We thought the “Hogwarts School of Magic” only existed on the big screen. But this type of school is actually real.
There are quite a number of them currently operating in Australia, where bright-eyed, impressionable teenagers are taught how to manipulate energy fields in order to banish “evil spirits” (or disease), and how to elevate out of their despondent earthly existence into an enchanted state of eternal health and happiness – like flying for the first time on a broomstick (or smoking a joint).
It will therefore come as no surprise, that the game of Quidditch, from the Harry Potter movies, is indeed being played at some of these modern schools of magic. The Tri-wizard cup was even won by Western Sydney University in 2013. A real-life fantasy world.
But there is a problem!
To run around on a field with a broomstick between your legs is, I guess, okay, and not strange at all. It is good exercise, but you are not suddenly going to take off (at least not without a joint), because “strangely” enough this only happens in the movies (or if you are completely stoned). So, for the rest of it, none of it is real – it is all a hoax.
And this is now problematic, because all parents would agree that we want the best education for our children. But this is also where we tend to stop our involvement and we do not always ask the important question of; what is actually being taught at these schools? There are many reasons for this, one of them being that we tend to trust that government will protect us from fraudsters. So, when these schools are government funded and regulated, and especially, when they provide them with a stamp of approval via various accreditation schemes, this is usually enough to put our minds at ease – we trust the system!
Unfortunately, some of these schools provide government accredited courses in magic. For example; children are being taught to manipulate “energy”, yes, without a wand (although I am not always so sure), but with the use of needles, crystals and various herbs such as the screaming mandrake (oh no wait, that was in the movie).
Specific examples of these courses include: Bachelor in Chinese medicine, chiropractic and osteopathy at RMIT University; Bachelor of Health Science (Naturopathy – includes homeopathy) at Endeavour College; Bachelor of traditional Chinese medicine at Western Sydney University; and Bachelor of Health Science in traditional Chinese medicine at the University of Technology Sydney. The Southern School of Natural Therapies explains that its accredited course in Chinese medicine “is an ancient, holistic form of medicine that connects the mind, body, spirit. Chinese medicine believes that the body is made up of Qi – energy which permeates the whole body and flows through our meridians. Chinese medicine aims to stimulate the meridians, producing effects on different organs and systems within the body to restore balance and harmony”. This is pure magic!
This is what our kids are being taught at these schools, and unfortunately, this is pure fantasy because this “energy”, which is at the foundation of all of these pseudoscientific healthcare systems, simply do not exist. But, this “energy” does indeed attract large numbers of students, because all of us are fascinated by magic. Regrettably, those students who actually believe in the magic show, tends to pay a significant amount of money to learn “magic”, and once they realise that it’s an elaborate government supported hoax, many simply tend to continue practicing magic. Because, by now, they have incurred a lot of debt, they have lost a lot of time, and they don’t want to be branded a drop-out or loser (sure, there will also be true believers amongst them).
Hence, the problem of modern day “medical magicians” will continue to be with us and might even surge, if the government continue to legitimise it via their various accreditation schemes.
And this brings me to accreditation, which is arguably a big part of the problem. The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) recently invited submissions for their “Independent Review of Accreditation Systems within the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme for health professions”. The “Friends of Science in Medicine” (FSM) organisation did submit a detailed report highlighting its many concerns when accreditation is given to these schools of magic.
This report was unfortunately deemed “out of scope” by the COAG Health Council, which implies that they are quite happy to continue to mislead students and their parents (and this can destroy families), as well as the patients who are on the receiving end of these completely ineffective magical treatments. Many patients do indeed get hurt and some even die, as was tragically illustrated by a practitioner whose magical “Slapping Therapy” did not cure a six-year-old boy from his type 1 diabetes.
Below you will find the executive summary of FSMs submission (with permission), and here you can find the full submission. But the question remains; why do the government continue to bestow undue credibility and continue to legitimise “medical magic” by providing accreditation to these courses in Australia?
Accreditation is antecedent to, and inextricably bound together with, practitioner registration. This submission raises concerns about registered alternative medicine (AltMed) practitioners, accusing the present accreditation system of failing to protect the public through its legitimising poor quality, belief-based, rather than evidence-based, education and on-going training of chiropractors, osteopaths and Chinese medicine/acupuncturists.
FSM is aware that some higher education institutes and continuing professional development courses give credibility to pseudoscience. Examples of pseudoscience include chiropractic (subluxation theory, kinesiology, retained neonatal Reflex and Webster technique), osteopathy (osteopathy of the cranial field and visceral manipulation) and Chinese medicine (Acupuncture and the teaching of “Qi”, energy blockages that cause disease, as a fact).
FSM also remains concerned with the accreditation process supervised by AHPRA and its boards.
FSM alleges that:
A. The training of registered AltMed practitioners:
- is of low quality;
- is based on pseudo-scientific concepts that reject germ theory as the cause of disease;
- teach invalid diagnostic technique;
- includes potentially dangerous interventions, continued in the ongoing training of practitioners;
- wastes considerable public funding allocated to universities which teach these unscientific courses; and
- compromises our universities’ reputation within Australia and internationally.
B. Thousands of false and misleading claims on AltMed websites breach the National Law. This report demonstrates that registered AltMed practitioners:
- are poorly trained;
- are not competent to treat patients;
- delay correct diagnosis and evidence-based therapies thereby allowing progression of disorders;
- may cause harm;
- waste millions of health dollars;
- undermine the efforts of evidence-based practitioners in their communities;
- do not, in respect of exaggerated claims and advertising, behave in an ethical manner;
- create considerable confusion for patients with chronic ailments; and
- focus their ongoing training on building their practices rather than on the needs of patients.
- This report also raises concerns about pseudoscience-based courses, that may attract VET-help fees, such as reflexology, homeopathy, aromatherapy and reiki, that are advertised on Government websites.
C. Government websites are providing undeserved credibility for discredited AltMed.
Underserved credibility is given to discredited AltMed courses, including reflexology, aromatherapy, homeopathy, naturopathy and reiki, that may attract VET-help fees and are advertised on government training websites.
Using acupuncture as an example, along with valid research findings, informed opinions and advice from medical experts, this report investigates the teachings in one high-profile accredited course and the impact and costs of this intervention on health care.
While this report focuses on acupuncture, the same concerns can be extrapolated to other domains of pseudo-science, which is in both accredited university and continuing professional development courses. It also recommends that the scope of practice of AltMed practitioners should be limited to what they can advertise, to further protect patients from invalid diagnosis and belief-based interventions.
While ALL unregistered AltMed practitioners are NOT practicing any form of evidence-based medicine, (reflexology, iridology etc), there are thousands of registered practitioners, bound by the National Law to practice care that is evidence-based, who are practicing pseudoscience. The scope of the recent NHMRC review of natural therapies EXCLUDED interventions offered by registered practitioners on the basis that consumer protection was available through the AHPRA scheme.
This report highlights the millions of health dollars wasted by the government funding of AltMed teachings and practices. Nearly $220 million was spent on acupuncture, chiropractic and osteopathy through Medicare from July 2011 to June 2016.
AltMed practitioners, who reject evidence-based medicine and over-service patient with placebo interventions are not the “right people” to address patient needs, now and in the future.
Frank Van der Kooy is a former professor in phytochemistry at WSU.