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Chiropractic controversy is politics over science

In the summer of 1969 my grandfather, a house painter, began to feel pain in his lower back. For some time he was treated by a chiropractor who kept insisting all he had was a pinched nerve. He needed to keep coming in, at a few bucks per pop.

No doubt the cancer eating away inside my grandfather would have killed him eventually anyway, considering he had been a lifelong smoker of unfiltered Camels. On the other hand, the tumor certainly got a nasty head start.

Now, maybe you have a counter-story about chiropractors.

If so, it probably goes something like this. For years you went to M.D. after M.D. with your particular ailment, and all those doctors did was give you pills or try to push surgery or, worst of all, tell you that it was all in your head.

Finally, you found a chiropractor who changed your life. Now you go to see him or her regularly to get "adjusted."

Well, who can argue with success? Not me.

Shoot, it's not like "traditional" doctors are know-it-all gods or anything. Modern medicine does not accomplish nearly as much as it claims to. Its technology is awesome, but its attitudes toward patients remain high-handed and backward.

In general, doctors know more about being sick than about being well. Typical story: I went to see an M.D. because I was getting knee and shin pain as a beginning runner. Doctor's order: Don't run. Fortunately, I was stubborn and learned elsewhere about the mechanics of warmup, stretching, cooldowns and the power of a good rub. That was 12 years and a whole bunch of sneakers ago.

So, sure, the chiros have a point. We humans are a lot more than a compilation of potential ailments. Each of us is (to borrow the exact words of the American Chiropractic Association) "an integrated being." We are affected by a whole host of mind-body-environment relationships.

Beyond that, however, my confidence gets shaky real quick.

There are chiropractors, and then there are chiropractors. They run the gamut from practical, fix-the-crick-in-your-neck sorts to more exotic varieties. Like 19th-century phrenologists (those folks who made maps of the bumps on our heads), some will show you elaborate diagrams that link all sorts of ailments to your lack of, you know, spinal adjustment.

So here is where a realist bumps into the practical limits. Sometimes a germ is a germ after all, and a tumor is a tumor. I have no special faith in my doctor's advice on how to live holistically _ but I have complete faith in the power of an M.D. to deal with a broken bone, a heart attack, a melanoma. In the end there is science.

All of this is by way of sneaking up on the current controversy in Tallahassee. Our state Legislature, in its eternal, bib-overall-strutting wisdom, has voted to create a school of chiropractic at Florida State University. It would be the only public chiropractic school in the country.

This decision has nothing to do with science and everything to do with politics. There are chiropractors in powerful positions in the Florida Legislature, and they have rammed it through. Among these is our own state Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Treasure Island, the leader of the Republican party in the state Senate.

It is embarrassing, of course. More than 500 faculty members at FSU, including a couple of Nobel Prize laureates, have signed statements of protest. But this will not matter to the Legislature at all.

This Legislature is far too well accustomed to running Florida's state university system by its own whim. After handing out medical schools and law schools as political rewards, this isn't even a stretch.

What hope, then? Three. FSU could fight. The state university Board of Governors could refuse. Or failing that, the Florida Supreme Court could rule that the voters of Florida banned this kind of meddling by the Legislature in a 2002 constitutional amendment.

I know that our governor and Legislature do not believe that constitutional amendments passed by the people actually count. So I look forward to FSU, the Board of Governors and the courts being, you will excuse the expression, a pain in the Legislature's neck.