Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dr. Dan: misleading advertising on chiropractic

Our topic for today arises out of another bloggers criticism of a chiropractor called Dr. Dan.  Normally, Dr. Dan might have been under my radar but apparently Dr. Dan's fiancee wrote a letter threatening the author of the blog (Just Vacula) with "legal action."  Thus doing my part to participate in the Streisand Effect, I decided to take a look at Dr. Dan's website and see if there was any bad rhetoric worth criticizing.  After a quick look I found a website full of examples of misleading advertising rhetoric used on Dr. Dan's website...

To start I want to point out that I am not a medical doctor and thus my criticism will be limited to the rhetoric used on Dr. Dan's website.  However, many medical claims made by chiropractic are unsupported or actually contradicted by the evidence and thus those unfamiliar with chiropractic may want to do some further research on the topic.  Here is an easy introduction to chiropractic claims and I will list a number more at the end of this post.

With that being said lets go back to Dr. Dan's website.  I'm just going to go through a few quotations on that site that are misleading and standard techniques used by those who practice medicine not supported by evidence.

To start lets look at this quote:

If you are currently struggling with conditions such as headaches, diabetes, digestive disorders, allergies, back pain, hormonal imbalances, fibromyalgia, high blood pressure, or obesity, then Power Chiropractic CAN help you!

 This statement is misleading because it appears to promise more than it actually does.  In fact it promises almost nothing.  The only thing promised is that Chiropractic can "help" but that promise is ambiguous.  I could invent a medical treatment that involves banging someone on the head with a stick and then say: "for people with back pain, hormonal imbalances, fibromyalgia... I can help you!"  How would it help them?  Well it just might take their mind off their other problems because they will be seriously irritated and in massive pain from the beating.  Thus, I wouldn't be lying if I said I could help these people but they might have mistakenly interpreted my offer to help as thinking I could cure their problem.

Dr. Dan's website has made just as an empty promise as my head attack example.  He has only promised to help and not to treat his patients problems.  However, the listing of conditions and saying that he can help afterward creates the highly misleading impression that Dr. Dan can treat those conditions.  Unfortunately this is a common and dishonest technique often used by those who are selling snake oil but don't want to be arrested for false advertisement.  If Dr. Dan actually said he could treat those disease with chiropractic he would open himself up to legal problems if he couldn't prove that his treatments worked. 

On to quote number two:

Power Chiropractic has been an eye-opener to many individuals and families, and in many cases a last resort when conventional medicine has failed.

This is another quote that creates the implication that Dr. Dan's chiropractic techniques could help treat their disease but doesn't actually outright say it.  Again nothing is promised because the statement only says what families think and have done.  Just because someones eyes were opened doesn't mean a treatment works, nor does it even mean the people who were treated thought it worked.  Its just an ambiguous phrase that could mean many things.  Then stating that power chiropractic has been a last resort when conventional medicine has failed again doesn't say that Power Chiropractic works.  But it does imply that power chiropractic works, because why else would people use it as a last resort.

This is a brilliant way of implying that a treatment works but not actually saying it works.  This is what is sometimes called the argument from popularity.  The argument in its simplest form is: "other people use this product so you should too."  But often it will be phrased differently to make it more appealing, such as the quote from Dr. Dan above.  But the fact that other people use a product doesn't mean it works, no matter how convincing the argument may sound.

And one final quote I want to address:
We were not intended to develop chronic degenerative illness and suffer with pain throughout our lives. Rather, we were created for at least 80 years of incredible health and happiness.  When will you decide to take action and charge of your health and life? We are here to serve you with the highest quality natural health care available.

 This is also misleading because it implies that the treatments offered by Dr. Dan can help people live up to this potential of 80 years of incredible health.  Once again Dr. Dan has only implied that he can help people live up to 80 years but he hasn't actually promised that he can or stated that he has evidence to support this claim.  But I have already addressed this problem twice above so I want to focus on a different problem here.

What I want to discuss is the use of the word "intended."  The word intended is only meaningful if there is some actor who intended something.  Dr. Dan has avoided saying who did not intend us to "develop . . . illness" by using the passive voice.  Thus, Dr. Dan has created the implication that we aren't supposed to get sick but has done so by saying that some unknown actors intended us to not get sick.  Sneakily he has avoided making a medical claim that we aren't supposed to get sick by saying someone designed us to not get sick.

Of course, this is just speculation and not an argument against Dr. Dan's beliefs.  But I include this as an example how use of the passive voice can make a potentially absurd statement (ie that God intended us to be healthy but messed up so now Dr. Dan must fix us) and make it sound reasonable.

I could spend days writing about other rhetorical techniques used by Dr. Dan on his website, but I don't have the time and as they say, teach a man to fish...  so if you do have the time you might briefly browse his website and see if you can find the other rhetorical tricks Dr. Dan has up his sleeve.

Further Reading on Chiropractic
A list of articles at the website science based medicine regarding chiropractic.
Trick or Treatment, a book by Simon Singh that deals with many unproven medical techniques including chiropractic.  Purchase at Amazon

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