Chiropractic school out of alignment with taxpayer interestsJann Bellamy
Tallahassee Democrat - Letter - March 10, 2004
The Florida Legislature recently dug into the public's purse and pulled out $9 million to fund a school of chiropractic at Florida State University. That $9 million is only the beginning, as the school will need a building (up to $35 million) and annual funding.
FSU did not ask for a chiropractic school and does not want one, but dollars are dollars and FSU is reluctant to agitate the legislative leadership by complaining. The impetus behind the new school is Senate Majority Leader Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, a longtime chiropractor.
Other than that, there is no evident rationale for spending millions of taxpayers' money on this pet project. If there is a pressing need for more chiropractors (phone book listings suggest otherwise), that fact is not reported in the legislative analysis.
But who needs facts?
Sen. Jones has enjoyed the support of Senate President Jim King, R-Jacksonville, and Speaker of the House Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City, each of whom gets a research program named in honor of their parents in the same bill (CS/SB 2002).
The bill does not name the school after Sen. Jones, but the astute reader can spot a trend here. The legislation sailed through, or rather over, the committee process and landed on legislators' desks in the first week of session, where it passed with only one "nay." Gov. Jeb Bush is expected to sign it this week.
FSU is attempting to put a fig leaf of scientific respectability on its new acquisition by implementing a five-year program of chiropractic study and requiring a collateral master's degree in microbiology, nutrition, health policy or biomechanics. This is in contrast to the usual two years of college and two years of chiropractic school required to confer the "Doctor of Chiropractic" degree by the majority of the 16 private schools of chiropractic in the United States, none of which is affiliated with a public university.
In mixing scientists and chiropractors in the same program, FSU may have planted the seeds of the new school's demise.
Ever since Daniel David Palmer, a self-styled "magnetic healer" gave birth to chiropractic in 1895 by applying force to a protrusion on a janitor's back (which he claimed cured the man's hearing loss), spinal manipulation has been the chiropractor's standard treatment. (Florida law allows the use of manipulation to treat all but a handful of diseases.) Manipulation has its devotees among the public and many will swear that it "works." This is known in scientific research as "anecdotal" evidence, but for a medical treatment to be scientifically valid it must stand up under far more exacting examination.
While chiropractic employs the language of medicine - physician, diagnosis, subluxation, board certification, for example - at present the hard science behind chiropractic practice is between slim and nonexistent. This is partly because, as a consultant's report commissioned by FSU itself points out, chiropractors have never rigorously researched their methods.
Fortunately, others have stepped into the breach. The report, done by MGT of America, reviewed existing research and found no scientific evidence that chiropractic is effective in treating any but a very few conditions - certain types of back pain, headaches and neck pain - and even for those the results are mixed. A beneficial physiological response by the body to spinal manipulation is "largely speculative." The report flatly states that chiropractic care for children "remains controversial" and should be the subject of more study.
And therein lies the rub. Will the FSU microbiology student have to suspend his scientific knowledge when he walks across the hall to his class in chiropractic methods? How can the grad student in biomechanics believe chiropractic's claim that "malpositioned" vertebrae interfere with the transmission of nerve impulses between the brain and tissue cells, thereby causing disease, if her study of science tells her otherwise?
And what will happen if future research concludes chiropractic treatment isn't effective for treating disease at all? Will the FSU school of chiropractic simply close its doors after consuming tens of millions of the taxpayers' money?
No one publicly raised these issues in the rush to open a new chiropractic school. No one said, "wait a minute, shouldn't we make sure chiropractic 'medicine' is scientifically valid before we open a school to teach it?" Not the FSU administration, not the legislators, not the medical and scientific community (which knows better). Perhaps they all need to have their spines adjusted. The scientifically savvy Gov. Bush should stiffen his own backbone and refuse to sign this legislation.
Jann Bellamy is a private attorney in Tallahassee. Contact her at email@example.com.