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Going Viral

September 28th, 2009

I’ve been seeing a chiropractor for the past couple of years due to chronic back problems, and despite my initial skepticism, I generally have felt pretty good about it. While I’m by no means free of discomfort, I haven’t had the twisted spine or crippling spasms that once plagued me.

Last Friday I went in for my monthly visit and, while sitting in the waiting area, noticed a flyer sitting out amongst the magazines. “The Truth About the Flu Shot” detailed surprising “facts”: that flu vaccinations had no significant effect on healthy babies, children with asthma, adults, the elderly or, one presumes, anyone at all. Among its suggestions of how to combat government-mandated vaccinations are to connect with other activist organizations (including ones that “support 2nd Amendment issues”) and to “have at least 3 weeks of food and water on hand.”

Troubled by such patently bogus information being left out in a healthcare professional’s office, I folded it into my pocket. Then I asked the “doctor” about it. To my dismay, I learned that he fully endorsed these false beliefs.

Okay, truth to tell, I wasn’t entirely surprised to learn this. I was initially hesitant to see a chiropractor for fear of quackery. (For what it’s worth, I’ve talked to my doctor and nurse practitioner about my concerns, and they both felt that spinal manipulation itself was okay.)

I told him that this was irresponsible, that he was spreading dangerous misinformation. He said that we’d have to “agree to disagree.”

Now, I know all about agreeing to disagree. This is what I tell angry viewers after two failed attempts to explain my workplace’s programming policies. If they continue to argue the same point, I agree to disagree and end the dialogue. But we had barely even begun to talk about my concerns.

He said we could debate it all day, to which I replied, “No, I can’t, because I don’t come armed with facts and figures to make my argument.” That’s not to say that I haven’t read up on the subject: for example, Time ran a lengthy article on the anti-vaccination movement last year. It’s just that, as is the case when I go up to visit my dad, I can’t prepare in advance for a debate that I don’t know I’m going to have.

I told him my chief objection to those who don’t vaccinate their children: I have a wife who, thanks to a congenital heart defect, has a weakened immune system. As the Time article points out, the more unvaccinated people there are in a population, the greater the risk for those who are more susceptible to disease. (More about that and other aspects of the anti-vaccination movement here.)

His response was “If the vaccine works, you’ve got nothing to worry about.” (Not true; see above.) I said, “If the vaccine works, you’re trying to discourage people from getting it.”

I said that I was disappointed that a medical professional would disseminate such misinformation, to which he replied, “I’m not a medical professional.” That’s funny, because on his very own web site (which I will not link to, as it’s not my intention to impugn his reputation), he states:

Actually chiropractic physicians receive four academic years of schooling, just like medical physicians. The chiropractic curriculum includes the same basic sciences that medical doctors take. Medical school curricula are remarkably similar, especially in the first three years. Courses like biochemistry, anatomy, physiology, neurology, endocrinology, histology, embryology, pathology, microbiology, pharmacology, myology, hematology, angiology, osteology are part of the chiropractic curriculum.

Huh.

In any case, he’s someone to whom people go when they have health-related issues. I expect that would engender a certain amount of trust on the part of his clients when it comes to such subjects.

We went back and forth for a bit. I argued that if there’s consensus among the medical community (which there is when it comes to vaccines) that it’s probably right. He countered that there’s a lot of money riding on getting people vaccinated. (As opposed to any other type of medical treatment, which, as we all know, is provided free of charge.) I told him that the “vaccines cause autism” claim had been thoroughly debunked. He shot back, in true Argument Clinic fashion, “No, it hasn’t.”

He offered that if I was offended, he would understand if I just left without completing the session, but I decided to stay. When my batty grandma was alive she used to declare, “I’ll never go there again!” every time she disagreed with someone at a place of business. I don’t want to be that grandma.

While I made another appointment for next month, I’m still debating whether to go back. This is an issue that ignites passion on my part, and it bugs me to support a willing disseminator of anti-scientific hogwash. Yet I genuinely like the guy, and I do actually think he’s done me some good.

If I do return, I’ll come prepared.

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