UK United Kingdom

Chiropractic: crackers now, and crackers way back when

Recently there was an excellent, and much read, article on The Conversation entitled There’s no place for pseudo-scientific chiropractic in Australian universities which made the case against chiropractic…

Opposition to chiropractic is not new, no bones about it. jenni from the block

Recently there was an excellent, and much read, article on The Conversation entitled There’s no place for pseudo-scientific chiropractic in Australian universities which made the case against chiropractic “medicine” all too well.

Dodgy doctors are dodgy wherever they live and are trained. Despite the value of a good and not-too-vigorous back massage (or perhaps some mild acupuncture), neither alternative medicine nor chiropractic make the grade as health sciences.

The article, by John Dwyer of the University of New South Wales, made me reflect that in 1998 Dr Bessie Borwein – whom among her many other attributes is my mother – had been involved in a similar, and largely successful battle to stop such bogus or unvetted programs becoming ensconced in Canadian Universities.

A quick web search reveals several websites – including Wikipedia’s Chiropractic in Canada entry – written largely by the chiropractic community. This makes make it clear that, even now, only one legitimate (if small) university (Trois Riviere in Quebec) hosts a chiropractic program. To put it mildly, there has been very little buy-in from the serious medical and health science community in Canada.

It made me a bit depressed to think a battle won in Canada more than a decade ago is only just being fought now in Australia and elsewhere. Sadly, this is often the case, and often the facts do not change when the dates and places do. Perhaps vehicles such as The Conversation and related modern electronic journalism can reduce the frequency of such events.

So, in that spirit, let me reproduce my mother’s letter – dated April 17, 1998 – when she was an Assistant Dean of Research at the University of Western Ontario – one of Canada’s top medical schools. Click on the two magnifying glass icons to the right of the text below to see a full-size version of the letter.

Earlier this month, a large group of serious medicos directly criticised a current attempt to set up a programme at Central Queensland University to add to those at RMIT, Macquarie and Murdoch.

All of these institutions presumably chose money over principle. Perhaps my mother’s succinct summary can help them reconsider.

Join the conversation

9 Comments sorted by

  1. Colin MacGillivray

    Architect, retired, Sarawak

    Times have changed. Universities have to survive by attracting paying students in a competitive world. Some universities do that by inventing useless courses of study which lead to useless degrees. Chiropractic is just one of these.
    I don't expect a University in the world top 100 stoops so low but who knows?

    1. Tim Scanlon

      Author and Scientist

      In reply to Colin MacGillivray

      I pretty much said the same thing in one of the other chiro discussions: universities want money. I'm expecting a new course to be offered in opium: from cultivation through to sales; a complete degree.

      It is sad that you can buy legitimacy rather than earn it through validated research. As this article illustrates, the cranks will keep trying as long as we let them.

    2. John Drayson

      Social commentator

      In reply to Tim Scanlon

      Tim, there is already a degree in opium, it's called pharmacology. It's part of a multi-billion dollar industry. And guess what, opioids are not actually all that effective in treating pain. 75% of people have less than a 50% reduction in pain when using opioids for acute pain relief. Also, chronic pain is not at all effectively treated with analgesics either. The most effective methods for treatment of chronic pain, proven in clinical trails, involve such foreign and "unscientific" procedures as cognitive therapy, acupuncture, physiotherapy and massage - procedures that many chiropractors endorse and employ in their everyday practice. Your criticism is based on popular opinion and not scientific evidence. Not all chiropractors are cranks.

  2. Graeme Hanigan

    logged in via Facebook

    One popular argument put forward by chiropractors to justify their existence is that thousands of people use chiropractic everyday!

    This glaringly obvious logical fallacy should set the alarm bells ringing of any rational thinker

    Tens of thousand of people also pray daily to unseen gods for magical healing, attend homeopaths, reiki and no end of other quack practitioners that indulge in practices that are also not grounded in science and are also unsupported by evidence efficacy.

    If that is the best argument that the chiropractic industry can put forward, it means that their only evidence is anecdotal and anecdote is worthless.

    Why bother taking 5 years to gain a Masters Degree in junk science?
    Just hand over the money and here is your degree.

    If anything it’s putting those Universities (should I say degree mills?) involved on the fringe of credibility, if they are unable to sort the wheat from the chaff.

    1. John Drayson

      Social commentator

      In reply to Graeme Hanigan

      Graham, that fact is not used to justify the existence of chiropractic, that fact is used to illustrate the safety of chiropractic treatment.

      I realise you are a skeptic, but if you look at the raw figures chiropractic treatment is safer than drugs. Pharmaceuticals kill more people than chiropractors.

      Consumers find benefit in chiropractic treatment. Perhaps if money were invested in research into why people find chiropractic treatment beneficial, it might lead to the development of pharmaceuticals…

      Read more
  3. Graeme Hanigan

    logged in via Facebook

    Leo Tolstoy made a very accurate observation of human nature, which relates to the situation regarding the chiropractors view of chiropractic, when he said "I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives."

    1. John Drayson

      Social commentator

      In reply to Graeme Hanigan

      Oh Graeme, the same can be said for skeptics.

      As Karl Popper apparently said "Whenever a theory appears to you as the only possible one, take this as a sign that you have neither understood the theory nor the problem which it was intended to solve."

      Chiropractic treatments reduce pain - we should find out why.

  4. David Goldstein


    I thought this online journal was supposed to be a serious publication. It seems anyone with an axe to grind can comment, as long as they come from an academic institution. A rather pathetic attempt at debate by people that know nothing of being a chiropractor. A shame, because it's a reasonable debate to have... but by people who are informed on the issues.

    1. John Drayson

      Social commentator

      In reply to David Goldstein

      Good point David.

      Why is a professor of mathematics debating the merits of chiropractic?
      Why is a retired architect so anti-chiropractic?
      Why is a development office from the dept of agriculture criticising chiropractic?

      I see a chiropractor who doesn't claim to cure cancer, but if I have a migraine it will coincidently disappear after a C1/C2 manipulation. I realise my personal anecdotes aren't as robust as a double blind study, but chiropractic works for me - therefore I don't need it independently verified by my peers.