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Academic Validation of Pseudo-Science Bullshit
2005.01.05 (Wed) 21:33
Hot on the heels of our last Rant about the entertainment and media industries validating bullshit by labelling their fiction as "real phenomena" (read our Rant about the upcoming movie White Noise, and EVP being complete bullshit), something even more harmful came to our attention. From a link provided by Pharyngula to a post by Radagast, we came across an article in The St. Petersburg Times about Florida State University considering the addition of a School of Chiropractics to their university. From the St. Petersburg Times article:
A growing number of professors in the Florida State University College of Medicine are saying they will resign if FSU administrators continue to pursue a proposed chiropractic school.
The threatened resignations - at least seven to date, all from assistant professors who work part time - reflect a belief among many in the medical establishment that chiropractic is a "pseudo-science" that leads to unnecessary and sometimes harmful treatments. Professors are even circulating a parody map of campus that places a fictional Bigfoot Institute, School of Astrology and Crop Circle Simulation Laboratory near a future chiropractic school.
In recent weeks, more than 500 faculty members have signed petitions against the chiropractic school, including about 70 in the medical college...
"It should come as no surprise that no major medical institution in this country, public or private, has embraced chiropractic medicine," wrote Dr. Henry Ho, a Winter Park physician and FSU assistant professor.... "If Florida State University were to do so, its fledgling attempt for credibility as a medical institution of stature would be severely jeopardized."
The parody campus map mentioned in the article is below:
While this map is funny, and while it was meant as a joke to make a point, there could be more truth to it than you might think. Looking over the gallery of departments and buildings, we can see quite a few bullshit fields that are enjoying widespread popularity today — creationism, ESP, astrology, homeopathic medicine, and prayer healing all jump to mind. According to a 2001 Gallup poll, 54% of Americans believe in psychic healing, 50% believe in ESP, and 28% believe in astrology, to name a few, and these figures have mostly been increasing since 1990.
Radagast's post is a well-constructed, insightful dissection of this issue and of chiropractics in general, and is well worth reading. Dr. Boyle over on CodeBlueBlog also has a nice write-up on the potential FSU debacle and chiropractics in general (thanks, PZ, for that link as well).
In addition, we recommend a visit to QuackWatch for a series of posts and articles all related to medical bullshit. Dr. Stephen Barrett, the man behind QuackWatch (and the Chirobase sub-site dedicated to exposing chiropractics as crap), has this to say on the origins of chiropractic "medicine":
Chiropractic theory is rooted in the notions of Daniel David Palmer, a grocer and "magnetic healer" who postulated that the basic cause of disease was interference with the body's nerve supply. Approximately a hundred years ago, he concluded that "A subluxated vertebrae . . . is the cause of 95 percent of all diseases. . . . The other five percent is caused by displaced joints other than those of the vertebral column." He claimed that subluxations interfered with the body's expression of "Innate Intelligence"— the "Soul, Spirit, or Spark of Life" that controlled the healing process. He proposed to remedy the gamut of disease by manipulating or "adjusting" the problem areas.
Over the years, chiropractors have gone beyond Palmer's theories, although some still cling to them for dear life. Some describe subluxations as "bones out of place" and/or "pinched nerves"; some think in terms of "fixations" and/or loss of joint mobility; some occupy a middle ground that includes any or all of these concepts; and a small percentage renounce Palmer's notions as biotheistic nonsense.
Dr. Barrett goes on to debunk subluxations in this particular article, but we think you get the basic idea. The fact that modern chiropractics is based on a flimsy, ridiculous notion like the one above should be enough to make our point, and to make any rational person wonder how FSU could consider adding it to their curriculum.
The Two Percent Company also has a growing section on Medical Quackery in our Score section. We are currently expanding that section, but our view on chiropractics is spelled out in brief:
Chiropractic adjustments are an interesting breed of quackery. While we certainly agree that this form of treatment can improve bone, joint, and muscle issues in a manner similar to physical therapy, the claims around the benefits of chiropractic medicine made by some practitioners are utter bullshit, and the risks are often glossed over. These are the practitioners who claim that up to 95% of ailments can be solved by chiropractic adjustments which affect a "subluxated vertabrae"; an imaginary term coined about a hundred years ago by a grocer/magnetic healer. This particular breed of quack chiropracter claims that adjustments can cure such diverse problems as allergies, high blood pressure, phobias, and a host of other ailments, by adjusting these subluxations. This is simply not true. In addition, any chiropractic adjustment — even one that does not claim to be a medical panacea — comes with the danger of moderate to severe physical injury, or even strokes. Our advice — if your back hurts, go to a physical therapist.
It's bad enough when movies and television endorse these kinds of crap, but for the academic community to jump on the bullshit bandwagon would be a major victory for the pseudo-sciences. This kind of endorsement of chiropractics would serve to promote a system that, at best, is not properly tested for potential benefits or harmful side effects, and at worst could prove dangerous or deadly. Education is the only way that we can keep this country (and this world) ahead of the massive waves of bullshit being aimed at us. If our educational institutions go over to the dark side, what hope do we have?
You can also read our other Rants on the FSU chiropractic proposal.
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To clearly state our position, we do not blindly hate alternative medicine (nor do we blindly hate anything else for that matter). However, we do have a problem when untested, unproven, potentially dangerous practices are set loose on an unsuspecting public without so much as a warning. This can be complicated further when a respected institution endorses such an unproven practice, thereby validating it for people who — wrongly or rightly — count on such institutions to do their homework for them. If and when the scientific method is applied to alternative medicine, the Two Percent Company will be eagerly awaiting the results, and if any tests actually pass muster in their design and execution and prove that some aspect of alternative medicine is effective, we will be here to announce it. Don't hold your breath, though; countless studies have been conducted across numerous fields of alternative medicine, and to date, we haven't seen even one that has both shown a significant positive result and has been conducted using sound scientific methodology.
To this end, we are currently investigating a claim made in December by the NCCAM, one of the institutes that makes up the NIH, that acupuncture can help provide relief for sufferers of osteoarthritis of the knee. We are in the process of looking into this study to understand how it was conducted, and we will report back once we have further information. We haven't seen the details of the study yet, so we have many unanswered questions. Some of these include the use of subcutaneous electrical stimulation, variations on needle placement, and how the results differed based on the length of time the patient has suffered from arthritis. And if this study passes muster, does that mean that chi, yin and yang are real, and that the theory of acupuncture works? No. It means that this particular test worked for this particular ailment, and it means that more study will be needed in order to determine what did cause the target effects, because we know damned well that it wasn't chi.
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[ Filed under: % Bullshit ]
TrackBack URL for this entry: http://www.twopercentco.com/rants/tpc-trkbk.cgi/25
% Trackback » 2005.01.06 (Thu) 04:59
"More on FSU Chiropractic" from Rhosgobel: Radagast's Home
I've found more information relating to the proposed FSU chiropractic school since I wrote my first post on the topic, and thought I'd share the wealth: [More]
% Trackback » 2005.01.06 (Thu) 16:05
"A Call To Arms --" from CodeBlueBlog
TITLE: A Call To Arms --
BLOG NAME: CodeBlueBlog
DATE: 01/06/2005 04:05:57 PM [More]
The Two Percent Company, 2005.01.06 (Thu) 23:53 [Link] »
william Curry, 2005.01.17 (Mon) 03:20 [Link] »
The Two Percent Company, 2005.01.17 (Mon) 17:06 [Link] »
TimeCube CubicAO, 2006.02.18 (Sat) 04:12 [Link] »
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