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Posts Tagged ‘chiropractic’

If this isn’t the most fucked-up story you hear this week, then your life might deserve to be made into a movie.

A chiropractor was was convicted of assault in January this year, after a woman who’d gone for a spinal adjustment complained to police that he “masturbated onto her lower back” during the supposedly medical session.

That is… just… weird. I mean, even aside from being messed up, it just sounds inexplicable. What would make someone think that that would be a good thing to do? Why would you try so hard to avoid being even remotely subtle? You’d have to be sure her neck is in really bad shape, so you know she’s not going to look round over her shoulder at any point to see what the increasingly uneven breathing is all about. You’ve got to wonder if there’s more to the story.

But whatever happened, he was convicted of assault. (Not sexual assault, because neither of the people involved touched each other’s genitals. This itself is controversial.) He was sentenced to a year’s probation, with 80 hours community service, and ordered to pay costs for her clothing (yes, they made him pay her laundry bill) and counselling.

And then went back to work with the full endorsement of the official state Board of Chiropractic.

Imagine if it was a mainstream medical practitioner who’d been convicted of something this weird and disturbing. Especially one who also gives vaccinations to children.

Mike Adams would have a fucking fit.

But this guy hasn’t even had his license suspended.

If anyone finds any instance, anywhere on the internet, of any alt-med people overtly condemning this chiropractor’s actions, let me know and I’ll add a link here. It’d be nice to see them being capable of some degree of self-awareness and internal regulation, but it very rarely works out that way.

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The British Chiropractic Association happily promotes bogus treatments.

This morning, one of Simon Singh’s lawyers posted this notice:

The BCA today served a Notice of Discontinuance bringing to an end its ill-fated libel claim against Dr Simon Singh arising out of criticisms he made of its promotion of treatments for childhood ailments.

It’s over. He fucking did it.

Of course, it’s not over over. There’ll no doubt be a certain amount of wrangling about costs yet to get sorted out, but Simon should end up being largely reimbursed for his expenses. The best guess seems to be that he’ll still end up around £20,000 out of pocket, though, not to mention the loss of earnings over the past two years.

And, of course, he’s not the only one to have been screwed over by the sorry state of England’s libel laws. The need for reform is as pronounced as ever, and there’s no better time to join the 50,000 people who have already signed the petition to make it happen.

But, still. He fucking did it.

I’ll be directing you to other, more newsworthy news sources now.

Jack of Kent broke the news, to me at least, and highlights a comment about the relevant civil procedure regarding liability for costs. It bodes well for Simon. He also has some thoughts on the overall significance of this result.

Le Canard Noir has posted what looks like a great analysis at The Quackometer, which I plan to read in full when my brain’s working better.

Sense About Science rounds up some opinions well also.

BBC News got on this pretty quickly, with an interview with Simon. They also link to a statement from the BCA (PDF link), which doesn’t really say anything unexpected or do much to alter their position.

The Guardian are on this too, with some interesting remarks from his legal team. Padraig Ready also has things to say.

And, perhaps most wonderfully of all, the original article is back up on their website. They lost no time in returning it to full view. Published back in 2008’s Chiropractic Awareness Week, almost two years ago to the day, “Beware the spinal trap” is still worth another read. Well done, Simon.

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Today seemed to rather get away with me, so there’s just time for a quick round-up of important Simon Singh news.

If you’re not familiar with the backstory, it shouldn’t be hard to catch up. He’s being sued and it’s all bollocks, basically.

Several of the big names in skepticism were in the court with him today, reporting continuously on the proceedings. The overall gist is that it went very well for Simon, with all three judges on the panel appearing sympathetic to the arguments of his team. Full write-ups have appeared from:

Crispian Jago
The Heresiarch
Jack of Kent
Padraig Ready for Index on Censorship

And, as well as supporting Simon’s personal plight, it’s all being used to help highlight the importance of libel reform in general. Even if you’re not from the UK, you can sign the petition to support that campaign.

So, this is one of my more coldly functional and less sparklingly entertaining days, blog-wise. I’m off to liven up my evening by eating some yoghurt now.

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Discover Chiropractic.

That is all.

No, really. Nothing else today. Just a quick plug for the above very worthwhile new site by Zeno. I’ll go write something for an upcoming Skeptictionary article to make up for being dull the last couple of days.

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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.)

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…I’m here saying stuff.

– Even if you’re not in the UK, you can sign the national petition for libel reform. Libel law in England is hideously stifling, and is becoming a global embarrassment. Parts of the US are bringing in new legislation specifically to protect people from libel tourism. Jack of Kent explains in more detail why it’s important. Go on, it’ll only take a sec.

– Hey, guess what, turns out chiropractic is still bullshit. As Harriet Hall points out, the history of the practice is 114 years of failing to demonstrate any of the fundamental principles behind it, in any way. But I’m less optimistic than she is in calling this “The End of Chiropractic”. It’s been unfounded nonsense since day one, but the lack of evidence hasn’t put the staunch fans off for 114 years. Why will a new paper saying the same things have any more dramatic an effect?

– It’s sentimental, I know, but this is the most important campaign ever. Screw that libel reform stuff. Tim Minchin needs to be the top-selling record in the country this Christmas. This is the song that came within a lolcat’s whisker of making me cry when I saw him perform at TAM London.

– And today’s xkcd depicts what is almost certainly the cutest stick-figure baby ever drawn.

Happy weekend.

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What’s the connection, you ask? Well, they’re both the subject of the blog post you’re reading now.

Yeah, I’m not really tying them together in any way. Actually I’ve just thought of a way I could. When Crispian Jago drank a homeopathic dilution of his own urine, common knowledge states that some small number of the water molecules from his sample had also once been drunk by Adolf Hitler.

And because the most potent homeopathic solutions are the ones containing the least active ingredient, and because the number of Hitler-water molecules he was starting with was statistically very small… Crispian Jago absorbed into his system a potion that was almost 100% essence of Hitler. Holy crap.

I swear that literally just occurred to me as I was typing it. I’m going to have to let that sink in and examine the ramifications more thoroughly at some later time.

For now, I’ll just get on with what I was going to say.

The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine sounds like a pretty official, mainstream, reputable journal, right? Just going by the title, it doesn’t exactly sound like a wacky fringe part of the Alternative and Complementary Medicine movement. It’s not using all sorts of long-winded buzzwords to try and make itself sound relevant while actually just being churned out by a couple of hacks with access to paper and crayons. It’s a proper journal. It’s the journal for this branch of medicine, with proper peer review and everything.

They also don’t seem to mind publishing utter, undeniable bullshit.

I don’t know who Dr Lionel Milgrom is, but he’s apparently someone people have heard of in the realm of homeopathy. The JACM printed an article of his recently, in which he apparently said this:

The British Chiropractic Association recently won a libel case against the science writer and CAM “skeptic” Dr Simon Singh for publishing an article in a British newspaper in which he accused them of promoting “bogus” treatments.

The judge agreed with this argument, awarding the BCA substantial damages.

Um. No. Neither of those things has happened. Nothing that even sounds like either of those things has happened if you’ve had at least one sensory organ functioning properly and pointed in the general direction of the English courts lately.

I just… it’s bewildering. It’s not even like this is some subtle point of legal technicality which it’s easy to misinterpret. When your fact-checking is this much worse than mine, you have serious problems.

Jack of Kent is all over this one. It’s really funny. I particularly like the bit where Milgrom tries to explain what the libel suit was about, but accidentally ends up arguing part of Simon Singh’s defence for him.

The racism part was going to be about this excellent post looking at the recent tabloid vilification of Nick Griffin and placing it in the context of some of the tabloids’ own recent headlines. Well worth a look, though I’m too lazy to add my own commentary now.

I have no other news, except that I also left another comment on this article earlier, because some idiocy just keeps coming back.

Night night.

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I hope I’m not too late with this.

I was only just alerted to this post by Simon Perry, encouraging UK residents to write to their MP, asking them to get involved in the debate in parliament tomorrow on libel reform. He’s provided a suggested form letter to send; I’ve personalised mine, as shown below. He’s also given a link to this site called WriteToThem, which is designed to make it fantastically easy to write letters to your elected officials, even for incredibly lazy people like me who tend to get quickly put off this kind of thing when I realise it’s likely to involve effort on my part.

If you’re in the UK, this is really worth doing. You don’t need to have a clue who your MP is – I didn’t until half an hour ago – just put your postcode in, and it’ll give you a form with their details where you can say what you want and send it off. Feel free to use as much of mine as you like, though personalising it at least a bit may make it more likely to get noticed.

Hopefully we may hear something useful during the day tomorrow about what happens in the debate, if it moves in any interesting directions. I’ll be Twittering about it as and when I hear anything.


Dear Bob Neill,

Tomorrow there is a debate in parliament on the subject of libel reform.

You may have received a few messages about this already, as there has been a growing campaign in recent months to publicise the matter, and I was inspired to send this message myself based on a campaigner’s suggestion to send on a copy of his form letter to whoever my MP might be. But, as someone who tends to be somewhat cynical about politics (or at least British politics), and about my own chances of being able to effect any significant change, even I’m feeling motivated by this issue to send a personal message, and hope that I’ll find reason to get more involved in our political system in the future, and see it with more generous optimism.

Popular science writer Simon Singh is currently being sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association. In an article in the Guardian, he discussed the history of chiropractic therapy, pointed out (accurately) that there is “not a jot” of evidence supporting its effectiveness in treating certain conditions, and pointed out that the BCA currently “happily promotes” these “bogus treatments”.

The treatments to which he referred *are* bogus, in that no good controlled clinical trials have shown them to have any effect beyond that of a placebo. The BCA *does* promote them, and they certainly don’t seem to be *un*happy about it. Simon’s criticism seems to be an important and valid part of the public discussion of science-based medicine. The BCA sued him personally for libel, and declined the right of reply they were offered by the Guardian, where they could have publicly put forward their own view and presented any evidence they believe supports their position.

A couple of weeks ago, the front page of the Sunday Express proclaimed that the cervical cancer vaccine was “as deadly as the cancer”. This scare-mongering article entirely misrepresented the views of the scientists quoted, and was far, far more misleading, damaging to the public understanding of medicine, and dangerous to people’s lives and livelihoods, than what Simon Singh’s article said. But nobody’s around to sue the Sunday Express on behalf of reality.

The way English libel laws currently exist, undesirable opinions or dissenting views can so easily be suppressed by the act of simply threatening a lawsuit. It is up to the defendant to prove their innocence in such cases, and the amount this can cost in time and money can be utterly crippling, even if you did nothing wrong and win the case. Medical doctor and journalist Ben Goldacre was recently involved in a libel battle following his criticism of a vitamin salesman, who claimed that anti-retroviral drugs were ineffective in treating AIDS and offered his vitamins as an alternative. Goldacre won the case, his criticism of Matthias Rath’s appalling dishonesty was entirely justified, the scientific facts always supported him entirely, and he was clearly acting in the public interest in trying to counter pseudo-scientific nonsense and help stop snake oil merchants from taking advantage of dying people who need real medicine. He won, and they still came out of it £150,000 poorer.

Given the dismal outcome likely even in the case of an outright victory, many important articles and papers simply aren’t being published due to this fear. Obviously libel laws of some form have a place, but the way it stands now, the English libel system is uniquely repressive, and is becoming a global embarrassment. Our ability to do useful science, and evaluate what medical treatments are of any use in helping people, depends on the kind of debate which our libel laws are presently stifling.

As someone who has been a constituent here for several years, I’m asking you to please help push this issue forward, and help get some laws in place which aren’t so catastrophically detrimental to free expression in this country.

Yours,

James Norriss

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Maybe I’m a latent law geek and never knew it.

I guess it’s possible. I’ve never studied law, or had any reason to look into the possibility of studying it, so it might be a hidden passion that’s entirely eluded my notice all these years. I mean, I love Boston Legal, but I assumed that was mostly because of William Shatner.

Realistically, I don’t think it’s likely. But it’s almost worth considering, given how much of a buzz I’m still getting over the continuing #SinghBCA saga.

Yesterday, all this stuff happened, I’ll assume you’re up to speed. Today, a whole new round of awesome kicked off. Watching this unfold is way more engaging than any soap opera. Even back when Big Brother was new and interesting about eight years ago, I wasn’t into it this much.

So. The (now discredited) British Chiropractic Association issued a press release earlier today. As I type this, it’s still available on their site here (PDF link), but in case it goes anywhere, The Lay Scientist is one of many to have cached a copy (PDF link again). In fact, very soon after it went up, Jack of Kent advised all interested parties to grab a copy of the file and cache it in case it vanished or was changed. This turned out to be extremely prescient advice.

The old version is still up on their site for now, but they link instead to a new version (another PDF), with some important differences.

Before looking at those, I’m going to run through some of the things that occurred to me on looking over the original version.

As the Claimant is not permitted to be represented in a hearing of this nature, the Judge of the Court of Appeal, Lord Justice Laws, did not have the benefit of being able to consider all the issues, nor indeed, has he heard any argument from the BCA.

Three things.

1. That final comma is completely out of place.

2. The impression I got from the reporting on yesterday’s events wasn’t that the BCA weren’t permitted to be represented there. The way I’d understood it was that it had been their choice not to attend. It’s entirely possible that I got the wrong end of the stick there, though. This isn’t something that I’ve seen any skeptical analysts jumping on in the last few hours, so they may be right.

3. He hasn’t heard any argument from the BCA? Really? He’s deciding whether to allow an appeal against the original hearing. You don’t think he would have looked into that hearing a bit, to familiarise himself with the reasoning behind the original decision? You don’t think maybe he would’ve at least skimmed the fucking minutes?

Dr Singh has used this case as a platform to argue that science writers should be immune from the law of libel and free to write what they please.

Bollocks he has. That’s not even close to what I’ve taken from the speeches I’ve heard him give or the articles of his that I’ve read. Simon Singh’s position has never – unless I’ve been seriously missing something – been that libel laws simply shouldn’t apply to science writers. He’s defending himself against exactly one case of libel that was brought against him, which is not the same thing as issuing proclamations on every libel suit every brought against a science writer. On the back of that, he has been spearheading a campaign for libel reform. And if there’s any language in any proposed legislation which is even close to an argument that “science writers should be immune from the law of libel”, then they’ve completely slipped it past me.

…he has engaged in a high profile media campaign to assert that the BCA’s action is a restriction of the freedom of speech. It is nothing of the sort.

“Freedom of speech” might have a technical legal definition that I’m not familiar with, but if it simply means, y’know, speaking freely, then the BCA’s attempts to, y’know, stop him from speaking freely are by definition a “restriction of the freedom of speech”. Again, I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t even play one on the internet, but it seems to me like all libel cases are necessarily about restricting people’s freedom of speech. The question would be as to whether restricting the freedom of speech in this way, in this particular case, is justified. Maybe some kinds of defamatory speech should be restricted. Denying that that’s what this is about seems disingenuous.

…the BCA was maliciously attacked by Dr. Singh in the Guardian newspaper.

Now. This didn’t leap out at me at first as being hugely significant, since I’m not so familiar with the legal details that its connotations were obvious. But this is big.

To see why, let’s go back briefly to the phrase from Simon’s original article which kicked all this off. He wrote:

[The BCA] happily promotes bogus treatments.

He goes on to explain why he can “confidently label these treatments as bogus”, because of the research he’s done for the book he co-wrote. And that’s a statement about the treatments themselves, not about the BCA. All he says about the BCA is that they “happily promote” the treatments. The fact that they promote the treatments in question is not in dispute – and as for “happily”, what’s the argument against that? Were the BCA only promoting the treatment of infant colic by spinal manipulation under duress? Were they being miserable bastards, about it and don’t want any rumours getting out that they might be cheerful?

The whole BCA case rests on the idea that Simon was accusing them of being deliberately deceitful, and that “knowingly” can be read into that “happily”. At best, this is a very loose interpretation.

Now go back to the words the BCA have just used in describing Simon. “[M]aliciously attacked”. They are flat-out accusing him of malicious intent, with no ambiguity to their language at all. This is a serious accusation, with potentially dramatic legal consequences. Apparently Simon may be in a position to countersue and demand that the BCA justify their accusation of malice. These exact words no longer exist in the version of the release the BCA are currently using, but it’s out there now. You can’t stop the signal.

And let’s revisit again a comment from Lord Justice Laws only yesterday:

There is no dispute that [Simon’s original article] is in the public interest, with no suspicion of malice and there is no question of good faith [emphasis mine]

Wow. Well played, guys.

Goddamn, I love this shit.

Obviously Jack of Kent is all over this, and has a very interesting reminder of one of Mr Justice Eady’s comments from the original decision, which seems nicely relevant here. Heresy Corner also has some excellent thoughts. The Lay Scientist also got to all this much quicker than I did.

I kinda hope nobody connected with this whole kerfuffle does anything totally insane tomorrow. I have a big Skeptictionary post about therapeutic touch I want to finish polishing and get posted.

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…oh my.

Two things, then.

First, news continues to trickle in on the Simon Singh libel front. He mentioned at TAM London that the next noteworthy date is sometime later this month, at which point he may or may not decide to appeal against the decision that denied him the right to appeal against the initial ruling on the meaning of his article… or something. Anyway, that’s still going on in the background for the time being. [Edit 09/10/09: There’s now a very handy summary of the current state of play available, from an unsurprising source.]

But just as interesting at the moment are the developments coming in from other directions, relating to chiropractors in the UK more generally. For instance, this decision by the ASA is indeed interesting, even if the precise legal niceties somewhat elude me without a detailed running commentary from Jack of Kent.

Simon Perry, of the Adventures in nonsense blog, had complained to the Advertising Standards Authority about claims being publicly made by the General Chiropractic Council. Sometimes, these cases with the ASA will go on for a while before they make an official ruling, such as I believe happened with the Atheist Bus Campaign, where one party is hoping they’ll be allowed to continue promoting their message and the other is trying to get it shut down. But in this case, the GCC didn’t even contest the complaint. They just withdrew the claim immediately.

And it was already, as Perry points out, loosely worded and somewhat ambiguous:

There is some evidence, though more research is needed, that you may see an improvement in some types of:
• asthma
• headaches, including migraine
and
• infant colic.

Even something that vague apparently just isn’t worth defending, possibly because the evidence is so thin on the ground that it still might be deemed an unjustifiable claim. There don’t seem to be many chiropractors about who really feel confident in the typical claims of their profession, and no evidence beyond the notorious “plethora” seems to have been presented to give them any reason to feel confident. Basically, they’re really not doing well, and might be starting to notice it.

The campaign Sense About Science, which has been going above and beyond to support Simon and promote an agenda for libel reform since this all first kicked off, also had a complaint made against them recently. It went nowhere, but the fact that it was brought at all may indicate that some alt-meds somewhere are getting worried about how this is going to end.

Feel free to chat amongst yourselves about the significance of any of this. I’m not feeling mentally capable of much thoughtful analysis right now.

Anyway, the second thing (yes, that was all an extension of the first thing), is completely unrelated.

On the most recent episode of Lie To Me, it was said that, essentially, a church’s tax-exempt status depends on the sincerity of the believers who use it. I know I’m lacking in any kind of legal nuance, but my understanding is that you can only claim tax exemption on a building, or organisation, or whatever, if you really hold to the associated religious beliefs.

Which makes some sort of sense, in that otherwise people could easily take advantage of this massive loophole, and get out of giving the government any money but picking a random wacky idea, calling it a religion and putting their name to it. But in the show, the IRS was investigating whether certain claims to tax exemption amounted to fraud, and it seemed to come down to their ruling – that is, the considered view of the Inland Revenue Service – on whether some woman truly holds a particular thought as to the nature of God. Specifically, if she lapses out of this cult, and doesn’t really buy into the idea that their leader is a prophet, she’s looking at jail time for cheating her taxes because her home was registered as a church.

I know a TV drama show might not reflect the exact details of the legal system with perfect accuracy, but does that sound like an astoundingly broken system to anyone else?

Eh, tired now.


Reminder: I’m hosting the next edition of the Humanist Symposium blog carnival. If you have anything which you’d like to be featured, you can use the usual submission form, or email a link to cubiksrube, (at) hotmail {dot} co [dot] uk, by October 17th. Full guidelines for how the symposium works are here, so check those over first to find out about the kind of thing we’re looking for.

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