Saturday, January 26, 2008
Quackery in Academia
Last night was lots of fun. A bunch of us went to the Centre for Inquiry for a pre-talk reception with David Colquhoun (pronounced "Ca-hoon"). There were light refreshments and lots of talk about atheism, blogs, science, and of course pseudoscience. About 30 friends of the centre showed up.
David Colquhoun is cool. He even agreed to pose with me for a picture. We look like two old curmudgeons but of course we're really not.
After the reception we all walked up to the campus were we heard Prof. Colquhoun talk about alternative medicine. In case, anyone is confused about alternative medicine, the definition is very simple. We all know about evidence-based medicine. That's the kind that's been shown to work. Everything else is "alternative" medicine—medicine that has not been shown to work.
In some cases we know that the "medicine" is not effective. This is the case with homeopathy, a scam that charges patients $2000/litre for water. In other cases, we don't know whether the treatment is helpful or harmful (e.g., some herbal remedies). What we do know is that the claims are wrong. (Because the claimants don't know whether they work either.)
You can find reviews of the talk at Mike's Weekly Skeptic Rant, The Frame Problem, and The Unexamined Life. The only thing I want to add is that Prof. Colquhoun made a strong case for academic quackery. He showed us a long list of universities that now have Departments of Alternative Medicine. The list included some Canadian schools like McMaster University in nearby Hamilton. Colquhoun pointed out that there are many legitimate academics who have fallen for the anti-science crap that is alternative medicine and he calls upon us to take notice and do something about it.
Fellow blogger Ron Brown (right)(The Frame Problem) and old friend Rob Day (left) were at the reception. Rob is a veteran of talk.origins and the creation/evolution controversy from way back—even before my time. It was fun to meet them and Mike (Mike's Weekly Skeptic Rant) again. I'm sorry I didn't get to meet the student behind The Unexamined Life. I guess he/she wanted to remain anonymous.