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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 March 2007, 00:19 GMT
Alternative therapy degree attack
Man receiving acupuncture
There are over 60 complementary medicine courses taught in universities
UK universities are teaching "gobbledygook" following the explosion in science degrees in complementary medicine, a leading expert says.

There are now 61 complementary medicine courses of which 45 are science degrees, the Nature journal reported.

University College London Professor David Colquhoun urged watchdogs to act, as complementary medicine was not based on scientific evidence.

But supporters of the approach said the views were a "sweeping generalisation".

The term complementary - or alternative - medicine covers therapies such as homeopathy, acupuncture or reflexology
For a medicine to be used in conventional medicine, it must go through scientific trials where its effectiveness has to be proven
But these techniques often fail to show how complementary medicine works
Advocates say new research is beginning to prove the case, but many medics, including the British Medical Association, believe there should be tougher regulation of the practice

Professor Colquhoun, of the university's department of pharmacology, cited the example of homeopathy.

He said it had barely changed since the start of the 19th Century and was "more like religion than science".

He also pointed out that some supporters of nutritional therapy have been known to claim that changes in diet can cure Aids.

He said the teaching of complementary medicine under a science banner was worse than "Mickey Mouse" degrees in golf management and baking that have sprung up in recent years as "they do what it says on the label".

"That is quite different from awarding BSc degrees in subjects that are not science at all, but are positively anti-science.

"Yet this sort of gobbledygook is being taught in some UK universities as though it were science."

He suggested it would be better if courses in aromatherapy, acupuncture, herbal medicine, reflexology, naturopathy and traditional Chinese medicine were taught as part of a cultural history or sociological course.


And Prof Colquhoun said the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) should be taking action to stop these courses being classed as science degrees.

The watchdog is in charge of ensuring the standards of degrees on offer; and, while it cannot demand universities change the courses they offer, its reviews can lead to funding being withdrawn.

A spokeswoman for the QAA said there were no serious concerns about degrees being offered.

The Prince's Foundation for Integrated Health, a group set up by Prince Charles to promote complementary therapy, said there was increasing evidence alternative therapies worked and where there was no proof it did not necessarily mean that there would never be.

Foundation chief executive Kim Lavely added: "The enormous demand from the public for complementary treatments means that we need more research into why and how patients are benefiting.

"Scientists should want to explore this rather than make sweeping, absolutist generalisations arising from deeply held prejudice as David Colquhoun does in this article."

David Colquhoun debates the merits of homeopathy


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