About 7 months ago, I contacted a German journalist who I knew and trusted to tell her about the incredible quackery-promotion performed by Germany’s institutes of adult education, the ‘Volkshochschulen‘ (VHSs). After I had been invited to give a few lectures for the VHSs, I had conducted some preliminary research and realised that, nationwide, they run hundreds of courses promoting the worst types of quackery.
My journalist friend, Veronika Hackenbroch, who works for DER SPIEGEL liked the idea of conducting an in-depth investigation into the matter. What it revealed became the centre-piece of a theme issue published today. Here is its title page:
In a nutshell, the key finding is that every 5th course offered by the VHSs in the area of healthcare is steeped in woo. Considering that their funding comes mainly from the public purse, this is intolerable. When asked why they offer so much quackery, some heads of local VHSs said that they are not competent to evaluate the science; they simply assume that, if doctors in Germany use these treatments – specifically homeopathy – and if the public wants to learn about them, they have to offer them.
When I first heard this argument, it made me speechless. It has some undeniable logic behind it. The heads of VHSs are not medical experts. Thus, they cannot do their own research or evaluations. To just follow what the doctors must therefore seem reasonable to them.
So, where is the crux of the problem?
I think, it lies in the vicious circle that inevitable unfolds such a situation:
- some people like homeopathy (or other bogus treatments),
- therefore, they ask their doctors to provide it,
- therefore, some doctors offer it,
- therefore, the VHSs feel they can promote if,
- therefore, people like homeopathy (or other bogus treatments).
This circle has no beginning and no end; it just turns and turns. And it is difficult to stop, not least because it is driven by the relentless promotion of interested parties, such as the manufacturers of woo. Yet, if we want to make progress and are serious about improving healthcare, we have to try stopping it!
Through providing information and fighting misinformation (of course, some rules and regulations would help as well).
That’s exactly what we tried to do – thank you Veronika Hackenbroch!