Realms of the Peer

UKR columnist Dave Randle examines how, in medicine, entrenched orthodoxy is doing what entrenched orthodoxy has always done: holding back our advance

by UKR columnist Dave Randle

One of the fundamental principles of science as we believe we know it is that it should boldly go where no man has gone before; that it is fearless and imaginative and unhampered by old ideas and beliefs.

The reality today is the complete reverse. Systems, institutions, faculties and self-interest conspire to prevent and resist any advancement, any discovery that doesn’t accord with the interests of the scientific establishment and its paymasters.

Actors come on as GPs in TV dramas to advise the viewing punter not to stray outside the church:  ‘Alternative treatments may sometimes be useful, but always consult your medical practitioner.’

Although, despite its monopoly and enormous numbers of dedicated followers, pharmaceutical medicine is no more a science than palm reading it keeps up the illusion, and its entrenched position, by adopting the trappings of the central scientific religion.

First among these is ‘peer review’ – a sort of college of cardinals who protect the faith and formulate the dogma.

Thirty years ago, I ‘put my back out’ in an industrial accident. Thereafter, even in dry weather, I could only hobble about like Richard III – ‘Now is the winter of our discontent…’

And so it was. Every winter for four years I was laid up and off work.

The quack told me he could find nothing wrong and prescribed something called Ponstan – pills that were designed to make you too stupid to feel the pain, but which actually spread it all over your body.

At about this time, my mother fell down an unprotected manhole, so was in a worse state than me.

Fortunately, a friend of hers (not a doctor) suggested a chiropractor in Newton Abbot. After a couple of treatments, mother recommended him to me.

By then, I had been invalided out of my gardening job and was having to do lighter work.

Mr Sykes (the chiro) was the first to X-ray my back. He called me in to see the result a couple of days later and anyone, ‘qualified’ or not, could immediately have seen what was wrong. My entire pelvic girdle had been pushed up on one side and remained jammed there for the four years following the initial trauma.

By judicious positioning of my body and exerting the precise amount of pressure, Mr S resolved the situation at once. Had he done so four years earlier, that would have been more or less that, but because the problem had been permitted to persist all those years, it had acquired a tendency to maintain the faulty position.

As a result, it took about two years of weekly treatments to convince the thing to go back into place and stay put.

Thirty years on, instead of hobbling about with a stick, or trundling about on an electric scooter, I can still do everything I could do before the accident, including furniture shifting and digging.

I meet people on a regular basis who are holding on to back, neck and other bodily pains and difficulties in the touching belief that the doctor is doing all that can be done – mainly drugs and tiresome physiotherapy exercises.

They don’t get, or don’t want to get, that the doctor is not there to make you well by any means available. He is duty bound to push pharmaceutical drugs and do his bit for the maintenance of the monopoly.

He is not really to blame for this. A combination of relentless propaganda and an unsurprising public hunger for the ‘magic bullet’ cures for all ills that pharma’s charlatan ancestors have been promising since the days of Buffalo Bill keep the gullible doing what the gullible do – swallowing things, both metaphorically and in fact.

There is nothing, by any reasonable criteria, ‘unscientific’ about chiropractic. The body’s skeleton will clearly work best in its intended arrangement, and signals to and from its control centre need to travel up and down the spine with as little interruption as possible.

But, if you look it – and any number of other ‘alternative’ treatments – up in reference books or online, you will read that they are ‘unscientific’ or do not accord with medical opinion.

This sounds in some way damning, but what does it mean? Is it any different from saying: ‘Giving a back-sufferer indifferently effective drugs and telling him to go away and lie down is unchiropractic?’

Chiropractors, osteopaths, kinesiologists and the like (and unlike) do not control the media. They have no power to invoke the anti-trust or monopoly laws that protect people in other, generally less worthy, endeavours.

No one other than conventional medicos is even allowed to say they have cured anyone, or that they might be able to, even when those medicos have admitted failure by declaring conditions ‘chronic’ or ‘incurable’.

When a bronze implement was first submitted to a Neolithic panel for ‘peer review’ it was probably declared a hoax. Scientific ‘peers’ long held the consensus view that the Earth was flat. Anyone who dared suggest otherwise was vilified and shunned.

BBC astronomy programmes have been pronouncing upon the unscientific naïvety of believing there is life elsewhere in the universe since I was a child.

Now there is growing evidence that smugness and authoritative pronouncements do not make it so.

No one employed in the scientific juggernaut wants to see its shibboleths, its myths and its foundations questioned or undermined. The ferocity with which the medical establishment has attacked homeopathy underlines the absurd lengths to which such protectionism can go with spokespeople branding it as ‘dangerous’. If it is anything other than effective, it is harmless. Coming from representatives of a business that is the third greatest cause of death in the US, such name-calling is all the more idiotic.

It’s an understandable human reaction to want to hold on to what you’ve got, but it does not serve to advance us toward knowledge or understanding. The old pals don’t want to let each other down, but ‘peer review’ necessarily keeps it in the family and ensures that no radically new ideas, processes or thinkers upset the apple cart.

UKR Columnist Dave Randle is an author and journalist,



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