Leaving the Land of Woo

A rational, sceptical look at the ideas of alternative medicine, food, religion, and the paranormal

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CAM degrees, a university con job

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Tags: CAM degrees | fake university courses

If you went to university to study for a degree, you'd have a reasonable expectation that you'd leave with a valuable qualification, having reached a demanding intellectual standard and mastered content which was regulated and meaningful.  You'd expect the academic standards of the institution to ensure that you were taught something valuable, something real, something relevant to the real world.

If you studied a science subject, you'd expect to learn about the basis of your subject, to appreciate the evidence behind the accumulated knowledge you were helped to understand.  You'd be encouraged to question, to challenge theories, to experiment, to observe, to evaluate evidence, and to reach your own conclusions.  If you were studying an arts subject such as history, you'd be expected to question sources, to evaluate bias, to challenge given interpretations and to produce and test your own ideas.  You'd be expected to justify your ideas and claims.  That's what university education is all aboutUnless you are studying Complementary and Alternative Medicine courses, CAM courses, that is.

Until recently in the UK, you could have obtained a BSc degree in Homeopathy.  You can no longer do that because the universities have now stopped awarding them.  You can't award a science degree to a subject based on nonsensical theories. Many have also stopped enrolling their students on CAM courses. But some universities are still issuing degrees based on crystal healing, magnet therapy, energy healing, and all sorts of other Woo nonsense.  How can this possibly happen?

Universities are now business institutions and they sell the awards they issue.  Many universities make millions of pounds out of the business of subcontracting.  By agreeing to validate awards from other institutions, they can charge those institutions substantial sums of money.  The University of Wales collects over £5 million for validating the awards of external institutions, some 34 of them.

Where the university doesn't maintain its academic standards, when it doesn't bother to check the course contents and materials, when it simply rubber-stamps degrees taught and examined elsewhere, you can end up with degrees in pseudoscience.

Dr David Colquhoun has been trying to use the Freedom of Information Act to get hold of the course materials for these pseudoscience courses and has provoked an embarrassed and defensive refusal from universities.  Nevertheless, he appealed, won, and has obtained some materials from some institutions, enough to expose the sham nature of the courses.  He is now trying to obtain information from the following universities: University of Salford (homeopathy, reflexology and nutritional therapy), University of Westminster (homeopathy, reflexology and nutritional therapy), University of West of England, University of Plymouth and University of East London, University of Wales (chiropractic and nutritional therapy), Robert Gordon University Aberdeen (homeopathy), Napier University  Edinburgh (herbalism).

There is a double tragedy in all this.  The students who placed their faith in the academic institutions to provide them with meaningful qualifications are left with a worthless piece of paper with an impressive stamp on it.  The knowledge they think they've gained isn't anything of the kind.  They've been conned.  Those who don't realise what has happened will go out and set up businesses, displaying their certificates, charging people for healing and therapy, spreading the same kind of delusion they've been sold themselves.

But the other side of this disgraceful behaviour, is that the irrationality of pseudoscience is given the stamp of approval by academic institutions too blinded by spreadsheets to remember the standards on which they rest. We can only hope that enough academics wake up to the disgraceful behaviour of their administrations and begin to blow the whistle on the sham content of these courses. Perhaps the sheer embarrassment will be enough to stop them speading delusion and pseudoscience to the gullible.  It might also help to deter well-meaning trusting students from wasting their money on Woo certificates.

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Last Updated on Sunday, 25 July 2010 14:03