This item appeared in the "Editor's
The Textbook Letter, July-August 1995.
Harris does a good job of summarizing the pseudoscience that chiropractors preach, the imaginary "diagnoses" and therapeutic claims that they make, and some of the tricks that they use for inducing parents to buy chiropractic treatments for children. One common trick is to delude parents into believing that their child is suffering from scoliosis. Another is to tell parents that a child needs treatment because one of his legs is shorter than the other [see the note below].
Harris also describes some of the harm that chiropractors can do -- not only by directly injuring children's bodies but also by persuading parents to rely on worthless chiropractic treatments in place of effective medical procedures. For example, many chiropractors denounce vaccination, deny that vaccination can prevent infectious diseases, and offer to protect a child from such diseases by manipulating his bones!
Some chiropractors are using the public schools to propagate their nonsense, Harris reports, and she recounts a shocking case that arose in 1986 in Crescent City, California. With cooperation from the local school district, a group of chiropractors led some 30 parents to believe that learning disabilities could be relieved if the bones in children's skulls were subjected to "chiropractic adjustments." What followed was a bizarre spectacle of quackery and stupidity, and six of the parents later sued the district, successfully, for fraud and malpractice.
Cases like that one can underscore the importance of knowing about
quackery and of keeping it out of our schools. I commend Harris's
article to teachers and school administrators alike.
Note The short-leg scam is also a favorite of the crooks known as faith healers. In a typical case, the crook manipulates a person's legs to create the illusion that they differ in length, then he "cures" this imaginary defect while uttering some Jesus stuff. For an illustrated explanation of how the short-leg illusion works, read James Randi's The Faith Healers, published in 1987 by Prometheus Books (Buffalo, New York). [return to text]
William J. Bennetta is a professional editor, a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, the president of The Textbook League, and the editor of The Textbook Letter. He writes often about the propagation of quackery, false "science" and false "history" in schoolbooks.
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