The CAM world meets a new all time low this week – even by their own standards – as the New Zealand Chiropractors Association threaten the New Zealand Medical Journal with legal action for criticising their ideas and practice.
Time and again we see alternative therapists using the law to silence dissent, and to prevent discussion of their theories and practice: in the UK recently we have seen such tactics from the Society of Homeopaths, herbal therapists and vitamin pill entrepreneurs (several recent examples coming shortly) to name just a few.
While chiropractors struggle to manifest to their customers an air of academic rigour, their actions in this letter demonstrate more than anything else how little they understand the simple day to day business of academic journals, journal clubs, work in progress seminars and indeed the entirety of medicine: we take the piss out of each others ideas. We criticise them. We tear them apart, mercilessly. When we criticise survival stats, or the interpretation and analysis of data, make no mistake: we are accusing each other of killing patients unnecessarily. This is the bread and butter of academia and medicine. Only very occasionally does anyone take personal offense.
This is a system that has grown up because when ideas are criticised, defended and discussed, they come out refined, and better. That the NZCA Inc should send legal threats to a medical journal tells you almost everything you need to know about the differences between alternative medicine and what everyone else is engaged in.
As the editor of the NZMJ says in his robust response: "let’s hear your evidence not your legal muscle."
When I speak, as well as the lovely ragers, I also meet a lot of very sensible alternative therapists who keep themselves firmly within ethical and stylistic boundaries. As I have said before, unlike the campaigners who write letters to the Times demanding that they are banned – call it the pragmatism of a man who has seen clinical practice a little more recently - I am not entirely averse to a lot of these people plying their trade (and note please: I am disagreeing with Colquhoun and Ernst here, and they won’t hate me for it).
But the time has come for practitioners with any common sense to distance themselves rapidly from this kind of bullying behaviour, or watch their professions become a well-deserved mockery. Suing academic journals. FFS.