Scientists Implore Aussie Universities To Abandon Alternative Medicine Courses

They've only been around for three months, but the Friends of Science in Medicine (FSM), a lobby group formed to combat alternative or complementary medicine with good old empirical data, is pushing its mandate hard. In its sights are Australia's universities -- specifically the ones running courses that focus on herbal remedies, aromatherapy, homoeopathy and chiropractic methodologies.

FSM is far from a token entity -- the 450-member strong group counts Australian immunologist Sir Gustav Nossal and Gardasil vaccine inventor Professor Ian Frazer among its ranks. According to AsianScientist, FSM penned letters to the vice-chancellors of the offending universities asking them stop giving alternative medicine courses "undeserved credibility". A story over at The Atlantic further states the group wants universities to "reverse the trend" of providing courses that "are not underpinned by convincing scientific evidence". The article goes on to say that 19 out of 39 universities across the country offer courses the group deems as "quackery".

What do the universities have to say? According to University Australia, it's up to each university to decide what courses they provide. Do you think there should be a serious review of uni courses teaching alternative medicine, or should educational institutions have free reign over what they offer?

[The Atlantic and AsianScientist]

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    Universities can make some good money off these courses. Not sure if they will bring a halt to them but I for one am looking forward to studying "Old Wives Tales 101".

    At least someone is doing something. Putting these kinds of courses into Universities just makes it look like these kind of "therapies" have more credence than they actually deserve.

    I think it lowers the credibility of the universities in question to offer non-academic degrees.

    This is a fantastic initiative, it is an oxymoron that alternative medicine is taught at universities. It's like a priest teaching magic tricks in church...

    The more awareness that can be raised, the more people who can be saved from wasting their hard earned cash on treatments that have been proven to offer results that are no better than placebo.

    As the old saying goes, if alternative medicine worked, it would be called medicine....

      Don't priests already do that? Turning bread into flesh and red wine into blood? You mean it's not magic?

    I'm all in favour of denying quackery such as homeopathy, chiropraxy, and aromatherapy - to name a few - the credibility of a university degree, because it completely undermines the validity of a proper medicine degree.

    Many Arts and Humanlties courses “are not underpinned by convincing scientific evidence." Should these be removed also?

    I think that this FSM group probably “are not underpinned by convincing scientific evidence" in their request for the removal of courses. Sure, they may have empirical data that disproves many natural remedies, but that's not the issue. What the FSM need to prove is whether or not the courses provide the information that they claim to provide.

      Arts and humanities courses aren't pretending to be medical degrees.

        Hence the point, what are alternative medicine courses claiming. Are they claiming to be the same as a traditional western medical degree? I don't think so, otherwise they wouldn't use the term 'alternative'!

      Clearly, you have no understanding of the issues and you're left to argue semantics. Remember, alternative medicine killed someone as supposedly smart as Steve Jobs. It is a real issue that deserves a little more thought.

        Hahahahaha, in saying that, do you mean to say people don't die from modern medicine malpractice?

          That's not the point. Someone dying after you've done all you can do for them based on the best information we have is quite a different thing from someone dying after you've basically treated them with water (or something equally ridiculous and unsupported) because you're a gullible idiot with no real science knowledge who has been given some sort of credibility by an institution purporting to deliver "higher" education.

            If you think all alternative medicine are like 'water cures', I don't know how you can use the word 'gullible' to describe anyone other than yourself

        Check you facts....

        Pancreatic cancer is one of the fastest killers amongst the group of nasty cancers it inhabits...

        Steve Jobs Lived a lot more than 3 months after diagnosis, due to whatever, Luck probably....

        The best cancer treatment you can have is always the one you didn't get....

          ...check your facts. It is reported Jobs was perchance diagnosed very early and declined treatment that had a good chance of working at that early stage.

    Oh look, big pharma shills don't like people healing themselves without their expensive artificial treatments

    Have any of you academic mouthpieces tried any alternative medicines to know if they work or don't, or are you just repeating bullshit and trying to equate all of alternative medicine to superstition

    In my experience, lots of herbal remedies actually do work, and work well. There's a reason they've been used and handed down for thousands of years, and that's without the costs and side effects of 'modern' medicine

    I cannot comment on other alternative medicine disciplines as I have not used them, but I'll take herbal remedies over your expensive artificial treatments which mask the symptoms instead of fixing the problem

    Haven't you heard of the old saying: A sick customer is a loyal customer

      Did you seriously just use the phrase "academic mouthpieces"?

        well said

      If what you say is true, then it shouldn't be a problem to come up with some convincing scientific evidence then should it.


          'scientific evidence' costs a lot of money. Which is why most of the money going into generating such evidence is for patentable products only.

          You can't patent herbs and stuff so there is an incentive for pharma to discredit it. I'm not saying alternative medicine works, a lot probably doesn't, some probably does - much the same way that a healhty diet and lifestyle works. But you have to be skeptical of anyone being too forecful about their opinion.

          P.s. Ian Frazer is in the pocket of pharma and his HPV vaccine is an outrageious waste of tax payers money. Believe me, it is my job to know.

        The convincing scientific evidence you seek is easily produced if you first remove your prejudice

        That goes for you and all 'modern' medicine enthusiasts
        Your beliefs are clouding your judgement

          lol, yeah guys, just remove that prejudice you have against the idea of taking random testimonials as evidence, perhaps they might even meet you halfway and include a statistic.

          You know like "9 out of 10 dentists prefer Oral B" (because we sampled 9 out of 10 that we pay or give free stuff to).

      And a gullible customer can be easily conned.

      Individuals are not in any position to know whether or not alternative medicine works. Just because you get better, doesn't mean the medicine is responsible and just because these so-called "remedies" have been handed down for thousands of years doesn't mean anything either. After all, belief in God has lasted as long and anyone can see how absurd that is. The fact is that if a herbal remedy has any efficacy, chances are it has been medicinised. e.g. Aspirin as been around since the ancient Greeks and Colchicine, one of the two treatments for gout, has been around since ancient Egypt. But I'd take the modern medicinal versions over the original bark or bulb because a tablet has the distilled chemicals that treat the ailment with none of the impurities of the original plant. You are far more likely to have side-effects from herbal "remedies" as they are full of impurities.

      For myself, I had bronchial asthma as a child, at a time when there were no medically effective treatments. My parents spent a fortune on every kind of traditional "medicine", even trying chiropractics, and nothing had even the slightest effect. It was only when I was in my teens that Intal appeared, the first treatment that was in any way effective. Today, asthma is completely treatable and I've not had an attack in decades, thanks to proper medicine. Someone else swore by taking cod liver oil to prevent headcolds, which often triggered asthma attacks. I took it religiously for several years because it seemed to reduce the number of colds I got but when I eventually stopped taking it I didn't start getting more colds. I realised that I had convinced myself it was being effective but it wasn't. But I eventually discovered something that absolutely reduces the number of colds I get and that is Zyrtec. I've gone from 3 or 4 colds a year to one cold every 3 or 4 years. You just can't beat modern medicine.

        You are putting all alt medicines into one big bag, and condemning all of it because it didn't work on your specific condition, that is very unscientific and you should hang your head in shame

        What a nice story you've shared, now let me share mine.
        Thanks to alternative medicine philosophy and techniques, I haven't had a cold or flu in 3-4 years since I changed my diet and lifestyle. I also learnt a few herbal remedies that never let the microbes get the upper hand, like ginger tea, garlic, tumeric. I also used to be chronically ill in my adolescence, and I had asthma (though I conquered that without medicines)
        You just can't beat alternative medicine

        Modern medicine in many ways, just allows people to live in a sick way with temporary relief.

          ... and YOU'RE claiming all alternative medicines are worth trying because you believe that they helped you - without any evidence that this is true. You are the Placebo effect incarnate.

          The whole point is that one individual's experiences CANNOT be considered evidence. You have to perform double-blind studies to demonstrate a statistically significant link, otherwise you're spouting misinformation. But here's the rub - when proper scientists investigate alternative therapies annd find a link, then that link becomes incorporated into medical practice. So anything that stays 'alternative' after it's been studied is bunk.

            Keep telling yourself that

            And the sky is not blue unless the textbooks say so, don't trust your lying eyes!
            Everything you cannot explain is a placebo!

      Can you just list a few of these remedies and what maladies they cure?

    and you'd be surprised how much western medicine isn't backed up by empirical data either. One example that leaps to mind, is that they keep describing anti-depressants when even initial studies decades ago showed placebos working almost as well, and studies now suggest the difference is clinically insignificant. March on with your prescription pads tho GPs and psychiatrists everywhere!

    If placebos can heal people, I dare say herbs can hey? I think we need to be equally sceptical about all sorts of treatment, there is poor practise, outright scams, and mistakes made and we still have a lot to learn.

      I'm sorry but that is just garbage. My best friend has a long history of clinical depression and the difference in him when on anti-depressants is night and day. My brother also found them highly effective when his marriage was breaking down and it was only by an unlikely coincidence that he ended up using them. i.e. He didn't realise he was suffering from depression until he started taking anti-depressants.

        He was right about the placebo vs antidepressants
        Your best friend is probably just under the belief that the pills work

        Again, you see the approach of masking symptoms, instead of fixing the root problem
        More pills = more money!
        A lobotomy also removes the symptoms of depression :P

    I think a more effective solution would be to give the university as a health or medicine based rating. Universities that teach quackery would be heavily penalised, and rightfully so.

    @fedup, do you know what they call alternative medicine that has been proven to work? They call it medicine, I myself use a nice herbal extract to treat my arthritis, it comes from the willow tree, and it’s called paracetamol.

    case in point, Steve Jobs, he trusted the "alternative medicines for over a year when his cancer was still rather benign and hadn't mastasized, after those "medicines failed him he tried modern medicine, even going so far as to get his genome sequenced for targeted genetic therapy, all that could of been prevented if he used modern medicine.

    Oh and to your throw away line "a sick customer is a loyal customer" tell that to the sufferers of many diseases that have been wiped out or easily cured due to modern i.e. smallpox, diphtheria, most infections.

      Minor point of order: aspirin comes from willow bark, not paracetamol. Otherwise, yes, I agree.

        Are you suggesting that Steve jobs' pancreatic cancer could have been cured if only he'd used Western meds?

          That is the prevailing opinion - that by wasting time on alternative treatments when his cancer was eminently treatable, he missed his window of opportunity and by the time he went to the doctor, he was a dead man walking.

            Prevailing opinion of whom? Not his doctors. I wouldn't ever choose alt over western for cancer except as complementary for myself, but I wouldn't opine without his specific case notes in front of me.

      Its asprin from the willow tree

      Point of interest: paracetamol is a tar extract.

      And they DO work, the problem is that people now have the idea that if it's not in 'pill form', it's not medicine. And that's where big pharma wants the public perception to be (and that includes academia)

      Steve Jobs lasted a lot longer with his cancer than most, can you tell me exactly which medicines he tried? If not, you are just repeating what someone else has told you.

      My problem isn't with modern medicine at all, my problem is when people say alternative medicines don't work and have no place in the world, and only modern medicines work.
      That is one made of plain ignorance.

    Ever had labyrinthitis? My GP couldn't fix it, the ENT couldn't fix it; they both shook their heads and said I might have it for life. So I tried acupuncture plus a good brand of Jade Screen and it was 80 percent gone after one treatment, and 100 percent gone after two plus the Jade Screen.

    Quackery? I don't think so. Western medicine is young; it can be miraculous, but it can also cause enormous harm and cascade side effects. If you want to rely on it, have at it, but leave other people to make their own decisions. Intellectual arrogance is a terrible thing. You don't even know what you don't know.

      Interestingly, labyrinthitis is supposed to respond well to the patient's positive outlook, so it is most likely that the placebo effect cured you, not whatever potion you were taking. Either that or you just got better (it is not a chronic condition). Beyond that, it is a secondary manifestation of a bacterial or viral infection, rather than a specific malady, and something that responds to therapy. i.e. Exercises to train your brain to deal with the situation and alleviate the symptoms.

        Of course! (slaps head). I suffered labyrinthitis 6 months and one acupuncture treatment got most of it, but it was all in my head! Oh wait....

    Yeah, I'm sick of carrying this terrible burden of choice for how I look after myself, can't somebody think for me?

    In all seriousness though, these agenda driven groups need to back off attacking my choice on how to look after myself. For most people it is complementary therapy, intended to

    We are entitled to choice, same as the depressed person should be entitled to choose psychological care or popping a pill. Let Ian Fraser focus on what he wants, and I will focus on looking after myself.

    Not sure what the protocol on linking to outside articles is here, but perhaps those involved in mainstream health care should look at how to stop people being harmed by cock-ups in hospitals before trying to take away my ability to look after myself.

    Complementary health care keeps people out of our strained mainstream system and saves the government money, it aint broke (except for those who make money from things like gardasil) so let's not try to fix it.


      Well said

      I've encountered my fair share of quacks (Dr. Nicks) practicing modern medicine (guess that's why they practice, because they're not very good at it...) who have said astoundingly incorrect things about human anatomy, are so arrogant that what they were taught is the ONLY solution, and all too ready to prescribe antibiotics on any occasion.

      It's really no wonder that superbugs have been created through this blind approach to medicine. Trying to work against the body than with it is the underlying approach.

      It's my encounters with these quacks that made me search for alternatives

      You're missing the point of the article. It's about stopping this stuff getting "taught" in universities.

    If there is to be a serious review of what courses are provided by Universities, than I think ALL courses need to undergo that review using the same yard stick!

    An interesting exercise would be to check where the funding for this 450-member strong group and for each individual member is coming from. Would not surprise me at all if there was a very strong connection to big pharmaceutical companies.

      Most pharmaceutical companies also cash in on the alt med remedies. It's easy money for them.

      Doesn't mean they work.
      Why is it that alt med remedies never go through FDA Or TGA approval. If they work as advertised wouldn't you want to prove it with rigorous peer reviewed study instead of crappy one sided 'studies' that are meant to look favorable?

    One last point, if the best this group can come up with is an article talking about Kevin Sorbo, then they're not laying a very solid bedrock for their cause.

    The neurology now article even contains this quote from Sorbo:

    “Apparently, the aneurysm had been producing blood clots for some time. I had blockages all down my arm that were making my fingers cold, tingly, and numb,” Sorbo remembers.

    It's not like he was a healthy dude, went and saw a Chiro, and then had a stroke. There was an underlying condition.

    There's a big difference between that and examples when hospitals do things like abort the wrong twin, as happened last year in Melbourne, and perhaps this groups should look at how to fx those problems.

    There's a saying, "laughter is the best medicine."
    I wonder which camp laughter falls into. They certainly use it in children's hospitals but I don't know of any scientific backing for it.

    Murdoch Uni in WA (not named for Rupert Murdoch) has been offering Chiropractic Medicine for over a decade, it's one of their tentpole courses. They ain't going to give that up without a fight.

    not to dull the value of either clan here, but by and large ((and they actually admit this if you actually bother to read the credos and basis behind most of them)) most alternative/complementary therapies do not claim to be "healing arts". they are mistakenly peddled as this... but that is not what the vast majority of them claim to be... what they claim to be is preventative therapies. acupuncture, aryuvedic medicine, chinese herbal medicine, chiropratic just to name a few actually clearly state in the way that they work that if you keep sticking to the principles they outline, they will keep you healthy... almost all of them also blatantly say that if you are actually sick that the healing process will be slow and painful... strangely akin to as if you were masking the symptoms and prolonging how long your body was suffering on the inside... but what do i know... i'm just a doctor who has trained and practiced in ayurvedic medicine for 15 years before wanting to learn western medicine....

    Still no word on why they haven't attacked psychiatrists. Probably because they sell drugs. This group is probably directly funded by the pharmaceutical and medical industry... just like those "skeptic" blogs.

    "Take our drugs, only our drugs... or have our surgery. Everything else needs to be illegal. We know best." Sounds like a scam if I ever heard one.

    The science actually does back up that placebos work, we don't know why, but they do, sometimes. So all these Placebo Practitioners can stay as far as I care. I really wish I was stupid so their therapies would work for me :(

      Define stupidity. The mind is an incredibly powerful tool. If you could use it to heal yourself without drugs or surgery and the attendant side effects, wouldn't you be exceptionally stupid to choose drugs and/or surgery instead?

      Naturally I'm not talking here about urgent problems.

    I think a lot of people are missing the point. They aren't stopping people from using them, they are just saying that they shouldn't be taught at a university. I agree with that.

    I don't care if you want to treat yourself that way. Go for it.

    I think alternative therapy course are best left to alternative institutions.

      Why exactly do you think unis are teaching them? Because patients ask about them and use them, and a doctor should have some curiosity and a foggy clue on the subject. Our pediatrician prescribed alt ear drops for ear infections because people asked, he experimented with his own kids' chronic ear infections, and they worked. He was not a fan is antibiotic-induced super bugs.

        Sorry, typing on iphone is not my forte.

      You're right, but it's only one step away from suppressing and banning alternative medicine altogether, one only needs to look at the general attitude of the comments made here

      It is this kind of religious zealotism that allows stupid things like this to happen:

      It is reported that in 1996 the German delegation put forward a proposal that no herb, vitamin or mineral should be sold for preventive or therapeutic reasons, and that supplements should be reclassified as drugs.[4] The proposal was agreed, but protests halted its implementation.[4]

      And more examples of similar craziness

    Universities who teach that crap just bring down their own reputation.

    I think Tim Minchin sums it up quite nicely :-)

    Ok so lets focus on the REAL differences, not personal stories (powerful, but meaningless) or cases where PRACTITIONERS (ie individuals) fuck up. At its heart, the difference is this - medicine is based on reason and evidence and is (over time, imperfectly) self correcting - bad treatments are removed and better ones found. Not everything is curable at any given time (medicine is not magic) but over time more is - that is why we all now live longer. alt modalities are based on belief and are magical - no evidence is required and even treatments proven to be ineffective persist, for ever. Some may work, and as other have pointed out medicine tends to absorb those over time. People like magical thinking (including many doctors), and so alt modalities are not going away in any hurry. People sometimes get better both without and despite treatment - false positives - this applies equally to alt and to medicine - even smallpox killed only one third of all victims, so herbal treatments and bleeding with leaches "cured" 66% (vs modern medicine 100%).

    As for the whole "big pharma" thing, give me a break:
    a. many alt treatments are actually sold by subsidiaries of large drug companies (eg supplements)
    b. margins and prices on alt products are higher than traditional medicine, particularly comparing "non patent" herbal to "generic western"
    c. some of the richest people in western countries are promoters of and profit off alt - eg ms Winfrey in the USA.

    I think it's important to not be dogmatic. Medicine is based on facts and evidence yes, but the primary way these evidences came into being, basically, the spark that started the fire towards a specific drug or chemical, was through what we now have downgraded to "alternative" medicine. "Alternative" medicine was how people were being treated for thousands of years, and they lived, man! They had lives and were cured of their ailments, and there was no peer review articles to give scientific proof of how they were cured, but they just were. Why? Grandmother traditions passed down generation to generation. Of course, not all of them worked (some aggrevated the patient's state of being), JUST like modern medicine today.
    Do you seriously think that "modern" medicine/aka the novel tyep of pharmaceutico-physiological medicine that came about within the last 200 years is bullet-proof, true to the core in everything they say, and not just a tiny bit dogmatic? That there's no hidden agenda in societies, lobby groups and governments not trying to force down my drugs and medication on us, that according to their research, improves our lives?
    Make of it what you will, and it is too long to explain here for the untrained ear, but all medicine, all facts, everything from alternative to "modern" medicine, is biased in terms of who wrote it, where it comes from, and who earns the pay cheque if we listen to them in the end.
    So you have to be careful when they want to remove alternative medicine from curriculae. You have to stop and think that maybe everything is not just black and white, i.e.:
    modern medince = all evidence based, facts, so they must be true
    Alternative medicine = hobble-gobble
    There are grey areas in both fields, and they both need to be dealt with justly and in an unbiased way. Oh and a little more transparency on who gets the pay cheque in all this!

      - it is a logic failing to think that the truth must always lie as some intermediate point between to opposing arguments
      - it is a logic failing to misrepresent your opponent's argument, and then refute that misrepresentation.
      - the issue is that things presented as science should follow the rules of science, as modern medicine attempts to do.
      - you therefore cannot teach alternative medicine as science, if is eschews the scientific method, and even more so those aspects where there is strong evidence that treatments do not work, such as homeopathy
      - medicine does get corrupted by commercial drive4rs, but alternative medicine even more so, preying on people's susceptibilities.

    During the last two years I was having a problem with a severe pain in my stomach. I visited numerous GPs, surgeons, gastroenterologists with absolutely no help. The only people who actually helped me are naturopaths, including Australian, Chinese and Indian. Thus, friends of the only medicine are representing no science but rather is a bunch of guys who want to get rid of alternative medicine so that doctors would have no competition.
    The modern doctors do not treat patients. How is it possible to do this having 10 min for a visit to GP?. Moreover, the modern so called “scientific’ medicine is about money only. Doctors are bribed by pharmaceutical companies to prescribe certain drugs which in many instances are harmful for the body and give no relief whatsoever. Doctors charge you for visits lots of money without caring about resolving of a problem.
    Even with a small competition form alternate medicine the so called scientific one behaves horribly, what would happen if there is not competition. Imagine there are only Coles shops around Australia…Luckily we have markets, grocery shops, Safeway and many other options.
    Natural medicine was grown for centuries and treated people. In fact, it is the modern medicine which is not scientific as it disregards all good stuff which was inherited by medical practitioners during many generations.
    Every medicine has its limitations. Some problems like severe surgical must be treated by doctors, many others are well treated by natural medicine and from the preventative point of view this medicine is MUCH better than chemicals ruining the body. Naturopaths can always find a cause of pain, whereas GPs in lots of instances are giving just panadol or even antidepressant without caring of the actual cause and consequences of destroying the body.
    Shame to so called scientific medicine and its current state here in Australia. natural medicine and modern chemical medicine must co-exist but not punch each other, although mainly the second is always punching the first, to make us healthy. In this case the modern chemical medicine doe snot care about us and about our health, it cares about itself.

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