Feb 09 2018

Ontario College Plans Program in Homeopathy

Here we go again.

If you are in a decision-making position at an institution of higher learning than you have a responsibility to understand and protect the academic reputation of that institution. Further, such institutions (many of which, as in this case, are publicly funded) have a responsibility to society, to promote academic standards and legitimacy. At the very least such institutions should not be promoting pseudoscience, or dressing up any nonsense as if it were real.

Georgian College in Ontario has approved funds and plans to open a program that will teach homeopathy as if it is real medicine. Teaching any pseudoscience is an outrage, but when it is medical pseudoscience there is also arguably another layer of malfeasance because the connection to real harm is more direct.

I know this is old territory here, but for review: Homeopathy is a prescientific philosophy-based system based on magical thinking. Its core ideas were never valid, and have never been supported by science. Essentially, homeopathy uses fanciful treatments that are based on silly ideas, such as the personality of the patient, but also “sympathetic magic.” The belief is that homeopathic remedies contain the magical essence of symptoms and can be used to cure those same symptoms.

Then, doubling down on the idea of magical essence, all actual substances are diluted out of existence, so that only the essence remains. Therefore, in reality, only water remains. Homeopathy is literally treating people with magic water created with rituals resembling witchcraft, and without the tiniest bit of scientific legitimacy.

Despite this, a great deal of resources have been wasted studying whether such magic potions work or not. Unsurprisingly, the totality of this research shows that homeopathy does not work.

Homeopathy proponents, however, will not acknowledge this reality. They cherry pick, distort, lie, ignore, and engage in an impressive array of motivated reasoning to maintain their belief in magical potions. I have no idea where any individual homeopathy seller is on the spectrum from con-artist to true-believer, but it doesn’t really matter. They represent some combination of not caring about scientific evidence, or not being able to understand the evidence.

There is no real controversy here. This is the clear scientific consensus, and is unambiguously supported by the science.

So, how could an academic institution consider teaching a degree program in pure nonsense? That’s a good question. Let’s here from Fay Lim-Lambie, dean of health, wellness and science at Georgian College.

“As an educational institution we welcome critical discussion and debate,” she said. “It helps ensure the best possible curriculum and learning outcomes for our students.”

She added that, “In an era of patient choice, it is important for the college to provide students with the most diverse education possible, including options for care and different methods.”

I’m sorry, the dean of what? Was that health and science? I hear there is returning interest in astrology. Perhaps the astronomy department (if they have one) should consider teaching astrology in order to cater to this interest, to give their students a diverse education. Let’s have a critical discussion and debate about that. Seriously – if you think a program in homeopathy is appropriate at your institution, then you have absolutely no basis on which to deny programs in cryptozoology, creationism, crystal healing, UFOlogy, or free energy. You have abandoned all pretense to academic standards.

This is a transparent populist appeal which is anti-intellectual and pseudoscientific. This is, and should be, an embarrassment to Georgian College, Ontario, and to academia in general. The only appropriate response is outrage and condemnation.

There is nothing to debate, Lim-Lambie. Homeopathy is utter nonsense from beginning to end. If you don’t understand that thoroughly, you have no business being a dean of either health, wellness, or science. And why wasn’t this desired debate happening before the funds were approved for this dubious program? Does she only want to have a “debate” now that there is public awareness of what is happening with the resultant appropriate criticism and pushback?

Yes, I am being hyperbolic in this article, deliberately. The point is that legitimizing pseudoscience in the health department of a university is extremely harmful. It promotes pseudoscience, it legitimizes nonsense, and it undermines any attempt at academic quality control.

It furthers the watering down of reality in our society by promoting a false equivalency among all claims. Everyone gets to have their own reality, their own narrative, their own facts and evidence. If there is no difference between academic legitimacy and the worst kind of medical magic thinking, then we truly do live in a post-fact world.

I know that most of us have already spent our budget of outrage, but we cannot become inured to this loss of standards, to the infiltration of witchcraft into medicine. I am not a fan of public shaming, but sometimes that is the only way to maintain norms and standards. Georgian College and Lim-Lambie should be ashamed. They have failed their primary duty as academics.

But I also believe in nurturing and redemption. Let’s use this opportunity to have a public and transparent discussion of exactly what homeopathy is, and what the evidence says. Homeopathy proponents like flying under the radar, and the public largely does not understand what homeopathy actually is. So let’s put it out there. If Lim-Lambie wants to defend homeopathy “science” then she should do it – publicly. Please, proceed.


Update: In response to intense criticism, Georgian College has removed their homeopathy program.


15 responses so far

15 thoughts on “Ontario College Plans Program in Homeopathy”

  1. Grimbeard says:

    “It furthers the watering down of reality in our society”

    If only homeopathy were true, this would increase the strength of reality in our society.

  2. banyan says:

    “Homeopathy is literally treating people with magic water created with rituals resembling witchcraft, but without the tiniest bit of scientific legitimacy.”

    Your use of the conjunction “but” there cracks me up.

  3. johnpowell says:

    I’m sure next quarter they plan to offer Potions and Defense Against the Dark Arts.

  4. Kabbor says:

    I’ll save you the money and give a free lesson on Defense Against the Dark Arts. You just have to avert your eyes when you come in contact with anything by Giger, Escher and the like. You might fall for the occasional viewing of dark arts, but avoiding art galleries is a good first step. If you are doing Google image searches, include -art -dark and you’re probably good to go.

    You’re welcome!

  5. opie812 says:

    The people at the office of “Academic Quality” should hear about this…


  6. jstevenson says:

    As of this afternoon, Georgian College cancelled their plans to offer the homeopathy program. This wasn’t because they realized that science and reason matters, or even that their students matter. It was entirely due to pressure from the skeptic, science, medical, health professional communities. We owe a great deal of gratitude to the likes of Steven Novella, Scott Gavura, Tim Caulfield, Joe Schwartcz, Chris Giorshev, Chris MacDonald and I’m sure others who contributed their time freely to speak about this program.

    Here is Georgian College’s letter announcing its decision:
    “In light of the recent response from our local community and beyond and in consideration of our students, Georgian College has made the decision to cancel the homeopathy program.

    In the interest of the prospective students who submitted applications for the program, the college will offer the option to withdraw their application or transfer it to another Georgian program. With more than 125 programs on offer that meet the needs of the community and students, the college will work with these applicants to find an alternative program that meets their needs.

    Georgian College is committed to student success and greatly values our community partners.”

    Note they still offer TCM and a 3-year diploma in acupuncture – meridians and all.

  7. jrkrideau says:

    Great news.
    CBC reports the program has been cancelled.

    “In light of the recent response from our local community and beyond and in consideration of our students, Georgian College has made the decision to cancel the homeopathy program,” the Ontario school said in a statement on Friday.


    One still has to wonder what idiots at Ontario Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development agreed to this. May be time for a letter to the Minister.

  8. jrkrideau says:

    @ 6 jstevenson

    Fay Lim-Lambie, dean of health, wellness and science at Georgian College holds a Master of Social Work from McMaster University, a Bachelor of Social Work from York University and a Bachelor of Arts from McMaster University.

    This suggests little or no scientific training. She may well be an excellent administrator but susceptible to woo.

    The real worry is the that the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development agreed to this. It suggests they are heavily into whoo.

    Ack, the Minister there has a MBA but it is really the civil servants who are the real worry. The Minister will usually accept the recommendations of her expert staff, who in this case seem to be infiltrated by woo merchants.

  9. GrahamH says:

    Perhaps a new department could be named after Fay.

    Flim-flam dept of quackery.

  10. homeopathyworks says:

    Many research studies have proven that conventional treatment, along with homeopathy, can provide beneficial results for patients. In one Russian research study of 44 cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy who had been forced to discontinue their treatment due to painful adverse side effects, were able to resume their therapy after the addition of other measures including homeopathy to their treatment. Perhaps not in the United States, but elsewhere, I expect further studies in this area will be proposed and carried out. An abstract of the study can be found using a internet search of its title “Clinical characteristics and treatment of polyneuropathy developed after chemotherapy”

    Health care providers owe their patients the best care at the most affordable price to taxpayers and at a lesser risk to insurers. If this includes alternative approaches, including homeopathy, there should be a push to head in this direction. At some point, each of us will have a family member or friend who will want and benefit from an integrative approach to their suffering and disease, chronic or deadly. In my opinion, lay people and professionals who out of hand dismiss an integrative approach to improve the quality of care should either join in the research, or get out of the way.

  11. HW – That’s a perfect example of alternative medicine propaganda and pseudoscience.

    You start by cherry picking a small Russian study that includes homeopathy with “other measures”, ensuring that we cannot draw any conclusions at all about the efficacy of homeopathy. Meanwhile, we have systematic reviews of hundreds of studies showing that homeopathy does not work. And we have solid basic science indicating that it cannot work.

    Health care providers owe their patients and society that their treatments and recommendations will be based upon the best science available – not pseudoscience, wishful thinking, dubious claims, cherry picked evidence, and magic.

    Finally – no one here is dismissing homeopathy “out of hand.” You seem to be dismissing our criticism out of hand. I dismiss homeopathy after a thorough and careful review of the science, which I have detailed on this blog in many posts over the last decade.

    There is no need for further research. The appeal to further research is the endless dodge – look, these preliminary results are encouraging, I’m sure someone who really cares about their patients will do further research and prove that it works.

    Nonsense – the research has been done. Homeopathy is pure pseudoscience. If you really care about patients, you will listen to the science and use valid logic in approaching medicine.

  12. Kabbor says:

    Well let’s see… water is necessary for life right? So therefore it must have magical properties. But wait! We also need carbon! Does carbon also have magical properties? Homeopathy 2: electric fooderoo.

    Hmmm, how to combine the two in a form we can absorb into our bodies…. Food! I’ve solved the mystery! After years of study, it turns out we need either food and water, or sufficiently wet food. Now I feel I should apologize to the control groups that were denied food and/or water, but these homeopathic ideas really needed testing.

  13. homeopathyworks says:

    Dr. Novella, thank you for taking the time to reply to my comment. With your permission, I would like to add another one:

    In a 2004 literature review by DK Weiner & Edzard Ernst “Complementary and Alternative Approaches to the Treatment of Persistent Musculoskeletal Pain” (a critical review of the literature on acupuncture and related modalities, herbal therapies, homeopathy and spinal manipulation) , the authors concluded: “Some evidence exists to support the superiority of homeopathic remedies over placebo for treating osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.” Of course, this was followed by the obligatory phrase recommending further research. Link: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15218409

    I personally cringe when a researcher or clinician proposes closing the book on further research involving homeopathy; especially when small studies, literature reviews and many countries have used and demonstrated its ability to alleviate chronic suffering at lower costs and less liability for public and private health care providers. In India, a country of over a billion people, the use of homeopathy and homeopathic treatment is thriving. Schools that teach homeopathy are more commonplace than conventional medical schools, homeopathic research studies are ongoing and homeopathic doctors are more highly respected.

    An April, 2017 newspaper article “Homeopathy Cure Gives Heart Patient a New Lease of Life” published in The Times of India announced the case of a 68 y.o. male patient with CHF, pedal edema, pleural effusion, heart murmurs, irregular BP and pulse rate. This high risk patient and his family declined the recommended cardiac surgery in favor of homeopathic treatment. Similar to the first
    human heart transplant surgery was announced in a newspaper (December 3, 1967) this too is worthy of worldwide attention. If you have time and care to read it, the link is here:

    One patient. One life. The importance of this event cannot be dismissed.

  14. Robney says:

    I understand your frustration, I personally cringe when “astronomers” close the door on further research into geocentricism – because of their blind commitment to allopatheostronomy

    I don’t cherry pick the evidence either. Consider this, in 2016, one gencentrist researcher, Bobby Ray Simmons Jr (also known as B.O.B the rapper) published his research on Twitter that supported Ptolemy’s model. This obviously invalidates the modern field of alleopatheostronomy – even if it is supported by an overwhelming body of evidence that makes geocentricism untenable. Just look at the sun. It obviously moves. you can see it with your own eyes!

    And of course, millions of people in the ancient world believed in geocentricism so how could it possibly be false?

    Your move materialists!

  15. Nidwin says:

    My two cents about HW.

    IF [ people like HW believe in homeopathic magic ]
    Queen Gwyneth Paltrow the first deserves every buck she can make out of them

    I personally cringe when I hear or read about spinal and electrical nerve stimulation. Don’t do it, for the light’s sake and yours.

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