Dangerous faith-based mechanics

There are many confirmation biases and magical thinking tendencies that fuel testimonial and anecdotal evidence for the efficacy of woo, from acupuncture and chiropractic all the way up to the giant woo umbrella of “complementary and alternative” medicine (CAM) or “integrative” medicine.

But that’s not why these things are a threat to actual real scientific medicine (ARSM?).  The real danger is when CAM seems to get real results.

I don’t possess a great deal of knowledge about cars.  If I took my car to a faith healer, all the prayer in the world wouldn’t change the oil.  (I guess if I took it to a detox loon, their BS might actually apply in this case).  Clearly a complex system like a car is going to need some real work done eventually, or I’m going to notice it doesn’t work right any more.

But what if that car healer chose to learn and incorporate some actual, real mechanical repair and maintenance techniques into their practice?  They might not be ASE certified, sure, but they’d probably be able to do a passable job making my car work.  They can get real, even measurable results.

As an unsophisticated customer of this faith-based mechanic, I might drive away with a great testimonial about how my car’s chi was unblocked and its aura re-alignment took care of that weird noise in the passenger door.  At a minimum, each visit builds trust in my faith-canic, and their authoritative expertise in all things auto.

What’s the harm if he puts a homeopathic sealant on the tires and tells me they’re now good for another 20 thousand miles?  I have a horrible blow-out on the highway, but I’m OK; modern car safety features are extremely well-designed (by science)

This is obviously an absurd example, but I’m trying to illustrate the problem of false attribution in fields based on woo.

Massage, range of motion exercises, strength-building exercises, and mobilization of joints are all legitimate science-based techniques used by physical therapists and physicians with specialties in physiatry, orthopedics, and sports medicine. Some chiropractors also use similar techniques -and with good results. But by doing so and calling it “chiropractic” it legitimizes the pseudoscientific practices that are very common within the profession – like treating non-existent “subluxations” in order to free up the flow of innate intelligence.

Maybe your chiropractor is really a quite rational physical therapist simply operating without a license and has never done any harm.  You know your acupuncturist is really on the level, because transdermal electrical stimulation works wonders on your pain.

The problem, as with my mechanic above, comes when satisfied customers encourage a ground swell of support, and studies showing that (the scientifically sound part of) some woo is effective.  Increasingly, woo promulgators are not only allowed to practice without any kind of “surgeon general says you are stupid” warning, but taken seriously as a form of actual real scientific medicine.  Only leave off on the science a bit you stodgy old skeptic, because we get results!

Are you already a skeptic?  Cool; but I bet you know someone who is into chiropractic.  Please, warn them before this happens.  And if you think I’m picking on the chiros a bit much, it’s because they routinely perform actions, on purpose, that can massively damage important nervous system components, all in the name of healing.  And they may even be covered by your insurance already.

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