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April 1st, 2010


The medical benefits of clay foot massage

[As I was typing this, Singh won. Well, he won the right to use the defence of "fair comment", anyway. I dunno whether that amounts to the same thing.]

OK, everyone's giving Simon Singh the Big Up today because he's finally got his day in court, where the BCA is suing him for being rude or something. And, hitherto, I'd pretty much gone along with what appears to be a herdlike consensus of his being the rational voice in the wilderness speaking out against the quacks and snakeoil peddlars. Fine. Indeed, most of the coverage has given exactly that impression: that the test in this case is whether the BCA's claims are in any way supported by scientific evidence.

But, according to Wikipedia (usual, tedious and so-fucking-obvious-it-pains-me-even-to-have-to-mention-it disclaimer applies), that's not actually, technically, actually what it's about, apparently. The issue is whether Singh accused the BCA of deliberately misleading its members clients. Here's what he wrote:

"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. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments".
OK, that seems pretty straighforward to me. And it seemed pretty clear, too, to - your friend and mine - Mr Justice Eady, that Singh was explicitly saying that the BCA was FIBBING, like a big bag of FIBBY FIBBING people with extra FIBS on top.

Now, Singh's statement's a bit of a stretch. You could argue, say, that the BCA should have known that these claims were bogus, which would at least leave it with the defence of stupidity (much as one might do with, say, claims of WMDs in Iraq). But no. Singh maintains that he didn't mean to suggest that the BCA was dishonest at all.

"If we go to trial it's almost impossible for me to defend the article, because it's something I never meant in the first place."

Well, fucksake. If you didn't mean it, you shouldn't have written it, should you? Because any argument that that is not what you wrote is, at best, disingenuous, and, at worst, FIBBING.

It's at about this point that I expect people to start muttering things like, "Well, psychonomy would defend the BCA. He's been advocating chiropractic ever since he went in a cripple and came out able to walk like something out of Life of Brian". And, yeah, I have advocated chiropractic. You would too.

I would also, however, point to the abstract for this, which makes what can be claimed for chirpopractic quite clear, and the basis upon which those claims are made ("Spinal manipulation/mobilization is effective in adults for: acute, subacute, and chronic low back pain; migraine and cervicogenic headache; cervicogenic dizziness; manipulation/mobilization is effective for several extremity joint conditions; and thoracic manipulation/mobilization is effective for acute/subacute neck pain").

The BCA is clearly wrong. It is, whether wittingly or through some complex, bizarre process of self-delusion, peddling snake oil. And it's obviously made a huge miscalculation in suing Singh. But that doesn't mean that he wasn't a bloody fool to phrase his article as he did, and an idiot to maintain that he meant something else.

If Singh wins the day today - and part of me hopes that he does, mainly because the consequences of the BCA winning are less palatable - let's not dress this up as some sort of victory of science over supersition, or free speech over draconian libel laws. It's a collection of people in the wrong suing someone else who was in the wrong. He might have been in the wrong for the best of reasons, but I've no doubt that the BCA would say the same of themselves.

It's like watching a bad movie, in which all the characters are so unsympathetic that you don't care who's left alive at the end. They're all as bad as each other.

Chief source.