A response to Jon Wardle’s post on Croakey

I like the Croakey blog. And I think Melissa Sweet is doing a great job in maintaining it. But I have to take objection with her latest article titled “A cautionary note about calls to crack down on chiropractic”, in which she gives a crackpot called Jon Wardle a forum to spout nonsense. Wardle is “a naturopath, complementary medicines researcher at the University of Queensland School of Population Health, and a director of the Network of Researchers in the Public Health of Complementary and Alternative Medicine”.
Now, Wardle’s post is in response to a recent submission to the Health Minister by (edited, see below) Australian Sceptic of the year 2007, Loretta Marron, calling for the closure of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) Chiropractic Paediatric
Clinic, on grounds that it is “teaching inappropriate and potentially dangerous techniques that target pregnant women, babies, infants and children”. And furthermore, they requested “that other institutions offering chiropractic courses, such as Macquarie and Murdoch Universities, be investigated as well”. The submission makes a compelling case against the RMIT course and Chiropractic in general, it’s well worth having a look at it.

Enter the naturopath Jon Wardle. Let’s play “name the fallacy”, shall we.

But would removing these courses and clinics from the university sector really be in the public interest?

Begging the question. And yes, removing pseudoscience from universities, thereby producing less practitioners of quackery, is in the public interest. At least where I come from.

A university chiropractic course is comprehensive, usually lasting five years. The RMIT course has twice the amount of conventional anatomy, physiology and health sciences units as it does units specific to chiropractic practice.

Non sequitur and irrelevant. The fact that a student of chiropractic learns about anatomy has no bearing on the fact that they base their practice on a flawed premise, namely that of most medical conditions being a problem of subluxations and misalignments of the spinal column. Here is the mission statement of the Australian Chiropractic Association with regards to what chiropractors see as the basis for their “skill” :

Chiropractic is based upon the understanding that good health depends, in part, upon a normally functioning nervous system.

Chiropractic works by helping to restore your own inborn ability to be healthy. When under the proper control of your nervous system, all the cells, tissue, and organs of your body are designed to function well and resist disease and ill health. The chiropractic approach to better health is to locate and help reduce interferences to your natural state of being healthy.

A common interference to the nervous system is the twenty four moving bones of the spinal column. A loss of normal motion or position of these bones can irritate or impair the function of the nervous system. This can disrupt the transmission of controlling nerve impulses.

Chiropractors aim to improve nervous system function primarily through chiropractic adjustments (with particular attention to the spine, skull and pelvis), to help remove any interference that may be impairing normal health.

This is unscientific quackery that has no correlate in actual medicine or physiology. The whole field of chiropractic, invented by a poseur magnetic healer in 1895, is based on flawed pseudoscientific premises that have no basis in anatomical realities.

What’s more, this increase in standards has been a direct result of moving chiropractic training into the university sector. In fact the federal government’s 1977 Webb report recommended regulation of the profession and inclusion in the university sector specifically to increase these standards.

This is important because the simple fact is Australian’s have a right to choose their health provider as they wish. To deny patients this right would be construed as anti-competitive.

The fact is one in six Australians do choose a chiropractor – and they will continue to see them regardless of where their clinical training comes from.

You don’t regulate quackery by teaching it at Uni. You regulate it by not teaching it. Yes, Australians may have a right to choose a health provider, but the government has a right to say what qualifies as a health provider. And the argument here is that chiropractic is not providing any health, beyond the placebo effect, and may pose significant risks of adverse effects. And one in six Australians will not continue to see a chiropractor if we shut the charlatans down.

Whilst the evidence base for chiropractic in children is low, this does not necessarily mean that such treatments should be automatically denied.

Some children may respond well to chiropractic – whether it is due to specific or non-specific effects.

A naturopath would say that.

Chiropractors learn far more gross anatomy and as much physiology as most health professions.

Asserted without evidence. And a non sequitur, see above.

Nor is spinal manipulation a therapy that is limited to chiropractors. It is also taught to and practised by osteopaths, Chinese medicine practitioners, ‘musculo-skeletal therapists’ and naturopaths on the complementary side of the practitioner fence, and physiotherapists and medical practitioners on the other conventional side (the venerable Professor John Murtagh has even written a book on the topic).

Argument from authority. And the fact that other quacks practice a similar quackery is really not an argument for anything.

It is true that some chiropractors do advise against vaccination, but most chiropractors don’t. Canadian studies have even found that two-thirds of chiropractors have vaccinated their own children, though no data exists for Australian chiropractors

Vaccination rates in the general population are around 90%, so if 33% of chiropractors don’t vaccinate their children, that puts them well above and beyond the level of anti-vax craziness prevalent in the general population. Hardly “most”.

Rejection of vaccination amongst chiropractors usually relates to original chiropractic philosophy, which saw all disease linked to the spine and vaccines interfering with healing. Such outdated views are disappearing, and are the minority of the profession.

No true scotsman fallacy. “Those are not real chiropractors”.

With Australia having one of the highest public levels of support for complementary and alternative therapies in the developed world, it would be a very brave minister or vice-Chancellor that closed down an established course with no real benefit to the public for doing so.

A thoroughly stupid argumentum ad populum. And a thin-veiled threat to politicians for good measure. Again, it doesn’t surprise me that a naturopathic quack like Mr Wardle can not see the benefit of closing down a course that teaches pseudoscience, and promises treatments for children and pregnant women that may potentially have dangerous adverse effects. I hope the Health Minister will. And I don’t quite understand why Melissa Sweet gave this guy a forum.

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