Last of The Summer Whine?

June 11, 2009 at 5:14 pm (Alternative Medicine, Chiropractic) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I feel that I should point out, with reference to my writing that “It feels perhaps a little harsh to make a formal complaint about someone in this way” in a previous post on complaining to the GCC, that I have now seen people commenting on the problems that chiropractors may be facing and whether we sceptics are adding to their distress.

This comment on the chiropracticlive blog includes the following:

The ordinary chiropractors from all the associations are innocent of anything except being in a badly governed profession. The lack of unity, lack of promoting the profession and disproportionate adversarial style of regulation has had the inevitable consequence of allowing people to target us. No doubt the sceptics will be able to ask some very awkward questions about cases dismissed by Greg Price. It would be funny except life doesn’t happen in a vacuum, of the 500+ people complained about , many will be experiencing divorce bereavement or other major difficulties, they are not web addresses or web sites but real people, the rest of us can give them emotional and moral support.
BCA chiropractors today; others tomorrow, it is a fatuous difference, real people going about their daily lives and facing yet more difficulty from a bunch of people who have not even met them. This is unfair, unreasonable and one of the problems is that whichever way the investigating committee decides it will be open to scathing comment because of the history and actions of the GCC employee Greg Price.

First things first: “The ordinary chiropractors from all the associations are innocent of anything except being in a badly governed profession.” Really? So “ordinary chiropractors” haven’t been making any unsubstantiated claims? Ordinary chiropractors haven’t been publicising their practices inconsistent with ASA guidance or the best available scientific evidence? Just how confident are you of the complete innocence of “ordinary chiropractors”?

“The lack of unity, lack of promoting the profession and disproportionate adversarial style of regulation has had the inevitable consequence of allowing people to target us.” No – the promotion of chiropractic for treatments where the evidence is negative or is lacking has allowed people to “target” chiropractors, as you insist on putting it. If the claims could have been substantiated then I don’t see how a lack of promotion of chiropractic, for example – or a lack of unity among chiropractors – in itself would have allowed sceptics to target anyone. What exactly would they have been targeting? People making reasonable claims backed up by robust evidence? How could they “target” anybody for that?

As I wrote in my earlier piece, it does feel a little bit harsh to be making formal complaints about these people. The alternative, though, seems to be to allow people to make whatever medical claims they like, to allow them to avoid any form of self-reflection or engagement with critics, and to let them continue to do as they please without any regard for evidence or ethics.

I am not responsible for any personal problems that chiropractors may have. I am not responsible for chiropractors choosing to make unsubstantiated claims. I am not responsible for the inability of chiropractors to accept criticism. I am not responsible for the BCA’s decision to sue Simon Singh – which was the catalyst that encouraged so many to shine a light on the way that chiropractors operate. Neither is any other sceptic or blogger or sceptical blogger responsible for any of these things. Yet again, instead of looking inward and reflecting on what they might have done better chiropractors are looking for someone to point the finger at: regulators for not doing enough to protect them; and sceptics for, well, being unkind.

This latter point seems to be a recurring theme. Those who are criticised for making unsubstantiated claims or for having failed to think things through properly lash out at their critics and accuse them of unkindness, aggression, or even “vitriol” rather than taking a look at what they themselves could have done differently.

Let us look briefly at one or two other examples of this phenomena. I note that comments and posts on the Holford Watch blog provide the occasional example and this one in particular is worth linking to: while blog comments can sometimes be written in anger and cannot normally be edited by the author of the comment, newsletters from popular media nutritionists are, I believe, a different animal. Patrick Holford, in his 100%health Newsletter, No 41, September 2007, referred to Ben Goldacre as attacking Panorama and Alasdair Phillips “in his usual vitriolic and inaccurate way”. This ‘vitriolic and inaccurate attack’ can be read here, if you would like to make up your own mind as to whether Goldacre had launched a vitriolic and inaccurate attack or not: Here is another sample (this time from the comments section) – “I have just come upon this site for the first time and am horrified at the vitriol and jealousy piled on to Patrick.” It is noted in a later comment that “in some quarters it seems as if there is a Knee-Jerk dictionary that defines vitriol as “someone who disagrees with me using science and my own words to do it”.”


  1. jdc325 said,

    Note: this was the previous post of mine that I was referring to.

  2. carriesb said,

    Ah – the vitriol, as you saw, an accusation that surfaced again this week, this time from somebody complaining about the coverage of Green Party policies. It seems we are open and equal access to accusations of vitriol.

    Such commenters do tend to have mimosaphant tendencies.

    As for the search for the guilty everywhere but the mirror – probably understandable. My go-to on this is not Cialidini (by way of a change) but Robert Burton’s On Being Certain.

  3. jdc325 said,

    Thank you for dropping by Carrie.

    The description of what I considered to be perfectly reasonable criticism of Green Party policies as “mauling” struck me as rather odd, but the follow-up comments about vitriol, aggression and bitching were what really caught my eye in that thread. It seems to be a defensive tactic to take criticism personally and to characterise critics as unkind but I’m often unsure as to how conscious the use of this tactic is. I think sometimes it is probably a knee-jerk reaction from someone upset at having their ideas criticised but that, on occasion, it may be a more deliberate attempt to smear critics.

    On Being Certain is new to me, but it looks fascinating. I recall the Neurologica blog (linky) making the point that “confidence is an effective form of persuasion – we tend to trust other people’s confidence, even when we shouldn’t” but On Being Certain seems to relate directly to our tendency to trust our own confidence even when we shouldn’t. This is going to join my list of books I need to read – Mistakes Were Made, But Not By Me is another (apparently, it discusses the human propensity for “tenacious[ly] clinging to a discredited belief”).

  4. Online Debate And Criticism « Stuff And Nonsense said,

    […] Regarding minimizing harm and considering the feelings of others: I’ve written before about anger in debating of health issues and I would hate to think that those arguing in favour of public health interventions or against alternative medicine would use similar tactics to – or be as aggressive as – those in the examples I used in my previous post. Unfortunately, there probably are examples of such overly-aggressive “sceptics”. Often, however, vitriol is apparently perceived when it is not present. Sceptics are frequently characterised as being unkind and I provided several examples of what I considered to be inappropriate use of the word “vitriol” in a previous blog post. […]

  5. jdc325 said,

    This comment:


    Believing that you are ” the third largest primary health care profession in the whole world” is exactly why you need to be challenged.

    You are not primary health care providers. You are spine wizards who give magic back rubs.

    If people really think what you do provides primary health care, then you represent a public health threat that needs to be challenged by all means.

    Was responded to with:

    What makes you say that……..please explain.
    You sound wounded…why the vitriol
    Keep calm.
    Thank You.

    Can anyone spot the vitriol? Link. I can see mirth and perhaps a hint of sarcasm, but no bitter abuse. It seems chiropractors can see things I cannot – subluxations, vitriol, perhaps even innate intelligence.

  6. Freedom Of Speech, Not Freedom From Criticism « Stuff And Nonsense said,

    […] well-meaning defence, the vitriol defence, online debate and […]

  7. Simon Singh and the British Chiropractic Association « Stuff And Nonsense said,

    […] reading for chiropractors, my opinions on the General Chiropractic Council, and a post titled last of the summer whine – which looked at inappropriate claims of ‘vitriol’. There are too many to […]

  8. Martin said,

    Homeopathic levels of vitriol in an article mean that the article is very very nasty indeed. Or maybe the opposite.

  9. A Brief Guide To Deflecting Criticism « Stuff And Nonsense said,

    […] of deflecting (or suppressing) criticism include legal chill (I have a category for this here), the vitriol defence (because pointing out that people are wrong is “mean”), and the bogus claims of […]

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