Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Reserve Judgement?

"Vaccines -- Good or Bad? ... No scientific evidence exists showing vaccines are NOT contributing to increased incidence of chronic illness and disability in children."
"Origin of AIDs: The Polio Vaccine .. especially watch these ... All of them! Going to be on the test!!!"
Lecture slides, Queen's University, faculty of kinesiology and health studies

"It reads like an anti-vaccine diatribe."
"I would be astonished to learn this was given in a university lecture."
Dr. Natasha Crowcroft, chief of infectious diseases, Public Health Ontario

"We're looking for some clear actions and some clear communication from the school."
"What we need to know from the school is, what are they going to do about this?"
Colin Zarzour, Alma Mater Society student government academic affairs commissioner

"The university is committed to the academic freedom of our faculty members. At the same time, the university expects that faculty members will present intellectually rigorous research and course materials."
Daniel Woof, Queen's principal

"I would find it very surprising that a small department like the school of kinesiology and health studies would not have been aware that this was an issue, given that they were the ones who hired her."
"I can now see this was something I should have pursued a bit further. I thought, 'At this stage it's absolutely ridiculous'."
"When lack of vaccination is becoming a huge problem, when we have a measles outbreak in Toronto ... it becomes not just a question of academic integrity, but a public health concern."
Isabelle Duchaine, Queen's alumna
Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario

Students attending one of the most prestigious post-secondary institutions in Canada, in Kingston, Ontario, have been exposed to pseudo-science posing as informed and rigorous scientific realities. Surely, one might reason, if someone was teaching a course and brought into that course highly discredited theories passing them off as legitimate scientific conclusions based on reproducible research results, there would be some oversight to bring that lecturer up sharply.

At Queen's, that doesn't appear to be so. Since this is by no means the first and only time that Adjunct Professor Melody Torcolacci has taught the questionable course: Physical Determinants of Health (HLTH 102), the absurdity of the situation is made all the more acute. Previously, students taking her course were struck by its retrograde content posing as up-to-date and reliable scientific conclusions on public health policies. On the university website the course is described to include "vaccines and health"; one of ten topics covered.

The purpose of the course is explained "to help you appreciate that it is cumulative, long-term exposures to seemly [seemingly?] harmless things that can ultimately affect your health". Is there no cautious oversight at the university? No normal vetting of content? The situation appears to be one of disinterested neglect on the part of the administration; too much of a bother to become involved with if a few students register their discomfort at a course teaching discredited bogus scientific versions unhelpful to the public weal.

Queen's principal, Daniel Woolf, cautions that those questioning the course content and the university's lack of oversight, to calm down and "reserve judgement" until administrators have completed their investigation of accusations that a health professor has been teaching anti-vaccine theories more likely to be taught by a medical/scientific ignoramus than an accredited professor-lecturer. Linking the polio vaccine to the onset of AIDs is fairly breathtaking in its spurious and harmful stupidity.

"Even if the slides might appear incriminating, I would really need to know much more about what was actually said by the professor in the class", cautioned Queen's provost Alan Harrison, itering he required confirmation that the slides were in fact shown in lecture or whether any verbal context that accompanied them might point to something gone awfully awry. "I’m gathering information. That information gathering will include attempting to determine whether others in the university have ever had any sorts of issues raised with them about similar matters."  

So as far as the university administration is concerned, there is no need to rush to judgement.

Of course there are other hugely questionable teaching tools such as a PowerPoint slide which states no scientific proof exists that vaccines do not contribute to increased opportunities for chronic illness and disability in children. While yet another references an alternative-medicine website that claims it is not known whether fetuses may be harmed when women in pregnancy receive flu shots, despite that a plethora of studies conclude that pregnant women require to be vaccinated against influenza, capable of causing severe illness during pregnancy.

Each and every one of the pieces of 'scientific evidence' brought into the lecture by Professor Torcolacci represents a theory that has been well and truly debunked for the nonsense that they represent. That these theories are being taught to mature students at the university level, at a university with the reputation of Queen's is mind-boggling.

If any proof of a lack of due diligence on the part of the university was required on this subject, the brief intervention of the local medical officer of health, Dr. Ian Gemmill, makes the university's lackadaisical attitude toward scientific rigour all the more acute.  Dr. Gemmill had occasion two years previously to review the material used by Professor Torcolacci when a friend's child had taken the class.

Concerned over what he had seen, he wrote to the head of the kinesiology and health services department. "The tone of it is clearly skewed to 'vaccine is bad'. It's got elements of truth to it, which make it slightly credible. But there are a lot of things in it which are not correct", he wrote at that time. He had also spoken at a later date with Jean Cote, the department head. "And I understood that this would be looked after." Obviously he understood incorrectly, and it would appear, so did Jean Cote.

By the end of the course, according to the university website claims, students will be in possession of sufficient exposure to valuable research results to enable them to understand what their "toxic load" would be, resulting from vaccinations, and how they may improve their physical health by reducing that load. They can also carry the knowledge they have gained from the course over into their later lives when they have families of their own and refuse to have their children vaccinated.

Many students, as so often happens, are more aware and informed than their professor in this particular case. On the Rate My Professor website many of the students have listed or alternately tweeted that Professor Torcolacci simply invents her own facts and conclusions, or they are selected by her from medically/scientifically unreliable online sources such as blog posts of questionable origin.

So much for the value of higher education. At Queen's, in any event.

Melody Torcolacci teaches a first-year class in the school of kinesiology and health studies called “HLTH: 102 Physical Determinants of Health.”
(Whig-Standard file photo)
Melody Torcolacci teaches a first-year class in the school of kinesiology and health studies called “HLTH: 102 Physical Determinants of Health.” (Whig-Standard file photo)

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home

()() Follow @rheytah Tweet