Shame on UCL UCL makes good!

An important change: UCL is reinstating Colquhoun’s blog on its servers and has announced that it “continues strongly to support and uphold Professor Colquhoun’s expression of uncompromising opinions as to the claims made for the effectiveness of treatments by the health supplements industry or other similar bodies”.

University College London caved in to complaints from alternative medicine quacks and asked Professor David Colquhoun to remove his skeptical blog from their university servers. Ben Goldacre summarizes the complaints:

They objected, for example, to his use of the word “gobbledygook” to describe Red Clover as a “blood cleanser” or a “cleanser of the lymphatic system”. Somebody from the “European Herbal and Traditional Medicine Practitioners Association” complained that he’d slightly misrepresented one aspect of herbalists’ practice. One even complained about Colquhoun infringing copyright, simply for quoting the part of their website that he was examining. They felt, above all, that this was an inappropriate use of UCL facilities.

It’s chilling: a couple of anti-science kooks send in some email to the provost, and the provost goes running to one of his professors and tells him to take it all down. Rather than booting Colquhoun’s pages from their server, perhaps the timid provost ought to have been fired; the job of a provost is to lead, not to scuttle.

But then again…

There’s a dirty little secret in universities that also run hospitals: many of them also have departments dedicated to quacks. I know that’s the case with my own University of Minnesota, which has a totally kooky “Center for Spirituality and Healing” that has never met a fringe therapy it didn’t adore. I had a suspicion that it wouldn’t be hard to find something similar at the UCL hospitals, and sure enough, there it is: the Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital. So, if you’ve got cancer, and think the best treatment for you is some distilled water that was waved near a something poisonous once, you can get your homeopathy there; the need for random needle pokes can be satisfied with acupuncture; and if you think smelling something nice will help you, there’s an aromatherapy clinic. There’s more, of course, since these services are not bound by any assessment of whether they actually work, so you can also get your reflexology and reiki done there. They’ve also got something called “iscador”, which involves mistletoe and sounds very druidic, and seems appropriate to the British Isles. Still bunkum, though.

So I suspect that this provost knew there would be plenty of unconscionable frauds in his university and affiliated institutions who would back him up.

The end result is that there has been a change of address for Dr Colquhoun’s web site, but it will continue. I recommend that all you good skeptics and scientists add to your daily reading and reward the UCL by giving Colquhoun’s skepticism and rationalism greater attention.

By the way, some of you may know that John A. Davison has been bragging about sending complaints to my provost, Tom Sullivan, demanding that I be fired. Strangely, though, I haven’t been called to the carpet yet, and I suspect that Dr Davison’s demands have been given their due attention and appropriate treatment.


  1. #1 Blake Stacey, OM
    June 13, 2007

    Joint statement by Professor Colquhoun and UCL:

    UCL has a long and outstanding liberal tradition and is committed to encouraging free and frank academic debate. The evidence (or lack thereof) for the claims made for health supplements is a matter of great public interest, and UCL supports all contributions to that debate. The only restriction it places on the use of its facilities is that its staff should use their academic freedom responsibly within the law.

    To this end, the Provost and Professor Colquhoun have taken advice from a senior defamation Queen’s Counsel, and we are pleased to announce that Professor Colquhoun’s website – with some modifications effected by him on counsel’s advice – will shortly be restored to UCL’s servers. UCL will not allow staff to use its website for the making of personal attacks on individuals, but continues strongly to support and uphold Professor Colquhoun’s expression of uncompromising opinions as to the claims made for the effectiveness of treatments by the health supplements industry or other similar bodies

  2. #2 Blake Stacey, OM
    June 13, 2007

    Should we study the traditional medicines and look for the active ingredients in the plants of the witches’ gardens? Absolutely. Should medical institutions have entire departments devoted to dispensing not just the untested, plausible items — herbal remedies, perhaps — but also the completely delusional “cures” like homeopathy? That’s a different question.

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