Vanier Quackery

Skeptics CircleVanier College is one of Montreal’s most respected colleges, offering a wide range of credit and non-credit courses. Sadly that range is a little too wide. Last weekend I was reading through the new course brochure from the college, and found a section entitled “World of the Supernatural”; this did not bode well. In this section I found:

  • Tarot – The Spiritual Journey
  • Relationship Astrology
  • Numerology Workshop
  • Psychic Development Workshop
  • Past Life Workshop
  • Evolution of the Soul
  • Palmistry
  • Zodiac Series

Elsewhere in the course list I found:

  • Introduction to the Chakra system
  • The Principles of Kabbalah
  • Prophesy: Book of Revelation

Those last three should at least be in the World of Supernatural section.

I found it shocking that a reputable educational institution would be offering such courses and I fired off an email to them telling them so. A quote from my email:

How is this educating people? Half of these courses are faith based and seem to be more like worship sessions than serious classes. The other half are pseudo-science and quackery. You even bracket most of them under “The World of the Supernatural”. Is this serious education or just a way for you to make a quick buck out of the gullible?

Here is the complete response I received:

Vanier College is a recognized reputable educational institution and the Continuing Education department has successfully offered different types of courses for many years. As you probably noticed, we offer a wide range of Credit courses for the academically focused students. We also have a selection of LifeSkills courses for those individuals who may wish to pursue other avenues of learning and discovery. Both our Credit and LifeSkills courses have run successfully for many years.

As this reply did not address the points I raised, I replied explaining that I would publish our exchange on my website and forward it to James Randi. I also suggested they might be interested in claiming his million dollar prize. So far I’ve had no further response.

I don’t hold out much hope of colleges like Vanier dropping the quackery courses, as there is obviously a demand for them. The challenge for skeptics everywhere is to reduce that demand so such courses are no longer financially viable. Sometimes it feels like a losing battle, then Randi publishes an email from someone who became less credulous or a snake oil salesman gets prosecuted and suddenly things don’t seem so bad.

13 thoughts on “Vanier Quackery”

  1. The course descriptions show them to be credulous demonstration courses, not any kind of skeptical study. It’s debatable whether such subjects are worthy of any kind of study anyway.

  2. Maybe then you might suggest that Vanier change its name to Hogwarts.

    If you can’t beat ’em…
    make it one more notch in the twisted bedpost of the RPG empire

  3. vanier rocks, I love going there and did you know that it’s apperently haunted to. The story gose as so : a nun commit suicide in the a wing stair case. now she has been seen walking around at night.

  4. Vanier is a wonderful college that I look forward to attending in the fall. Their supernatural courses are apparently very good, I’ve heard, and I plan to be taking a few, as a matter of fact. These courses are a study of how these practices work, not a how-to. I have a friend who took many of them.

    And about Vanier being haunted? It’s true, as far as I can tell. I’ve studied it with my boyfriend and we’ve made some interesting discoveries. Lots of stories.

  5. Vanier may or may not be a wonderful college, but even teaching that these practices “work” demonstrates the lack of commitment to reality. These “practices” are not supernatural, they are sub-natural. They all fail the test of refutability. When they don’t work, it is always because the person didn’t “trust” the cure, didn’t have faith, didn’t really believe. When they do work, close examination shows that the cures are the result of other causes.

    Haunted? What does that mean? No one has ever demonstrated the existence of any entity that could “haunt.”

  6. They don’t teach that these practices actually work. They teach the theory behind them, and what people believe them to do. Those who teach these subjects are VERY down-to-earth and realistic people; I’ve never seen or heard of a lack of “commitment to reality”. Furthermore, these subjects are something that you can take to get an idea of what other cultures/people/societies believe in. I agree that these practices may be reliant on the factor of trust or of belief in what you are trying to do.

    And haunting? Should I get the definition for you?

    haunt (hônt, hŏnt)
    v. haunt·ed, haunt·ing, haunts
    v. tr.
    1. To inhabit, visit, or appear to in the form of a ghost or other supernatural being.

  7. ok Lana, let’s take a look at a couple of the courses on offer to see if they are being taught as a how-to or not. From the college website:

    ANGEL CARDS
    Angel cards are fun and an avenue into the Angelic world of messages. Angels are among us and always have been.

    Note that second sentence. A renowned educational institution is telling us, quite unequivocally that angels exist.

    Here’s another:

    This fun, introductory workshop discusses Spirit guides, who they are, what roles they play, how to begin to tap into them, and how they can benefit and work for you in your life.

    That sounds very much like a “how to” course to me.

    I could go on, but I’ll let the rest of the page speak for itself:

    http://www.vaniercollege.qc.ca/conted/lifeskills.html#unknown

  8. Well then, I’d be delighted to point out that these aren’t classes that are offered to general students, but to continuing education students, and are not running on the 15-week-course schedule that normal classes do; instead, they cost money, and run on a more seminar-type schedule. They are fun courses based on the supernatural, a subject that entertains and interests many people. If you look at academic programs from which you can actually graduate with a diploma, you won’t find any courses of that sort.

  9. So you’re saying that continuing education doesn’t have to hold itself to the same high standards as higher education just because there’s no diploma at the end of it? The fact that they cost money and offer no credits means they can teach whatever they want?

    If a continuing education seminar was teaching holocaust denial, or how to be a good KKK member would it still be ok because the course is uncredited and costs money?

  10. I’m not saying that continuing education doesn’t hold itself to the same standards, but take a look at the list that you gave the link to. All of these courses are right alongside things like “ALL ABOUT CATS”, “BUILD YOUR OWN BRANCH TRELLIS” and “HAIR ESSENTIALS: BEAUTIFY YOUR HAIR”.

    And no, those courses would not be okay, because those are both harmful to people. Learning how to improve your life through something that you may or may not believe in can be healthy, and doesn’t hurt anyone. That’s the difference, as I see it.

  11. Cats are fascinating creatures; branch trellis building is probably a useful skill; and who doesn’t want beautiful hair? All three of these things have one very important thing in common though.

    They all exist.

    Angels, spirit guilds, ghosts, and all those other “paranormal entities” do not exist. Offering courses on them is just stealing money from the weak and gullible. You may as well add courses on Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, the easter bunny and the monsters under your bed too.

  12. I discussed this with a few other people, and we came up with one thing: continuing education involves courses that are offered for personal interest and for FUN. That is why it’s alright to “teach” such things that are paranormal: because it is an interest course, not a course that you are accredited for, or expected to graduate from. If people want to spend their money learning about these things, so be it. They have an interest in learning about things that may or may not exist. We don’t have enough scientific evidence to prove or to disprove the existence of these paranormal beings.

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