University of Toronto: Bastion of Pseudoscience?

University of MagicUpdate: 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:

5 Responses to “University of Toronto: Bastion of Pseudoscience?”

  1. Ali says:

    I feel ashamed of my own institution for providing a sanctuary to such blatant falsehood.

  2. Erica says:

    Is it too late to respond to an article this old? I saw a classmate reading this and I had to laugh at the ignorance. I’m surprised nothing is mentioned here of the RHPA and the fact that Naturopathic Doctors will, by 2012, have the title Doctor protected by the government of Ontario, be able to engage in 7 controlled acts (already engage in 6, 7th is pharmaceutical prescription), and are already primary health care providers, but will be easier and safer to access for Ontarians once they move under the RHPA, simply because Ontarians will then see which practitioners are able to do which controlled acts. I’m surprised this wasn’t researched before writing this article? Homeopaths on the other hand are granted no controlled acts nor the title “Doctor.” Naturopathic colleges, like ALL medical colleges, were modeled after the John Hopkins medical school after JAMA came out with recommendations that all medical schools follow this standard. I’m surprised it’s believed naturopathy is considered anti-science, unless you truly do believe physiology, anatomy, neurophysiology, immunology, pathology, pathophysiology, nutrition, biochemistry, and embryology to be anti-science? Why not come sit in on a day of classes with me at CCNM?

    If you’re so pissed about U of T, are you aware CCNM does an exchange with U of T medical students? Have you blogged about that yet?

    Furthermore, for research’s sake, it would be great to see you down at Interprofessional Week at CCNM in November! We open our doors to students in medical programs, pharmacy programs, chiropractic programs, physiotherapy programs, and the general public for a tour! Maybe it’ll give ya more ammo? ;)

    Just some stuff to think about. By the way, we use the same diagnostic tools and tests as medical doctors, and do all the same exams as a general practitioner would, so I’m not sure why exactly you think we’re radically different? Just because we use different modalities? I’m not saying everyone in my class is a big fan of homeopathy, but medical doctors in Europe learn this as a standard part of their education. This doesn’t make it any more or less valid I realize, (even I myself remain skeptic to homeopathy), but I do question if it were such quackery why an entire continent would make it a mandatory part of standard medical education? Blood-letting and lobotomies were taught in school once too I realize. Funny enough it was taught to these so-called miraculous medical doctors of yours.

    Surely you also are aware that medical doctors use chelation therapy for heavy metal poisoning? It’s not a random shamanic therapy.

    Also iridology is not part of the curriculum at naturopathic colleges, that does verge on the edge of quackery, right now. Germ theory verged on the edge of quackary too once, so I can’t be certain that this will never be proven.

    Also are you aware that physiotherapists graduating from U of T use acupuncture regularly to treat patients? Is that under the pseudo-science heading as well?

    It just sounds like there’s a lot of heated debate here drowning in emotion and no solid logic or research. And didn’t U of T teach you to never use Wikipedia? At least for $20 grand a year CCNM taught me that much! Hell even York did! But yet I’m too lazy regardless to site anything here. Probably wouldn’t matter, as I’ve likely already been written off as a quack not worthy of listening to :)

    Anyways, would love to show you around, give you a tour, and more info (or more ammo) on Naturopathic Medicine!

    - Erica

  3. Ricky Lohan says:

    Many feel that the granting of more rights to NDs puts them on equal footing with MDs. On its website, the B.C. Medical Association states that greater prescribing rights are “of concern to many physicians because naturopaths are not trained to the same rigorous standards as medical doctors. Naturopaths are, by design, trained to use ‘alternative’ treatments.”

    Read more:

  4. Lab Rockstar says:

    Erica, you prey on sick people. Telling a woman who is struggling with fertility, for instance, to sit in a dishpan of cold water every night “to dissipate heat from the uterus” is actually crazy and totally immoral. If I want folk remedies that may or may not work, I’ll search the internet. And don’t tell me that naturopathy is “proven”. When a naturopathic remedy is actually shown to be effective using controlled studies and statistical significance, it becomes “medicine” which you can get from a medical doctor.

    And you’re deluding yourself if you think that the medical field is looking at your work with anything but disdain for delaying help for people who need it most. A dentist also can prescribe schedule II medications, but don’t go to one with a life-threatening illness!


  • Mitchell Gerskup

    Mitchell Gerskup recently graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in Economics and Philosophy. An avid atheist and skeptic, he has served as the President of the University of Toronto Secular Alliance, helping to promote science, reason and critical thinking around Toronto. He also volunteers with the Centre for Inquiry’s Ontario branch, and currently sits on the CFI’s Committee for the Advancement of Scientific Skepticism. Mitchell is also an accomplished competitive debater, having debated all across Canada. In addition to issues of economics and philosophy, Mitchell is interested in the fields of science and technology.