Quackademia is an apt term for the teaching or promotion of quackery in universities. Sadly, this is a serious problem, and we have therefore discussed it already several times (see here, here and here). If you have read my memoir, you know that I had my fair share of quackademia ‘hands-on’, so to speak. This article from Australia has more on the subject:


Friends of Science in Medicine have complained that alternative practitioners who speak at events were then using the names and logos of universities on their promotional material. Edith Cowan University recently cancelled a workshop promoting pranic crystal healing — which claims to use crystals to energise and heal the body — after complaints from FSM that it had no scientific basis. The university also cancelled Brisbane-based nutrition author Christine Cronau, who was due to promote her low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet on June 25. In response to a website petition calling on the university to cancel Cronau’s seminar, ECU said it rejected the booking because “it does not align with our evidence-based approach to dietetics teaching and research”.

The talk has been moved to Murdoch University, which, despite being lobbied to cancel the booking, said in a statement this week that it would go ahead. Murdoch said it promoted critical thinking and learning through discussion, debate and exposure to alternatives points of view. “One way to achieve this is to welcome other voices on campus in the form of guest speakers or visiting lecturers,” the statement said. “The university takes a common sense approach to the debate of controversial issues and we encourage respectful and insightful debate of thought- provoking topics.”

FSM president John Dwyer said universities should review the content of external health seminars before they hired out their venues. “We don’t have an issue with free speech, but some of the material is just not scientific,” Professor Dwyer said. “Often universities don’t know about the nature of the pseudo-scientific events they are hosting.”

Cronau said she was disappointed ECU had cancelled her talk but her faith in common sense had been restored by Murdoch University. “My approach has actually become a lot less controversial, so I don’t know why it has generated such comments,” she said.


I find this story interesting. It reveals several things:

  • Quacks love to infiltrate universities; this gives them a veneer of respectability, they think.
  • This discloses their schizophrenic attitude to the ‘scientific establishment’ in an exemplary fashion: they often are fiercely against science but, at the same time, they are only too happy to jump at opportunities of decorating themselves with scientific feathers.
  • Universities are run like businesses these days. They tend to take the money where they can get it. Issues like scientific credibility rarely figure high on the agenda.
  • When challenged, universities claim they are favouring free speech, open-mindedness and respectful debate.
  • This usually is but a lame excuse.

I remember protesting while at Exeter against a weekend course of pure quackery which the organisers were advertising under the logo of my university. My protest fell on deaf ears, and my peers pretended to favour free speech, open-mindedness and respectful debate. After I had retired, the University of Exeter even allowed quacks to infiltrate and made this surprising announcement: Our complementary therapists will be offering 15-20 minute taster sessions in our complementary therapies yurt. The therapy taster sessions on offer will include: shaitsu bodywork, reflexology, indian head Massage, seated back massage and much more. To take advantage of these free taster sessions just pop along to the yurt on the day of the festival.

But the Australian events also offer a glimmer of hope in this usually bleak situation. Sometimes our protests do have an effect! I therefore urge everyone to not give up. Quackademia is a pest, and for the sake of future generations, we must not allow it to infest our universities.

14 Responses to Quackademia down under

  • Would this Murdoch University( no relation to Rupert, though it may as well have in some cases) agree to teach Creationism and Flat Earth ideas in the same spirit of ‘open debate’?
    You’re right of course about quackery’s wish to associate itself with Universities. Homeopaths are desperate to work alongside real doctors treating AIDS, for exactly the same reason, and become very angry at being denied the opportunity of some reflected glory. As I said a couple of years ago, they’all occasionally crow that ‘ the WHO has admitted that Homeopathy is the fastest growing system of medicine in the world’, forgetting for some reason to include the WHO’ s ‘unfortunately ‘.

  • Spare a thought for Western Sydney University who will open a commercial TCM ‘integrative’ clinic/hospital in Sydney’s health precinct Westmead in 2018, in collaboration with Beijing University of Chinese Medicine. That is what I call quackadamia.

  • Quackademia appears to be growing in the US. I am curious whether the supporters of such fake health care are mostly appropriately trained physicians in these institutions or the non MD business-first oriented Hospital Administrators, who have ruined medicine.

  • SCU offers a Bachelor of Clinical Sciences (Osteopathic Studies). Osteopathic students offer reduced rate consultations at the university health clinic alongside qualified medical practitioners. The clinic has lost a few good Doctors with this practice. Osteopathic studies seems to be a re-branding of the naturopathy / homeopathy courses the uni used to offer.

  • And quacks will use the record of themspeaking event to add a false veneer of reputation to themselves. I recall an astrologer which would brag about teaching astrology at a University of California campus. After some letter writing and exchange of email, I exposed his claim of being a teacher at a university, to a person which rendered an unused classroom using a civic activity clause. He never was staff and never taught a class for the university. When I exposed him, he filed a suit for disruptioning his astrology business and loss of his income. He dropped legal action after I found six more false claims of working in academia or scientific research bodies.

  • What concerns me is that you appear to be supporting the destructive work of a troll who is a fringe member of the Australian Dietitian’s Association, a body well-known to promote junk food and anti scientific agendas rather than change their views (and funding sources) in the light of new evidence.
    A low carb, high fat diet has the support of empirical testing, which anyone not living under a rock should be aware of, including studies done by the Australian CSIRO, and has no connection to crystal healing whatsoever. It is defamatory and anti-science to appear to equate the two things without making a clear distinction between their scientific status.
    I guess this is a good warning that the more letters there are after someone’s name, the less time they have to read.

    • Sorry, who’s doing what? And why the rather silly personal attach on Prof Ernst?

      • I think he got the wrong end of the stick

        • There is no stick, unless it is your dowsing stick.
          A comparison is being made between crystal healing, astrology (in the comments) and a low carbohydrate, high fat diet.
          More than one meta-analysis of low carb high fat diet RCTs shows them to be superior to, and clearly not inferior to, other dietary approaches to weight loss and cardiometabolic health. This is a normal, indeed normative, scientific procedure.

          And if there is debate about any aspect of this finding, this is healthy scientific debate.
          In the rush to find examples of quackery to support an otherwise valid thesis Dr Ernst seem to be oblivious to the fact that he has labelled scientific orthodoxy as quackery on the second-hard word of someone who may be a quack himself for all we know, and is certainly a professional rival of the person under attack, Ms Cronau.
          That Dr Ernst refers to “Our protests” indicates that he identifies with the attack on Ms Cronau’s area of science.
          The one point that Dr Ernst does not make, that has putative validity, is the Christine Cronau is not qualified. But what does this mean in this context? That she lacks a professional qualification in dietetics, a medical speciality.
          Qualified surgeons can perform operations that are inferior to placebo and become rich.
          Qualified doctors can prescribe drugs that are no better than placebo and make a living.
          This is not science – a license to practice is not a scientific qualification, but a professional one.
          Qualified dietitians can prescribe diets that keep their clients and themselves chronically ill. And therein lies the rub – unlike the surgeon or doctor, the dietitian is a thrice-daily consumer of her own services.
          Unqualified but well-informed consumers frequently present at medical conferences. Christine Cronau very much represents the consumer voice on a scientific and medical issue, and as such has attracted the sort of hatred only Australians can generate. I can understand why people not living in this part of the world might be unaware of the deeply unhealthy culture that surrounds the practice of dietetics in Australia and fall into the trap of piling on here.
          I suggest interested parties research the cases of Gary Fettke and Jennifer Elliot to understand the Aussie dietetics culture.

          • @George Henderson

            Thank you for this clarification: your original comment made poor or no sense, as others already told you.

            The publication you link to is a meta-analysis of trials comparing low carbohydrate diets with low fat diets. It is not about low-carbohydrate, high-fat diets as you claim.

            I Googled ‘Christine Cronau’. From the results it’s pretty clear to me that, while Ms Cronau may well represent “the consumer voice on a scientific and medical issue”, in common with many consumer voices on medical issues she is far from “unqualified but well-informed”. She is at best ill-informed; at worst, wilfully ignorant. She believes it is possible to consume unlimited quantities of fat in the diet without gaining weight, a belief that flies in the face of our understanding of elementary metabolism.

            Christine Cronau appears to be a typical representative of many advocates of all kinds of pseudo-medicine. She holds a firm belief based on personal experience and supported by anecdotal evidence, and is unwilling to listen to what reasonable voices try to tell her. Professor Ernst was right to include her in the same basket with crystal therapists.

          • So you have researched a subject by reading the title of a meta-analysis (if you read all the papers it cites you would see that these are high fat diets, often very high-fat) and Googling someone’s name and reading second-hand versions of their ideas. Bravo.
            If this is the standard of science on this blog, it is a miracle that you ever worked out that crystals are useless.
            My understanding of elementary metabolism is that it is controlled by hormones as well as by substrates, that adiposity is controlled by insulin and glucagon, and that appetite is controlled by leptin, PYY, ketone bodies and so on. In this context fat, in the absence of carbohydrate, reduces lipogenesis (including cholesterol synthesis through HMG-CoA reductase) and controls intake of calories through its effect on appetite.

          • George, you seem to have a thing for Ms. Cronau or her work. Please address Dr. Ernst’s final comments summarizing his thoughts, which speak more to the dangerous and science free advocacy of quackery in health care. If you disagree with that please explain why.

          • “you seem to have a thing for Ms. Cronau” is an unusual way to phrase a scientific argument. Childish, and perhaps bullying.
            I have written peer reviewed work about the low-carbohydrate diet; below is an example of a paper, published in the New Zealand Medical Journal, on which I was lead researcher. I know this field fairly well.

            What I object to is the lazy equivalence of low carb theory with blatant quackery.
            Frank Cox above paraphrased Christine Cronau as follows.
            “She is at best ill-informed; at worst, wilfully ignorant. She believes it is possible to consume unlimited quantities of fat in the diet without gaining weight, a belief that flies in the face of our understanding of elementary metabolism.”
            For some reason he did not quote her exact words. These are likely to have been something like “you can eat all the fat you want while losing weight”.
            The word “want” or “like” would certainly have been part of the statement and are important to its meaning.
            Here are some statements from a typical low carbohydrate study (the first search result I found using the ad libitum qualifier).

            “Subjects were randomized to 6 months of either an ad libitum very low carbohydrate diet or a calorie-restricted diet with 30% of the calories as fat.”
            Ad libitum means all you can eat all the food you want to eat. The diet supplied only 20-60g/day carbohydrate and urinary ketone testing was used to confirm ketosis,
            “β- Hydroxybutyrate increased significantly in the very low carbohydrate group at 3 months (P = 0.001).”
            indicating that the fat percentage, though not stated (the diet was based on Dr Atkins New Diet Revolution, reference 8) was high.
            “Women on both diets reduced calorie consumption by comparable amounts at 3 and 6 months. The very low carbohydrate diet group lost more weight (8.5 ± 1.0 vs. 3.9 ± 1.0 kg; P < 0.001) and more body fat (4.8 ± 0.67 vs. 2.0 ± 0.75 kg; P < 0.01) than the low fat diet group."
            So we see that eating all the high fat food they wanted – the ad libitum instruction to the participants in the low carb arm – resulted in spontaneous calorie restriction and weight loss. This result is typical. Ms Cronau's claim is simply the lay description of a scientific finding.

            So this example is not "dangerous and science free quackery", and an approach to quackery so inclusive that it has dragged in Ms Cronau is as scientifically valid as the witch hunts used to be. As I said earlier, due diligence is needed before intruding in complex Australian turf wars.

            Speaking out against quackery is essential, but it's unfortunate that such efforts seem to attract people to whom Science has some of the attributes of a deity and who regard some authorities as its priests whose statements should be accepted unchallenged.

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