Alt medicine not 'pseudoscience'

SCU’s Head of Health and Human Sciences, Professor Iain Graham.
SCU’s Head of Health and Human Sciences, Professor Iain Graham.

Southern Cross University (SCU) has defended the scientific validity of its naturopathy and complementary medicine programs after receiving a letter last month from a group concerned about the 'increased teaching of pseudoscience in universities'. The recently formed group Friends of Science in Medicine wrote to the vice chancellors of Australian universities last month and outlined their concerns about what they called the 'diminishing of the standards applied to the teaching of science in our universities' and asked universities to help reverse 'the trend which sees government-funded tertiary institutions offering courses in the health care sciences that are not underpinned by convincing scientific evidence'.

Dean of Health and Head of the School of Health and Human Sciences Professor Iain Graham said the School worked with professional associations to design and deliver contemporary courses that meet the demands of a growing health industry.

"We are very confident in the quality of the programs of naturopathy and osteopathy run at SCU," Professor Graham said. "Of course you need evidence, both empirical and experience, to justify any practices and we welcome any scrutiny of education practices."

Professor Graham said that the claims made by Friends of Science in Medicine only served to highlight the "murky and unclear" definitions of what is classified as unorthodox or alternative medical practices, and that these differed from country to country.

"Traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture use is well documented and plays a major role in China," Professor Graham said. "People going through major surgery use it an alternative to orthodox methods of anesthesia and it is commonplace in gall bladder operations. In Western practice, it is used in orthodox practices in childbirth as a pain relief rather than using an epidural."

Homeopathy is a form of complementary medicine offered for study in SCU's naturopathy program and is one of the studies under attack as a 'pseudoscience' from the group Friends of Science in Medicine.

"Homeopathy has been around as long as the ancient Greeks," Professor Graham said. "It involves giving people a small dose of what it is that's ailing you. In Europe and the US, lots of orthodox practitioners are using it in their practice. The problem with alternative therapies is that they don't get access to research funds in the way that cancer treatments do. Studies are often small and don't lend themselves to standard research trials. It's a very political, emotive, cultural and complex issue. The whole system of health care is a constant learning, querying, questioning process. We teach students the latest evidence based on research published in the best journals and constantly redevelop the knowledge."

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