by Mal Vickers
Hello all, this is the first post of a two-part series on my concerns about RMIT University and chiropractic. In this first post, I’ll mention some of the recent controversies in chiropractic. In the second post, I’ll write about my visit to RMIT Open Day and my attempt to ask an expert in chiropractic some questions about its practices.
For those that might be wondering – why do this? I’m a former RMIT student. RMIT’s association with pseudoscience, in my opinion, diminishes the greater and more worthwhile subjects such as engineering, arts, humanities and science-based academic courses offered in other departments of the University.
For a quick refresher on the sceptical and historical view of chiropractic you might try the Skeptics Dictionary entry.
RMIT claims the following:
RMIT is a leader in chiropractic tertiary education offering the world’s first government-supported chiropractic program.
RMIT offers undergraduate courses or you can go all the way and receive a PhD in Chiropractic. Indeed it does appear that RMIT is the leading institution educating chiropractors in the Australian.
Is chiropractic at RMIT really worthy of government (read: tax-payer’s dollars) support? Here is a list of recent concerns about chiropractic, some of which relate to RMIT’s involvement. There are many other worthy concerns about chiropractic but this is simply my current pick.
Recent Concern #1, The RMIT Chiropractic Paediatric Clinic
RMIT has been publicly criticised for opening a Chiropractic Paediatric Clinic, along with a public call from Loretta Marron for this clinic to be shut down. You may think that this doesn’t sound like much to complain about, the reason is:
There is zero scientific evidence that chiropractic is effective for any specific childhood condition.
It might otherwise be fine if RMIT were using the clinic 100% of the time for research studies. However, this is a clinic within the university campus, offering chiropractic as treatment in exchange for a scheduled fee. RMIT claims the clinic is
staffed by registered and experienced chiropractors.
[April 2011, Letter from RMIT Chancellor Dr Ziggy Switkovski to Loretta Marron]
The UK’s 2010 Bronfort Report, which sought evidence in favour of chiropractic, stated the following:
‘In children, the evidence is inconclusive regarding the effectiveness for otitis media and enuresis, and it is not effective for infantile colic and asthma when compared to sham manipulation.’
(The definition of otitis media is inflammation of the middle ear and enuresis is the inability to control urination or bedwetting).
Chiropractic treatment is not without risks, thus children are being treated with chiropractic ‘therapy’, without any conclusive evidence that the treatment being performed is effective. From a totally objective, mathematical, non-emotional risk/benefit point of view, if there’s no benefit from treatment the child only gets the risks associated with the treatment.
Recent Concern #2, The Association between Chiropractic and the Anti-Vaccination Lobby
In my opinion, vaccines a stand out as one of medical science’s greatest achievements. I can’t think of another branch of health care that has more effectively and safely reduced preventable disease and death.
Fair enough, people have the freedom to do whatever they want and associate with whomever they want, however it’s puzzling that so many chiropractors support Australia’s largest anti-vaccination group. Of the AVN’s published list of 198 professional members, 128 are chiropractors.
The NSW based Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) issued a public warning about the AVN.
Why so many chiropractors are associated with a group that’s promoting the anti-vaccine message, thereby undermining public health and safety, I’m not sure. Does this say something about the education standards of chiropractors?
It would be nice to hear from RMIT that a Chiropractic education included critical thinking, along with an understanding of the methods of objectively measuring health outcomes.
Recent Concern #3, Chiropractors Failure to Inform Patients of Associated Risks
In Australia, it’s an accepted principal that medical doctors inform patients of the risks associated with any treatment. Patients are entitled to be properly informed so that they can make their own choices.
In July 2011 a survey was published in the UK which tried to answer the question; how well are chiropractic patients informed? The results show that many chiropractors do not routinely inform their patients of the significant risks associated with neck manipulation.
There is published evidence that some patients have become confined to a wheelchair or have died as a result of this form of chiropractic treatment.
Whilst I’m not suggesting that Australian medical doctors flawlessly inform patients of the risks of any treatment, that doesn’t logically prevent me from asking for the same high standards from chiropractic.
Are Australian chiropractors informing patients of the significant risks associated with manipulation of the neck? Does RMIT educate its up-and-coming chiropractors to inform patients of the risks? These are questions I’ll try to have answered.
I’m also interested in the current understanding of chiropractic subluxation theory. The subluxation idea dates back to the founder of chiropractic in 1895 by a former grocer and magnetic healer D.D. Palmer. A subluxation is said to be a place within the body where bones impinge on the nervous system, supposedly leading to all manner of diseases. Over the years, chiropractors have suggested that one day, medical science will discover the truth about subluxations. However, despite huge advances in medical imaging techniques, the subluxation idea appears to be less likely related to anything scientific or physical.
In May 2010, the UK’s General Chiropractic Council made the following statement based on the latest scientific evidence:
The chiropractic vertebral subluxation complex is an historical concept but it remains a theoretical model. It is not supported by any clinical research evidence that would allow claims to be made that it is the cause of disease.
[Note, this GCC quote and the link to it has been changed since this article was first posted, see the comments below]
Better Health Channel Website
The Victorian Government Health Department hosts a website informing the public of various health treatment choices. There seems to be no distinction made on this site between practices that are effective and those that aren’t.
On this site you’ll also find some extraordinary claims made about chiropractic. Put your critical thinking skills to the test? The page on chiropractic can be found here.
That’s all for now! Coming soon in part two, we’ll gain some fascinating insights from my recent visit to RMIT Open Day.