Ethical to Teach a Bogus Therapy?

Ethical to Teach a Bogus Therapy?

Needless to say, the industry I myself work in — higher education — is in no way immune from sub-par business ethics. (Those of us involved in the teaching end of higher education don't like to think of it as a business, but at some level that's what it is, as long as a fee is being charged.) And what else can I call it but bad ethics, when a university offers courses teaching students to manipulate forces that don't exist in order to generate effects that don't happen?

Check out this article, from Common Ground magazine: Integrative energy healing

The Integrative Energy Healing (IEH) Certificate Program at Langara College in Vancouver is actively involved in weaving together the science and research of energy-based healing with its practice. For eight years, this program has worked to offer a three-year certificate program in IEH, which offers an in-depth study of the various Eastern and Western scientific theories underlying energy-based healing. It is also an exploration of the human condition and the practice of different types of energy-based treatments....

Here's Langara's page about its Integrative Energy Healing. (And for good measure, here's the page about its Holistic Healing & Skills program.)

Sounds groovy. The problem: they're teaching something that doesn't work. "Energy Healing" is part of a cluster of practices that claims to diagnose and treat illness by examining and modifying energy fields that flow around and through the human body. These practices have been pretty well investigated, and they're simply baseless. The physical starting points of these practices conflict with fundamental physics, and experiments have proven that they just don't work. One of the main sources supposedly supporting the value of energy medicine, cited in the article above, is Energy Medicine (Oschman, 2000).
Here's an article reviewing Oschman's book: Energy Medicine, reprinted from Skeptic Magazine. The review is pretty devastating.

Of course, it's not hard to find others who have found Energy "Medicine" at least worth looking at. The Common Ground article cites the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) "formally recognizes and encourages the study of energy therapies." What the article leaves out is that funding has so far turned up zero in the way of useful therapies, and there have recently been significant calls by scientists for the NIH to stop funding this pseudoscience.

So, what is there to say about a university teaching this stuff? Well, to the extent that students believe they're learning real health science, they're being ripped off. And since the practices being taught are part of the enormous alternative medicine industry, students are being taught a set of practices intended to be sold to customers: they're being taught to sell a bogus product. Oh, and in the process, Langara is cheapening the entire notion of higher education.

A final thought, for those of you not yet convinced that it's problematic for an institution of higher learning to be teaching a highly-questionable practice like "Energy Healing." What would our reaction be if a parallel university-based programme were started up with the intention not of teaching students to "heal" patients, but to build bridges? What if, instead of using math and physics to build bridges safely, we taught engineers to simply lay their hands on iron beams to "feel" whether they were strong enough?
Just a bit of clarification: the story above is about Langara College. But I refer to it throughout as "a university." Technically, colleges & universities are different kinds of institutions in Canada (they're provincially regulated & mostly provincially funded, so the details vary). But everything I say above applies to higher education institutions of all kinds.


This blog entry by Chris MacDonald appeared originally on The Business Ethics Blog.