Simon Singh and the British Chiropractic Association

April 1, 2010 at 4:35 pm (Alternative Medicine, Chiropractic, Law, Legal Chill) (, , , , , , , )

Having co-authored a book about alternative medicine with Edzard Ernst, popular science writer Simon Singh penned an article for the Guardian about one of the alternative therapies covered in the book. The article was published at a time when chiropractic was being promoted. This newspaper article then became the subject of a complaint from the chiropractic association, the BCA.

The BCA were offered right of reply by the Guardian at the time the original article was published. They turned down this offer, and proceeded to sue Simon Singh personally. Rather than respond to Singh’s article by making the case for chiropractic, they chose to resort to legal means.

The case began badly for Simon Singh when Justice Eady ruled that the contentious section of Singh’s article was a statement of fact. Eady also ruled that the word “bogus” meant Singh had accused the BCA of dishonesty.

Legal writer and skeptic Jack of Kent wrote at the time of the ruling on the “meaning” of the offending passage in Singh’s article that it was astonishingly illiberal. Jack of Kent continued to write about the case on his blog – a blog that has proved to be both informative and interesting.

The response that followed the BCA’s decision to sue for libel and the subsequent ruling on the meaning of Singh’s words was remarkable.

The people described in a Guardian headline as “an intrepid, ragged band of bloggers” looked at the websites of individual members of the BCA and, while some fired off emails to those members questioning their claims, others among this ragged band of bloggers decided to ensure that the chiropractors’ own code of conduct was being enforced. Two bloggers made omnibus complaints about hundreds of chiropractors.

They did this by first compiling a list of chiropractors who were making claims that did not seem to comply with guidance from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) – a requirement of the code of practice under which they were operating. Next, they submitted complaints to the General Chiropractic Council (GCC).

That so many chiropractors were potentially in breach of the GCC code of practice was worrying. It also prompted some to wonder whether the GCC were effective regulators.

The response of individual chiropractors was disappointing – with some complaining of a witch hunt, rather than defending the claims that were under scrutiny. I was also saddened to note the response that the blogger Zeno received following his complaints.

Today we heard the welcome news that Simon Singh has “won a “resounding victory” in the court of appeal” which will allow Simon Singh to rely on a “fair comment” defence of his statements about chiropractors. The Guardian quotes Allen Green (the writer of the 2010 Orwell Prize-longlisted blog Jack of Kent) and Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat MP:

“His victory is cheering, but for him to have got here has been a complex, depressing, and obscenely expensive journey. This is not an example of the English libel laws working. Instead it is a horrifying example of how bad they really are. For him to have to struggle to win in this way signals the urgent need for libel reform.” [Allen Green.]

“The political parties must now all commit to reform of the law to free scientific speech and responsible journalism from the threat of penury.” [Evan Harris.]

A round up of the reaction to the Singh-BCA court case and its repercussions is available at the God knows what… blog. Noodlemaz has comment on the latest developments here: Singh when you’re winning.

My Own Chiropractic-Related Activism

I began by looking at the BCA’s research page, noting the research they chose to present and also drawing attention to the research that the BCA ignored. For example, each and every systematic review of chiropractic. *My experience with the BCA is further detailed below.

I then looked at an individual member of the BCA. I noted that they claimed to be able to help people with whiplash injuries and headaches. I then emailed the chiropractor and asked them about the evidence for chiropractic in whiplash injuries and headaches.

My follow-up post included my initial email to them, their reply to this email, and my response to what I considered to be an inadequate reply. Further correspondence with them can be seen here and here.

*It occurred to me that the BCA could be unaware of all those systematic reviews that failed to come to a positive conclusion regarding chiropractic. I thought I’d help the BCA. Being slightly impatient, I sent them a gentle reminder having waited nearly a week for a response to my email.

Here is the BCA’s initial response. My next email to them contained some questions that had occurred to me after reading their response. See here for more. I began to wonder at one point whether the BCA were ignoring me. It turned out that they were (but they were not alone in doing so). My most recent post on the BCA is this one, regarding a baffling statement they made.

Other chiropractic-based blog posts include my recommended 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 include here, but I have a category for chiropractic posts that anyone so minded can read through should they wish to do so.

Edit, 15 April: BCAaccounts.

15 Comments

  1. uberVU - social comments said,

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by SkepticBarista: RT @jdc325: Blogging on Simon Singh and the BCA: http://bit.ly/aWGmDe #SinghBCA #libelreform…

  2. noodlemaz said,

    Ooh my first linkamajig.
    Thanks!!

  3. Cybertiger said,

    Cock-a-doodle-doo, I can hear the CAMsterphobes-a-crowing. Twits …

  4. Skepticat said,

    Terrific work, James.

  5. Cybertiger said,

    I guess that the written statement that James ‘happily promotes bogus wibble’ can now be construed as fair comment.

  6. jdc325 said,

    @noodlemaz – no problem, it’s always nice when someone goes to the trouble of reading all the relevant blogposts and compiling a ‘carnival-style’ blogpost listing them.

    @Skepticat – thank you for your kind words.

    @Cybertiger: “I guess that the written statement that James ‘happily promotes bogus wibble’ can now be construed as fair comment.” While others might threaten to sue for such a thing, I must admit that my response was to laugh. Thanks for the giggle Cybertiger. Please feel free to expand on this if you have time, by the way – I’d be interested to know what wibble you think is being promoted and how you think I am promoting it (happily or otherwise).

    @Cybertiger: “Cock-a-doodle-doo, I can hear the CAMsterphobes-a-crowing…” I’m not scared of CAMsters – I’d just like them to show me their evidence (and not their legal muscle).

  7. LeeT said,

    I have just downloaded the BCA’s accounts for year ending 2008 from Companies House.

    They made a loss of £83K against a profit of £111K in 2007. They state that: “The loss is attribuable to legal fees of £112,535 incurred in bringing a libel action against Dr Simon Singh and pursuing a case on behalf of a member against the Advertising Standards Authority.”

    So they are losing money due to suing Simon Singh and trying to protect their members from the ASA.

    The trading acount shows they took £1,719,455 in membership fees. If they incur further losses of, say, £400K through legal fees over the next couple of years they will be in serious financial trouble.

    It will be fascinating to see what the 2009 accounts look like. There are notes are provisions in their 2008 accounts which give any indication of what they would do if they lost the libel action. Not sure if that is legal under accounting regulations, but presumably they took appropriate financial advice from their accoutants and auditors.

    Admin edit: there is now a link to a PDF of the BCA accounts for 2008 in the above blogpost.

  8. Neuroskeptic said,

    “I guess that the written statement that James ‘happily promotes bogus wibble’ can now be construed as fair comment.”

    Whereas were I to say that ‘Cybertiger is a deluded arse’, it wouldn’t be, it would be a statement of fact.

  9. Cybertiger said,

    Arsehole! The skepticalneurotic is dribbling wibble from that place where the sun don’t shine.

  10. Divisible By Pi » The room that makes the media… (The 134th Meeting of the Skeptics’ Circle) said,

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  15. Chirocare said,

    Spot on with this write-up, I actually think this site needs a lot more attention. I’ll probably be returning to read through more, thanks for the info!

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