Simon Singh’s Bogus Journey

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  • Dare I suggest in a magazine read mostly by lawyers that the main point is not whether the article was defamatory but whether the BCA in bringing an action for defamation were being wise. If someone says I am a quack or incompetent or dishonest then the wise thing is refute his arguments by demonstration. Free speech can be used to disprove a false argument just as to make one.

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  • AndyD has dealt with Happily and Grumpily, but in this case he's missed the obvious dwarf - dopeyly

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  • @John Stobart
    "Dare I suggest in a magazine read mostly by lawyers that the main point is not whether the article was defamatory but whether the BCA in bringing an action for defamation were being wise. If someone says I am a quack or incompetent or dishonest then the wise thing is refute his arguments by demonstration. Free speech can be used to disprove a false argument just as to make one."

    I agree entirely.

    I have never said the BCA had a weak claim; I have always said it was misconceived.

    And the fault in the law is that such misconceived cases can be brought, without showing malice, in respect of matters of public health and public safety. Libel in these areas elevates a private right to reputation above the public interest in the free exchange of information.

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  • As one who has represented herself in a libel claim against The Daily Mail, Bruno Schroder of Schroders plc and others, and knows more than the layman about libel law, it's clear from the comments on this blog that the meaning of the defamatory words is not as straight forward as suggested.
    Although I have been on the wrong end of many of Mr. Justice Eady's judgments and orders that have caused me much pain and suffering, it is not clear to me that he is wrong in this case. As Mike above said, it is what the right-thinking members of society think generally that matters, not what Simon Singh intended. It seems the Court of Appeal has a difficult task in deciding this.
    And as a long term user of complementary medicine, it appears this case is being used to denounce it and I find that worryingly indeed. As someone else said above, proving the effectiveness of complementary medicine is not the same as conventional medicine.
    What is even more worryingly is that there appears to be a campaign across Europe to denounce complementary medicine at a time when America is finally willing to embrace it. There are very effective homeopathic medicines in Germany from the Heel company that are strangely being either discontinued or altered to decrease their effectiveness. Thousands of German doctors have used these medicines for many years to great effect and now they have fewer treatment options for their patients.
    Just because something cannot at the moment be proven to be 'scientifically beneficial', does not equate with it being useless or bogus. There is something to be said for anecdotal reports.
    Just what is actually going on with complementary medicine in the UK and EU? I certainly hope the pharmaceutical lobby has nothing to do with it.

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  • Elaine,
    The following sentences are all grammatically incorrect:
    "As one who has represented herself in a libel claim against The Daily Mail, Bruno Schroder ..."
    "Although I have been on the wrong end of many of Mr. Justice Eady's judgments and orders that have caused me much pain and suffering, it is not clear..."
    "And as a long term user of complementary medicine, it appears this case is..."
    So perhaps you are not the one to analyse what Simon Singh said
    "As Mike above said, it is what the right-thinking members of society think generally that matters, not what Simon Singh intended."
    If it was up to the "right thinking" members of society, what Simon said was spot on. However, it is how the average Guardian reader would interpret what he said.
    "there appears to be a campaign across Europe to denounce complementary medicine at a time when America is finally willing to embrace it"
    There is a campaign across the world to let the evidence speak for itself. This is especially urgent when treatments without any evidence base have become so commonplace in the population.
    "There are very effective homeopathic medicines in Germany"
    No, besides having no mechanism by which it could possibly work, there is also no evidence from properly conducted clinical trials that homoeopathy works and lots of evidence that it doesn't.
    "Just because something cannot at the moment be proven to be 'scientifically beneficial', does not equate with it being useless or bogus."
    No, it has been scientifically proven not to work. It is a completely useless treatment outside of its palcebo effect. And it does harm by being promoted as a substitute for treatment that does work (eg vaccinations, malaria prevention)
    "There is something to be said for anecdotal reports."
    No. Anecdotes are extremely unreliable. This is the reason for the development of the clinical trial. Anecdotal reports suggested that steroids were saving the vision of prem babies. Clinical trials showed that they were actually harmful.
    "I certainly hope the pharmaceutical lobby has nothing to do with it."
    They are, in fact, jumping on the bandwagon. They are buying up shares in the very lucrative CAM companies.

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  • BillyJoe,

    Firstly, with the username BillyJoe, it would be easy to assume you are an American. But if I apply a little mathematics (and dare I say, science) and consider the balance of probabilities, the method of proof for civil law claims, I would assume you are not. I make this assumption based on the evidence that this is a UK blog with mostly UK users, despite my being an American. So, am I right and have I been right to come to this conclusion based on the evidence available to me?

    I am trying to make the point that proving anything is often difficult. There is the difficulty of proving that something is dangerous. I happen to be of the view that mobile phone masts and wifi negatively affect people's health. The scientists say there is no proof that it does. Well, how are we going to prove or disprove it?

    It will start with anecdotal reports of illness before a study commences. Who would join such a study to provide the 'evidence' one way or the other?

    Back to BCA's claim against Simon Singh. I have been trying to finally read some background to this case and it appears Simon wants the world to take his view on alternative medicine and chiropractic in particular. I am puzzled as to why someone with a PhD in physics from Cambridge is even involved in this argument. It would be easy to assume this subject is not challenging enough for him.

    I regret to say that I have now read the article over several times and it appears so defamatory and libellous to me that I believe it would even violate most of the libel laws in the US. It does not appear to be an article about science and I think those trying to keep libel out of science may have chosen the wrong claim to support.

    The article is clearly a denouncement of all that chiropractic is about, including its well accepted treatment of back pain. It is also a character assassination of the BCA.

    I have not seen the Particulars of Claim in this case, nor Mr. Justice Eady's judgment (do you know where they can be found?), so I do not know what parts of the article are complained of besides the bogus claim. But in the mention of the tragic death of the Canadian woman in the article, there was no direct evidence that the chiropractic treatment she received was the cause of her death. And if it was, that is not a reason to claim the whole profession has no basis for being. What kind of scientific deduction is that? There are bad apples in every profession. There does indeed appear to be a campaign against alternative medicine as you confirmed to me:

    "There is a campaign across the world to let the evidence speak for itself. This is especially urgent when treatments without any evidence base have become so commonplace in the population."

    Why don't you tell us who is behind this campaign? There appears to be something very sinister going on trying to deny those of us who use alternative medicine with the option to continue.

    I can categorically say that complex homeopathy from Heel in Germany and ear acupuncture cured me of ME, along with an experienced doctor who knew how to use them. And I can categorically say that I got ME from a large dose of antibiotics given to me after my appendix ruptured. This was after being misdiagnosed twice by doctors in Massachusetts. So you can see I am a strong believer in homeopathy.

    Those campaigning for reform of the libel laws want more free speech. But, free speech does not mean saying whatever you want, even in America. I think one reason the BCA felt it needed to take action was because this article was published on the website (and possibly in the paper?) of one of Britain's broadsheet newspapers. That grated to be sure.

    I know what it is like to be libeled in British newspapers. It is an extremely unpleasant experience and I am using British understatement. I could write a book about my difficulty getting justice, so I am no fan of Britain's libel laws nor aspects of its legal system in general. My claim against The Daily Mail is currently stayed because of costs and I am the claimant. And no, I could not find a CFA.

    For the record, I do believe the Heel company has done homeopathic studies that have shown its effectiveness. However, few other companies have the resources to fund studies. They should not be criticised for that. Governments around the world are trying to cut healthcare costs and many believe alternative medicine can help. I am of that view and I know it works.

    As for how I turned to homeopathy after suffering a concussion because of my libel claim.....I'll leave that for another comment.

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  • the fact that the BCA website states that: 'The inception of modern chiropractic can be traced back to 1895 when Canadian Daniel David Palmer performed the first chiropractic adjustment...' shows that the BCA are willing to promote as truth a 'fact' which is highly open the interpretation and is in fact contested.' For example by the phrase - 'chiropractic adjustment' brings to my mind a well planned and researched experimental treatment with controls in place and observations systematically recorded.' According to some sources his 'chiropractic adjustment' was a slap on the back with a book. This shows that the BCA are happy to publish supposedly factual statements which in fact are not what they seem. Whether or not the statement is bogus is a question of objective fact and therefore the defence of fair comment must be accepted, as the 'truth' cannot at present be fully proven one way or the other. See for example the American case of Milkovich and Loraine

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  • I am not a lawyer - but I do consider myself the archetypal "reasonable man". I also think that the law is a servant of the "reasonable man". If the law fails to take account of the “reasonable man” then it fails in its’ fundamental duty.

    According to posts above the original quote is:

    "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."

    The area of contention appears to be on the suggestion that the BCA “happily promotes bogus treatments”. There doesn’t appear to be any complaint about the comment that “fundamentalist” Chiropracters argue they can cure anything. There doesn’t appear to be any argument that modern chiropracters “possess some quite wacky ideas”. There doesn’t appear to be any suggestion that the BCA denies claiming that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying. There doesn’t appear to be any suggestion that there is not a jot of evidence to support those claims.

    The only area of contention appears to be whether the BCA is “happily promoting bogus treatments”.

    So the fundamental questions are:

    a) are the treatments bogus
    b) does the BCA know (or can it be reasonably expected to know) that the treatments are bogus
    c) does the BCA have any evidence to suggest that the treatments are not bogus
    d) would a reasonable man be expected to take an endorsement by the BCA of a treatment as an authoritative statement of efficaciousness of the treatment

    As Elaine Decoulos has adequately set out, I am not qualified to comment on the first of these questions. Indeed, I will happily rule out any “scientific” test as to the effectiveness of the treatments as “proving the effectiveness of complementary medicine is not the same as conventional medicine”

    This naturally rules out any defence for Mr Singh on the second question. It could well be (as implied by Ms Decoulos) that science is asking the wrong questions – and since the BCA is working within a paradigm that is removed from “conventional science” it would be ridiculous to ask them to answer such a question according to “conventional science”.

    The third question, however, is much simpler. The BCA could simply provide a list of treatments provided by it’s members where chiropractic cures had been followed by patients suffering from the listed ailments recovering to some extent. It would be churlish to require a validatable “scientific” causal link between cure and recovery as it is possible (as implied by Ms Decoulos) that the “scientific’ methodology is flawed. Just because we don’t understand why it has worked, or can’t provide a direct causal link, is no reason to discount the correlation between treatment and cure/alleviation of symptoms.

    As noted above – I will (and I’m sure Mr Singh will too) happily concede that the current scientific methodology could be fundamentally flawed and that the idea of (for instance) double blind trials of treatments may not be the best way to discover the effectiveness of treatments. I (although possibly not Mr Singh) will also be prepared to accept this challenge without an alternative suggestion being made as to an alternative methodology.

    I would, however, like to see some evidence of the effectiveness of any “alternative” treatments. I must emphasise that I don’t need to understand HOW or WHY it works – just some evidence that it does work, and that it is repeatable. If Ms Decoulos (or the BCA) is able to provide not only her own experience but a case that is in need of treatment that she is able to cure by use of whatever methods were used in her own case (or one advocated by the BCA), that would be sufficient.

    Which leads to my final point. The BCA or British Chiropractic Association. Without doubt I would accept (as a reasonable man) that a person operating under the banner of an organisation which encompasses a wide range of practioners would have a set of professional standards. It doesn’t matter what those professional standards are (they could, for instance, be a set of standards that dictated that members always painted their toenails pink). However, given the title I have a reasonable expectation that a) they are incorporated within the UK b) they have some knowledge of the manipulation of the musculoskeletor system in living people and c) that they have an ability to use this knowledge to my benefit.

    What this all boils down to is:

    1. Are the treatments bogus? If they are not bogus then Mr Singh will fall at the first hurdle. There is no doubt that the BCA promotes the treatments so all that is required is to show that the treatments are not bogus. The occasional anecdote is obviously not sufficient – but equally a fully validated “scientific” explanation would be an onerous burden. All that is really required is the production of a few individual studies in which a case of colic, asthma, or one of the other ailments listed by the BCA is diagnosed, then subjected to treatment by one of their members, and cured. It shouldn’t be difficult to agree a methodology between the BCA and their detractors for each case in advance
    2. Has the BCA undertaken any such case studies?
    3. Has the BCA undertaken any case studies (with or without the participation and critical oversight of others)?
    4. Would I (as a reasonable man) believe that the BCA is a professional body which has undertaken such studies?

    I can categorically state that I (as a reasonable man) believed that Chiropracters were exclusively involved in the manipulation of the musculo-skeletal systems. I had no idea that they claimed that they could cure asthma or that they were routinely treating infants. With hindsight I should have realised that the “massage” could aid insomnia – in much the same way that the services of a prostitute can have the same effect.

    If the BCA has any evidence that their members can cure asthma or prevent frequent ear infections then let them state what that evidence is. In the absence of any such evidence then it’s time to put the boot on the other foot.

    I, for one, will be standing outside my local BCA member’s “surgery” handing out leaflets to anyone attempting to enter the establishment that the practitioner is a member of a charlatan organisation and that any attempt to address issues due to professional incompetence is governed by a body that has no evidence that it’s practices work.

    Perhaps if we all do this then genuine chiropractitioners will abandon this body and set up a proper professional body that will govern their activities in a truly professional manner.

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