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Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science Is Planning To Honor Quackery

David Kroll, Ph.D. and I share more than an appreciation for bibs and crab legs (pictured at left during our recent “academic” rendezvous) – we are pro-science bloggers who want to understand the evidence for (or against) health treatment options, both in the natural product world and beyond. At our recent meet up at The Palm we discussed homeopathy – a bizarre pseudoscientific approach to medicine often confused with herbalism. Homeopaths believe that “like cures like” (for example, since an onion causes your eyes to water and nose to run, then it’s a good cure for a cold) and that homeopathic remedies become more potent the more dilute they are. So if you want a really strong medicine, you need to mix it with so much water that not even a molecule of it is left in the treatment elixir. Of course, homeopathy may have a placebo effect among its believers – but there is no scientific mechanism whereby tinctures of water (with or without a molecule of onion or other choice ingredient like arsenic) can have an effect beyond placebo.

David graduated with his B.S. in toxicology from one of the most prestigious schools in the country, the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science (PCP&S). In the early 1900s PCP&S graduates were critical players in combating snake oil hucksters and establishing chemical standards, safety, and efficacy guidelines for therapeutic agents. So it was with utter amazement that he received recent news that PCP&S was planning to award an Honorary Doctorate of Science to a major leader in homeopathy – on Founders’ Day, no less.

“Our founders would be rolling in their graves,” David told me. And he wrote a letter of complaint to the University president which you can read here. This is a choice excerpt:

Awarding Mr. Borneman an Honorary Doctor of Science is an affront to every scientist who has ever earned a degree from the University and, I would suspect, all current faculty members who are engaged in scientific investigation. Homeopathy is a fraudulent representation of pharmacy and the pharmaceutical sciences that continues to exist in the United States due solely to  political, not scientific, reasons. Indeed, homeopathic remedies are defined as drugs in the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act [21 U.S.C. 321] Section 201(g)(1) as a result of the 1938 actions of U.S. Senator Royal Copeland (D-NY), a noted homeopath of his time. But scientifically, homeopathic remedies are nothing more than highly-purified water misrepresented as medicine based upon an archaic practice that is diametrically opposed to all pharmacological principles.

Honoring people who actively promote pseudoscience is wrong in many ways as David points out. I would also add that doing so confuses the public. If academic institutions committed to scientific integrity lend their names to cranks, then it makes it more difficult for the average person to distinguish quackery from science. I have the utmost sympathy for the patients out there who are trying to figure out fact from fiction in medicine. That is why I have a “trusted sources” tab on my blog – please click on them for guidance regarding health information you can trust.

As for PCP&S, if they value their academic principles (as no doubt many within the organization do) the president should rescind his offer to honor Mr. Borneman’s “entrepreneurial spirit” on founder’s day (February 19th, 2009). Finding a way to sell water to people as cures for their diseases is certainly entrepreneurial – but I see nothing honorable about it. I hope that President Gerbino sees the light before founder’s day.

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3 Responses to “Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science Is Planning To Honor Quackery”

  1. David says:

    The fantastic crab legs were matched only by the brilliant company!

    Thank you for raising more awareness of this (dis)honor. Too many people conflate homeopathy with herbal medicine, particularly since some natural products are the starting materials for the infinitely-diluted “remedies.” The two could not be more different.

    You make an absolutely spot-on point that academic institutions that lend their imprimatur to fraudulent medical practices not only harm their reputation but also confuse the public by appearing to endorse pseudoscience.

    I’d really like to hear from fellow PCP&S/USiP alums as well as current profs there.

  2. albatross says:

    Yes! Evaluating even surface-level disputes outside your own expertise is hard. The only thing you have to go on, many times, is expert opinion. To the extent that expert opinion is shaded for political or social or economic reasons, it becomes much less useful. And that comes back to bite us every day. If I know about cases where the “official story” is politically-motivated BS, then it’s easy to believe that in cases where the “official story” is true, and thus it becomes much easier for me to buy into nonsense because I just don’t have the background knowledge to evaluate the truth.

    Think about the antivaccination movement as an example of this effect. I have to guess that people who’ve seen the official, respectable sources conceal or shade the truth, or lend credence to nonsense, in other cases (Iraq and WMDs, corn-based ethanol as a path to energy independence) are going to find it more plausible that the official, respectable sources are concealing or shading the truth w.r.t. connections between autism and vaccines. That leads to horrible outcomes like kids dying of stuff for which they and all their classmates should have been vaccinated. My suspicion is that there are a lot of other examples of this effect.

    I don’t exactly know what to do about this, other than to suggest that we should all cry foul when we see respectable sources lending support to politically-connected nonsense, lying or shading the truth for social or political or economic goals, etc.

  3. Dash Riproc says:

    I just want to say,that I dont care who you are or what corner of knowledge you see yourself entitled as expert to,your response to this persons honor sounds like hate.I dont know anyone involved in this,nor do I care,but who entitles you to use a public forum to belittle anyone,Mr Bully? Are you the be all and end all of science,or perhaps just a small minded petty individual who cant stand anyone rising above themselves,Val Jones.Whats the matter,never got enough attention from your father? Me? I’m googling the net for Canadian regs and come across this.
    I dont care who he is,your putting the light on yourself.What,did you get your kicks out of pushing smaller kids around in the school yard,or are you some kind of egotistical snob?I’m not waisting anymore time on your S***,pal,but tell me about your divorce and G** night life Uh?Oh yea,I got my PhD from working nights and paying tutition myself,not from some govt handout,or BullS*** statistical forgery project,payed for by my taxes.Try a year in a Chineese lab to strenghted your abs Candy Ass.Look at your own physical structure,before judging others.This is not about the science,ITS ALL ABOUT YOU

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