Tuesday, January 18, 2005

A School of Chiropractic for Florida State?

The Florida state legislature and Governor Jeb Bush have approved a proposal to set up a school of chiropractic at Florida State University. The President of the State Senate conceded that "political patronage" was behind the proposal. Such a school would become the first school of chiropractic affiliated with a major US university. In response, some Florida State faculty members have been distributing a satiric map of the future university campus, including a Bigfoot Institute, School of Astrology, and Crop Circle Simulation Laboratory. The creation of the new school is now up to the University Board of Governors.
Here is a pithy comment from Prof. Norman Levitt, author of Higher Superstition:
"I found this story very disturbing because of its implications for scientific medicine in an era swamped by politicians who are not very bright and "alternative" hucksters who are very adept at taking advantage of that kind of stupidity. I think the chiropractic school at FSU (or any major university for that matter) has to be stopped dead in its tracks. I don't think physicians and scientists should be at all coy about putting forth the argument that there's a vast gulf between science--even highly speculative science--and pseudoscietific dogma of whatever persuasion. It would be too much to expect most pols to become epistemologically sophisticated, of course, but maybe it will penetrate that there are, eventually, painful social and economic costs to trampling on scientific judgment in the name of pet theories."


Revere said...

I have followed (casually) the brouhaha and high dudgeon over the FSU Chiropractry debate. I am a physician, have never seen a chiropracter and don't intend to. In fact I think their line is hucksterism. That's by way of disclaimer and necessary preamble, because this whole argument has too many extraneous elements mixed in with it (among them guild-like overtones).

However, the claims made by some (Levitt is typical) that there is an agreed upon and clear line between the scientific and pseudoscientific would surprise many (probably most) epistemologists. In fact, most scientists are unbelievably naive and unsophisticated in their knowledge of philosophy of science, with most scientists having a comic book version of what the scientific method is or isn't. Needless to say most of their idealizations bear little resemblance to actual practice.

Hardly surprising. As one wag put it, expecting a scientist to understand scientific method is like expecting a fish to understand hydrodynamics. And that fact matters little to the fish, an expert in actual swimming rather than the theory of swimming. But let's not let the self-righteous like Levitt get on their high horse (once again). Pretty soon we'll be debating Freudian psychoanalysis, Marxism and Newtonian mechanics (which, as Einstein showed, is not correct). What about Divinity Schools?

None of this says that taxpayer money should support a Chiropracter School. But a stupid argument remains a stupid argument.

InformaticsMD said...

When I was Medical Programs Manager for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority in the 1980's, I had opportunity to observe the work of chiropractors first hand.

They seemed to believe that a 30,000 lb (empty) bus filled with passengers and rear-ended by a 3,000-lb automobile at 5 or 10 MPH could transmit mysterious forces across the length og the bus, up the driver's air-spring-cushioned-seat, and cause all sorts of spinal subluxations and misalignments in said driver requiring many months of treatment. All at taxpayer expense.

I guess if you believe in neural energy fields, you can believe in automotive impact mysticism as well.

Revere said...

InformaticsMD will get no argument from me. But what is the underlying prnciple here? What if you believe that talking to god can help you team win? Or that scoring a touchdown was god's will? Should there e no Schools of Divinity supported by taxpayers? (I would be inclined to say "Yes" but we don't see a major movement in that regard).

More importantly, the FSU controversey is based on some mistaken notions that there is some sharp line between science and pseudoscience that everyone agrees on (especially philosophers of science). This is simply not the case. There is no agreed upon criterion that separates them. The problem with chiropractry, as far as I can tell, is that its predictions and explanations don't correspond to what we see in the real world, not that they are pseudoscience. Their science is just wrong.

So the FSU argument reaches the right conclusion for the wrong reasons. I don't think we should allow ourselves that license.

Kimball Atwood MD said...

If the word "pseudoscience" is to be useful at all, it applies to chiropractic. Time precludes a comprehensive discussion, but chiropractic is chock full of the typical features of pseudoscience. It's based on an epiphany of a single, forceful founder, Daniel David Palmer, who claimed to have "restored the hearing of a deaf janitor by 'adjusting' a bump on his spine. Soon afterward, he concluded that misaligned bones ('subluxations') interfered with the body's expression of "Innate Intelligence" -- the "Soul, Spirit, or Spark of Life" that controlled the healing process." (see Steve Barrett's article at: http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/chiro.html). According to Palmer, all disease is caused by "subluxations." Most modern chiropractors still believe this, regardless of what they may say in public. For example, almost all chiropractors still claim that periodic, lifelong spinal "adjustments" beginning in infancy are necessary as a preventive health measure. Every office that calls itself "Family Chiropractor" has that as its thinly veiled theme.

The "subluxations" themselves have never been characterized and are not detectable by x-ray (see: http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/chirosub.html). Chiropractic has not progressed since it's founding in the late 19th century, except for a very small number of practitioners who have renounced "subluxations" and who grant that spinal manipulation may be helpful for backaches but not for anything else. The rest are still wedded to subluxations and myriad other pseudoscientific claims, such as applied kinesiology (see: http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/Tests/ak.html), homeopathy, "detoxification," and much more. These claims are couched in quasi-scientific terms, but since they have no basis in theory or experiment, they are not scientific. Thus, they are pseudoscientific.

For other accurate information about chiropractic, go to http://www.chirobase.org/

If you don't believe that most chiropractors are representative of what you read there--many physicians who haven't dealt with quackery can't imagine the depth of demented claims and practices that exists in their own back yards--go to the nearest chiropractic offices and read the literature made available for patients. You'll be amazed.

Psychoanalytic theory is also pseudoscientific, as Karl Popper recognized more than 50 years ago. Taxpayers should not have to pay for divinity schools. These points have nothing to do with whether or not chiropractic is a pseudoscience, and very little to do with whether establishing a state-run chiropractic school is good or bad for the public health and for the public's perception of reality.

For a reasonable discussion of "Distinguishing Science and Pseudoscience," see: http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/pseudo.html


Anonymous said...

This is still Revere posting. I couldn't sign in any longer with that user name.

To continue this conversation, if only briefly. I'm not sure the phrase pseudoscience has any utility because of a well-known (unsolved) problem in the philosophy of science called the demarcation problem, that is, demarcating the boundaries of science. Practically no philosopher pays any attention to Popper any more for the reason that his falsifiability criterion doesn't work. The retort to his claim that "All ravens are black" is a single disconfirmation is the common reply (in scientific debates, anyway), "You call that a raven?"

More in the vein of true scientific practice is a pragmatist like Quine who appreciated that all theories were underdetermined. But the point of all this is that simple ideas of what is judged "scientific" just don't work.

I am not arguing for chiropractry in the least. I am arguing against your argument against it. The problem with it is is that it doesn't explain and it doesn't predict, the two major functions of science.

You're in the right pew, just the wrong church.