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May 18 2009
Singh sued for calling chiropractors "bogus"

Science writer Simon Singh, who wrote a nice book on the pseudo-science of "alternative medicine" was sued by the British Chiropractic Association for describing the theory behind their work "bogus" in a newspaper article.

To me, it seems clear first of all that it is bogus. I mean, the idea barely makes any sense...and the vast majority of scientific investigations have found that chiropractors do not actually solve the problems they claim to. And, even if you disagree, I hope we can agree that Singh has the right to his opinion on the subject and to express it in print.

Surprisingly, then, the British judge ruled that Singh was guilty and owes the BCA 23 thousand pounds!

Apparently, the decision depends on a bizarre and unprecedented interpretation of the word "bogus". The judge interprets this the same as what I would call "fraud". In other words, he considers it only to be "bogus" if the person doing it knows it doesn't work and does it anyway. If they believe it, then according to him, it isn't "bogus".

Well, Singh says that is not what he meant, and I believe him because I never would have thought that the word had that meaning either. If someone's belief in something is unjustified, even if it is sincere, I still think it's "bogus"!

For more information, click here. But, my question is: Is there anything we can do to help Singh? I don't know enough about the British system for handling civil suits like this to know if an appeal is even a reasonable thing to try for.

May 19 2009
Re: Singh sued for calling chiropractors "bogus"

From the 16 May 2009 issue of New Scientist:

There are some causes for optimism: the UK parliament is examining reforms to the law. But as things stand, it is too easy to bring a libel action in respect of any statement which can be seen as being critical. No responsible scientist, journal editor or writer should have to face this chilling prospect. There is something deeply wrong that legitimate scientific criticism can be silenced in this way.

May 22 2009
Re: Singh sued for calling chiropractors "bogus"

That's preposterous.

May 27 2009
Re: Singh sued for calling chiropractors "bogus"

There is nothing bogus about proper spinal alignment.

May 28 2009
Re: Singh sued for calling chiropractors "bogus"

There is nothing bogus about proper spinal alignment.

I'm afraid there is.

There do not seem to be any good treatments for chronic back pain, and chiropracture works about as well as any of the ``mainstream'' medical methods...which is to say that it does not work significantly better than placebo and I'm not convinced that it works at all, but for people who suffer from it this placebo may be better than nothing.

However, when it comes to claims that it can treat other problems (headaches, ADHD, menstrual cramps, etc.) then chiropracture is completely bogus and potentially distracts patients from more reliable cures. The philosophy underlying the ``science'' developed by D.D. Palmer in the late 19th century is not at all scientific (being based on ideas of "vital energy" and "vibrations of neurons"). Of course, it is possible that Palmer, using unscientific methods, happened to find something that worked. Unlikely, but possible. However, as a person who bases his opinions on evidence rather than faith, I have to conclude that it simply does not work. (From Wikipedia ``A 2008 critical review found that with the possible exception of back pain, chiropractic SM has not been shown to be effective for any medical condition.'')

You're free to reach your own conclusion, of course. But, before you do, I recommend that you take a look at Singh's book Trick or Treatment. There are lots of supposed cures (in medicine as well as in alternative medicine) that simply do not stand up to a real scientific investigation. I put Christian Science, ``laying on of hands'', homeopathy, voodoo, and chiropracture all in this same category. They continue to exist because (a) someone makes money off of them (b) people are more convinced by one person saying ``it cured me!'' than by a study which looked at a million patients and said that it had no effect and (c) the placebo effect is very convincing -- if you don't know what it is. Look, ``snake oil salesman'' have been around for a long time and there is no reason to think they'll stop anytime soon.

If the BCA wants to change my mind, they can offer some convincing evidence that their method works better than I think it does. If it did, I would be happy to admit that I was mistaken. But, simply saying that we can't call it ``bogus'' (despite what I see as plenty of evidence that it is) is unacceptable.

May 31 2009
Re: Singh sued for calling chiropractors "bogus"

Didn't biology start out with Aristotle theorizing that female babies were made by their mothers staring at statues? We have come quite a long way from that point.

Palmer had his odd theories, but compared to going to the doctor/surgeon in the late nineteenth century, having your back and neck realigned was a much safer alternative!

Chiropractic does treat tension headaches. I know this from personal experience. As for migraines, I am not convinced that it does, although there is only one prescription drug that seems to alleviate migraines and must be taken at the onset of symptoms, Imitrex.

Most Chiropractors today seem to take a combination approach to healthcare. I believe that this is beneficial to everyone.

The best cure for back pain is getting rid of belly fat!

P.S. If you keep making fun of Voo Doo, you better paint your house blue! ;)

May 31 2009
Re: Singh sued for calling chiropractors "bogus"


I hope you don't mind me disagreeing with you, but I think this forum is exactly what this forum is intended to discuss and I hope that both of us can learn from the experience.

Your remark

Chiropractic does treat tension headaches. I know this from personal experience.

is not going to convince me of anything because every sort of quackery has people who insist that it works for them. I'm not sure what else you believe in, but I suspect that there must be at least one sort of ``alternative medicine'' that you consider to be bogus. How about those people who `energize' water and then sell it for $80 a bottle because it is supposed to cure people? I assure you, there are people who say that it worked for them. That doesn't prove anything to me.

The thing is, some people were going to get better anyway and falsely attribute it to the ``cure'', and some people are cured merely by their belief that they are receiving treatment. This is well documented, and is especially true for symptoms such as stomach aches and tension headaches that are very much affected by the person's mood.

So, if we're in agreement that personal ``it worked for me'' testimonials don't prove anything, then how are we going to determine what works?

Any supposed cure (including pharmaceuticals and mainstream surgery) should be able to prove that they work by comparing their outcomes to outcomes in other treatments with known efficacy. Large studies have been conducted and they found no benefit from chiropractic treatments for anything other than a slight benefit for back pain.

As for chiropractors, some other parts of their claims (aside from just whether they cure the symptoms) are also very easy to test. For example, the whole thing is based on the idea that they are adjusting the positions of your vertebrae. You yourself described it as ``having your back and neck realigned''. But, are they actually even doing that? The test I would like to conduct is this: take x-rays taken before and after treatment by a chiropractor and show them to a different chiropractor without telling them which is which. They should be able to identify (a) what symptoms would have been caused by the situation in the ``before'' image and (b) which one is the ``after'' image. I do not know if this exact test has ever been conducted, but according to this website:

The fact of the matter is that chiropractors cannot even agree what a subluxation actually is: the original concept of misaligned vertebrae having lost favour with some in the field, perhaps because (x-ray) radiographs show no difference between before-treatment and after-treatment exposures.

In other words, despite what they claim, they are not actually changing the positions of the vertebrae.

If they aren't doing that, then what are they doing? Well, a good massage (which relaxes the muscles) always feels good to me, and I think that must be part of it. Combine that with the placebo effect and I'm not surprised that there are lots of people who insist that it works for them.

Again, let me recommend that your read Singh's book. He says a lot more than I can say in a post and says it much better than I can. One part I particularly like is his quote from Stephen Barrett who tried an experiment. He sent the same patient, a 29 year old woman who had no medical complaints, to four chiropractors to see what they would say:

The first diagnosed `atlas subluxation' and predicted `paralysis in fifteen years' if this problem was not treated. The second found many vertebrae `out of alignment' and one hip `higher' than the other. The third said that the woman's neck was `tight'. The fourth said that misaligned vertebrae indicated the presence of `stomach problems'. All four recommended spinal adjustment on a regular basis beginning with a frequency of twice a week.

I do not know whether the practitioners really believe in it themselves or if they think of it as being a big con. (Singh also quotes G. Douglas Anderson, a chiropractor, who wrote an article in Dynamics Chiropractic suggesting that many chiropractors intentionally do their SM in a way that will make the patient feel good briefly before feeling bad again later, thereby keeping them coming back like addicts to a drug dealer.) But, when I weigh the evidence (with testimonials like yours forming just about all of the evidence on the pro-chiropracture side), it isn't even a difficult call for me to make: Singh's description was right.

Jun 1 2009
Re: Singh sued for calling chiropractors "bogus"

Britain has different qualifications and proofs for libel than the U.S. does.

To be honest I don't care if Singh has to pay or not.

I was really just having fun egging you on. You're a good sport!

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