Scientists urge Uni's to axe Alternative Medicine courses
January 26, 2012, SMH , Sydney
University reputations at stake ... a new lobby group for doctors and scientists claims undeserved credibility is given to disciplines "better described as quackery".
MORE than 400 doctors, medical researchers and scientists have formed a powerful lobby group to pressure universities to close down alternative medicine degrees.
Almost one in three Australian universities now offer courses in some form of alternative therapy or complementary medicine, including traditional Chinese herbal medicine, chiropractics, homeopathy, naturopathy, reflexology and aromatherapy.
But the new group, Friends of Science in Medicine, wrote to vice-chancellors this week, warning that by giving "undeserved credibility to what in many cases would be better described as quackery" and by "failing to champion evidence-based science and medicine", the universities are trashing their reputation as bastions of scientific rigour.
The group, which names world-renowned biologist Sir Gustav Nossal and the creator of the cervical cancer vaccine Professor Ian Frazer among its members, is also campaigning for private health insurance providers to stop providing rebates for alternative medical treatments.
A co-founder of the group, Emeritus Professor John Dwyer, of the University of NSW, who is also a government adviser on consumer health fraud, said it was distressing that 19 universities were now offering "degrees in pseudo science".[Ron: Ya gotta laugh or you'll cry!].
"It's deplorable, but we didn't realise how much concern there was out there for universities' reputations until we tapped into it," Professor Dwyer said. "We're saying enough is enough. Taxpayers' money should not be wasted on funding [these courses] Š nor should government health insurance rebates be wasted on this nonsense."
Professor Dwyer said it was particularly galling that such courses were growing in popularity while, at the same time, the federal government was looking at ways to get the Therapeutic Goods Administration to enforce tougher proof-of-efficacy criteria for complementary medicines, following the release of a highly critical review by the Australian National Audit Office last September.
Of particular concern to the group is the increase in chiropractic courses, following the recent announcement of a new chiropractic science degree by Central Queensland University. More than 30 scientists, doctors and community advocates wrote to the vice-chancellor and health science deans at the university voicing their concern, which laid the foundations for Friends of Science in Medicine.
The groundswell of protest from medical professionals comes after a decision in Britain that means from this year it will no longer be possible to receive a degree from a publicly-funded university in areas of alternative medicine, including homeopathy and naturopathy.
German and British medical insurance providers are also in the process of removing alternative therapies from the list of treatments they will cover.
Australia's vice-chancellors will meet in March and Professor Dwyer said his group was aiming to get a commitment from them to endorse health courses only with evidence-based science.
The spokesman for Universities Australia said tertiary institutions were self-accrediting. "[They have] the autonomy Š to ensure the quality and relevance of the courses they offer," he said.
The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, a government body set up to regulate higher education, refused to comment.
Most health funds pay rebates for alternative therapies under top cover polices. Private Healthcare Australia did not return the Herald's calls.
Poll: How do you rate alternative medicine?
Prefer it to traditional medicine
Use it with traditional medicine
Open minded about it
Believe it's quackery
Total votes: 14199.
Poll closed 28 Jan, 2012
Disclaimer: These polls are not scientific and reflect the opinion only of visitors who have chosen to participate.