An article in the Sydney Morning Herald tells its readers: Scientists urge unis to axe alternative medicine courses. According to the article,

[a]lmost one in three Australian universities now offer courses in some form of alternative therapy or complementary medicine, including traditional Chinese herbal medicine, chiropractics, homeopathy, naturopathy, reflexology and aromatherapy.

We were talking about it & my friend Aimee said, “I think the key question to ask here is whether universities are scientific bastions, educational institutes, or organisations geared towards making money.” And I agree with her. While alternative therapies/complementary medicines are certainly popular, & there’s wide public interest in them (as evidenced by stories in the NZ Heraldhere, & here) – universities surely teach critical thinking (within & beyond their science programs), & there’s little evidence of either in many CAM modalities. Nor should the hoary old argumentum ad populum carry weight in scientific circles: just because an idea is popular, doesn’t mean it’s correct.

In other words, universities are educational institutions offering research-based, evidence-based programs in science & other disciplines, & subjects that lack that strong basis should have no place in their curricula. As the newly formed Australian lobby group, Friends of Science in Medicine, said in its letter to Australian vice-chancellors,

by giving “undeserved credibility to what in many cases would be better described as quackery” and by “failing to champion evidence-based science and medicine”, the universities are trashing their reputation as bastions of scientific rigour.

Hear, hear! After all, it’s not enough to put on a course because of actual or perceived student demand. The program also needs to be academically rigorous. And applying that rigour to an examination of the content should enough to see offerings such as homeopathy out the door. After all, claims that the homeopathic treatment for burns is more heat, or that homeopathic plutonium is a valid treatment for anything, are easy to test (& to find wanting). And explanations for its mode of action fly in the face of all we know od how the world works. The same is true for many other CAMs (& don’t get me started on leeches!).