For some reason, the University of Toronto at Scarborough was offering a class called “Alternative Health: Practice and Theory” that promoted non-scientific medicine as legitimate ways to help people. It was taught by homeopath Beth Landau-Halpern.
Dr. Jen Gunter explained the major concerns in the National Post:
Earlier this year, two groups of academics at the University of Toronto wrote letters of concern to the President of the University to protest an Alternative health course that fostered distrust of vaccines, cited Andrew Wakefield, and completely mis-applied Quantum Mechanics to explain a bevy of bizarre health claims. This week, the school finally addressed their claims; and the university’s response is both wholly inadequate and totally baffling.
The university response she’s referring to was that the course wasn’t really problematic, but could have done a better job of relying more on scientific studies. Which is a very generous way of saying, “Sure, it’s bullshit, but students pay us money to take the course, so why would we put a stop to it?”
Eventually, the backlash grew too much. The school announced yesterday that the class would not be offered in the coming school year.
Landau-Halpern’s defense in all this has been that she’s not an anti-vaxxer, but believes “in a nuanced and individualized approach to vaccination.” Which sounds nice but lacks any scientific backing. There’s no good reason to call vaccines into question. The benefits far outweigh the side effects, and those who choose to abstain from vaccines, or get them too late, put the entire community in danger.
Rebecca Schuman of Slate makes the point that while balance could be useful in the humanities, science doesn’t work the same way:
… it’s a different story when unsuspecting students are presented with material in science or social science courses that is not evidence-based — or that, in the case of both anti-vaccination paranoia and quantum mechanics, has been debunked. The same would be true of any university that teaches literalist seven-day creationism in biology courses or denies human-made climate change in ecology courses. There aren’t “two sides” of any of these debates in the scientific milieu. There is science, and there is … not science.
This class never should have been approved in the first place, but the university was right to cancel it. Who know how many students got dumber as a result of taking it.
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