My Skeptical Adventure with Chiropractic – Taking Dr. Dan Golaszewski to Task
I have been following a chiropractor in my area known as Dr. Dan. He has a website, a ‘wellness practice’ (that’s what he calls it) known as “Power Chiropractic,” and a podcast/live show on local radio that is broadcasted world-wide via the internet every Saturday. I follow a great deal of science blogs, podcasts, primarily thanks to James Randi and The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe podcast.
I am not only skeptical about religion; I apply skepticism across the board and find skepticism about various forms of ‘alternative medicine’ entertaining and important. Those who offer ill-informed and misleading advice about health have the ability to harm people on a very wide-scale and inform the beliefs of others who share their beliefs with others…
On May 1, I blogged about Dr. Oz in my “Dr. Oz is full of Logical Fallacies” post. Proponents of ‘alternative medicine’ like Dr. Oz often encourage their audiences or may influence their audiences (whether they intend to or not) to discard their current treatments, develop an unhealthy skepticism toward Western medicine to the point of complete distrust, and lead people to replace ‘traditional medicine’ with their ‘alternative medicine.’
Recently, Dr. Dan advertised a free spinal examination and I took him up on the offer. I wanted to go to his office and experience what he has to offer, read the mission statements and claims in his office rather than his website, and have a one-on-one discussion instead of throwing him under the bus without actually going to his ‘wellness center’ (this is what it is called on his website). I did not go into his office as a rude, deceitful, and abrasive person, but rather announced that I am a skeptic from a local organization who was there to question his practices and see what he has to offer. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to directly experience Dr. Dan on my visit and instead worked with one of his assistants.
Before entering his ‘wellness center’ and even before traveling to his location I noticed several ‘red flags.’ I was prepared to see what was on a video on his website and I noticed the glaring large text on his place including “THE POWER THAT MADE THE BODY, HEALS THE BODY!”, “Natural Health Care for Families!” , “Aligning spines and lifestyles with God’s ultimate intentions.”
These phrases are extremely vague, misleading, empty, and ambiguous. What, exactly, is the “power” that made the body? What does it mean that the body is made? Did power make the body? Did something with power make the body? Does the power heal the body? Does the thing that has power heal the body? Is Dr. Dan realigning with the intentions of God or is he aligning to fulfill the intentions of God? I thought, when I first saw these phrases, “Why would a doctor be talking about things like ‘power’ and ‘God?’ What, exactly, is ‘Natural Health Care?’ This isn’t science; this is theology and new-age/’spiritual’ stuff that is peddled by people like Deepak Chopra.
Dr. Dan, of course, advertises himself as a Dr. and calls himself a ‘wellness physician’ on his website. One would think that he is offering science and evidence-based treatment, but this appears to be far from the case just by looking at the outside of his place. Is Dr. Dan letting theology/mysticism inform his treatment? Surely he’s not just using expressive language here… When I went to family doctors and other medical persons, I never heard God mentioned in any of my visits. I never heard anything about ‘power.’ What is Dr. Dan up to here?
After reading and entering information into about ten to fifteen pages of papers before my free examination, I saw even more red flags. One of the papers, “Informed Consent For Chiropractic Care,” (linked at the top of the post) talks about ‘vertebral subluxations’ (a fancy word for misalignment) and talks about God! The section on vertebral subluxations reads, “…misalignment [of the spine] results in a lessening of the body’s God-given, innate-ability to express its maximum health potential.” What in the world is Dr. Dan talking about? How can one possibly measure or indicate God’s potential and this ‘innate ability’ to express ‘maximum health potential?’ How does Dr. Dan know that the body is “made” (recall, he mentions this outside of the building)?
The same section also reads, “We do not offer to diagnose or treat any diseases or treat any diseases or conditions other than vertebral subluxation…,” but this is contrary to and is a mixed message when one reads Dr. Dan’s website and listens to his podcasts. Dr. Dan believes that most problems and diseases are caused by misalignment and talks more specifically about asthma and heart disease on his website via an article from Dr. Axe noting that chiropractors can help people overcome these problems because they often originate from the ‘arc of life.’
If Dr. Dan only claims to treat subluxations, why would he feature an article on his website claiming that chiropractors can help people overcome asthma and heart disease? Dr. Dan might argue, to defend his position by saying, “Well, I don’t claim to treat heart disease, but rather I say that I can treat what leads to it,” but this is playing word games. If you can treat something that leads to a disease, you are treating the disease in most cases. Say, for example, I have a tumor that causes cancer and a doctor treats me to ebb the effects of the tumor. Would we say that the doctor is not treating my cancer? Of course not.
Dr. Dan’s paper further explains, “Regardless of what the disease is called, we do not offer to treat it. Nor do we offer advice regarding treatment prescribed by others.” This is more wordplay and mixed messages. Dr. Dan, in an April 30 episode of his podcast during hour two (around 2:46), claims that long term medications will not create a healthier body, but rather will create a sicker body. He tells people to do assessments of themselves [it’s between you and yourselves, he says]. Here’s a direct quote from Dr. Dan’s podcast,
“Now if you’re just saying ‘Well, I trust my doctor [muffled sounds]. Don’t trust me. Don’t trust anybody but yourself. You are responsible for your outcome in your life. While your doctor is certainly knowledgeable in areas of disease management, in the areas of medications… certain areas when it comes to health, they really don’t have all the answers for you. So what you need to do is go to someone who is educated in those areas and if you go on my website…”
Here, the mixed messages reign supreme. On his papers, Dr. Dan says that he doesn’t offer advice regarding treatment of others, but he’s telling people not to trust their doctors because they don’t have all the answers in “certain areas when it comes to health,” so you need to go to Dr. Dan’s website and get the information…although you’re not supposed to trust him according to his own words. Dr. Dan spouts an “it’s all about you” mantra that can be really dangerous and is patently false. “Common people” aren’t experts in areas of health and often have ‘no idea’ about certain matters, so they should go to licensed professionals and trust what they say. Dr. Dan notes that we are responsible for outcomes in our lives, but this doesn’t make sense in the context in which he speaks in this part of the segment. What does responsibility for outcomes have to do with trusting doctors and ourselves?
Dr Dan’s “Informed Consent For Chiropractic Care” paper further reads, “Our ONLY PRACTICE OBJECTIVE is to eliminate a major interference to the expression of the body’s God-given, innate wisdom. Our only method is the specific adjustment of vertebral subluxation.” The first phrase is completely empty of meaning and is not defined at all. What are these ‘major interferences’ to the ‘expression’ of the ‘body’s God-given innate wisdom?’ Does the body itself have wisdom? What does this even mean? Why, again, is Dr. Dan inserting theology into what should be evidence-based treatment?
After filling out and reading all of the papers (and crossing out some of the sections, too, talking about returning and paying for services) I needed to look at before my free appointment, I waited in the lobby for about fifteen minutes. I looked around the center and found many Bible verses on the walls and some propagandistic posters. One of the posters read something to the effect of, “If you wouldn’t use this drug while pregnant, why would you use it when you aren’t?”
This argument was a really horrible one…and reeking more of the anti-‘conventional medicine’ sentiment. Some drugs should not be used while pregnant because they can disrupt the embryological development, but otherwise are fine to use when not pregnant. This logic falls to pieces when you consider, “If you wouldn’t drink alcohol while you are pregnant, why would you drink when you are not?” Alcohol can be dangerous during pregnancies, but is otherwise just fine (if one does not abuse it) outside of pregnancies.
At the beginning of my appointment, I was told about the “Brain-Body Connection” and heard much of what was written on Dr. Dan’s website under the same heading. I was told that the brain controls everything and that disruption to the spine can cause severe problems because it will disrupt the brain’s function. Okay, whatever. I asked the person to define what he does for treatment and he noted, before I had the chance to say anything in response or ask anything about religious claims made on his papers and outside of his office, that chiropractic is not religious. After he was finished, I asked him why there are references to God that are made and I said that our body is not ‘created’ in a perfect way (this is claimed on Dr. Dan’s website and was also claimed inside his place). Dr. Dan also claims that “we were created for at least 80 years of incredible health and happiness.” This is blatantly false and a really misinformed. Many people die in early ages…and certainly don’t experience “incredible health and happiness.” If we were created for incredible health and happiness and God presumably intended this, why do our bodies have such problems? The evolution of the spine, curiously enough, was far from a “perfect” process.
The person offered the response of “it’s a fact” to the claims of our bodies being created with the power of God, the innate wisdom questions, etc. He said that he wasn’t here to debate me. I replied and said something to the effect of, “Ok, fine. We won’t debate, but what you’re saying here is not scientific, but rather is theological statements.” (Regardless, “It’s a fact” is no response to a question, but rather the logical fallacy of begging the question or arguing in a circle. How do we know that God made the body? Because God made the body!)
Next, I asked a question about the “Drug Free Basket” that was in the office. This was a water cooler container with all sorts of pill bottles and drugs. The person explained that these are from people who went off their medications and used natural methods instead. I asked what these ‘natural methods’ were and what the world natural means and was met with a response to the effect of “Medicines are made with man-made products and are synthetic. We don’t do that here.”
I mentioned the naturalistic fallacy and asked why something that is natural is good while something non-natural is bad. I received no response to other than what was previously said. I then said something to the effect of, “I’m worried about what’s going on here. Do you think, perhaps, that people are going to give up their medications and think that they can get by just fine with your natural care?” The person responded by saying that people make their own decisions and that they aren’t told what to do. The problem, though, as I previously mentioned in this post, is the huge mixed messages that are taken place. They don’t tell people what to do or give advice…but then talk about how bad conventional medicine is and have anti-medicine propaganda throughout the place. Dr. Dan specifically, in his podcast, as I previously mentioned, says that medicine creates a sicker body in the long-term!
The rest of the appointment was quite fast and included a spinal examination via some device that was connected to a USB port. I received a thermography report and asked some questions about it – nothing was really interesting there. I gave the person my business card, invited him to defend his practices and attend one of my NEPA Freethought meetups, and thanked him for the information.
Surprisingly (or not), the God-language doesn’t stop here. In the same April 30 podcast around 2:13, Dr. Dan claims that many people have a misrepresentation [sic] of what health is and notes that’s it’s not just physical and mental, but is also spiritual; all of these, he says, must be included in the definition of health. What, exactly, does Dr. Dan mean by this and what are the implications? Are all ‘non-spiritual’ people unhealthy by definition (one would assume so, according to Dr. Dan)? Does prayer need to happen on a daily basis as part of a health regimen? What about people who don’t believe in God (with a capital “G,” presumably the Christian version)?
Around 2:41, Dr. Dan says that people feel that they will be healthier when they are on more medications, but he thinks that they are wrong to believe this. Applying the same logic, Dr. Dan would have to believe the converse: People on fewer medications are healthier than those who are on more medications. Here we go again with the mixed messages from Dr. Dan.
Dr. Dan commits a slew of logical fallacies around 3:15. He says that people want to blame their unhealthy conditions on genes and old age, but there are people in their 80s and 90s and 100s who take zero medications and have a purpose to live for. He mentions a 110-year-old man who writes books and is a motivational speaker, for example. Just because there are people who are older, who take no medications, and are active does not entail that genes and age fail to cause health problems; Dr. Dan’s argument is invalid (the conclusion simply doesn’t follow from the premises). Dr. Dan also commits a sample size error here – just because there are some people who are healthy does not mean that we can generalize from a small group and apply this to the population at large. It’s profoundly wrong to believe that age and genes has nothing to do with poor health. Is Dr. Dan seriously claiming this?
Dr. Dan appears to be endorsing some sort of libertarian do-it-yourself free will in which we have all sorts of control over our life circumstances, but this simply is not the case (in both a philosophical case and a health case). Specifically, in the podcast, Dr. Dan states that everyone has the ability to be healthy and can be what they want to be (16:49). We can’t help but fall prey to certain diseases if our genetic structures are arranged in certain manners. Diseases also ‘run in families.’ Sure, some people can exercise, be healthy, and life lifestyles in which they avoid diseases, but we can’t throw age and genetics out the window completely. Just because one 110-year-old is very healthy does not mean that all 110-year-olds can be healthy (and many people will never live to 110).
At 6:03, Dr. Dan echoes much of what he mentions in his website and asserts that our bodies were created to heal themselves. He says that if we cut our arms, the tissue will reform and blood clotting will occur. Ok, great, but one example does not apply to every situation, but this, nonetheless, is exactly what Dr. Dan claims. The idea that the body was created is, yet again, a theological assertion. Can Dr. Dan provide evidence for this? What does this even have to do with science and medicine, anyway?
Dr. Dan is most likely ‘playing’ with the concept of homeostasis, the idea that our body works to achieve a balanced and well-functioning state. Why doesn’t Dr. Dan just say this instead of ‘spicing up’ the science with the theology? I doubt that he is ignorant of homeostasis. He states, around 6:09, that your doctor will laugh at you if you tell them that the body was created to heal itself. The laughter is coming from me, but I also couple it with tremendous worry because many people are ‘buying’ these claims and assenting to Dr. Dan’s claims without a skeptical mindset.
Dr. Dan says, “These are scientific principles and laws” when talking about “the body was created to heal itself.” “God created humans” is not a scientific claim nor is it a scientific principle or law. “The body heals itself” is certainly not a scientific law. Can Dr. Dan please point out “The Law of the Body Healing Itself?”
Dr. Dan further demonstrates his lack of basic scientific understanding when he says, “If these laws are broken or if you just don’t pay any attention to these different areas…” Scientific laws, by definition, cannot be broken because they are principles that express relations that must be true in all cases. Ohm’s Law, for example, specifically states that the current through a conductor between two points is directly proportional to the potential difference across the two points, and inversely is proportional to the resistance between them. This law, like any scientific law, cannot be violated like a traffic law. If we find that there are exceptions to the rules, then the science is revised, but this is much different than what Dr. Dan says; he says that we can violate the ‘law’ that the body heals itself. This is simply incoherent.
Dr. Dan continues, talking about what happens when people don’t maintain healthy lifestyles or otherwise ignore the body,
“Again you’re hurting yourself and your body will begin to slowly silently develop disease which down the road will turn into a diagnosis and usually the major mainstream source is medicine. And, again, if you’re taking medicine long-term, study, read the side-effects, question your doctor about it because there haven’t been many long-term studies on the medications that are being put out now.”
It’s not the case that the body will slowly develop disease if people pay no attention to health. Some people, for example, may not exercise on a daily basis and be healthy with no major complications. Taking Dr. Dan’s three components of health (physical, mental, and spiritual), we could reason, from his definition, that those who do not pay attention to the spiritual aspect of health that Dr. Dan believe exists would be profoundly unhealthy. If Dr. Dan’s definition were correct, we should expect to see atheists and other ‘non-spiritual persons’ with a significant amount of complications compared to those who pray, but this simply isn’t the case. In fact, we should see that every atheist or ‘non-spiritual’ person is profoundly unhealthy (or at least on the way to “slowly silently develop disease) if Dr. Dan were correct.
Dr. Dan claims (above) that there haven’t been many studies on long-term medications that are put out now. Is Dr. Dan ignorant of PubMed? Does Dr. Dan think that clinical trials are imaginary? Perhaps, to be charitable, Dr. Dan means that long-term studies don’t accompany new medications (it’s not clear what ‘put out,’ in this quote, means). This, though, is an unreasonable demand and still ignores clinical trials. Doctors don’t randomly prescribe new medicines that are not based on evidence. It’s also not the case that long-term studies need to take place because other good evidence demonstrating the efficacy of medicine can accompany medicine. Again, Dr. Dan is sending mixed messages. He claims not to give advice and says that people should listen to their health professionals, but discourages people from taking medications [he says they are unnatural, will be horrible in the long term, and also says that there are not studies accompanying medications (see the subtle trick here?)].
Again, at 10:32 in the podcast, Dr. Dan reasserts that health is not just emotional and physical; it’s also spiritual as well. He encourages people, at 9:40, to volunteer time in churches and teaching Sunday school. Sure, these activities can keep one healthy (personal interaction, being part of a community, and getting out is generally good), but it’s not necessarily the case (and it’s almost certainly not the case) that the supernatural beliefs make one healthy. It can, and almost certainly is, the case that the supernatural components to participation in religious activities are coincidental to the improvement of health.
At 10:35, he wants people to ask what they can do ‘naturally’ to get off of their ‘toxic medications’ (he says that the body can be a “toxic reservoir” of medications) and notes that vaccines, flu shots, and fluoride contain toxins and says that people should reduce toxic exposure the best they can. Here we go again, once more, with the mixed messages. Dr. Dan says that he is not telling anyone to stop talking medications, but says that they are “toxic” and tells people to do ask themselves what natural methods can help them get off medications and also tells people to reduce toxic exposure the best they can. Dr. Dan further attacks ‘mainstream health’ and accuses ‘mainstream health’ of not encouraging people to exercise and eat healthy, but this is very suspicious. Doctors regularly encourage their patients to do so.
Dr. Dan is very dubious. He sends many mixed messages to his audience and presumably his patients. He says, time and time again, that he just provides information and that people shouldn’t abandon their medications and doctor’s advice, but at the same time he tells people to trust only themselves, claims that medicines are toxic and says that people should avoid toxic exposure they best they can, says that medicine in the long-term will make people sicker, has anti-‘conventional medicine’ propaganda in his ‘wellness center,’ says that there haven’t been many studies on long-term medications that are being “put out now,” etc.
He adds theology to his practice by saying that the body has a “God-given, innate ability to express its maximum health potential,” claims to be able to eliminate interferences to “the expression of the body’s God-given, innate wisdom,” states that he aligns spines and lifestyles with “God’s ultimate intentions,” and says that spirituality is one of three components to health. While I have only received a spinal examination from one of Dr. Dan’s assistants and do not know about all of his services, Dr. Dan is extremely problematic. Simply listening to his podcast, viewing his “Informed Consent For Chiropractic Care” paper, and viewing his website raises a large amount of red flags.
You may wonder…why does this all matter?
I could imagine that some people in Dr. Dan’s audience and especially in his office uncritically listen to what he has to say. Many people are drawn in by ‘alternative medicine’ because they see it as a viable alternative to conventional medicine. ‘Alternative medicine,’ though is a false category; there is no viable alternative to evidence-based medicine. Medicine that works…is called medicine. Some people might be drawn in because they see alternative medicine as a last resort or otherwise think that Dr. Dan is credible in various areas because there is a Dr. in front of his name and he has a business. To be fair, I haven’t talked much about Dr. Dan’s diet advice, but I have very little expertise in this area and want to narrow the focus here. He might, for all I know, give sound evidence-based exercise and diet advice, but that’s a story for another day…
One of Dr. Dan’s ‘main tricks,’ as I see it, is that he presents some evidence-based material (such as the brain is vital and controls bodily function), but then he inserts some mysticism and non-evidence based information. People might listen to the evidence-based stuff and then assume that the rest is also credible, but I’m not buying what Dr. Dan has to say. Not all people are skeptical thinkers and, especially when desperate and in pain, will look for remedies from virtually anyone.
Dr. Dan probably believes that he says and genuinely wants to and thinks that he can help people and probably is a very nice and friendly person, but his medical advice, or as he calls it ‘information purposes only’ is very unsound and non-scientific. All of the statements I made about him and his works are not intended to defame him or cast him as a ‘bad guy,’ but rather are to critique his beliefs, his work, and his methods. Posting like this is protected free speech. I gave my readers examples and direct quotes from Dr. Dan’s website, podcast, and from my visit to his office. I welcome feedback from Dr. Dan.
Some chiropractic care, otherwise known as physical therapy, has some efficacy. Message therapists and physicians’ assistants, for example, don’t make claims like Dr. Dan does, but rather relieve pain, do not attack ‘conventional medicine,’ do not add mysticism to their work, and do not speak of ‘sublaxations.’ Power to them. Dr. Dan, though, is in a ‘separate camp;’ physical therapists who do work on the spine and back that may be known as chiropractors are not in the same camp as people like Dr. Dan. Dr. Steve Novella notes,
“Chiropractors may argue that manipulation works by correcting non-existent spinal subluxations and restoring the flow of non-existent life energy, but that does not mean that manipulation does not work.”
“Chiropractic is a tricky profession to discuss, because it covers so much ground. The above applies best to straight chiropractic – using spinal manipulation to treat asthma, for example. This is a very different kind of claim than that spinal manipulation causes a temporary decrease in back pain by relaxing muscles – a fairly non-specific effect of mechanical manipulation of muscles and not specific to chiropractic. In other words, it is highly unlikely that chiropractic would end up having very specific medical effects, even though the beliefs that led to the treatment turned out to be entirely fictitious. But it would not be surprising if there turned out to be some non-specific effects, like temporary muscle relaxation.”
“There is no compelling evidence that chiropractic works for any disease, and there is only weak evidence that it is helpful for back strain (and no more effective than cheaper modalities, like physical therapy or massage).”
Hopefully you enjoyed my skeptical treatment of Dr. Dan and am enjoying my posts that are not exclusively focusing on religion. I’m trying to keep a general theme of skepticism about religion in many of my posts, but am not exclusively focusing on religion in every post. Branching out is fun.