H.L. Mencken on Chiropractic
quackery flourishes lushly in the back reaches of the Republic, and begins to conquer the less civilized folk of the big cities.
As the oldtime family doctor dies out in the country towns, with no competent successor willing to take over his dismal business,
he is followed by some hearty blacksmith or ice-wagon driver, turned into a chiropractor in six months, often by correspondence.
In Los Angeles the Damned there are
probably more chiropractors than actual physicians, and they are far more generally esteemed. Proceeding from the Ambassador
Hotel to the heart of the town, along Wilshire boulevard, one passes scores of their gaudy signs; there are even many chiropractic
"hospitals." The morons who pour in from the prairies and deserts, most of them ailing, patronize these "hospitals"
and give to the chiropractic pathology the same high respect that they accord to the theology of the town sorcerers. That
pathology is grounded upon the doctrine that all human ills are caused by the pressure of misplaced vertebra upon the nerves
which come out of the spinal cord-in other words, that every disease is the result of a pinch.
This, plainly enough, is buncombe. The chiropractic therapeutics rest upon the doctrine that the way to get rid of
such pinches is to climb upon a table and submit to a heroic pummeling by a retired piano-mover. This, obviously, is buncombe
Both doctrines were launched upon the world by an old quack named Andrew T. Still, the father of osteopathy.
For years the osteopaths merchanted them and made money at the trade. But as they grew opulent they grew ambitious, ie., they
began to study anatomy and physiology. The result was a gradual abandonment of Papa Still's ideas. The high-toned
of today is a sort of eclectic. He tries anything that promises to work, from tonsillectomy to the X-rays. With four years'
training behind him, he probably knows more anatomy than the average graduate of the Johns Hopkins Medical School, or at all events,
more osteology. Thus enlightened, he seldom has much to say about pinched nerves in
the back. But as he abandoned the Still
revelation it was seized by the chiropractors, led by another quack, one Palmer. This Palmer grabbed the pinched nerve nonsense
and began teaching it to ambitious farm-hands and out-at-elbow Baptist preachers in a few, easy lessons. Today the backwoods
swarm with chiropractors, and in most States they have been able to exert enough pressure on the rural politicians to get
themselves licensed. Any lout with strong hands and arms is perfectly equipped to become a chiropractor. No education beyond
the elements is necessary. The takings are often high, and so the profession has attracted thousands of recruits-retired baseball
players, work-weary plumbers, truck-drivers, longshoremen, bogus dentists, dubious preachers, cashiered school superintendents.
Now and then a quack of some other school-say homeopathy-plunges into it. Hundreds of promising students come from the intellectual
of hospital orderlies.
Such quackeries suck in the botched, and help them on to bliss eternal. When these botched
fall into the hands of competent medical men they are very likely to be patched up and turned loose upon the world, to beget
their kind. But massaged along the backbone to cure their lues, they quickly pass into the last stages, and so their pathogenic
heritage perishes with them. What is too often forgotten is that nature obviously intends the botched to die, and that every
interference with that benign process is full of dangers. That the labors of quacks tend to propagate epidemics and so menace
the lives of all of us, as is alleged by their medical opponents-this I doubt. The fact is that most infectious diseases of
any seriousness throw out such alarming symptoms and so quickly that no sane chiropractor is likely to monkey with them. Seeing
his patient breaking out in pustules, or choking, or falling into a stupor, he takes to the woods at once, and leaves the
business to the nearest medical man. His trade is mainly with ambulant patients; they must come to his studio for treatment.
Most of them have lingering diseases; they tour all the neighborhood doctors before they reach him. His treatment, being nonsensical,
is in accord with the divine plan. It is seldom, perhaps, that be actually kills a patient, but at all events he keeps many
a worthy soul from getting well.
The osteopaths, I fear, are finding this new competition serious and unpleasant.
As I have said, it was their Hippocrates, the late Dr. Still, who invented all of the thrusts, lunges, yanks, hooks and bounces
that the lowly chiropractors now employ with such vast effect, and for years the osteopaths had a monopoly of them But when
they began to grow scientific and ambitious their course of training was lengthened until it took in all sorts of tricks and
dodges borrowed from the regular doctors, or resurrection men, including the plucking of tonsils, adenoids and appendices,
the use of the stomach-pump, and even some of the legerdemain of psychiatry. They now harry their students furiously and turn
them out ready for anything from growing hair on a bald head to frying a patient with the x-rays. All this new striving, of
course, quickly brought its inevitable penalties. The osteopathic graduate, having sweated so long, was no longer willing
to take a case of delirium tremens for $2, and in consequence he lost patients. Worse, very few aspirants could make the long
grade. The essence of osteopathy itself could be grasped by any lively farm-hand or night watchman in a few weeks, but the
borrowed magic baffled him. Confronted by the phenomenon of gastrulation, or by the curious behavior of heart muscle, or by
any of the current theories of immunity, he commonly took refuge, like his brother of the orthodox faculty, in a gulp of laboratory
alcohol, or fled the premises altogether. Thus he was lost to osteopathic science, and the chiropractors took him in; nay,
they welcomed him. He was their meat. Borrowing that primitive part of osteopathy which was comprehensible to the meanest
understanding, they threw the rest overboard, at the same time denouncing it as a sorcery invented by the Medical Trust. Thus
they gathered in the garage mechanics, ash-men and decayed welter-weights, and the land began to fill with their graduates.
Now there is a chiropractor at every cross-roads.
I repeat that it eases and soothes me to see them so prosperous,
for they counteract the evil work of the so-called science of public hygiene, which now seeks to make imbeciles immortal.
If a man, being ill of a pus appendix, resorts to a shaved and fumigated longshoreman to have it disposed of, and submits
willingly to a treatment involving balancing him on McBurney's spot and playing on his vertebrae as on a concertina, then
I am willing, for one, to believe that he is badly wanted in Heaven. And if that same man, having achieved lawfully a lovely
babe, hires a blacksmith to cure its diphtheria by puffing its neck, then I do not resist the divine will that there shall
be one less radio fan later on. In such matters, I am convinced, the laws of nature are far better guides than the fiats and
machinations of medical busybodies. If the latter gentlemen had their way, death, save at the hands of hangmen, policemen
and other such legalized assassins, would be abolished altogether, and the present differential in favor of the enlightened
would disappear. I can't convince myself that that would work any good to the world. On the contrary, it seems to me that
the current coddling of the half-witted should be stopped before it goes too far -if, indeed, it has not gone too far already.
To that end nothing operates more cheaply and effectively than the prosperity of quacks. Every time a bottle of cancer oil
goes through the mails Homo americanus is improved to that extent. And every time a chiropractor spits on his hands and proceeds
to treat a gastric ulcer by stretching the backbone the same high end is achieved.
But chiropractic, of course, is
not perfect. It has superb potentialities, but only too often they are not converted into concrete cadavers. The hygienists
rescue many of its foreordained customers, and, turning them over to agents of the Medical Trust, maintained at the public
expense, get them cured. Moreover, chiropractic itself is not certainly fatal: even an Iowan with diabetes may survive its
embraces. Yet worse, I have a suspicion that it sometimes actually cures. For all I know (or any orthodox pathologist seems
to know) it may be true that certain malaises are caused by the pressure of vagrom vertebrae upon the spinal nerves. And it
may be true that a hearty ex-boilermaker, by a vigorous yanking and kneading, may be able to relieve that pressure. What is
needed is a scientific inquiry into the matter, under rigid test
conditions, by a committee of men learned in the architecture
and plumbing of the body, and of a high and incorruptible sagacity. Let a thousand patients be selected, let a gang of selected
chiropractors examine their backbones and deter mine what is the matter with them, and then let these diagnoses be checked
up by the exact methods of scientific medicine.
Then let the same chiropractors essay to cure the patients whose maladies
have been determined. My guess is that the chiropractors' errors in diagnosis will run to at least 95% and that their failures
in treatment will push 99%. But I am willing to be convinced.
Where is such a committee to be found? I undertake to
nominate it at ten minutes' notice. The land swarms with men competent in anatomy and pathology, and yet not engaged as doctors.
There are thousands of hospitals, with endless clinical material. I offer to supply the committee with cigars and music during
the test. I offer, further, to supply both the
committee and the chiropractors with sound wet goods. I offer, finally,
to give a bawdy banquet to the whole Medical Trust at the conclusion of the proceedings.
-- H.L. Mencken, Baltimore
Evening Sun, December 1924
A Catholic priest who devotes himself to seismology or some other such safe science
may become a competent technician and hence a useful man, but it is ridiculous to call him a scientist so long as he still
believes in the virgin birth, the atonement or transubstantiation. It is, to be sure, possible to imagine any of these dogmas
being true, but only at the cost of heaving all science overboard as rubbish. The priest's reasons for believing in them is
not only not scientific; it is violently anti-scientific. Here he is exactly on all fours with a believer in fortune-telling,
Christian Science or chiropractic.
-- Minority Report: H.L. Mencken's Notebooks
Out Legislative process
The legislature, like the executive, has ceased to be even the creature of the
people: it is the creature of pressure groups, and most of them, it must be manifest, are of dubious wisdom and even more
dubious honesty. Laws are no longer made by a rational process of public discussion; they are made by a process of blackmail
and intimidation, and they are executed in the same manner. The typical lawmaker of today is a man wholly devoid of principle-a
mere counter in a grotesque and knavish game. If the right pressure could be applied to him he would be cheerfully in favor
of chiropractic, astrology or cannibalism.
-- H.L. Mencken, "The Library," The American Mercury, May 1930, p. 123
What has changed today is that for example the Pharmaceutical industry has more
lobbyist than there are Congressmen, and that government listens to those who pay for their elections much more than they
consider the needs of the people, (except in that perverse way of pretending to doing something for the people, while in fact
they are passing legislation designed by and approved by big business)--jk.
comprehensive critique of chiropractic's lack of scientific validity was published by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of the Province of Quebec in 1963 and remains relevant today. It stated:
claim that subluxations, or partial displacements, of the vertebrae cause a perturbation of the distribution of nervous impulses
to tissues and cells. Neurophysiologists have developed methods of recording the passage of impulses in nerves. Exceptionally
sensitive apparatus is available to anyone wishing to use it. No scientific study has ever been published on the subject by
a chiropractor. No chiropractor ever defined, either quantitatively or qualitatively, what chiropractic means by perturbation
of nervous impulses. Is it their number, their amplitude, their frequency, or their wave patterns which are affected? All
of these qualities can be identified, recorded, and studied. It is no longer permissible to accept empirical statements. Proof
should have preceded practical application. With the first point untenable, the rest crumbles .
1973, Yale University anatomist Edmund Crelin, Ph.D., demonstrated that subluxations severe
enough to impinge upon the nerves exiting through openings between the spinal bones were impossible to produce without total
disablement . He subsequently observed that instead of the scientific response of attempting to reproduce his research,
the ACA simply declared that his work was invalid because it was done on cadavers . In fact, Crelin states, the absence
of a reflex response in a dead body should make subluxations easier to produce. Faced with this evidence, a true-believing
chiropractor once remarked to me that the reason Crelin had failed to demonstrate the chiropractic hypothesis was that he
worked with cadavers in which Innate Life Force was no longer present!
excuse chiropractors employed for years for the lack of scientific evidence for their theory was that the government wouldn't
provide the necessary research funding. The falsity of this claim was exposed in 1972, when the International Chiropractic
Association reported that the federal government had approved a grant for Chung Ha Suh, Ph.D., at the University of Colorado,
to develop a method for measuring spinal configurations to determine the existence of chiropractic subluxations and that the
grant application was the first in chiropractic's history .
Haldeman, D.C., M.Sc., Ph.D., M.D., a third-generation chiropractor whose personal commitment to validating chiropractic led
him to obtain a medical degree and advanced degrees in neurophysiology, has criticized the attempts of Suh and others "to
find more accurate ways of measuring a subluxation in the absence of any solid data that the subluxation is worth measuring."
 Although providing chiropractic public relations personnel with fodder for a decade, Suh's work on the illusive subluxation
never got anywhere and now seems fruitless at best.
1973, Stephen Barrett, M.D., sent a healthy four-year-old girl to five chiropractors for a"'check up.'"The first said the
child's shoulder blades were "out of place" and found "pinched nerves to her stomach and gall bladder." The second said the
child's pelvis was "twisted." The third said one hip was "elevated" and that spinal misalignments could cause "headaches,
nervousness, equilibrium or digestive problems" in the future. The fourth predicted "bad periods and rough childbirth" if
her "shorter left leg" were not treated. The fifth not only found hip and neck problems, but also "adjusted" them without
bothering to ask permission. Several years later, 11 chiropractors who examined two adult women had similarly inconsistent
of Physicians and Surgeons of the Province
of Quebec. The scientific brief against chiropractic. The New Physician, Sept 1966.
3. Crelin ES. A scientific test of the chiropractic theory: The first experimental study of the
basis of the theory demonstrates that it is erroneous. American Scientist 61:574-580, 1973.
4. Crelin ES. Chiropractic. In Stalker D, Glymour
C (editors). Examining Holistic Medicine. Amherst, NY:
Prometheus Books, 1989.
5. International Chiropractic Association. International
Review of Chiropractic, April 1972.
6. Haldeman S. The importance of research in the
principles and practice of chiropractic. Worldwide Report, Jan 1997.
7. Smith RL. At Your Own Risk: The Case Against Chiropractic. New York: Pocket Books, 1969.
8. Barrett S. The spine salesmen. In Barrett S
(editor). The New Health Robbers. Philadelphia: George F. Stickley Company, 1980.
Alternative medicine is like religion: faith, spurious claims, and damn the best reasoned