I wish I lived in Toronto…

…because then I could attend Dr. David Colquhoun’s lecture at the University of Toronto tomorrow.

Dr. Colquhoun, for those not familiar with him, is the eminent pharmacologist with the name that is exceedingly difficult to remember how to spell who runs DC’s Improbable Science, an excellent skeptical, scientific, and medical blog that routinely takes on dubious medical and scientific claims. A while back, his university (the University College of London) kicked his blog off its servers in response to complaints by disgruntled “alternative” therapists who did not like his science-based take on medicine. For any of my readers in Toronto, if you can possibly make it to Dr. Colquhoun’s talk, please do. You’ll be in for a treat.


  1. #1 Matt Penfold
    January 24, 2008


    I read Dr Calquhoun’s blog as well and feel I should point out that UCL backed down and his blog is now once again hosted on a UCL server.

  2. #2 Jonathan Abrams
    January 24, 2008

    Why live in Toronto when you can live 4 hours away in Ottawa? A much nicer city, less traffic and smog.

    I’ll be attending the lecture tomorrow since I was gonna be in the TO anyways for the weekend, should be interesting.

  3. #3 Delivis
    January 24, 2008

    I’ll try to attend, i am a UofT student so i’ll be on campus anyway..:)

  4. #4 Dr Aust
    January 24, 2008

    I like to think of DC as “Last of the Real Professors”.

    ..though hopefully he isn’t really the last.

    The point is that these days the hard-core scientists among the Professoriate are too often being replaced by a breed of scientist-salesmen. But DC (like his famous buddy Bert Sakmann) is 100% Old School.

  5. #5 Dmitry
    January 24, 2008

    I am just wondering if the lecture will be available in video format afterwards…?

  6. #6 Schwartz
    January 24, 2008


    You forgot to mention that it’s a heck of a lot colder and snowier too. You coming down here with a dog sled? :p

  7. #7 David Colquhoun
    January 24, 2008

    Thanks for the plug Orac. I just hope I can live up to all this publicity. Respectful Innocence is doing a really terrific job in bringing attention to the fraud and delusion that surrounds us, and it’s great to see that the US bloggers are going on the offensive now. I spent two very happy years in Yale’s pharmacology department and so I was distressed as you must be to find on the web a statement with the title Yale Integrative Medicine: A Story of Growing Acceptance from Medical Leaders that tried to link Yale’s own quackery department with liberal thinking (no kidding).

    “compared to Yale, Boston-based Harvard has always been associated with far more liberal thinking. He added that Harvard’s involvement “did make a difference,” although it wasn’t Harvard per se. Rather, what influenced Yale’s dean of medicine was that Katz could point to a group of top-quality academic health centers which had already declared an interest in integrative medicine.”

    That’s on a slide I have made for tomorrow. Your posting on the infiltration of woo into academic medicine was just terrific. They boast of their research but when I wrote to the Yale department recently to ask which alternative treatments their own research had shown to be effective, all I got was advice to look on medline. Well I’d already looked, and the answer, of course, was zero.

    Only tonight someone told me of the wonderful term “quackademics“. These folks are far more dangerous than the usual high street homeopath because they make black magic sound respectable. They are betraying the whole idea of what a university is for, and I’ve been continually astonished by how little fuss real academics in the US have made about this infiltration. It’s amazing how much delusion and lies you can buy for the nearly $1 bn that the US taxpayer has spent, via NCCAM, on gobbledygook medicine. Just look at the roll of shame here and get blogging. Another few dozen with the guts of Orac might just be enough to restore sanity and integrity to universities.

  8. #8 Clare
    January 25, 2008

    I was recently disturbed to see that a “health professions fair” for college and grad school-bound students — hosted at my university no less — features almost as many reps from schools offering acupuncture, herbal, and Oriental “medicine” as there are from legitimate medical schools. Hardly an appropriate picture of the medical field for either students or their parents to be exposed to, in my view. I intend to complain, but I imagine the response will be that a: these fairs come as a package deal complete with anyone and everyone who fills in the forms to be present; and b: we shouldn’t be denying students the chance (and choice) to become whatever they want to be (even if that includes becoming quacks and con artists, apparently…)

  9. #9 Clare
    January 25, 2008

    Having glanced at Dr. Colquhoun’s roll of shame, I am profoundly disappointed that so many high profile medical schools include “CAM.” Maybe I was too quick to assume that the health professions fair I described represented a dichotomy between legitimate and illegitimate medical practice and training….

  10. #10 Dr Aust
    January 25, 2008

    As DC (and probably Orac) has pointed out / posted, the former Head of the University of Maryland’s Center for Integrative Medicine”, after five years in the job, quit and wrote a book saying he had seen not one bit of evidence that any of CAM was more than a placebo.

  11. #11 BigHeathenMike
    January 26, 2008

    The lecture was a good time with a decent turnout and lecture content. One weirdo in the question period who tried to scold the audience for being too easy on DC (and said that DC was “fundamentalist”), but after Colquhoun smacked him down over his ignorance about thalidmide, it was all happiness.

  12. #12 Zipi
    January 27, 2008

    I attended the lecture (I work at U of T), but I am afraid to report that I was quite disappointed. Do not misunderstand me: I agreed with everything Dr Colquhoun said, but he is not a good lecturer. The slides came and went too quickly, he failed to look at the audience when he was talking, he mumbled on occasion and did not properly vocalize, and most importantly he failed to “explain the basics”. This lecture was only intended for people who already knew everything he was going to say.

    The event felt like a group of friends meeting, who all already know what quackery is, who all already understand how much it has infiltrated into “science” and understand why it is a problem, and who have met just to whine about it. I certainly enjoy doing that (I do it often!), but I think a venue like this, charging a fee in a prestigious university, and with a full auditorium, requires something different. If, say, a person with a rational and skeptical mind, but who does not know what homeopathy is, attended the lecture, she would not necessarily learn anything from it.

    Please, Dr Colquhoun, do not take this a destructive criticism: it is not intended that way. We are both on the same boat, and I certainly appreciate the efforts you make. I am just dissatisfied with this particular event.

  13. #13 Kieran
    January 27, 2008

    I’m inclined to agree with Zipi: the presentation itself was a little hurried, took many things as given (e.g. quackery infiltrating science) and the slides were VERY text-heavy (sometimes up to 200 words/slide). However, the mumbling is forgivable, because along with smoke a pipe, it comes with the territory of being an eminent scientist 🙂 A great talk overall, especially the question period!

  14. #14 Dr Aust
    January 27, 2008

    Having seen a version of DC’s talk, I recognise the description of some of the slides…!

    I can believe the talk could be slicker, but in a way part of the point is that DC is not a super-slick salesman type. “Salesmen” in science are two a penny these days, like in all other walks of life, but people that other scientists really rate are not.

  15. #15 Estee Klar-Wolfond
    January 28, 2008

    I’ve seen better lectures but that was beside the point for me. I am interested in argument and while most of you may be very familiar with Dr. Colquhoun’s position, I was glad to hear it in person.

    As a presenter of how fear rules the agenda in autism advocacy, charity and media representations, Dr. Colquhoun’s presentation was on the mark. Parents of autistic children are being raped — emotionally and financially. Why? Not only because we create crisis, but because there is nothing to market unless we create tragedy (Milton Friedman). Alternative medicine and the creation of pathologies and conditions as a result of testing are extremely profitable but I question to what end or advantage. I don’t feel the “knowledge” we acquire really advances anything about the nature of being human, but exists to create differences and problems, hence, new economic opportunities.

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