Simon Singh’s Bogus Journey

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  • Great summary of the issue & case to date.
    I particularly hope for, and look forward to, a coutroom examination of the BCA's "plethora" of supporting evidence for the treatment. As satisfying as it was reading the thorough destruction that followed in the blogosphere, it will be that much sweeter to be part of the official record.

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  • I'm having trouble now seeing the meaning of Simon Singh's words any other way than that the BCA was consciously dishonest. It's not so much his words that they promote bogus treatments but that they do so 'happily'. The pre-amble to his argument is that there is no evidence for some of the BCA's claims to treat particular ailments, and he wrote: 'This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.'
    I'm not sure how that could be interpreted other than meaning that the BCA is an organisation deliberately promoting treatments it knows are wrong.
    The presence of the word 'yet' implies that the words that follow it are in opposition to the 'respectability' of the organisation--that the fact that it promotes bogus treatments is something that contradicts its appearance to be a respectable organisation. The fact that it does this 'happily' implies conscious intent in my view.
    Much as I hate to agree with Mr Justice Eady, I can't see another way of reasonably interpreting those words. I'd be very pleased if someone could tell me, because I share your view of Simon Singh and his intentions and reputation, so please, could you add something to your blog explaining what Simon Singh actually meant?

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  • I find myself, like James C, having some difficulty in parsing the offending words in such a way that their primary meaning is not an attribution of dishonesty. Possibly Simon Singh subjectively knows what he intended to mean by them, and it is something other than what they actually mean. That said, he should have available to him a defence of justification, based on the evidently flaky-to-absent evidence base for chiropraxis (and especially its use to deal with juvenile ear infections). Mr Justic Eady has, of course, gone overboard in his analysis of the test that Singh would have to pass; mind reading is not required.

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  • I think the other way in which Simon Singh's words can be interpreted is quite simple: the BCA is deluded. For one reason or another, they believe in something for which there is no objective evidence. This happens quite a lot, even to scientists.

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  • Are the chiropractic claims bogus? According to Edzard Ernst they are (as stated in the article). Does the BCA happily promote these bogus practices? No doubt about that

    What I infer from the article is that the BCA is too lazy, ignorant, or biased to investigate and understand the evidence (or lack thereof). One possibility unstated reason why the BCA promotes bogus treatments is that they know the treatments are bogus, but Singh didn't say that.

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  • Have either of the previous posters read the full article? You can't just take a single line out of context and call it defamatory.

    Here's the whole thing (with some useful footnotes).

    http://gimpyblog.wordpress.com/2008/08/17/the-libellous-simon-singh-article-on-chiropractors/

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  • James,

    'This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.'

    You agree that there is no evidence that chiropractic is useful in the teatment of the childhood conditions that Simon mentioned in his article, right? Okay, so if the BCA is the "respectable face of the chiropractic profession" and do they not know what the evidence is and they do not know that there is no evidence to support the use of chiropractic for these conditions - which is what Simon believed at the time of his article, and which was probably true at the time he wrote his article - then how is he not justified in saying that they "happily promote bogus treatments"?

    Or have you not heard the phrase "happy in their ignorance"?

    It is trenchant criticism but it is not wrong.
    And it is justifiably trenchant criticism because the BCA are the "respectable face of the chiropractic profession" and yet they either have not bothered to examine the evidence or they do not know how to evaluate the evidence for the treatments that they promote. You agree that they should know this, right?

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  • @jamesc and anonymous.
    If there is no evidence for their claims then they are being intentionally dishonest.

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  • "This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments."

    I'm sure the lawyers chased this round in circles, but to my mind, it's obviously *not* an accusation of dishonesty. If I were to say, in an argumentative context -

    "You're an intelligent man, yet you go round promoting and encouraging the crock of nonsense that is Christianity."

    - it's clear I'm not accusing the person of not *believing* in his religion, yet there is nothing grammatically or logically unsound about the sentence (so long as you take it as my opinion).

    The accusation that rings out clearly from that short extract is one of failing to be sufficiently rigorous, to therefore behave responsibly and to deserve the 'respectable' reputation. It does not so far as dishonesty and Eady J has got it wrong.

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  • For Anonymous and James C above, perhaps it would help to see the words in context, where he clearly elaborates on his use of the word "bogus":

    "You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact they still possess some quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything. And even the more moderate chiropractors have ideas above their station. 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.

    I can confidently label these treatments as bogus because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world's first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions."

    As they appeared in the original Guardian article.

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  • @JamesC and @Anonymous The adverb "happily" modifies the verb "promotes", not the noun phrase "bogus treatments". Singh knew the treatments were bogus, the BCA need not have done.

    If somebody reported that I had happily danced the tango with a terminally-ill Scientologist, it would not imply that I knew about their illness, or their faith, and it certainly wouldn't suggest that I was happy that they were terminally ill or happy about Scientology.

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  • James C, I might agree with you, if Simon Singh hadn't defined what he meant in the next paragraph of the article in question:
    "I can confidently label these treatments as bogus because I have co-authored a book about alternative medicine with the world’s first professor of complementary medicine, Edzard Ernst. He learned chiropractic techniques himself and used them as a doctor. This is when he began to see the need for some critical evaluation. Among other projects, he examined the evidence from 70 trials exploring the benefits of chiropractic therapy in conditions unrelated to the back. He found no evidence to suggest that chiropractors could treat any such conditions."

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  • I understand that in the court today it was argued that "happily" in this context could be reasonably interpreted as "blithely" on the basis that Dr Singh explains that a helath care professional body (which is promoting treatments for sick children) ought to be aware (not "was aware") that a scientific analysis of claims of evidence of effectiveness did not stack up. Dr Singh also defined "bogus" in his article by relating it to the scientidfic findings of "no evidence".

    I am not a lawyer but (therefore?) the above seems to be at the very least arguable, and Counsel did that effecively. The defence case does not however rely on this alone. David Allen Green has a very readable account of the hearing at his Jack of Kent blog spot. http://jackofkent.blogspot.com/

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  • "happily" = "insouciantly"
    Problem solved?

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  • JamesC and Anonymous: Take an analogy. You pay for a newspaper with a pound coin. You pay the seller in good faith that the coin is legal tender - you promote the use of the coin. The seller accepts the coin as legal tender too. Turns out the coin is not legal tender, it's made of the wrong metal. As an observer, I could call the coin a bogus coin - or a fake coin, or a counterfeit coin - and yet this would not necessarily impute malice or deliberate deception on your behalf. The coin in my analogy is chiropractic treatments used for colic etc in Simon's article - promoted, happily promoted indeed, but at base bogus.

    My interpretation of the article, one that thousands share (but that Mr. Eady does not) is that although there is evidence that chiropractic does not work for the conditions indicated (not the same as lack of evidence...), the BCA continues to promote them - not maliciously, fraudulently, but rather in good faith that they work when they in fact don't.

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  • Surely the test as to meaning, as I understand it, is the meaning that would be reached by the 'ordinary reader on the Clapham omnibus'.
    If so the words would seem to suggest to me that Mr. Singh alleged that the BCA knew there was no evidence to support its claims yet continued to do so happily.
    Arguing about what Mr. Singh meant by 'happily' defeats the purpose of this test as he would not have been on the 'bus' so to speak to explain this to the reader.
    Also why did he not apologise when he had the chance and then publish the same article but with a slightly amended paragraph confirming what he actually meant.

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  • Although my sympathies on the issue are entirely with Simon Singh, I can't accept that any reasonable reader coming cold to the relevant words would conclude other than that the BCA promotes treatments knowing them to be ineffective or, in the context of the balance of the article, worse. Attempts at semantic analysis to demonstrate otherwise really only amount to wishful thinking.
    Eady's test, however is equally flawed in that it concludes that Singh has to prove the corporate mindset. On a proper interpretation of the justification defence, it is surely only necessary to demonstrate that the comment represented the only reasonable conclusion which one could come to on the basis of the known facts. Would the position have been different if Singh had commenced that part of his article "On the known facts, the only reasonable conclusion one could come to is that the BCA...etc"?
    That would leave the BCA to demonstrate that another conclusion could be reached on the same facts, but it would be dependant on them demonstrating that they were either naive, or gullible, or that they were unaware of the facts on which Singh based his statement.

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  • If I step back a second, this is a breath of fresh air. Articulate views, no swearing, no undue posturing, a degree of restraint even, and an understanding of the issues at stake... reading the comments on this article made me proud of lawyers. This is what all public debate should be like. Well done, all.

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  • I agree with a number of posters who see the word "happily" as key. It takes a lot of squirming around to get that adverb to mean anything else than "the BCA knows there's no proof, but it still promotes it."
    But here's where it gets really fun. Many schools of alternative/complementary medicine reject (or have to reject because they have no choice) the conventional scientific method of empirical testing and proof. They argue that the dominant paradigm of scientific proof cannot explain why certain medicines work or don't work, hence also the controversy about homeopathy. My GP - an Übersceptic - admitted as much in a conversation this week.
    All dominant scientific paradigms think they're the last word, until they're proven wrong. Alternative medicine practitioners (if indeed chiropractics belongs to this group) would say that Singh may be correct, but only according to his tried, tested and temporary paradigm of scientific proof. And certainly not the basis on which to go around accusing people of deliberately and consciously deceiving people. Whether that would carry any weight with Eady is another matter. Does law have to follow the scientific paradigm?

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  • How else would anyone expect the BCA to promote treatments - frumpily, grumpily, grudgingly? Of course it promotes them happily. If it isn't happy to promote them then it's in the wrong business. How does pointing that out become defamatory?

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