There was a scary article yesterday in the New York Times talking about the popularity of a variety of CAM therapies for racehorses. It is a laundry list of nonsense complete with outrageous prices and weak rationalizations. I also thought it nicely complemented my last post, illustrating some of the “empirical” competition we poor vets mired in mere science have to face.
Of course, there are the usual players, acupuncture and chiropractic. The acupuncturist quoted recites the usual rationalization for unscientific therapies of all kinds, “We would like what’s best for the horse, however we get there isn’t the point.” In other words, “We are willing to try anything and decide it works based on uncontrolled observations.” The chiropractor quoted suggests “balance” is needed between mainstream and alternative therapies. The way the article is written makes this sound almost like a voice of caution and moderation, as if chiropractic and acupuncture were themselves mainstream. Of course, they may very well be in comparison with some of the other “alterative’ therapies mentioned.
As always, the “equine telepaths” used as “psychic diagnosticians” win the prize for most ridiculous and embarrassing “therapy.” One of them manages to say with (presumably) a straight face, “I speak with them telepathically…I can do that from anywhere in the world, it doesn’t matter where I am…Usually by the time they get to me, their skepticism is tempered by their need.” The last sentence is particular revealing. When people are desperate, they suspend critical thinking in favor of wishful thinking. I’ve talked before about the risks of such “last resort” use of CAM. It is understandable, but it doesn’t really help people or their animals.
I was also a bit concerned about the hyperbaric therapy mentioned. I admit I don’t know much about hyperbaric medicine generally, though there are certainly some legitimate uses of it. However, I find no evidence to suggest that it has been demonstrated safe and effective for “healing wear and tear on…muscles” as the article suggests. And there are real risks for oxygen toxicity (see also) which can seriously damage an animal’s lungs, so such a therapy is not risk free, though it appears such side effects are uncommon in properly administered and monitored hyperbaric treatment.
Finally, the article had some interesting information about the cost of such therapies. Half an hour in a hyperbaric chamber, for example, will set your horse back about $300. This is cheap, though, compared to the $500 for an in-person consult with an “animal communicator.” I shudder to think what the reaction would be if I charged $500 for a consultation! Apparently, I could have just skipped 4 years of vet school and the six-figure debt that went with it and learned to communicate telepathically with horses instead.