I am a graduate of the institution known formerly as the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science (PCP&S) – the first college of pharmacy in North America, established in 1821. The college, now called University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, counts among its alumni John Wyeth, Silas M. Burroughs, Sir Henry Wellcome, several members of the Eli Lilly and McNeil families, and other historical figures in pharmacy among founders of what have now become large pharmaceutical companies.
Although I was among the 35% of students in the “and Science” side of PCP&S, earning a BS in Toxicology, I was there at a time before Big Pharma had acquired much of the bad name it often carries today and we took great pride in our college’s rich history and contributions to modern medicine. In particular PCP&S graduates were critical players in combating snake oil hucksters in the early 1900s and establishing chemical standards, safety, and efficacy guidelines for therapeutic agents.
So it is with disbelief that I learned my alma mater plans to award an Honorary Doctorate of Science to a major leader in homeopathy – on Founders’ Day, no less. The press release is here.
I’ve just sent the following e-mail to University President, Philip P. Gerbino, Pharm.D., and Provost Russell J. DiGate, Ph.D.:
Dear President Gerbino and Provost DiGate:
On Friday, I received from the Office of Alumni Relations an invitation to the Founders’ Day celebration to be held on February 19th.
In the e-mail, I learned that the University will award an Honorary Doctor of Science degree to John A. Borneman III, P’52, RPh, chairman, founder, and past president of the Homeopathic Pharmacopeia Convention of the United States. President Gerbino is quoted in the press release stating that the award will recognize, “[Mr. Borneman's] entrepreneurial spirit and leadership in the homeopathic medicine industry and continued dedication to innovation and excellence.”
As an alumnus of the University, I wish to register my strongest objection to the recognition and University endorsement of an individual who has led an organization dedicated to the most egregious form of pseudoscience in pharmacy: homeopathic medicines. Awarding Mr. Borneman an Honorary Doctor of Science is an affront to every scientist who has ever earned a degree from the University and, I would suspect, all current faculty members who are engaged in scientific investigation.
Homeopathy is a fraudulent representation of pharmacy and the pharmaceutical sciences that continues to exist in the United States due solely to political, not scientific, reasons. Indeed, homeopathic remedies are defined as drugs in the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act [21 U.S.C. 321] Section 201(g)(1) as a result of the 1938 actions of U.S. Senator Royal Copeland (D-NY), a noted homeopath of his time. But scientifically, homeopathic remedies are nothing more than highly-purified water misrepresented as medicine based upon an archaic practice that is diametrically opposed to all pharmacological principles. The mental gymnastics required to teach chemistry, pharmacology, and therapeutics while also embracing homeopathy are beyond the skills of anyone trained in the scientific method.
In awarding an Honorary Doctor of Science to Mr. Borneman, the University will be endorsing an “entrepreneurial spirit” that seeks to defraud health care consumers with “potentized” water as a medicine to treat and prevent disease. On a day when we are to recognize the 68 visionaries who established our hallowed institution in 1821, it would be a supreme disservice to their selfless efforts and reverent memory to acknowledge homeopathy in the name of science.
When the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science became the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia in July, 1998, our institution took a giant step forward in service to the state, the nation, and the world, to provide diverse, highly educated professionals in the sciences whose ethics and expertise are beyond reproach.
To reward Mr. Borneman’s leadership of a pseudoscience practice and its marketing to a public that holds pharmacy among the most trusted of professions is to return to the days of snake oil and deception that our founders worked tirelessly to remedy.
David J. Kroll, Ph.D., ’85TX
(Note added: the response from Dr. Gerbino is presented in my 3 Feb 2009 follow-up post):
As an aside, many of you are aware from the great reporting at WSJ Health Blog over the weekend that preceded yesterday ‘s announcement of Pfizer’s $68 billion purchase of Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, founded by 1854 PCP graduate, John Wyeth (the “S” was added in 1921). Wyeth and his brother, Frank, began with a pharmacy on Walnut Street in Philadelphia and were instrumental in providing medicine to Union troops during the U.S. Civil War. Interestingly, this period coincided with another civil war: that between Philadelphia homeopaths and pharmacists offering real medicines.
Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.