Yeah, that’s basically the message I want you to take home with you today.
So I have a couple of quick #singhbca thoughts. Not that there’s been any exciting developments, I’m just short on ideas.
There’s one minor thing which has come up a couple of times in the discussion of chiropractic surrounding Simon Singh’s libel case, and which has kinda grated with me. One of the things which has bothered people the most about chiropractic is its alleged ability to treat infant colic. This has caused particular concern from supporters of science-based medicine, because infants’ spines are pretty delicate things, and the idea of someone not fully qualified as a medical doctor manipulating those delicate spines can be pretty worrying. If you try and picture it, it’s sort of hard not to involuntarily imagine bone-chilling crunching noises and something going appallingly wrong.
But see, that itself isn’t a piece of data. The fact that it’s unsettling or horrifying to think about isn’t of any direct scientific value. The fact that you’re scared of something happening isn’t enough to decide that it’s a terror which must be eradicated.
This kind of argument is pretty much all that the anti-vaccinationists have. “Those DOCTORS in their cold, clinical WHITE LAB COATS are injecting CHEMICALS into our CHILDREN!!” they wail, and they expect you to be terrified and realise what an abomination vaccines must be because SCARY CAPITALS OH NOES!! But that’s obviously crap. The science supporting the notion that vaccines save countless lives, and are in no way associated with autism, is vast. They scaremonger, but they don’t have the data.
So, what’s the data on actual damage caused to children by chiropractic manipulation? I don’t know, and even if this wasn’t a brief, thrown-together article I’m putting out before getting an early night, I’d probably be too lethargic to do the research. My point is just that I’ve cringed a few times at hearing people going for the emotional argument and kinda neglecting the science.
Admittedly, even if I don’t have immediately accessible proof that chiropractic is hurting babies, that’s not enough to justify performing a very icky and potentially dangerous procedure on them. I believe Penn Jillette used the phrase “baby-twisting motherfuckers” on the episode of Bullshit! that covered chiropractors, and I find it hard to disagree with the sentiment. And I’m sure everyone I’ve heard talking like this would actually agree, and admit to just not being quite as pedantic in their choice of language as I’m being here. Which is fine – I’m not railing on the whole skeptical community for this. Just thought it was worth noting. The cheap shots don’t always help our case, if they’re overdone. Almost all the #singhbca debate has been based on good science and free speech, which is where we’re awesomest.
Also, I’m going to quote a comment I left earlier today on Jack of Kent’s latest blog post, because I don’t recall if I ever actually made this particular argument on this blog. The discussion got onto the statement at the centre of the British Chiropractic Association’s libel case against Simon Singh – which, if you haven’t heard it ad nauseam by now, was that the BCA “happily promotes bogus treatments”.
Analysing Simon’s contentious statement on a word-by-word basis, I can see nothing libellous about it at all.
– Are “treatments” the matter in question? Nobody’s really arguing that point.
– Are these treatments “bogus”? Well, there’s no good scientific evidence that they’re effective beyond placebo. I don’t know quite what else “bogus” could really mean in the context of a medical treatment that purportedly does have an effect beyond placebo, so this also seems like fair comment.
– Do the BCA “promote” these bogus treatments? Obviously, or there wouldn’t have been of this big hoo-hah from them in the first place.
– Do they do so “happily”? Well, I don’t see anybody twisting their arm about it. They don’t seem to have been wringing their hands and bemoaning their lot, at what a terrible position they’ve been somehow coerced into, that they simply must promote these bogus treatments against their will. That’s just silly. So this seems like a yes as well.
Anything beyond this, like reading “happily” to mean that the BCA knew exactly how bogus the treatments were, is not explicit in Simon’s words, and is at best ambiguous. If the BCA’s agenda had anything to do with the promotion of good science in medicine, then asking Simon to clarify what he meant by this point would have come way before suing for libel on their list of responses.
Not that I think it should, but if it does come down to proving whether the BCA knew the treatments were bogus, the infamous “plethora” must count pretty heavily against them. Though I suppose it could be argued that they were simply too incompetent or untrained to recognise terrible and unconvincing evidence when it was right in front of them. (I’d love to hear them use that argument in their defence.)