Update: It turns out that the School of Continuing Studies aren’t the only ones at the University of Toronto who have drunk the naturopathic (or perhaps homeopathic) Kool-Aid. It turns out that the Department of Human Biology is also offering a course entitled HMB434H – Complementary and Alternative Medicine. You can check out the syllabus for yourself, here.
Back during Chopragate, many people were of the opinion that it was unfair to assign any blame for the event on the University of Toronto. Because they were just letting the Royal Ontario Museum rent out a facility (a non-exceptional event), there was no reason to believe that they were either directly or indirectly endorsing Chopra’s brand of pseudo-science (unlike the ROM, who had specifically invited him to speak). There’s a big debate to be had about whether or not universities should protect their image of academic integrity by refusing to lend credibility indirectly to events like Chopra’s talk, and if so, to what extent they should pursue this goal. However, I don’t want to have that debate here and now. Rather, I’d like to talk about the University of Toronto, and their latest pseudo-scientific escapade.
Now, to be clear, I have a deep love for the University of Toronto. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. In my experience, the university always upheld the highest academic standards, and I always took comfort in knowing that bullshit was not tolerated on campus. That is why it pains me so much to find out that the University of Toronto is offering naturopathic continuing studies courses. These aren’t just courses being taught at the university’s facilities (that would be bad enough); these are courses that are being taught/endorsed by the university. The courses are:
Both of these courses are being offered by the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies. To get a better understanding of what these courses are about, you can go read the course details listed on the website.
Naturopathic medicine is a complementary system of health care whose aim is to improve health and treat disease by assisting the body’s innate capacity to heal itself. This course will provide a basic understanding of naturopathic medical principles and show how it complements physician-care. It will offer numerous practical health-care tips. Topics include the keys to a healthy digestive system, how to prepare the immune system for the change of seasons, debunking the myth of detoxification and how to boost energy and improve sleep. The purpose of the course is to empower you with basic knowledge to improve health. It encourages a proactive stance towards your own well-being, and the well-being of any elderly or young people in your care.
Despite the fact that the course description claims that topics include “debunking the myth of detoxification”, the curriculum sounds, nevertheless, rather unskeptical. If you had any remaining doubts, they should be wiped away by the fact that the course is being taught by a naturopathic “doctor”, Meghan Bauer. (Yet on her website, Ms. Bauer claims naturopathic medicine can help “decrease your risk of exposure to toxins in the air you breathe, food you eat, water you drink or products you use.” Surely, this can’t be the same woman charged with the task of “debunking the myth of detoxification”?)
Although she always knew she would pursue health care in some regard, she was attracted by the philosophical principles which underlie naturopathic medicine, primarily to treat the whole individual and to address and treat the underlying cause of disease. Meghan graduated from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in 2006 and is licensed in the Province of Ontario.
Ultimately, the problem with these courses is that naturopathy is a bunch of bullshit. Naturopathy is rife with problems, including two very large ones that will prevent it from ever being taken seriously. The first problem is that naturopathy (happily?) promotes bogus treatments. Acupuncture, chelation therapy, homeopathy, and iridology (just to name a few), are all modalities used, and promoted by, naturopathic doctors (source)*. These treatment modalities are not only ridiculous and ineffective, but pose a serious potential problem to individuals’ health.
The second problem is a bit broader, and more of an existential problem for the field of naturopathy. Naturopathy really has no good set of defining criteria for what constitutes naturopathy (aside from the awfully sketchy appeal to nature). Practiced treatments range from the painfully obvious (good nutrition), to obviously ridiculous (homeopathy). And unlike modern medicine, which can employ scientific and evidentiary standards to determine the efficacy of treatments, naturopathy has no such standards. Not everything a naturopath does is ineffective, but with no standards for efficacy, naturopathy is doomed to stagnate and wallow in the realm of quackery.
This brings me back to the University of Toronto. Naturopathy stands for everything that a university should not — naturopathy is anti-science, anti-evidence, and anti-reality. To the University of Toronto: you should be ashamed. It might not matter all that much in the grand scheme of things, but offering courses like these tarnish your reputation as an institution of higher education with an emphasis on academic integrity.
*Yeah, it’s Wikipedia, but it’s all sourced out at the bottom of the article.
For more information on the problems with, and harms of, naturopathy, you can read the following articles: