The chiroprats strike back

Coming into this story as late as I am, I don’t have much to add, other than to draw attention to the far more erudite offerings of others. If somehow you have not heard that chiropractors would rather issue legal threats than solid evidence for what they do, here’s a quick summary.

Firstly, the indefatigable Professor David Colquoun was invited to write a guest editorial in the New Zealand Medical Journal alongside two articles critical of the practices of chiropractors – especially their use of the title `doctor’. No need for me to repeat the story here, just read it for yourselves. The riposte from the editor of the journal has gone down as a classic – “Let’s hear your evidence not your legal muscle”.

Hot on the heels of that, our foremost science journalist Simon Singh PhD MBE, is being sued by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) because of an article in the Guardian in which he called into question the evidence for several claims the Association is making. There is an ongoing and intelligent discussion of this on the James Randi forum. From here you will be directed to a galaxy of blogs which analyse the issue in detail.

All this has taught me a lot about the English legal system, which for defamation claims is pretty notorious for being very unfair to the defendant. I thought I knew a bit about it, having been threatened with libel myself. I used the justification defence and the whole thing went away. So I am not going to offer David or Simon legal advice, but perversely I rather relish the opportunity to test in public the claims which chiropractors make. Of course it’s not pleasant for the defendants, but I would reassure them that these cases rarely get to court. Let me confess that several years ago, and in my ignorance, I consulted a chiropractor myself. Like most people do today, I considered him to be a genuine health care professional. Having studied the evidence, I know better now. I have several friends who use chiropractors, and the curious thing is that no matter how much I talk about the lack of evidence they still keep paying for more treatments.

As you might have guessed from from the long gap between my posts, I started this one a while back and put it on the back burner. But I am now moved to update it and request your help – not for me, but for Simon Singh. I won’t repeat the full details so ably set out by Jack of Kent, but I do want to comment on the ruling by Mr Justice Eady. I am reminded of what a lawyer told me years ago (not a lawyer I particularly liked), that the law has nothing to do with morals. I have since then formed the opinion that the prime objective of the legal system is to ensure that the lawyers get paid, and that everything else is secondary. The odd thing is that, to any person of reasonable intelligence, science and the courts should both be interested in the same thing, namely evidence. It is obvious to said person of reasonable intelligence (indeed even to the less intellectually endowed) that Simon’s article is primarily about whether the BCA’s claims as to the efficacy of chiropractic in the treatment of these conditions is supported by evidence. The judge has thus divorced the case from the consideration of the evidence, and centred it on a pedantic interpretation of a word, notwithstanding Simon’s clear and precise explanation in his following paragraph of what he actually meant. The frightening thing is that Eady is a leading libel judge and gets most of the major cases.

But enough of my meanderings. This case has caught the attention not only of the scientific community, but also of other professions who are worried about free speech. I was one of the first 100 signatories to a statement asking the government to review the libel laws. There are now 4000, but we need more. Please go to Sense About Science and sign up. You will see that you are in very good company.

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