Complementary Medicine’ by Edzard Ernst et al. Should you be recommending books about `Qi’, which has never been shown to exist?
Now I am hoping that they will get the same message that the BBC itself got, when it removed all the alternative medicine pages from its site. Watch this space – and that’s easier now as I have added an RSS feed.

4 Responses

  1. It should now give some of those who have the beleive that in places like this, health issues are no handdled with herbs at all. However I think herbs give the best solution to health problems.

  2. Welcome John Brown. I make it a policy not to censor dissenting views, but it’s rather hard to understand the point you are making. Perhaps English isn’t your first language. However I have visited your website (http://www.absoluteherbal.co.uk/) and you would do well to consider the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulation 2008. Your belief in herbs will not be enough to stay out of jail, you will need to provide evidence.

  3. […] this with my policy here. I have published two comments so far (to posts here and here), dissenting from my views. I won’t block such comments, on one condition. I have to […]

  4. Hello, very good article, really!congratulations! AnaLiza855

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