We thought the debate over homeopathy had been settled long ago, when several credible academic studies found that the alternative medicine wasn’t proven to work better than a placebo. Turns out we may have just lapse into “closed-mindedness.”
The scientists at Skepticblog are up in arms about an email out of the academic department of Singularity University that seemed to give credence to homeopathy. In case you’re not a Kurzweilan futurist, S.U. is a non-profit institution dedicated to teaching students how to facilitate “the development of exponentially advancing technologies and apply, focus and guide these tools to address humanity’s grand challenges.” It’s kind of like summer camp, but for people who believe our consciousness will one day merge with robots.
Brian Dunning, a writer at Skepticblog, obtained an email sent from Singularity U.’s VP of Academics, Vivek Wadhwa, which “used hoary fallacious logic to encourage students to give pseudoscience equal consideration, and gave a platform to a homeopath (!!) to promote his business.” The email was sent to a large list of students and staff.
In the email, Mr. Wadhwa encourages students to challenge the establishment (traditional medicine), reminding them that, ”it is always the most controversial ideas and concepts that lead to the greatest advances.”
Of course, Mr. Dunning, well-acquainted with the scientific findings regarding homeopathy, outlined several logical fallacies compacted into Mr. Wadhwa’s short correspondence, concluding:
Controversial ideas that have already been proven wrong are not something that a VP of Academics should be encouraging his students to investigate further….My hope is that this episode was a fluke and does not represent the standards of Singularity U.
Mr. Dunning’s post inspired a spirited debate on Hacker News, with some Singularity U. grads arguing that Mr. Wadhwa was simply trying to facilitate discussion, while others claimed they had lost all respect for him. The post also elicited a response from Eliezer Yudkowsky, cofounder of the Singularity Institute:
The Singularity Institute is working on [a logic class] (or rather, the spinning-off Center for Applied Rationality is working on it); and indeed, we have literally been known to refer to it as “Defense Against the Dark Arts”.
Perhaps everyone should just take a sniff of lavender and calm down.