Oct 30 2009
The last two weeks have brought good news to those who seek to hold chiropractic to the standard of evidence and science-based medicine.
In the first bit of good news, on October 14th Simon Singh was granted permission to appeal the High Court ruling on meaning of the term “bogus” within his original article. I’m sure most readers of this blog are familiar with Simon Singh’s legal battle with the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) regarding an article in The Guardian entitled “Beware the Spinal Trap.” We’ve covered it several times over the last year and will continue to do so as the case progresses. The nuances of the British legal system (or any legal system for that matter) are beyond my ken, and are far better explained by Jack of Kent here. The take-home point is that gaining permission to appeal the ruling on meaning was virtually essential if Simon were to have any real chance of winning this lawsuit.
Even if the BCA should win its lawsuit for libel against Singh, it seems likely to be something of a pyrrhic victory. After all, in the year since this story began, we’ve been belatedly provided with the BCA’s best evidence in support of chiropractic’s efficacy, and promptly treated to its subsequent evisceration.
We’ve also been given insight into the standards held and practices recommended by the McTimoney Chiropractic Association (MCA), which by its own reckoning is the second largest chiropractic association in Europe. In an apparent response to the attention brought by the BCA’s lawsuit, the MCA advised its members to take down their websites and remove all reference to treatment of “whiplash, colic, or other childhood problems” from their places of business to avoid a “witch hunt” targeting “any claims for treatment that cannot be substantiated with chiropractic research.” If only the Malleus Maleficarum had been written with such high standards of evidence!
In the same email we were treated to their unique perspective on ethics and the right of patients to information with this gem of a quote (punctuation intact):
we strongly suggest you do NOT discuss this with others, especially patients, Firstly it would not be ethical to burden patients with this…
I find this statement to be the most abhorrent in the entire MCA email. This is advice from a major professional organization to withhold information from patients. And not just an esoteric bit of chiropractic minutiae, but information that pertains to entire swaths of chiropractic practice. Even worse, nowhere in the email does it advise MCA chiropractors to stop treating the stated conditions, just to obfuscate the fact that they do. As I said, abhorrent.
So in their attempt to silence one critic through litigation, the BCA has drawn attention to the paucity of evidence supporting many of its practices, shown that its chosen response to criticism is litigation and not scientific discourse, and prompted some alarmingly unethical advisory statements from their chiropractic colleagues. For a group supposedly striving to gain legitimacy within modern medicine, their current course of action seems to be ill conceived at best. As the saying goes, “Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”
Simon has rightfully received an outstanding amount of support during this event, one example of which was a mass reposting of “Beware the Spinal Trap” coordinated by Sense about Science. Such advocacy is not without its risks, as both Simon Singh and now the Australian Skeptics can testify.
The Australian Skeptics is a coalition of volunteer advocacy groups dedicated to the advancement of science and reason. Among their many interests, they’ve chosen to be outspoken advocates for evidence and science-based medicine, using both traditional and “new media” to great effect. That they were among the many to support Singh by reposting his article in late July should have been no surprise; the trouble that simple reposting has caused them, however, was.
Evidently their re-posting of “Beware the Spinal Trap” raised the ire of an Australian chiropractor, Joseph Ierano. Shortly after sending a lengthy letter to the Australian Skeptics objecting to the content of Singh’s article, he submitted a complaint to the HCCC claiming that by posting Singh’s article, the Australian Skeptics were offering incorrect medical/health care advice and should be subject to the Australian Public Health Act of 1993. Their subsequent exchanges can be found here.
Which of course brings me to the second bit of good news. I am happy to report that on October 23rd the Australian Skeptics received word that the HCCC of NSW dismissed the complaint filed against them by Joseph Ierano, citing that the Australian Skeptics were not health care providers and therefore did not fall under their jurisdiction. Joseph Ierano, however, certainly is a health care provider and makes some rather interesting claims on his own site that might not have the firmest of foundations. I wonder if he really intended to bring himself to the HCCC’s attention.
I heartily congratulate both Simon Singh and the Australian Skeptics that their respective cases have taken turns in their favor, and in support of good science. Though I’m sure the Australian Skeptics would have relished the opportunity to defend themselves and explore the accuracy of statements made by Singh and Ierano in open court (they’ve said as much on their site), I rather prefer that it didn’t come to that. Given that legal decisions can impact the public perception of the science but have no bearing on its validity, courtroom battles tend to be high-risk and low-gain for those of us promoting science-based medicine.
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