Sunday, October 13, 2013

Quackademic medicine comes to UIUC VetMed

A few weeks ago, I was dismayed to see this article, "UI group visits China to study veterinary acupuncture" in the News-Gazette. Two faculty and seventeen students took a 10-day trip to China to study veterinary acupuncture and learned about "'yin-yang theory,' 'five elements,' 'qi, blood and body fluid,' and the acupuncture points of the horse and dog." It's upsetting because veterinary acupuncture, like all acupuncture, doesn't work but, this time, it involves the suffering of pets and animals.
And what a waste of money this was! A ten day trip all the way to chine for nearly twenty people to study pseudoscience? The cost of the airfare alone was probably close to $20,000. God knows how much the courses to study nonexistent qi and pseudoscientific theories of disease like the five elements cost. This is irresponsible and wasteful. It's no different than a group from the Chemistry department traveling to Greece to learn about the Aristotelian four elements or students from the College of Medicine going to Italy to learn about the four humors theory of disease. 
Everything in the original article is completely credulous; no attention to a skeptical voice is given. That's not surprising considering that it is simply a word-for-word republication of a press release put out by UIUC's Office of Public Engagement. From the press release:

According to Dr. Clark-Price, acupuncture can be used on any species at any age. Dogs are his most common acupuncture patients, followed by horses and the occasional cow.

Well, yeah, it can be used on any species because it doesn't do anything. It's amusing that he mentions acupuncture on horses. The meridians (the invisible lines along which magical qi flows) for horses were drawn from those of humans, including the gallbladder meridian, even though horses don't have gallbladders.
I use the term "quackademic" in the title of this post (actually I'm stealing it from Orac, who apparently got it from someone else), because this kind of pseudoscience has been increasingly spreading throughout the medical community in recent years. I understand why; it's profitable, it poses no threat to the patient (because it does nothing), and they keep coming back for more of it (because it does nothing). But teaching pseudoscientific quackery as medicine is poisonous. Is this really the kind of education students get at VetMed? What's next, homeopathy and crystal healing?