UNH Manchester Hazardous to Your Health


We're kind of used to the political monoculture of University Near Here, where the diversity ranges from "left" to "hard left." But UNH's branch in Manchester (UNHM) has switched things up in an interesting way, with its ongoing Sidore Lecture Series this semester.

The series' title is innocuous enough: "Food for Thought." But looking through the offerings should set off some warning bells: the lecturers are, from all appearances, a bunch of pseudo-scientific health and nutrition quacks.

It's not as if UNHM is presenting varying perspectives on a controversial issue; that could arguably be useful in an academic setting. But the lecture series will offer nothing representing the "other" (i.e., fact- and evidence-based) side. Why is UNHM giving these people a respectable academic sheen?

A quick summary:

  • One lecturer, and one "moderator" are "naturopathic" physicians. Like most of the other participants, they maintain businesses in New Hampshire, so a relevant question is: how much of the lecture series is about education, and how much is about self-marketing?

    Naturopathy merits an article of its own at the invaluable "Quackwatch" site. The conclusion:

    I believe that the average naturopath is a muddlehead who combines commonsense health and nutrition measures and rational use of a few herbs with a huge variety of unscientific practices and anti-medical double-talk.

  • An upcoming lecture (by a "Certified Holistic Nutritionist/Wellness Coach") is titled "Understanding Genetically Modified Foods and Organisms". Lest that innocuous title gull you into thinking that the speaker will be even-handedly examining the pros and cons, the description is pure scaremongering:
    Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) may be one of the most dangerous health and environmental problems we face. Learn more about where GMOs are lurking and steps you can take to avoid them.
    Aieee! Lurking danger!

    For a non-hysterical, more balanced view, see Wikipedia.

  • There will be a screening of the documentary Forks Over Knives. Description:
    What has happened to us? Despite the most advanced medical technology in the world, we are sicker than ever by nearly every measure.
    (That is, of course, nonsense.)
    Could it be there’s a single solution to all of these problems? A solution so comprehensive but so straightforward, that it’s mind-boggling that more of us haven’t taken it seriously? Forks Over Knives examines the profound claim that most, if not all, of the degenerative diseases that afflict us can be controlled, or even reversed, by what we eat.
    Spoiler: the "single solution" is veganism. The Center for Consumer Freedom makes the (plausible) claim that this assertion is "laughable" and has health risks of its own.

  • Capping things off in April is Lucille Lagasse, an 89-year-old lady who claims to have healed "leukemia, arthritis and shingles through nutrition and old fashioned wisdom." Even Lucille has a book to sell, Doin' What Comes Natur'lly, apparently self-published. (You just get the old Irving Berlin song if you look for it at Amazon.)

    Lucille's magic remedies don't just cure leukemia: "She has helped many people heal themselves of diabetes, kidney stones, cancer, dementia, and infertility, to name a few."

    And, no, she "hasn't been to a doctor in over 44 years." Who needs a doctor when you can just read her book for "her secrets of vibrant health"?

There's more, but you get the idea. Once you get beyond Obviously Good Advice (hey, eating some more fruits and vegetables probably wouldn't hurt), you're off into hand-waving charlatanism and propaganda.

It's easy to dismiss UNHM's lecture series as a bad joke. But here's a question: if even a few attendees decide to eschew traditional medicine for themselves (or their kids), and health suffers as a result… is it really so funny then? Would UNHM feel at all responsible for that?