Earlier this year two groups of academics (scientists and faculty members) at the University of Toronto wrote letters of concern to the President of the University regarding the course Alternative Health: Practice and Theory HLTD04H3-S, Special Topics in Health taught by Beth Landau-Halpern, a homeopath. One group wrote about their concerns that the course presented false information on vaccines thus fostering distrust and the other wrote of their concern regarding the inaccurate use of Quantum Mechanics to support mechanisms of action of alternative medicine (see below for screenshots of the letter regarding Quantum Mechanics).
Regarding vaccination, Week 9 of the curriculum is “Vaccination – The King of Controversy.” No medical, nursing, or basic biology/immunology textbooks or articles are referenced in the required reading nor is any information from Health Canada or the World Health Organization. Instead, the required reading/viewing and additional information for the students (meaning what they will learn and thus take away from the course) includes Andrew Wakefield (who lost his medical license for falsifying data in a now beyond infamous study with falsified data) and anti-vaccine propaganda sites. The below images are screen shots from the course in question at the time in question.
Regarding the use of Quantum Mechanics scientists at the University of Toronto had issues with the following paragraph in the curriculum as well as the required reading:
We will delve into a quantum physics’ understanding of disease and alternative medicine to provide a scientific hypothesis of how these modalities may work. Quantum physics is a branch of physics that understands the interrelationship between matter and energy. This science offers clear explanations as to why homeopathic remedies with seemingly no chemical trace of the original substance are able to resolve chronic diseases, why acupuncture can offer patients enough pain relief to undergo surgery without anesthesia, why meditation alone can, in some instances, reduce the size of cancerous tumors.
As of last week only the group who wrote about the abuse of Quantum Mechanics have received a response. The President charged the Vice President with looking into the matter. The response from the University mentions nothing about the concerns regarding the inability of Quantum Mechanics to support alternative medicine and instead focuses only on immunizations concluding:
“..‘the instructor’s approach in the class towards the issue of immunization in particular had not been unbalanced. It did not deviate from a presentation of material that, in context, would enable critical analysis and inquiry. From an academic pedagogy perspective, Professor Goel found that there had not been sufficient deviation from the range of scholarly approaches to immunization to warrant concerns.”
(see below for screen shots of the response from the Vice Provost in its entirety)
To say I was dumbfounded would not be an understatement.
First of all, scientists from the University of Toronto, the real experts, had their concerns about the abuse of their field to support homeopathy and alternative medicine ignored. Did the Vice President et. al. not understand that the course is more than immunization? Did they even read the letter? Do they know what homeopathy and Quantum Mechanics are? Do they not care about the deterioration of science by allowing misinformation to be taught at a University level? Did they confuse the two letters? I mean I just can’t even…
If ignoring the concerns of scientists about the abuse of Quantum Mechanics wasn’t bad enough, to conclude that the teachings about vaccines as represented by the curriculum are not “unbalanced” from a “scholarly” perspective simply renders one speechless. As far as immunization is concerned the curriculum is a veritible lesson in false balance and perversion of the scientific method.
In my opinion the response basically boils down to, “Oh give her a break, she’s new and it all sounds a bit new age and that’s really what people want, but we’ll have her make it a little more sciencey next time” when it should have been a “thank you for bringing this to our attention, we share your concerns and they will be addressed immediately. This instructor is now on probation and all course material related to medicine and science will need to be approved by a faculty member in the appropriate field (minimum of masters level or medical doctor).” Remember, this isn’t misquoting a study, a new field where there is little published work, or a published academic having an unpopular but scientifically plausible opinion in a field. The material presented about Quantum Mechanics and immunizations is wrong and the equivalent of being in an alternative geology course teaching that the world is flat with references from 1300.
The only thing worse than this course being taught at a Canadian University is the President, Vice-President and Provost ignoring/inadequately responding to legitimate concerns about science and education. If the University of Toronto is an institute of higher learning that aims to teach facts then this course should be scrubbed.
Whether this is a case of nepotism (the course instructor is the wife of the Dean of the Scarborough campus) or the beginning of the end of the scientific method at the University of Toronto remains to be seen. Confusing robust academic discussion and academic freedom with false balance and scientifically unsupported information is wrong and dangerous.
In my opinion a public inquiry is needed.
Letter to the President:
Response from the President: