Aussies 1, Chiros 0

Bad Astronomy
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Oct. 25 2009 10:43 AM

Aussies 1, Chiros 0

A couple of weeks ago, a chiropractor lodged a complaint with the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) against the Australian Skeptics. Why? Because they had reprinted journalist Simon Singh's article about chiropractic, which said that in the UK they were making bogus claims about how chiropractic can cure all manners of ills such as asthma and colic in babies, when it's been shown it cannot.

Got that? This chiropractor, Joseph Ierano, complained against them because of someone else's article! Brilliant.

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Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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The good news is that the HCCC just told the Skeptics they have dismissed the complaint. I'd love to report that, amidst howls of laughter, they said that Ierano's complaint has no merit, his arguments were totally wrong, and not only has chiropractic been shown in many studies to have no efficacy against diseases like colic and asthma, it in fact can be a very dangerous practice.

Instead, however, it was dismissed because the Australian Skeptics group is not a health care provider, and is therefore not in the jurisdiction of the HCCC. So it was a technicality. That's still good news, since the AS is not in any trouble, but as they say in that link above, they wish this could've been used by the HCCC as a larger scale means to investigate and publicly discuss the inefficacy of chiropractic in these cases. Too bad.

There is still a lot of publicity coming from this whole thing, since the British Chiropractic Association sued Simon Singh for libel due to his original article, instead of simply providing evidence that their claims were not bogus (and when they finally did try to support chiropractic, their claims were woefully off-target). The blogosphere erupted with support for Singh, as did a lot of mainstream press soon thereafter. A very cynical eye indeed has been turned to the practice of chiropractic of late. It's long overdue.

From what I have read -- including studies done by doctors as discussed in such books as Trick or Treatment and Bad Science -- chiropractic's only claim for helping is that there is some marginal evidence it can relieve lower back problems, but that's it. It doesn't cure toothaches, or anything carried by germs, or really anything else (excluding the placebo effect, which can be provided in any of number of other ways that don't involve actual physical manipulation). And when the neck is manipulated, chiropractic can have serious side effects.

I am not a health care practitioner, but with what I know now, I would never go to a chiropractor. Some of them may understand the limitations of their practice, but clearly far too many do not. If you have some sort of health issue, go to your board-certified physician and ask them what they think of alternative practices, and ask them to be blunt.

We're talking about your life here, folks. Don't hand it over to someone who may not have a clear grasp of what their so-called alternative medicine can -- and cannot -- do.