The course was taught under the Anthropology department by "homeopath" Beth Landau-Halpern, who is married to the dean of the Scarborough campus, and who had been previously caught on hidden camera selling sugar pills to parents and calling them "vaccine alternatives."
Landau-Halpern's course drew fire after scientists discovered her syllabus online and saw that she would be screening a documentary defending Andrew Wakefield, the fraudulent ex-doctor whose cruel, unscientific experiments on children kicked off decades of deadly vaccine denial (Landau-Halpern's website advertises a talk she gives in which she advises parents that measles and other childhood illnesses that can be prevented by vaccines are "almost always followed by massive developmental spurts. Times of darkness often give way to a brighter and more integrated era of growth and development").
Her U of T course also taught about "quantum healing."
Although the course will not be offered next semester, Dr. Vivek Goel, the university's vice president for research and innovation, reviewed the syllabus and issued a report that exonerated the university and Landau-Halpern for its content, saying "While I do not find that the course is unbalanced, in the sense of the term used above, I do believe it could be strengthened by greater engagement of academic colleagues through such a review process."
U of T has a growing flirtation with dangerous pseudoscience: including conducting a badly designed study in its Faculty of Pharmacy in which children are treated for ADHD with "homeopathic" remedies; establishing a "Centre for Integrative Medicine" where normal standards of scientific inquiry are sidelined in favour of pseudoscientific methods; collaborating with a chiropractic college; hosting an "alternative medicine" conference where presenters with expertise in intravenous vitamin infusions and "esoteric acupuncture" based on "sacred geometry, the qabbalastic tree of life, the ayurvedic nadi system, and high Qi nutrition" were invited to present.
I've never been more proud to be a U of T dropout.
The course description, still available online, says one of the focuses of the course would be "the explosive issue around vaccine safety."
It also suggests students will be taught about quantum mechanics and the role it plays in health — a claim which inspired some scientists at the university to write a separate complaint to president Meric Gertler, saying the course readings "promote a completely unscientific view of quantum mechanics, in the form of quantum mysticism and quantum healing."
Earlier this year Queen's University experienced a similar controversy when complaints about a course taught by instructor Melody Torcolacci raised concerns about the university's kinesiology department. Queens investigated and determined that Torcolacci would no longer teach Health 102.
Gunter said the two situations are similar — and disturbing.
"Many of us worry that these types of things represent an overall erosion of academia," said Gunter. "This sort of erosion of letting things creep in that don't have any proof, it starts to contaminate the scientific process."
U of T anti-vaccine course exonerated (with caveats) [Helen Branswell/Toronto Star]