Most chiropractors claim that their manipulations prevent illness, not just spinal but also non-spinal conditions. But is there any sound evidence for that assumption? A team of chiropractic researchers wanted to find out. Specifically, the objective of their systematic review was to investigate if there is any evidence that spinal manipulations/chiropractic care can be used in primary prevention (PP) and/or early secondary prevention in diseases other than musculoskeletal conditions.
Of the 13.099 titles scrutinized by the authors, 13 articles were included. These were
- 8 clinical studies,
- 5 population studies.
These studies dealt with various issues such as
- diastolic blood pressure,
- blood test immunological markers,
- and mortality.
Only two clinical studies could be used for data synthesis. None showed any effect of spinal manipulation/chiropractic treatment.
The authors’ conclusions were straight forward: we found no evidence in the literature of an effect of chiropractic treatment in the scope of PP or early secondary prevention for disease in general. Chiropractors have to assume their role as evidence-based clinicians and the leaders of the profession must accept that it is harmful to the profession to imply a public health importance in relation to the prevention of such diseases through manipulative therapy/chiropractic treatment.
Many chiropractors have adopted the ‘dental model’ in their practice, proposing to prevent all sorts of conditions through treatment of spinal subluxations before symptoms arise. Some call this approach ‘maintenance care’ and liken it to the need for servicing a car. They tell their patients that regular consultations will prevent problems in the future. It seems obvious that this can be a nice little earner. In 2009, I reviewed the evidence on chiropractic maintenance treatment. Here is the abstract:
Most chiropractors advise patients to have regular maintenance treatments with spinal manipulation, even in the absence of any symptoms or diseases. This article evaluates the evidence for or against this approach. No compelling evidence was found to indicate that chiropractic maintenance therapy effectively prevents symptoms or diseases. As spinal manipulation has repeatedly been associated with considerable harm, the risk benefit balance of chiropractic maintenance care is not demonstrably positive. Therefore there are no good reasons to recommend it.
The new review confirms that this approach is useful only for filling the pockets of chiropractors.
The inevitable question arises: WHEN WILL CHIROPRACTORS STOP MISLEADING THE PUBLIC FOR THEIR PERSONAL GAIN?
On their website, the UK ‘ROYAL COLLEGE OF CHIROPRACTORS (RCC) published a short statement regarding the safety of chiropractic. Here it is in full:
Experiencing mild or moderate adverse effects after manual therapy, such as soreness or stiffness, is relatively common, affecting up to 50% of patients. However, such ‘benign effects’ are a normal outcome and are not unique to chiropractic care.
Cases of serious adverse events, including spinal or neurological problems and strokes caused by damage to arteries in the neck, have been associated with spinal manipulation. Such events are rare with estimates ranging from 1 per 2 million manipulations to 13 per 10,000 patients; furthermore, due to the nature of the underlying evidence in relation to such events (case reports, retrospective surveys and case-control studies), it is very difficult to confirm causation (Swait and Finch, 2017).
For example, while an association between stroke caused by vertebral artery damage or ‘dissection’ (VAD) and chiropractor visits has been reported in a few case-control studies, the risk of stoke has been found to be similar after seeing a primary care physician (medical doctor). Because patients with VAD commonly present with neck pain, it is possible they seek therapy for this symptom from a range of practitioners, including chiropractors, and that the VAD has occurred spontaneously, or from some other cause, beforehand (Biller et al, 2014). This highlights the importance of ensuring careful screening for known neck artery stroke risk factors, or signs or symptoms that there is an ongoing problem, is performed prior to manual treatment of patients (Swait and Finch, 2017). Chiropractors are well trained to do this on a routine basis, and to urgently refer patients if necessary.
END OF QUOTE
The statement reads well but it might not be entirely free from conflicts of interest. Yet, in the name of accuracy, completeness and truthfulness, I take the liberty of making a few slight alterations. Here is my revised version:
Experiencing mild or moderate adverse effects after chiropractic spinal manipulations, such as pain or stiffness (usually lasting 1-3 days and strong enough to impair patients’ quality of life), is very common. In fact, it affects around 50% of all patients.
Cases of serious adverse events, including spinal or neurological problems and strokes often caused by damage to arteries in the neck, have been reported after spinal manipulation. Such events are probably not frequent (several hundred are on record including about 100 fatalities). But, as we have never established proper surveillance systems, nobody can tell how often they occur. Furthermore, due to our reluctance of introducing such surveillance, some of us are able to question causality.
An association between stroke caused by vertebral artery damage or ‘dissection’ (VAD) and chiropractic spinal manipulation has been reported in about 20 independent investigations. Yet one much-criticised case-control study found the risk of stoke to be similar after seeing a primary care physician (medical doctor). Because patients with VAD commonly have neck pain, it is possible they seek therapy for this symptom from chiropractors, and that the VAD has occurred spontaneously, or from some other cause, beforehand (Biller et al, 2014). Ensuring careful screening for known neck artery stroke risk factors, or signs that there is an ongoing problem would therefore be important (Swait and Finch, 2017). Sadly, no reliable screening tests exist, and neck pain (the symptom that might be indicative of VAD) continues to be one of the conditions most frequently treated by chiropractors.
I do not expect the RCC to adopt my improved version. In case I am wrong, let me state this: I am entirely free of conflicts of interest and will not charge a fee for my revision. In the interest of advancing public health, I herewith offer it for free.
The Spanish Ministries of Health and Sciences have announced their ‘Health Protection Plan against Pseudotherapies’. Very wisely, they have included chiropractic under this umbrella. To a large degree, this is the result of Spanish sceptics pointing out that alternative therapies are a danger to public health, helped perhaps a tiny bit also by the publication of two of my books (see here and here) in Spanish. Unsurprisingly, such delelopments alarm Spanish chiropractors who fear for their livelihoods. A quickly-written statement of the AEQ (Spanish Chiropractic Association) is aimed at averting the blow. It makes the following 11 points (my comments are below):
1. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines chiropractic as a healthcare profession. It is independent of any other health profession and it is neither a therapy nor a pseudotherapy.
2. Chiropractic is statutorily recognised as a healthcare profession in many European countries including Portugal, France, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and the United Kingdom10, as well as in the USA, Canada and Australia, to name a few.
3. Chiropractic members of the AEQ undergo university-level training of at least 5 years full-time (300 ECTS points). Chiropractic training is offered within prestigious institutions such as the Medical Colleges of the University of Zurich and the University of Southern Denmark.
4. Chiropractors are spinal health care experts. Chiropractors practice evidence-based, patient-centred conservative interventions, which include spinal manipulation, exercise prescription, patient education and lifestyle advice.
5. The use of these interventions for the treatment of spine-related disorders is consistent with guidelines and is supported by high quality scientific evidence, including multiple systematic reviews undertaken by the prestigious Cochrane collaboration15, 16, 17.
6. The Global Burden of Disease study shows that spinal disorders are the leading cause of years lived with disability worldwide, exceeding depression, breast cancer and diabetes.
7. Interventions used by chiropractors are recommended in the 2018 Low Back Pain series of articles published in The Lancet and clinical practice guidelines from Denmark, Canada, the European Spine Journal, American College of Physicians and the Global Spine Care Initiative.
8. The AEQ supports and promotes scientific research, providing funding and resources for the development of high quality research in collaboration with institutions of high repute, such as Fundación Jiménez Díaz and the University of Alcalá de Henares.
9. The AEQ strenuously promotes among its members the practice of evidence-based, patient-centred care, consistent with a biopsychosocial model of health.
10. The AEQ demands the highest standards of practice and professional ethics, by implementing among its members the Quality Standard UNE-EN 16224 “Healthcare provision by chiropractors”, issued by the European Committee of Normalisation and ratified by AENOR.
11. The AEQ urges the Spanish Government to regulate chiropractic as a healthcare profession. Without such legislation, citizens of Spain cannot be assured that they are protected from unqualified practitioners and will continue to face legal uncertainties and barriers to access an essential, high-quality, evidence-based healthcare service.
END OF QUOTE
I think that some comments might be in order (they follow the numbering of the AEQ):
- The WHO is the last organisation I would consult for information on alternative medicine; during recent years, they have published mainly nonsense on this subject. How about asking the inventor of chiropractic? D.D. Palmer defined it as “a science of healing without drugs.” Chiropractors nowadays prefer to be defined as a profession which has the advantage that one cannot easily pin them down for doing mainly spinal manipulation; if one does, they indignantly respond “but we also use many other interventions, like life-style advice, for instance, and nobody can claim this to be nonsense” (see also point 4 below).
- Perfect use of a classical fallacy: appeal to authority.
- Appeal to authority, plus ignorance of the fact that teaching nonsense even at the highest level must result in nonsense.
- This is an ingenious mix of misleading arguments and lies: most chiros pride themselves of treating also non-spinal conditions. Very few interventions used by chiros are evidence-based. Exercise prescription, patient education and lifestyle advice are hardy typical for chiros and can all be obtained more authoratively from other healthcare professionals.
- Plenty of porkies here too. For instance, the AEQ cite three Cochrane reviews. The first concluded that high-quality evidence suggests that there is no clinically relevant difference between SMT and other interventions for reducing pain and improving function in patients with chronic low-back pain. The second stated that combined chiropractic interventions slightly improved pain and disability in the short term and pain in the medium term for acute/subacute LBP. However, there is currently no evidence that supports or refutes that these interventions provide a clinically meaningful difference for pain or disability in people with LBP when compared to other interventions. And the third concluded that, although support can be found for use of thoracic manipulation versus control for neck pain, function and QoL, results for cervical manipulation and mobilisation versus control are few and diverse. Publication bias cannot be ruled out. Research designed to protect against various biases is needed. Findings suggest that manipulation and mobilisation present similar results for every outcome at immediate/short/intermediate-term follow-up. Multiple cervical manipulation sessions may provide better pain relief and functional improvement than certain medications at immediate/intermediate/long-term follow-up. Since the risk of rare but serious adverse events for manipulation exists, further high-quality research focusing on mobilisation and comparing mobilisation or manipulation versus other treatment options is needed to guide clinicians in their optimal treatment choices. Hardly the positive endorsement implied by the AEQ!
- Yes, but that is not an argument for chiropractic; in fact, it’s another fallacy.
- Did they forget the many guidelines, institutions and articles that do NOT recommend chiropractic?
- I believe the cigarette industry also sponsors research; should we therefore all start smoking?
- I truly doubt that the AEQ strenuously promotes among its members the practice of evidence-based healthcare; if they did, they would have to discourage spinal manipulation!
- The ‘highest standards of practice and professional ethics’ are clearly not compatible with chiropractors’ use of spinal manipulation. In our recent book, we explained in full detail why this is so.
- An essential, high-quality, evidence-based healthcare service? Chiropractic is certainly not essential, rarely high-quality, and clearly not evidence-based.
Nice try AEQ.
But not good enough, I am afraid.
Many chiropractors tell new mothers that their child needs chiropractic adjustments because the birth is in their view a trauma for the new-born that causes subluxations of the baby’s spine. Without expert chiropractic intervention, they claim, the poor child risks serious developmental disorders.
This article (one of hundreds) explains it well: Birth trauma is often overlooked by doctors as the cause of chronic problems, and over time, as the child grows, it becomes a thought less considered. But the truth is that birth trauma is real, and the impact it can have on a mother or child needs to be addressed. Psychological therapy, physical therapy, chiropractic care, acupuncture, and other healing techniques should all be considered following an extremely difficult birth.
And another article makes it quite clear what intervention is required: Caesarian section or a delivery that required forceps or vacuum extraction procedures, in-utero constraint, an unusual presentation of the baby, and many more can cause an individual segment of the spine or a region to shift from its normal healthy alignment. This ‘shift’ in the spine is called a Subluxation, and it can happen immediately before, during, or after birth.
Thousands of advertisements try to persuade mothers to take their new-born babies to a chiropractor to get the problem sorted which chiropractors often call KISS (kinetic imbalance due to suboccipital strain-syndrome), caused by intrauterine-constraint or the traumas of birth.
This abundance of advertisements and promotional articles is in sharp contrast with the paucity of scientific evidence.
A review of 1993 concluded that birth trauma remains an underpublicized and, therefore, an undertreated problem. There is a need for further documentation and especially more studies directed toward prevention. In the meantime, manual treatment of birth trauma injuries to the neuromusculoskeletal system could be beneficial to many patients not now receiving such treatment, and it is well within the means of current practice in chiropractic and manual medicine.
A more critical assessment of … concluded that, given the absence of evidence of beneficial effects of spinal manipulation in infants and in view of its potential risks, manual therapy, chiropractic and osteopathy should not be used in infants with the kinetic imbalance due to suboccipital strain-syndrome, except within the context of randomised double-blind controlled trials.
So, what follows from all this?
How about this?
Chiropractors’ assumption of an obligatory birth trauma that causes subluxation and requires spinal adjustments is nothing more than a ploy by charlatans for filling their pockets with the cash of gullible parents.
A pain in the neck is just that: A PAIN IN THE NECK! Unfortunately, this symptom is both common and often difficult to treat. Chiropractors pride themselves of treating neck pain effectively. Yet, the evidence is at best thin, the costs are high and, as often-discussed, the risks might be considerable. Thus, any inexpensive, effective and safe alternative would be welcome.
This RCT tested two hypotheses:
1) that denneroll cervical traction (a very simple device for the rehabilitation of sagittal cervical alignment) will improve the sagittal alignment of the cervical spine.
2) that restoration of normal cervical sagittal alignment will improve both short and long-term outcomes in cervical myofascial pain syndrome patients.
The study included 120 (76 males) patients with chronic myofascial cervical pain syndrome (CMCPS) and defined cervical sagittal posture abnormalities. They were randomly assigned to the control or an intervention group. Both groups received the Integrated neuromuscular inhibition technique (INIT); additionally, the intervention group received the denneroll cervical traction device. Alignment outcomes included two measures of sagittal posture: cervical angle (CV), and shoulder angle (SH). Patient relevant outcome measures included: neck pain intensity (NRS), neck disability (NDI), pressure pain thresholds (PPT), cervical range of motion using the CROM. Measures were assessed at three intervals: baseline, 10 weeks, and 1 year after the 10 week follow up.
After 10 weeks of treatment, between group statistical analysis, showed equal improvements for both the intervention and control groups in NRS and NDI. However, at 10 weeks, there were significant differences between groups favouring the intervention group for PPT and all measures of CROM. Additionally, at 10 weeks the sagittal alignment variables showed significant differences favouring the intervention group for CV and SH indicating improved CSA. Importantly, at the 1-year follow-up, between group analysis identified a regression back to baseline values for the control group for the non-significant group differences (NRS and NDI) at the 10-week mark. Thus, all variables were significantly different between groups favouring the intervention group at 1-year follow up.
The authors concluded that the addition of the denneroll cervical orthotic to a multimodal program positively affected CMCPS outcomes at long term follow up. We speculate the improved sagittal cervical posture alignment outcomes contributed to our findings.
Yes, I know, this study is far from rigorous or conclusive. And the evidence for traction is largely negative. But the device has one huge advantage over chiropractic: it cannot cause much harm. The harm to the wallet is less than that of endless sessions chiropractors or other manual therapists (conceivably, a self-made cushion will have similar effects without any expense); and the chances that patients suffer a stroke are close to zero.
The over-use of X-ray diagnostics by chiropractors has long been a concern (see for instance here,and here). As there is a paucity of reliable research on this issue, this new review is more than welcome.
It aimed to summarise the current evidence for the use of spinal X-ray in chiropractic practice, with consideration of the related risks and benefits. The authors, chiropractors from Australia and Canada who did a remarkable job in avoiding the term SUBLUXATION throughout the paper, showed that the proportion of patients receiving X-ray as a result of chiropractic consultation ranges from 8 to 84%. I find this range quite staggering and in need of an explanation.
The authors also stated that current evidence supports the use of spinal X-rays only in the diagnosis of trauma and spondyloarthropathy, and in the assessment of progressive spinal structural deformities such as adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. MRI is indicated to diagnose serious pathology such as cancer or infection, and to assess the need for surgical management in radiculopathy and spinal stenosis. Strong evidence demonstrates risks of imaging such as excessive radiation exposure, over-diagnosis, subsequent low-value investigation and treatment procedures, and increased costs. In most cases the potential benefits from routine imaging, including spinal X-rays, do not outweigh the potential harms. The authors state that the use of spinal X-rays should not be routinely performed in chiropractic practice, and should be guided by clinical guidelines and clinician judgement.
The problem, however, is that many chiropractors do not abide by those guidelines. The most recent data I am aware of suggests that only about half of them are even aware of radiographic guidelines for low back pain. The reasons given for obtaining spinal X-rays by chiropractors are varied and many are not supported by evidence of benefit. These include diagnosis of pathology or trauma; determination of treatment options; detection of contraindications to care; spinal biomechanical analysis; patient reassurance; and medicolegal reasons.
One may well ask why chiropractors over-use X-rays. The authors of the new paper provide the following explanations:
- lack of education,
- ownership of X-ray facilities,
- and preferred chiropractic technique modalities (i. e. treatment techniques which advocate the use of routine spinal X-rays to perform biomechanical analysis, direct appropriate treatment, and perform patient reassessment).
Crucially, the authors state that, based on the evidence, the use of X-ray imaging to diagnose benign spinal findings will not improve patient outcomes or safety. For care of non-specific back or neck pain, studies show no difference in treatment outcome when routine spinal X-rays have been used, compared to management without X-rays.
A common reason suggested by chiropractors for spinal X-ray imaging is to screen for anomalies or serious pathology that may contraindicate treatment that were otherwise unsuspected by the clinical presentation. While some cases of serious pathology, such as cancer and infection, may not initially present with definitive symptoms, X-ray assessment at this early stage of the disease process is also likely to be negative, and is not recommended as a screening tool.
The authors concluded that the use of spinal X-rays in chiropractic has been controversial, with benefits for the use of routine spinal X-rays being proposed by some elements of the profession. However, evidence of these postulated benefits is limited or non-existent. There is strong evidence to demonstrate potential harms associated with spinal X-rays including increased ionising radiation exposure, over-diagnosis, subsequent low-value investigation and treatment procedures, and increased unnecessary costs. Therefore, in the vast majority of cases who present to chiropractors, the potential benefit from spinal X-rays does not outweigh the potential harms. Spinal X-rays should not be performed as a routine part of chiropractic practice, and the decision to perform diagnostic imaging should be informed by evidence based clinical practice guidelines and clinician judgement.
So, if you consult a chiropractor – and I don’t quite see why you should – my advice would be not to agree to an X-ray.
On this blog, I have repeatedly discussed chiropractic research that, on closer examination, turns out to be some deplorable caricature of science. Today, I have another example of what I would call pseudo-research.
This RCT compared short-term treatment (12 weeks) versus long-term management (36 weeks) of back and neck related disability in older adults using spinal manipulative therapy (SMT) combined with supervised rehabilitative exercises (SRE).
Eligible participants were aged 65 and older with back and neck disability for more than 12 weeks. Co-primary outcomes were changes in Oswestry and Neck Disability Index after 36 weeks. An intention to treat approach used linear mixed-model analysis to detect between group differences. Secondary analyses included other self-reported outcomes, adverse events and objective functional measures.
A total of 182 participants were randomized. The short-term and long-term groups demonstrated significant improvements in back and neck disability after 36 weeks, with no difference between groups. The long-term management group experienced greater improvement in neck pain at week 36, self-efficacy at week 36 and 52, functional ability and balance.
The authors concluded that for older adults with chronic back and neck disability, extending management with SMT and SRE from 12 to 36 weeks did not result in any additional important reduction in disability.
What renders this paper particularly fascinating is the fact that its authors include some of the foremost researchers in (and most prominent proponents of) chiropractic today. I therefore find it interesting to critically consider the hypothesis on which this seemingly rigorous study is based.
As far as I can see, it essentially is this:
36 weeks of chiropractic therapy plus exercise leads to better results than 12 weeks of the same treatment.
I find this a most remarkable hypothesis.
Imagine any other form of treatment that is, like SMT, not solidly based on evidence of efficacy. Let’s use a new drug as an example, more precisely a drug for which there is no solid evidence for efficacy or safety. Now let’s assume that the company marketing this drug publishes a trial based on the hypothesis that:
36 weeks of therapy with the new drug plus exercise leads to better results than 12 weeks of the same treatment.
Now let’s assume the authors affiliated with the drug manufacturer concluded from their findings that for patients with chronic back and neck disability, extending drug therapy plus exercise from 12 to 36 weeks did not result in any additional important reduction in disability.
WHAT DO YOU THINK SUCH A TRIAL CAN TELL US?
My answer is ‘next to nothing’.
I think, it merely tells us that
- daft hypotheses lead to daft research,
- even ‘top’ chiropractors have problems with critical thinking,
- SMT might not be the solution to neck and back related disability.
I REST MY CASE.
Chiropractic is a therapy that has been in search for an indication ever since it was invented some 120 years ago. So far, this search seems to have been unsuccessful.
Perhaps it could be promoted as a means of enhancing athletic performance?
That would be excellent news for chiropractic cash-flow!
The authors of this study wanted to analyse the acute effects of spinal manipulative therapy (SMT) on performance and autonomic modulation. A total of 37 male recreational athletes who had never received SMT were assigned to a sham (n = 19) or actual SMT group (n = 18). Study endpoints included autonomic modulation (heart rate variability), handgrip strength, jumping ability and cycling performance (8-minute time trial [TT]). Differences in custom effects between interventions were determined using magnitude-based inferences.
A significant and very likely lower value of a marker of sympathetic modulation, the stress score, was observed in response to actual compared to sham SMT (p = 0.007; effect size [ES] = -0.97). A trend towards a significant and likely lower sympathetic:parasympathetic ratio (p = 0.055; ES = -0.96) and a likely higher natural logarithm of the root-mean-square differences of successive heartbeat intervals ([LnRMSSD], p = 0.12; ES = 0.36) was also found with actual SMT. Moreover, a significantly lower mean power output was observed during the TT with actual compared with sham SMT (p = 0.035; ES = -0.28). Non-significant (p > 0.05) and unclear or likely trivial differences (ES < 0.2) were found for the rest of endpoints, including handgrip strength, heart rate during the TT, and jump loss thereafter.
A single pre-exercise SMT session induced an acute shift towards parasympathetic dominance and slightly impaired performance in recreational healthy athletes.
The search was unsuccessful yet again!
SMT impaired performance; this might not convince athletes to become fans of chiropractic.
What indication should the desperate chiros try next?
This study was aimed at evaluating group-level and individual-level change in health-related quality of life among persons with chronic low back pain or neck pain receiving chiropractic care in the United States.
A 3-month longitudinal study was conducted of 2,024 patients with chronic low back pain or neck pain receiving care from 125 chiropractic clinics at 6 locations throughout the US. Ninety-one percent of the sample completed the baseline and 3-month follow-up survey (n = 1,835). Average age was 49, 74% females, and most of the sample had a college degree, were non-Hispanic White, worked full-time, and had an annual income of $60,000 or more. Group-level and individual-level changes on the Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System (PROMIS) v2.0 profile measure were evaluated: 6 multi-item scales (physical functioning, pain, fatigue, sleep disturbance, social health, emotional distress) and physical and mental health summary scores.
Within group t-tests indicated significant group-level change for all scores except for emotional distress, and these changes represented small improvements in health. From 13% (physical functioning) to 30% (PROMIS-29 Mental Health Summary Score) got better from baseline to 3 months later.
The authors concluded that chiropractic care was associated with significant group-level improvement in health-related quality of life over time, especially in pain. But only a minority of the individuals in the sample got significantly better (“responders”). This study suggests some benefits of chiropractic on functioning and well-being of patients with low back pain or neck pain.
These conclusions are worded carefully to avoid any statement of cause and effect. But I nevertheless feel that the authors strongly imply that chiropractic caused the observed outcomes. This is perhaps most obvious when they state that this study suggests some benefits of chiropractic on functioning and well-being of patients with low back pain or neck pain.
To me, it is obvious that this is wrong. The data are just as consistent with the opposite conclusion. There was no control group. It is therefore conceivable that the patients would have improved more and/or faster, if they had never consulted a chiropractor. The devil’s advocate therefore concludes this: the results of this study suggest that chiropractic has significant detrimental effects on functioning and well-being of patients with low back pain or neck pain.
Try to prove me wrong!
I am concerned that a leading journal (Spine) publishes such rubbish.
On 29 August, I published a post discussing a case report of a patient who had suffered multiple unilateral pre-retinal haemorrhages immediately following chiropractic neck manipulation suggesting that chiropractic spinal adjustments can not only affect the carotid artery, but also could lead to pre-retinal haemorrhages. Two days ago (over one month after my blog-post), the story was reported in the Daily Mail. They (originally) quoted me both in their on-line and print version as follows: “Edzard Ernst, an expert in alternative medicine, said chiropractic treatments were too dangerous and not sufficiently effective to be recommended for any condition.”
I think this is a statement that does not really relate well to the story. Crucially, it is a sentence that I do not identify with.
So, why did I say it?
The answer is simple: I didn’t!
What happened is this:
The ‘science correspondent’ of the Mail emailed me asking whether she could speak to me. I replied that I am currently in Brittany and that it would be better to send me questions which I promised to answer swiftly. She then send a press-release about the above-mentioned case report and asked for a quote. The paragraph I swiftly sent her read as follows:
“Chiropractors frequently manipulate patients’ neck in such a way that the joints are taken beyond their physiological range of motion. This can lead to all sorts of problems, sometimes even death. This new report suggests that chiropractic neck manipulations can also damage the eyes. As the ensuing problems tend to be temporary, it is likely that such eye-damage occurs often after chiropractic treatments. Chiropractic neck manipulations are not convincingly effective for any condition; as they can cause a lot of harm, their risk/benefit balance is clearly negative. In other words, we should not use or recommend them.”
The science correspondent thanked me and replied that my quote was too long and had to be shortened; would I be happy, she asked, with the following text:
“Edzard Ernst, an expert in the study of alternative medicine and former professor at the University of Exeter, said: ‘Chiropractors frequently manipulate patients’ neck in such a way that the joints are taken beyond their physiological range of motion.
‘The ensuing problems tend to be temporary but it is likely that this kind of eye damage occurs often after chiropractic treatments.
‘Chiropractic neck manipulations are not convincingly effective for any condition as they can cause a lot of harm. Therefore we should not use or recommend them.’ ”
I made a slight alteration (exchanging ‘the ensuing problems’ for ‘the ensuing eye-problems’) and replied that this was fine by me.
When I saw what was eventually published (the nonsense printed in bold above), I was baffled and irritated. Therefore I instantly complained to the science correspondent. She apologised saying that my quote had been “paraphrased from [my] full quote, probably for reasons of space during the production process”. She also changed the quote in the on-line version to what it says currently.
I replied: “of course, I accept your apology personal, as I knew it was not your doing. nevertheless, I find it totally unacceptable that someone at the DM can just go ahead and change direct quotes. you say he/she paraphrased me; I disagree! the published sentence has an entirely different meaning. this is not journalism! I want an apology from the person who is responsible.”
The science correspondent then promised to take care of it; but, so far, nothing has happened.
One could easily view this episode as trivial. However, I believe that decent journalism should stick to the rules. And one of the most fundamental one is that journalists cannot put words into people’s mouths just because it fits their story-line (Boris Johnson did this when he was a journalist, and look what a formidable mess he is now creating!). If we let journalists get away with such behaviour, we cannot have trust in journalism. And if we cannot trust journalism, it has lost its purpose.
So, should I continue insisting on an adequate apology from the person responsible or not?
What do you think?