Orac gets e-mail: Woo infiltration at Ohio State University?

Orac gets e-mail from time to time. This time around, a person working at The Ohio State University writes about a disturbing incident there demonstrating yet more evidence that academic medical centers are having increasing difficulty distinguishing between evidence-based medicine (which they should champion) and non-evidence-based medicine, which they should not. This e-mail comes from someone who wishes to remain anonymous:

Time after time I’ve read Orac’s accounts of woo infiltrating the medical community. Last month I witnessed its encroachment into the Ohio State University. Each year the university engages in a fund raising charity campaign to encourage its students and staff to contribute to a variety of causes. Listed among AIDS education, literacy campaigns, free clinic funding, and a variety of medical research causes is The Center for Wholeness. A brief glance at its website will find that its description of scientific healing includes “Shiva/Shakti Synthesis” and a variety of Tantrik methods to establish “balance between the Sun and Moon” and help our “internal landscapes.”

There are a number of ways in which this sets a harmful precedent, and I have personally written to inform our university’s president and fund raising chair of as much. First, a state institution should not be engaging in fundraising for religious endeavors. (The appearance of “Shiva” in Shiva/Shakti Synthesis is not coincidental.) Second, the university should not be identifying woo as science. An academic institution ought to value scientific rigor and not compromise its medical integrity by endorsing this sort of thing. And possibly the most practically disturbing is the danger that these contributions may be in direct tradeoff with worthwhile causes. After all, in a list of specific medical causes, a donation to a blanket medical fund might be an easier decision than choosing between funding diabetes and Crohn’s research. The promotion of the Center for Wholeness as a medical charity puts it on par with established medicine, thereby making it in direct competition for donations.

My response was met with the Associate Vice President’s claim that traditional western medicine was limited and that spiritual approaches are actively being pursued through OSU’s Center for Integrative Medicine.

If anyone is interested, President Gordon Gee (gee.2@osu.edu), Melvin Shipp (shipp.25@osu.edu), Joseph Alutto (alutto.1@osu.edu), and Larry Lewellen (llewellen@hr.osu.edu) are chairs of this fund initiative who may need to hear from other concerned voices. I’ve entertained the idea of soliciting religious groups to appeal for funding, hoping that resulting discrimination suits might prompt more responsible standards. But the direct approach of vocal criticism might present a more likely scenario for policy change.

As a University of Michigan graduate, I can’t help but feel a bit of schadenfreude over this bit of news, but I have to temper that with the knowledge that the University of Michigan Medical Center is probably ahead of The Ohio State University in permitting woo into its hallowed halls, although there does appear to be a lot of woo in OSU’s Center for Integrative Medicine (no homeopathy, though, thankfully). Also, I acknowledge that one could argue that the Center for Wellness is primarily teaching yoga, which can be good low-impact exercise, although there does appear to be a lot of woo there as well.

The inclusion of a yoga studio with a heavy Tantrik component in OSU’s fundraising drive doesn’t bother me so much in and of itself, as it could simply have been an oversight or due to lax standards for inclusion in OSU’s list of charities. Also, yoga is probably a relatively harmless type of woo, and it can at least be a good conditioning method. More disturbing to me is the attitude of the OSU leadership when questioned about this, which is antithetical to an academic, scientific, evidence-based approach to medicine. If that attitude is not reversed, we’ll almost certainly see OSU moving closer to this.