Confessions of a Quackbuster

This blog deals with healthcare consumer protection, and is therefore about quackery, healthfraud, chiropractic, and other forms of so-Called "Alternative" Medicine (sCAM).

Monday, December 13, 2004

Question of Science (FSU chiropractic)

Tallahassee Democrat

Question of Science

Critics of FSU's chiropractic school point to a

By Melanie Yeager


A frenzy of e-mail exchanges. Conference calls and closed-door meetings. Petitions circulating through the Internet.

Criticism against Florida State University's planned chiropractic program has gained momentum in the last few weeks as Dr. Ray Bellamy, a longtime Tallahassee orthopedic surgeon, has quickly become the the loudest naysayer in town.

Calling chiropractic medicine "pseudoscience," Bellamy is telling all who will listen - FSU administrators, trustees, state officials - that the program needs to be stopped. And he's calling on fellow doctors and FSU faculty to join him.

But Provost Larry Abele, a scientist himself, said last week that FSU has no desire to proceed with any educational program not based in science. What FSU is proposing, he said, is a joint degree, part doctor of chiropractic degree and part master's degree in one of five areas: aging studies; food and nutrition; movement science; health policy; or public health.

"There are quacks. There is no question," Abele said of the chiropractic profession. "But it's incorrect to say all chiropractic is non-science and non-evidence based." And he said FSU wants to bring better scientific practices to a health service used annually by 15 million Americans.

Chiropractic doctors generally receive their training at 16 accredited chiropractic colleges providing four-year degrees for students who already have received a bachelor's degree. Some go on to get graduate degrees.

One such example, Partap Khalsa, a New York researcher in biomedical engineering, told the Democrat earlier this year that the profession has transformed into a more accepted health-care option. Many doctors regularly refer their patients to the chiropractor down the street for treatment of lower-back pain. The federal government now has millions to spend on research into chiropractic care.

But Bellamy still thinks most chiropractic care is based on "gobbledygook ... not one shred of science." He said it degrades FSU's entire scientific effort.

"It looks to me like the university's for sale here," Bellamy said. The Legislature, led by Senate President and FSU alum Jim King, gave FSU the authority to offer a chiropractic degree earlier this year and provided the university $9 million a year for its non-existent School of Chiropractic Medicine. FSU can use the money any way it sees fit until a school is operational.

Bellamy's primary beef is academic and personal, not financial. He's fearful that establishing a chiropractic school would devalue his FSU degree, the university's reputation and its medical school, where he teaches as an adjunct faculty member.

"I'm trying to avoid embarrassing FSU or threatening their funding, but it may not be possible," Bellamy said. "My sense is the only way we have of stopping this chiropractic school is getting the public educated."

At first glance, whether FSU has a chiropractic school may seem strictly a question of academics. Should a first-class research university create a program for a profession that many say lacks scientific substance? But it's more than that. FSU's program has become ground zero for the political power struggle being played out among the Legislature, the statewide Board of Governors and the university's board of trustees.

The Board of Governors, which began in January 2003 thanks to a voter-approved constitutional amendment, says it has the power to approve or deny new professional-degree programs. Others argue that the Legislature, which holds the purse strings, can trump the work of the Board of Governors.

Gov. Jeb Bush, who put a chiropractic school for FSU in his budget proposal earlier this year and ultimately signed the chiropractic legislation, thinks the school's fate rests with the Board of Governors that he appoints.

"If allowed to exercise all the power that the Board of Governors has, it's a super-sized Board of Regents. It has significant powers," Bush said. The regents board was the last statewide panel overseeing public universities. It was abolished by lawmakers in 2001 in a sweeping overhaul of education that created individual university boards of trustees instead. Voters added the new statewide panel starting in 2003.

The Board of Governors will hear FSU's presentation on its chiropractic program at its Jan. 27 meeting in Gainesville.

Meanwhile, Bellamy's fervent one-man campaign against a possible chiropractic school is picking up steam. He is prepared to take his case to FSU's board of trustees meeting Jan. 14. He's tapped into national experts who work against chiropractic education. He and Abele individually have met with the Capital Medical Society, which is currently polling its 500-plus physician membership on their opinions about a chiropractic school at FSU.

FSU's normal approval processes for new graduate programs also is under way. The Faculty Senate's Graduate Policy Committee takes up the administration's chiropractic program proposal at a Jan. 10 meeting.

Bellamy's pleased with the results of his efforts thus far.

"Not one single major scientific contribution has been made by chiropractic in 100 years, about the dangers of high neck manipulation and so on, but all I ask is that the facts be given a chance," Bellamy said.