Berlin Wall





The 2019 Berlin WFC conference shocked the profession with outrageous acts by two notable characters in chiropractic. No one expected Greg Kawchuk and Jan Harvtigsen to use the stage to attack chiropractic philosophy/vitalism and clinical procedures such as imaging. Instead of enlightening the audience to new research, these two renowned researchers drove a stake into the heart of traditional chiropractic. Indeed, they positioned themselves as the extremists among our ranks pulling us apart rather than unifying our profession.

Ironically, their disruptive attitudes were totally contrary to the sentiments of both the past and present presidents of the WFC. As a result of their impudent behavior on stage, afterwards the WFC lost a fine leader when Dr. Laurie Tassell from Australia resigned after their inappropriate actions at the Berlin WFC meeting. It is clear from his previous speeches as president of the Australian and WFC associations why he resigned considering the antics of Kawchuk and Hartvigsen were antithetical to Dr. Tassell’s personal values. It is a sad day when a leader of his stature is shamed by the unprofessional behavior of the extremists who occupied the stage. It must have broken his heart to hear their insolence on a worldwide platform under this leadership.

To give you an example of Dr. Tassel’s wisdom, the following is an excerpt from his first President’s Message from the 2011 November issue of the CAA’s newsletter, The Australian Chiropractor.[1]

“This is an interesting time for the chiropractic profession. We have several stakeholder groups, both internal and external fighting to shape the profession according to their own individual belief system. It is of utmost importance that the field practitioners, by far the biggest stakeholder group, step up and control this debate or we will find a minority group defining our future as a profession.

“We must mature as a profession without compromising our identity linked to vitalism, the spine and the nervous system. What makes our task more complicated than it needs to be are the extremes in the profession. The extremes being those who hide behind philosophy as an excuse for practice building and those who hide behind evidence based practice as an excuse to make chiropractic a subset of medicine limited to treating neck pain and back pain.”

His sentiments were echoed by the incoming president, Dr. Vivian Kil from the Netherlands, in her speech in May 2015 at the Athens WFC conference when her call for unity urged that “we remove the extremes”:

“Over its entire history, our profession has had to learn to deal with internal differences. I think we will always have our differences and we will never get all chiropractors in the world to agree on every single detail. But why fight over the details if we can agree on a common ground? I think that if we remove the extremes, 95% of our profession will be able to agree on a common ground. There will always be extremists at either end of our profession, but generally, I believe that we should be able to form a united profession. If we are to rise to the occasion and fulfill the true potential of our profession, we will need to unite as a profession. We need, at least to the outside, to act as one profession, to speak the same language, and to provide the same message throughout the entire world.”

The recent debacle in Berlin by Drs. Greg Kawchuk and Jan Hartvigsen revealed themselves as extremists calling to abandon the principles of traditional chiropractic by attacking vitalism, the God Factor in health care, and the backbone of chiropractic philosophy. As atheists they may choose to deny a vital healing force exists (since it cannot be “quantified” as researchers are apt to say) and they obviously are willing to ridicule those who understand it, but most DCs who subscribe to any faith do not deny there is an innate intelligence in our body.

Remarkably, these two researchers revealed their extreme bias in the most profane manner when Jan Hartvigsen threw red meat to the audience by declaring “subluxation was imaginary” and the practice of using x-rays to identify subluxation and outcomes of care was “absolutely rubbish.”  Greg Kawchuk was no less insulting when he compared bringing children to a vitalistic chiropractor was equivalent to taking them to a pedophile Catholic priest. Their supporters (obviously not Catholics) joyfully responded by throwing empty plastic water bottles (rubbish) from the audience onto the stage in a display of their vitriolic behavior. Geez, it must have been fun to act like a bunch of juveniles, eh?

As a Christian myself, it’s hard to trust these biased researchers who profess an agnostic agenda; certainly any believer cannot respect them as leaders with their skewed perspective. Indeed, these agnostics have taken the “life” out of the life sciences; they have taken the “bio” out of biology. They ridiculed the essence of the Big Idea in chiropractic with their sophomoric attack when they chose to demonstrate their dissent in a most shameful manner at a worldwide setting during the WFC Berlin conference.

In one fell swoop on stage in Berlin, Kawchuk and Hartvigsen denigrated a century of classical chiropractic principles that have helped millions of patients get well without drugs, shots, or surgery by adjusting their alleged “imaginary subluxations.”  In their attempt to be progressive, they showed how regressive they really are. Apparently Hartvigsen and Kawchuk in their academic ivory towers feel they are more intelligent than the thousands of chiropractic educators who have developed our philosophy, the litany of innovators who have developed our clinical science, the many clinic masters who have developed our art, and hundreds of thousands of practicing DCs around the world who have fought gallantly on the front lines of the medical war to keep this healing art alive to serve our patients.

To the mainstream DCs in the audience, the heretical display by Kawchuk and Hartvigsen was an embarrassment, not unlike a similar display at the 2017 WFC conference in Washington DC, when  Ayla Azad, the president of the Ontario Chiropractic Association, spewed similar vitriolic comments urged on by the encouragement of some in the audience. While she was entertaining to her base, many in the audience, like me, were shocked by her disrespect.

Intolerance, not mutual respect, was her mantra. Divisiveness and ridicule, not unity, was her goal. In fact, she beamed with glee as she spewed her snide remarks. Upon hearing her comments, I wondered if I was attending a Trump political rally with epithets mocking Muslim believers, Mexican immigrants, and Syrian refugees. She definitely did not present herself as a statesman at an international professional conference exchanging novel ideas or presenting new research. She proved herself to be a bigot in front of the entire conference, some of whom were just like her.

By virtue of their contemptuous behavior, Kawchuk, Hartvigsen, and Azad have declared war on the soul of chiropractic. They are exactly what both Dr. Kil and Dr. Tassell depicted as “the extremes in the profession… who hide behind evidence based practice as an excuse to make chiropractic a subset of medicine limited to treating neck pain and back pain.” These apostates also refute Dr. Tassell’s belief that “We must mature as a profession without compromising our identity linked to vitalism.” By their acts of defiance on stage, Kawchuk and Harvtigsen figuratively “thumbed their noses” in an act of derision of traditional chiropractic.

As Dr. Tassell mentioned, the majority of traditional DCs must “step up and control this debate or we will find a minority group defining our future as a profession…We must mature as a profession without compromising our identity linked to vitalism.”


If the WFC is to save face from this monumental embarrassment, it must renounce these two researchers who have offended the majority of chiropractors around the world no matter which religion, nation or college. For Dr. Kil, as the new WFC president, and the WFC board to do anything less would in effect be supporting the antics of these chiropractic heretics. To debate issues is fine, but taking cheap shots of contempt are beyond the pale of any professional forum. Due to their unethical behavior, Kawchuk and Hartvigsen should be sanctioned for their comments otherwise mainstream practitioners will believe the WFC supports their rude and unprofessional remarks.

They certainly are not alone as there are other agnostic researchers, editors, and administrators in chiropractic evident by their similar attacks, such as Chiropractic Manual Therapies whose editorial board smacks of “subluxation deniers” who resemble the FOX News of chiropractic with all homogenous right wing contributors. From these myopic educators, we now see their  declaration of The International Chiropractic Education Collaboration Clinical and Professional Chiropractic Education: a Position Statement, that defiantly stated:

  1. The teaching of vertebral subluxation complex as a vitalistic construct that claims that it is the cause of disease is unsupported by evidence. Its inclusion in a modern chiropractic curriculum in anything other than an historical context is therefore inappropriate and unnecessary.

CMCC President David Wickes didn’t mince words when he called chiropractors who manage vertebral subluxation the “gangrenous arm that needs to be cut off to save the chiropractic profession.”[1]

I fear if the “extremists” in chiropractic such as Greg Kawchuk, Jan Hartvigsen, David Wickes, and Stephen Perle have their way with their shrill pronouncements and extreme views, they will turn our profession into an inhumane medical-styled profession that is intolerant of vitalism , the God Factor, or any transcendent Big Idea that displeases their mechanistic myopia.

Perhaps BJ Palmer described their antics best when he said: “Many people suffer with a constipation of thought and a diarrhea of words.  Many a man has the eyesight of a hawk and the vision of a clam.”[2]

If the WFC is to redeem its stature as a safe haven for all DCs and international leaders, it must renounce these agnostics who have both “diarrhea of words” and the “vision of a clam.” Indeed, their intolerance resembles the xenophobia that earmarked another regime emanating from Berlin decades ago.

Not only were their heretical comments out of order on an international stage, I must add the leadership of Kawchuk and Harvtigsen in the WFC Research Council has failed to impress despite their superstar status. They have ignored their role to promote the burgeoning research supporting chiropractic care over usual medical spine care to increase our market share. Even The Lancet review of LBP headed by Harvtigsen has done little to change the course of care for the pandemic of LBP—it seems to be a shot in the dark—a one-night stand—that had no impact upon the management of back pain. Indeed, the medical professionals have no interest to decrease their incomes; “follow the money” is their goal, not “follow the guidelines.”

While Kawchuk or Harvtigsen spend energy attacking traditional chiropractic issues, why didn’t they present a program to increase the worldwide perception of chiropractors as the leaders in conservative care rather than wasting their stage time with trivial pursuits? I daresay their body of work is pale in comparison to my own efforts to expand chiropractic in TRICARE (US military healthcare) with my report, Putting Patients at Risk, and to improve our professional image in the mainstream media, “Chiropractors Are Right!

Ironically, my efforts as a field practitioner working without the luxury of grants in the tenured climate of academia may potentially be more productive than anything these academicians sitting in an ivory tower have done to change the landscape of our market and image. Indeed, public perception and not research data is the key to our future success.

Even Kawchuk admitted as much when he said, “the data doesn’t advocate for itself,” but I cannot recall seeing any chiropractic promotion by the WFC in the mainstream media of the new guidelines supporting our brand of spine care over medical spine care in this era of opioid abuse, “underwhelming” ESI, and unnecessary, ineffective, expensive spine fusions based on a debunked ‘bad disk’ diagnosis. Just where are our advocates warning the gullible public of the “disastrous effects of damaging medical intervention” as The Lancet review mentioned? We don’t need more cynical researchers trashing our profession, but we do need articulate spokesmen informing the public to increase our market and improve our image.

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Dr. Ted J Kaptchuk,   assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, discussed in his article, Effect of interpretive bias on research evidence, the importance to “remember that interpretation of data is inevitably subjective and can itself result in bias…Science demands a critical attitude, but it is difficult to know whether you have allowed for too much or too little skepticism.”

With their obvious skepticism, Kawchuk and Hartvigsen have invalidated themselves as impartial thought-leaders in our profession and both should resign from the WFC Research Council.  The ICA has also called for their resignations from the WFC Research Council. They should also apologize to the entire profession, not merely the WFC membership. If they refuse, the WFC board should remove them immediately to maintain its integrity as an inclusive body. They simply cannot be trusted by the majority of DCs and they certainly cannot represent a diverse worldwide chiropractic organization in any leadership fashion.

If our future were left in the hands of these two agnostics, the soul of chiropractic would certainly die a quick death.


JC Smith, MA, DC


[1] WFC Quarterly World Report, December 2011.

[1] Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College Joins Anti-Subluxation Hate Group, The Chronicle of Chiropractic, April 21, 201

[2] Don’t Take Yourself So Damn Serious (the value of travel)