Tuesday, June 16, 2009

well, this is all a bit of a pain in the neck

Here's a useful thing you can do today: sign the petition at Sense About Science protesting the ludicrous libel case brought against writer Simon Singh by the British Chiropractic Association. British libel law being the strange beast that it is there appears to be every chance that Singh will lose this case, despite his initial Guardian article saying nothing that isn't plainly obviously true. Note that the link is to an archived copy of the article, since the Guardian cravenly removed the original from their site in response to pressure from the BCA, the spineless bastards. Sense About Science have a nice button you can add to your website, as well, which I am happy to do:

free debate

There's been a highly commendable massed howl of outrage from the scientific and journalism community over this, as clearly the correct response to someone suggesting that your theories have no basis in reality is to present the evidence that they do, not to get all lawyery on their ass and sue them. If we'd done that back in the day we'd never have got as far as inventing the wheel, the telephone, antibiotic drugs, Jewson roof trusses and all the other things that enable the sort of societal stability that makes it possible to have a legal structure within which you can sue someone in the first place.

Since the convoluted legal process currently underway revolves largely around the definition and meaning (both implied and inferred) of the word "bogus", Language Log have got involved as well.

As an aside, chiropractic is one of those things that often gets a bit of a free pass among the general public and even the sceptical community, firstly because it has some superficial plausibility and secondly because generally people don't understand what it claims to do. I mean, a nice back massage is nice, isn't it? Even if it involves a bit of rougher manipulation, well, that can loosen you up, can't it? And the answer is: yes it can, but relief of back pain is not what chiropractic claims to do. It's all about the vertebral subluxation, baby. In this respect it's a bit like reflexology: the veneer of a nice foot massage concealing a whole wacky world of unfounded claims and craziness. A bit more sneaky than something like, say, homeopathy, which is clearly and unmistakably frothingly insane from the outset.

There is an amusing footnote to all this - in the general air of litigiousness and paranoid panic a lot of chiropractic practitioners are being advised by their governing body (I should note, for completeness, that this is a different governing body from the BCA; it's the Chiropractic Front of Judaea or something; splitters!) to remove large chunks of content from their own websites, lest - heaven forfend - they should be challenged on the accuracy or evidential basis of their treatment methods by cynical troublemakers. You know, it's almost as if they know that there's no factual basis for any of the twaddle they claim to believe. Who knew?

It's another example of the Streisand effect as previously observed here - the sharp and merciless light of publicity falling on things certain people would rather remained shadowy and obscure. Now you can find your local chiropractor on this list, compare the current and archived versions of their treatment claims, and conclude that the missing ones were bogus, and that they knew it all the time.