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Science writer and journalist Simon Singh, who faces a libel suit from the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) for writing that a number of chiropractic claims of treatment of disorders unrelated to the spinal cord such as asthma were ’bogus’ has written in his column that it will be the last. He is resigning his job in order to give the libel suit the BCA has served on him full attention.

Simon Singh (Source: wikipedia)

Simon Singh (Source: wikipedia)

I recently pointed out an extensive review of the evidence for and against chiropractic treatment that showed that the claims that Singh objected as unsupported, are unsupported.

Another survey of the research literature for chiropractic treatments, that of Ernst (available free from the British Medical Journal), has an extensive collection of follow-on letters. The author, replying to the early letters, points out that neither his article nor the libel case are about safety; in moving onto safety in his reply, he concludes: ’Applying the precautionary principle, one should therefore not recommend chiropractic but warn patients not to use this form of therapy.’

Surely any sincere business would respond by simply pointing to evidence backing their original claims. Not so the BCA. The BCA was offered an opportunity to write a rebuttal in the Guardian (the newspaper that published Singh’s original article), but declined, seemingly preferring to legally bludgeon the writer, rather than reaffirm readers of the accuracy of their claims and the validity of the particular chiropractic practices referred to. (Or withdraw them.)

I am not familiar with British libel law, but others indicate that companies there can choose to respond to claims that their product or service is unsound by sidestepping that the objections raised have an evidenced basis to make the focus on if the company (or association) had known of that evidence.

The trouble I have with this idea is that surely it amounts to not taking responsibility for their own specialist area? It’s as if the BCA wish to argue that ignorance of evidence contradicting their practices would make the practices sound and immune to objection. You’d think that medical associations would be responsible for knowing about the evidence for or against the practices they offer…

In any event, science ought to be settled on evidence, not legal muscle. As Sense About Science says in their slogan: ’Keep libel laws out of science.’

Still on the subject of chiropractors, and closer to home, a local chiropractor  who runs a weekly advertisement for his practice declares that most drugs don’t help (see page five, bottom right: use the ‘+’ button to zoom in to read the advertisement). Even if he were right and the examples not misrepresented, cherry-picking a few and presenting them as if they represent all drugs is a fallacy. Sigh. Maybe for another post… Never minding his claims maybe he ought to read Bronfort and colleagues’ paper (PDF file) and check his own backyard first.

Here’s hoping that Singh’s efforts will move all this (chiropractic and, separately, libel cases in the UK) to a more wholesome state. I’ll also hope that it extends to a wider sphere that takes note of ’lesser’ ’alternative’ remedies and their practitioners. And that other countries like New Zealand take note.

HT: ArsTechnica.

Addendum

For those interested in the general issue of misleading claims about treatments and vaccines, Nikki Turner and Helen Petousis-Harris have written about misleading statements regarding New Zealand’s Gardacil vaccine program.


Other articles in Code for Life:

An horrific case of natural health treatment of cancer

Chiropractic libel suit snagged by its own ruling body?

Homeopathic remedies in NZ pharmacies

The End of Chiropractic?

Deleting a gene can turn an ovary into a testis in adult mammals

Homeopathy check-up: Not in the health system, disclaimers on labels

The inheritance of face recognition (should you blame your parents if you can’t recognise faces?)