U of T stands by health-studies course with anti-vaccine material
The University of Toronto says it stands by a health-studies course in which students were required to read and watch material stating vaccines are toxic and linked to serious health problems.
The course, taught at U of T’s Scarborough campus earlier this year by Beth Landau-Halpern, a homeopath who has written that measles and chicken pox help children grow, was under review following a report in The Globe and Mail in February about her anti-vaccine stance.
The university’s review concluded the course content on immunization “had not been unbalanced” and that “in context, [it] would enable critical analysis and inquiry,” according to an e-mail statement from Althea Blackburn-Evans, U of T’s director of media relations.
The report was completed in March but was not released publicly until Monday.
The review focused primarily on a course material involving vaccination. The required reading and viewing material for that lecture included a two-hour long interview with Andrew Wakefield, the disgraced former British surgeon who popularized the false idea vaccines are linked to autism and other chronic illness. Other course material included a video promoting the idea vaccines are unsafe; a video titled Vaccine’s Safety: A Crime Against Humanity; and a book that claims vaccines have not reduced rates of disease or increased lifespan.
The recommended reading included several articles falsely linking vaccines to autism as well as chapters of a book linking vaccines to violent behaviour and disease. There are no materials from government agencies or respected medical journals documenting the many successes of vaccination programs.
The university’s review, conducted by Vivek Goel, U of T’s vice-president of research and innovation, stated the material was not unbalanced because students “have already seen the other side” of the vaccine debate in other courses. According to the review, Ms. Landau-Halpern told Dr. Goel that students are “able to have a discussion from all perspectives.”
Jen Gunter, a San Francisco-based obstetrician-gynecologist who blogs about evidenced-based medicine, called the conclusion “obscene.”
“I think it’s a perversion of science,” she said in an interview. “Two plus two is always four. You don’t get to have a class where two plus two is five and the students help to balance it out.”
In addition to concerns over anti-vaccine material, a group of scientists and U of T faculty members also complained in a letter to university president Meric Gertler about course material used by Ms. Landau-Halpern that stated quantum physics can be used to explain why meditation can reduce the size of cancerous tumours and why homeopathic remedies can heal even though they don’t contain active ingredients. The review did not address any of those concerns.
Ms. Landau-Halpern is a homeopathic practitioner married to the dean at U of T’s Scarborough campus who wrote on her clinic’s website that people should avoid vaccines because they are “of questionable efficacy, full of ingredients that definitely should not be in the blood stream, and may compromise your general immunity irreparably.” Last year, she also wrote that she taught students in her fourth-year health-studies class to be skeptical of science and its role in understanding health and disease. After The Globe and Mail published the details of her views, Ms. Landau-Halpern shut down her website and deleted her Twitter account.
She was also featured on a CBC Marketplace investigation where she promoted nosodes, or so-called homoepathic vaccines, to a young mother. Nosodes cannot prevent disease and they are not licensed to be marketed as such.
The university has not indicated whether Ms. Landau-Halpern will continue to teach in the future. The Department of Anthropology and Health Studies has removed her name from its online list of faculty members. Ms. Landau-Halpern did not respond to a request for comment.
Ms. Blackburn-Evans said in an email the university can’t comment on the status of employees, but that the current online faculty list is current. She also said the school has created a curriculum review committee to ensure future instructors are appropriately qualified and can present a broad perspective on course content.
In his review, Dr. Goel said the department didn’t give adequate input into the design of Ms. Landau-Halpern’s course and its content. He states that if the course is offered again, it should be developed according to the proper governance process and that the department should take a bigger role choosing the instructor and the curriculum.