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Part I: Chiropractic Origins
Part II: This Page

Disclaimer: Little in this series of posts rises above personal opinion. I'm not a medical expert and I don't plan to talk about medical research in detail. I've had medically-trained friends explain some of this research to me, but I'm not qualified to discuss it in detail and there are other bloggers who are. I am trying to make a series of posts for non-medically-trained readers (like myself) outlining the historic ideas behind modern chiropractic, and also voicing my concerns about the recent BSA decision against Dr Shaun Holt. For discussion of research into modern chiropractic therapies, I'll provide links at the end.

I'm moving slow on these because it is taking some research, and of course work and living will always trump blogging. In my previous post, I discussed the folk medicine that chiropractic emerged from: A vague hodge-podge of pseudo-scientific terminology and spiritual metaphor. Just because the practice is not founded in scientitic thought does not mean it does not work. It does not seem controversial to say that modern chiropractic, however muddled its origins, helps ease back pain in some people. How chiropractic eases back pain is a subject of great argument, and experts also debate whether it is any more effective than physiotherapy, massage or even placebo. The prevailing theory among chiropractors is that chiropractic subluxation (as opposed to the medical concept of subluxation) causes many conditions, a theory that originated from chiropractic founder D D Palmers' pseudo-scientific ideas about a vital force or 'innate intelligence' flowing through the nervous system.

Now, an anonymous chiropractic supporter has warned me that chiropractic subluxation theory is too complicated to be outlined on a blog, that any attempt to do so will lead to 'misunderstandings'. However the blogosphere houses lots of science communicators dispersing quite complex information about their disciplines, so I'm quite sceptical of this claim. That said, I've spent well over a week reading articles, blogs, full-text journal articles, public relations websites, medical journal editorials and listening to podcasts from the chiropractic industry and I still have no clear understanding of any chiropractic theories. I can only conclude one of three things: (A) Chiropractic theories are as shallow and superficial as they sound (B) Chiropractors are generally very poor communicators (C) Chiropractic is so profound it can't be understood on any level by anyone who isn't trained in it. One thing is abundantly clear, whether subluxations of the spine exist or not, chiropractors cannot describe them in physical terms. I'm going to outline and examine some of the claims and explanations I've encountered thus far. The best place to start is with Doug Blackbourn, the chiropractor who appeared on TVNZ's Breakfast in response to Dr Shaun Holt.

Dr Doug Blackbourn on Breakfast

I've discussed the historic basis for chiropractic - D D Palmer's theories of an innate intelligence that is fed to all the body via the nervous system - but I also noted it would be specious to dismiss modern chiropractic on the basis of its pseudoscientific history. A lot of pre-scientific beliefs have been vindicated by scientific analysis, because a lot of pre-scientific beliefs were determined by observing material facts (a good move) and then taking a wild-ass guess as to the mechanisms involved (a rather bad move). Palmer's theories were just such a wild-ass guess, and many of his inaccurate assumptions are still core to modern chiropractice. We can see one of these assumptions nested in Blackbourn's discussion above: The idea that the human body refers to some sort of perfectly functioning blueprint. This idea conflicts with modern understandings of biology. There are no perfect beings, and organisms survive not by being perfect models of functionality, but just by functioning well enough that they don't die out given the factors acting against their population. It would be a surprise if our bodies were as efficient and easy to correct as a lot of chiropractic theory assumes.

Palmer was a theist who rejected the idea that biology was mechanistic in any sense analogous to machinery. To Palmer, biology was a spiritual affair, and the body a perfect system of interconnected organs put there by a deity to work in a certain way. It is this background that plays into Blackbourn's innocuous-sounding truism: 'The body has the ability to heal, it's something that, inherently, we are born with.' It's certainly a true statement, in a general sense. The body has an ability to heal, but Blackborn neglects to contextualise it, or to hint that this ability has clear physical limits. The body would struggle to recover from severe pneumonia or an axe-wound, obviously, without medical intervention. The body's defenses against illness and injury are very complex, it heals itself to the best of its abilities, and not all afflictions are healed in the same way. Bacterial infections are, obviously, caused by bacteria, not spinal subluxations. We've observed bacteria, we know a lot about them, including how to help the body counter them. It's very hard to understand how subluxations (a term I'll deal with shortly) play any role at all in aiding this sort of illness.

Blackbourn, obviously a friendly man, is extremely careful to say that chiropractors don't treat conditions, they just ensure there is no 'interference' with messages traveling along the spine. All the chiropractors I've spoken to while researching this post have insisted very firmly that they don't 'cure', although they can help the body to cure itself. Spinal adjustments are, to them, simply bodily maintenance - a tune up - to ensure that your nervous system is still pumping health around. But there is an internecine quality to Blackbourn's claims. He says that some asthma patients get healthier with manipulation, but that not all asthma sufferers respond because there are different causes for their discomfit. If he is talking at the level of treating causes of a condition, it sounds a lot like he could mean to cure that condition.

Blackbourn keeps the conversation at an anecdotal level - this patient or that (all presumably believing in chiropractic and paying for it voluntarily) reported a healthier feeling after an adjustment. As a kid I went to chiropractors, and I felt better afterward, but everyone had assured me that I would. This sort of reaction could as easily be explained by being in a warm room on a cold day while someone sympathetic gives you a massage of sorts. My mother also took me when my back pain was at its worst, and more than likely the pain subsided all by itself. But back then we would attribute the relief to the chiropractor.

What is Subluxation?

Firstly, chiropractic subluxation is very different to medical subluxation. In medicine, subluxation of the vertebrae consists of a partly dislocated spine. It's quite a dramatic injury, and it's usually very painful. Like any dislocation, it can entail a lot of inflamed and bruised tissue. It's not the sort of injury that a specialist could miss on an x-ray.

Chiropractic subluxation is the theory that small dislocations of the spine and joints restrict nerve flow. Chiropractors, as Blackbourn states, believe that the nervous system is the absolute control centre for the body. This is, quite simply, wrong. The nervous system is a principal control centre, a very import communications system for the body, but it is one of several control systems that are not necessarily entirely integrated. It should go without saying that different systems of the body can function independently of one another to some degree, otherwise how would the organs of people with severe spinal injuries remain functioning. The endocrine system, which ferries messages around our bloodstream via hormones, etc, is equally as essential as the nervous system. There are lots of functions in our body that happen quite independently of the nervous system. The kidneys, the heart, and liver all continue to work fine without input from the nervous system.

The NZ Chiropractors' Association describes chiropractic thusly:

Chiropractic is not a 'treatment' as such for any particular symptom or disease, but rather a method of helping to ensure optimal joint function and nerve communication and is thus able to effectively assist the body in healing a wide array of symptoms and conditions.


Once again, it's a very vague explanation. The spine houses nerves. A poorly adjusted spine impedes nerve flow, but how? Not in the medical sense, not in the sense of painful pinched nerves, because chiropractic subluxations are allegedly often asymptomatic. The most frustrating thing about chiropractic is how chiropractors talk down to their customers, using vastly over-simplified distortions of anatomy (such as trumpeting the total primacy of the nervous system), and seldom if ever do they discuss actual anatomical complexes. Customers (and perhaps chiropractors) have no clue as what the alleged physical occurrences responsible for their ailments actually are. To the average unqualified reader, chiropractic can sound plausible, especially when it builds itself out distorting real medical terms and misrepresenting real medical research. When we start investigating the anatomy of the spine, asymptomatic chiropractic subluxation quickly lose plausibility. The neurons passing through the spine that do affect organs pass through the same junctures as those neurons that affect skeletal muscle, if a subluxation is affecting organ performance it will almost certainly cause major upsets (even pain) in a patient's muscles. This is what we see in medical pinched nerves. Real subluxation is a painful affair, quite detectable on an x-ray. The WHO's Guidelines on Basic Training and Safety in Chiropractic notes that medical subluxation is a 'significant structural displacement, and therefore visible on static imaging studies.' Contrast this very tangible description of quite a major complex with the WHO's description of chiropractic subluxation, 'A lesion or dysfunction in a joint or motion segment in which alignment, movement integrity and/or physiological function are altered, although contact between joint surfaces remains intact. It is essentially a functional entity, which may influence biomechanical and neural integrity.' A lesion should be very detectable, I'm surprised that across the past few weeks not a single chiropractic body has presented me with documentation of a lesion on the spine constituting vertebral subluxation. A dysfunction could be anything, structurally-speaking, and how could anyone miss that word 'may' in such a description? The is nothing solid here. I constantly find more questions to ask, and so far I haven't found a single coherent answer to any of them in chiropractic literature. I will simply have to learn more about anatomy (it's a good thing I learned a lot of skeletal structure through life-drawing!) and get some chiropractic books out. It does, seem however, that chiropractic has grown from the ridiculous ideas of Palmer into an much more elaborate, hard-to-pin-down implausibility. A pseudoscience that looks squarely across at medicine and says, 'We are equal paradigms, look, I'm using the same words', yet can't produce the physical data to support itself the way that medicine can.

I've been working on this one post for far too long, against a background of insomnia, work, and family illness. Weeks, in fact, and haven't used even a quarter of my links and scribblings here, but I think I'm going to call this post done for now. I feel bad that I'm not being more thorough. There is much more to come. I'm especially concerned, given that I work with radio and television, at the BSA decision's implications for the role of expertise in the media. I'd also love to post on chiropractor's use of the word 'doctor', and the chiropractic industry's fascinating rhetoric on this conflict (almost all the discussion I've found among chiropractors centres funding litigation and not on funding research). Next up, at any rate, I'll discuss ear infections - what causes them, and how totally implausible it is that chiropractic might provide relief for them.


Here is a list of links that I plan to include at the end of each post in this series. You should read these, if you are at all interested, because some of these bloggers and writers have expertise in medicine and/or biology.

Links - Blogs on Holt vs BSA
Links - Reporting
Links - General Comments on Chiropractic
Current Location: Wellington CBD
21 October 2009 @ 16:47
A lot of bloggers I know provide lists of interesting links. It's a great way to distribute good articles. I'm going to start doing the same. I haven't forgotten about the chiropractors, but work and reading have taken a serious toll on my blogging attempts the past three weeks (a long, long time in the blogosphere, I know).

Jon Spencer of wsws.org has a harrowing account of unemployment in Oregon. Workers in Portland and other cities are suffering terribly.

While Portland has been hit hard, urban areas outside of Portland have been hit even harder, and their economic situation can be regarded as dismal. For the month of August 2009, the cities of Salem, Eugene, Medford and Bend had unemployment rates equal to or greater than that of Portland-Vancouver metro area. Bend, located in Central Oregon, had an unemployment rate of 15.8 percent.

Alison Campbell of BioBlog has a fascinating article on a phenomenon known as blindsight.

Blindsight? It's where someone who is clinically blind, & has no conscious recollection of seeing anything, nonetheless shows evidence of 'seeing' things at some subconscious level. Their blindness has to be due to some damage at the level of the brain ie their eyes function just fine, but the message doesn't get through to the visual cortex

Take the time to check out the Times of London's new science e-zine, Eureka. It is great to have resources like this free and online. [hat tip: Peter Griffin of Griffin's Gadgets]

Current Mood: awakeawake
Current Music: Susan Wood Drive - Newstalk ZB
02 October 2009 @ 04:02
The Bulwer-Lytton awards are proof that it takes a certain brilliance - intentional or not - to write just one really awful sentence. Hoards of authors and wordsmiths try their best to produce sentences that can make the crudest person cringe, but surprisingly few succeed. There are many bad writers, but few great masters of bad writing. The Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown's sentences are infamous. He's a recognised Great of bad syntax and confusing entailments. I have not read a Dan Brown book, but I can't resist googling selections of his worst attempts:

  • Only those with a keen eye would notice his 14-karat gold bishop's ring with purple amethyst, large diamonds, and hand-tooled mitre-crozier appliqué.
  • Captain Bezu Fache carried himself like an angry ox, with his wide shoulders thrown back and his chin tucked hard into his chest. His dark hair was slicked back with oil, accentuating an arrow-like widow's peak that divided his jutting brow and preceded him like the prow of a battleship. As he advanced, his dark eyes seemed to scorch the earth before him, radiating a fiery clarity that forecast his reputation for unblinking severity in all matters.
  • He was sitting all alone in the enormous cabin of a Falcon 2000EX corporate jet as it bounced its way through turbulence. In the background, the dual Pratt & Whitney engines hummed evenly.
[more here]

Dan Brown is not the only bad writer, though. Sex writing tempts otherwise capable authors into becoming ridiculous ramblers:

  • She had on no knickers, and my heart went crash-bang-wallop and my eyes popped out. She hadn't shaved, and her fanny looked like a tropical fish or a bit of old carpet.
- Apples, Richard Milward
  • When I touch her, my fingers don't question what she is. My body knows who she is. The strange thing about strangers is that they are unknown and known. There is a pattern to her, a shape I understand, a private geometry that numbers mine. She is a maze where I got lost years ago, and now find the way out. She is the missing map. She is the place that I am.
- The Stone Gods, Jeanette Winterson

[more here]

But so far these are just cheerful accidents. The true experts are the yearly winners of the Bulwer-Lytton competition who manage to write sentences that eclipse even the honkers of George Earl Bulwer-Lytton himself ('It was a dark and stormy night.') You only need to look at the Bulwer-Lytton Awards' 'lyttony' to realise the carefully-honed skillset one must need to win:

  • The bone-chilling scream split the warm summer night in two, the first half being before the scream when it was fairly balmy and calm and pleasant for those who hadn't heard the scream at all, but not calm or balmy or even very nice for those who did hear the scream, discounting the little period of time during the actual scream itself when your ears might have been hearing it but your brain wasn't reacting yet to let you know.
- Patricia E. Presutti, Lewiston, New York, 1986 Winner
  • Sultry it was and humid, but no whisper of air caused the plump, laden spears of golden grain to nod their burdened heads as they unheedingly awaited the cyclic rape of their gleaming treasure, while overhead the burning orb of luminescence ascended its ever-upward path toward a sweltering celestial apex, for although it is not in Kansas that our story takes place, it looks godawful like it.
- Judy Frazier, Lathrop, Missouri, 1991 Winner
  • Through the gathering gloom of a late-October afternoon, along the greasy, cracked paving-stones slick from the sputum of the sky, Stanley Ruddlethorp wearily trudged up the hill from the cemetery where his wife, sister, brother, and three children were all buried, and forced open the door of his decaying house, blissfully unaware of the catastrophe that was soon to devastate his life.
- Dr. David Chuter, Kingston, Surrey, 1999 Winner
  • Gerald began--but was interrupted by a piercing whistle which cost him ten percent of his hearing permanently, as it did everyone else in a ten-mile radius of the eruption, not that it mattered much because for them "permanently" meant the next ten minutes or so until buried by searing lava or suffocated by choking ash--to pee.

- Jim Gleeson, Madison, WI (2007 Winner)

[the lyttony - 1983 to 2009]
Current Location: Newtown, Wellington
29 September 2009 @ 23:47
Just when the world seems to be running smoothly an empty tin falls off the book shelf onto the laptop, leaving the LCD ruptured in one large area, ensuring that you won't be blogging very easily for a while.


[Fixed! Sort of. An old monitor is doing my laptop monitor's job now.]
Current Location: Newtown, Wellington
Current Mood: aggravatedbroken-expensive-things
29 September 2009 @ 04:48
I posted this on Facebook back on August 14, but seeing as I'm unexpectedly awakening to my blog again, I should cross-post it here. Names are changed, because this isn't a personal attack, just an account of my experiences with a form of quackery.

Since I was very young, I've suffered a great deal of neurosis, and as a consquence I have often had very sore muscles, particularly in my back. It is stress and lack of sleep that does this and there are lots of therapies I have adopted to help ease the pain. Sometimes I meditate (ie 'sit down and breath'). Sometimes I stretch. Sometimes I go for a jog. Occasionally someone is around who is willing to give me a backrub. Sometimes I take valerian extract tablets (I've no idea if these work). I've also tried to enforce a medicated sleep regime, but that involves doctors, prescriptions, taking tablets an hour before bed, and eventually falling out of the good habits I can build up, leaving me more stressed than ever before. (I quit this tactic). Chocolate, sex, watching a good comedy - there are lots of valid therapies for my condition. I could even go a step further and medicate for anxiety, but I'm not sure how that it would help me address the underlying causes of my anxiety, and I'm not sure anxiety is actually such a bad thing. It encourages me to think, unfortunately, at the cost of my (once reasonably sharp) sense of humour. I also babble a bit and forsake my train of thought. Returning to my intial point: I have a bad back, and I've tried a lot of different methods for easing it.

Quite a few years ago, I let a friend take me to see a 'specialist' in Ngatea. This specialist - let's just call him 'Doug' - had nice digs. A very 'medical' looking office, with plants and diverting magazines in the waiting room. It was like a real honest-to-god medical establishment, so little did I know then. I dutifully looked at the pictures in a National Geographic, and probably thought wanky undergraduate thoughts, until my name came up. Doug was a nice guy. He got me to sit on an adjustable massage table, and he began gently moving my legs around without speaking. While I was lying there, my eyes glided over his certificate. I remember thinking to myself, 'What the heck is Ortho-Bionomy, isn't this guy a physiotherapist?' Still, Doug had a nice face, and he was shifting my legs about with authority. There is plenty I don't know about medicine, so I figured I'd go with it. Probably a branch of medicine I've never heard of.

Eventually, Doug had me on my stomach, and there he was, gently feeling up my back. I say 'feeling up' because that is all it was. This was not massage. Doug only poked here, prodded there, carefully shifted the occasional limb. Quite rightly, Doug observed that I wasn't breathing very often (another offshoot of the anxiety, I hold my breath without realising it occasionally). This was the only useful advice Doug gave me, because immediately afterwards he launched into several sentences of eloquent bullshit. My back had a 'knot' in it, pulling one of my legs up, and therefore 'energy could not flow' throughout my body properly. Obligingly, he produced a photocopied flowchart of a human silouette with arrows inside it, corresponding roughly to no anatomical structures inside any mammal, let alone the primate sitting before him. It was a bit weird. What do you do when you go to see an expert, and it suddenly dawns on you that you actually understand the anatomy he works with better than he does?

I did the obvious thing: I asked him what the energy was. There are lots of different kinds of 'energies'. The thermal radiation from my body, that's energy. The kinetic flow of my blood is energy. Energy isn't a vague term, it means something specific. It refers to forces that can be qualified and quantified. I'm not a physicist, but I know the word 'energy' is an almost meaningless word all by itself. And his answer was 'energy', all by itself. I asked how this energy was observed, how anyone knew it existed, and he got pissed off and diverted the question as if I it was an idiotic one, not even worth his time. At this point, we'd established a rapport in that we didn't like each other. I was indignant, still quite confused. To be honest I felt a bit abused by his lack of response. Was I not 'in his care'? He was authorative and a little bitchy. I was clearly being a bad patient with what he deemed a 'closed mind'.
My eyebrow piercing was the next problem. 'Why', I asked. His reply: 'You've got a hunk of metal through your skin, you think it's not causing problems?' Well, no, to be honest. Is it needless to say that he wouldn't explain HOW the piercing COULD cause problems?

It dawned on me that the guy wasn't actually treating my body at all, he was treating a metaphysical template of my body. To Doug, my pain didn't have many physical causes, and if it did have physical causes they were of the vaguest, least specific nature possible. Toxins, energy blockages and the like. Words that don't bear any concrete meaning without mechanical qualifications. So I left, and my back felt better for a couple of hours. I had spent a good ten minutes relaxing and being touched gently before he sprung his psychobabblebarfmonster routine. Relaxation and touch help ease minor pain. This is not exactly a medical revolution.

Doug was a nice a guy, I said that already. But he was taking a lot of money from people and offering in return what anyone could get from going for a jog, having a good long shag, or even just having a hot bath. What's more, he was only treating the symptoms of my pain. He wasn't capable of treating the causes, because the anatomy he was referring to was non-existent.

I've since looked into Ortho-Bionomy, and really its methods are harmless. It's even, in many senses, an effective therapy in that practitioners encourage their customers to relax, and that is, at least, something weakly beneficial. Two things though, it is not: It's not worth what anyone is paying for it, and it's not a treatment for any ailment. It is strictly a therapy, a way of relaxing. Anyone who turned to Ortho-Bionomy who had a hard-to-detect and serious problem would be throwing their money away and risking further injuries through neglect. At best, the practice could be incorporated into a wider treatment regime, but why would a doctor do that when there are evidence-based alternatives like physiotherapy?

Ortho-Bionomy is really just a feel good non-treatment, a relatively recent arrival on the therapy scene that grew out of mystifying and extrapolating upon a few sensible physical concepts, picking up some 'homeopathic principals' along the way. Conveying the level of feel-good vagueness, there is a description of the 'modality' on an official site. It states:

Ortho-Bionomy stimulates the body's self-correcting and self-balancing reflexes by way of the proprioceptive reflexes located in our joints and muscles. The practitioner uses movement and gentle compression to find positions of comfort which allow the body to change the stress and pain patterns which are causing the discomfort.

Ortho-Bionomy also employs the homeopathic concept that what cannot be cured from within cannot be cured from without. Using gentle positioning and light touch, Ortho-Bionomy stimulates inner awareness to awaken within the individual a sense of natural balance and well-being, both physically and emotionally. The inner wisdom of the body is recognized and affirmed. Self healing occurs as the person remembers their natural ability to move away from pain and toward ease.

[source: http://www.ortho-bionomy.org/]

This passage is most beautiful in the manner that it mixes real science - proprioception is just the sense we have of our bodily positioning, including the postion of our internal organs, our limbs, etc - with meaningless nonsense. That 'inner wisdom of the body', this creepy quasi-religious idea that everyone's body has an unseen and ideal metaphysical template that it is working from. Invoking proprioception lends Ortho-Bionomy a scientific air that it just has not earned. People's bodies are matters of fact (in the justified true belief sense of the word) - physical matter positioned in space and time. People themselves can have ideals about their bodies in the minds, and they can strive for those ideals. They have every right to. But these are just wishes, not the ethereal uber-body universal to all humanity. To inform patients that their body has a 'natural ability to move away from pain and toward ease' of its own accord is not only just barely slightly true-ish-esque, it's socially irresponsible. Bodies are an incredibly complex system of organs that have a limited ability to deal with injuries, pathogens, etc, but often need physical intervention to continue functioning. It's safer to go to someone who understands anatomical structure, who doesn't grossly over-simplify what is happening in a body, and who can actually address the physical causes of pain: A doctor. After all, if our bodies all had magical invisible reference points and 'a natural ability to move away from pain and towards ease' then we wouldn't need heavily discredited quacks like homeopathists, acupuncturists, Ortho-Bionomists, faith healers, reiki practitioners, and all the other money-hungry pseudo-medical mobsters* preying upon the uninformed and hopeful.

*Who are often actually really nice people who believe in what they do.


The Association of NZ Ortho-Bionomists
(Homegrown talent!)

Ortho-Bionomy with Jessica Sehested Mark
(Who responsibly notes that her discipline 'is not, however, a substitute for proper nutrition, exercise, or necessary medical care.' Good on her!)

The Society of Ortho-Bionomy International
(I think they invented the word 'evolvement').

Sort of Vaguely Related Links

Krispy Kreme Diva
(Whenever I post something longer than a status update, I worry that I sound like this).

Last Night's Close Up piece on Faith Healing
(This and the next link are what reminded me of my Ortho-Bionomic experience. Bless the media and its little booties).

Last Night's Campbell Live piece on Faith Healing
Current Location: Newtown, Wellington
Part I: This Page
Part II: Some Modern Chiropractic Ideas

Little in this series of posts rises above personal opinion. I'm not a medical expert and I don't plan to talk about medical research in detail. I've had medically-trained friends explain some of this research to me, but I'm not qualified to discuss it in detail and there are other bloggers who are. I am trying to make a series of posts for non-medically-trained readers (like myself) outlining the historic ideas behind modern chiropractic, and also voicing my concerns about the recent BSA decision against Dr Shaun Holt.
For discussion of research into modern chiropractic therapies, I'll provide links at the end.

Science changes. Scientific opinion shifts to account for new theories and new evidence, and medicine is a science. Egotism and dogma are threats to scientific progress, and some scientists refuse to abandon theories that have been debunked by evidence because they have invested so much time or sentiment.  Prior to important discoveries like germ theory or genetics, simpler theories with much less evidence behind them thrived in their places. Some of these ancient theories held that the body was a vessel through which ill-accounted-for 'energy' flowed. This was not energy in any coherent, scientific sense. It was really just a sweeping metaphor that stood in for bodily functions that nobody understood yet. Similar to the theistic science's God of the Gaps, there is a folk medicine's Energy of the Gaps.

The more science has learned about the human body, the more medical therapies built around this Energy of the Gaps have seemed wrong-headed. Spiritualistic medical ideas like yatudhānya, Qi and miasma are really, in a very solid and basic sense, debunked scientific theories. Nowadays scientists know a great deal about viruses, bacteria, prions, and genetic disease. Scientists also have evidence that these entities exist. Other theories, like those behind acupuncture and reiki, are ancient failures that have not accounted for themselves. Some are demonstrably false. However the therapies built upon debunked theories persist for many complex cultural and economic reasons.

From now on, for clarity, I will refer to three different kinds of medicines - evidence-based medicine, which as the name suggests is supported by evidence; folk medicine, which refers to concepts like Qi that have no basis beyond anecdote; and alternative medicine, which refers to modern therapies adapted from folk medicines. Alternative medicines may have some level of evidential support. Generally though, when evidence supports an alternative medicine it becomes evidence-based medicine. Alternative medicine practitioners sometimes make claims outside the scope of evidential support. Today I am reflecting on just such claims, following up on a short post I made the other day about a dispute between chiropractors, the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA), and Dr Shaun Holt, who appears regularly on TV One's Breakfast. Here is footage of Holt's offending statements:

However, this first post focuses primarily on how chiropractic came to be, not on the dispute itself.

Chiropractic is an alternative medicine, and it grew out of theories that seemed a little more plausible in the late 1800s than they do now. In 1895 an Iowa man named Daniel David Palmer began treating patients by adjusting their spinal cords. Palmer had no medical training, although he did read medical journals, and he had quite a noble attitude towards scientific enquiry:

Chiropractic to be a science must be specific. In order to be scientific it must contain the knowledge of the principles and facts of biology reduced to an unvarying law and embodied into a system. Where science ends faith begins.

(The Chiropractor, D D Palmer, 1914)

Unfortunately, Palmer's noble attitude was not paired with a sound understanding of anatomy. He was, after all, a grocery store owner, turned magnetic healer. A medical hobbiest, at best. Instead of learning the specifics of anatomy and healing, Palmer invented an increasingly complex and specious set of metaphors about the body to compensate his limited understanding. His Spiritualistic leanings wrought havoc on his ability to assess the human body's composition. Early in his career he did not really have the many benefits of Darwin's theory, so he presumed a Creator's conscious intent in many anatomical structures. He was too egotistical about the nature of life to accept that organisms might have the physical basis we now know they possess:
The science of chiropractic and that of machinery have no resemblance whatever, in their motive force. That being a fact, why try to illustrate either one by the principles belonging to the other? Just as well try to explain the science of grammar by that of astronomy; geography by mathematics; chemistry by agriculture; or that of music by navigation. Man is not a machine. The science of chiropractic is in no way related to the science of machinery. Its phenomena are dependent upon vital force, not that of dynamics. The structure of the body is defined under that of anatomy, not metalography -- a treatise on metals. Bodily functions depend upon vital force, not dynamics. The existence of metals, whether in the form of machinery or that of ore, depends upon certain inanimate qualities, whereas the existence of animals depends upon functions. Vital philosophy and mechanical philosophy are not correlated, they are radically and entirely different. The laws which govern the existence of animated beings and that of animated objects differ.


Palmer piled metaphors on top of metaphors:

Why not learn of the two ganglionic chains of the sympathetic nervous system which reach from the occiput to the coccyx, its plexus of nerves extending into the cranium, the fibers of which unite with the cranial nerves, and that these vertebral cords are distributing agencies of organic life, reaching to all the viscera?

(ibid, my emphasis)

My knowledge of the nervous system is slim to none, so I'm in no position to comment on how accurate his structural description is. It doesn't really matter because you don't need expert knowledge of anatomy to see that he was building up an unsubstantiated metaphor. What is the mystery force that the vertebral cords are 'distributing'? Vital force. But we still have no idea what vital force is, except that machines don't use it. I'll let Palmer explain vital force, to the best of his abilities:

Molecular vibration is a law of the universe, nothing is exempt from this activity. It is universal in its application. Progression is an established principle. Spiritual progress towad perfection is dependent upon physical and spiritual growth. The universe is composed of spirit and matter. All living material is animated by spirit. The process of physical and spiritual growth are so intimately blended that it is difficult to separate one from the other. Our bodies are animated by spirit through molecular vibration; without vital force there would be no action guided by intelligence. Astral spirits composed of supersensitive substance, inhabiting supersensible spheres are far more refined than the material of this world, yet they are undergoing a process of advancement analogous to that of individuals on this earth.


Palmer built up his own imaginary brand of organism-specific physics in which an ill-identified force pumped out of the brain and into 'all the viscera', breathing life along the way. Palmer did draw analogies between 'vital force' and known energies in rather a long-winded passage here, but it was a futile exercise because he had no evidence that anything quite matching his definition of vital force really existed. There are definitely lots of energies in the body, and scientists can specify them. Some of them are transferred along the spine. Palmer (probably not consciously) believed he had absolved himself of specifying and individually categorising all this activity by labelling them under one collective, metaphysical term.

From here, Palmer took another enormous leap, claiming that because this vital force is transferred along the spine, any disalignment in the spine causes diseases. In fact Palmer pushed that claim to its limits, claiming that 95% of all diseases that exist were caused by spinal issues, with the remaining 5% resulting from the disalignment of other joints outside the spine.

Chiropractic began as pseudo-science, and has remained pseudo-scientific. That is not to say that chiropractic is ineffective at relieving some minor back problems, but its ridiculous premise - however much it has been elaborated on and added to - means it is probably a very poorly-targeted treatment. It would be very specious to say this pseudo-scientific history alone discredits modern chiropractic altogether. It does not. No doubt there are some very good chiropractors who are very much akin to physiotherapists operating under another name. It is also clear that a surprising number of chiropractors claim they can treat conditions that clearly have nothing to do with messed up vertebrae, such as asthma and ear infections. You'll note in the video above that Holt is very charitable towards chiropractic, stating clearly that research confirms it to be 'as good as conventional medicine' for treating back pain, but also that there are not really any consistently reliable treatments for back pain. It is where chiropractors claim they can treat non-skeletal and non-muscular conditions that Holt objects.

In my next post, I'll list some of the claims that are on chiropractic websites in New Zealand and beyond, looking at how some of them relate back to D. D. Palmer's pseudoscientific concept of the human body. One of these claims is that chiropractors are 'doctors'. In truth, chiropractors have no mandate to use that title [edit: without qualifying it]. I will follow that with a third post, discussing the role of the BSA as a mediator of scientific discourse in the media. I will also touch upon some valid concerns about Holt's motives. Here is a list of links that I plan to include at the end of each post in this series. You should read these, if you are at all interested, because some of these bloggers and writers have expertise in medicine and/or biology.

Links - Blogs on Holt vs BSA
Links - Reporting
Links - General Comments on Chiropractic
Current Location: Newtown, Wellington
A small article on Stuff.co.nz (http://tinyurl.com/mdv5vp) just caught my attention. Apparently Breakfast regular Dr Shaun Holt is in trouble for panning chiropractic 'medicine'. Holt is an interesting character, he runs a science communication group that discusses recent medical research, and a lot of what he communicates matches the advice and opinions I come across from my GPs, the few medical practitioners I know personally, and among doctors who blog. Holt advocates evidence-based medicine, which is brilliant, although he has a tendency not to scrutinise the research he reports to the public very thoroughly, so that sometimes he says things that are just plain wrong. For example, in a recent edition of Holt's NZ Natural Health Now (http://tinyurl.com/m4oy2a), he cites a meta-analysis of acupuncture research that I had already seen savaged all over the blogosphere (Orac, as usual, being the most vicious: (http://tinyurl.com/crbt33)). So Holt isn't always thorough, but generally he does a good job. He'd do a better job if he did more investigation, but to his credit he does provide links in NZ Natural Health Now, so readers who are curious enough can follow up on his advice with their own supplementary reading.

Chiropractic is a *little* less loopy in its foundations than acupuncture, but it also has disturbingly reductive roots. The modality's founder, Daniel David Palmer, developed a theory that manipulating the spine could solve almost any disease, because the spine connects the brain to the body. No, you didn't read wrong, that really is as stupidly over-simplified as it sounds. In fact, Palmer claimed that the vast majority ('99%') of diseases are caused by displaced vertebrae. Journalist Simon Singh covered all this ground in his famous and controversial article, Beware the Spinal Trap. Singh's article, which I'll link to below, detailed not only the dodgy beginnings of chiropractic, but also the relatively high risks involved in the modern practice:

"In 2001, a systematic review of five studies revealed that roughly half of all chiropractic patients experience temporary adverse effects, such as pain, numbness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. These are relatively minor effects, but the frequency is very high, and this has to be weighed against the limited benefit offered by chiropractors.

More worryingly, the hallmark technique of the chiropractor, known as high-velocity, low-amplitude thrust, carries much more significant risks. This involves pushing joints beyond their natural range of motion by applying a short, sharp force. Although this is a safe procedure for most patients, others can suffer dislocations and fractures.

Worse still, manipulation of the neck can damage the vertebral arteries, which supply blood to the brain. So-called vertebral dissection can ultimately cut off the blood supply, which in turn can lead to a stroke and even death. Because there is usually a delay between the vertebral dissection and the blockage of blood to the brain, the link between chiropractic and strokes went unnoticed for many years. Recently, however, it has been possible to identify cases where spinal manipulation has certainly been the cause of vertebral dissection."

[source: http://tinyurl.com/m6cgv8]

This article sparked a fascinating response from the British Chiropractic Association. They decided to sue Singh for libel. British libel law is quite, quite mad. The burden of proof is reversed in such cases, and Singh has to prove his innocence rather the BCA proving his guilt. The BCA are under no obligation to demonstrate that their outlandish claims of being able to cure relieve ear infections and other non-spine-related illnesses have any basis in fact. The scientific and journalistic communities responded with a wealth of intelligent disapproving comments and letters:

“England's strict libel laws can deter individuals from speaking out against bad science, even when they have strong evidence for their argument. Simon's campaign deserves the support of everyone who cares about fighting pseudoscience.”
- Professor Richard Wiseman, Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology, University of Hertfordshire

“This case is critical for all science writers and investigative journalists, for if our skeptical investigations and subsequent opinions can be squelched through the threat of a ruinously expensive lawsuit, then the result will be that misguided quacks and dishonest frauds can simply say and do what they like without recourse, with disastrous results for the public. There is no place for the law to stop critically important investigations into possible fraudulent or unfounded claims. Without the freedom to perform such important investigations, science and journalism take a back seat to anyone with the legal clout to stop us for their own nefarious reasons.”
- Michael Shermer, Scientific American

"Last year I was sued personally, alongside The Guardian, by a German vitamin pill salesman called Matthias Rath. He had moved into South Africa, a country headed by an HIV denialist president, taking out full-page newspaper adverts claiming that antiretroviral medication was a conspiracy from the pharmaceutical industry to kill africans, and vitamin pills were the answer to the Aids epidemic. I was highly critical of these activities. The libel case brought by Rath dragged on for 17 months and ultimately cost £535,000 to defend. This is not an isolated case, and my thoughts are with Simon Singh. It is vitally important that we are able to criticise ideas and practices in medicine: this is how ideas improve, and it is how foolish, dangerous practices are eradicated. The law is wrong."
- Ben Goldacre, Bad Science

[source: http://tinyurl.com/r2bqse]

Now we Kiwis have our own bizarre case of a chiropractic body silencing a critic who is merely giving an evidence based perspective - in other words, a medical perspective. The BSA's decision astounds me. The blogosphere is already reacting with disgust against today's decision. MacDoctor is a doctor, albeit one who lets his Right-wing and occasionally puritanical politics heavily influence his opinions. In this case though, he's a great local expert. Go read his post here: http://www.macdoctor.co.nz/2009/09/24/broadcasting-substandards/

I had planned to write a proper note about this, but I'm suffering insomnia so I'm sleepless and simultaneously exhausted. I can't go on. I might try to rewrite this tomorrow, I have an awful lot more to say.

Here is a link to Holt's (very measured) comments from Breakfast in March.


Current Location: Wellington CBD
Current Mood: chipperchipper
Current Music: Jim Mora's Panel
24 May 2009 @ 07:22
[I decided this was too substantial a rant to just let fester on Facebook, so I'm cross-posting it here. It started as a blog response, oddly enough. But it grew and grew.]

I'm not involved with animal activism at all. For the majority of my life I argued strongly against vegetarianism, if not animal rights, simply out a received loathing and a misplaced cynicism. I grew up surrounded by the pork industry, I worked in the pork industry, and my family is still deeply involved in it. Over the past week, this industry has proved itself totally unprincipled. It's not easy for me to write a just and dispassionate memoir of my youth on an industrial pork and dairy operation, precisely because I get angry at myself for feeling so dispassionate towards my fellow animals. My workmates reacted with disgust and horror at NZ Open Rescue's footage of pig farming, but all I saw were scenes of home. I saw images that I have always known and that I never questioned across the first 19 years of my life. One grows very used to others' suffering so that one needs to constantly recall the reality of it. How often do we see starving children on a World Vision ad and really feel the enormity of their suffering? Very seldom, or we would spend our lives emotionally exhausted. Occasionally something new or particularly poignant jolts us into an on-the-spot sympathy, and occasionally we sit ourselves down and truly contemplate the situation, seeing suffering so large we cannot conceptualise it quite clear enough. For all that we may become desensitised, most of us still care, we just need to imagine ourselves as the sufferer. Empathy can be a slow-won intellectual feat as much as it can be a knee-jerk reaction to novel cruelties. As a child, I don't ever remember looking on our 5000 or so pigs (at any one time) as victims of abuse. My mother loves to remind me that when I was very small, I would watch dad shoot pigs, and afterwards squeal happily because, 'Piggy is having a ride in the wheelbarrow.' Piggy was, of course, quite dead. However, viewed as dispassionately as possible, I can see that the way we treat pigs (including killing them against their will) is abuse. Armed with this knowledge, I often feel distressed that I don't care for pigs in a visceral way - my caring is such a dry affair. It is just acknowledgement. I acknowledge that these pigs suffer in ways very similar to how I would, especially if I did not have language. It is as moving a fact for me as 1 + 2 = 3. I plan to describe, as honestly and plainly as possible, the average life cycle for an industrial-farmed pig. There is, however, one aspect we must address prior to looking at how pigs are kept.

What is a pig?

Before discussing the conditions we keep pigs in, it is essential that we consider how sensitive pigs are to these conditions. Feel free to skip over this portion if you feel inclined, feel free to disregard my conclusions. Bear in mind that I am perfectly open to dispute, despite often sounding too certain of my position, so please call me on my mistakes. Pigs share a lot of traits with humans, a lot of their organs are so similar to ours that they are better candidates for xenotransplantation than apes. Pigs are not only physically complex, they are also smart and sensitive social animals. In the 1990s researchers at Penn State University found that pigs excel at recalling icons, demonstrating more skill in several areas than many primates (http://tinyurl.com/penn-u-pigs1). Measuring animal intelligence is a shifty affair, there is no easy way to do it. We must rely on a mixture of comparative neurology, behavioural research, and, due to the problem of other minds, a bit of philosophy and anecdote. I believe that few people dispute the fact that animals have minds, so I apologise for presuming that the reader accepts this in what follows. Pig brains are, in the grand scheme of things, exceptionally similar to our own. Pigs are less visually orientated than us, with a keener sense of smell (hence truffle-pigs). The Penn State research showed that pigs can deal with a low level of symbolism, like the most intelligent primates. As a matter of simple fact: These animals think. How much? That's hard to answer. We recognise a lot of ourselves in many non-human animals. Unfortunately, while this can allow us to interact with them on a personal level, it also allows some of us to anthropomorphise them. C-grade comedian-turned-animal-rights-campaigner Mike King did this recently. He spoke of the pigs 'screaming for help.' Anyone who has spent time with pigs, domestic or wild, knows that squealing is normal behaviour in almost every breed (kunekunes being the most notable exception). Far more concerning are the clear symptoms of mental and physical illness in farmed pigs; tattered teats, repeated bar chewing, chewing their own tails off, goring themselves, rubbing themselves raw, depression, the high piglet mortality rate and high rates of infection. These are the same symptoms we see in Romanian orphans kept in appalling conditions, and they most likely stem from the same categories of disorders. Highly intelligent, social non-humans like pigs (or sheep or dolphins or chimps) don't have syntactical language. They understand their environment in a much simpler way, but not a way we cannot begin to conceptualise. We are so similar to them that their minds are not too mysterious. Touch your desk. There is a distinct feeling to that. Where humans can explore that feeling in complex, linked ways due to our syntactical language, a pig simply knows the feeling. Our sensory world - the sensory world of any mammal - is incredibly rich, and it affords us a coherent narrative of our environment and, to a lesser degree, of ourselves.

Do pigs have a sense of self?
Probably, we don't have good tests for this sort of knowledge. We do know that other animals with similar capabilities, like elephants, can recognise themselves in a mirror. But the mirror test is fundamentally flawed for any animal that (a) can't see reflections in mirrors, or (b) relies on other senses more than vision.

Do pigs have a concept other minds?
If they do it cannot be as complete as ours, and it must be intuitive, not elaborate. They do have a certain morality in their dealings, but this does not have to be conscious.

Do pigs have a concept of death?
Probably not, given that this is a complex idea requiring complex language, and one that even humans struggle with.

Do pigs express a desire to live?
Without a single doubt. Pigs work hard not to die, but not only in the defensive, physiological way that a plant does. Pigs don't only ward off death with a tusky defense, they have a profound psychological reaction to being killed. They show all the same traits we see in a person who fears for their life, who fights for their life, in an unmistakeably familiar way.

The only word that comes close to accurately describing what most farming does to animals is immediately and obviously inappropriate: dehumanise. There ought to be a word to describe the process of treating non-humans as less than the sum of their physical and psychological parts, but there simply is not one. I should digress. My challenge in writing this post is to set things out justly, to describe pigs and pig farming conditions without embelllishment, and then to leave anyone who bothers reading this to make up their own mind. I must try not to persuade from this point on. I must merely 'put the question'.


Most farms avoid manual breeding, sticking to artificial insemination (http://tinyurl.com/liquidgenes). Every medium or large pig farm I have seen uses farrowing crates. There are very few small pork farms supplying pork to the public. You've most likely seen farrowing crates now. Legally they have to be 60cms across and most are. This is about the same width as the sow. She can stand up and she can lie down. In some piggeries feeding is automated, in others it is distributed by hand using trolleys of meal. Sows go into farrowing crates at some point during pregnancy (I can't remember how far into term). The mortality rate is high. The sows stay on a slatted floor, and in theory their excrement falls through the slats. Plenty of excrement does not fall through the stats, but instead cakes onto them. About once every two months, when no pigs are in a room of pens, someone water blasts away the heavy build up of waste. The sows live in very low-light conditions prior to giving birth, often left in total darkness. They froth at the mouth, they chew bars, they rub their skin off.
When kept inside with no way to root about or roam, sows get depressed. They tend to eat their litters and chew their tails off. Farrowing crates allow farmers to massively increase their yield, both allowing more sows into a small space, and preventing them from actively eating their young (a sow will still eat them sometimes if a piglet ends up near enough to her mouth). Sows give birth unassisted, unless they have birthing troubles. In these cases, we would sit with a sow and rub her belly. Occasionally, we would assist with the birth manually. Piglets are stillborn quite often, but I suspect this is normal and not due to the sow's conditions. Litters are big, and piglets lie beneath warming lightbulbs for the first few weeks of their lives. Piglets can, very occasionally, find ways out of their pens. Often they fall into the below-feet sewage system and either drown or succomb to gangrene and maggots. Occasionally they are rescued. The high piglet mortality rate means lots of bodies to dispose of. Different farmers do this differently. In our case, we had numerous deep wells of piglet bodies in between trees in our orchard. We put sawdust between layers of bodies to hinder the smell a bit, and to hurry their decomposing along.
My job, as a boy, was often to either waterblast the pens, or to prepare newborn piglets for their lives in the piggeries. Wearing earmuffs, I would cut the piglets' future tusks out with pliers, and then cut their tails off the same way (to stop them chewing them off in the future). I would then inject iodine into their necks using a syringe (the same one for each).


Several weeks into their lives, the piglets are considerably larger and can start on solid food. At this point, we move them into weaner pens. These pens have slightly sloped concrete floors with some drainage. The pigs can get water from special nozzles that spray when pressed (like drinking fountains), and they feed from low-lying troughs. Across their lives, the pigs eat much more edible food than their meat could ever produce: food industry by-products (especially whey), edible grains, and a stunning amount of mislabelled/misprinted products from companies like Bluebird and Hubbard's (they cannot repackage and sell such batches). The pigs have no choice but to lie down and root in faecal matter. Most piggeries have a very small number of sawdust-floored pens. They are usually sunny and provide a lot more room, and about ten or so lucky pigs get to live there for a short while. These pigs are not so dirty, because they can bury their shit. These pens are much more expensive to maintain. Even a small number of these pens (six, for example) necessitates a veritable mountain of sawdust. Recently, I realised why these pens exists. When 3 News reporters turned up to a very large piggeries this week the farmer would not let them onto the property, but agreed to take some photos with their still camera. He returned with these: one photo of a farrowing crate at a concealing angle, and several photos of (the same) pigs in sawdust-floored pens. Work affords me the luxury of pausing and rewinding the news as I please, otherwise I probably could not have noted that they were not different sets of pigs.

Day-to-Day Lives

Depending on whether they will be eaten or used for breeding, pigs are allowed to live between a few months and a few years. They are herded from pen to pen with only a profit-orientated concern for their welfare. Workers (my young self included) take no cautions not to needlessly hurt the animals. They are kicked, bruised, prodded with bars, or chased and frightened while they are being moved (although this is typical treatment for all livestock in all farming that I know). Grown-up pens don't differ much as the weaners grow and grow, moving from pen to pen, and living caked in magnificent amounts of poo and food. Since they were weaners they have been developing abnormal habits for pigs. Except for while they are sleeping, they are quite sociopathic. They fight and gore each other as much as they can without tusks, and they squeal constantly, all night and all day. They don't do enormous amounts of damage to each other, thankfully, but they do chew on bars and froth at the mouth. They chew on anything put near their mouths. Small wounds they get from either each other, or from obsessive compulsive rubbing, often become infected. Responsible farmers treat infections with antibiotics. Organic farm animals, very often deprived of antibiotics and other good medical care, tend to turn septic and suffer agonising illness, usually ending in death. Pigs live packed quite tightly, around ten to a cage. Most pigs are slaughtered at this point.


Generally, this is the first time pigs see much sunlight (white breeds admittedly sunburn very easily), during a short walk out of their mass penning area, down some hallways, and into a raised outside holding pen with a dock for a stock truck. They are kicked and frighted into the new environment, and then onto the truck's trailer. They are packed very tightly onto the stock truck in several stories. By necessity, the animals shit and piss onto the lower stories. Presumably they are hosed down at the abbatoir. I am less familiar with their arrival at the abattoir than I am with the rest of the process. Different kinds of animals are kept separately. Generally the housing in the abattoirs I've seen has been larger and cleaner than on farms. To be fair, workers do try to cause the animals minimal distress, but distress is inevitable when an animal is jolted into a strange new environment after a long ride on a truck, all the while suffering brighter light than it has ever seen before. The main concern is not to cause so much stress that it affects meat quality. Workers have electric 'goads' to herd livestock, sort of like lower voltage tasers. Animals are almost always killed within 24 hours of arriving on the abattoir site. If an animals is injured during transport, it is slaughtered quickly. Animals are cautious and confused, only visibly as frightened as they ever are when being herded, up until their last more terrified moments. As they are man-handled before they die, the animals do panic. Workers use special restraints to ensure that animals can't wriggle away from high-voltage stun guns. Workers stun the animals with electric shocks that usually render them unconscious for a short period of time, in theory long enough for the slaughter to take place. They hang upside down, and while they are (usually) unconscious the workers 'stick' the animals, which means that they plunge a knife into a neck artery, and allow the animal to bleed to death. If not unconscious after the shock, they bleed into insensibility. Lots of work goes into making the slaughter process less inhumane than it might be. A famous example is the work of Temple Grandin, an autistic farming systems developer in the US who designs less scary slaughter houses for cattle because she feels her austistic visual cognition is almost the same as how cattle think (http://tinyurl.com/thinkinginpictures).


Breeding pigs live on and become subject to a different set of conditions. Sows, when not impregnated, live in cramped group housing. Large pens with concrete floors and infrequent drainage grates house anything up to 50 very large sows (they are each about the same length as a sofa). There is sunlight on these pens, although it filters through screened windows, to there is much more of a day and night rhythm to these animals' lives. While the pigs are filthy, they are slightly less frantic than their younger counterparts. The animals establish pecking orders, and occasionally these big animals have astounding fights. Most of the time the sows do nothing but lie down. Most sows seem, if anything, depressive. A small number are rather manic. All of the animals retain the stereotypies from their younger days, they chew their limbs and tail nubs, they chew bars, and they froth. Wild pigs might engage in these activities occasionally, but these pigs do so compulsively to the point of injury.
There is the rare boar used for breeding, and depending on temperament, these guys are kept one or two to a small cage. They are big and dangerous, so I tended to avoid these guys. One of them once left a large wound in my father's upper thigh while he was trying to force copulation. (As a matter of interest (as if you cared) boars' penises look like meaty purple corkscrews, so I guess sows have a similarly shaped vagina. Genital arms races produce some amazing structures!)

Home Style Slaughter

I have the most experience with this sort of slaughter. It is the killing done on smaller operations, and on our large-scale operation for the meat we ate at home or sold as small orders. Pigs are herded into a cage on the back of a ute, and then they are put into a large shed with a concrete floor that slopes from either side down into a grated drain. Pigs wait in pens, there is no stunning, and workers simply shoot the terrified pig in the head. Naturally, this leads to a variety of outcomes: the pig can die instantly, die slowly, or not die at all and require a second shot. (As a child I loved watching dying pigs convulse. I won't take the time to detail how totally insensitive most farm children become to genuine animal welfare, but readers should consider it.) This is the end of the important descriptions. The pig's mind is obliterated, and henceforth, for the sake of completing the journey, I will describe the fate of its body, not that it really matters. The corpse is hooked by its back legs onto a set of hang scales, and hoists so that the belly faces the worker. The worker slits the belly and then begins the smelly and sticky business of cutting up the pig's inside and pulling his or her viscera out. Once empty, the carcus is scalded in a big vat of near-boiling water, and the worker shaves all the hair off of it. Finally, the carcus goes into the chiller where it stays cool, waiting to be dismembered and packed into plastic bags. Then we freeze it.

So here we finish. I deliberately left out pictures, I'm sure you've all seen more than you want to. I'll end it here, and hope no-one feels I've skewed my descriptions unfairly. Cheers for reading, even if we're still disagreeing. I don't think it would be appropriate for me to include additional commentary. The main thing is that I've said my piece against the proud, arrogant and certainly-not-victimless lies surfacing all over the TV and newspapers of late. I have the unfortunate luxury of seeing right through them.


(P.S. Do read the Temple Grandin article, it's interesting!)

Current Location: Newtown, Wellington
Current Mood: anxiousanxious
Current Music: Don Byas - Old Man River
25 January 2009 @ 04:04
The first five people that respond to this post will get something made by me. It will be about, or tailored to, those first five people who respond.

This offer does have some restrictions and limitations:
+ I make no guarantees that you will like what I make.
+ What I create will be just for you.
+ It'll be done this year.
+ You have no clue what it's going to be. It may be a mix tape. It may be fic, or a poem. I may draw or paint something. I might bake you something and mail it to you. Who knows? Not you, that's for sure!
+ I reserve the right to do something extremely strange.

The catch? Oh, the catch is that you have to put this in your journal as well!!
01 January 2009 @ 13:42
  • Any writer, I suppose, feels that the world into which he was born is nothing less than a conspiracy against the cultivation of his talent — which attitude certainly has a great deal to support it. On the other hand, it is only because the world looks on his talent with such a frightening indifference that the artist is compelled to make his talent important. So that any writer, looking back over even so short a span of time as I am here forced to assess, finds that the things which hurt him and the things which helped him cannot be divorced from each other; he could be helped in a certain way only because he was hurt in a certain way; and his help is simply to be enabled to move from one conundrum to the next — one is tempted to say that he moves from one disaster to the next.
    • "Autobiographical Notes" (1952)

Current Location: Newtown, Wellington
Current Mood: blankIf Normanby Street Could Talk
Current Music: William's Blood - Grace Jones