Posted by Dennis » 5 Comments »
Here’s another post from my private archives, originally from the first of this year.
Wow. David Meadows (AKA the Rogue Classicist) has been on a roll lately, and one of his latest posts is right up my alley.
He’s started a new series of posts inspired by the Ontario Provincial report card designation “Level R” (R for remediation). One such publication he’s flagged for a remedial review of the past is the Wrightsville Beach Magazine for its piece on “knowledge of the spine.” He quotes the following passage as “one of those mind bogglers,” and boy is he ever right:
The actual profession of chiropractic as a distinct form of health care dates back to around 1895, although even the Greek physician Hippocrates (460-370 BC), known as the “father of medicine,” noted that one should “get knowledge of the spine, for this is the requisite of many diseases.” Herodotus, a contemporary of Hippocrates, gained some fame with his use of therapeutic exercises to cure diseases. When a patient was unable to perform these exercises, Herodotus would do the work with his hands, manipulating the spine, which reportedly led the philosopher Aristotle to register a criticism of his “tonic-free” approach that might well, then and now, have sent older men rushing to their nearest chiropractor.
“Herodotus,” Aristotle complained, “made old men young and thus prolonged their lives too greatly.”
Now, David opted out of researching the origins of the claim, but I don’t think much research is necessary. I’ll do the research as I write and guarantee I’ll find it a fraud.
Let’s get to it.
David noted that these ridiculous and unfounded statements appear on chiropractic websites. The earliest reference is easily found on Google Books in The Science of Chiropractic, by D.D.Palmer, the aptly-named founder of this bit of pseudo-science, and his opportunistic son B.J. They offer in this book a series of brief, laughable statements about the practice (beginning with “Chiropractic is a science.”), among which we find the following:
Four hundred years before Christ, Iccus and later Herodotus, applied bodily exercises and manipulations of the body to assist in restoring health.
One immediately recognizes that Herodotus is out of place, but what about Iccus? Good readers of Plato may recall Iccus of Tarentum, who is mentioned both in the Protagoras and in the Laws. He is remembered as a master athlete and trainer, part of whose regimen involved sexual abstinence, both from women and from boys. (The Greeks, after all, gave the world pederasty as well as philosophy.) In the Protagoras he is mentioned alongside a certain Herodicus, a contemporary of the speakers in Plato.
Herodicus and his predecessor Iccus, apparently emphasized diet and exercise to maintain the health of athletes under their direction. (Interestingly they are classified in the Protagoras as sophists using physical training to mask their true aims. I have little doubt that despite the woefully deluded among the chiropractic community, there are still many others who willfully deceive.) The point to be taken away is that they attended to the health of athletes by paying attention to diet and nutrition. Where is the evidence that they did any manipulation by hand?
But here we see the error: Palmer mistook (or his editor misprinted) Herodotus for Herodicus, and in their utter disregard for accuracy (as in their utter disregard for science), his followers have repeated and even added to the error in embarrassing and infuriating ways as noted above.
Another interesting tidbit: according to the Palmers’ own account, the name came from a patient whose daughter D.D. Palmer had previously healed of a life-threatening ankle sprain (?!) through the agency of magnets (?!). (Until now I’ve never felt the need to use an interrobang.) Anyway, this patient, the Rev. Samuel H. Weed, was receiving a realignment or some such nonsense and was asked by Palmer to suggest a name for this new “science and art”:
He simply translated the doctor’s description of it, “done by hand,” into Greek, and thus originated the name Chiropractic.
Mr. Weed, by receiving adjustments himself from Dr. D.D. Palmer and from his son B.J. Palmer, for various serious ailments, and observing closely the results of adjustments on many others, strongly endorses this most simple and efficient system and will hail the day when poisonous drug treatments, needless painful or torturous butchery, called surgery, is discarded and Chiropractic is universally adopted.
Now this brings me to the point of what I infelicitously called a tidbit a moment ago: chiropractic is not only a silly, unscientific, and dangerous surrogate for science-based medicine, it’s also a very poor translation that stands up badly beside a certain medical term that’s actually derived from Greek: “surgery.”
Chiropractic was supposed to be Greek for “done by hand,” and it was supposed to be justified by certain ancient analogs that don’t really exist (i.e., Iccus and Herodicus didn’t know anything about ‘subluxations’ or ‘alignments’). Instead we find that surgery (from Greek kheirourgia, χειρουργία, “done by hand,” from kheir “hand” + ergon “work”) was very real way back and still today.
And chiropractic? A fiction. A fraud. Like the story of Herodotus aligning spines.
Adherents of chiropractic are typical quacks who want to see themselves as David to the Goliath of medical science. They will happily grasp onto whatever traditional evidence they think might lend a shred of credibility. Yet they fail continually because of their own lack of respect for science and accuracy.