Wooseum to Museum?

The saga of alternative medicine coverage in the Science Museum, London: an update!

Background

My colleague (well, ex-colleague now he’s gone and emigrated!) Alex Davenport wrote a post for my blog describing an exhibit up in the Art and Science of Medicine section of the Science Museum that he’d taken issue with.

For good reason; it was full of advertising for alt med practitioners, a complete lack of scientific examination of beliefs and traditions of alt med types they’d chosen to present – but simply reiterating the beliefs and often presenting them ambiguously in a way that could easily be misinterpreted as promotion or at least uncertainty about their efficacy.

Simon Singh had resigned from the museum’s board of trustees partly due to this exhibit – fighting a lawsuit brought by the British Chiropractic Association at the time; it’s difficult to defend your stance of calling out baseless alt med claims as ‘bogus’ when the Science Museum is giving them time and you’re apparently supporting that!!

As a result of Alex’s post, the museum issued a response.

Then, Alex and I wrote a reply on the Guardian website and David Colquhoun published his own material on the exhibit. I wrote one quick update and a longer one going over the ‘Living Medical Traditions‘ exhibit in a bit more detail, with links to photos of some of the displays.

Amazingly, after all this, the Museum invited us (myself, Alex, Simon Singh and David Colquhoun) to a meeting with their Director and a couple of his colleagues to discuss some possible changes.

This was all very encouraging, as Alex summarised in this post. The director sent some proposed corrections to the three of us, we mused on it, added our points and got back to them, but as far as I was aware there were no further developments.

Some happy news?

So today, I got a comment on the original Wooseum post and the person who had informed David of the exhibit sent him an email.

John said: Its all been removed ! Hopefully in a skip.

From David’s blog:

“Visited Science museum yesterday , wonderful news – all offensive material gone, and different ok stuff there”.

So, if this is true, excellent! However, I wonder if this is a temporary change and the rest will return when they’ve made some minor amendments?

Time will tell. For now, we celebrate!

Update

13/5/11 So DC visited the exhibit and apparently it is true!

3/6/11 Our good friend Jimbob had a quick look just at closing time and a lot of the stuff is actually still there – more when I can go and have a look myself. See photos 1, 2, 3 and 4.

5/7/11 Rhys checked things out on 3/7/11 and it is indeed the same, but apparently some proposed changes have been made and subsequently rejected on the grounds that they don’t go far enough. This is really positive so let’s hope for a real update meriting celebration in the near future!

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5 Responses to “Wooseum to Museum?”

  1. Tamlyn Says:

    Cool! Will check it out next time I’m down South Ken way, get some photos if I remember.

  2. Steve Bowbrick Says:

    I’m no supporter of the quacks but who wins in this operation? Is deleting references to traditional or alternative medicine from the science museum a victory for rational thought or just miserable, illiberal and intolerant?

    • Marianne Says:

      What we tried to be quite clear about at every stage was NOT that we wished to see reference to Alt Med ‘deleted’ at all, but changed to reflect the scientific knowledge of it – that is, that it’s been proven not to work, or where it does work, has been incorporated into medicine. That much of it is based on nonsense (relatively modern inventions like homeopathy included), that the claims about how it works are in contradiction with the laws of physics. That studies HAVE been done, but not just to state that they’ve been done, tell people the results; that in almost every case, alternative medicine is no better than a placebo.
      And what, indeed, is placebo? It’s absolutely fascinating and an important part of medicine, yet no mention was made of it.

      I’m interested to see what remains of the exhibit. At no point were we campaigning for its total removal, but simple clarification, removal of shameless advertising and false/misleading claims and so on.

      This was unexpected, given what has gone before, for sure.

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