Several readers and bloggers have noted that there's an AutismOne conference being held on the University of Toronto campus in a few weeks. The conference is loaded with anti-science speakers and quacks so this is an embarrassment. It's being held in the auditorium of the Medical Sciences Building where I work.
The original publicity for this conference implied that it was being sponsored by the Faculty of Pharmacy but that turns out to be untrue as explained on the blog Science-Based Pharmacy: When universities sell their name and let the pseudoscience in.
Well it seems our feedback to the University of Toronto about the upcoming Autism One conference has had an effect. As I noted earlier, Autism One is hosting a conference on autism in Toronto in October. The original brochure listed boldly that the conference was being presented with the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. Understandably concerned, I, along with many of you, contacted the university to register our concerns. Why would a school of public health support a program that touts dubious biomedical treatments for autism, and the ultimate quackery, homeopathy?I don't excuse the SickKids Foundation for their stupid attitude and support for this kind of quackery but the situation with respect to the University of Toronto is a bit different.
Well it turns out the school has acted – quickly and decisively. I’ve heard directly from the school, and have been assured that they were never an official supporter of the program. The brochure and website suggested that the school was actually co-hosting. The school has asked for its name to be removed – and the organizers have complied, as Orac noted earlier this week. The online version of the brochure no longer lists the school’s name.
But what about the SickKids Foundation? Well, this event has brought to light that the SickKids Foundation “takes a neutral stance on complementary and alternative health care” and seems satisfied to remain a sponsor of antivaccination pseudoscience. Their name is still on the brochure.
Which brings me to the topic of the post. Universities never have the funding that they think they need, and do whatever they can to bring in other types of revenue. So the Univeristy of Toronto has rented its space to AutismOne for the conference, and the brochure correctly notes that the address is the Medical Sciences Building on campus. Has a nice ring, doesn’t it? Despite the agenda clearly lacking both valid medicine or science, the conference has bought an air of legitimacy by locating itself on campus. It’s clearly a problem that needs to be addressed, as there’s stuff happening elsewhere on campus…
I'm all for freedom of expression on the university campus [see Censorship at McGill] so if the event were sponsored by a university group that would be fine with me. I would love to see pickets and signs outside of the auditorium explaining to the press, and everyone else, that this ain't science.
I have a problem with renting out space to non-university groups since it's so difficult to make the public understand that not all events on a university campus are sponsored by the university. This is the sort of thing that got some American museums in trouble when the Intelligent Design Creationists rented their facilities.
Okay, that's one issue, and it's more complicated than people first realized.
Now, along comes a more serious issue. There's a Natural Health Products Symposium being held at the University of Toronto and this one really is being sponsored by the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy. Some of the other sponsors include for-profit companies that supply medical products to the alternative medicine community. (Keep in mind that "alternative" medicine is, by definition, medicine that is not evidence based.)
Science-Based Pharmacy is on top of the story [What’s Happening to Pharmacy Continuing Education at the University of Toronto?].
If a homeopathy manufacturer is providing sponsorship dollars for this symposium, the likelihood of the content being science-based is, well, probably homeopathic.There's no excuse for this. The Faculty of Pharmacy should be ashamed. All members of the University of Toronto community should be embarrassed. I know I am.
It pains me to point this out, as U of T is my pharmacy alma mater, and the school is filled with superb faculty, students, and researchers. So why is the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy willing to tarnish its good name by offering a continuing education program containing pseudoscience, sponsored by a company that makes homeopathy? Do they really need the money? Or have they run out of science-based topics to teach?
If this is the state of pharmacy continuing education, we should all be dismayed. Because when academic institutions that should know better are facilitating pseuodoscience like homeopathy, and accepting sponsorship from homeopathic manufacturers, what chance does pharmacy really have to be a science-based profession? And what does it mean for patient care, when pharmacists are learning how to use elaborate placebo systems to treat chronic pain?
This isn't the worst of it. We actually teach a course on alternative medicine in our undergraduate life science programs [HMB434H]. The lecturers promote alternative medicine, including homeopathy, as real science.
HMB434H1I've spoken to the person who runs the Human Biology Program (Valorie Watt). She helped organize this course and she hired the lecturers. She doesn't see a problem.
Complementary and Alternative Medicine [20L, 4S]
Integrative health care is a phenomenon that is developing in health care systems in North America, China, India, and Vietnam, among others. It involves the coordination of multi-disciplinary and culturally-specific health services in the treatment of illness and disease, and an expanded concept of health, illness, and wellness.
Do you see a problem? Maybe you'd like to let the Human Biology Program know about your concerns? Their email address is easy to find on the website.
[Photo Credit: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty: A kind of magic?]