Chiroquacks vs Simon Singh

I’ve been raving about this since I got the news on Thursday night, and hopefully everyone will have already heard about it, but just in case not, I’ll give a very brief summary and point you off to further comment.

Basically, Simon Singh, co-author of Trick or Treatment, wrote an article last year (removed from the Guardian Website but still viewable here), about chiropractic treatment. Many people think a chiropractor is just a back doctor, but actually that’s not quite true, it’s a very confusing situation involving chiropractic, oestopathy (which I’m not even sure what it is, it seems somewhere between physiotherapy and ‘holistic’ treatment) and physiotherapy. Some spine manipulation can have a beneficial effect and since physiotherapy isn’t always all that effective, it’s much more difficult to draw the line here than in other types of alternative medicine. Chiropractic treatment has caused deaths in young people. What is certain is that the effects of spine manipulation are pretty much limited to the spine and back pain. It doesn’t cure things like asthma or sleeping problems, that’s quackery of the same ilk as reflexology. The following passage is from the article, and the British Chiropractor’s Association decided to sue Simon Singh.

The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.

And in the preliminary hearing which happened on Thursday, the judge decided (well, no, he decided before the hearing apparently, but I’ll leave that to eyewitnesses), that the use of the word ‘bogus’ here means that the BCA were selling these treatments with full knowledge that they didn’t work. Now the word bogus is attached to counterfeit money and things like that, which are obviously intended to deceive, I could see how he might have said it was easily interpreted like that, particularly combined with the use of the word ‘happily’. Neither on their own really imply deceit but together I could kind of understand that. That’s a linguistic nuance which I was shocked by but I could (sort of, not really) see where the judge was coming from.

Then I went and read the full article. Go ahead and do the same. The passage comes from the third paragraph, and if you read from that paragraph onwards, especially the following (fourth) paragraph, you’ll see that Singh specifically defines his use of the word bogus, clearly stating that he’s calling them bogus treatments because they have no evidence backing them up. Nowhere does he say that the BCA are aware of this. Now go back and try to put another word in there replacing the word ‘bogus’ which states that the treatments don’t work, but doesn’t imply that the BCA were deceitful. I’ve been trying for a while and I’ve yet to come up with one.

So I’m going to link just now to several other sources on the same case (the whole skeptical community is angered by it), most of which are better than this post so I urge you all to go and read some of them.

Jack of Kent has some expertise in English law and has been covering this case. He was present at the hearing, and has a number of other posts on the same case so if you want some more background, take a look around there.

Skepticat is a humanist living in London who was also present at the hearing.

Edit: Another eyewitness account from God Knows What.

Heresy Corner – I think the name indicates what kind of blog that is.

Bad Science Forum thread on the issue (very very long, I haven’t had time to read it yet).

A Facebook Group supporting Simon Singh on this issue. Feel free to join up.

Having read those (particularly the first two), I hope you’ll share my anger with David Eady. How the hell has he got a knighthood when he doesn’t even listen to the evidence in court and brings with him a preprepared statement which doesn’t change with the evidence? What kind of a judge are you? Aren’t you supposed to, you know, ‘judge’, not just ‘decide’?

The implications of this could be massive. How are we, the skeptical community, going to be able to comment skeptically and require evidence for claims, if we’re constantly looking over our shoulder and second guessing how some blinkered judge might possibly interpret what we’ve said. Should we define each word after we’ve used it? Maybe I’ll make a post doing just that to illustrate how ludicrous the whole situation is.

And there was me going to enjoy my post-exam-rush weekend. I’m too pissed off now.

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8 Responses to Chiroquacks vs Simon Singh

  1. Jack of Kent says:

    This is a brilliant post, and thank you for the link.

    The post at http://jackofkent.blogspot.com/2009/05/what-should-simon-singh-do-next.html
    has now prompted many intersting comments and suggestions.

    I urge any skeptic to contribute to this discussion, as the ruling may affect what we can and cannot lawfully say when we engage with CAMsters.

  2. grammarking says:

    Cheers JoK,

    It seems that David Eady has a bit of a history with the term ‘bogus’.

    http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/QB/2006/1996.html

    That’s his judgement in a case involving Paul McKenna’s fake PhD (he didn’t know it was fake). It is a different case though, not hinging so fundamentally on the term bogus (both McKenna and the defendants openly stated that as fact), but on the further implication that he had just paid for his degree when in fact he had done some work under the impression that the University was genuine. Only later did he discover he’d been a victim of fraud.

    Perhaps Sir Dave has just plucked his judgement from one case to the other for the sake of consistency, not realising the significant differences between these cases?

  3. Stuart Ritchie says:

    The chiropractors can only be hoping Eady takes the word ‘bogus’ to be referring to chiropractic in general, and not the specific claims (colic, sleeping and feeding problems, etc.) discussed just before it.

    If it was referring to chiropractic in general then they have a case*, since as you yourself point out there is some (mild) evidence for chiropractic working (and I found that fact out where? In Simon Singh’s book!).

    Of course, this doesn’t mean they should be taking legal action – why don’t they just provide evidence, if they have it? Christ.

    *Albeit an entirely pathetic one.

  4. […] Not-Quite-So-Friendly-Humanist expresses his anger at the […]

  5. grammarking says:

    An excellent aggregation of the case coverage so far can be found at God Knows What:

    http://godknowswhat.wordpress.com/2009/05/16/simon-singh-case-response-roundup/

  6. […] Support Meeting On Monday there was a meeting in London in support of Simon Singh in his libel case. We were hoping that he’d reveal whether he’s appealing or not, but unfortunately he […]

  7. […] I urge you to take a look around) with a petition that already has over 7,000 signatories, and as before, there’s the Facebook group, now with over 6,000 members. Take a look at the officer’s […]

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