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Posts Tagged ‘quacks’

Simon Singh, Medical Quackery And Libel Laws

This was published in March, 2010. It’s not that well-written, but it was my very first post that could be called a blog-post, rather than an article on a website.

What really strikes me, looking back on it is the scarcity of links. These days, I’d not think of writing a post with so few. Ho-Hum.


In 2008, scientist Simon Singh published an opinion-piece in The Guardian about false claims by chiropractors, a variety of medical quackery that was, and as far as I know still is, being funded, with no real evidence for its veracity, to the tune of four-million pounds a year by the NHS, in which he made the following statement.

You might think that modern chiropractors restrict themselves to treating back problems, but in fact they still possess some quite wacky ideas. The fundamentalists argue that they can cure anything. And even the more moderate chiropractors have ideas above their station. The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence (my italics). This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.

The BCA (British Chiropractic Association) then sued him for libel, even after being offered equal space in the newspaper to refute his claims.

Two years on, and Singh has spent, to date, around £300,000, while the courts fiddled around with petty things like the legal definition of the word bogus, just to get to the point where he can actually defend his case in court. In fact, as he himself has said, if he didn’t have the financial advantage of having written a couple of best-selling books, he’d have been forced to settle out of court. The sad fact is that English libel laws are so biased toward the claimant, and so expensive for the defendant, that the majority of cases are so settled. In short, being right doesn’t matter a jot. Having the financial muscle to scare your opponent out of the court room is what wins most cases. The cost of defending a libel action in this country has been variously quoted as being one-hundred to one-hundred-and-forty times higher than anywhere else in Europe. That’s just the costs, mind you—youll pay that, or a large proportion of that, just to have your say in court, regardless of the court’s finding against or for you. This financial might-makes-right situation just has to be wrong, and when applied to scientific debate, especially in matters affecting the medical services, it’s more than wrong, it’s scary. People have died as a result of the mis-application of chiropractic.

It’s got so bad that London has become the libel-tourism capital of the world. People in one foreign country are suing people in another foreign country in English courts, on the basis that the content has been viewed a handful (in some cases literally a handful) of times, in England. In another extremely bizarre case, Sheffield Wednesday tried to sue their own fans for complaining about the club’s condition on an unofficial website. Thankfully, the case eventually got dropped, but at what cost, and to whom I can only guess. I should imagine they’ve lost a few fee-paying fans at the very least though.

Even more interestingly (getting back to the Simon Singh case), in the meantime while the courts debated points of semantics, the Advertising Standards Authority have looked into the ‘evidence’ provided by the BCA for treatment of various non-spinal related conditions and have instructed them to remove any advertising making such claims. The evidence shown by the BCA included cases where they had (I assume deliberately) included findings that had been quoted out of context to skew the conclusion, in some cases by chopping off a sentence half way. They had also disregarded cases where the findings were negative. In short they lied, both by misquotation and by omission. This cannot, I hope, have anything but a detrimental affect on their case when Simon finally gets his say in court.

The most worrying thing about this to me, though, isn’t really the individual case; it’s the fact that scientific debate, and especially where it involves public health funding, should take place in the lab, not in the court, and that this is by no means an isolated incident. Remember the MMR/autism scare? That was started by one man with no properly peer-reviewed evidence wanting to get his name in the headlines. The fall-out of that particular peice of unethical headline-grabbing is still having world-wide repercussions. Pharmacutical companies, alternative medicine proponents and others are more and more regularly using the financial threat of libel as a method for covering up badly done science.

Science—real science—thrives on debate. A scientist, or more commonly a group of scientists, publishes a hypothesis, usually with details of experiments used to support it. Then other scientists do their damndest to blow it out of the water. Any problems with the hypothesis are thus exposed and can be dealt with by modifying it to take the negative results into account, and the process is repeated, and repeated…and repeated… When, and if, the point is reached that no one can find any more flaws, the hypothesis becomes a theory, and is treated as (in laymen’s terms) fact.

What this boils down to is that the BCA have advanced a hypothesis (that chiropractic can cure various non-spinal related conditions) but have supplied no real evidence and have not subjected what evidence they do have to the back-and-forth process of ongoing peer-review. They have then represented that hypothesis as fact in their advertising. Their advertising took this out of the realm of scientific papers and into the public sphere, in a way that seems designed to mis-represent the ‘evidence’ in their favour. Someone took it upon themselves to point this out to the public. The BCA threw the scientific method of verifying evidence right out of the window, and tried to make it a matter of opinion based on the meaning of a few words, rather than scientific evidence, by taking him to court, probably on the assumption that a large-ish body would have more financial muscle than a single person and that they would be able to make themselves appear right in the court of public opinion by shutting him up. Thanks to the fact that they appear, unluckily for themselves, to have picked on someone who had more financial clout than they realised, they will probably lose this one, but do we really want our justice system do be based on a matter of luck and finance? Not to mention the fact that a further diabolical feature of the libel system is that they don’t have to prove that he libelled them, he has to prove that he didn’t. Now is it me, or is that a case of ‘guilty until proven innocent’?

That this situation has been at least partly brought on by the papers, by printing various scandal-stories with no evidence, over the years, is quite probable, so many people would probably say that they only have themselves to blame, but surely the way to deal with that is to make the fines heavier so that actual libellers pay more, not increase the cost of going to court, so that those accused of libel have to be in the lucky position of being able to pay the costs just in order to actually get to argue their case. And surely the person or body accusing someone of libel should have to prove that they’ve been libelled, rather than the other way around. All-in-all, and not to sound too ‘Daily-Mail’ about it, this country is becoming a libel-law laughing stock, with other countries, notably some states of the USA, actually finding themselves in the position of having to pass laws saying that they won’t uphold the findings of English libel courts within their own borders, because they find them draconian and unfair. It has even been denounced by the The European Court of Human Rights—how’s that for the country that’s so proud of the Magna Carta and free speech?

If you’ve even partly agreed with what I’ve said, please visit http://libelreform.org and sign the pledge-wall. You can sign even if you’re not a UK resident, as at the moment our libel laws are affecting debate and free speech world-wide, through libel tourism.

If you want to read more about Simon Singh’s case and other such matters, I can recommend the excellent blog by lawyer Jack Of Kent

There’s also a facebook group you can join to show support for Simon.

There’s also Simon Singh’s own site where you won’t find much on the ongoing court case, for obvious reasons, but you will find a fair bit of scientific fun.

For some excellent articles on scientific ethics, and quackery and other forms of pseudoscience, I don’t think you can do better than Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science blog.

Next time: Religion in politics…

—Daz

Since my writing the above, the BCA have dropped their libel case against Simon Singh, but as of this writing I don’t know if he will be able to recover his costs, or even a part of them. All three major political parties have added libel reform to their agendas, should they win the upcoming election. Only time will tell how good that promise is, and how much reform they will undertake.

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Things That Caught My Eye Lately

Well, maybe not ‘lately’, but it’s the contents of the sidebar on the old site where I posted these links. A feature I instituted because the complications of creating new posts there just didn’t make it worth my while adding a whole post for one or two links and hardly any discussion about them from yours truly. One of the aforementioned advantages of moving to a proper blog-site.
—Daz


UK readers, this one’s urgent and time-constrained. Please use one of the templates provided to write to your MP.


Maybe they should have reconsidered which photo to accompany this story with…


Eww, girls! EWW, period!

Welcome to the 14th century. Or the mind of a ten year old boy.


Of thimbleriggers and joculators


Ugh!


The problem of the soulless twin, solved!


A new low for the Catholic church


Waiting for the other shoe to drop?


The Prince Of Gaffes (Thanks Alice [Edited for change of address. Alice has changed rabbit-holes!]


Englishway otay Igpay-Atinlay Anslatortray


The Angry Mob: Consequences. Make sure to read comment #2. Spot on!


Wow! Just … wow!


Veterinary Homeopathy!?


Newton TV. Short science documentaries.


What does the Catholic church consider a worse crime than paedophilia? Treating women as equals.


The ongoing travesty of justice known as “the twitter trial,” in gory detail.


Christian parade … erm … not banned, and gays and Muslims … erm … not to blame, the Daily Fail … erm …doesn’t quite get ’round to saying.


Dear, oh dear, oh dear…


Must-watch BBC documentary: The Dolphins Of Shark Bay


I don’t normally do adverts, but this one’s in a good cause. It’s for a book called Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake, and all of the purchase price of the e-book goes to the Japan Red Cross. A worthy cause, I’m sure you’ll all agree.

Hat tip: Amy


I love a good rant, as some here may have noticed, and this is a really good rant.


The Streets of Ashkelon By Harry Harrison.

What happens when true innocents are exposed to religion.


Forty Shades Of Grey puts some common sense into politics


Sometimes, Godwin ≠ Fail


Happy gays are here again!


Richard Littlejohn. Is he actually human?


I keep getting told thatatheism is a faith…


Evangelicals’ free school would include creationism on science curriculum


Da Vinci’s Flatline


Prayer: How to do nothing and still convince yourself that you’re helping


Some days I really wish I believed in Hell. Then I could cheerfully contemplate the suffering that would come to bastards like these.

Hat tip: Pharyngula


Notes on Creation from a Super-Villain


A stunning collection of pictures of snowflakes


Do you believe in purple?


A haaaaandbag!? Actually it’s a tale of what happens when bureaucracy and security join hands, but, like the author, I couldn’t resist the Lady Bracknell-ism.


Create your very own Daily Fail headlines at the click of a button, with the Daily Mail-o-matic. It has a fairly limited vocabulary, but then, that only goes to make it more realistic.


Toilets Of The Gods


British education makes a massive leap backwards


Anyone who’s perused right-wing christian blogs and boards will have often seen references to the ‘Gay Agenda’. Quite what this agenda is, is not usually explained, which leaves folks like me rather puzzled. Finally, someone’s come clean! Folks, I present to you, in all its glory, the extremely radical Gay Agenda!


Eagle Cam

Don’t click plan to do anything else for the next half-hour at least.


UNESCO has a program for the next 20 years to make half the world population homosexual, says Cardinal


Post-Rapture Pet Care


possibly the funniest Wikiquote page in existence


It would be cruel to laugh…

Bwahahaha!


I’m an atheist, so how come I seem to spend more time defending Muslims than criticising? Martin Robbins has the answer.


More of the ‘War On Christmas’, from Jesus & Mo


Nine Lessons & Carols For Godless People


Five Chinese Crackers neatly turns the tables on the tabloids, in the ‘War On Christmas’


Ben Goldacre on libel law

and

Brian Cox on Richard Feynman


Catholic priest tries to hire a hitman to shut up rape-victim


The Secret Life Of Chaos


Crackpot pastor hangs elf


Don’t panic! The end of the Earth has been postponed


Because the Bible Tells Me So?


Call them lifts, or call them elevators, they’re probably a lot more interesting than you thought


Kent crime-rate snowballing out of control


SPOING!

Now I need a new irony meter


Free time-saving link for anyone who regularly converses with fundies. Just bookmark it and deploy as needed.


The Five Chinese Crackers Tabloid bullshit of the month award for November goes to…

Macer Hall at the Express!


‘Rockstars of Science’ should be ‘Scientists of Rock’

Martin Robbins says

“GQ’s patronising attempt to link scientists to rock stars shows a fundamental failure to understand which are cooler”

And he’s right


Charlie Brooker is, without doubt, one of the funniest writers of opinion pieces on the planet.


Wile E Coyote faces charge of attempted murder


The Scale Of The Universe.

Much more fun than it sounds!


Conservapedia on quantum tunneling. (Quantum mechanics for by dummies.)


Top ten signs you’re a fundamentalist Christian

Thanks, Amy


Severe weather in Cornwall causing disruption to royal wedding coverage


Pinkydead vs God examines

Automotive ‘Miracles’


Reporting that should carry a health warning


The best LOLCats ever


13th of November. It’s Robert Louis Stevenson’s birthday


The Daily Fail,

home of sleaze


Sixty-five million years with a creationist


FDA Approves Depressant Drug For The Annoyingly Cheerful


Scientists Find Skeleton Of Nature’s First Sexual Predator


The first tiny step towards a Grand Unified Theory? Maybe. There’s a long way to go, though, and I don’t expect to be able to follow the maths if they do get there. Even so, it’s a nice thought that somebody could.


America exercises right to punch itself in the nuts


NASA survey suggests Earth-sized planets are common


WTF?


Cecil Adams on the

pros and cons of sushi


The Raspyni Brothers


Dan & Dan

The Daily Mail Song


And Dan & Dan on

taxes


A sound-bite worth bookmarking

You’ll know when to link to it…


Mark Twain hilariously tears James Fenimore Cooper apart


The Incredible Human Journey

Alice Roberts. Mmmm


Erm…

No, I won’t spoil the surprise. Just click it, already!


A Couple of SF comic-strips:

Spacetrawler

&

Scenes From A Multiverse


Kissing Hank’s Ass


Some handy tips for Firefox users.


The Simpsons are Catholics! Says the Vatican

Ay, caramba!


Every now and then, I like to browse a page or two of Conservapedia. Not only does the laugh do me good, but it’s nice to know that no matter how little I may know, I’ll never ever be as cluless as this.


Dazed And Confused


Ben Goldacre on inadequate journalistic caveats


Technically, the “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s ass” joke shouldn’t work in British English.

Okay, but I find stuff like this interesting!


There’s some real sick bastards out there


Rape within marriage should not be crime,

says leading UK cleric


If you can watch this dry-eyed, I pity you.


Eric Weisstein’s

World Of Science


Some good, if rather abbreviated, chronologies


The Haynes Big Book Of Lies

The scary thing is, most of it is true.


Homeopathic Cooking


Some birds do shag on the first date…


I watched a TV show the other night touching on some aspects of the Census Of Marine Life, and it prompted me to check out their website. It’s great stuff. While you’re there, be certain to visit the image gallery. Stunning!


Ancient theological problem solved

by yours truly!


Some of the crazier items that appear in the in-box at

RichardDawkins.net


Hundreds of proofs of God’s existence


Episode IV

A New Pope


A spotter’s guide to internet trolls


Shock News!

Physical activity can occasionally lead to injuries!</sarcasm>

Talk about non-news! Sheesh


A private space-program

Well okay, ‘edge of space.’ Bloody pedants!


Neatly combining the recent zombie theme and the also recent Easter item is

this little play

on the idea of transubstantiation


The real meaning of Easter*

*Possibly


The creationist worldview.

It’s jaw-dropping stuff!


From dust to planets


Eleven-year old girls forced to cover their faces.

Later note: This story appears to have originated in the Daily Mail, and therfore may be exaggerated or even untrue.


Some thoughts from India

on the degeneration of democracy into mob rule.

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