Friday, 1 October 2010

Witch Doctors

Witch Doctor
Originally uploaded by Martin Barber
I’m getting to the stage where I can’t stay silent anymore when people talk to me about the latest miracle they encountered upon their interactions with witch doctors. Yes, witch doctors: you may have thought these were a relic of the ancient past, but we still have them amongst us today. Only that today we tend to refer to them as homeopaths, chiropractors or osteopaths. It's the new age, man.
I shall start with a disclaimer: I have been to a chiropractor myself, and I even raved about it on these very pages (here). Back then I was ignorant: I didn’t know what the difference between a physiotherapist and a chiropractor was, so I went and gave the chiropractor a chance. And you know what? There wasn’t much of a difference between what the chiro did to my back and what the physio did, so I didn’t have much of a reason to suspect foul play. However, since then I learned more about the philosophy behind chiropractors’ practices, and let me tell you this – it isn’t natural philosophy.
As the Wikipedia entry on the matter will tell you (here), chiropractic is a 19th century invention that is based on all sorts of weird hypothesis, none of which have been vindicated since. Personally, I would suspect none of them stand much chance of being vindicated at all, for the simple fact that they’re pretty much based on someone's wishful thinking. In my book I would call this bullshit. The question is, do you really want a professional practitioner in whim based speculations to mess around with your back, or whatever else they claim they can deal with? I’m not stretching the truth here; the main reason for this post was me stumbling upon the suggestion that a chiropractor should be able to sort a tonsil situation on a child so well as to prevent the need for surgically removing them. Yep, you read that right. In my book, there is no difference between making chiropractors making such a claim and some stone age witch doctor at a remote African village making similar promises.
Me, I would prefer to go with the tried and tested methodologies (emphasis on “tested”). Sure, the placebo effect is probably ramp with chiro treatments, and sure – as my own experience indicates – a chiro’s treatment is usually harmless. Yet what is the point of going to them instead of going to those that have been proven to be able to reliably make a difference?
Ultimately, the onus of proving their claims lies on each practitioner of any belief, be in chiropractic or religion. Conventional medicine is conventional because it takes measures to prove that its treatments make a difference, whereas alternative medicine feels itself superior to this lowly practice. Yet alternative medicine claims to be as effective if not more effective than conventional medicine; if that is the case, why do all alternative medicine practitioners shy away from properly run objective testing of their claims? Is it that they know their practice lacks foundation?
Sadly, official Australian medical policies do not make the distinction between conventional medicine and alternative witch medicine. Australian private health funds, institutions receiving billions of tax payers dollars each year, will support and refund people using the “services” of witch doctors. By doing so they’re only legitimizing these institutions for the Average Joe that is ignorant about such matters and just wants to feel better, the way I was only a few years ago.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Good points to add to the discussion.