|Volume 8 Number 6||www.ntskeptics.org||June 1994|
As with dowsing, "psychic powers," UFO abductions, and every other kind of flimflam and nonsense, the skeptic is always forced to contend with those well-meaning people for whom "well, then, how do you explain _____?" is reason enough to accept even the impossible as fact.
This is certainly the case with medical quackery of every kind. Indeed, it's a certainty that no matter what sort of treatment an individual receives for a given disorder, even if it's no treatment at all, the eventual result will not be the same for everyone and some people will get better despite the most terrible of prognoses. A 5-year survival rate for a serious malignancy may be as low as 10%, 5%, or even 1%, for example, none of which would be likely to encourage a physician to convey much optimism to a patient so stricken. But the fact is that those 10, 5, and, yes, even that 1 person in a hundred is out there, just waiting to "prove all the specialists wrong."
This is really the only viable way to understand those rare situations in which a chiropractor has supposedly cured a cancer or some other medically confirmed ailment with nothing but spinal "adjustments." But there are many more cases in which spinal manipulation by a chiropractor is said to have benefited back pain and other musculoskeletal complaints. This is not entirely due to the placebo effect. As I noted in the April Skeptic, "there has come to be a recognition that there is a limited role for physical methods, including spinal manipulation in the management of certain musculoskeletal conditions. The existence of hospital physical therapy units, the ancillary medical profession of physical therapists, and even the medical specialty of physical medicine and physiatrists attest to this."
Yet it should be clear that spinal manipulation therapy and chiropractic are not the same. It has been out of this realization that a new designation for an old therapeutic approach has come: Orthopractic.
Orthopractic is the banner under which a new attempt to gather practitioners of manipulative medicine is forming, and which offers chiropractors in particular the opportunity to shed the pseudoscientific baggage of their profession's historic origins. The Orthopractic Manipulative Society of North America, a multidisciplinary consortium of chiropractors, physical therapists, and medical physicians of Canada, joined by the reorganized National Association for Chiropractic Medicine which this past March became the Orthopractic Manipulative Society of the United States, have adopted guidelines that place orthopractic on a solid scientific basis. Explicitly rejected are the notion of chiropractic "subluxations" and the idea that spinal "adjustments" represent a general system, a "holistic" approach, or an "alternative" to scientific medicine.
The new guidelines state that examination of the heart, lungs, reproductive organs, and internal examinations are not appropriate for orthopractors, and that X-ray studies have no value except as a negative diagnostic tool or as a means of contraindicating manipulative treatment. Also singled out for avoidance by practitioners of orthopractic are anti-science, anti-medicine, and anti-surgery attitudes, opposition to immunizations, homeopathy, naturopathy, "nutritional" health care, preventative treatments, the treatment of children as a specialty, and claims of benefits for the immune system or correction of any organ system dysfunction.
The Medical Post, Canada's largest medical newspaper, carried an article about orthopractic last month in which it noted that "there is nothing in the guidelines that a scientific practitioner can argue with." It also noted that at the founding meeting of the U.S. branch in March, "there was so much interest that it was decided to limit registration to 1000 chiropractic members in the first year. This is not many compared to some 50,000 U.S. chiropractors. However the curriculum vitaes of the chiropractors who are becoming orthopractic are very impressive. They appear to represent the cream of the mental crop." Considering the ground swell of interest in orthopractic and the amount of support from within the mainstream medical community that it's already incited in Canada and is anticipated to elicit in the U.S., the Post declared orthopractic "a hit."
The benefits of orthopractic are obvious for the public, which will now be able to distinguish between ethical practitioners of manipulative medicine and adherents of a discredited pseudoscience. For the mainstream medical community, too, orthopractic offers a way out, since all that physicians and others need do is to favor orthopractic methods, by whomever offers them. Credentialing of health care provider networks are expected to eventually adopt just such a stance, so that over time the die-hard chiropractors will gradually take their place among psychic surgeons, crystal power promoters, and faith healers.
Most importantly, orthopractic offers a means for ethical chiropractors to salvage their careers and their profession in the face of an onslaught of changes in the medical care system of this country. Ron Slaughter, past president of the National Association for Chiropractic Medicine, and Executive Director of the new Orthopractic Manipulation Society of the U.S., puts it this way:
"Chiropractic is faced with a threat so real and so devastating with national health legislation regardless of what is finally passed that it probably means the 'end' for many in the profession. Expected legislation is expected, even by the American Chiropractic Association, to mean 'neither inclusion nor exclusion.' Meaning the 'health alliances' and the 'gatekeeper' will control 'who' treats who for 'what.' The majority of the population has a serious economic reason to choose the 'HMO' format over 'fee for service.' Workman's compensation and personal injury are expected to be rolled into the national legislative package for 'cost containment.' Think what it means to the small business man in premiums for workman's comp! Workman's comp coverage is a devastating expense. Consider the chiropractor with a 'medical gatekeeper' for all workman's comp and personal injury!!! Consider half the population of the USA (or more) in a HMO type format - either as a medical gatekeeper or with 'in house' spinal manipulators in competition with the 'sole proprietor' chiropractor 'fee for service.' Few in the profession realize exactly what is getting ready to happen. Or, alternatively, simply have their head in the sand and do not understand forces beyond their control. Now comes another threat orthopractic. But, this time with the opportunity to be a part of it and the chance to get past the 'philosophical' 'alternative to medicine' stigma with which we have all lived our entire careers."
These changes won't take place overnight. Indeed, there are probably enough philosophical proponents of chiropractic pseudoscience that the entry of orthopractic may touch off something like a civil war among chiropractors. But there can be little doubt about the ultimate outcome.
For more information, or for ethical chiropractors interested in becoming orthopractic, the area coordinator for OMS-U.S.A. is John Pearson, D.C., (817) 274-0222.
This information is provided by the D/FW Council Against Health Fraud. For more information, or to report suspected health fraud, please contact the Council at Box 202577, Arlington, TX 76006, or call metro 817-792-2000. Dr. Gorski is a practicing physician, chairman of the D/FW Council Against Health Fraud and a North Texas Skeptics Technical Advisor.
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SN&V Contributors this month: J.V. Joe Voelkering; T.G. Tim Gorski, M.D.
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That's quite an amazing piece of news, considering the tidal wave of apocalyptic predictions that has swamped us in the past month. Over a year ago, on the occasion of the Branch Davidian conflagration (I really should be a professional psychic), I predicted that as the millennium approacheth, with it shall come countless cults and prognosticators, all claiming to have the inside skinny that the Last Days are upon us. And in the past month, it seems that the Four Horsemen have been galloping across every TV screen and printed page.
Here is just a short rundown of what I've seen ... and believe me, I have NOT been going out of my way to ferret this stuff out:
Stephen King's The Stand was a big ratings winner for ABC, with its quasi-Biblical end-of-the-world scenario ... NBC repeated its two-hour prime time special on prophecy, Biblical and otherwise ... NBC aired a special about angels appearing to humans, with yet another such story on the next night's edition of Unsolved Mysteries, and local NBC affiliate KXAS-TV Channel 5 jumped aboard with similar angel stories on their 10 p.m. newscast ... David Gold became convinced that the world is ending and started bringing various guests onto his KLIF radio talk show to support this notion ... and of course, there were similar stories in magazines, newspapers, and on all the tabloid TV shows. It's Apocalypsemania!
Few of these reports bother to mention the countless identical predictions which have flared up around all other major calendar dates for centuries. If you are interested in getting some historical perspective on doomsday cults, check out the Appendix in James Randi's book, The Mask Of Nostradamus. It is a chronological listing of soothsayers who have been predicting the end of the world with absolute certainty for over 1500 years.
Incidentally, all this talk of the End Times has given me a wonderful fund-raising idea. We (and all other skeptics groups, for that matter), should take the money we now offer to people who can prove supernatural abilities and offer to bet the many proponents of the Apocalypse that, in fact, the world will NOT end by the year 2000. This is a true sucker bet. Think about it: if we're right, we double our money ... and if they're right, we'll never have to pay off, because the world ended!
Channel 8 also presented a profile of the Eclectic Viewpoint Society on their "PrimeTime Texas" weekly news magazine. The cameras followed them as they accompanied a parapsychologist to my own haunts, Waxahachie, to try to scare up the famous ghosts in the Catfish Plantation Cafe (where I eat quite often, although I've never seen a ghost ... not even a ghost of a catfish, which seems the most likely thing to spot, statistically speaking). The ghost hunter lurked about the kitchen with a device which measures electromagnetic fields. The needle moved slightly, proving conclusively that there was a ghost somewhere between the electric coffee maker and the electric dishwasher!
The spokeswoman for the Eclectic Viewpoint Society said that people are interested in all this stuff instead of traditional (i.e., "real") science because many of the theories scientists put forth are proving to be wrong. True, but that's because real scientists are constantly seeking to disprove their own theories. New Age and occult beliefs are appealing precisely because they are held to no standards of proof whatsoever, and therefore, believers never have to worry about having their theories disproved by some inconvenient truth. It is the same nonsense yesterday, today and tomorrow. What a comforting feeling it must be to know that!
Finally, KDFW-TV Channel 4 ran yet another week-long series on end-of-the-world prophecies which left no doubts that we are living in the Last Days. I begin to agree, every time I watch Channel 4 news. By the way, yet another sign of the Apocalypse recently came to pass, as the Fox Network obtained a string of VHF stations, including several major CBS affiliates such as Channel 4. Here's a money-saving tip for Rupert Murdoch: replace the 10 p.m. newscast with reruns of The X-Files. Nobody will notice the difference.
The movie popcorn hysteria is courtesy of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the same folks who recently told us that both Italian and Chinese foods would kill us (they neglected to note that their fat counts for Chinese food were from portions meant for at least two people).
I have no quarrel with warning the public about some genuine health hazard ... but once you've told me, YOU CAN GO AWAY NOW!!! Unfortunately, these health Nazis are not satisfied with avoiding unhealthy habits themselves; they must prevent everyone else from indulging as well. Notice that several theater chains have already stopped selling the type of popcorn many of us grew up (and grew old) on. And labeling fettucine Alfredo "death on a plate" (as the Center for Science in the Public Interest did) is transparent fear-mongering. Nobody eats a steady diet of movie popcorn, and the only people who are in imminent danger of dying facedown in a plate of fettucine are Mafia dons. So if you like movie popcorn as an occasional treat, you'd better buy a lifetime supply while you can (one Family Size Box should do it). In the meantime, here's a discussion topic: "The Center for Science in the Public Interest is neither scientific nor in the public interest." Talk amongst yourselves ...
Gramm got the ball rolling by "admitting," tongue-in-cheek, that yes, he is a space alien. He told the Weekly World News he was surprised that it took people so long to figure out the Senate was being run by space aliens (hey, I've suspected it for years, Phil!). Gramm's playing along with the gag propelled the story from the tabloid to the wire services. When asked which planet his boss hails from, Gramm's aide replied, "Remulak, I think. I don't know what planet the others are from." Don't believe him. Everyone knows that people from Remulak are Coneheads, whereas people from Congress are Pinheads.
For those who weren't able to see Penn & Teller, you missed a terrific show: noticeably shorter than their Broadway show, due to the two-a-night schedule, but well worth seeing. The show consisted of some of their "greatest hits," such as the knife-through-the-hand-through-the-card trick, along with a couple of newer effects, such as the finale from the recent "Penn & Teller Nude" show they devised for Las Vegas. They both strip behind a screen as embarrassed "volunteers" verify that they are, indeed, "butt naked." They then put on long T-shirts and proceed to pull things out of thin air, starting with flowers and scarves and proceeding to wine glasses full of fake blood.
Naturally, Penn made sure that even these abbreviated shows included his famous rant against psychics, channelers, faith healers, fortune tellers, and anyone who claims to have the power to predict the future above the level of pure chance. He pointed out that he and Teller refer to the New Age as "newage" (rhymes with "sewage"). He also took a few digs at Kreskin, who was coming soon to the same theater ("Oh, well, Kreskin, he has REAL psychic powers!").
It gives me a warm feeling, here in the Last Days of mankind, to know that two naked guys soaked with fake blood are traveling the country delivering such an important public service message.
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