Leading academic attacks tick-box science and politically correct quackery

Managerialism promotes the rise of ‘magic medicine’, says David Colquhoun. Zoë Corbyn reports

July 12, 2009

The “managerial mentality” in universities is distorting real science and promoting “pseudoscience”, according to a leading academic who campaigns against the teaching of complementary and alternative medicine in higher education.

Giving the annual Paton Lecture at the British Pharmacological Society’s summer meeting in Edinburgh this week, David Colquhoun said that government, universities and health bodies have succumbed to “magic medicine”.

The professor of pharmacology at University College London said this was due to a “stifling mixture of political correctness and a box-ticking managerial mentality”.

“The rise of second-rate science and outright quackery has been aided by the rise in managerialism in government and universities,” he told the meeting. “It is very worrying when universities run BSc degrees that teach things like ‘amethysts emit high yin energy’. The only explanation for that is that some vice-chancellors value bums on seats more than scientific honesty.”

He also argued that the Department of Health and other UK health bodies have encouraged quackery to flourish by approving treatments that are not supported by scientific evidence.

“A whole maze of expensive quangos has grown up which are supposed to regulate quality in universities and the effectiveness of medicines but end up endorsing nonsense,” he said.

He went on to call for science to be run by scientists rather than government ministers and human resources and public relations departments, who had “no idea” how science was actually done.

“The ratio of administrators and managers to those actually doing the research seems to increase continually. This gives rise to increased costs and worse science – the trend should be reversed,” he said.

Himself an avid internet blogger (http://www.dcscience.net/improbable.html), he encouraged the next generation of scientists to use blogs as a way of challenging current trends, noting: “The world can hear what you say and you can be anonymous if you are scared about your career.”

His outspoken comments came as it was announced that the private University of Buckingham had accredited a new postgraduate diploma in the study of integrated medicine.

The two-year course, designed in consultation with the Buckingham University Medical School, is run by the Bath-based charity, the Integrated Health Trust.

Terence Kealey, vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham, said the university was not endorsing integrated medicine, explaining: “It is supporting the scientifically objective academic study of integrated medicine in order to educate doctors and nurses in the arguments for and against the use of integrated medicine approaches and how claims for [it] can be tested or refuted scientifically.”

Professor Colquhoun told Times Higher Education he had requested a list of who would be teaching the course to examine their scientific credentials.

zoe.corbyn@tsleducation.com

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