UPDATE – Response From the University of Toronto to Medical Students

The PDF of the response letter can be viewed here.

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Letter to University of Toronto President Meric Gertler

Toronto, July 15, 2015

President Meric Gertler, PhD, FRSC, FAcSS, MCIP
Office of the President
University of Toronto
27 King’s College Circle, Room 206
Toronto, ON, M5S 1A1

Dear President Gertler,

On behalf of medical students at the University of Toronto, we would like to voice our concerns regarding the investigation into HLTD04H3-S, taught at UTSC by Beth Landau-Halpern. This course was not taught by or affiliated with the Faculty of Medicine, however as future physicians we felt a duty to respond to the issues raised by this course. We believe that the report neither adequately confronted the concerns of the academic community, nor accounted for the current tenor of the public conversation about vaccination. While we understand the importance of academic freedom, we must also ensure that students receive a high quality education that is reflective of expertise of a lecturer on the subject matter.

One of our concerns is that the instructor for this course lacked the scientific expertise to teach and develop a health-related course, especially without significant oversight from faculty members with training in the topics addressed in this course, such as vaccination. This instructor, a trained homeopath, had previously been a subject of media attention due to statements made on the topic of childhood vaccination, where she implied that vaccinations could be linked to autism, and stated (on camera) that measles, one of the illnesses children are vaccinated for, was “not a dangerous disease.” These statements are without evidence, and in direct opposition to the vast amount of research that has been done on these topics.

Another major concern of ours is the conclusion expressed by Vice-President Goel regarding the content of the course, specifically that “…the instructor’s approach in the class towards the issue of immunization in particular had not been unbalanced…”. The very notion that anti-vaccination views could be considered a part of a ‘balanced approach’ to teaching about the science of vaccines is completely false. The overwhelming scientific consensus, supported by mountains of robust evidence, concludes that vaccines are safe, effective, and save lives. Suggesting that anti-vaccine views are a part of a balanced approach to the science is to perpetuate a manufactured controversy; it serves to suggest to patients, and the public at large, that a scientific debate is ongoing, when in reality no such controversy actually exists within the institutions of science and medicine. By legitimizing the existence of this ‘false balance’, we do the public a great disservice by misrepresenting the established safety and efficacy of vaccines.

As future physicians, we recognize that Complementary and Alternative Medicine is important to many Canadians. However, when certain practitioners of Complementary and Alternative Medicine choose to spread false or inaccurate information to their patients, this undermines the scientific method and practice of evidence-based medicine, and could have severe negative consequences for patients. We are concerned that the University of Toronto, by allowing a course to be taught by an instructor known to make misleading statements to her clients regarding vaccination, and supporting her views as part of a ‘balanced approach’, is effectively legitimizing such practices.

We echo concerns that members of the academic community have previously raised about the quality of teaching in the aforementioned course. We do not believe that the report submitted by Dr. Vivek Goel adequately addresses our concerns, and feel that it is impossible for the academic community at large to learn from this controversy without a more thorough investigation.

We therefore request a thorough, independent investigation into the entirety of the course, as well as the institutional culture that potentially fostered shortcomings to high quality education. This should be done with representatives from the biomedical sciences to address questions of scientific accuracy. This investigation should focus on and specifically detail claims made by the lecturer referring to vaccination, homeopathy, and quantum physics. The results of this investigation should be made directly available to the public, and be sent to all current or former students who took the course.

We further request a detailed plan for the steps that will be taken to review the course for the future, and steps that will be taken to make this review available to the public. Given the public interest in this issue, it is important that the university remains clear about the value of vaccines, the erroneous link that some have drawn between vaccination and autism, and that homeopathy is not a viable alternative for medical vaccination.

Additionally, we feel that it is not enough that only the health science departments have accurate and robust scientific review – as physicians, we will be treating and discussing medical concepts with people from a variety of educational backgrounds, including those that may have no exposure to the health science disciplines. In order to better inform the public about health topics, so that they can make well-informed choices, standards to ensure the validity of scientific claims made in all courses in the university – not just those within scientific faculties – should be developed. This is not meant to stifle new and upcoming research or creative thought. Rather, it is meant to support it, such that there is clear understanding of all the evidence currently available, allowing us to progress with reasonable debate and research with the same supporting knowledge.

The University of Toronto is known worldwide for the scientific achievements of its faculty and researchers, and has been producing world-class students for nearly two centuries. The generations of physicians and researchers produced by this university have helped to revolutionize the practice of medicine in Canada and across the world, thanks to discoveries made using the proven and established scientific method. In order to maintain the quality and integrity of the university’s health sciences education, we ask that the University of Toronto proceed with the actions outlined above. This will ensure that there is proper oversight of the methods in which health-related courses, in all faculties, and all campuses of the university are taught, and that the material is presented in a manner that is reflective of quality scientific evidence.

Thank you for taking time to address our concerns.

Respectfully,

Brent Patterson
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Phillip Gregoire
M.Sc., B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Andrew N. Rouble
M.Sc., H.B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Monica Maher
M.Sc., H.B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Jonah Himelfarb
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

David Kleinman
H.B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Jason Gencher
B.Mus.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Co-Authors

With the official endorsement of:

The University of Toronto Medical Society Executive Council

University of Toronto Medical School Class of 2017 Class Council

And the undersigned:

Ahmad Mousa
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2019

Ahmed Zaki
H.B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Alexander Koven
B.A.Sc., Chemical Engineering
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Ali Damji
B.H.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Aliya Ramjaun
B.H.Sc., M.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Alvin Szeto
B.Sc.H., M.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Amanda Khan
M.Sc.
MD/Ph.D Candidate and MD/Ph.D President

Amanpreet Brar
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Anand Lakhani
B.ASc. (Chemical Engineering)
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Anath Lionel
Ph.D., B-Tech.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Aneet Mann
B.H.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Angela Arisz
H.B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Anna Kobylianskii
B.H.Sc
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Anne Mullen Grey
Ph.D (Pharmacology & Toxicology), B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Annie Wang
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Arnav Agarwal
B.H.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Arti Dhoot
R.Ph., B.Sc.Pharm.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Ash Javidan
B.H.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Ashley Raeside
B.Sc., M.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Ayan Dey
B.Sc.
MD/PhD Candidate

Ben Ouyang
B.A.Sc.
MD/PhD Candidate, M2P1

Benjamin Shiff
B.Sc.H.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Bernard Ho
B.H.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Brandon Van Asseldonk
B.A.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Brian Hwanki Kim
H.B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Caitlin Chrystoja
H.B.Sc.
MD/PhD Candidate, Class of 2017

Cameron Williams
M.Sc., B.Sc.H.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Carrie Han
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Catherine Leurer
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Celina Nahanni
Ph.D
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Cheryl Young
B.H.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Chris Harper
B.H.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Christina Reppas
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2016

Christine Tong Li
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Christopher Smith
M.Sc., B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Cieran Tran
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Corita Vincent
M.Sc., B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Courtney Firestone
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2019

Curtis Williams
B.Eng., B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Daniel E. Wang
MBA, MS, B.Eng.
MD Candidate, Class of 2019

Daniel Hanzhang Li
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Danny Chan
B.H.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2016

Danny Mansour
H.B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

David Dorian
H.B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

David Kepecs
B.Sc., M.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

David Putman
Ph.D, BMSc
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Deborah Koh
B.Sc. (Hons.)
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Dena Sommer
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Dongho (Brian) Shin
B.H.Sc. (Honours)
MD Candidate, Class of 2019

Dr. Sheila Holmes
MD, B.Sc.H.
MD Class of 2015

Drew Brotherston
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Elise Fryml
M.Sc., B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Elliot Lass
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Flavia Sendi-Mukasa
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Flora Shan
B.Sc.H.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Florence Chan
Hon.B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Florence Mok
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2016

Franco Cardone
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2019

Gabriella Jacob
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2019

Gary Tran
M.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Graeme Hoit
B.H.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Hamzah Qureshi
B.Eng.
MD Candidate, Class of 2016

Impreet Gill
B.MSc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Jai Amon
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Janet Nguyen
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2016

Jared Gleberzon
BMSc
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Jason McConnery
B.Sc. (Hons.)
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Jeff Graham
B.Sc.(Hons.), M.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Jeff Metz
H.B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Jennifer Yun Peng
BMSc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Jeremy Chad
BESc, HBA
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Jessica Wilson
M.Sc, B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Joel Gupta
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

John Adamich
B.H.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Jonathan Ripstein
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Josephine D’Abbondanza
M.Sc., H.B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Joshua Lee
Ph.D
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Julie Leising
B.Sc.H.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Julie Tan
Ph.D
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Justin Lam
B.A.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Kai-Ho Fok
M.A.Sc., B.A.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2016

Kaitlyn Mellor
B.H.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Karen Ho
B.A.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Karen Wong
B.Sc.Phm., R.Ph.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Kate Stead
B.Sc.H.K.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Katie Boone
MBT, B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2016

Katie Mattina
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018
Class President, Class of 2018

Katie McCann
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Kirby Ding
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Laura Burgess
M.Sc., B.ASc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Laura Jewell
B.Sc., M.H.A.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Laura Ovens
M.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Lebei Pi
B.H.Sc. (Hons.)
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Leyla Eryuzlu
B.H.Sc. (Hons.)
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Liza Abraham
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Louai Musa
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2016

Luc Rubinger
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Lynn Gierszewski
BMSc
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Madelaine Kukko
H.B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Maisam Makarem
Ph.D
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Marc Labelle
H.B.Sc
MD Candidate, Class of 2016

Marcus Tan
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Marian Chen
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Marisa Leon-Carlyle
BA&Sc
MD Candidate, Class of 2016

Marko Popovic
B.H.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2019

Mathew Patenaude
Ph.D
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Mattan Lustgarten
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Matthew Got
B.H.Sc
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Megan Woolner
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Mei Wen
BMSc, MPH Candidate 2015
MD Candidate, Class of 2019

Mena Gewarges
HBSC, MA
MD Candidate, Class of 2016

Michael Beyaert
M.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Michael C Tjong
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Michael Ruiz
M.Sc, B.MSc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Michael Taglione
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Mina Faheim
B.H.Sc
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Morgan Brown
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Neha Kanga
H.B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Nick McGraw
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Nicole Bechard
B.H.Sc
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Nicole Gibbings
B.H.Sc. (Hon.)
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Nishaan Brar
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Nupur Dogra
B.H.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Olga Bednarek
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Omar Mourad
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Omri Arbiv
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Paige Zhang
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Patrick Steadman
M.Sc., B.Sc.
MD/PhD Year 2

Patrick Z McVeigh
Ph.D, B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2016

Patrina Cheung
B.H.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Paymon Michael Azizi
M.Sc., B.Sc.
MD/PhD Candidate, Class of 2019

Prachur Shrivastava
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Rachel Eikelboom
B.ASc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Rafael Sumalinog
MPH BSC (Hon)
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Rageen Rajendram
H.B.Sc., M.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Raghad Al-Saqqar
B.H.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Robert D’Ortenzio
M.Sc., B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Rohit Vijh
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2019

Roman Zyla
H.B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Ronnie Daoud
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Sabina Freiman
H.B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2019

Sachin Kumar
M.Sc., H.B.Sc.
MD/Ph.D Candidate, Class of 2019

Sameer Kushwaha
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Sara Yumeen
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Sarah Chauvin
B.Sc., M.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Sarah Silverberg
B.Arts.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Selynne Guo
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Sheliza Halani
B.A.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Siraj Zahr
B.Sc.
MD/PhD Candidate

Sooyoung Cho
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Stephanie Searle
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2019

Sumedha Arya
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Talha Maqbool
B.H.Sc
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Tamara Gimon
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2016

Taylor McKay
B.Sc., M.Sc. Candidate
MD Candidate, Class of 2019

Tejas Desai
M.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Thomas Dashwood
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Tiffany Chow
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Tyler Hauer
B.A.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Vanessa Aversa
B.H.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Varuna Prakash
M.H.Sc
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Viranda H. Jayalath
M.Sc., B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2019

William Lin
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

William Silverstein
BMSc
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Xin Zhang
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Yuhao Shi
B.Sc., Computer Science and Biology
MD Candidate, Class of 2018

Zeenia Aga
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017

Zhiyun Jane Liao
B.Sc.
MD Candidate, Class of 2017