From Abracadabra to Zombies
28 September 2009
On a recent Sunday the local fishwrap carried a 6-inch X 6-inch ad for a workshop on brain-based care. BBC, as I'll call it, is here an implementation of chiropractic neurology (CN). BBC is only peripherally related to its use in the context of pedagogy or psychotherapy. No snickering, there, about oxymorons. I am not making this stuff up, although it's possible that somebody else did make it up. Or discover it, as its supporters might say. Being curious--and a trifle skeptical, I attended. The ad must have been part of a series for this sales presentation: variants of it are still running ten days later and my noticing it might have been relatively late in the campaign. It turns out that similar ads have run in several other cities, presumably placed by other chiropractors.
CN is the brainchild of Frederick R. Carrick, DC, Distinguished Post Graduate Professor of Clinical Neurology at Logan College of Chiropractic and Professor Emeritus of Neurology at Parker College of Chiropractic. He holds a Ph.D. in education, with a concentration in brain-based learning, from the distance-learning Walden University. On at least one public occasion, Carrick insisted he be introduced as a neurosurgeon. Walden is accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. The last year Walden has reported on, it had 26,615 full-time and 5358 part-time graduate students and awarded 219 doctoral degrees but no master's degrees, which indicates that its graduate students are either extraordinarily slow in earning their degrees or that it has an extraordinarily high dropout rate. It is, however, well regarded. The only citations I found for Carrick's professional papers are these:
1. The Journal of Manipulative Physiological Therapy (1997)
Changes in brain function after manipulation of the cervical spine . . .
Conclusions: Accurate reproducible maps of cortical responses can be used to measure the neurological consequences of spinal joint manipulation. Cervical manipulation activates specific neurological pathways. Manipulation of the cervical spine may be associated with an increase or a decrease in brain function depending upon the side of the manipulation and the cortical hemisphericity of a patient.
This study purported to show that cervical manipulation could change the size of the blind spot in either eye by unilateral cervical manipulation.
2. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (2007)
Posturographic Changes Associated with Music Listening . . .
Conclusions: Listening to certain types of music has the potential to change human stability and promote change in the field of fall prevention and rehabilitation with a potential to decrease disability.
This study compared the music of French pop singer Nolwenn Leroy (experiment) with that of Mozart (control) and found that the Nolwenn Effect was superior in improving the balance of geriatric patients. Being a penurious type, I didn't order the articles from these third-tier (at best) journals and can evaluate neither the experimental setups nor the statistical analyses.
We may be excused, though, for suspecting that CN is not exactly a completely baked discipline. That minor impediment has not prevented Carrick's opening the Carrick Institute for Graduate Studies in Cape Canaveral, Florida, which has the advantages of a warm climate and proximity to NASA's launch site. It's less than 200 miles from Fort Lauderdale, home of the James Randi Educational Foundation, which has offered to pay Carrick the million-dollar prize if he can demonstrate his finding of asymmetrical blind spots' being curable by cervical manipulation (the claim of the first article cited). Carrick refused. Carrick may be the leading light, but he has intellectual colleagues, most notably a staff of 31 others at his institute.
To return to my adventure, the venue, the facility's break room, had a few posters explaining the clinic's approach in general, including such concepts as "Chiropractic," "Adjustment," and "Health." There were also posters and models of spinal problems, all dealing with the fictitious spinal subluxations, adjustment of which are chiropractic's stock in trade. It was nicely furnished, neat, and clean.
The presentation started a trifle after scheduled because, as the presenter, a chiropractor, put it, the fibromyalgia people are always late. A couple of the small audience did arrive after about ten minutes, but we never learned what their complaints were. For all I know, they had multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, or cancer, conditions for which BBC is allegedly indicated, although we had only the presenter's word on cancer--advertising that position in public might open chiropractors up to criticism, if not to lawsuits and curbs on the scope of their licenses. The presenter asked a few what conditions they had, which seemed a bit unprofessional--whatever happened to medical privacy? Only one was younger than I, the median age being a bit over 70 by my estimation. Likely these folks aren't Bible fanatics, considering that most of them have languished on Earth for more than the allotted three-score and ten years.
We heard all kinds of marvelous tales, including personal and what must have been second-hand anecdotes; one of which involved Carrick's 18-second cure of a stroke patient completely paralyzed on one side. The presenter could not be accused of hiding his own light under a bushel, either, for he talked about the superiority of his intellect, his breeding, his implied wealth, and his therapeutic regimen, among others. His none-too-subtle disparagement of scientific medicine and assertions about the cutting-edge and clinically unmatched nature of CN's efficacy were things of beauty and would have had a less-cynical prospect signed up for the treatment on the spot. I think he got all the rest of the attendees. Nobody questioned his references to having attended medical school, something not in his Web biography.
We also heard some amazing assertions, such as that men see in black and white and women in color, both for evolutionary reasons (to his credit, he described everything in purely materialistic evolutionary terms--even though those descriptions were often idiosyncratic). But I know several male artists whose livelihood depends on exceptional color vision. Women, he said without noticing the irony in his rapid delivery, talk more than men, as all but I agreed, but I can point you to recent scientific studies that give the lie to that statement. Men start out with the right side of the brain dominant and later develop the left brain. Since the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body, how then can we explain that the majority of both sexes are right-handed from early infancy or that right-handedness is common in the animal kingdom? He did say that the corpus calossum, which connects the brain's hemispheres, is thicker (he said fatter) in women than in men, ensuring better communication. He did not explain how people with half the cerebellum removed can function almost normally, but I didn't ask.
That male deficit I mentioned earlier could be overcome by exercises to increase the firing rate of the neurons involved. Similarly, we were told that increasing the firing rate of damaged neural pathways could reverse the pathways' failure. Chiropractic neurologists, we learned, have determined that almost everybody has suffered trauma that causes functional lesions in the neural pathways and that such functional lesions are always present for the conditions BBC can cure. Trauma can occur as a result of such ordinary insults as chronic pain or any chronic medical condition that lasts three months or so. Allegedly, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) can identify these functional lesions, but fMRI is very expensive and unnecessary in practice because chiropractic neurologists have developed alternative methods for identifying functional lesions in neural pathways.
The proffered primary treatment in every case is entrainment, exercises said to increase the firing rate of the traumatized neural pathways. It even offers a 100% success rate for ADD or ADHD. Fortunately, most people have functional lesions in only one or two pathways, allowing this miraculous process to cure a galaxy of medical conditions in as little as six weeks! Or four minutes at each exercise session, for some number of times per day. Of course, there are often other problems best treated with nutritional supplementation, which the chiropractor typically just happens to have available for purchase. He or she can identify those problems in a number of ways from applied kinesiology to a battery of laboratory tests of blood or other fluids. Naturally, the cost of these tests and supplements can run to hundreds or thousands of dollars, but isn't your health worth it?
Perhaps the most amazing assertion is that the primitive brainstem and the sophisticated forebrain, the cerebellum or neocortex (he used the terms interchangeably), must be brought into balance to correct the problems for which BBC is sovereign. On the contrary, though, the brainstem must be brought under the control of the cerebellum. That sounds a lot more like a master-slave relationship than a balance to me, but we never got what must be a postmodern explanation of why I'm wrong.
That I must be wrong is particularly puzzling because the presenter stroked our egos with assurances that we are much smarter than most and that he likes working with intelligent people, who always have better outcomes. Anybody for communal reinforcement? Subjective validation? Still, it was fairly entertaining and intellectually stimulating, even if it didn't stimulate the behavior the presentation was intended to achieve.
John Renishback to Editor's notes index