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current events commentary

Dear Collegian,

It was with a sense of foreboding that I recently opened a flyer published by the Continuing and Distance Education office of Penn State, which advertised an upcoming conference (April 24 & 25, 1998) entitled "Alternative Health Care & Integrative Medicine." Unfortunately, upon reading the contents of the flyer, my worst fears were confirmed. Subjects to be covered at this quackfest include such "therapies" as, among others, therapeutic touch (a deceptive name, as the practitioner does not actually touch the subject), traditional Chinese medicine, "holistic" dentistry (!) and Ayurvedic medicine (popularized by the books of snake-oil salesman Depak Chopra). Space does not permit me to address each of these subjects (for more information see http://www.quackwatch.com); suffice it to say that investigation of these techniques by credible researchers has shown them without exception to have absolutely no basis in science and to be fraught with deception (conscious or unconscious). The techniques tend to be based on outmoded and erroneous mystical philosophies (e.g., disease is caused "imbalance in the flow of life energy" rather than, say, microbes) which are wholly at odds with accepted principles of biology. More importantly, though, not only do the treatments not work, in their most benign form they cause serious damage to the pocketbook, and in their most malignant form they can be life-threatening. (It is quite telling that of the seventeen speakers scheduled to present at the conference, only two are MD's.)

It is scandalous that an (ostensibly) academic institution such as Penn State should sanction and seek to legitimize the dissemination of harmful new-age ideas about health that seem more at home in the Dark Ages than in our century. Even worse, continuing education credits are being offered for attendance of the conference, and for registered nurses contact hours are offered by The Penn State School of Nursing, College of Health and Human Development, further spreading the deceptive patina of credibility. In doing this, Penn State is irresponsibly placing the health and well-being of the public at great risk. This is a sad commentary on the state of academia not only at PSU, but in the country at large.

Trent Schindler
Vice President, Penn State Skeptics Club
Graduate Student, Meteorology
e-mail: tls246@psu.edu
phone: 867-0355