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BMJ. 2007 March 31; 334(7595): 659.
PMCID: PMC1839179

UK universities offer degrees in “pseudoscience,” Nature article says

A subject that many researchers see as a pseudoscience is achieving scientific status within the British education system, says a news report in the science journal Nature (2007:446;352-3, doi: 10.1038/446352a).

In an accompanying commentary (pp 373-4, doi: 10.1038/446373a), David Colquhoun, of University College London's pharmacology department, says, “The least that one can expect of a bachelor of science (BSc) honours degree is that the subject of the degree is science. Yet in December 2006 the UK Universities and Colleges Admissions Service advertised 61 courses for complementary medicine, of which 45 are BSc honours degrees.

“Most complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is not science because the vast majority of it is not based on empirical evidence. Homeopathy, for example, has barely changed since the beginning of the nineteenth century. It is much more like religion than science. Worse still, many of the doctrines of CAM, and quite a lot of its practitioners, are openly anti-science.”

The Nature journalist Jim Giles says that homoeopathy is a “therapy in which the active ingredient is diluted so much that the dose given to the patient often does not contain even a single molecule of it.” Many scientists and advocates of evidence based medicine say that giving scientific status to homoeopathy is unjustified.

“Aside from the fact that there is no known mechanism by which this treatment could work, they argue that the evidence against it is conclusive. Of the many rigorous systematic reviews conducted in the past decade, only a handful have produced evidence, marginal at best, in favour of homeopathy, with the authors in each case stating that the data were weak.

“Several reviewers found no effect, and a prominent study suggesting that homeopathy does work (L. Linde et al. Lancet 350, 834-843; 1997), and which is frequently cited by homeopaths, has had its methodology extensively criticised since publication.”

Both Ben Goldacre, a London based medical doctor, journalist, and critic of homoeopathy, and the pharmacologist Professor Colquhoun found the universities that offer homoeopathy made it difficult to find out exactly what they teach. Professor Colquhoun is using freedom of information legislation to investigate.

Brian Isbell, head of complementary medicine at the University of Westminster, in London, argued that students also have to study the health sciences model of disease so that they can work safely with the healthcare system. And they must do research and critique the literature, including studies critical of homoeopathy.


Articles from The BMJ are provided here courtesy of BMJ Publishing Group