Towards the end of every semester I start my hunt for classes for the next semester. Last spring something I hadn’t noticed before caught my eye. Normally, I quickly select the few courses I need and proceed with the search, but this time a particular subject jumped out at me: Center for Spirituality and Healing. Aghast, yet morbidly curious, I proceeded with the search, where I found courses such as: Advanced Meditation, Introduction to Traditional Chinese Medicine, Therapeutic Landscapes and Introduction to Energy Healing, to name a few.
I knew that these modalities had to be taught (though, as clinical trials have shown, made-up bullshit is equally effective), but I’d assumed that these were almost exclusively special institutions dedicated to woo and fly-by-night operations, certainly not well know, well-respected, accredited universities. Centers of learning have an obligation to hold themselves to the most rigorous educational standards because they are responsible for shaping the minds of the future generation. Classes like these treat those minds like garbage cans, filling them with any old rubbish. Teaching homeopathy, reflexology, acupuncture and the like as valid, effective healing practices is tantamount to teaching creation alongside evolution. These practices have been thoroughly debunked and yet they are offered as credit-worthy courses. Last I checked, I do not attend Hogwarts, but still my school is teaching magic. Properly framed, these topics could make for an interesting course; one that shows the evolution of medicine from a pre-scientific era to now. Examining the evidence and support put forth by the practitioners and believers would be a fantastic lesson on evaluating evidence and logical fallacies. However, this is, unfortunately, not the case.
Born of my desire not only to promote rationality and counter the promotion of pseudoscience, but also to do my small part to help save lives (potentially), I wrote to the dean of academics and the head of the college in which this subject is taught.
“This program offers courses that espouse dubious and fraudulent medical treatments as legitimate means of healthcare. It concerns me that our fine institution of higher learning is standing behind such notions. It is intellectually dishonest and unethical to do so. By offering these courses, the University of Minnesota is lending credence to these practices, the outcome of which is putting the health and wellbeing of people in danger and even, in many noted tragic cases, costing individuals their life. These practitioners take advantage, not only of the accreditation offered by the school, but also of the research conducted to sell the public the validity of their practices.”
(A selected portion of my e-mail to President Bruininks)
When I wrote the former president of the university, his reply, though timely, was disappointing: “The Center for Spirituality and Healing is a part of the Academic Health Center and has gained national distinction for its research by the National Institutes of Health.” It was a polite brush-off, but a brush-off nonetheless. I voiced my concerns to the highest levels of the university, but to no avail. My voice alone isn’t enough to change policy, but with enough support I believe we can restore sensibility to our little corner of the world.
While preparing to write this post, I found that the Masonic Cancer Center. Their page which covers complementary and alternative medicine discusses, but does nothing to discourage, the use of acupuncture, aromatherapy, shark cartilage and Laetrile to name a few. Promoting these treatments to such an at-risk group as cancer patients is reprehensible and it’s things such as this that demonstrate why we must campaign to remove woo from our schools.