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Science and Chiropractic

In the comments to a previous blog entry, a chiropractor made the following statements:

1. Chiropractic is a science.
2. Chiropractic is based on neurology, anatomy and physiology.
3. Chiropractors are doctors of the nervous system.
4. Chiropractic improves health and quality of life.

I offered to write a blog entry on the “science” of chiropractic, and I asked him, both in the comments section and by personal e-mail, to educate me first by providing me whatever evidence he could find to support those claims. I never heard back from him, so I was left to do my own research as best I could. Here’s what I found.

Is chiropractic a science? No.

In 1895, a magnetic healer named D. D. Palmer adjusted a deaf man’s back and allegedly restored his hearing. Generalizing from this one case, he reasoned that “A subluxated vertebra… 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 decided that when a bone was out of place, it pressed on a nerve and impaired the flow of Innate (always capitalized), his word for a mythical vitalistic force that allowed the body to heal itself. At one point he talked of establishing chiropractic as a religion.

Once he had decided what he wanted to believe, he never put his beliefs to any kind of a test. He simply proceeded to treat as many patients as possible as quickly as possible. His son B.J. was a marketing genius who established the first chiropractic school and sold chiropractic to the American public. Ironically, chiropractic no longer claims to be able to treat deafness, the condition that got it started.

This describes a cult, not a science. Sciences are not invented in a day by an individual. Sciences are based on research, testing, and verification, not on contemplation, belief, and practice. Sciences progress as new knowledge builds on old and disproven ideas are discarded. Chiropractic keeps adding new techniques (over 200 now) but never discards one. As far as I’ve been able to determine, chiropractic has never discarded anything except “nerve tracing,” the palpation of nerves unknown to anatomy. Chiropractic tries to “do” science, but even its best journals publish articles of poor quality, and in over 100 years it has made precious little progress in understanding what actually happens when they “pop” a back, which techniques are better than others, or how to predict who is likely to benefit.

Is chiropractic based on neurology, anatomy and physiology? No.

It was based on a misunderstanding of those very disciplines. Palmer didn’t understand the germ theory of disease and he didn’t have the advantage of x-rays. He thought bones were actually out of place and thought he was putting them back: x-rays eventually showed this to be false. He thought the spinal nerves controlled every function of the body: he didn’t know about hormones, and he presumed connections that anatomy has never demonstrated. He thought of nerve impulses as flowing like water through a hose, and thought pinching a nerve would impair nerve conduction downstream rather than just at the point of constriction. He got almost all the basics wrong.

Chiropractic was finally forced to admit that the BOOP (bone out of place) theory was wrong. In 1996 the Association of Chiropractic Colleges redefined the subluxation as “…a complex of functional and/or structural and or pathological articular changes that compromise neural integrity and may influence organ system and general health.”

This is not a definition a scientist could grab hold of to do research. It’s a useful fiction that allows chiropractors to treat anything they choose to treat by saying there is a subluxation.

Are chiropractors doctors of the nervous system? No.

A neurologist is a doctor of the nervous system. Chiropractors can’t do most of the things neurologists do, like prescribing anticholinesterase agents for myasthenia gravis, treating seizure disorders, or hospitalizing patients. Chiropractors really don’t have anything much to do with the nervous system: they work on the musculoskeletal system with manual adjustment techniques. If they are “straights” manipulation is all they do. If they are “mixers” they use a variety of other treatments like heat and massage.

Does chiropractic improve health and quality of life? No.

There’s no published evidence to support that idea. In fact, I found one study suggesting that chiropractors don’t live as long as other people. Despite enthusiastic claims, there is no evidence that preventive or maintenance adjustments do anyone any good.
—————–

Chiropractic is not a science, but that doesn’t mean that nothing they do is based on science. There is evidence that spinal manipulation therapy is effective for some kinds of low back pain. It is no more effective than other treatments for low back pain, but is a viable option for patients who prefer it. It is not exclusive to chiropractors, but is also used by physical therapists, physiatrists and doctors of osteopathy. In essence, the one “claim to fame” that chiropractors have is not really anything uniquely chiropractic but is a manual therapy shared with other disciplines.

There are a few chiropractors like Samuel Homola, author of Inside Chiropractic, who limit their practice to short-term treatment of musculoskeletal problems, who reject the subluxation myth, and who try to provide rational, evidence-based care. I respect them, especially the ones who have been attacked by their colleagues for speaking out in favor of science and reason.

Unfortunately the majority of chiropractors still believe the subluxation myth. Many of them aspire to be family doctors, discourage immunizations, and think they can help patients with somatovisceral problems – everything from ear infections to stomach ulcers. Some of them want to adjust your baby’s spine in the delivery room and sign you up for lifetime care. A large percentage of them practice applied kinesiology, a bogus muscle testing technique relying on the ideomotor illusion. If a new quackery comes along, you can be sure chiropractors will be among the first to jump on the bandwagon. And once in a while a patient dies of a stroke after a chiropractor applies a rapid twisting thrust to his neck and tears his vertebral artery.

Click on this link for an excellent article by a chiropractor describing what a rational chiropractor can do for you and offering tips on how to choose a chiropractor. There is also a wealth of information on the Chirobase website.

Posted in: Chiropractic

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117 thoughts on “Science and Chiropractic

  1. pec says:

    I don’t have an opinion on whether chiropractice adjustments can be effective, and that would have to be determined by scientific research.

    However I definitely have an opinion on the underlying principles of chiropractic. These are very similar to the principles of hatha yoga, and other oriental health practices. These ideas were not invented in a moment by one person, Harriet.

    I have a lifetime of experience with hatha yoga. It is true that the alignment of the spine is a central factor in health. Most of us have less than ideal posture, and many of our typical western diseases and miseries may be related to this. Posture, and the alignment of the vertebrae, can always use some improvement.

    I experience the dramatic benefits of yoga every day. You might feel sick and tired one minute, do some adjustments and corrections, and feel energized and healthy immediately.

    Over a lifetime, yoga might help prevent many chronic diseases. That we do not know, and it would require research to find out.

    But we do know that yoga can cure or improve back injuries. It probably works better than chiropractic adjustments, because being adjusted by a chiropractor is passive, and does not help correct bad habits by stretching and strengthening muscles.

    Yoga results in improvement which may be gradual, but can also be permanent. The muscles are re-trained and alignment is corrected. Not perfectly of course — nothing is perfect. But if you experience something directly, over many years, you know it is true.

    I can’t prove this scientifically because that would require time and resources, and that is just not what I do for a living. I hope CAM research will address the question. And I am sure that millions of others who practice yoga would tell you the same thing.

    The philosophy behind yoga — which is very similar to the philosophy of chiropractic — is ancient and mystical, and is dismissed by modern materialist science. Circulation of life energy, qi, prana, whatever you want to call it, is critical. This energy is not recognized by modern materialist science. That is why Harriet denies its possible existence.

    You story of Palmer’s discovery and marketing is not relevant to the question of whether or not the theory is correct. There has been plenty of marketing and politics in the history of mainstream medicine also.

  2. pec says:

    And yes, I know you will say my experiences with yoga (and the experiences of millions of others) result from a placebo effect, or from the benefits of any kind of exercise or stretching.

    Well first, it is not a placebo effect. I tried chiropractic and accupuncture for a back injury and neither had any benefit. When something does not work for me, I know it. I believed in the theory of both chiropractic and accupuncture but that didn’t help. There was no benefit for me.

    The chiropractor suggested I practice yoga every day, because the muscles would be re-trained. Unlike with chiropractic where the muscles can revert to their old habits right after the adjustment. He was not exactly being a good salesman for chiropractic when he told me that. But maybe chiropractic works for some patients; it just didn’t for me.

    As for whether yoga is any better than other forms of stretching and exercise — I don’t know. Any kind of healthy exercise is going to stretch and strengthen muscles, and therefore may improve the spine’s alignment.

    I practice yoga in my own way, based on years of experimentation. There are various schools of yoga, and every individual probably does it a little differently. Each of us has problems and bad habits that are slightly unique.

    So I have no opinion on whether yoga, or some form of yoga, is superior. Or on whether yoga is better than any other form of exercise, or whether it’s better than QiQong or Tai Chi, or any other oriental health system.

    It’s the underlying theory that really matters. The alignment of your spine matters greatly and it influences your subjective sense of well-being. And it my opinion it also greatly influences your health status objectively.

    More research is needed. More funding for CAM.

  3. Willo the Wisp says:

    Pec: “It is true that the alignment of the spine is a central factor in health.”
    No, it isn’t. It may play a significant part in many neck and back injuries, though. But that’s not what chiropractors claim. They claim that spinal alignment problems can cause somatovisceral disorders, which is flatly not true.

    “The philosophy behind yoga — which is very similar to the philosophy of chiropractic — is ancient and mystical,”
    Oh wow, the appeal to antiquity? Can’t you do any better than that?

    “…and is dismissed by modern materialist science.”
    Yeah, because it’s make-believe.

    “Circulation of life energy, qi, prana, whatever you want to call it, is critical.”
    The circulation of non-existent ‘forces’ and ‘energy’ is critical to nothing. (How I wish that new-agers would learn what those words really mean.)

    “This energy is not recognized by modern materialist science.” Yeah, because it’s make-believe. There is no evidence that this “energy” exists at all, and no reason to believe that it does. There is nothing upon which to base such a hypothesis.

    “There has been plenty of marketing and politics in the history of mainstream medicine also.”
    Yes, but the products, pills and tecniques advocated by mainstream medicine have to go throuogh rigourous scientific testing in order to be marketed.

    The disturbing and insidious thing about chiropractic is that many of my friends actually believe that “chiropractor” is the official term for “back doctor” or “osteopath”. They react with complete surprise when I tell them that chiropractic is utter woo of the highest (lowest?) order.

  4. pec says:

    “They claim that spinal alignment problems can cause somatovisceral disorders, which is flatly not true.”

    Exactly how was it demonstrated that this is “flatly not true?” Where is your evidence?

    If the question has not been researched, and therefore no evidence exists, then your statement is merely ideological.

    You have been taught that misalignment of the spine, unless severe, cannot interfere with nerve function and therefore cannot influence the health of organs.

    For one thing, medical science has only recently begun to admit that the glial cells have functions beyond just covering and protecting nerve cells. It is the glial cells that are effected by subluxations. So medical science “flatly” denies something that it has barely any knowledge of.

    The glial cells are, for one thing, a medium for the circulation of life energy. No, I can’t cite research, since CAM has been marginalized for so long. But as CAM research increases, we will see many of its insights confirmed.

    Right now, neither of us can prove we are right by citing research. Go ahead and flatly deny and dismiss all you like. But you have no more scientific research behind your materialist claims than I have for mine.

    I do have years of experience, a pretty good knowledge of CAM theories, and the experience of millions of others over thousands of years. You can use derisive terms all you like. But the fact is you flatly do not know, you have merely been indoctrinated into an ideology.

  5. jcwelch says:

    LMAO

    I was wondering if the OMGKI! crowd would show up, and here they are. I must be psychic.

    So let me see pec, you take a point that is well known and undisputed, namely that Yoga, or really any similar exercise, strengthens back muscles, improving posture, and thereby improving posture and muscle tone related ailments, of which there are quite a few.

    But you then have to dip into mysticism and woo with silliness about “Life energy”. Dude, the function of glial cells is known and understood, especially since 2004 or so, and no, “circulating life energy” is not part of it. Of course you defend yourself by claiming this is “not understandable by medical science” yet somehow, millions of people have magically fully understood this for thousands of years.

    Does that even make sense to you? Because i’m curious.

    Oh, and before you start, I have decades of experience in the Martial Arts. Ki, all of it, I’ve seen all the woo. You know what? When I dig my thumb into the right spot on your arm, I’m not “disrupting ki”, I’m overstimulating a specific nerve, or set of nerves and causing a specific, predictable reaction.

    It’s not magic, it’s science. As well, one of the proofs that this isn’t magic is that there is a significant percentage of the population that doesn’t react to this kind of thing. In my experience, it’s about 5% or so of the students I’ve worked with. The same nerve pressure that makes someone yelp in pain doesn’t affect them at all. Someone high on the right drugs won’t feel it either. If it was truly some magical silliness, then that would transcend such minor things like chemicals et al.

    When I put my hand through a brick, it’s not magic. It’s a specific application of force in a specific way. Oh, and contrary to popular myth, breaking does hurt a bit, and a good round of it will leave you quite sore and probably bruised for a few days.

    There is no doubt that Yoga has a positive effect on health, but it’s not because of some magical fairy farts that surround and protect you. It’s because you’re exercising in a safe, low impact manner, and that’s always a good thing. But it ain’t magic.

  6. axon says:

    Pec: “The glial cells are, for one thing, a medium for the circulation of life energy. No, I can’t cite research, since CAM has been marginalized for so long. But as CAM research increases, we will see many of its insights confirmed.”

    Where on Earth did you get the idea that glial cells are a medium for circulation of life energy???

    You say that you can’t cite the research that tells you this (presumably because it doesn’t exist), so where did this ‘insight’ come from? Hopefully you can see the logical problem with your statement.

  7. qetzal says:

    pec,

    It amazes me how you can be so distrusting of mainstream medicine, yet so credulous about chiropractic, qi, etc. And still you honestly think your a skeptic! The power to self-delude is great.

    When published research based on RCTs says that cancer meds prolong life, or that cholestrol plays a role in cardiovascular disease, you pick at any possible objection to those data. To be sure, some of those objections are reasonable, but you’re not content to argue that the conventional interpretation *might* be wrong. You insist that it *is* wrong, that cancer treatements are *not* helping, that cholesterol has *no role* in cardiovascular disease.

    But as soon as we get into the woo-woo, your standard of proof goes out the window! If there’s no proof that qi exists, we should assume it does. If we can’t show beyond any doubt that ‘bones out of place’ don’t cause somatovisceral disease, why then it must be true.

    I don’t doubt that practicing yoga has helped you. It’s perfectly reasonable to think that strengthening your back muscles and improving your posture should be beneficial. But there’s no need to invoke mystical invisible undetectable flowing life energies to explain that, and no evidence that such energies exist.

    If you’re an honest person, I invite you to ask yourself: “Do I really apply the same degree of skepticism to CAM that I do to science/evidence based medicine?”

  8. Joe says:

    There is a recently recorded lecture by John (Bill) Kinsinger available On-Line (ca. 42 min.):
    http://ph-ms.ouhsc.edu/ah/rehab/kinsinger.wmv

    In addition to points covered by Harriet, he emphasizes that chiros’ apparent legitimacy comes from legislation, not education. They are poorly educated, and high on the list of the dangers of chiro is opposition to vaccination.

    Harriet, thanks for an interesting post.

  9. Ted Powell says:

    “It is the glial cells that are effected by subluxations.”
    Did you really mean to say that glial cells are created or brought into being by subluxations? Or did you really mean to say that subluxations Affect (have an influence upon) glial cells?
    If the latter, then what sort of influence?

    “The glial cells are, for one thing, a medium for the circulation of life energy.”
    Are you saying that groups of glial cells form closed paths, around which “life energy” circulates? For example, the heart, arteries, capillaries, and veins, form closed paths around which blood circulates.
    As blood circulates, it carries, inter alia, potential energy in the form of nutrients, and the amount of this energy can be measured in calories.
    What is your hypothesized carrier for “life energy”? In what units do you (typically) measure that energy?

  10. Apreche says:

    @Joe

    The video at that link is broken. Do you have an alternate link? YouTube perhaps?

  11. Harriet Hall says:

    The link worked fine for me just now. Try again. It’s an excellent lecture and I highly recommend it.

  12. Pec pec pec pec pec pec pec! I want to give you such a schmeck!

    1. Neither Chiropractic “adjustments” nor yoga “align” the spine. Yoga likely helps you for the reasons suggested by qetzal; and there is no need to submit that to research.

    2. The onus is on the claimant to provide evidence of things that are not readily apparent, whether they be “subluxations” or “life energy.” The onus is not on skeptics to prove that they don’t exist. (The “argument from ignorance”)

    3. As long as no such evidence exists, it doesn’t matter whether you, skeptics, or anyone else believes in the existence of such things. The point is that since they can’t be detected in an independently reproducible way, they are not useful. They can’t be measured, characterized, or falsified. Thus for practical purposes they don’t exist, whether we like it or not. Read “The Dragon in My Garage” in Carl Sagan’s The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.

    4. There is plenty of evidence that “misalignment of the spine” does NOT cause “somatovisceral disorders”—other than a few well-described exceptions that have nothing to do with chiropractic—even when it is severe enough to “interfere with nerve function”: true spinal “misalignment,” as in kyphoscoliosis or vertebral dislocations or compressions due to trauma or destruction by tumor or infection are NOT associated with an increased subsequent risk of “somatovisceral” problems such as cancer, asthma, emphysema, coronary artery disease, anemia, peptic ulcer, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatologic diseases, malabsorption syndromes, hepatitis, kidney problems (other than infection), infections (other than urinary tract infections in “neurogenic bladder”), compromise of the immune system, etc. Real compressions of nerve roots or of the spinal cord, due to trauma, tumor, etc., are also NOT associated with the above.

    Among the few exceptions (simplified), which are well characterized and have nothing to do with chiropractic claims: severe kyphoscoliosis can result in restrictive lung disease and all its concomitants (for an obvious anatomical reason: the chest volume is greatly decreased), which can secondarily cause heart disease because of longstanding elevated pulmonary artery pressure (“cor pulmonale”); high spinal cord transection causes complete or partial paralysis of the diaphragm (instant death, as in hanging, or difficult and protracted course, a la Christopher Reeve); “neurogenic bladder,” eg, after a spinal cord injury, can lead to recurrent or continuous urinary tract infections because the usual protective mechanisms—complete bladder emptying with each urination and intact sphincter function to keep the conduit closed in between—are lost. Such infections may reach (and destroy) the kidneys themselves. And one or two others.

  13. Blue Wode says:

    @ Apreche
    The link worked fine for me as well, however, if you’re still experiencing difficulties, you might like to try the following link (scroll down to ‘spinal manipulation’):
    http://www.ah.ouhsc.edu/rehab/continuing_education.asp

    @ Dr Hall
    Great post. Particularly interesting is your debunking of the subluxation (BOOP) theory and Innate (intelligence), because here in the UK all four chiropractic associations appear to buy into the subluxation theory, with one, the McTimoney Chiropractic Association, still very much hanging onto it and Innate intelligence…

    “By correctly training the hands as an instrument of innate intelligence, healing can be encouraged to take place by the detection and correction of bony subluxations (slight displacements).”

    http://www.mctimoney-chiropractic.org/mca_objectives.htm

    …and these are organisations whose chiropractic members are regulated by statute.

    It was also interesting to see you touch on the germ theory of disease, because there are still some chiropractors in the UK who apparently dismiss it. See here:

    http://www.thebackpaincentre.echiropractor.com/

    Click on ‘Welcome to Chiropractic’ and then click on The Truth About…’ and you’ll learn in the Germ Theory section (amongst other dubious claims) that

    “germs no more cause disease than cars cause automobile accidents”

    (In case Orac happens to be reading this, the chiropractor who operates that site, Terry Chimes, was formerly the drummer with the UK punk rock band ‘The Clash’. Sad, but true.)

    For anyone wishing to learn more about the state of chiropractic in the UK, see here:
    http://www.skeptics.org.uk/forum/showthread.php?t=1610

    Once again, great post Dr Hall. Many thanks.

  14. pec says:

    “effected” should have been “affected.”

  15. pec says:

    ” since they can’t be detected in an independently reproducible way, they are not useful. They can’t be measured, characterized, or falsified.”

    You can’t detect something if you don’t have the right sensory equipment. We didn’t know infra-red or ultra-violet existed, for example, until we had detectors for them. There are lots of CAM researchers who say they can measure what they call “subtle energies.” When I get time some day I intend to catch up with that research.

  16. pec says:

    Subtle misalignments of the spine can have dramatic effects on health. I have experienced this countless times. I have cured myself of many annoying symptoms, but also of symptoms that might have progressed and become serious.

    I am not talking about compressed nerves. The additional function of glial cells — transmission of life energy — has long been known to CAM researchers. Robert O. Becker, for example. If you have any scientific curiosity, you should check it out.

  17. pec says:

    And by the way, I am just as skeptical about CAM remedies as I am about mainstream drugs. Sometimes moreso, since CAM is less regulated and any wacky wizard can advertise his wonder cures.

    As with mainstream medicine, CAM practitioners vary greatly in their talent, their greed, and their honesty. Some have a great healing gift, others just want to grab your money.

    So of course I am skeptical about CAM treatments. I don’t know why I am consistently accused here of trusting every stupid advertisement.

    On the other hand, I am much more skeptical than you regarding accepted mainstream treatments. If you have gone to medical school you have been indoctrinated into an ideology. You don’t even notice how idiotic some of the drug therapies and their advertisements are.

  18. pec says:

    And by the way I have read books by Carl Sagan and many other skeptics. You don’t need to educate me about that. What you call skepticism is actually faith in materialist ideology. A real skeptic tries not to process all information through an ideological filter.

  19. BlazingDragon says:

    I have been to several chiropractors over the years for low back pain. My pelvis is twisted (relative to the horizontal). I don’t know if I was born that way, but I’ve had it ever since I can remember from childhood. The chiropractor’s adjustments help the occasional pain I get with this condition immensely and I don’t get doped up on muscle relaxants or opioid pain meds.

    This being said, all of the other crap that chiropractors have ever tried to sell me has fallen on deaf ears. Their anti-vaccination bent especially pisses me off.

    They also vary widely in skill. I’ve seen two chiropractors in my life that can consistently adjust my pelvis properly. All of the others grunt and strain a lot and tell me it’s done properly, but it still hurts. I recently saw a chiropractor (at the suggestion of my primary care doctor). This chiropractor was a big dude locally. Many of the SD Chargers football players (and many other famous sports people) swear by him (he had the signed photos up all around his practice). Yet I think he’s an overblown goof. Maybe he was good at one time, but he didn’t do squat for me, except to relieve me of some money.

    It is sad to see that chiropractors keep trying to sell what they are not, instead of doing what they can do (treat certain back pain issues). Of course, if all they did was treat certain back pain issues, there would be a hell of a lot less of them (and I guess that’s why we see them selling so much quackery).

  20. Harriet Hall says:

    Blue Wode,

    There is at least one chiropractor in the small town where I live who rejects the germ theory of disease. He told me, “If germs caused disease, we’d all be dead.” He is strongly against immunizations for his patients, his children, or himself. He is firmly convinced that as long as his spine is properly aligned germs can’t hurt him. He believes that he could walk into an Ebola epidemic in Africa and have no fear of catching the disease. (This supposedly perfectly healthy chiropractor happens to be morbidly, sloppily obese.)

    Germ theory rejection can kill. A neighbor told me about a child she knew who got meningitis and was not hospitalized or given antibiotics, but was treated solely with chiropractic adjustments. The child died. I asked if the family sued the chiropractor. She said no, the treating chiropractor was the child’s own father.

    The argument “not everyone who encounters a germ gets sick, so germs don’t cause disease” is clearly fallacious. Not everyone who speeds has an auto accident, but that doesn’t mean speeding doesn’t cause accidents.

    On an Internet forum, chiropractors recently discussed whether, if your spine could be maintained in perfect alignment, you would be immune to death and would live forever. Opinions differed.

  21. Zetetic says:

    One little comment – Supposedly Palmer cured deafness by manipulationof the spinal column… Isn’t the auditory nerve a cranial nerve?

  22. Joe says:

    @Zetetic “One little comment – Supposedly Palmer cured deafness by manipulation of the spinal column… Isn’t the auditory nerve a cranial nerve?”

    Shhhh, somebody might hear you.

  23. pec says:

    Harriet,

    Of course you can find ridiculous examples of chiropractic. Chiropractors are human, and therefore they will sometimes be idiotic. That is true of every one of us, including MDs.

    We could go on all day finding ridiculous examples — a chiropractor who doesn’t believe in antibiotics under any circumstances, for example — but do we really learn anything from that exercise?

    The fact is that there is some validity in chiropractic, and the question is what parts of it are valid and which are not.

    The same bug will cause disease in one person but not in another. Some people never catch a cold, even if everyone around them is sneezing and coughing. The strength of the immune system is an enormous factor in health. Do you realize that the immune system is able to kill or contain most cancer cells? Isn’t it possible that some forms of cancer are the result of a weakened immune system?

    I believe that some of the theory behind chiropractic is sound — as I said, it’s very similar to the theory behind yoga and other oriental practices. When the spine is balanced the nerves function better (especially the outer coating of the nerves, the glial cells). When the nerves function better, life energy circulation is more balanced, and the immune system functions better.

    That is a very brief summary of the philosophy underlying holistic medicine. You can laugh at it all you want, but it has never been disproven by modern science. It may not have a lot of research published in mainstream journals, but that is largely because of politics.

    And the holistic theory of health is supported by tremendous anecdotal evidence. There are millions of people who could testify about cures they have experienced. No, it is not the same as double-blind controlled experiments, but it is not worthless either.

    I KNOW that yoga can heal. It can cure a stomach ache or heartburn, for example, so its benefit is NOT restricted to joint problems.

  24. Ted Powell says:

    pec: “effected” should have been “affected.”

    That having been clarified, what sort of influence were you referring to when you wrote: “It is the glial cells that are [a]ffected by subluxations”?

  25. qetzal says:

    pec:

    So of course I am skeptical about CAM treatments. I don’t know why I am consistently accused here of trusting every stupid advertisement.

    I don’t think anyone’s accusing you of trusting every CAM claim. But the fact is, you believe in qi, glial cells that transmit “life energy,” and CAM researchers who “say” they can measure “subtle energies.” And all without any credible supporting evidence (and considerable evidence against).

    Call yourself a skeptic all you like. Maybe you can fool yourself, but you’re not fooling anyone else.

  26. daijiyobu says:

    pec claims:

    “when the nerves function better, life energy circulation is more balanced, and the immune system functions better [{that is vitalism, of a kind}...and asserts] it has never been disproven by modern science [{that is, ultimately, wrong - vitalism is profoundly science-ejected}...and such] is supported by tremendous anecdotal evidence [{that is not compelling - e.g., ghosts fall into that same category}].”

    Three skeptic guidelines come to mind:

    a) the burden of proof is upon the claimant;

    b) extraordinary claims demand extraordinary supporting evidence;

    c) the plural of anecdote is not [compelling] evidence.

    My favorite quote regarding how biology — the science that studies life, including physiology — has ejected vitalism is by the late Ernst Mayr

    [see the NY Academy of Sciences, http://www.nyas.org/publications/readersReport.asp?articleID=17 ]:

    “the end of vitalism came when it no longer could find any supporters. Two causes were largely responsible for this: first, the failure of literally thousands of unsuccessful experiments conducted to demonstrate the existence of a Lebenskraft [life force]; second, the realization that the new biology, with the methods of genetics and molecular biology, was able to solve all the problems for which scientists traditionally had invoked the Lebenskraft. In other words, the proposal of a Lebenskraft had simply become unnecessary.”

    Additionally, as physicist Victor Stenger states

    [see http://www.colorado.edu/philosophy/vstenger/Medicine/Biofield.html ]:

    “much of alternative medicine is based on claims that violate well established scientific principles. Those that require the existence of a bioenergetic field, whether therapeutic touch or acupuncture [or yoga!], should be asked to meet the same criteria as anyone else who claims a phenomenon whose existence goes beyond established science. They have an enormous burden of proof, and it is time that society laid it on their thin shoulders.”

    -r.c.

  27. pec says:

    “the failure of literally thousands of unsuccessful experiments conducted to demonstrate the existence of a Lebenskraft [life force];”

    There are many things they have so far failed to find. Physics is full of unsolved mysteries. Just because scientists have failed to find something doesn’t mean it can’t exist.

    “second, the realization that the new biology, with the methods of genetics and molecular biology, was able to solve all the problems for which scientists traditionally had invoked the Lebenskraft.”

    Oh there is an awful lot the “new biology” cannot explain. Life energy cannot be rejected on the grounds that materialist biology has everything figured out.

  28. pec says:

    But the original point I was trying to make is being lost. I, and millions of others, know from direct experience that yoga can be extremely helpful. Chiropractic resembles yoga in some ways, and therefore it seems unlikely that chiropractic is completely worthless.

  29. Ted Powell says:

    pec: But the original point I was trying to make is being lost.

    Perhaps if you hadn’t made quite so many unsupported side claims in your very first post on this page?

    In that first post, to take one example, you asserted “Circulation of life energy … is critical.” Yet when asked about the (necessarily closed) paths through which it circulated, you chose to focus on what turned out to be a typo rather than giving a serious response. If the circulation is “critical” then surely you have something substantive to say about it?

  30. StankGunner says:

    Pec,

    I would encourage you to listen to the points provided on the following podcasts:

    Skeptoid had a good episode about this a while ago – http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4042

    And QuackCast does a very good job of supporting it’s claims with research -
    http://quackcast.com/spodcasts/files/7219a04d8d3b1302766cae8ea96f991f-9.html
    http://quackcast.com/spodcasts/files/9995ad78c0fd284e02dfc46b91285a64-10.html

    (references)
    http://quackcast.com/references/page2.html

    These shows can also shed some light on the fallacy of popularity being equal to effectiveness -
    (specifically)
    http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4073

  31. axon says:

    pec: “The additional function of glial cells — transmission of life energy — has long been known to CAM researchers. Robert O. Becker, for example. If you have any scientific curiosity, you should check it out.”

    Do you have any links where Becker demonstrates evidence that glial cells transmit ‘life energy’. I’ve looked around the web, found lots of mentions that “Becker has demonstrated life energy flowing through glial cells” but no mentions of what the evidence actually is. I see he has published lots of scientific journal articles, but again couldn’t find any that refer to glial cells transmitting life energy.

  32. Why says:

    pec: “Subtle misalignments of the spine can have dramatic effects on health. I have experienced this countless times. I have cured myself of many annoying symptoms, but also of symptoms that might have progressed and become serious.”

    How do you know your spine has ever been misaligned?

  33. jcwelch says:

    But the original point I was trying to make is being lost. I, and millions of others, know from direct experience that yoga can be extremely helpful. Chiropractic resembles yoga in some ways, and therefore it seems unlikely that chiropractic is completely worthless.

    You’re not very good at this “strawman” thing. No one here has said that either yoga or various forms of physical therapy, (which is all Chiropractic spinal manipulation is) are “completely worthless”. In fact, i know quite a few people with chronic back issues who were helped by both. But it was never due to idiocy like “Ki” and “Life Energy” or any of the other woo you’re pitching. It’s all due to well-understood mechanisms.

    If you remove the bullshit, then stuff like Yoga, Tai Chi, etc. are useful indeed.

    But the woo? NFW dude. When I shattered the knuckle on my right ring finger, there wasn’t a Ki Master or acupuncturist in the world going to put that back together. The surgeon I was referred to however, did a damned fine job.

  34. weing says:

    pec,
    If you haven’t disproved my claim that I have a million dollars in a Swiss bank account, does that mean I have a million dollars in a Swiss bank account?

  35. daijiyobu says:

    Isn’t speaking about ‘life energy mechanisms’ [figments] in the light of modern biology about as sensible / logical as speaking about ‘perpetual motion machines’ [figments] in the light of modern physics?!?!?!

    Life is a collection of properties of the material, energy is physically measurable; life isn’t a substance or force, a fluid, field or energy unto itself: and divinations, wishes, beliefs, projections and fantastical interpretations [the a priori], though personally compelling and in their own way virtuous, are no substitute for a stringent logical analysis of empirical data derived from the world around us [the a posteriori].

    But, that’s just me.

    -r.c.

  36. “There are lots of CAM researchers who say they can measure what they call ‘subtle energies.’ When I get time some day I intend to catch up with that research.”

    As you might have guessed, pec, I (and probably your other humble bloggers, but I won’t speak for them) have caught up with that research. “CAM researchers” haven’t measured anything. They just know that they can “sense” it; that’s why they call it “subtle.” Yet another language distortion.

    For examples of what happens when such claims are actually studied, see:

    “craniosacral rhythms”: http://faculty.une.edu/com/shartman/sram.pdf

    “therapeutic [non] touch”: http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/279/13/1005

    “applied kinesiology” X 2:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3372923?ordinalpos=91&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11926427?ordinalpos=1&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DiscoveryPanel.Pubmed_Discovery_RA

    “Life energy cannot be rejected on the grounds that materialist biology has everything figured out.”

    Oh, pec, have you been paying attention at all? We would all LOVE to find out that “life energy” exists, and that it can be manipulated and used for diagnosis and treatment and everything else that its proponents claim. So far, there is no evidence for it. In the absence of such evidence, it doesn’t matter what we feel about it. Don’t you see? It doesn’t become useful until it can be demonstrated. Think about it: can you define it in a rigorous way? Is your “definition” the same as someone else’s?

    Since it hasn’t been demonstrated or rigorously defined, it’s not even clear what to look for, other than “proxies” such as inter-tester reliability—which have bombed, as evidenced by the studies linked above.

    And stop changing the subject: no one thinks that “materialist biology has everything figured out,” nor does that have anything to do with why we reject “life energy.” We tentatively reject it until evidence is presented for its existence. Period. But there is no point in committing public funds to this wild goose chase: at a certain point, which we as a species are now well beyond, “life energy,” like the “ether,” became no longer necessary to explain how things work.

  37. GammaGoblin says:

    I think the question that everyone is asking themselves is this: Does anyone actually believe that pec has a degree in cognitive science/experimental psychology/whatever it is?

  38. Willo the Wisp says:

    Pec, if the life-force you claim has been known to CAM practitioners for years and years, how and why has it been missed by conventional scientific medicine for so long? Conpiracy? Ideology? Or perhaps it doesn’t exist.

    The sooner people learn that really isn’t such thing as CAM, the better. There is simply *stuff that works* and *stuff that doesn’t work*. There is no worthwhile alternative to things that work. The differentiation between “conventional medicine” and “alternative medicine” is a false dichotomy.

  39. Michelle B says:

    Superb article by Harriet, written in her wonderful crisp, concise, and sharp style.

    Pleasingly informative comments also, especially by Atwood.

    @ Willo the Wisp, yes, that is the important handle to use–Richard Dawkins agrees in The God Delusion (he is a great champion of evidence-based knowledge and debunker of New Age Woo), stating (I am paraphrasing) that there is only good and bad medicine.

    There are aspects of Chiropractic that constitute good medicine, but that part needs to be isolated from the majority of the body of Chiropractic practice which is not evidence-based. For me, both Chiropractic and Hatha Yoga (being a thirty-year long practitioner of HY) work as deep muscle massage, relaxing contracted muscles; ‘life energy’ has nothing to do with it.

    Pec wrote: “However I definitely have an opinion on the underlying principles of chiropractic. These are very similar to the principles of hatha yoga, and other oriental health practices.”

    Are you like the followers of various religious brands that insist that they have a hot-line to the mind of God? Only in your case, it is a hot-line into the mind of Palmer? Can the searchers for a Universal Field theory of Relativity just cop the ‘life energy’ plea and use its ‘substance’ to finally say they know what connects the four forces? Yeah, that’s the ticket! Life energy as Atwood pointed out has no predicting or explanatory power. It is null and void.

  40. pec says:

    Michelle B.,

    As you know from practicing yoga, while the muscles are being massaged and relaxed, there is a subjective experience of increased energy. Tense muscles seem to trap or block energy, and stretching them seems to release it.

    Maybe you can account for this with mainstream biology, or maybe not.

    According to CAM theory, overly tense muscles can pull joints slightly out of alignment, which can interfere with the optimal functioning of glial cells. When the tense muscles are stretched, alignment can be corrected and blocked energy may be freed.

    That is the subjective experience of those who practice yoga. Breathing is central, since life energy is brought into the body via the breathing process. As you breath consciously and stretch tense muscles, you experience a more balanced flow of life energy.

    How do you reconcile the experience of practicing yoga with current mainstream theory? Or with denial of CAM theory?

  41. pec says:

    ” if the life-force you claim has been known to CAM practitioners for years and years, how and why has it been missed by conventional scientific medicine for so long?”

    Vitalism was discounted, for no special reason, and since then mainstream scientists lost interest in life energy. Since you deny its possible existence, you do not look for it.

    Before the current era of scientific materialism, life energy was assumed to exist and the concept was not considered unscientific.

  42. Fifi says:

    pec – “According to CAM theory, overly tense muscles can pull joints slightly out of alignment, which can interfere with the optimal functioning of glial cells. When the tense muscles are stretched, alignment can be corrected and blocked energy may be freed.”

    I find it interesting that you’re proposing there’s a unified CAM theory rather than a variety of practices that fall under the umbrella of CAM which have different theories. Sounds like you know as little about CAM as you do about science and conventional medical practices.

    pec – “That is the subjective experience of those who practice yoga. Breathing is central, since life energy is brought into the body via the breathing process. As you breath consciously and stretch tense muscles, you experience a more balanced flow of life energy.”

    Well, oxygen that’s essential for life is brought in via the breathing process. Are you proposing that prana/chi/etc is oxygen? As we breath deeply we enter the relaxed state that accompanies deep slow breathing (shocking that!). If we practice other yogic breathing techniques, we experience different effects (also shocking!). Nothing particularly cosmic or outside of the understanding of science here. Practicing awareness meditation – flexing a particular mental skill and part of the brain – creates changes in the brain. Nothing shocking or particularly cosmic there either.

    pec – “How do you reconcile the experience of practicing yoga with current mainstream theory?”
    Very easily, there’s nothing that out there about the physiological and psychological effects of yoga or meditation. Certainly some people mistake their subjective experiences for being an objective event of supernatural origin but that’s a pretty common psychological occurrence – particularly in those seeking mystical experiences. It also explains why you continue to seek a grand unifying theory where there is none (including in the actual diversity of practices that fall under the auspices of CAM) and reject any actual evidence in favor of conjecture and fantasy.

  43. pec says:

    There are many diverse ideas in CAM, but the concept of life energy and how it circulates in the body is a pretty general CAM theory. I don’t think there are many CAM fields that would deny it.

  44. Willo the Wisp says:

    “Vitalism” was discounted by science because there is no reason to believe it’s true. There’s no evidence to support its claims, and its predictions fail 100% of the time. It is only upheld by those who choose to ignore the findings of science and persist in following obsolete paradigms that were never based on science in the first place. Vitalism is simply make-believe, and wishing that we are full of “life energy” doesn’t make it true.

    It’s frustrating to hear new-agers bandy around the word “energy” without knowing what it really means. Energy is a scalar physical quantity, characterised as the potential to do work. It’s not some intelligent halo of light that suffuses the body. To new-agers it’s just a fancy sciency-sounding word that they can use to give their woo-woo an air of truthiness.

  45. pec says:

    “Are you proposing that prana/chi/etc is oxygen?”

    Not at all. A biological process can have more than one function, after all.

  46. Fifi says:

    pec – “There are many diverse ideas in CAM, but the concept of life energy and how it circulates in the body is a pretty general CAM theory. I don’t think there are many CAM fields that would deny it.”

    Well, actually, from my understanding of reiki and acupuncture, the theory of life energy and how it circulates in the body are pretty different. Otherwise why would one bother inserting physical needles at all if one believed they had no effect? Sure many CAM practices may include the idea of “life energy” of some kind in their theories but the “how” tends to be very different. I know that people into new age stuff tend to lump all CAM modalities together (just like they tend to lump all indigenous cultures together and so on to create what amounts to pablum for toothless consumers).

    So you’re saying that chi/prana/life-force is intrinsically linked with the process of breathing? That the secondary function of the lungs is to bring chi/prana/life-force into the body? That one should ignore the obvious and explainable effect of breathing on the body (and ergo the mind) in favor of a more esoteric explanation even though the mundane one is quite sufficient to explain how one feels when one does yoga?

  47. DBonez says:

    “You can’t detect something if you don’t have the right sensory equipment. We didn’t know infra-red or ultra-violet existed, for example, until we had detectors for them.”

    pec,

    You’re wrong yet again, on yet another area of science. Electro-Magnetic (EM) radiation both above and below the visible light spectrum was known to exist long before it could be measured and quantified. Do you honestly think scientists and engineers randomly made some specialized optical detectors by the off-chance there was some wild EM energy floating around out there nobody knew about? No. As with so much science and medicine, there were detectible and repeatable phenomena in the upper and lower EM spectrum that could be indirectly observed, which therefore gave researchers prior probability and something to shoot for. Then, as has happened so many countless times in history, the scientific method was applied and after some trial and error, reliable methods of detection and quantification of the entire EM spectrum were developed. No magic, no luck, no Jedi powers, no Flying Spaghetti Monster intervention – just plain old tried-and-true science.

  48. pec says:

    Energy medicine/science is a very big field, and they have machines that measure life energy. They have their own journals because mainstream journals will not publish anything non-mainstream.

    It’s a catch-22 — dissenters are ignored because they don’t publish in mainstream journals, and they don’t get published in mainstream journals because they are dissenters.

    But thankfully CAM research is gaining acceptance.

  49. qetzal says:

    pec wrote:

    [T]hey have machines that measure life energy.

    Reference please?

  50. Egaeus says:

    I think Dr. Hall hit the nail on the head. The thing that really irritates me about chiropractic is that they won’t stick to what actually does work. I’ve had some good experiences and some useless experiences with chiropractors.

    When I was about 3 (or so I was told), I suddenly couldn’t walk. I couldn’t put pressure on one leg. It’s a condition that many people have, though I don’t if there’s a specific name (probably just bursitis), but basically my hip needed to “pop.” It still happens occasionally now. However, I was too young to know what was wrong, so my parents took me to a doctor. They wanted to do surgery to draw off the fluid. My dad said, “I don’t think so,” and took me to a chiropractor who popped my hip, and I ran down the hall back to the waiting room.

    Then, about 3 years ago, I was having a strange headache from the left side of my forehead to the base of my skull after making a 12 hour drive. It had lasted for weeks. I ended up in the ER for what turned out to be cough syncope (my first time fainting, and it freaked me out), and asked the doctor about it, worried that they might be related. He wasn’t interested in figuring it out.

    Then I went to the Student Health Center just for the headache, telling them that I was taking 1000 mg of ibuprofen and tylenol and neither was even touching it, and the NP wrote me a prescription for….800 mg of ibuprofen. W…T…F? I made a second appointment, asking to see a real doctor, but in the meantime, went to see a chiropractor. My experience with sciatica led me to believe that it could be a pinched nerve, and I was quite pissed with the medical establishment. He said he thought it was my C1 vertabra, popped my neck, and it was like someone took my headache and drove a spike through it. The next day though, the headache was gone. I went for the appointment and told the doctor that story and then what I thought of his colleagues. They took x-rays and found nothing of course, but I didn’t care. My headache was gone thanks to the chiropractor.

    Now, who were the hacks in those cases? I admit that most chiropractic is woo, and that they’re not doing themselves any favors by continuing in ignorance (I heard the chiropractor that fixed my headache talking about someone having “stomach influenza”), but many SBM practitioners aren’t doing themselves any favors either by being shown up by a chiropractor and then saying that chiropractic is all crap.

  51. Harriet Hall says:

    Egaeus brings up another thing that really annoys me about chiropractic. They have given manipulation such a bad name that scientific medicine is less willing to look at what these techniques might really be able to accomplish. If they would stop talking about mythical subluxations and vitalistic philosophy and cooperate with real scientists to seriously study some of these tricks of the trade that seem to work, we might learn something that could be taught in scientific medical schools and applied by real doctors without fear of anti-vaccine propaganda and other quack contaminants.

  52. Willo the Wisp says:

    Pec, there is no anti-CAM conspiracy. If CAM practitioners were able to detect “life energy”, then real medicine would be able to detect it too. Mainstream publications don’t publish CAM research because they are interested in the findings of science, and not the findings of practitioners of woo with a confirmation bias.

    Egaeus, it’s a shame you were not referred to an osteopath, who would probably have done the same thing. You see, what the chiropractor did to you is not chiropractic. Chiropractors are not legitimate back doctors, though many people seem to think they are! Like I said earlier, lots of my friends really think that “chiropractor” is the name that is given to back doctors, Many chiropractors practise massage and osteopathic manipulation, and this gives them an air of legitimacy, but as a rule I prefer my medical practitioners to have gone to medical school.

    Just because some conventional doctors made some mistakes doesn’t automatically mean that any CAMmer that happens to be nearby has any more credibility.

  53. pec says:

    ” If they would stop talking about mythical subluxations and vitalistic philosophy and cooperate with real scientists to seriously study some of these tricks of the trade that seem to work, we might learn something that could be taught in scientific medical schools”

    Harriet never heard of osteopathic medicine?

    And by the way, I had been to a D.O years ago, and she felt my energy field as part of the diagnostic process. Osteopaths are legitimate mainstream doctors, but at least some of them do believe in life energy.

  54. kathleen says:

    “Osteopaths are legitimate mainstream doctors,”

    Not in the UK, they’re not.
    They claim to treat just about everything too, from colic in babies to heartburn to recurrent infections. Sounds like CAM to me.

  55. Harriet Hall says:

    I didn’t mention DOs in my article, but I have known and worked with many of them, and I have never met one who believed in energy fields or quackery, but I have read about some of them who believe in nonsense like craniosacral methods. They started out in the US as another cult similar to chiropractic, but they adopted scientific medicine. Today American schools of osteopathy teach everything that medical schools teach plus manipulation. In the US, DOs now have to take the same licensing exams as MDs and they enroll in the same residency programs on an equal basis. I am speaking of the US only – I don’t think it’s true of osteopathy in other countries.

    There are a few osteopaths who still subscribe to the old philosophies, but most DOs today practice the same medicine as MDs and seldom use manipulative techniques.

    Osteopathy has done no better than chiropractic at establishing a scientific basis for manipulation. They have some tricks that seem to help some patients, but they have no idea how or why they work. At least three different hypotheses have been advanced for what happens in manipulation, but there is no good evidence to support any of them.

  56. Fifi says:

    Harriet – I’m pretty sure that Osteopaths being qualified as MDs is unique to the US. It’s not the case in Canada.

  57. apteryx says:

    No matter what Victor Stenger might think, acupuncture is a physical treatment that does not require a bioenergetic field in order to have potential bioactivity. Nor does yoga, tai chi, or any other form of exercise. The fact that people in the past came up with an incorrect hypothesis to explain their observations does not mean that none of the observations are true. I don’t know why the same pre-modern people who are said to have possessed no useful knowledge of any kind suddenly become the ultimate arbiters of how, if at all, a method can work.

  58. Joe says:

    @ apteryx “No matter what Victor Stenger might think, acupuncture is a physical treatment that does not require a bioenergetic field in order to have potential bioactivity. Nor does yoga, tai chi, or any other form of exercise. The fact that people in the past came up with an incorrect hypothesis to explain their observations does not mean that none of the observations are true.”

    Before needing an explanation for acupuncture, we need objective proof for it. The same sorts of “observations” supported bloodletting, trephination, and use of heavy metal purgatives.

    @ apteryx “I don’t know why the same pre-modern people who are said to have possessed no useful knowledge of any kind suddenly become the ultimate arbiters of how, if at all, a method can work.” Huh? Are you saying that you have modern evidence for any claim of acupuncture? Remember, they make thousands of claims, each must be examined separately.

    Of course, exercise is a good thing, do you have any evidence where tai chi or yoga fit compared to other exercises? As far as I know, it is only the ignorant, pre-modern people who claim evidence for them. Who else should we cite?

  59. Fifi says:

    apteryx – So are you saying that you disagree with pec about there being a universal CAM theory about “life energy” that’s equally applicable and followed in all CAM practices?

  60. daijiyobu says:

    Dr. Hall wrote:

    “is chiropractic a science? No.”

    In direct conflict to this truth [which I wholeheartedly agree with], ‘education buyer beware,’ and I’m not kidding:

    does it surprise anyone that U.S. Universities can apparently without penalty engage in what I perceive as ‘fraudulent trade’ by labeling chiro. “science?”

    And, also labeled within the science context, for these two institutions I’ll cite — coincidently, wink-wink — is naturopathy :

    a) the National University of Health Science states:

    “[their D.C. is a] distinctive science-oriented, ‘hands-on’ curriculum” [in "http://www.nuhs.edu/show.asp?durki=33"]. And their N.D. [per http://www.nuhs.edu/show.asp?durki=49 ] is a “rigorous curriculum [...including a] thorough scientific foundation.”

    b) the University of Bridgeport states [see http://www.bridgeport.edu/pages/5254.asp?item=3388:

    "the University's professionally accredited health sciences programs [...include] the College of Chiropractic [and] the College of Naturopathic Medicine.”

    I call this ‘pseudoscience by letterhead:’

    these schools call the web article they wrote “science” for marketing advantage, and then fill up the document with nonscience {chiropathy{wink-wink}, naturopathy — truly sick-science, per scienceopathy!!!}.

    -r.c.

  61. pec says:

    “I have never met [a D.O] who believed in energy fields”

    Well Harriet it may not be politically correct for D.Os to admit they believe in bio-energy fields, especially when speaking to a “skeptical” materialist M.D.

    The D.O. I saw was a young woman, in a medical school, and a senior professor was standing right there as she felt my energy field, and they were talking about it. It was very matter-of-fact, as if there were no controversy.

    So maybe D.Os have learned to keep quiet about what they believe. They have become accepted as mainstream professionals and want to keep it that way. That doesn’t change the fact that their philosophy is holistic, and very different from the philosophy of most M.Ds, who are usually indoctrinated into materialism in medical school.

  62. qetzal says:

    Hey pec,

    Still waiting for a reference on those machines that measure “life energy.”

    You claimed they exist, and are used as part of an active research field. Can you back that up?

    Failing that, can you list one or two of those non-mainstream journals that publish “life energy” research?

    TIA

  63. Fifi says:

    pec – “The D.O. I saw was a young woman, in a medical school, and a senior professor was standing right there as she felt my energy field, and they were talking about it. It was very matter-of-fact, as if there were no controversy.”

    Which medical school was this?

  64. daedalus2u says:

    The first detection of infrared was by Herschel who used a prism and thermometers to detect heat at the infrared part of the spectrum that he couldn’t see. He did this in 1800.

    Ultraviolet was discovered in 1801 by Ritter using silver chloride as the photosensitive detector.

    http://www.juliantrubin.com/bigten/lightexperiments.html

    Maxwell described electromagnetic radiation (precisely as we now understand it) in 1864 and showed that it propagated at the speed of light.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Clerk_Maxwell

    There were no methods for detecting the electromagnetic radiation that Maxwell predicted.

  65. Zetetic says:

    Harper’s “List” – in the latest issue – reports that a Yoga publication from San Francisco says Americans spend about $6 BILLION a year on Yoga… WHAT A WASTE!

  66. kathleen says:

    “Harper’s “List” – in the latest issue – reports that a Yoga publication from San Francisco says Americans spend about $6 BILLION a year on Yoga… WHAT A WASTE!”

    I’m not sure I would call it a waste.
    I have taken yoga classes and I’ll bet that a large proportion of people were, like me, using yoga as a form of exercise rather than getting anything spiritual or woo-like from it.

  67. pec says:

    Almost any form of physical exercise is better than none, so it is possible that the benefits of yoga are merely because it’s exercise.

    However there are many different ways to exercise your body and there is no basis for saying all of them have the same effects.

    Additionally, many forms of physical therapy and exercise have been influenced by yoga.

    So it would be difficult to make the claim, without extensive research, that yoga is no better than exercise in general.

    Another factor is that exercise in general may promote health by mechanisms similar to that of yoga. In other words, many forms of exercise may help to balance the spine, release blocked bio-energy, and improve breathing.

    Physical exercise generally improves consciousness of the voluntary muscles and of breathing, so almost any exercise will improve energy circulation.

    But I think yoga, or something similar, should be practiced in addition to some form of aerobic exercise. Bicycling, for example, does not result in systematic stretching of all voluntary muscles, and will not necessarily improve alignment.

    Why do you think research has been showing, increasingly, that physical exercise has all kinds of previously unexpected health benefits? Can you explain it all with standard mainstream biology?

  68. daedalus2u says:

    “Can you explain it all with standard mainstream biology?”

    Yes.

  69. pec says:

    I doubt it.

  70. Zetetic says:

    It would be interesting to survey those who are involved in Yoga to see what percentage buy into the “Qi” or “Life Energy” ideology.

  71. daedalus2u says:

    pec, the only effect of yoga that I have heard about that biology cannot explain is levitation. Usually that is explained as being due to fraud or delusion. If that could be demonstrated in front of reliable witnesses under conditions that eliminated the possiblity of fraud, that would prove many of your non-materialistic claims.

  72. pec says:

    [It would be interesting to survey those who are involved in Yoga to see what percentage buy into the “Qi” or “Life Energy” ideology.]

    Most probably have no idea how much mainstream science despises the concept of life energy. Many Americans are involved in martial arts and various oriental health practices, all of which depend on some concept of life energy. Most probably think the idea makes sense, especially since it can be directly experienced.

    If you have been indoctrinated into the materialist ideology which has become associated with science, however, you “know” that life energy cannot possibly exist. You “know” that it would somehow defy the known laws of physics. You “know” that biology is already able to explain all life processes.

  73. Harriet Hall says:

    Pec said, “Most probably have no idea how much mainstream science despises the concept of life energy. Many Americans are involved in martial arts and various oriental health practices, all of which depend on some concept of life energy. Most probably think the idea makes sense, especially since it can be directly experienced.”

    Most probably have no idea how much mainstream science despises the concepts of Santa and the Tooth Fairy. Many Americans are involved in leaving teeth under pillows and leaving milk and cookies for Santa. Most probably think Santa and the Tooth Fairy make sense, especially since they can directly experience the money under the pillow and the presents in the stocking.

    Mainstream science will gladly accept the Tooth Fairy, Santa or life energy as soon as convincing evidence verifies their existence.

  74. apteryx says:

    Joe writes:

    “@ apteryx “I don’t know why the same pre-modern people who are said to have possessed no useful knowledge of any kind suddenly become the ultimate arbiters of how, if at all, a method can work.” Huh? Are you saying that you have modern evidence for any claim of acupuncture? … Of course, exercise is a good thing, do you have any evidence where tai chi or yoga fit compared to other exercises? As far as I know, it is only the ignorant, pre-modern people who claim evidence for them. Who else should we cite?”

    I don’t personally, but there are quite a number of clinical trials that show benefits for acupuncture. There is some dispute as to what degree real acupuncture is better than “placebo” acupuncture methods (e.g., deliberately putting the needles in what are thought to be the “wrong” spots). However, if all the observed benefits of acupuncture were due to placebo, it would be one whopping effective placebo, and therefore worthy of use for that reason alone. I don’t care WHY something relieves my symptoms, so long as it does. There is also scientific evidence that tai chi has benefits standard American exercise does not. Its inventors may have been non-Western and therefore “ignorant,” but it still improves balance, which is critical for such things as reducing bone fractures in the elderly, which our culture often simplistically attributes solely to reduced bone density. American exercise tends to be about weight machines, or else repetitive grinding away at an aerobic exercise, neither of which does anything to improve balance or flexibility.

    Fifi writes:

    “So are you saying that you disagree with pec about there being a universal CAM theory about “life energy” that’s equally applicable and followed in all CAM practices?”

    I disagree that there is such a “universal CAM theory.” Modern herbal medicine, massage, or nutritional therapy is often purely mechanistic in nature, e.g., medicinal plants are useful because they contain bioactive molecules that act through direct contact with other molecules in the body. I think that virtually all traditional medicine (TM) practices possessing a verbalized theory of how the world works would include some concept akin to “life energy.” This is because virtually all traditional cultures have had some similar concept, based on the observed and yet mysterious differences between life and nonlife. I am not aware of any people, pre-microscope, who came up with the concept that they were simply complex machines made of tiny invisible molecules derived (mostly) ultimately from stuff in the air. This would not have been rational from their perspective.

  75. Joe says:

    @apteryx, I asked about how he knew the evidence for acupuncture; he replied “I don’t personally, but there are quite a number of clinical trials that show benefits for acupuncture.”

    So, do you know or not? Can you cite the clinical trials or not?

    @apteryx, “{snip} There is also scientific evidence that tai chi has benefits standard American exercise does not.”

    So, cite the evidence.

    @apteryx, “{snip} but it still improves balance…”

    Cite, aw, never mind.

    @apteryx, “American exercise tends to be about weight machines, or else repetitive grinding away at an aerobic exercise, neither of which does anything to improve balance or flexibility.”

    Never mind.

  76. Fifi says:

    pec – “So it would be difficult to make the claim, without extensive research, that yoga is no better than exercise in general”

    That’s a rather silly thing to say since there’s a wide variety of types of yoga practiced that can be quite different (apparently your knowledge of yoga is as good as your knowledge about CAM). It’s even more difficult to make the claim, without extensive studies, that yoga is better than regular exercise.

    pec – “Another factor is that exercise in general may promote health by mechanisms similar to that of yoga. In other words, many forms of exercise may help to balance the spine, release blocked bio-energy, and improve breathing.”

    It’s been well established that exercise promotes health without needing to resort to woo to explain why. You seem to need mystical explanations for even the most obvious things.

    pec – “Why do you think research has been showing, increasingly, that physical exercise has all kinds of previously unexpected health benefits? Can you explain it all with standard mainstream biology?”

    Yes it can be very easily explained by biology as practiced by scientists. Most of the benefits of exercise that are being uncovered by research aren’t unexpected or even unanticipated, they’re just being proven and some of the mechanisms underlying the benefits are being better understood.

  77. Ted Powell says:

    “Almost any form of physical exercise is better than none, so it is possible that the benefits of yoga are merely because it’s exercise.

    “However there are many different ways to exercise your body and there is no basis for saying all of them have the same effects.

    “Additionally, many forms of physical therapy and exercise have been influenced by yoga.

    “So it would be difficult to make the claim, without extensive research, that yoga is no better than exercise in general.”

    A *scientist* would write that last sentence as: So it would be difficult to make the claim, without research, that yoga is any better than exercise in general.

  78. Fifi says:

    Zetetic – I’ve practiced yoga for years (and a couple of different styles). Some people practice it as a religion (like pec, though he probably doesn’t like to hear his faith based beliefs referred to as a religion). Some people practice it as exercise. I also meditate, which I find a very useful practice.

    The problem is that a lot of people aren’t very knowledgeable about biology (particularly neurobiology, and cognition for that matter) so when they “feel” something a bit different they tend to interpret it as being supernatural (rather than something quite natural just out of the norm of their experience). Then they get a woo explanation which, since they believe in the objective reality of their subjective experiences and the explanation fits their confirmation bias, means they don’t want to look further (particularly if it “indicates” they’re “enlightened” or somehow special or in touch with “god”).

    Yoga teachers run the gamut, but you can be pretty sure that one who’s aiming and claiming to be a guru is likely to be dangerous to your physical and mental health. And probably your wallet. Though, the same can be said of doctors and businessmen who consider themselves godlike. It’s a human thing, even if it doesn’t seem that way when one is faced with someone who’s a clinical narcissist!

  79. pec says:

    “So it would be difficult to make the claim, without extensive research, that yoga is no better than exercise in general.”

    The “no” was a typo. It was, obviously, supposed to be:

    “So it would be difficult to make the claim, without extensive research, that yoga is better than exercise in general.”

  80. pec says:

    “Mainstream science will gladly accept the Tooth Fairy, Santa or life energy as soon as convincing evidence verifies their existence.”

    That’s why it would be such a good idea for you to accept the increasing interest in, and funding for, CAM research!

    And materialists always equate any non-materialist idea with belief in the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus. Their point is that they have grown up and faced facts, while anyone who is skeptical of radical materialism must be as naive and gullible as a child.

    But did you ever consider that YOU might be naive and gullible, trusting your venerable professors as if they were all-knowing gods?

  81. Fifi says:

    apertyx – “I don’t care WHY something relieves my symptoms, so long as it does.”
    Most people don’t – though it seems silly to me to pay for treatments for the kinds of things that resolve themselves or that are psychosomatic. After all, if it’s psychosomatic you’re merely treating the symptoms and not the cause and avoiding treating the whole person. It’s not a very holistic approach (though I take no issue with people choosing to deal with their own body how they see fit, even if it seems silly or needlessly unfun and/or dangerous to me). There are medications that work to relieve people’s symptoms but the mechanisms behind them still aren’t clear. They’re prescribed and studied to try to find the underlying mechanism so more effective treatments can be developed.

    apertyx – “There is also scientific evidence that tai chi has benefits standard American exercise does not. Its inventors may have been non-Western and therefore “ignorant,” but it still improves balance, which is critical for such things as reducing bone fractures in the elderly, which our culture often simplistically attributes solely to reduced bone density.”

    I always find it odd that people who claim to be into holistic practices and “unity” – though these may not be things that interest you – seem to like to divide the world into the very unsubtle and (apparently to them) mutually exclusive divisions of “East” and “West”. It seems very Cartesian to me – but so does the idea that the body and mind exist independently. I don’t personally think people are “ignorant” because they’re not “western”. Nor do I think they’re mystical fairy people with magical powers. In my experience, people are people for better and worse all over the world. There are a lot of great scientists who’ve come out of India and Asia, and science is practiced in these countries in the same way as it is in Europe and North America. In my experience, science is equally dismissive of woo no matter where it comes from.

    You seem to be woefully misinformed about the research that’s gone into fractures in the elderly and the role balance plays.

    pec – “American exercise tends to be about weight machines, or else repetitive grinding away at an aerobic exercise, neither of which does anything to improve balance or flexibility.”

    American exercise? Do you really believe that Americans invented weight lifting or aerobic exercise? People have been running, doing calisthenics and lifting weights for a pretty long time. What are your claims based upon? I’ve never seen any studies indicating that aerobic exercise or lifting weights doesn’t improve balance. The forms of exercise I grew up with (so “western if not “American”) were swimming, soccer, tennis, dance, hiking, surfing…the latter being particularly good for practicing balancing.

    You seem, like many American woosters to practice a weird form of racism where you romanticize Asian and Indian cultures/countries (and apparently see them as one thing) and demonize your own (not that there’s not plenty of valid criticism that can’t be leveled at American culture in particular). Why divide the world into East vs West in a highly Christian Good vs Evil kind of way?

  82. Fifi says:

    pec – “Their point is that they have grown up and faced facts, while anyone who is skeptical of radical materialism must be as naive and gullible as a child.”

    No, it’s not your so-called “skepticism” but rather your faith based beliefs that make you appear to be as naive and gullible as a child.

    pec – “But did you ever consider that YOU might be naive and gullible, trusting your venerable professors as if they were all-knowing gods?”

    Who trusts any teacher as an “all-knowing god”? Oh, right, people who unquestioningly follow their guru/teacher. I mean, I know you trusted your mom’s GP in this way before you transfered your faith into woo, but most people into science don’t view scientists or teachers as gods but as people investigating stuff.

  83. kathleen says:

    pec said “But did you ever consider that YOU might be naive and gullible, trusting your venerable professors as if they were all-knowing gods?”

    Every venerable professor I have ever had has taught me to weigh up the evidence myself and NOT to trust what they say just because they are venerable. It is the CAM gurus who expect us to trust them unquestioningly.

  84. pec says:

    [pec - “American exercise tends to be about weight machines, or else repetitive grinding away at an aerobic exercise, neither of which does anything to improve balance or flexibility.”]

    I NEVER SAID THAT. It was apteryx.

    I would never say that. I think aerobic exercise is extremely beneficial. There is more to health than balance and flexibility. And weight training is probably a good idea also.

    Doing all of that would take most of the day, however.

  85. qetzal says:

    But pec,

    You DID say that there are MACHINES THAT CAN MEASURE LIFE ENERGY. And that there are JOURNALS THAT PUBLISH SUCH NON-MAINSTREAM ‘SCIENCE.’

    Are you going to provide any evidence for that at all? A link? A journal name? A researcher’s name that supposedly has one of these machines?

    ANYTHING?

  86. qetzal says:

    BTW, what I despise about life energy is not the concept itself. It’s that people claim it’s real, and that there are even MACHINES TO MEASURE IT, but they can never back up their claims.

    If anyone (you, for instance) could show me some EVIDENCE that life energy exists, that it’s objectively measurable, I wouldn’t despise that at all.

  87. Fifi says:

    pec – “I NEVER SAID THAT. It was apteryx.”

    You’re quite right, I apologize for the mistake. I’m not sure why you say “it would take all day” though since it’s not necessary to lift weights every day to get the benefits and it’s easy enough to incorporate some aerobic exercise into one’s normal routine (riding a bike instead of driving, jogging to the store, etc).

    You did, as qetzal points out, make a claim that there are machines to measure “life energy”. Maybe you could follow that up with a bit of evidence? Do you know this because you’ve had your “life energy” measured?

  88. pec says:

    I do some kind of stretching, strengthening, and aerobics every day, and it takes at least 2 hours. Most people don’t have that much time for exercise — or don’t consider it important enough to allocate the time. But I consider exercise the most important thing for health, and I consider physical health extremely important. But I am not doing nearly as much exercise as I would like, because it would take at least half the day and I have to work.

    As for life energy research — it’s all over the internet. Unfortunately, when looking for serious alternative science you have to sort through a lot of non-serious and commercial stuff, which takes time. I will try to find something that would convince skeptics.

    But alternative science is alive and well, and definitely worth learning something about, even if you are devoutly mainstream.

  89. weing says:

    pec,
    Alternative science is superstition. Since when did these quacks get a monopoly on exercise science? I workout for at least an hour day too, 7 days a week. I also incorporate yoga stretches that I learned in my high-school and college years. I do not have to buy into any superstition for my workouts.

  90. Fifi says:

    Heh, seems to me that superstition (it ain’t science if it’s an alternative to science) and new age woo is extremely mainstream. It’s featured on Oprah all the time, if that ain’t mainstream nothing is. Shhhhh, don’t tell anyone, that’s The Secret. It doesn’t surprise me that a swath of the boomer generation likes to fool themselves into thinking they’re radical, cutting edge beings who will, by the sheer force of their life energy, escape death and achieve immortality.

    Having actually had a look at the woo out there and learned about it, I can say that’s it’s not really something worth learning about unless you’re interested in how people get conned and how reasonably intelligent and even rational people can get misled when they don’t understand the basics of cognitive science and how the mind works.

    People have plenty of time to exercise and it’s easy enough to integrate activity into one’s everyday routine – all kinds of people manage to do this. It’s just a matter of priorities and using a bit of common sense. Turn off the tv or exercise in front of it, go for a walk, ride a bike to work, jog to the store… Play some soccer with your kids or friends, go out dancing, take the stairs… The possibilities are endless really. Almost as endless as people’s excuses.

  91. pec says:

    Fifi I agree with you, anyone can find to for exercise. The same person who supposedly can’t even find 15 minutes a day will devote hours to their favorite TV shows. They can’t give up TV because they need to relax from all the stress that results from not exercising.

    And I am not saying the idea that exercise is healthy comes from alternative medicine. It probably did originally, but now it’s mainstream. I remember a time when information about nutrition and exercise were mostly found in Prevention magazine, which was not identified with mainstream medicine.

    My mother was given blood pressure medicine in her 30s, and her MD did not advise her to quit smoking. Maybe because her MD smoked, as did most MDs and most people.

    The idea of prevention was assimilated into mainstream medicine gradually. And I think the same is happening with other alternative, “woo” ideas.

  92. Joe says:

    pec wrote “The idea of prevention was assimilated into mainstream medicine gradually. ”

    pec, I doubt you could you be more ignorant. Public health, antisepsis, vaccinations, the dangers of smoking, alcoholism, obesity and STDs … all developed from science-based medicine. No altie was involved in this work. Altie recommendations concerning preventive medicine are either parroting SBM, or are absurd (e.g., “detoxification”).

    pec wrote “And I think the same is happening with other alternative, “woo” ideas.”

    And I think you are dreaming.

  93. Joe says:

    Dang! I meant to note that vaccination, is actually opposed by many alties, including chiros. Not only do they have no claim to preventive medicine, they often impede it.

  94. Skip says:

    Dr. Hall, Pec and Fifi,

    ….

    If anyone is still following the comments. There was some talk about Osteopathic Medicine, their scientific validity and their scope of practice.

    It is important to distinguish between an “Osteopath” and an “Osteopathic Physician”, both of whom may have a D.O. An Osteopath is limited only to manipulation whereas an Osteopathic Physician has an unlimited medical license in the US. In Canada, according to the Ontario Association of Osteopaths, a US trained DO can be a physician but a canadian or UK trained DO cannot.

    I believe there are about 44 countries around the world that recognize American trained Osteopathic Physicians as “Medical Doctors”. That includes Germany, the UK, New Zealand and Canada, I don’t know of the complete list or the reference for the rest of them… Russia and Australia do not

    As for woo, like a ‘Vital Life Force’, that just isn’t in the D.O. tool kit.

    I recommend the American Osteopathic Association’s website at http://www.osteopathic.org

    I also recommend a book “The DOs: Osteopathic Medicine in America” by Norman Gevitz

    -Skip

    My disclosure is I’ll be starting DO school in the fall and I have no time or patience to waste of woo or quackery. As for why I’m going to DO school and not MD school, there are two medical schools in my town, one accepted me one did not. It is as simple as that! I am very interested in learning more about OMT and applying science based reasoning to it.

  95. zager says:

    Haavik-Taylor H, Murphy B (2007) Cervical spine manipulation alters sensorimotor integration: A somatosensory evoked potential study. Clinical Neurophysiology 118: 391-402

    I skimmed this article and feel that the authors are developing a reasonable theory (building on others’ work of course) of the mechanism of relieving back and neck pain with chiropractic adjustment. It is still a vague picture, as there is a lot of conjecture about the brain structures involved in the respective sensorimotor loops. I hope the moderators will post an article to explore this work.

  96. Joe says:

    @Zager, Manipulation is not chiro. Health professionals do it, too (e.g., DOs, PTs). Considering that chiros cause the occasional stroke, whereas PTs do not, it seems the professionals do it better.

    Chiro is finding and adjusting subluxations. That is akin to finding and collecting faeries.

  97. zager says:

    @Joe

    Read the article. They use “chiropractic adjustment” (of the neck), and they measure a change in long-loop reflex facilitation. In the discussion they explain how the results could explain the known therapeutic effects. There is more work to be done, but this is cutting edge science for the moment. Also, see the literature they are citing, as there are some important findings leading to this study.

    PTs and Chiros are a good comparison, as their education is similar. Then, some PTs learn and practice the short, high-speed manipulations that chiropractors specialize in, and chiropractors do learn mainstream PT modalities.

    Some chropractors apply several PT modalities to a patient and finish with the three-minute adjustment routine. But, I knew a couple chiropractors that only did adjustments (x-rays and full-consult only required by law for accident victims and new patients). One did over 300 adjustments / week (and I think you can find this type of practitioner all over). While PTs might be excellent with “joint mobilization”, you won’t find one with near the “adjusting” skills of of a chiropractor who does 10- to 15,000 adjustments / year.

  98. Joe says:

    @Zager,

    The full text is not available to me. I did notice that the abstract refers to cervical “manipulation,” not “chiro adjustment.” Moreover, there is no mention of subluxation, which is chiro’s only distinguishing feature (aside from Innate Intelligence, which tends to be an embarrassment today).

    PTs and chiros are not a good comparison because PTs learn evidence-based medicine, whereas chiros learn faerie tales about subluxations. PTs graduate with real clinical experience, whereas chiros practice on their healthy young friends. When it comes to cervical manipulation, PTs do not cause strokes because they are better educated in patient selection and performance of the procedure.

    You may be right about one thing- according to the abstract the study was neither randomized nor blinded, and only had 24 subjects. That may represent the state-of-the-art for chiros.

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