Naturopathic School Accuses Blogger, a Former Student, of Defamation

For more than a year now, Britt Marie Hermes has been writing about her past as a naturopathic doctor (ND) who was “trained in the ways of complementary and alternative medicine.”

She worked in a clinic, she called in prescriptions, she billed insurance companies, and she was known to everyone around her as “Dr. Britt.”

But after three years in that world, she realized that most of her training was useless. It wasn’t based in science at all. As she wrote last year, “I can no longer disregard the inconvenient fact that I was a quack.” That’s why she’s been atoning for her sins, so to speak, by explaining what naturopaths get wrong and offering her take on other forms of pseudoscience in the news.

She also criticizes naturopathic institutions.

DrBritt

Hermes got some distressing news this week. Bastyr University, the Washington-based school where she got her naturopathic degree, sent her a cease-and-desist letter. They claim she’s written a lot of defamatory things about them — factually untrue things, not just her opinion — and they want her to take it down. If she doesn’t, there may be a lawsuit.

What did she say that Bastyr disagrees with?

Here’s one example:

“Bastyr has ‘incredibly low entrance requirements’ for naturopathic students.”

The school responds:

FACT: In addition to the completion of a bachelor’s degree or higher from an accredited college or university, the minimum required preparation for matriculation into Bastyr’s Naturopathic Doctor (“ND”) program includes completion of college-level algebra, chemistry, biology, physics, and psychology. No credit is given for prerequisite coursework earning a C- or lower, and the historical average GPA for admitted ND students is between 3.3-3.4.

Seems like it’s in the eye of the beholder to me. Not to diminish the achievement of passing basic college classes and earning a 3.4 GPA, but it’s not like that alone would ever get you into a real medical school. Maybe those are par for the course for naturopathic programs… but students who want to be real doctors have a much higher bar to overcome.

As an article on Hermes’ website says, “MD programs are 20 to 30 times more selective than ND programs. Undergraduate GPAs are much higher as well. (ND students are not required to take the MCAT or GRE for admission.)”

The school also claims Hermes said “Bastyr promotes anti-vaccination treatments.” That’s not true, they argue:

FACT: Bastyr teaches its Naturopathic Medicine students the vaccination schedules published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and supports the important preventative medicine that vaccines offer.

Creationists and Intelligent Design proponents use the same logic when they try to inject their beliefs into the classroom. Sure, we should teach evolution. Of course students should learn that! We just want to show there’s another option out there!

Bastyr might teach students the CDC vaccination schedule and “support” vaccines, but they also suggest that delayed schedules or alternatives to vaccines may be acceptable. They’re not. Delaying vaccines is incredibly dangerous, and not getting vaccinated at all is even worse.

Hell, I just did a quick search of Bastyr’s website right now, and their bookstore is selling a product that promotes alternatives to vaccines. Their teaching clinic also has an archived page that claims getting a yearly flu shot “can weaken the immune system’s natural defense mechanisms.” (That’s not how it works.)

What is all that if not promotion of anti-vaxxer propaganda?

Bastyr goes on to say in its letter to Hermes:

Because your statements are false and affect Bastyr’s professional reputation by falsely stating and publishing to third parties that, among other things, Bastyr engages in “pseudoscience” and “quackery”, your statements constitute, among other claims, defamation per se, and entitle Bastyr to punitive damages. Under Washington law, it is unlawful to engage in defamation of another’s character and reputation. Defamation consists of: (1) a defamatory statement; (2) published to a third party; and (3) which the speaker or publisher knew or should have known was false.

Defamation is hard to prove. And having been around a lot of former believers of “natural” medicine, there’s really no good reason to make things up. There’s plenty to criticize without having to lie about it. So I find it hard to believe that Hermes went out of her way to trash Bastyr when the school’s own publicly available information does a fine job of it already.

It’s also going to be tough to prove she’s “harmed” the school. Are people not applying there specifically because of what she wrote? Is there a direct connection between what she wrote and the school’s reputation? I would think the kind of students who apply to naturopathic schools are the ones who usually ignore criticisms of their beliefs. If they knew how to do proper research, they wouldn’t be going to a school like Bastyr, anyway. And it’s not like bad reviews of those schools aren’t everywhere online already.

For now, Hermes says she’s consulting with an attorney before saying anything more or sending Bastyr a response. I’ll keep you updated.

I just hope her inevitable response has the word FACT everywhere. Because if you say something in ALL CAPS and underline it, that apparently makes it true.

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