Aberdeen decides against alternative medicine chair

A university has decided against a controversial proposal to establish a chair in a brand of alternative medicine that advocates mistletoe as a cure for cancer.

May 11, 2012

The chair in “integrative health care and management” at the University of Aberdeen would have been funded primarily by supporters of anthroposophy, a movement founded in the early 20th century by Austrian spiritualist Rudolf Steiner.

Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter, dismissed anthroposophical medical treatments, which are based on the supposed interplay between physiological and spiritual processes, as “pure quackery”.

He added that the nature of the funding meant anyone who took the proposed post would have “no chance” of being academically independent.

His views were widely supported online by science advocates after news of the proposal was reported by Times Higher Education on 26 April, following blog posts by freelance writer James Gray.

Earlier this week Aberdeen’s governance and nominations committee decided against establishing the chair.

A statement released by the university said: “Given the need for sustainability of funding for the longer term, the university could not satisfy its requirement for the highest standards of scientific rigour with the funding model proposed, in particular the aspirations of potential donors to establish a centre of complementary medicine.

“The committee further agreed that research to investigate the evidence base for the effectiveness or otherwise of complementary therapies in the treatment of disease was a legitimate academic endeavour, provided that it could be supported by sustainable and unrestricted academic research funding.”

However, the statement was criticised by David Colquhoun, former A.J. Clark chair of pharmacology at University College London and a prominent critic of alternative medicine.

In a letter to Aberdeen vice-chancellor Ian Diamond, Professor Colquhoun says he is delighted that the committee has made the “right decision”, but describes the wording of the statement as a “PR disaster”.

“It is almost incomprehensible and, rather than protecting your reputation, it invites laughter,” he writes.

“All you had to do was to say something like: ‘We have decided that a chair of anthroposophical medicine is not appropriate in a medical school and we shall therefore decline the offer of funding for the chair.’

“That would have been simple, it would (I imagine) be true and it would have brought credit on the university.”

paul.jump@tsleducation.com

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford will host a homeopathy conference next month

Charity says Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford is ‘naive’ to hire out its premises for event

Laurel and Hardy sawing a plank of wood

Working with other academics can be tricky so follow some key rules, say Kevin O'Gorman and Robert MacIntosh

Woman pulling blind down over an eye
Liz Morrish reflects on why she chose to tackle the failings of the neoliberal academy from the outside
White cliffs of Dover

From Australia to Singapore, David Matthews and John Elmes weigh the pros and cons of likely destinations

Michael Parkin illustration (9 March 2017)

Cramming study into the shortest possible time will impoverish the student experience and drive an even greater wedge between research-enabled permanent staff and the growing underclass of flexible teaching staff, says Tom Cutterham