Misleading students – and not even courteous

My good friend David Colquhoun alerted me to the bizarre material being taught to science students at Thames Valley University. So in my capacity as a science writer (perfectly true) I asked the Vice Chancellor Professor Peter John for a statement. I phoned his office and explained that I was enquiring about material was being taught in his Faculty of Health and Human Sciences. No reply. I phoned again. A message was politely taken again but there was still no reply. So I sent the following letter:

4th November 2008

Dear Professor John

As a freelance science writer with an interest in evidence based medicine, I have called your office twice asking for a statement about some of the degree courses offered by your Faculty of Health and Human Sciences, without so far receiving a response. Let me illustrate the question with examples. I have seen some of the teaching material for the Bachelor of Science course on Nutritional Medicine, and the following is an extract:

1.4 Relationship to Science and the Limitations of Orthodox Methods

However, the subject of Wholistic Nutrition transcends the area of human understanding for which science, alone, is appropriate. The reason is that it is ‘vitalistic’. It recognises the presence in all life forms including the human body, of subtle (or ‘etheric’) energy forces not easily measurable by the physicist’s equipment. It shares that position with the ‘energy medicine’ disciplines such as homoeopathy, traditional acupuncture and spiritual healing. It follows an approach to those subtle energies that is embodied in the discipline and philosophy of naturopathy.

Vitalism is the notion that life in living organisms is sustained by a vital principle that cannot be explained in terms of physics and chemistry. This vital principle, often called “the life force”, is something quite distinct from the physical body and is responsible for much that happens in health and disease.

Bearing mind that this is offered as a science degree, in a faculty of science, I would appreciate your comments on the scientific basis for these statements about vitalism. The author of this material does not consider that science is appropriate for Wholistic Nutrition, so I am wondering why this course is offered as a science degree.

I also note that the University offers BSc courses in homeopathy, and again I would be grateful to know how this correlates with scientific knowledge about ultra-dilute solutions and their clinical effects. I write for a number of bioscience-related journals, so I am unable to say in which one my findings will be published, but I always avoid one-sided arguments so for this reason I do hope to hear from you soon.

Well you can guess what happened – nothing at all. So I phoned yet again, and was told that I would be hearing from the relevant Head of School. Needless to say I didn’t, so I wrote again:

9th January 2009

Dear Professor John

I wrote to you on 4th November 2008 requesting a statement about some of the degree courses offered by the Faculty of Health and Human Sciences. I have not received a reply to that, and I have repeatedly telephoned your office to ascertain your position regarding my request. One of your assistants did indicate that a statement would be forthcoming, but later on I was told that the request had been referred to the relevant Head of School. I have still not heard anything.

If you are not prepared to provide me with a statement then please say so, and I will not bother you again. But please understand that I am giving you the opportunity to defend a position which many people consider anomalous, and that whatever the outcome of my request I propose to publish it. Please do not interpret that as threatening, as it is simply within my remit as a freelance science writer.

The deathly silence was maintained, so I phoned Professor John’s office again on 21st January. His PA asked me to email the second letter and she would put it in front of him. As of today, 1st February, there has been no reply of course.

Now how hard is it for John to email me and say “I am not prepared to give you a statement”? I think his silence speaks far more loudly than anything he might have said. My interpretation is that he cares not a jot for the truth in science, and only cares about selling degree courses which attract the gullible. It is worse than selling snake oil, because he is busily building a generation of people who can’t tell truth from fiction, and that’s a heinous crime against society.

But I have one more thought. All these students who are taught about vitalism, medicines with no medicine in them etc, presumably get interest-free student loans backed by the government. So yet again it’s your money and mine that is being used to further the cause of anti-science. Why do we put up with this?


9 Responses

  1. ” Why do we put up with this?”

    Because this situation exists in not only UK. This is huge “iceberg” and you watch only his tip.
    Scientists of different countries must join forces in the fight against it.

  2. Why bother trying to defend the indefensible?

  3. Why bother trying to defend the indefensible?

    Do you want to say that they keep silence like deaf walls because they don’t want to defend his own quackery course? 😉
    Nevertheless, the courses work still and the students pay money and learn ancient nonsence on these courses! And University’s administration keep silence and continue its black affair.
    Certainly, Majikthyse is right in his noble indignation.

  4. I take your point Mojo, but what TVU can do is what Uni of S Lancs just did, and dismantle all their anti-science degree courses. This happened because of persistent adverse publicity, and if more people put pressure on the VC something might result.

  5. “…and not even courteous…”

    You do by the same way. You do allow not all comments in your blog.
    So don’t be surprised the attitude of this world to you 😉

    • Svetlana, I have no idea what you are talking about. I have made it clear that I will approve all comments as long as they are intelligible. Well I suppose I should have blocked yours as it makes no sense!

  6. I am glad that you are really clever person (you acted by best way – you have published all my comments to test who is right. I didn’t even expect 🙂 It is great )
    Yes, at the first sight my first comment makes no sense. But, believe me, it only seems. Simply I haven’t explained my idea. I’ll try to do it now.
    You described the situation, which exists now in almost any university of any country. You are writing to administration, but it is keeping silence wrong-headedly. You are fighting a lone hand. Tired to the world, you appeal to your colleagues: ” Why do we put up with this?”But most of them remain voiceless and indifferent. And those who comes to support you are too small army. However, imagine that at the very moment in other country other small group of honest academics are fighting against silly and harmful actions of their university’s administration. Why do administrations of these two different universities behave by similar way? Because the world is organic whole, despite of state borders. All countries, all governments, all universities, all administration look at each other and make an example of each other. These silly actions of two different university’s administrations are the links of one chain. It is whole world’s process of endarkenment. It is just “iceberg”, what I said about. And you don’t feel even how it is huge. However, you are not lone in this world! That small group of academics from other country is your allies. And if you support each other, join hands, unite – then you will win together. Don’t appeal in vain to the colleagues near you, if they don’t want to hear you. They haven’t still become your allies. Their reason is sleeping under dope of endarkenment. Appeal to those, who has risen already in other universities of your country and abroad. Unite your forces, despite of difference of your nationality, language, color of skin, tradition of education, etc. Enlightenment must become international too. The it will secure a victory.

    OK, it is what I wanted to say. I hope that my idea became a bit comprehensible. I am speaking about strategy of struggle (appeal to those, who has risen already) and about internationalism.
    Thank you.

  7. Eminem created several undesirable Compact disks yet he is back in the game currently.

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