A chiropractor strikes back at the Institute for Science in Medicine

Every so often I come across a post by quacks or supporters of quackery that make me wish that we as skeptics and supporters of science-based medicine actually had the abilities and powers attributed to us. I mean, what’s the good of being accused of running a conspiracy to crush any sort of “unconventional” or “alternative” medicine if we don’t actually have the power to crush unconventional and alternative medicine? Then, sometimes, there are posts that make me really wish that my bloggy skeptic friends and the skeptic organizations to which I belong actually had the power to do the things we’re accused of. Sadly, we don’t. But a guy can fantasize can’t he?

Certainly, that’s what I was thinking when I came across a hilariously paranoid post by a a chiropractor calling himself J. C. Smith (JCS), who runs a website called Chiropractors for Fair Journalism. The post is about a policy institute to which I belong, the Institute for Science in Medicine, and refers to ISM as The Medical GoodFellas. Before I respond, please take note of this disclaimer. In this post, I am not speaking for ISM in any capacity. I do not speak for ISM, nor am I authorized to speak on behalf of ISM. As a snarky blogger, I speak for no one but myself, and that is enough.

The article starts with the typical canards laid down by chiropractors about how horrible the American Medical Association is and how it supposedly tried to shut down chiropractic (as though that were a bad thing), referring to the AMA as a “medical mob” and to Morris Fishbein, MD, former director of the AMA as a “longtime medical godfather” and the “medical Mussolini.” JCS then equates opposition to the pseudoscience and quackery that underlie chiropractic with “bigotry”:

His intolerant quasi-KKK attitude about all non-allopathic CAM professions set the tone for the Jim Crow, MD, bias we see in many members in the medical profession today.

Without question, the medical bigotry fomented by Fishbein’s medical mob mindset remains steadfast in some quarters and is quite possibly the last bastion of acceptable prejudice in America. Clearly the “n-word” is unacceptable today in our general society, and the “b-word” is certainly an epithet offensive to women, but the “q-word” is still openly used by many biased MDs even though it was found to be a baseless charge back in the 1970s.

Because calling quackery quackery is exactly like using the n-word to describe African-Americans or calling a woman a “bitch.” Leave it to quacks to mistake criticism of what they have chosen to do for a living with criticism of what they inherently are because they were born that way and had no choice in the matter. There is a difference. African-Americans can’t help being an African-American, and women can’t help being women, which is a major part of the reason why slurs based on their being African-American or a woman are slurs constituting bigotry. In marked contrast, a chiropractor chooses to be a chiropractor. To become a chiropractor requires making a conscious decision to go to a school of chiropractic, to study the system of quackery that is so much of chiropractic, and then to put out a shingle and practice chiropractic. Let’s put it this way: If I decided to become a homeopath, would it be “bigotry” to say that I’ve become a quack? No! It would be a statement of fact, and, as we all know from the tagline of this blog, a statement of fact can’t be insolent. It also can’t really be bigotry, either, when it is a statement about a conscious personal career choice. None of this stops JCS from referring to valid scientific criticisms of chiropractic as the power of prejudice:

Although it is politically incorrect nowadays to be racist, sexist, anti-Semitic or homophobic, I have never heard any news pundit speak out against chiropractors being called “quacks” by chauvinistic medical professionals. While you may not read it in articles once seen in the era of the Committee on Quackery, their “everybody knows chiropractic is an unscientific cult” belief remains a wink-wink attitude among medical bigots although, ironically, research shows that chiropractic care is superior to medical care for most spine-related disorders, a fact untold by the media and unknown by the public.

Never mind that chiropractic is unscientific. Never mind that there is no such thing as a subluxation. Never mind that it’s nonsense that chiropractic is superior to medical care for spinal disorders. At best, it can be equal to standard physical therapy. Besides, it’s not really spinal manipulation that is the problem with chiropractic. As I’ve said so many times before, chiropractors are physical therapists with delusions of grandeur. The delusion comes from the claims of so many chiropractors that they can treat more than just back pain. I’m referring to conditions such as allergies, asthma, and all manner of other diseases not related to the spine or the musculoskeletal system that chiropractors claim they can treat. Therein lies the quackery, and limiting privileges of chiropractors in medical centers practicing science-based medicine is not a bad thing, particularly given the chance of stroke from neck manipulation.

So let’s move on to the ISM, given that I have more than a bit of a stake in the success of this particular organization. The ISM is a policy institute, newly formed—embryonic, even—dedicated to supporting science-based medicine and opposing bad science and pseudoscience in medicine. It’s as simple as that. In other words, it’s an institute dedicated to standing up for the sorts of issues that Orac has been standing up for right here on this very blog for seven years. What’s not to like? Well, if you’re JCS, apparently the mission statement of ISM is very offensive because it explicitly states that the purpose of ISM is to stand up for science and against quackery. JCS’s response to the statement that ISM “relies on the qualifications, expertise, and understanding of medicine and science of all our Fellows to reliably inform public policy with objective facts and sound judgment” is this:

This mission statement is troubling on many levels. First of all, it is not the role of any medical mob to police other healthcare professions. Keep in mind there are no federal or state agencies working in conjunction with ISM. It alone acts like a bully who brandishes this war of words to defame all CAM professions by fear-mongering and slander.

Because, obviously, to chiropractors like JCS, reliably informing public policy with objective facts, science, and sound judgment is slanderous. What drivel! What nonsense! How typical! Slander generally involves knowingly making statements about someone that are false and defamatory. Opinions offered in good faith are not slander. Opinions that are supportable with science, evidence, and facts are not slander. Nor is it “bullying” to state a scientific viewpoint. If anything, it’s practitioners of “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM) modalities like chiropractic who tend to be the bullies. Remember the British Chiropractic Association sued Simon Singh for libel because he referred to chiropractors making “bogus” claims (which many of their claims arguably are). Fortunately, the BCA lost, and lost spectacularly. In any case, it’s usually the quacks who are the bullies, suing supporters of science-based medicine left and right who dare to criticize them too harshly. Examples are legion, and I’ve blogged about them many times before, including the case of Doctor’s Data suing Steve Barrett, Shayla McCallum and Dr. Thomas Lodi making legal threats against a blogging cancer patient, a quack named Andreas Moritz threatening to sue a blogger, Barbara Loe Fisher suing Paul Offit, Andrew Wakefield suing Brian Deer, Joseph Chikelue Obi legally threatening a blogger, and, of course, Marc Stephens threatening skeptical bloggers who criticized Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski.

The list goes on and on and on. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if JCS started making legal threats for my referring to chiropractic as quackery.

I must admit, I was a bit disappointed in JCS’s post. He mentions several skeptics, some of whom I know, such as Harriet Hall, Steve Salzberg, and Jann Bellamy. Hilariously, JCS gets something about Harriet Hall so completely wrong that I really do have to wonder where he got his information. First, he’s incensed that Harriet called the study of CAM “quackademia” on NPR on February 15, 2012. That’s not what’s wrong. I’m sure Harriet did do exactly that, and I heartily approve. I use the term “quackademic medicine” myself frequently, although I do try to give credit where credit is due and point out that I did not coin the term. Dr. R. W. Donnell did, as far as I have been able to tell. No, what JCS claimed was that Harriet was the spokesperson on Capital Hill during the “Obamacare” debate and demanded that only MDs be called doctors. I know Harriet. I also know that she has never testified before Congress (although I think it would be awesome if she were called to do so). I’d also disagree that only MDs should be called doctors. PhDs have every right to be called “doctor” as well.

In any case, what disappointed me is that I wasn’t mentioned at all in the post. Darn it, I spend seven and a half years discussing science, science-based medicine, and in general putting CAM, “integrative medicine,” and the antivaccine movement (as well as a lot of non-medical pseudoscience as well) into proper context, and I don’t even rate a mention?

Oh, well, JCS is promising part two. In the meantime, I can only wonder if maybe, just maybe, I should have resurrected the Hitler Zombie for JCS. Clearly his brain’s been chomped, given how he pulled a Godwin, quoting Adolf Hitler about the power of propaganda in the context of blaming the AMA for propaganda against chiropractors.

Maybe I should have done a Hitler Zombie piece, after all. Of course, on the other hand, JCS can’t seem to make up his mind whether ISM is a bunch of medical gangsters, Nazis, or just your run-of-the-mill bullies. He really is a very confused fellow. JCS’s confusion aside, I wish that we skeptics actually did have the power that people like JCS actually attribut to us. Alas, we do not. All we have is science, reason, facts, and our words. They will have to suffice.