A friend of mine who had severe sciatica would visit a chiropractor doubled up with pain and then emerge walking upright. That chiropractor had dingy rooms in a busy, dirty street then but nowadays has swish purpose built offices in a pleasant part of town, so evidently had a lot of satisfied patients. However, my friend never asked the chiropractor to fix his ulcer or stop his 60 cigarettes a day habit, so did not test the claims of chiropractors that manipulating the spine can cure all sorts of ailments.
Simon Singh had said these sorts of claims were “bogus” and was sued by the British Chiropractic Association. They have now dropped the case – here are two pieces which convey a fair amount of glee over this result.
The great anti-chiropractorist of his day was H L Mencken, who saw the emergence of this alternative medicine and denounced it with vituperation whenever he could – see this article he wrote in 1924 for the Baltimore Evening Sun pouring skiploads of scorn over it. If the British Chiropractic Association reads this, they should realise they got off very lightly with Singh’s milder comments. With Mencken you get the impression of a man writing who is not afraid of lawyers and libel actions. You also get his heartless social Darwinism:-
This preposterous quackery flourishes lushIy in the back reaches of the Republic, and begins to conquer the less civilized folk of the big cities. As the old-time family doctor dies out in the country towns, with no competent successor willing to take over his dismal business, he is followed by some hearty blacksmith or ice-wagon driver, turned into a chiropractor in six months, often by correspondence. In Los Angeles the Damned, there are probably more chiropractors than actual physicians, and they are far more generally esteemed. Proceeding from the Ambassador Hotel to the heart of the town, along Wilshire boulevard, one passes scores of their gaudy signs; there are even chiropractic “hospitals.” The Mormons who pour in from the prairies and deserts, most of them ailing, patronize these “hospitals” copiously, and give to the chiropractic pathology the same high respect that they accord to the theology of the town sorcerers. That pathology is grounded upon the doctrine that all human ills are caused by pressure of misplaced vertebrae upon the nerves which come out of the spinal cord — in other words, that every disease is the result of a pinch. This, plainly enough, is buncombe. The chiropractic therapeutics rest upon the doctrine that the way to get rid of such pinches is to climb upon a table and submit to a heroic pummeling by a retired piano-mover. This, obviously, is buncombe doubly damned.
Today the backwoods swarm with chiropractors, and in most States they have been able to exert enough pressure on the rural politicians to get themselves licensed. [It is not altogether a matter of pressure. Large numbers of rustic legislators are themselves believers in chiropractic. So are many members of Congress.] Any lout with strong hands and arms is perfectly equipped to become a chiropractor. No education beyond the elements is necessary. The takings are often high, and so the profession has attracted thousands of recruits — retired baseball players, work-weary plumbers, truck-drivers, longshoremen, bogus dentists, dubious preachers, cashiered school superintendents. Now and then a quack of some other school — say homeopathy — plunges into it. Hundreds of promising students come from the intellectual ranks of hospital orderlies.
For all I know (or any orthodox pathologist seems to know) it may be true that certain malaises are caused by the pressure of vagrant vertebra upon the spinal nerves. And it may be true that a hearty ex-boilermaker, by a vigorous yanking and kneading, may be able to relieve that pressure. What is needed is a scientific inquiry into the matter, under rigid test conditions, by a committee of men learned in the architecture and plumbing of the body, and of a high and incorruptible sagacity. Let a thousand patients be selected, let a gang of selected chiropractors examine their backbones and determine what is the matter with them, and then let these diagnoses be checked up by the exact methods of scientific medicine. Then let the same chiropractors essay to cure the patients whose maladies have been determined. My guess is that the chiropractors’ errors in diagnosis will run to at least 95% and that their failures in treatment will push 99%. But I am willing to be convinced. . .
[I see that Max has got in first re Singh and the BackQuacks.]