Universities have vital role in CAM research 1

November 6, 2008

So where are all the "critically thinking", "research-minded" graduates from 40 complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) degrees offered by UK universities ("Unwelcome complements", 30 October)? For 15 years I have been looking for them, mostly in vain.

What I do see, however, are CAM practitioners, students and graduates who have little interest in science and even less understanding of it. Many even seem to be systematically led to develop a deep-rooted anti-scientific attitude.

Forget it. Critical thinking is usually a totally foreign concept to them. The trouble is I cannot even blame them - after all, their university tutors are often utterly devoid of this quality themselves.

To teach any subject at an academic level, one needs first a consistent body of knowledge and secondly tutors who are capable of critically evaluating it. In CAM, we often have neither.

One of the most obvious signs of a lamentable lack of critical thinking must be the terminology employed by proponents. When I came to the University of Exeter 15 years ago, I (thankfully only briefly) became the director of the Centre for Complementary Health Studies. When I asked what "complementary health" was and how it differed from any other form of health, I saw only blank faces.

A little later, the Prince's Foundation for Integrated Health was created. Whenever I inquire whether "integrated health" supposes that health can also be unintegrated or non-integrated, people give me a pitiful smile. It is surprising how often one can recognise pseudo-science and pseudo-education merely by their pseudo-language.

David Peters and Brian Isbell may be right when they state that "something is certainly going on, and we think universities are the place to find out". In plain language, that means conducting research, and only then, I suggest, can we teach CAM to students.

Edzard Ernst, Peninsula Medical School, Universities of Exeter and Plymouth.

Already registered?

Sign in now if you are already registered or a current subscriber. Or subscribe for unrestricted access to our digital editions and iPad and iPhone app.

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Dean, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE
Academic Director (Primary) ST MARYS UNIVERSITY, TWICKENHAM
Vice-Chancellor MASSEY UNIVERSITY
Operations Support Administrator CAMBRIDGE ASSESSMENT

Most Commented

Elderly woman looking up at sky

A recent paper claims that the quality of researchers declines with age. Five senior scientists consider the data and how they’ve contributed through the years

A keyboard with a 'donate' key

Richard Budd mulls the logic of giving money to your alma mater

Woman tearing up I can't sign

Schools and universities are increasingly looking at how improving personalities can boost social mobility. But in doing so, they may be forced to choose between teaching what is helpful, and what is true, says David Matthews

Eleanor Shakespeare illustration 19 May 2016

Tim Blackman’s vision of higher education for the 21st century is one in which students of varying abilities learn successfully together

Otto illustration (5 May 2016)

Craig Brandist on the proletarianisation of a profession and how it leads to behaviours that could hobble higher education