Over the last few months many science bloggers have been watching – with considerable interest – a libel case taken agains science writer Simon Singh by the British Chiropractic Association. Singh had used the word ‘bogus’ in describing treatments offered for a range of ailments, including asthma and ear infections. (Similar claims-by-implication are made in NZ.) While the UK’s libel laws allowed the case to proceed (it’s still before the courts), Singh’s view is supported by a number of meta-analyses of availble good-quality studies: for conditions other than musculoskeletal pain (eg asthma, & a range of childhood conditions) such treatments perform no better than placebo .
Now it seems that the case appears to have sparked somethng of a backlash in the UK, with chiropractors advised by their professional body to remove from their websites & other publicity material any claims of the ability to treat conditions such as whiplash and colic. This is interesting given that the BCA had previously released what it described as a ‘plethora’ of evidence supporting those claims. However, as Edzard Ernst has noted, of the 19 references included in that list, it seems that 4 didn’t even contain data relating to chiropractic treatment. A further 8 are not based on controlled clinical trials, and the remaining 7 are flawed in methodology or conclusion – for example, a lack of double-blinding that doesn’t allow us to rule out the placebo effect, in a comparison of chiropractic vs an anti-colic drug. (Ernst also points out that several robust, rigorous trials of chiropractic interventions, that don’t show any effect better than placebo, aren’t included in the BCA list.)
If the BCA is now advising that claims concerning ailments other than back pain should not be made, where to next for the case against Singh?