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British Chiropractic Association sues science writer for libel

In a Guardian article in April 2008, Simon Singh, who has penned the popular science books “Fermat’s Last Theorem”, “The Code Book” and “Big Bang”, wrote about the likely risks of chiropractic treatment and whether or not there was any evidence that it was effective for various childhood conditions, including asthma and colic. The British Chiropractic Association (BCA) took offense to this, claimed that Singh had defamed their reputation and has sued him for libel.

Notwithstanding that in libel cases in Britain, it is the defendant who carries the burden of proof, and that this would be very expensive, Singh decided last year to fight on as experts said “we had a valid defence and stood a good chance of winning the case.”

However, this from the Index on Censorship website – On May 7th, 2009 the English High Court ruled that Singh must show that the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) was deliberately dishonest in promoting chiropractic as a treatment for various children’s ailments.

Mr Justice Eady ruled, with notes apparently written prior to today’s preliminary hearing, that an article by Singh, published in the Guardian should be classified as a ’statement’ and added that by use of the word ‘bogus’ Singh had inferred he believed the BCA had intent to convey dishonest claims to the British public.

In light of this ruling the matter may not go to trial. From Singh’s standing he does not believe the BCA had intent to deceive and therefore cannot prove this.

Costs of £23,000, relating to the preliminary hearing, have been awarded to the BCA.

Here is some discussion including an intelligent posting by the vice president of the BCA.

Other sources claim that The British Chiropractic Association opened a can of worms by suing Simon Singh for libel over his claim that its members promote “bogus treatments” — and not only because of the implications for free speech and unfettered scientific debate but also that it has invited unwanted scrutiny of the claims made for chiropractic.

Meanwhile, as the science media and bloggers discussed the case, Singh has received offers for financial support from hundreds of people. including some leading scientists. The statement of the Keep Libel Laws Out of Science campaign has been signed by over 100 people from the worlds of science, journalism, publishing, literature and law, expressing support for Singh and calling for a review of the libel law. Supporters include leading biologist Richard Dawkins of the University of Oxford and David King, former chief scientific adviser to the British government, as well as well-known authors Martin Gardner, Martin Amis, Alain de Botton, Hari Kunzru and Monica Ali.

Within a day, 4,000 people signed in support of the statement – available on Singh’s website (senseaboutscience.org.uk). It is to be sent to the British government every time it gets 1,000 signatures online.

On June 9th, 2009, the chair of the McTimoney Chiropractic Association (MCA), an organization of chiropractors, reportedly emailed the group’s members advising that they remove their websites to avoid being targeted by a coordinated campaign of complaints to the General Chiropractic Council (GCC), the UK’s chiropractic regulating body. A copy of the email is posted on Chiropracticlive.com.

Sources
The Times of India
Times Online
Simon Singh’s comments in the Sunday Times
The Great Beyond

3 comments to British Chiropractic Association sues science writer for libel

  • John Raymond

    The topic that chiropractic is a viable treatment for such conditions has been a problem within our ranks forever. So much evidence points that thier is something worth investigating further and why haven’t we. Many europian MD have made similar claims in the past, and the evidence we have seems notb to stand up to scientific standards to make any definative claims. I wonder why DOs who have done more research then us do not get the scrutiny for making similar claims, and I also wonder if we did more studies if it would even make a difference. We already have overwhelming evidence that manipulation works for LBP, but organizations such as the AMA ignore this fact, and even imply that it isn;t even an option. So would having studies proving CMT as an option to treat other ailments make a difference?
    And why have we not did more then the typical pilot study or halfass studies so often published, with no follow up of a good, independant studies when the pilots show such promise?
    And until we have DCs stop making claims they can’t back up with proof, we will continue to look like the charlatins and just reinforce the publics perception that we think we can cure everything with an adjustment.

  • I agree with you John and it’s very frustrating. One problem is lack of funding. In Canada we have a number of chiropractic research chairs in various provincial universities but these are very expensive. And the research is very slow in coming. In the meantime a significant number of practitioners continue to practice chiropractic which is not evidence-based, scaring people into long treatment plans costing $1000’s of dollars with absolutely no evidence to show health improvements at the end.

  • John Raymond

    Yes John, I Cs you speak of. They practice what I like to call consultant science. This is a practice based on guildlines designed to maximize profits using philosophy and science put together by consultants and practice management gurus whose sole aim is to make a few DCs rich. The profession be damned.
    I hate it when I get a patient weary of doing even a conservative treatmen t plan thinking I am trying to get them coming in just for the money. Or having to defend my profession from these snakeoil salesman.
    It is hard enough defending our rights from are detractors like the AMA whose main purpose in hurting us is to make more profit themselves. I have seen this happen. But with the ilk you speak of it is hard to defend us. We are also our worst enemy.
    Don’t get me wrong, I worked in medicine for over a decade, but would rather do what I do now and think I have helped many more people then I did handing out pills, and giving bandaids out. We have such a potential to be thought of as the best NMS doctors if we could just face reality and shed the bad science so many still quote from over 100 years ago.
    We wouldn’t need consultants because our office would be flooded with people knowing we are the most effective at treating one of the most common ailments today, LBP, and many other NMS condition, not to mention the most affordable.
    If we could do that, we could then slowly introduce any other benefits CMT provides and research proves.

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