Careful, BCA, you might slip a disk!

Careful, BCA, you might slip a disk!

Careful, BCA, you might slip a disk!

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
June 18 2009 11:30 AM

Careful, BCA, you might slip a disk!

The British Chiropractic Association may need to hire a chiropractor to work on themselves: they're shoveling so hard they're likely to hurt their backs.

Fifteen month ago, the BCA sued journalist Simon Singh for libel after he called some of their claims "bogus". Mind you, they didn't say, "He's wrong and here's the stack of scientific tests that have been performed to show just how chiropractic works". They simply sued. In the UK, libel laws are such that defending yourself against them is time-consuming and very costly, a fact the BCA could not help but understand when they sued Singh. One might almost call this action "spineless".

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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After an uproar on the internet as well as in the media -- with some predictable results -- the BCA is now, over a year later, suddenly claiming there is evidence to back them up, and issued a press release about it. I read it with some amusement, as even to my non-medical eye I could see that many of the references were totally ridiculous. A study of colic in children with no control cases? Colic tends to go away after time on its own, so without a control group how do you know manipulating their spines is what did it? Why did the BCA reference its own code of practice as evidence chiropractic works? And why did so many of the references talk about osteopathy, which is different than chiropractic (though laden with its own share of dubious claims)?

I didn't write anything yesterday when this came up because I figured others with more experience would, and would be able to give more details than I could. And that's just what happened: chiming in are The Ministry of Truth, Zeno's blog, DC's Improbable Science, and of course the awesome Jack of Kent.

The BCA is struggling mightily here to make itself look like the victim, but it's hard to see it any other way than them trying to bully a member of the free press into silence, and creating an atmosphere where other critics would be afraid to speak. Whether they were hoping to silence the media or not, what they've really done is let millions of people know just how thin their "supporting evidence" is, and set themselves up for a PR disaster.

I will reiterate my support of Simon, and for the right of journalists to freely investigate claims made by anyone without having to wonder if they are going to be sued frivolously or otherwise. And in this case, the claims are about not just the health of adults but of a questionable practice being applied to babies. I think the least we can do is ask for the usual standard of evidence to support those claims, and in fact they should be held to an even higher standard. The list given by the BCA... well, to be polite it leaves much to be desired.

Simon's not backing down, nor should he. A lot is riding on this, so we need to keep shining a light on what the BCA is doing. Keep your browsers pointed to Sense About Science to stay on top of the latest news.