Sometimes it is entirely too clear when the line has been crossed. And by "line," I refer not just to the line of reason or the line of plausibility, but the more enduring line of "common sense." When I was at a farmer's market here in Tucson recently, I noticed a booth displaying cookies made with organic whole grain, watered with Evian water only.As a recovering Californian, I could not resist at least perusing. (According to Organics Anonymous, I will always be in recovery. Still, I look forward to the day I may walk by organic, whole or holistic "stuff" without feeling intoxicated with righteousness.)
The Mother Earth behind the table pointed to sandwich-sized baggies with four dark brown and fuzzy-looking thin bricks. She launched into a "Secret Grain of the Pyramids" story. When ground on the night of a full moon and made into cookies between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. during a solar eclipse, this grain (not kamut) will prevent and cure cancer, as well as prevent diabetes and, as I recall her saying, "Scare the heart disease right out of you."
The cookies were $3.50 each or three for $10 in the baggies. I thought, now that is a mighty price to pay for a cookie - but think about what it can do! It either cures or prevents some awful disease (can't remember quite which, to tell you the truth), but either way, these are impressive cookies. I had to have one.
My first bite fell short of health nirvana. It was hard and fibrous, like compressed wood. It was tasteless. But I was used to pinching my nose and swallowing things that would make me healthy. It was tolerable with coffee with sugar. I had to think that if I came back one year later with cancer and asked for a refund, the first question from that tough cookie would be, "Did you drink coffee with that cookie? Coffee undoes the cyclic AMP/Krebs cycle doo-dah, which causes the basophils to release histamines that completely block the vital pyramid properties of the cookie. No refunds. See the sign here?" Sure enough, I missed the fine print: c-AMP... Krebs cycle... basophils... adrenal fatigue... human genome - all sweet words that part me from my money.
I guess alfalfa cookies go down better when you liberally sprinkle them with fancy words. When I went to Palmer West in the 1980s, I had no less than Bob Mootz, Bill Meeker, Joe Keating, Barney Coyle, Kevin McCarthy, Tom Milus, Dan Dugan, Bill DuMonthier, Tom Souza, Ron Henninger, Phil Banda, Peggy Sherman, Corey Weinstein, John Miller, Peter Martin, Hank Kontz, and other stellar figures as instructors, mentors and colleagues. They used words like cyclic AMP and Krebs cycle sometimes. Back then, there was a crackling and electric excitement that chiropractic was about to come into its own as a health care profession. Every hospital and health care system would have chiropractors fully integrated and involved in the process of making health care decisions, along with the mission of lowering cost and improving quality. It would be less faith-based and more evidence-based, and still be chiropractic.
Fortunately, I resisted all those people and their influence. I think at least half of the student body at Palmer West frequently swore, especially before a final examination:
"Just recite what they teach and get out of here," my Uncle Chiropractor says. "That book-learnin' stuff ain't real chiropractic." So I stayed the course and made sure new information never once changed my mind. I remained principled.
After choking down that cookie with lots of coffee, a certain feeling did quickly descend upon me. You could call it a "gut feeling." Was that the feeling of cancer cells packing up and leaving? Perhaps so - although, in an ornery sort of way, they let me know their obvious displeasure by a kind of drive-by shooting into my belly, leaving me with substantial ache.
The cookie cost so much and the discomfort was so great that it just had to be good for me. I was methodical; I heard the evidence from the Mother of All Cookies.
I ate the data and got results - no cancer yet. You may do just as well to wear a Secret Pyramid cookie around your neck for good luck, but whatever you do, don't eat one.
The cookie lady made pure brazen claims without apology and without softening her claims whatsoever. I was so shocked I had to buy one. "These little adobe bricks are good for what ails ya!" Tucson has a concentration of world-class oncologists and cardiologists. What if she had made those same claims to one of them? Would they have done what I did - say nothing and buy one for the taste? Or would they have said, "Your information is crap, and your cookies taste that way."
My preference is to let each buyer beware. Surely your "crap cookie detector" will save you. But the line is not so clear sometimes or for some people. Liberally sprinkled science words, claims of "60 percent of chiropractic patients feel better than everyone else" and the subtle but deadly "in my experience" are common cookie-science tricks. "Proven at NASA" really lends that scientific aura to cookies or anything else you are trying to sell.
As far as I know, the NASA rouse never sold cigarettes - but it surely would have worked. We are so tricked and trickable. Frankly, everyone is. When science says something, we pay attention. But science never proves anything, so a scientific "fact" is just a lie at the nearest end of the money trail leading to someone's personal bank account.
Think of the early 1950s cigarette ad campaign: "More Doctors Smoke Camels Than Any Other Cigarette."* We trust our family doctor, who smokes Camels; so should we. Clever: no data, all affect and good feelings selling sizzle.
So, back to the question: Where is your line? Your line is not the same as your bottom line, although they should work together. Your integrity - staying inside the line - will build your bottom line. What keeps your line nice and sharp for discriminating? The main request is for clinical outcome data published in peer-review journals. And mind the peers reviewing the journal - have they ever published in a medical journal? Have they written chapters for professional texts? Perhaps most importantly, do they get funding from the National Institutes of Health?
As frustrating as it may seem, science is a slow and self-correcting process. There is no separate science for underdogs. I don't have time at this time in my life to hear more good ideas - let alone pay for them. And neither do you.
*To view the Camels advertisement as it appeared in various print publications, click here.
Click here for previous articles by J. Michael Menke, MA, DC, PhD.