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).

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Will FSU school improve image of chiropractic?

Will FSU school improve image of chiropractic?

By MARTIN DYCKMAN, Times Columnist
Published January 9, 2005

TALLAHASSEE - Apart from their football programs, public colleges seldom suffer from such an embarrassment of riches as Florida State University has on its hands.

Our otherwise tightfisted Legislature gifted FSU with $9-million a year to set up the nation's first state university school of chiropractic and seems eager to spend more millions to run it.

But some present faculty, including that of the new school of medicine, are aghast at the prospect. It's as if FSU were to teach astrology, they say.

Among people who aren't its patients, the stereotypical impression of chiropractic often echoes H.L. Mencken's opinion. Chiropractic, he wrote in 1924, "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 double damned."

Osteopathic medicine, though universally recognized today, was once as controversial as chiropractic.

Whatever they might think of chiropractic itself, FSU's top administrators don't want trouble with the legislators who have been promoting the school. Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville, is no longer the Senate president, and Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Treasure Island, is no longer the majority leader, but they still have influence. If FSU rejected the school, said King, "I think the Legislature would be angry."

"I thought we had academic freedom," says Jones, who is a chiropractor. "Why would a biology teacher care whether a student is going to be a chiropractor?"

If anybody in authority looks the gift horse in the mouth, it is less likely to be the FSU Board of Trustees, who meet Friday, than the Florida Board of Governors, which takes up the plan a week later.

There are also constitutional problems involving the belated nature of the Board of Governors' assertion of authority, but in practical terms it may indeed be too late to stop it. The Legislature openly voted planning money five years ago and the old Board of Regents happily accepted a $1-million matching grant from Jones' alma mater for a chair in biomechanics.

The remaining question would be whether FSU could teach chiropractic with the dignity befitting a reputable research university or whether it would become the Rodney Dangerfield of academia.

I need to disclose here that I am an alumnus of FSU, where my wife and our two sons are students, so we have a vested interest in its reputation.

That was on my mind when I asked Sandy D'Alemberte, the former president, how FSU could justify a chiropractic school.

His answer: Osteopathic medicine, though universally recognized today, was once as controversial as chiropractic, and as ostracized by the allopathic physicians, the M.D.s. Association with a major university could help chiropractic improve itself.

Some contend it is already on the path. FSU's feasibility study, by MGT of America Inc. - the same consultants who justified a medical school for FSU - cited evidence that chiropractic is as effective as other forms of medicine for back and neck pain and some headaches. As Jones points out, chiropractors practice in the military and at veterans' hospitals and are recognized by Medicare. If some chiropractors are quacks, others, Jones included, are welcomed on hospital boards of trustees. Some share practices with M.D.s.

But Florida's chiropractic practice act doesn't restrict chiropractors to doing what they do best; it still implicitly allows spinal manipulation as a therapy for any disease, including diabetes and cancer.

FSU's curriculum would not. Provost Larry Abele said it would "focus pretty much on skeletomuscular aspects of the back, neck and extremities. . . . We would legitimately indicate that these are our areas of expertise, and that if a student wanted training in those other areas they should not come to Florida State."

Moreover, they would have to earn concurrent master's degrees in one of five recognized fields: aging studies, food and nutrition, movement science, health policy research and public health.

That's reassuring. But as Abele conceded, the restricted chiropractic curriculum could be a problem with the Council on Chiropractic Education. Without its accreditation, graduates couldn't practice.

Without the reservations, maybe they shouldn't.