A Meeting of Incompatibles

On October 3,4, 2007, a conference at Harvard University School of medicine, the first annual “Fascia Research Conference“ was held, sponsored by a notable group of organizations. Organized by Thomas Findley, MD, Phd, Prof. of Physical Medicine and physiatrist at Veterans Administration Hospital East Orange, New Jersey. It was notable for several reasons, and is of interest to medical objectivists – also for several other reasons. First, the conference was the first research conference devoted solely to the study of fascia (a type of connective tissue) – stated to be a forgotten tissue. Second, it included scientific subjects such as intra-cellular structure and stress changes in fascial cells, but also unscientific ones such as on acupuncture and “Rolfing.”

Sponsors included pseudoscientific occupational guilds with economic and political agendas that obviously could take advantage of their association with scientific presentations – even though no scientific association exists. Included were:
Rolf institute
Massage Therapy Association
AT Still Research Inst. (Osteopathic)
International Association of Structural Integrators (Structural Integration)
University of Ulm (Germany) Anesthesia Dept.
University of Westminster (UK) Veteran’s Biomed. Res. Inst. (East Orange NJ)
(Both universities and Institute where organizers work)
Elsevier (Publisher of “alternative” med journals)

A survey of their respective web sites shows a preoccupation with licensing and insurance payment eligibility.

Thirty-two supportive organizations included chiropractic, acupuncture, “bodywork,” massage, Cranio-sacral (osteopathic offshoot) therapy, alternative medicine institutes, chronic fatigue syndrome, and osteopathic organizations.

The conference was organized by physician scientists with one foot in alternative medicine methods, and another in medicine. Some hold academic positions through which pseudo-medicines and sectarian health systems may ally themselves and gain a tinge of respectability – in academic, clinical, and popular realms.

Some speakers’ subjects had little to nothing to do with the clinical and occupational associations. Using academic institutions as sites for conferences, a technique now used for several decades – is a legal and acceptable procedure, with a reputation advantage even when faced with institutional disclaimers of non-association. In this case, the conference was held at Harvard. Why? There was one PhD individual from Harvard – otherwise there was no specific reason, other than the association with a prestigious institution.

According to Dr. Findley, the congress has seven primary objectives: 1) To create a forum in which the most current research on fascia will be presented and critically evaluated, including basic science, clinical mechanistic research and research methodology; 2) To foster interdisciplinary, inter-institutional and international collaboration among scientists active in fascia research and clinicians whose methods may impact fascia; 3) To explore developments in research methodologies applicable to complementary therapy investigations; 4) To heighten professional awareness about advances in basic sciences and the importance of formulating hypotheses and testing CAM therapeutic mechanisms; 5) To publish a volume of conference proceedings in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies and generate articles published in internationally indexed journals; 6) To foster networking among attendees, both at the conference and afterward; and 7) To enable future researchers (students and postdoctoral trainees) to strengthen their motivation and interest in a career in fascia research.

The major problem here is that the “complementary” therapy methods of the sponsors and supporters and the presenters have little or nothing to do with fascia. The leaders of the organizations have simply proclaimed such relationships.

Compounding this confusion was a two page report in Science magazine that focused on the personalities and histories of the organizers and a few presenters, their difficulties in becoming recognized and in uniting their academic and their “alternative” interests. The article’s slant was sympathetic to the personalities and their academic plights. One researcher was described as having an epiphany experience when he saw the enthusiasm of the audience – which was filled with CAM supporters and practitioners.

The Science reporter was informed about the subterfuge of sectarian and off-beat medical organizations obtaining respect and legitimacy from association with a meeting constructed to emphasize science yet introduces the quasi-miraculous personal discoveries of devotees of medical sects. Yet no reference to that issue appeared.

One revelation experience is recorded below on the meeting’s web page : (

A reaction to the Fascia Research Congress from one of the principal speakers, Serge Gracovetsky PhD, Emeritus Professor, Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada…

“That conference was one of the most productive I have been involved with. I am not a clinician, but I knew that manual therapy was effective since I witnessed the benefits that my wife received from a chiropractic friend following a car accident. Why it worked was a mystery to me, and the absence of hard data in the literature (i.e. convincing blind studies with control group) did not help. Boston 2007 changed all that. On Thursday morning, the direct impact of stress at the cellular level, including the expression of DNA targeting the build up of muscle was coolly laid out in no uncertain terms. I was mesmerized by the movie of Dr. Guimberteau which instantly obsoleted all mathematical models of tissue biomechanics that I knew. That was the evidence I was looking for. The question is no longer whether manual therapy is an efficient alternate form of medicine. The data demonstrates that the therapy intervenes at a very primitive and fundamental level in our systems. It has to have a major effect. That was a total surprise to me.”

The testimony above is by a researcher in body mechanics at a major university.

Readers of the Science article will see one skeptical comment to the effect that science really does not work that way, forcing clinical observations into a scientific forum which is used to justify inaccurate observations by association. It works the other way, organically, in which clinical methods derive from scientific observations or from accurate and repeatable clinical phenomena.

But there was no mention of the subterfuge of pseudo medicines hiding behind the skirts of unrelated scientific findings. The producers plan future meetings.

Posted in: Medical Academia, Science and the Media

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