Quackademic medicine in the U.S.: The view from the U.K.

David Colquhoun, eminent scientist and maintainer of the excellent blog DC’s Improbable Science, has recently returned home to the U.K. after a trip across the pond to the U.S. and Canada, where, among other things, he gave a lecture at the University of Toronto, as well as the Riker Memorial Lecture at the Oregon Health and Science University. Now that he’s back, he’s made some observations about the infiltration of quackademic medicine into U.S. medical schools, the same infiltration of woo that I’ve lamented in my Academic Woo Aggregator.

Among his commentary on several “luminaries” of the quackademic medicine programs, programs such as the one at the Integrative Medicine Program at Yale (another one for the Woo Aggregator–how on earth did I miss it?), the Scripps Institute’s Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine, the Oregon Health Sciences University’s Integrative Medicine Service, the University of Arizona’s Program in Integrative Medicine, as well as Columbia University and Cornell. Worse, he’s unearthed a program I failed to find for my Woo Aggregator, namely the Integrative Therapies Program for Children with Cancer at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital of NewYork-Presbyterian. The interesting thing is that I could only find press releases about this program; it does not appear to have a webpage or website of its own. Interesting. I may have to investigate further. One thing’s for sure, though: less than one month after the last update, the Academic Woo Aggregator definitely needs another update. I wonder if the number of programs will top 50 when I do update it.

What’s depressing to me, though, about Dr. Colquhoun’s observations is that the situation appears to be worse in the U.S. than in the U.K. because major medical schools are devoting divisions, departments, or services to teaching nonscientific (and in some cases even antiscientific) medicine to students, residents, and fellows and offering it to patients:

It is on the clinical side where the situation is far worse than in the UK. Almost every university hospital, including Harvard, Yale and Stanford, has departments devoted to fairy-tale medicine.

Quacks use a number of euphemisms to make themselves sound more respectable. First they became ‘alternative medicine’, then ‘complementary medicine’. Now the most-used euphemism is ‘integrative medicine’, which is favoured by most US universities (as well as by the Prince of Wales). Raymond Tallis pointed out that this seems to mean integration of treatments that don’t work with treatments that do work.

So, fellow advocates of science- and evidence-based medicine, it appears it’s time to go once more into the breach; this battle will apparently go on for a long time.