THE Australian Skeptics - spelling the word the American way with a "k" - say they are dedicated to investigating "pseudo-scientific and paranormal claims" from a "scientific point of view".
Their award, the Bent Spoon - established in 1982 and named after the famed 1970s entertainer Uri Geller - is awarded to the person they judge to be "the perpetrator of the most preposterous piece of paranormal or pseudo-scientific piffle" each year.
As we report today, the University of Newcastle and one of its academics, Associate Professor Pamela Van Der Riet of the nursing and midwifery school, have been nominated for a Bent Spoon on the basis of an elective subject, Complementary Therapies in Healthcare.
The university and Dr Van Der Riet have raised the ire of the skeptics for running the course "alongside normal science-based courses", and for apparently "endorsing" a range of therapies, including naturopathy, iridology, acupuncture, homeopathy.
Without sitting the course it's difficult to know to what extent it might "endorse" the therapies it is examining but as Dr Van Der Riet points out, complementary medicines are now so widely used that their existence cannot be ignored.
The main aim of the subject, according to its online summary, is to "critically examine concepts of complementary therapies and the available evidence", which sounds something less than slavish acceptance, and more like the sort of rational discourse that the Skeptics might endorse.
Such knowledge would also seem useful to nursing students who will sooner or later be asked their opinions about this or that complementary medicine: but not useful, apparently, to the Skeptics, who have taken it upon themselves to be the self-appointed guardians of what is "scientific" and what is "psuedo-science" or "piffle".
If the answer to that question was absolutely and always clear-cut, then the Skeptical take on healthcare - or on assessing "truth" in general - might be more popular than it is.
Unfortunately, there will always be sharp operators taking advantage of a gullible public, as well as obsessed individuals pursuing wrong ideas.
But for many people, looking for alternative explanations, or alternative methods, is a rational thing to do. One age's heresy, can be another's truth.
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