Pseudoscience at the University of Arizona


The Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine is an embarrassment. Its director, Dr. Andrew Weil, is a quack.

Let me get this out of the way first: I know Dr. Weil gives a lot of good advice. He also advises a lot of nonsense. A doctor who advises his patients to get their chakras aligned is a quack. A doctor who advises his patients to eat a healthy diet, get more exercise, quit smoking, and get their chakras aligned is still a quack.

The Center’s stated goal is

…to contribute rigorous scientific research on the integration of complementary and alternative therapies with conventional medicine.

This goal seems incompatible with the teaching of modalities with neither scientific plausibility nor evidence of efficacy. Yet a fellowship offered through the Center promises to teach health care professionals “…uses, benefits and recommendations for Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, manual medicine and homeopathy.” Ayurveda is based on correcting imbalances in the three nonexistent “elements” Vata, Pitta and Kapha…that’s right, we’re back to humors. And homeopathy has, if anything, lower plausibility than humoral balance.

How does an organization with a stated goal of rigorous scientific research justify teaching pseudoscientific nonsense? Well, if the evidence doesn’t support your preferred brand of nonsense, the problem is with the standard of evidence:

Most research efforts nationwide apply reductionism to CAM research, an approach that may not answer broader questions regarding integrative models of care or the nature of healing. Researching a single intervention or an aspect of an intervention taken out of context may not provide an adequate test of the value of the intervention. Modalities that do not fit neatly into the current research paradigm are at risk for being marginalized without appropriate methods for studying them.

The go-to excuse for cranks everywhere: my powers can’t be tested by (conventional, Western, reductionist) science. Dr. Weil has been on this horse for a while. This Frontline interview from 2003 is a window into his thinking:

Let’s take the example of osteopathic manipulation for recurrent ear infections in kids. I wrote up my experience with an old osteopath in Tucson, who was a master of method called cranial therapy. He would take a kid, one treatment of this very noninvasive, inexpensive method and they would never get another ear infection. I saw this again and again. So based on my experience there, I have recommended in my writings on my website that kids with ear infections should go to osteopaths and get this method done. …

After something like twenty years of trying to get the research community interested in this, we finally set up some tests of doing this with kids with recurrent ear infections. We were unable in those tests to prove that this had an effect. The problem is, I’m sure there’s an effect there. We couldn’t capture it in the way we set up the experiment.

There’s no plausible mechanism through which osteopathic manipulations could prevent ear infections, but Dr. Weil is “sure” they work. If the experiments don’t show that they work, the problem must be with the experiments. The possibility that they couldn’t capture the effect because no effect exists is not considered. The bottom line is that Dr. Weil’s avowed fondness for scientific evidence only extends to evidence that confirms what he already believes.


  1. […] may have to take back some of the things I’ve said about Andrew Weil (“Pseudoscience at the University of Arizona,” “Journey into bullshit with Deepak Chopra and Andrew Weil,” “Andrew […]

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