Switching on the radio on the morning of Buddha’s birthday, I heard a Hong Kong chiropractor arguing that members of his profession should be allowed to write workers’ sick-leave notes, as are doctors of science-based medicine, dentists and – since 2006 – practitioners of ‘Chinese’ medicine.
The status of ‘TCM’, as Chinese traditional folk healing tends to be known, is complicated in Hong Kong by the same political correctness that gives us a day off, with no sick-note required, to celebrate Siddartha’s miraculous entry into the world. The industry is also, being open to non-English speakers, part of a bigger struggle (recall Pierce Lam’s letter) between Anglophone Hong Kong and the vernacular-only population, who are essentially barred from respected and remunerative professions.
Although the forces of rationalism have had little choice but to give way to the superstition and quasi-science of acupuncture, herbalism and bone-setting, it would be a pity for Hong Kong to legitimize chiropractic, a pseudo-medicine founded by a man who claimed to have cured deafness through spinal manipulation. At the closest they come to doing anything beneficial, chiropractors duplicate the work of masseurs or basic physiotherapists, while no doubt charging more. But their philosophy is rooted in the same vital-energy/life force nonsense spouted by acupuncturists (‘chi’) and others. The magnificent skepdic.com spells it out, and there’s a lot more debunking out there.
As the extraordinary number of chiropractors in business suggests (small-town USA is infested with them), a fair number of people obviously think it works for them. As with most alternative medicine, and quite possibly some of the evidence-based version as well, you can’t argue with the placebo effect, and anecdotal testimony of how it did wonders for so-and-so spreads far and wide. Also, as believers in deranged piffle like colonic irrigation, ear candling, reflexology, colour therapy for your pet (HK$800), and all the rest never cease to point out, science doesn’t know everything (therefore supernatural remedies must work). On the supply side, chiropractic is an easy way for people to set themselves up as apparent medical professionals without getting serious scientific qualifications, and as a result has been named one of the most over-rated careers.
For conclusive proof that chiropractic is junk, we need look no further than the treatment prescribed for science writer Simon Singh. When he called chiropractors phonies in the UK, they used the country’s crazy libel laws to sue him for defamation. Can you imagine real doctors or dentists feeling a need to do that if you declared their work bogus? It tells you all you need to know.