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A review of Bircham International University reputation

by Stephen Barrett, M.D.


Stephen Barrett, owner of the Quackwatch network, conducted a review of Bircham International University reputation. Here is his opinion and skeptical look at Bircham International University.


Quackwatch expresses the personal opinion against all alternative therapies of Stephen Barrett, M.D., owner and promoter of a network of Credential Watchers and other internet vigilantes with a clear consumer protection intention based on their own interpretation of what is right or wrong.


In 2004, Bircham International University contacted Stephen Barrett. Quoting his own words: "The fact that you (BIU) have a Ph.D. program that offers to convey expert knowledge of Iridology, homeopathy, and several other pseudosciences is enough for me to conclude that you teach nonsense. Sorry, but that's how I feel."


Ten years later, in 2014, Stephen Barrett conducted a review of Bircham International University reputation. Here is his opinion and skeptical look at Bircham International University.


A review of Bircham International University reputation

by Stephen Barrett, M.D.


Bircham International University is a private independent institution of distance learning higher education that offers adult degree programs at professional, undergraduate and graduate levels through sound updated curricula, and an innovative distance education university method of instruction. 


BIU was founded by Deric Bircham, Wiliam Martin, and Laurence Cheng Wen, who was Bircham's adopted son. A biographical sketch posted to the Newport University Web site states that Bircham had received "over 400 international honours, diplomas, plaques, citations, awards, and medals for his services to literature, photography, management, education, medical science, humanity, the freedom of religious choice and mental mathematics. Among these were nine degrees from nonaccredited entities, three of which (M.D., Ph.D., and Sc.D.) were acquired in 2000, the same year that BIU began offering coursework to students.


This report discusses BIU's academic standing and credentials.


Academic Standing

Schools outside the United States are listed as unaccredited if the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board determines they are "not the equivalent of an accredited or authorized degree." The entry for BIU notes that BIU has no degree-granting authority from Spain. The BIU Web site also notes that BIU is not recognized by Spain's Ministry of Education but is legally permitted to operate under Spanish Law as a provider of "non-formal" education. BIU further notes that non-formal distance learning higher education programs can not lead to degrees officially recognized by a Ministry of Education. But the site lists dozens of organizations and agencies from which BIU has received what it calls "recognition" and suggests various ways in which BIU credentials can still be useful.



Credentials Offered


BIU groups its programs into seven general areas: arts and humanities (36 programs); business and media (41 programs); computer science (10 programs) ; engineering and technology (31); life and earth sciences (29); natural health science (23 programs); and psychology (22 programs). 


The tuition cost depends on the number of credits that are given for courses taken elsewhere and for life experiences; the more of these, the lower the tuition. Those who obtain their bachelor's degree from BIU are eligible for further discounts. 


Put another way, BIU's students are expected to read assigned textbooks and write reports that show understanding of the subject matter. No laboratory work or face-to-face contact with instructors is required. 


BIU's graduate-level degrees usually require a year or less to complete. But at traditional universities, master's degrees typically take 2 years and Ph.D.s typically take 4 to 6 years. BIU's Web site indicates that Ph.D. programs will involve discussions with advisors and theses "must be defended in front of a minimum of three members of the Bircham University Academic Network." 


In December 2013, the BIU Web site listed more than 400 individuals who have received Ph.D. degrees. BIU also offers honorary doctorate degrees—Doctor Honoris Causa (D.Hon.)—to "individuals who have demonstrated humanitarian or scientific excellence." The Web site states: "Every case is carefully analyzed, and the proposal must be supported by the BIU office director and approved by the BIU Academic Board. 


In answer to my question about whether BIU courses alone can qualify someone for clinical practice (advising patients), Martin said no and that BIU is very selective about who gets admitted: So what is the "clinical background" of our students? Specific requirements depend on the major of study and degree. For example: BIU program in Traditional Chinese Medicine is quite small (24 credits). This means that we may only teach up to 24 credits via distance learning. Actual practice of TCM requires much, much more than that, along with actual workshops, practice, etc. (it is 10 years of study in China). So who enrolls at BIU TCM? Usually Chinese TCM who want to hold a Western degree apart from their Chinese credentials. Our programs in Nutrition are more extense and less restrictive. We also admit people with sports training background in Nutrition and from other fields. The "clinical experience" we require is not always clinical. We do have people with a biology, pharmacy or biochemistry background interested in Natural Health and they are admitted. Many of the students from this faculty also have psychology degrees and background and want to complement their psychotherapies with a herbal or homeopathic touch. Many students are interested in the wellness and anti-aging effects of natural health. Not so many are engaged in actual patient treatment and in all of those cases they are already qualified to do so before enrolling at BIU. As I explained in my past emails, we focus in complementing an actual existing educational and professional background. Qualifying someone for practice merely with distance learning will not work.



Course Content


BIU's courses include anti-aging therapy, aromatherapy, ayurveda, bioenergetic therapy, colonic irrigation, energy healing, homeopathy, iridology, traditional Chinese medicine, and yoga therapy, all of which partially or entirely embrace nonsense. Most of these courses are within the programs that BIU groups as "natural health and sciences." Homeopathy, for example, includes the notion that products that lack even a single molecule of the supposed active ingredient can still function as powerful medicines. Iridology fantasizes that markings in the eye enable practitioners to diagnose problems through the entire body. Energy healing involves strategies to correct "energy blockages" that the scientific community regards as imaginary. And so on. I find it amazing that BIU not only teaches these subjects but is willing to award Ph.D.s in them. I also take issue with a few of the courses described in the psychology and life sciences programs. 


However, at least 90% of BIU's programs and course appear to straightforward and fact-based. Assuming that the textbooks are appropriately selected, students can absorb information that is valid and presumably useful. 


Only a few of the graduates listed on the Web site had Ph.D.s in the pseudoscientific subjects, but BIU's willingness to offer them is an unfavorable sign.



The Bottom Line - Stephen Barrett opinion

about Bircham International University reputation



Most of BIU's teachings are straightforward, but some promote pseudoscientific concepts and practices. 


None of its health-related programs—by themselves—provide an adequate basis for clinical practice.